🚽 Ashes in Disney World toilets✨, the Presidential Physical Fitness Test🏋🏼♀️, a talking mongoose, human skin books 📖, Election Profit Makers's Starlee Kine, David Rees, Jon Kimball🇺🇸
💌Podcast The Newsletter is your weekly love letter to podcasts and the people who make them.💌
This week we’re getting to peek into the podcast app and listening life of Nikka Singh, a story producer at Snap Judgment.
App: I feel like I should be ashamed by this, but I am not the most tech savvy so I just use the stock issue podcast app. But I’d be happy to have someone slide into my DMs with the proper app for listening.
Listening Time per Week: I would say I listen to at least an hour or two each day. And if something really has its claws in me then I will just walk for as long as it takes to get my fix. An interesting note on this is that this is actually a very old tradition. Aristotle had started the Peripatetic School, which means to walk about in Greek. The idea being that it somehow helped with focus while learning and/or lecturing. Actually now that I’m on the philosophy kick, a lot of great thinkers have suggested sauntering about is a great way to ponder the workings of the universe, and Rebecca Solnit wrote a terrific book on it. I love you Solnit!
When I Listen: I listen when I work out (mostly running), when I ride my sweet bicycle around, and when I take walks. Those are my standard everyday habits but a new thing I’ve been doing is listening to a podcast while I draw and that’s been a lot of fun.
How I Discover: I subscribe to newsletters of people smarter and more cultured than me, like this one, and then I just get suggestions from friends. I also like to binge on a variety of compilation shows, which reminds me that I need to binge listen to Re:sound by the wicked smart people at Third Coast and their pocket conference.
ps If you are pleased with Podcast The Newsletter, please spread the word.
👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
Election Profit Makers’s Starlee Kine, David Rees, Jon Kimball
How did this crazy podcast start?
DAVID: Jon and I have known each other since seventh grade. In the summer of 2016 I called him to say hello and randomly asked what he’d been up to. (Jon is always getting really obsessed with interesting things like urban infrastructure, old arrowheads, almanacs, etc.) He told me about PredictIt and how he was making lots of money by betting against Trump supporters in the presidential markets. Jon also deals in domain names and other internet business stuff so I thought it could be cool to make a podcast about the internet and the election. My friend Jonathan Coulton told me to keep it simple and just make it about betting on the election. Jon agreed to participate and I asked Starlee if she would help me make it because I’d never made a podcast before. The more Starlee listened to Jon talk during the recordings, the more questions she had for him -- so eventually she got on the mic too and became our co-host. We lost a ton of money on the 2016 election and were totally traumatized by the results. So in 2020 we decided to bring the podcast back and get our revenge.
JON: I’ve known David since middle school and in the summer of 2016 we were catching up on a phone call when I told him about this new obsession of mine: betting on political outcomes using the website PredictIt.org. I was feeling pretty smug as I was making good money betting against over exuberant Trump supporters. David suggested we should do and podcast about it and just like he used to bully me into his pet projects back in middle school, this was no different. Soon after he roped in Starlee and the EPM team was in place.
I often have a hard time describing the show to people. How do you do this? What is your elevator pitch?
DAVID: It’s a comedy show about three friends betting on political outcomes as a way of managing their anxiety about the state of the world.
JON: It’s a show about current events and betting with real analysis and smart commentary but it’s mostly comedy driven by the absurdity of our current political situation.
STARLEE: It’s a political comedy show about three friends helping each other cope with the world, that will end with them crying, either out of sorrow or relief.
What do you hope this show does for people?
STARLEE: I think we all hope that it makes people laugh a bit during a time when it feels especially hard to do that. Recording the show is sometimes the only real laughing I do that week. First season we got messages from Democratic listeners in red states who said the show helped them feel less alone and so that’s always a hope too. A general mission to help more than harm.
JON: I just hope the show can people some semblance of joy while at the same time providing them with helpful analysis of current events.
What's something the three of you disagree about when it comes to the election results?
