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Just to prevent the impression that the only research studies sponsored by the BPI Dept. of Neuroholdemodality depend on Drew Westen's The Political Brain, or Dr. Lakoff's diary writing, Professor Crackpot Caractacus offers this week a review of the podcasts and pages consumed in the past seven days independent of their work.

Reflective of BPI at-large, this is a diverse lot, covering topics in literature, technology, philosophy, journalism, education, psychology, and We hope you might find something interesting within, and in all cases, all are encouraged (and expected!) to share your own discoveries, highlights, and insights from the week previous.

Food for thought...bon appetit!

I listen to a lot of podcasts, especially when riding the subway. As much as I don't like being one of those distanced-from-his-fellow-riders-by-the-little-white-cords-that-hang-from-my-ears people, I do learn an awful lot during my 45 minute commute each way from Columbia University. The following are some of the thoughts I've picked up from a few podcasts this week, but...

...first, I mentioned in a TWLTW note last week the video game Braid. These two songs are from the soundtrack of that game and are offered here as background music for your reading pleasure, if you are the kind of person who listens to vaguely celtic atmospheric instrumentals while reading, that is (fair warning: if you play the Howard Zinn video below, you may want to come back and pause this song as they will overlap and Marisa Tomei deserves your full attention - honest). The game is amazing, and in 3-d: left-right, up-down, and time itself. It forces the player to examine every assumption they've ever made about video games, and to break mental sets we don't even know we have in order to "win" the game. That idea of challenging assumptions and exposing mental sets in order to find solutions to apparently intractable problems is very attractive to me. That it was done in a video game that looks more like an impressionistic painting come to life just stuns me.

Ok. I'm done plugging Braid for good. Promise.

Braid Soundtrack Pieces


Howard Zinn on Bill Moyers

Howard Zinn, author of A Peoples' History of the United States has produced  (co-produced by Matt Damon, Zinn's next door neighbor in Boston when he was a child!) a documentary on PBS using professional actors to portray key moments in American history through the voices of less-than-famous ordinary people who stood up to make a difference.

Skip to 4:42 in the video for quite a statement. The transcript follows. Howard Zinn said in the Moyers' episode:

"Live your own life. Think your own ideas. And don't depend on saviors. Don't depend on the Founding Fathers, on Andrew Jackson, on Theodore Roosevelt, on Lyndon Johnson, on Obama. Don't depend on our leaders to do what needs to be done.

Whenever the government has done anything to bring about change, it's done so only because it's been pushed and prodded by social movements, by ordinary people organizing, by, you know, Lincoln pushed by the anti-slavery movement. You know, Johnson and Kennedy pushed by the southern black movement. And maybe hopefully Obama today, maybe he will be pushed by people today who have such high hopes in him, and who want to see him fulfill those hopes.

You know, traditional history creates passivity because it gives you the people at the top and it makes you think that all you have to do is go to the polls every four years and elect somebody who's going to do the trick for you. And no. We want people to understand that that's not going to happen. People have to do it themselves. And so that's what we hope these readings will inspire."

BILL MOYERS: One of my favorite sequences is in here, is when we meet Genora Dollinger. Tell me about her.

HOWARD ZINN: She was a woman who got involved in sit-down strikes of the 1930s. Those very dramatic moments when workers occupied the factories of General Motors and wouldn't leave, and therefore left the corporations helpless. But this was a time when strikes all over the country galvanized people and pushed the New Deal into the reforms that we finally got from the New Deal. And Genora Dollinger represents the women who are very often overlooked in these struggles, women so instrumental in supporting the workers, their men, their sweethearts. And Genora Dollinger just inspires people with her words.

BILL MOYERS: She was only 23 when she organized.

HOWARD ZINN: Amazing. Yes.

