Favorites From the NPR 100

I just found some notes I made from a bucket list item I checked off a few years ago–listening to NPR’s 100 essential American recordings of the 20th century. I thought I’d blogged about this before, but apparently not.

Some of the items were familiar, but many were new to me. Here are my favorites from the ones I was hearing for the first time.

“Adagio for Strings” This beautifully ethereal piece is just magical. It’s heart rending and haunting.


“Ain’t That a Shame” Fun, early rock track.


“Blue Moon of Kentucky” An early bluegrass track with a legacy in folk and country music. Feeling connected to roots here.

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I Love NPR Pledge Drives

I love NPR pledge drives! They entertain the heck out of me.

As a conservative, I decided years ago that, even though I often listen to NPR, I would never contribute to a media giant that constantly derides my beliefs and values. Hearing the desperation, hypocrisy, and impotent anger that fills their pledge drives, then, is an especially fun kind of schadenfreude.

Have you ever listened to one of their pleas for money? Seriously, you can’t find this much shame and guilt used in the most hostile caricatures of parochial schools! Most of the on-air talent is quickly reduced to outright scolding the listeners for not subsidizing them, even though podcasts and satellite radio have made their business model obsolete. Hearing them try to dress up their entitled begging is better than the surreal joy of listening to some teenager self-righteously lecture you.

Everybody else says they want these pledge drives to be over as soon as possible, but not me. I hope they last forever. They’re certainly more entertaining than the predictably stale advocacy they call “news.” #NPR @NPR @KNPRNews

NPR, ISIS, and Recognizing Identities

For over a year now, when I hear NPR reporting on terrorism in the Middle East, it’s always with reference to “the so-called Islamic State,” or “the self-proclaimed Islamic State.”  NPR always uses those two, and only those two, modifiers.  Is there some NPR style guide that dictates this?

The rationale is obvious: they don’t want to legitimize the group’s theocratic claims.  Fair enough.

But is the constant use of the qualifiers necessary?  Apparently NPR is afraid that calling them merely the Islamic State–even once–will result in people thinking, “Golly, I guess those guys are the official political leaders of all the world’s Muslims or something.”  And isn’t that really an insult to the intelligence of their listeners?

Approaching this from another angle, though, reveals some cognitive dissonance.  After all, who is NPR to imply that the identity ISIS prefers is not to be honored?  Are they saying that we are not obligated to celebrate someone’s sincerely held belief about their own nature?  Obviously, there has been an uncritical acceptance of some “self-proclaimed” labels and an ideological distancing from some others.  Why the inconsistency?  What’s the rationale for qualifying some labels and honoring others?

But again, the real reason here is obvious.  For mainstream American liberal media, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Patently Stupid

“I want to file a patent on filing lawsuits claiming patent infringement.  That way, anytime someone wants to file a lawsuit claiming patent infringement, they’ll have automatically violated my patent and I can sue them.  Apple alone will make me a billionaire!”

Such was my thought after hearing some recent news stories on the ongoing patent kerfuffle between Apple and Samsung (see here and here), which reminded me of this hilarious essay, a bit of satirical prognosticating by the late, great Michael Crichton.

Funny that just about every mundane thing conceivable in science can now be patented, which throws future medical and technological innovation into jeopardy, but a discrete sequence of yoga postures performed in a certain environment cannot be copyrighted, which threatens to throw future profit for the entire fitness industry into jeopardy.

Clapping Along to Strauss

Heard about this on NPR’s Performance Today while driving home from work last Monday.  Apparently, every New Year’s in Vienna, a concert closes with this piece, with the audience clapping along and the conductor encouraging it, as seen here.  What fun!  I’d love to be in that audience, wouldn’t you?

Thistle & Shamrock

It’s been years since my local NPR station dropped one of my favorite shows, The Thistle and Shamrock, a weekly hour-long update on all things current in the world of Celtic music.  Luckily, they’ve started keeping some podcasts and archives of recent shows on their web site. I listen to it a lot while grading papers at work.

Highly recommended for all fans of Celtic music.  They always find a way to make each show full of variety and surprises, and I’ve never heard an episode without finding some new song I love.  The last show I heard, from a few weeks ago, featured this track by a new, young folk guitarist; it’s pretty catchy.