JON: I think we’re all about the same on the partisan index though David and Starlee have a running bit about what a centrist I am because sometimes they feel I’m too “reasonable” at times. I think David and Particularly Starlee are more inclined to bet with their hearts whereas I try to stay neutral and focus on what the data is telling me is the likely outcome.
STARLEE: I’m more superstitious than Jon is about the results. Intellectually I know the superstitions aren’t real but I’m so nervous about the outcome that I can’t even type out what I’m hoping will happen. So when Jon bets on anything red, just as a strategy to make money, I want to pelt eye of newts at him or whatever, to counteract the curse he is setting in motion.
Fill in the blank: You will like Election Profit Makers if you like ______.
DAVID: You will like Election Profit Makers if you like gambling and anxiety.
JON: You will like Election Profit Makers if you like anything David Rees or Starlee Kine has ever done. Political betting may be the hook of the show and I may be the “expert” but this show would suck if that’s what it was truly all about.
What's the best strategy for people who want to make a profit on predictit.org?
JON: First you should never invest more than you can afford to lose. Start small and learn how the site works and get the basics of trading. Read everything you can about prediction markets and PredictIt but assume most everything you read in the website comments section is not true. Know how to use Twitter as it’s the number source for breaking news which is crucial for making quick trades. Don’t get greedy. Take your gains and be happy.
Women in podcasting are constantly being criticized for their voices. What is your relationship with yours? How would you describe your voice?
STARLEE: I’ve actually mostly been treated kindly about my voice. I haven’t searched my name on Reddit in awhile so maybe there are whole threads over there tearing my voice apart but in general, people seem to go easy on me. I’ve been doing audio for so long that when I speak, I can hear how I actually sound. Like there’s no disconnect at all for me anymore. Maybe that’s more common now that people are recording themselves all the time.
But for anyone who criticizes a woman about her voice, why would you do that? Stop doing that.
You are all so funny. Is it ever hard to get a word in?
What shows do you listen to?
DAVID: I have pretty middlebrow taste when it comes to podcasts. For politics I listen to the Slate Political Gabfest and sometimes Josh Marshall’s podcast and Pod Save America and the Majority Report. For cultural stuff I listen to the Slate Culture Gabfest and Night Call and Jessa Crispin’s podcast Public Intellectual. I will admit that I feel overwhelmed with how many podcasts are out there; I basically still listen to the same podcasts I was listening to back in 2012 or whenever.
STARLEE: I love the Groceries by Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson (who also host the fantastic podcast Throwing Shade which just changed its name to Attitudes.) In Groceries, Bryan and Erin review grocery stores and it’s so incredibly soothing. There’s also a new podcast by my friends Christina Lee and Neha Potalia called Diversity Hires about diversity in the entertainment industry that is very good. I recently listened to Ross Sutherland’s two-part series about a fictional Sex and the City Sleep No More, on his Imaginary Advice podcast, that I absolutely loved. I can’t stop thinking about. I listened to it while walking around my neighborhood, at night, at the height of quarantine. It felt like the world had ended which was the perfect setting for it. My perennial podcast recommendation is In the Dark. Madeleine Baran impresses me more than anyone else in radio. Such a hero.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
I apologize for wasting this precious space to plug my own thing, but I’m begging you to listen to this episode of Judge John Hodgman, where my mom and I are guests. In Episode 489: Mr. Commode’s Wild Ride, I file suit against my mom, Cookie, who says she would like her ashes flushed down a toilet at Disney World. I am opposed! I have been told this episode is funny and heart-warming. Would love to hear what you think.
🎙️Brought To You By…’s Pan Am in Vietnam is a history lesson and emotional rollercoaster in one, telling the story of the Pan Am flight attendants who, during the Vietnam War, flew troops in and out of an active war zone on rest and recuperation missions. These white women (at this time, all flight attendants, called stewardesses, were white women who weighed the same and had the same hair-dos) were putting their lives in danger without getting properly credited for it. The episode starts out cheery—we get to hear the great lengths the flight attendants went to to make the soldiers on their flights feel at home, but take a turn once we hear how the flight attendants start to realize that many of these boys would never come home, and about Operation Babylift, an operation to evacuate thousands of children from Vietnam in April 1975, just weeks before the Fall of Saigon. Each of these women has a heroic story of her own and it’s amazing to hear them remember what it was like.