[MARISSA TOMEI as GENORA DOLLINGER]: Workers overturned police cars to make barricades. They ran to pick up the fire bombs thrown at them and hurl them back at the police. The men wanted to me to get out of the way. You know the old "protect the women and children" business. I told them, "Get away from me." The lights went on in my head. I thought I have never used a loud speaker to address a large crowd of people but I've got to tell them there are women down here. I called to them, "Cowards! Cowards! Shooting into the bellies of unarmed men and firing at the mothers of children." And then everything became quiet. I thought, "The women can break this up." So I appealed to the women in the crowd, "Break through those police lines and come down here and stand beside your husbands and your brothers and your uncles and your sweethearts." I could barely see one woman struggling to come forward. A cop had grabbed her by the back of her coat. She just pulled out of that coat and she started walking down to the battle zone. As soon as that happened there were other women and men who followed. That was the end of the battle. When those spectators came into the center of the battle and the police retreated, there was a big roar of victory.

BILL MOYERS: That's Marisa Tomei as Genora Dollinger. What do you think when you hear those words?

HOWARD ZINN: First, I must say this, Bill. When my daughter saw this she heard Marisa Tomei shout to the police, "Cowards, cowards." My daughter said a chill, a chill went through her. She was so moved. And so, when I see this, and I've seen this so many times, and each time I am moved because what it tells me is that just ordinary people, you know, people who are not famous, if they get together, if they persist, if they defy the authorities, they can defeat the largest corporation in the world.

Amy Goodman with Tavis Smiley
Amy Goodman hosts and produces Democracy Now!, which is broadcast daily on more than 800 radio and television networks. On December 2nd, 2009, she was interviewed by Tavis Smiley. Excerpts from their interview:

TS: From the forward to this book [AG was on the show to promote Breaking the Sound Barrier] by Bill Moyers..."Amy...knows the critical question for journalists is how close they are to the truth, not how close they are to power." Do journalists get that today in the Obama era?

AG: I think we're supposed to be journalists no matter during the Bush era, during the Obama era, and it's not about rubbing up to power. It's about being there and holding those in power accountable on every issue, and boy, do we have issues today, from global warring to global warming to the lack of healthcare in this country to the global economic meltdown. We have to be serious about who benefits and who doesn't...

TS: How, then, do progressives do that?

AG: ...when President Obama sits in the Oval Office and those who are used to enjoying power come to him and whisper in the ear of the most powerful person on Earth and make their demands, if he can't point out the window of the Oval Office and say, "If I do that, they will storm the Bastille," if there's no one out there, he's in trouble.

Sometimes, that is to shore up something that people feel he is doing right, and a lot of times it might be to criticize and to fiercely demand, like Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand," to demand that change happen. When it comes to issues like healthcare, when it comes to issues like in the economic meltdown who's benefiting, who isn't, it seems like we're seeing that siphon go from the bottom, the finances go from the bottom, those who can least afford it, to the top. That's nothing new unfortunately.

Harold Kushner, Conquering Fear (Big Ideas Podcast)

One of my favorite podcast subscriptions is to an interview and lecture series simply titled, Big Ideas. This week I listened to 2 I had been keeping on my "someday" list. First, Harold Kushner. Author of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, he graduated nearly 50 years ago from the Jewish seminary that stands the next block over from Teachers College. He recently published a new book called Conquering Fear. In it, he suggests several interesting ideas given our current political events and climate.

When asked what scares him, Kushner responded, "The amount of irrational anger out in the world." And, "Anger is what a man does with his fear. It is considered unmanly to admit that he’s scared and it’s much more acceptable for a man to translate into anger, his fear."

And, where does this fear come from? For Kushner it is a reaction to a feeling that the world is increasingly out of one's own control, and ever more frightening, out of anyone's control. He says this is acutely true the older we happen to find ourselves, as young people are literally born into a world of very rapid technological product-cycles, and that change for them is a very different thing than is change for people over 40, or even 35.

His most interesting claim, for me, was that the perceived increase in fundamentalism (Christian, Muslim, Jewish) in religious movements is directly attributable to the increase in technological change driven by product-cycles. In this POV, being anti-gay marriage is the same thing as a cry out against the blurry flow of the "stream" for something unchangeable, something familiar, something predictable and under control. That teenagers and 20-somethings consistently report that gay marriage is not something they are worried about, let alone against, is only further motivating for the older fundie-crowds to push through social policies that codify the social codes and morays of their youth(s). Their youth being that of the 1950s and 1940s, before those scary and change-filled 1960s. Notice, this is not an attempt to explain those mature folks who continue to be, and have found later in life, progressive. But, as an explanation of fundamentalism as a reaction to change, I think there is a lot to consider here.