NPR’s Fresh Air Praises Mitt Romney’s Faith

The NPR program Fresh Air interviewed the authors of a new book about Mitt Romney a few days ago.  The authors, two reporters for the Boston Globe, did a lot of homework in digging into Romney’s life.  The surprising thing about what they concluded–and how the NPR show presented it–was that it was mostly very positive.

Occasionally, news outlets will follow two young missionaries around for a day and write a story about it.  I’ve seen such stories locally a few times.  As interesting as that might be to non-Mormons, though, I’ve always wished someone would shadow and report on things like Ward Council meetings or family home evening or home teaching.  That’s where the real meat of regular Mormon life is.  A day in the life of a bishop is far more fascinating than a day in the life of a missionary.

While the NPR story did spend several minutes on Romney’s mission, it also described his service as a stake president.  It recounted some controversy–objectively–but mostly it dwelled on the Christlike ministration such a calling entails.  One excerpt:

So you’re absolutely right that you will find divergent views of Mitt Romney from the people he led. One of the things I was most surprised in doing the research in this book was to learn how incredibly charitable and generous he has been – he and his family have been – in often very quiet ways, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large ways. But it’s not something he ever, or that he rarely, I would say, talked about. And I found that sort of fascinating, especially in light of sort of how he’s sort of viewed today.

The whole thing is worth listening to, or you could browse the transcript.

Irrational Anti-Christian Hatred Is Real

Last month, my college classes had an assignment to write a problem/solution essay.  Being young adults, almost all of them wrote from a politically liberal perspective.  Now, some of those papers were clever, articulate, and well-written, even if I personally disagreed with their premises and conclusions.

But not many of them.  Many of them were angry, juvenile rants with no more basis in reason or reality than the most fevered stereotypes of leftist loonies.  One guy wrote three pages about how global warming puts “all life on earth in danger of destruction very soon,” for example.  Several wrote about cheerfully banning anything they don’t like, from fast food to cigarettes to belief systems.  One student summed up that philosophy like this: “If people can’t make the choice to stay away from it themselves, it should be banned.”

I admit, I find this tendency to automatic tyranny scary.

But wait, belief systems?  They wrote that they want to ban belief systems?  Yes.  The most popular subject was gay marriage, and some writers were quite assertive in their condemnation of anything that wouldn’t agree with them.  By far the scariest lines in any paper I read were these:

“[He] was picked on because of his sexual orientation and now those who believe that his sexual orientation does not go along with their religious beliefs can bully him.  Apparently Al Qaeda was completely okay and the Holocaust can be justified too.  Al Qaeda occured because of religious beliefs…Then the Holocaust killed millions of Jews simply because of Adolf Hitler’s moral beliefs.” 

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Demography Redux

A post at First Thoughts this week links to some recent rumblings over much of the world’s fretting about the global population reaching 7 billion, despite the fact that nobody seems to be worried that most nations now have a falling birth rate.

So which is it? Does the world have too many people, or too few? The most honest answer is probably that the threat of “overpopulation” is alarmist and emotion-based, whereas worries about declining birthrates are underappreciated, even though they are more grounded in hard facts. Indeed, if predictions like Kotkin’s play out, and emerging nations follow the demographic trends of advanced ones, the strange phenomenon of societies breeding themselves out of existence may no longer simply be a first world problem but a global one. It’s entirely conceivable that, 100 years from now, should the ‘birth dearth’ continue to spread, our progeny will look back nostalgically on earlier times when people fretted about “overpopulation.” Indeed, in a growing number of contexts, professional demographers already are.

Quite right.  As a teacher, I often hear people pay lip service to the trope that “children are our future,” but few seem to appreciate just how crucial that human capital is.  In the long run, fewer children must mean less of a future.

This reminded me of an exchange about demography on NPR about a month ago.  Even they’ve had a few stories in recent years about the dangers of falling birth rates, but a comment by the snob interviewer in this one irked me a little.  Continue reading

NPR Irony

My local NPR station mingled its glowing Occupy Wall Street coverage over the last few weeks with a pledge drive.  A few days ago, I heard the station manager declare the drive at an end.  Then she noted that fully a quarter of the drive’s funding came from “corporate sponsors.”  She thanked them profusely.