🎙️The first real episode of Maintenance Phase was so goddam special the co-host Michael Hobbes admitted he had an almost impossible time researching for it because it’s such a shadow of a topic—the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. (You know, the test you took in middle school to determine if you could run, do a pull-up, and maybe climb a rope?) Oddly enough, the test was born from a mass hysteria concerning the physical health of American children, who were lagging behind other countries when it came to fitness. Lyndon B. Johnson, a military man, was in office and created this stupid test that was basically a collection of military exercises. While this type of physical activity was popular in Europe, it was not popular in America, because it was basically the cliff notes from Nazi training sessions, which made the Americans nervous. So American kids were used to playing basketball, not doing pull-ups. And to this day, US middle schoolers spend an entire year in gym class playing touch football and broom hockey (just me?) and rollerblading, but then on one day a year they are given this random test that makes the feel like shit for failing. Listen to the episode to hear the full story–Michael and Aubrey, who were not athletic, have traumatizing memories but fortunately are intelligent enough to get past them. And their analysis is intelligent and entertaining.
🎙️This episode of The Constant was a blast—Gef (The Talking Mongoose.) It details the story of the Irving family, who owned a farm on the Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea) in the 1930s. The Irvings said a creature named Gef introduced itself and told them it was a mongoose born in New Delhi, India, in 1852, and talked to them, saying things like “I am a freak. I have hands and I have feet, and if you saw me you'd faint, you'd be petrified, mummified, turned into stone or a pillar of salt!” Gef (allegedly) guarded their house, would wake up guests, killed mice, and threw stuff around the house. The tabloids went nuts, but the Irvings did not seem to enjoy the publicity, which was made the fact that Gef was real seem convincing. This is one of those “they can’t make this stuff up” stories. But maybe the Irvings were just that creative. Either way, it’s a great story, told with so much excitement from Mark Chrisler, why make this comical story extra fun.
🎙️Riddle me this: Timothy Jones is found guilty of first-degree murder even though he didn’t commit the murder and didn’t even know that anyone had been murdered, and wasn’t at the scene of the murder. How? Phoebe Judge uses this story on episode of Criminal, 76th and Yates, to illustrate felony murder, a legal doctrine which makes people criminally liable if they merely begin a chain of events that leads to someone’s death. Timothy had been involved in a pretty low-stakes police chase but was charged with murder when the police SUV following him blew a red light and crashed into an innocent bystander’s car, killing her immediately. Phoebe breaks down this unusual law, illustrates it with other stories that sound like they’re questions in an SAT practice test, and talks to Timothy Jones. Ohohoh if you are looking some something kind of spooky, listen to How To Sell a Haunted House.
🎙️Last Day’s first season was about the Opioid crisis, and now it’s back with season two which confronts suicide in America. Episode one starts with a story of two Kevins—one Kevin who wanted to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and the other Kevin who was the man who stopped him from doing it. Last Day is working hand-in-hand with The Jed Foundation, a non-profit organization that prevents suicide for teens, to create this season. JED had some criticism for the way the episode was being produced that they share on the episode. So this episode is pretty meta—an episode about suicide that shows us the wrong way storytellers talk about suicide, and how Last Day can get it right.
🎙️After listening to this episode of The Alarmist about Vlad The Impaler…I want a TV mini-series! This guy murdered like 80,000 people–23,000 of them were impaled and put on display, 5,000 were beheaded, 10,000 were burned at the stake, and at least one was boiled alive and eaten. He was known to impale babies to their mothers’ bodies, and once set fire to a building holding homeless and mentally ill people. I am only telling you a fraction of what he did. Listening, my jaw kept dropping more and more until it had almost separated from my face. This guy…what a nut! He had a pretty traumatic childhood, the story is quite interesting, and in this episode, Rebecca Delgado Smith, with Amanda Lund, Chris Smith, and BETSY SODARO!!!, tries to figure out who is to blame of these monstrosities. (Rebecca seems hell-bent on blaming location, location, location, and personal branding.) What a dark, entertaining episode that’s perfect for Halloween.
