It’s been a while, so I updated the Podcasts & Vodcasts page.
Most of us are familiar with the scene in the fantastic 1999 film, The Matrix, where Cypher and Neo are chatting about their introduction to life outside the matrix via Morpheus’s offer of a choice between the red and blue pills. Cypher laments that he wished he’d taken the blue pill instead, making it clear he’d have preferred to be living a happy fantasy rather than risking everything by fighting against the machines.
One of the great things about Cypher’s character is that you can empathise with him. Nobody can blame him for wanting a simple, easy life — especially as he’s not The One. At that point in the film we all know that he’s just as likely to end up a smudge on the ground as make old bones.
I mention The Matrix because that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. And this is where I may lose you as a reader. Either way, so it goes…
Over the last few weeks I’ve been consuming the works of two prolific writers and speakers, both world experts in their fields: Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn. Chomsky (now 82) is regarded by many as “the Einstein” of his field of linguistics and cognition at MIT, though outside the classroom he talks almost exclusively about political science. Zinn was regarded similarly in his field of history at Boston University.
I first encountered Chomsky in the early 2000s via his book Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies [Amazon|UK], a collection of essays and papers focussing mainly on Central American politics and history over the last 40 years. It’s an astounding book that left me truly stunned, wondering about the rest of the world if even half it it was true. He provides full references and consistently avoids a simple answer to, “If the mainstream media is wrong, biased, controlled or corrupt, then where should we turn to get reliable information?” His answer is typically a variation of Ben Goldacre‘s, “I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.” There is no single source, type or medium of reliable, unbiased or uncorrupt information. You need to look at the mainstream, the margins, including sources you may dislike, and analyse what’s going on for yourself.
Damn. I’m going to have to think for myself. And that’s the point.
Zinn is a fairly recent discovery for me, though most people know him via his groundbreaking A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present [Amazon|UK], where he included the viewpoints of non-Europeans in the discovery and conquest of North America. I’ve not yet read it, but I understand that it’s a polarising work, and your reaction to it will depend upon whether or not you’re prepared to revise your views on official history. Interestingly, the FBI kept a large file on him, most notably due to his influence on Martin Luther King, Vietnam anti-war campaigning and the McCarthyist hysteria of the time.
And this is where I think many of Chomsky’s and Zinn’s detractors come from: many seem to regard them as un-American or even traitors. Both authors present alternative versions of recorded history, removing the infantile notion of good (us) versus evil (them), and add insult to that injury by presenting other reasons why such things did or are happening in the first place. It’s not as simple as the official version; it’s not even as simple as the counter-accusations or popular conspiracy theories. It’s a complex mix of power, greed, acquisition, control, domination, influence and coercion, and furthering of interests.
The use of past and present tense is deliberate — these things are still happening. Consider the endless stream of major and minor wars in the 20th and present century, the provision of “foreign aid” weapons and training to brutal and sadistic regimes, the quiet growth of internal enforcement agencies into international intelligence agencies (as has just happened with the DEA), the dismantling of union-protected workplaces that made our workers cheaper than those in some developing countries, and national elections of leaders whose candidates can be differentiated only by their party’s logo. To name a few.
Neither Chomsky nor Zinn pretend to be 100% certain about everything they say. Both admit they may be wrong, and are open to evidence-based correction. Nor should you take it from me as fact, an amateur hack who spends his spare time consuming non-mainstream information, wondering about the world and sharing the occasional thought here whenever I’m not playing computer games or socialising with friends. Use, refine and practise your analytical skills and skepticism to examine what these men say, compare it against what you see, know and/or suspect, read the papers and articles to which they refer, and then judge for yourself.
There is no universal truth, and I’m not declaring that this is it — but it makes you think. However, if you’re unwilling to have your perception of world history and current events challenged, you may want to choose the blue pill…
Here are some of Noam Chomsky’s works that you might want to look at:
- An American Addiction [Amazon|UK]
- Case Studies In Hypocrisy [Amazon|UK]
- Class War: The Attack On Working People [Amazon|UK]
- The Clinton Vision: Old Wine, New Bottles [Amazon|UK]
- The Emerging Framework Of World Power [watch online]
- For A Free Humanity [Amazon|UK]
- Free Market Fantasies: Capitalism In The Real World [Amazon|UK]
- The Imperial Presidency [Amazon|UK]
- The New War On Terrorism: Fact And Fiction [Amazon|UK]
- Propaganda And The Public Mind [Amazon|UK]
- Prospects For Democracy [Amazon|UK]
Here are some of Howard Zinn’s works that you might want to look at:
- Artists In A Time Of War [Amazon|UK]
- Class And War In US Society [AK Press]
- Heroes & Martyrs [Amazon|UK]
- History And Democracy [free download]
- Howard Zinn On War [Amazon|UK]
- The Myth Of The Cold War [free download]
- Stories Hollywood Never Tells [Amazon|UK]
- War And Civil Disobedience [Amazon|UK]
- You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train [Book: Amazon|UK; DVD: Amazon|UK]
(I haven’t read or seen all of these yet). Both have released many more works, but I think that will keep you busy for some time.