Now that the pledge drive has finished, NPR can return to singing the praises of anti-corporate protesters.

1991: Music’s Best Year?

Earlier this year, I caught some of an NPR show called Sound Opinions, where the hosts talked about the twentieth anniversary of 1991, one of music’s best years.  It was quite a thought-provoking discussion, and made me realize how special that one year was.  While I’m not old enough to remember the British invasion of 1964 or the glam and punk rock virtuosos of 1976, I can certainly say that none of the last twenty years have seen anywhere near the amount the quality that we saw in 1991. 

Consider, all the following landmark albums were released within the same twelve months:

  • Nirvana, Nevermind
  • Pearl Jam, Ten
  • Guns N Roses, Use Your Illusion I & II
  • U2, Achtung Baby
  • REM, Out of Time
  • Metallica, Metallica (The Black Album)
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik

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NPR: Fair and Balanced

I actually really like listening to NPR.  Yes, the constant stories about some quirky and/or oppressed little guy vs. some big bad mean corporate entity get a bit tedious, but there’s a lot of good stuff on NPR, and not just the humor shows on Saturday!  (See my Arts entry this Monday for an example.)

Today, I heard two different commentators on the debt ceiling debate say that tea partiers in Congress are “radical extremists” who “nearly brought this country to the edge of ruin” because of their agenda to limit the size of government.  Such hyperbolic character assassination is pretty vile, but these were commentators, not reporters.  One was on The World, the other was on All Things Considered.  Two such insults in one day, almost exactly the same.  Good grief.  I wonder how many other times it was said that I didn’t hear.

On the other hand, that same episode of The World also had a story about tea party foreign policy that was rather gracious; not quite sympathetic, but that wouldn’t be news, either.  It was objective.  It was fair.  Good for them. 

In other news, today, for the first time in history, the credit rating of the United States was lowered by a major agency.  Who saw this coming?  Oh, right, those kooky tea paty nuts.  The next time Uncle Sam wants to borrow a dollar, ask for some collateral.

It’s easy to criticize NPR, but…

Yes, NPR was shamelessly biased and intolerant for firing commentator Juan Williams for expressing a tame personal opinion that dared to color outside the party lines (when they were really just looking for an excuse because they hated him for not hating Fox News; he isn’t conservative–far from it–he just doesn’t hate them–that’s unacceptable!).  Always funny how those who squawk loudest about tolerance and variety are the least likely to live it. 

Still, all the criticism against NPR that’s slamming them for violating his “right to free speech” is wrong.  Our right to free speech is not the same as a guaranteed platform or audience.  It’s merely a restriction on persecution.  NPR isn’t persecuting him, just refusing to give him a bully pulpit anymore.  In a free country, employers are welcome to terminate the employment of whoever they want.  We may not like their reasoning, but it’s their call to make. 

Of course, the bigger problem for me here is not that NPR is advocating a leftist agenda so much as they’re disingenuous about it.  Stop claiming to be neutral when you’re not!  There’s nothing wrong with being a liberal media outlet, but at least be honest about it. 

Several years ago, around the outbreak of the Iraq war, I listened to Teri Gross’s show Fresh Air for a while.  I stopped after her biased treatment of guests became too obvious to bear.  Liberal guests were adored, worshipped, joked with, and flattered to no end–I remember when the author of What’s Wrong With Kansas? came on, Gross exuded giddiness like a preteen with a crush. 

But when the occasional conservative would come on, I could hear the irritation in her voice–she would grill them in this terse, quizzical tone that sounded like a scientist studying a bug under a microscope: “I don’t understand this weird thing, but I’m trying to wrap my superior mind around it.”  One Bush administration official got yelled at with increasing vigor as he failed to wither under her scrutiny.

Whether or not they’re balanced, biased, or whatever else, we shouldn’t be funding a public media outpost at all, though.  If, as the defenders always say, taxes are such a tiny part of their budget, then why make such a big fuss about letting it go?