He closes his statements by asking, "At a funeral, who's more comfortable, the corpse or the eulogist?" and left me wanting to read his book with this at the very end:

If having a ‘good’ death means being surrounded by family, having a chance to
say goodbye, to tell those important to us of their importance, then why isn’t
having a good life defined by the same things?

Brave New World on In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg
In Our Time is a BBC radio discussion, billed as an inquiry into "the history of ideas." Melvyn Bragg, in each episode, invites British experts to discuss a variety of topics. The diversity of ground covered is one of the show's great strengths. In the podcast version of the discussion of Huxley's Brave New World, the guiding question was "is the novel as dystopian as we have been told it is?" In one section, there is a discussion of the relationship of Brave New World and 1984 to the emotional lives of each novel's characters. In BNW, we see a world managed by the positive moods of state-encouraged recreational sex and the consumption of soma, similar to ecstasy or valium. 1984 controls the populace through fear, censorship, the threat of thoughtpolice and stiff corporal and capital punishment for thoughtcrime, the elimination of sexual pleasure, and a heightened sense of competition with political adversaries.

The stories are similar in some ways (both have rigid and preordained class structures, for example), but in one, society is controlled through the experience of pleasure, and in the other, through fear.

Howard Gardner, Goodwork Project (Another Big Ideas Podcast)

Howard Gardner, creator of the psychological theory of multiple intelligences, has spent the last 10 years of his academic life researching what people think comprises "good work." He has looked at 9 different disciplines, including journalism, genetics, education, theater, business, law and medicine. Some of his findings are worth discussion.

First, he claims there are 3 "E's" of good work:

  1. Excellence: The worker is well trained and disciplined, able to be proficient in executing duties.
  1. Engaging: The worker cares about the work, looks forward to it, it has meaning for the worker.
  1. Ethical: The worker tries to figure out the right thing to do in morally ambiguous circumstances, learns from mistakes (their own, and others'), and does the right thing even when it is not in the worker's self-interest to do so.

He is considering adding a fourth, Empathy. Of this, as you might imagine, I strongly agree.

Looking specifically at differences between theater, genetics, and journalism professionals, he found nearly every single geneticist and theater artist studied was deeply committed to his/her discipline while slightly more than 1/3 of the journalists wished they could quit or choose a different career path. The journalists had very little "alignment," or cohesiveness of mission and method at different levels of organization within the discipline. Alignment is visually modeled by a DNA strand where excellence, ethics, and engagement are wound around each other, each supporting and inseparable from the other two. Geneticists had the best alignment (everyone wanted to cure cancer, say, from top to bottom), and the theater people were in between these two extremes.

He argued some people are motivated by being out-of-alignment, giving Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader as examples. In political terms, the Democratic Party may be less than fully aligned, with Blue Dogs and Progressives disagreeing on definitions of and methods for achieving excellence, for example. Republicans, otoh, may appear to be more aligned from leadership to grassroots in their pursuit of shared meanings of "excellence."

He also argued that the only person who can judge whether or not you are a good worker is you.

This idea of alignment has resonated with me recently, for many reasons.

While looking for links to fill in some of the details in the Zinn/Moyers interview above, I discovered a website called "truthout." One of those random internet finds that at first is interesting, then intriguing, and then captivating.  See if this strikes your fancy, then click sometime when you have a little free reading time...

Truthout's Mission    

Truthout works to broaden and diversify the political discussion by introducing independent voices and focusing on undercovered issues and unconventional thinking. Harnessing the ever-expanding power of the Internet, we work to spread reliable information, peaceful thought and progressive ideas throughout the world.

Our Values    

We are devoted to the principles of equality, democracy, human rights, accountability and social justice. We believe ardently in the power of free speech, and understand that democratic journalism can make the world a better place for all of us.

What Have You Learned This Week?

What are your favorite podcasts and progressive/alternative media sources? What stories have caught your attention this week? How do we best go forward from here?

Originally posted to Caractacus on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:09 AM PST.

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