As Yogi Berra once said: It’s déjà vu all over again.
Well, almost: I’d like to start this post with a welcome to those who have found me via Planet Humanism, and to pass my thanks to nullifidian for adding me to the aggregator. He, too, seemed to find something interesting in my ramblings. Good luck.
Actually, this is a kind of half-way post to both introduce you poor lucky folk to my blog and to share something with you, although it’s been around the intertubes for the last day or two. The following contains spoilers for the game Portal — part of The Orange Box by Valve Software.
For those of you who have been lucky enough to play Portal and have finished it will know of the fantastic ending song by Jonathan Coulton called Still Alive. As ending songs go it is the perfect epilogue to what is a thoroughly enjoyable game: it ties up the loose ends, it captures precisely the personality of the game’s antagonist and, when you get the in jokes, it leaves you walking away laughing.
Here’s the ending song in all its glory:
Alternatively, here are the lyrics to Still Alive.
And here’s the point of this post: some genius has taken a CNC router and used its stepper motors to play Still Alive. Its three-dimensional motorised control means it can effectively play 3 notes: a chord. The result speaks for itself:
I’m truly hoping that you can appreciate this as much as I can. Okay, it’s geeky and is an off-the-wall kind of musical art expression. But what tickles me is that the artist has programmed a robot to play a tune about a robot that spent the entire game lying to you.
After all, you must remember:
It’s gold, I tell ya…
My daily commute is about 50 minutes each way – giving me over 8 hours of listening time each week – so rather than listen to the same music each day or listen to one-eyed opinion radio, I prefer to listen to podcasts on topics that interest me.
As I often get asked what podcasts/vodcasts* I subscribe to, I thought I’d provide my current list — last updated 16 April 2009:
Podcasts (audio only):
- 4 Feet Running: Friends in Fo Rivva (*ahem*), who podcast their runs together.
- Archaeology Channel
- Astronomy Cast: I love astronomy and, well, Pamela’s voice… ’nuff said.
- The Atheist Experience: Cable access show by the ACA in Austin, Texas. (New).
- Binge Thinking History
- Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
- Dr Karl’s Science on Mornings: Dr Karl covers great “citizen science” topics.
- Freelance Radio: Self employment tips.
- Geologic: The maestro and comedian, George Hrab, speaks! (New).
- Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
- The History Network (Military)
- Humanist Network News: Occasional humanism news.
- I Should Be Writing: Writing tips, etc.
- Inside Oxford Science: Feeds the knowledge monster.
- The Jodcast: Jodrell Bank Observatory’s own podcast.
- Naked Archaeology
- Naked Scientists: Feeds the knowledge monster.
- New Humanist: Another infrequent podcast, but normally worth it.
- The Non-Prophets: Atheist radio show by loud, opinionated people. Reminds me of home!
- Podrunner: Contiguous running music – each episode has a set BPM.
- Point of Inquiry
- Reasonable Doubts
- The Skeptic Zone: Australian podcast for science and reason.
- Skepticality: Official podcast of Skeptic Magazine.
- Skeptics’ Guide 5X5: 5 minutes on a skeptical topic.
- Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: A frankly brilliant skeptical podcast.
- Skeptoid: Covers a skeptical topic each episode.
- Slacker Astronomy
- Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy
- Thinking Allowed: Interesting topics discussed and analysed.
- World Archaeology News
- Writing Excuses: Fantastic show by SF&F authors on how they approach their work.
- The Writing Show
Vodcasts (video or combined):
- After the Flag: The official MotoGP summary show.
- BBC Sky at Night Magazine
- Diggnation: The week’s top Digg articles.
- Drawing Tutorials Online
- J.C. Hutchins: One of my two favourite podcast authors.
- Scott Sigler: The other of my two favourite podcast authors.
- Tiki Bar TV: Occasional bizarre but clever cocktail recipe show.
The list above changes periodically as I discover new shows or existing shows turn out to be low quality, irrelevant to my interests or just simply go to that podcast site in the sky. ;)
I also listen to/watch a number of others at work, but these are my main subscriptions.
So what interesting podcasts do you listen to?
* If you’ve been living under a rock, a podcast is a periodic MP3 ‘show’ and a vodcast is a periodic video ‘show’ – both usually via an RSS feed, and obained via visiting the show’s website, an RSS reader or using podcatcher software such as iTunes.