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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: My History Can Beat Up Your Politics


Vital stats:
Format: one guy talking about the history of political issues
Episode duration: 15-40m
Frequency: 3-4 per month

I tire of nothing quite so quickly as political arguments, especially ones about the blood-angrying issues of the moment. Paul Graham wrote sagely about what makes these so tiresome to hear, or worse, participate in:
I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people's identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that's part of their identity. By definition they're partisan.

Which topics engage people's identity depends on the people, not the topic. For example, a discussion about a battle that included citizens of one or more of the countries involved would probably degenerate into a political argument. But a discussion today about a battle that took place in the Bronze Age probably wouldn't. No one would know what side to be on.
Bruce Carlson, host of My History Can Beat Up Your Politics [iTunes], knows this. The historical lens glimmers as one of our last hopes for a way to talk about politics, a reasonable-izing agent, a technique that neutralizes the way politics can get so, well, political, and so he uses to look at current political questions. You might say that he either approaches history through politics or approaches politics through history — both seem true enough. Does the politics spice up the history, or does the history temper the politics? Does the history offer a way to understand the politics, or does the politics offer a way to understand the history? Does it matter?

The show uses the blessedly simple form so many popular history podcasts have settled on: one guy talking for a while. Carlson starts talking about an topic of long relevance to American politics — unions, social security, rights — or one that’s gained particular currency in the day’s news — gas prices, secret anti-terror operations, filibustering. He then lectures on the history of that topic, usually focusing on echoes of today’s concerns throughout the United States’ lifetime. Students of ancient and world history know there’s not much new under the sun in the public forum, but Carlson shows you don’t even have to go far back or far afield to understand that.

Despite his attempts to use history at the anti-politics, I’m sure people still accuse Carlson of political bias every so often. Putting out episodes called “The Dark Side of Rights” [MP3] or ambivalent assessments of unions [MP3] surely draws charges of crypto-conservatism, and — as I have learned from my peer group — conservative is the worst thing you can be. Then again, I’ve heard quite a few moments on the show when Carlson declares that conservatives won’t like what he’s about to show history revealing, and iTunes suggests Best of the Left as a show to which My History Can Beat Up Your Politics listeners also subscribe.

But regardless, doesn’t the one-guy-talking format sound... flat? People who’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to get into history podcasts again and again think so. I find that Carlson improves it with each program, sounding slightly more conversational and slightly less scripted. (Though you can still hear him turning the pages of his notes.) Listen to the older episodes he occasionally re-runs and, though the content holds up, you hear a farrago of strangely choppy editing, dropping out in mid-sentence, dropping in in mid-word, suddenly jumping back a sentence or to, repeating sonically identical parts of an intake of breath four or five times. The show can still sound a little glitchy, but it’s made much progress — something that, if you listen to enough of these talks, you’ll wonder if the American political process has ever made.

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to host and produce The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], a public radio show and podcast dedicated to in-depth cultural conversation. Please hire him for something.]

My Brother, My Brother and Me 57: Batman: Generations


Illness, fatigue and supernatural forces attempted to derail our regular recording schedule, but you know what? Ain't nothing gonna break-a our podcasting stride. Nobody gonna hold us down. Oh no! We've got to keep on advising.

Suggested talking points: High Seas Tutelage, Shooty's, Seed and Sap, Paul Blart: Dark Knight, R.V. Double-Header, Higgs-Boson, Electro-Bryan, The Stupid 92, Sit and Spin, Restarting the Fire

Al Madrigal on The Daily Show


Our long-time friend (really - he booked me and Jordan a Prank the Dean gig once!) Al Madrigal has joined the Daily Show as Senior Latino Correspondent. This was his (very funny) first segment on the show.

Bravo to one of comedy's top guys!

Culture: AV Club Picks for May 2011 on The Sound of Young America

Nathan Rabin
Josh Modell

AV Club Head Writer Nathan Rabin and Managing Editor AV Josh Modell bring us their current pop culture picks!

This month:

JESSE THORN: It's The Sound of Young America, I'm Jesse Thorn. Once a month or so we like to check in with our friends at the AV Club. They help us separate from the wheat from the chaff of popular culture. Here with some picks for this month are Nathan Rabin, the AV Club's head writer, and Josh Modell, the managing editor. Nathan, Josh, welcome back to The Sound of Young America.

NATHAN RABIN: Thanks for having us.

Click here for a full transcript.

Brother Ali & Jay Smooth on the N Word


"Racially, I'm still priveleged. No matter how big my heart is, no matter how much I want to rage against the machine, no matter what I do in life, I'm always going to be priveleged." - Brother Ali

Two great past Sound of Young America guests chop it up. Some serious insights here.

via Jay's tumblr.