🎙️This week I started Tom Brown’s Body, an investigative piece from Texas Monthly, hosted by journalist Skip Hollandsworth, about a teenager named Tom who went missing in a small Texan town. Two years later Tom’s remains were found, nobody was arrested, and nobody knows what happens. (Although there are a lot of lumpy, distracting theories that involve adult diapers and Tom being possibly gay?) The no-bullshit reporting is what makes this show great—Skip Hollandsworth is not making this case about him, and the show avoids falling into all those annoying true-crime tropes that make a show sound like everything already been done. With straight-forward storytelling, sharp interviews, and fact-chasing, Skip shows you he’s a good reporter instead of just telling you that he is.
🎙️This episode of The Alloooooosionist features the origin of the word “nightmare” (super interesting!) and two podcast superheroes, Paul Bae and American Hysteria’s Chelsey Weber-Smith, who talks about the etymology of satanic things, and a cute lil history of the jack-o-lantern. MORE IMPORTANTLY, The Allusionist is leaving Radiotopia. Please read Helen’s important statement here and support The Allusionist on Patreon.
🎙️City of Women explores “the calculated strategies, backdoor negotiations, and often absurd lengths women go to have fun and feel free in their city,” which may sound dark, but it’s far from a joyless show. It feels like a dance party for the minds of women on the streets of Bangladore, telling stories about simple things women do (go to the movies alone, express bravery,) tapping into why these things are so different for women. I know this sounds absurd but City of Women make me love women even more than I already do. Each episode is a colorful portrait of women being happy and free. I just listened to Guts and loved it, but recommend Movies, the first episode, if you haven’t already.
🎙️Jesse David Fox has a great interview of Good One with Shane Torres about Shane’s Guy Fieri joke. It’s a perfectly funny, smart joke (listen to the episode) and getting to hear how Shane crafted it is fun. I love this joke and this conversation because it celebrates humor that does good. This is a joke that made people laugh, and changed people’s negative opinions about Guy Fieri.
🎙️Tracy Clayton and Josh Gwynn have dedicated an episode of Back Issue to alternative music, something that is almost always associated with white people. But as Josh explains, Black kids can feel alienated and angsty, too. He remembers identifying with a Linkin Park song when he was young but also finding himself unable to celebrate it—he felt judged. This episode is Josh’s chance to celebrate it and its origins—rock-and-roll and blues—which, as Josh reminds you, Black people invented. If I had to describe the sound of Back Issue I would use the words “joy” and “friendship.” But it also turns much of what we believe about pop culture on its head—mostly because we are so used to hearing about this stuff from white people.
🎙️This Ologies episode is about the science of human skin books, which I only thought were real in movies. Medical librarian Megan Rosenbloom and analytical chemist Dr. Daniel Kirby join Alie to talk about why anyone would do this and what it means, culturally. To be honest, after listening, it’s not as weird as I thought it’d be. Still fascinating!
🎙️If you’ve been worried about Trump committing to a peaceful transfer of power, this episode of Radiolab, What If, might help you work through some potential scenarios in your mind. It introduces us to Rosa Brooks, who last summer gathered a team of 67 generals, lobbyists, think-tankers, people in the media from both sides to play this sort of choose-your-own-adventure war game to put these scenarios to the test, to see what could really happen. The teams were presented with different scenarios (ambiguous results, clear Biden victory, clear Trump win, narrow Biden win) and Rosa would track how the teams responded to each game. Each player was told to act the way they thought the people who they were on the team of would act. It’s not so much a prediction of what would happen, but an exercise that teaches us about how our system works.
