August 2020

Dispatches from 1918 – Radiolab

With the world in chaos wrought by Covid-19, Radiolab looks back at the broader impacts of the last global pandemic. There are convincing links that are made between the Spanish Flu and the negotiating of the Treaty of Versailles (and as a result, the rise of the Nazis), the fight for India’s independence, and every single flu death in the 100 years since. At one point the producer gives this haunting description of the flu: “In those rooms where Wilson and Clémenceau are sitting, that there’s this other chair there, this empty chair. You know, it’s over by itself, no one’s paying attention to it. And I just keep thinking how it was almost as if the virus itself kind of had a seat at the table”.

You don’t have to look hard to see how the Covid virus is stealthily occupying many seats at many tables right now (albeit virtual tables).

Confusingly, the opening story is told by the voices of Jad, Tad and Pat. Bear with them it’s worth it.

Radiolab publishes transcripts of every episode. Kudos.

My Dad Excavated A Porno – The Allusionist

This episode chronicles the history of the word ‘pornography’, which arrived in English in the 1840s. The reason involves archaeology, sexual art, sexism (surprise surprise!) and prudishness.

Effective Sound Effects – How Sound

An interview with Ben Naddaff-Hafrey, lead producer for The Last Archive, a history podcast hosted by Jill Lepore, writer for the New Yorker and historian who teaches at Harvard. (Sidenote, check out The Last Archive. It’s an excellent series that attempts to answer the question: ‘who killed truth?’ by tracing the history of evidence, proof, and knowledge. I don’t love all the stylistic choices in this production but the narrative and arguments are solid).

The interview with Ben Naddaff-Hafrey focusses on his approach to the sound design for the Last Archive. The sound vibe of the thing is 1930s radio drama and they went to impressive lengths to create it. Likewise, he didn’t just use a library of sound effects, but instead went looking in a literal library, and uncovered some exceptional stuff. I’ve got to admit, I liked the sound design in The Last Archive a lot more after listening to this.

A nice walk I took in August (Yes we swam!)