Judge John Hodgman Episode 26: The Toot Dispute


Jason's mom, Faith, argues that whenever he passes gas, he should proffer an "excuse me" to whomever is present (according to general social etiquette). Jason says he's an adult and as such, is allowed to do as he pleases. Should Faith butt out, or should Jason be held to her standards?

You may view the evidence after the jump, and as always, you may subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or through this RSS feed.

George Plimpton's Video Falconry

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Someone just posted this commercial they found for George Plimpton's Video Falconry over in the forum. Absolutely amazing. If someone could find and port the game, though... that would be truly spectacular. As alluded to by Judge John Hodgman in episode 22 of the show.


New Grounds have found and ported George Plimpton's Video Falconry! And there is much rejoicing!

All Around Town


I've had some fun doing some friends' and colleague's shows lately, and talking up our new WTF project, so I thought I'd share some of what we've done.

Jordan and I were guests on the Ann Arbor Library's podcast, and talked about where JJGo comes from, and about how new media has changed our careers and those of the people around us.

I visited with past Sound guest Oliver Wang on his new podcast, and we talked about the history of The Sound, and about music that doing the show has introduced to me.

Our pal Matt Belknap from Never Not Funny visited The Wolf Den podcast, which is about the business of podcasting, and Marc Maron dropped in to chat about WTF on public radio. Jeff Ulrich, the show's host, described me as a poet, a player and a pimp, iirc, so I feel obliged to link that up.

Also, the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard followed up on their previous long interview with me with a little piece on WTF on public radio that I really enjoyed.

So, we're all caught up! Enjoy.

Sketchfest NYC!

06/08/2011 (All day) - 06/11/2011 (All day)
New York City
Venue Name: 
The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre

The Sound of Young America is proud to co-sponsor this year's

Sketchfest NYC!

This is your chance to see thirty-six of the best sketch comedy groups from around the country over a single weekend, including many friends and former guests of The Sound, from The Whitest Kids U Know to Elephant Larry to Kristen Schaal (of Kurt and Kristen) and The Rejection Show.

Be sure to sure to check out for the latest details on tickets, performers, and more.

WHAT: SketchFest NYC

WHEN: June 8, 9 and 10 at 7PM, 8PM, 9PM, 10PM, 11PM & MIDNIGHT;
June 11th at 1PM, 2:30PM, 4PM, 6PM, 7PM, 8PM, 9PM, 10PM, 11PM & MIDNIGHT

WHERE: Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre; 307 West 26th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues

TICKETS: Tickets will be on sale soon for this year’s SketchFest! Click here for more info.

Individual Tickets: $10
Nightly Passes: $40
Full Festival Passes: $100


7:00 PM The Solo Show w/I Am The Horizon, Paul Thomas, and Fraidy Cat. Hosted by Megan Kellie
8:00 PM Inside Joke Films + Gramps
9:00 PM Team Submarine + This Is About Smith
10:00 PM Kurt & Kristen
11:00 PM 101.9RXP presents Sketch Rocks, Hosted by Jimmy The Greek
Midnight Channel 101

7:00 PM Paul Thomas + FreeLoveForum
8:00 PM Fraidy Cat + BoF
9:00 PM Fantasy Grandma + BriTANick
10:00 PM URDB - Live!
11:00 PM The Pyramid Shew + New Exc!tement
Midnight The Puterbaugh Sisters, Variety Hour w/Neon Lights, The CowMen, and Leibya Rogers

7:00 PM Klepper & Grey + The Riot Act
8:00 PM Pangea 3000 + Harvard Sailing Team
9:00 PM Whitest Kids U Know
10:00 PM Showcase
11:00 PM Rue Brutalia + Murderfist
Midnight Surprise Feature Film Screening

1:00 PM ONN Panel
2:30 PM Marvel's What The? Panel
4:00 PM Whitest Kids Panel
6:00 PM I Am The Horizon + Two Fun Men
7:00 PM The Other Other Guys
8:00 PM Seeder & Lee
9:00 PM Oh Brother!
10:00 PM Heavyweight
11:00 PM MEAT + Elephant Larry
Midnight THE Rejection Show presents SketchFest NYC's Closing Night Craptacular

Stop Podcasting Yourself 167 - Ben McGinnis

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Ben McGinnis

Comedian Ben McGinnis joins us to talk about the Hays Code, stairway etiquette, and Werner Herzog.

Download episode 167 here. (right-click)

Brought to you by: (click here for the full list of sponsors)

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