🎙️Can hip-hop save a language? Pindrop releases us into Lima, Peru, to meet Liberato Kani, a hip hop artist who uses Peru’s native language Quechua in his tracks. It’s a language at risk of dying off because of anti-indigenous prejudice, but Liberato and other artists are bringing it back with music considered part of the “rap Andino” movement in Peru. This episode is a must-listen because of the story. But also because of the music. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before (unless you’re already familiar with the scissors dance, which is just what it sounds like and is a sound so special to this genre.) And it might be changing how connected young people in Peru are with Quechua.
🎙️Ear Hustle’s Are You Listening? is crushing upon crushing, because it shines light on a group of people whose lives are often so shattered by incarceration I’m not sure how they ever get put back together again. It’s the children of the people behind bars. They worry and are sad, but also feel abandoned and are ridiculed at school. They are blameless. And often parents in prison, who probably feel completely powerless, don’t know what their children need from them. One thing’s for sure: kids want their parents to ask them questions. This was discovered in a conversation Nigel and Earlonne had with a few kids in Project Avary, an initiative tailored to meet the emotional needs of kids with a parent in prison.
🎙️I’m not sure the “phantom whistler,” an invisible, whistling entity that was reported by an 18-year-old woman named Jacqueline Cadow in the 50s, is a ghost or some paranormal thing. (Jacqueline first started reporting that she was being whistled at wherever she went, and the harassment grew worse when she got engaged.) The phantom whistler started to make threatening phone calls to the family, threatening to kill Jacqueline if she went through with the wedding. This could have been Jacqueline’s stalker? Was she losing her mind? Either way, it’s an unsettling, indeed strange story. Hear about it on One Strange Thing’s The Whistler.
🎙️Everyone in podcasting talks about a famous series of In The Dark, the story of Curtis Flowers, who was on death row for twenty-three years, after six grueling trials, for a crime he did not commit. It’s an unbelievable story because the DA clearly was set on nailing Curtis, for some reason, although he struck out almost all black jurors, withheld important evidence, and engaged in all sorts of racist corruption. The case is famous because recently, in part response to this podcast, Curtis Flowers was freed. It was becoming increasingly embarrassing that I had not yet listened, but I finally spent the last two weeks with it, bonus episodes and all, and was truly floored by the story and the outstanding reporting. Host Madeleine Baran and her team of reporters spent tons of time in Curtis’ Mississippi town interviewing people the DA didn’t, digging for sources that had never been touched, and asking the questions that nobody had ever asked. Like: were there any other suspects? Did Curtis receive a fair trial? Who killed four people in a furniture store in 1996? Throughout all of her reporting, Madeleine was unable to meet or speak with Curtis, or even write him a letter. (Blocked by the DA.) (The DA also would not let Curtis attend his mother’s funeral, after she had visited him in prison twice a month for more than twenty years.) But in a recent, final episode, Madeleine finally gets to talk to Curtis. And in an update episode, A fire in Winona, Madeline answers questions about the case and her reporting, and it reveals what an impossible feat it was for Madeleine to pull this story off. You get a sense of what a good journalist Madeleine is—she wasn’t in Mississippi to exonerate Curtis. She was set on reporting the facts. But in the case of Curtis Flowers, the truth is what was needed to set him free.
🎙️For the last episode of No Compromise (sad) reporters Lisa Hagen and Chris Haxel go beyond the Dorr brothers, of whom they have been reporting, to introduce us to another one-man pro-gun propaganda band, Greg Pruett, who has developed an extremist philosophy modeled after a book called Confrontational Politics, a blueprint for political insurgency. Greg spreads confrontational politics on Facebook but also all over the country with physical events, to more than just pro-pro-gun people. To anti-vaxxers, white nationalists, and far-right activists in Europe. You could compare this terrorism to an MLM, or you could compare the Dorrs and Greg Pruett to Charles Manson, for pulling the puppet strings and seeing what happens. If Biden wins, these are the people we will have to worry about.
🎙️I love you!