Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I must be old because I listen to podcasts instead of music.

If you see me at the gym, or on my bike, I will probably have headphones in my ears. You might expect I'm listening to the Allman Brothers, or Coltrane, or Lady Gaga, but I'm probably not (DEFINITELY NOT Lady Gaga!). I'm probably listening to a podcast of some kind. I have found a bunch of podcasts that are either entertaining, informative, or both, and I thought I would share them with you.

Let's start with the NPR stuff. Chances are you are already familiar with "This American Life", "Car Talk", and "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me". I used to try to plan my weekends around listening to "Car Talk", but now I don't have to. You can download the latest show from each of these on the Monday following the weekend.

As if having NPR podcasts on my MP3 is not geeky enough, I listen to several real nerdfests. The authors of "Freakonomics" have turned their books into a multi-media empire. About once a month they do an hour-long show, and have shorter pieces in between. But they can't come close in econ-geekiness to "Econtalk". Each week George Mason U. economist Russ Roberts hosts a chat with another economist. Despite being a Hayek-utopian, Roberts is a great host, in that he makes sure that his guests speak in a language anyone can understand, and when he disagrees with them he does so politely and asks them to explain themselves like a gentleman. He is the anti-Bill O'Reilly.

The geekdom does not end there. English economist Tim Harford does a podcast called "More or Less", where he actually looks at the numbers behind things that people believe are true. And for real science, as opposed the the dismal kind, I enjoy "Radiolab". Their work often appears on various NPR shows, but you can find hour-long shows about science and discovery, along with "shorts" on an irregular basis from these wise guys.

If you asked questions at Sunday School that made the teacher squirm, you might be interested in "Free Thought Radio", from the fine people at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who are devoted to the separation of church and state. A more entertaining Athiest, and a newcomer to podcasting is Penn Jilette, of Penn and Teller, who does a show each Sunday called "Penn's Sunday School". And the great Harry Shearer of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame, does a show called "Le Show" each Sunday. He's not an Athiest, or if he is he doesn't say, but he does ask a lot of difficult questions about stuff going on in the world.

Finally, there is "WTF with Marc Maron". Maron usually interviews other comedians. Since becoming a professional comedian is a really hard route to take in life, his guests usually have some very funny, or maybe horrifying, stories about their lives to tell, and do so in an amusing way.

There you have some suggestions of ways to be entertained and informed when your hands and eyes are occupied. Check them out. And let me know if I'm missing anything good. I'm going out in the yard to pull dandelions and listen to Econtalk.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Troubles me about the Treyvon Martin Case

Last November I was visiting my sister at her condo in Florida, and one day we were at the pool sharing the Tampa Tribune. Being old people, we had purchased the print version or the newspaper. At one point she hands me the local news section of the paper, and I said "I'm not all that interested in local news here". "Oh, you should read this. You are in Florida, and there is always something really crazy in the local news" she replied.

The killing of Treyvon Martin has now become another out of control news story, with the usual bloviators from the right and left trying to convict either Zimmerman for murder or Martin for....well, I guess the argument is that he was no angel because he's been in trouble at school, and therefore it was OK for him to get stalked and killed.

There are 2 things about this case that really trouble me. The first is the "Stand Your Ground" law that Florida passed in 2005 making this entire controversy possible. No surprise that the NRA, whose motto is "America is safer when we all shoot each other", was behind getting this law passed. It states that you needn't retreat before using force if you feel your life is threatened. It was sold as allowing victims of domestic violence to fight back, or shoot, when they are threatened, instead of having to run.

Now, I am all for shooting anyone engaged in domestic violence, but the Martin case shows the unintended consequences of this law. And, it raises the question "Where is the line for feeling threatened?". Can you shoot someone who looks at you funny on the street? How about if they look scary and they cross the street and are now on your side of the street walking towards you? Surely, you might feel your life is in danger, so fire away! And say you are frightened of people of other races. Can you just hunt one down and kill him for being in your neighborhood? The Sanford police say yes. Just open fire, say self defense, and the cops will buy it, and you won't even have to stand trial. That bothers me.

Which brings me to the other problem with this, more specific to this case. Even if Zimmerman's story is true, which may not be the case, he still caused this altercation. Martin was walking down the street. There is no indication he was looking for any trouble until he became upset at Zimmerman following him. And Zimmerman did exactly the opposite of what the 911 people told him to do. Yet, the police just buy his self-defense story? Seems he should have received a lot more scrutiny, considering he had ignored police orders.

Which brings me to this question: What if Martin had also had a gun, and he had decided his life was in danger because this white guy was stalking him? He is in the south, where white guys have been known to kill black guys for being black, so not really a stretch. So, if Martin had shot Zimmerman and said "this white guy was following me and I thought he would tie me to his car and drag me to death", would he have gotten the same free pass from the cops? I am guessing not.

The real crime in this case is the Florida law, and the NRA is the criminal. My guess is the right wing nuts are so desperate to make Martin look like some kind of evildoer to divert attention from their beloved promotion of gun violence. These are, after all, the same people who think having guns in bars is a good policy.