Is America Ready to Make Reparations? - The New Yorker Radio Hour: This podcast is one of few that I am actually subscribed to and have set to automatically download and enter my queue. In my view, the New Yorker consistently publishes some of the best writing in the world and their podcast is usually of an equally high calibre - albeit less carefully crafted than the magazine. This short series on the case for reparations to African-Americans includes the voices of Ta-Nehisi Coates and a bunch of other, lesser-known clever people, as well as the particularly interesting story about the history of Georgetown University and how students voted to pay reparations to the descendants of the enslaved people who built it.
Itch - Pitt Medcast: This eight minute episode of the University of Pittsburgh's medical school podcast explains the interesting relationship between pain and itch, as well as some interesting recent breakthroughs in this surprisingly complex matter of neurobiology. Thanks to Caroline Crampton's podcast recommendation feed The Listener for this one.
Sound and Health Cities - 99 Percent invisible: I'm writing this recommendation from a Hong Kong hotel room where I'm hiding from the incessant barrage of jack hammers, pile drivers, heavy hands on car horns and loud, hissing busses one is subjected to on or near street level (19 floors up I have relative quiet). This episode examines how little attention has been paid to sound in cities and the impacts of this neglect. There's a ray of hope in words from people championing good sound design but I remain pessimistic and sometimes want to run away to live in the wilderness. Then I realise I lack survival skills and this is a terrible idea. Maybe just a country town?
Forest 404 - BBC Radio 4: I am not the biggest fan of audio drama, although I do have a couple of regular exceptions to the rule such as The Truth and Everything is Alive. Here's another exception. BBC describes it as immersive sci-fi drama with unique soundscapes and accompanying talks. The story is set in a future with no trees and the protagonist's job is to delete the excessive bytes of data irresponsibly created by the humans of 'the slow times' (us!). The storyline is whatever you call the audio equivalent of a page turner. Each episode is then accompanied by a short talk (<10 mins) from an of expert about some aspect of nature and humans. Then there's also a nature soundscape for each episode.
We Don't Say That - Rough Translation: This episode describes some fascinating linguistic issues relating to how the French language describes blackness (as in people who are black). And introduces some particularly admirable people out to change the French language for the better.
The Chinese Surveillance State - The Daily: This two part episode gives a good overview into the crazy shit that has been rolled out in China over the past ten or so years. The first part focuses on Kashgar, a mostly Uyghur city in Xinjiang, in the far north west of China. Security was already pretty intense when I went to Kashgar in 2011. Now it sounds dystopian. The second part tell the story of a family torn apart by the 'reeducation camps' where Uyghurs are being sent en masse. Warning these episodes are quite harrowing.
Lebanon, USA - Kerning Cultures: Once I was driving from Toronto to New York and I saw a turnoff for a town called Damascus. I was really excited by this but the driver, more familiar with these parts, told me it was nothing special. There's a lot of towns across the states named after biblical places. So many there's even a Wikipedia entry on it, in fact (omg Half Hell, North Carolina!!!). Anyway, this story is about a Lebanese man's plan to visit the 47 American towns named Lebanon. He doesn't quite get to all of them because is in Lebanon South Dakota, he comes across some particularly interesting roots. This episode introduced me to Kerning Cultures, who describes itself as a podcast "made by children of the Middle East, telling the kinds of stories in which we can actually see ourselves".
Palaces for the People - The Kitchen Sisters: No fancy production here, just a fascinating conversation with Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. My favourite part is how he expresses his wonder at the fact libraries exists, by asking us to imagine there are no libraries and how we would have to put it to the local mayor to establish them: "We want to have these things called libraries. We are going to set up buildings, we're going to put them in every single neighbourhood, fill them up with comfortable furniture, let's throw in a bunch of computers, and let's put wifi access in there, why not? And let's have lots of books and DVDs and there will be people we will hire as public employees, called public librarians, and their job will be to open the door and say 'how can I help you?'. We should make sure everybody in the city can use it regardless of their age, social class, or their race or ethnicity. And let's make sure people who are not citizens feel especially welcome here and we will have ESL classes. Oh and we want all this to be free?"
(I'm paraphrasing a bit because sadly the Kitchen Sisters does not post transcripts de16).
He is so right. Libraries are these AMAZING places and their very existence seems to defy all neo-liberal reason. If you love libraries as much as I do, have a listen to recent episode of This American Life - The Room of Requirement.
The Dropout - ABC Radio(USA): The story of Elizabeth Holmes and her failed biotech company, Theranos. The company claimed it would revolutionise blood testing by reducing the amount of blood required from test tubes full from an intravenous needle, to a couple of drops from a finger prick. When Theranos was on the rise, Holmes was heralded as the next Steve Jobs. She was profiled in the New Yorker, she was on the cover of Forbes and Fortune magazine. And then, in 2015 the Wall Street Journal published a piece detailing the fraudulence of most of the company's claims. It catalysed the end of the company. Holmes and former Theranos COO Ramesh Balwani have been indicted on several counts of fraud. This podcast's production is overblown, they've made some dubious sound design decisions, but the story is a cracker and I whipped through it in a couple of days.
We spoke American Public Radio's Shanghai Correspondent Rob Schmitz at the 2017 Sydney Writers' Festival about how to report on China's economy when the country's leading politicians admit GDP figures are mostly 'man-made' and why Rob has higher hopes for Chinese millennials than American.
John Eligon is the New York Times race reporter based in Kansas City, Missouri. Host Olivia Rosenman spoke to Eligon about his collaboration with ABC Foreign Correspondent, Through American Eyes. Eligon's impressions and observations from his trip around the country, from Sydney to Kununurra, Brisbane to Murray Island, make for thought provoking listening.
An interview with Andrew Quilty, who has covered Afghanistan since late 2013, when he arrived to work as a photojournalist just as NATO troops were beginning to withdraw. In the four years since, he has captured the ongoing conflict there with stunning photography that documents the trauma of a 40 year war and the impact of extremist groups and foreign forces in the country. His work won him the 2016 Gold Walkley for Excellence in Australian journalism.
Broadcast from the Walkley's 2017 Storyology conference, host Olivia Rosenman spoke with a panel of four of the world's top investigative journalists about how they decide which topics to pursue and whether the end always has to justify the means. With Aaron Glantz, senior reporter with Reveal from the US Center for Investigative Reporting, Gerard Ryle, Director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), Kate McClymont, Fairfax Media senior journalist and Siddharth Varadarajan, Founding Editor of The Wire in India.
An interview with the 2017 Boyer Lecturer, Professor Genevieve Bell, about how we live in world ruled by technology data and algorithms. Bell describes technological solutions to fake news and considers Australia's role in our globalised, online world. Bell is one of the world's top technologists and the head of the Australian National University's Autonomy, Agency and Assurance Institute.