What Is a “Blerd?” Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #56 Discusses Nerd Culture and Race with The Second City’s Anthony LeBlanc

The Interim Executive Producer of The Second City joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the scope of black nerd-dom: what nerdy properties provide to those who feel "othered," using sci-fi to talk about race, Black Panther and other heroes, afrofuturism, black anime fans, Star Trek, Key & Peele, Get Out vs. Us, and more.

A few articles you might enjoy:

Some relevant videos and podcasts:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Professor Who Picked Every Election Winner Since Ronald Reagan Reveals His Prediction for the 2020 Election

The New York Times writes: "Right now, polls say Joe Biden has a healthy lead over President Trump. But we’ve been here before (cue 2016), and the polls were, frankly, wrong. One man, however, was not. The historian Allan Lichtman was the lonely forecaster who predicted Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016 — and also prophesied the president would be impeached. That’s two for two. But Professor Lichtman’s record goes much deeper. In 1980, he developed a presidential prediction model that retrospectively accounted for 120 years of U.S. election history. Over the past four decades, his system has accurately called presidential victors, from Ronald Reagan in ’84 to, well, Mr. Trump in 2016.

In the video Op-Ed above, Professor Lichtman walks us through his system, which identifies 13 “keys” to winning the White House. Each key is a binary statement: true or false. And if six or more keys are false, the party in the White House is on its way out"

No spoilers from us. You have to watch until the end.

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What Does the United States’ Coronavirus Response Look Like Abroad?: Watch the Rest of the World Stare Aghast at Our Handling of COVID-19

"Even in third world countries, like Senegal, it isn't like this..."

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Hear the Sound Of Endangered Birds Get Turned Into Electronic Music

Bird-watching is having a moment, thanks to the pandemic.

As non-essential workers adjusted to spending more time at home, their ears adjusted to the increasingly non-foreign sound of birdsong outside their windows.

Those sweet tweets are no doubt largely responsible for the record breaking turnout at this year’s Global Big Day, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's annual birding event, held earlier this spring.




50,000 participants logged 2.1 million individual observations, and 6,479 species.

Apparently, there are even more birds in this world than there are sourdough starters...

...though for the immediate future, civic-minded birdwatchers will be confining their observations to the immediate vicinity, as a matter of public health.

We look forward to the day when bird enthusiasts residing outside of Belize, Mexico, or Guatemala can again travel to the Yucatán Peninsula in hopes of a face-to-face encounter with the Black Cat Bird.

Til then, the animated video above, in which a Black Catbird unwittingly duets with Belize’s Garifuna Collective, makes a soothing place holder.

The catbird and the collective appear along with nine other electronic musician / endangered native bird teams on the fundraising album, A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean.

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager joins NILLO, a producer and DJ from Costa Rica who draws musical inspiration from the tribal communities around him.

Siete Catorce, a producer who helped popularize the popular border genre known as ruidosón—a mix of cumbia and prehispanic tribal sounds—is paired with a Yellow-headed Parrot.

Jordan “Time Cow” Chung of Equiknoxx seamlessly integrates a Jamaican Blackbird into his unique brand of organic, experimental dancehall.

The album follows 2015's Guide to the Birdsong of South America, and as with its predecessor, 100% of the profits will be donated to regional organizations focused on birds and conservation—Birds Caribbean, La Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica, and Mexico’s Fundacion TXORI.

Birds, as the project’s founder, Robin Perkins, told Gizmodo’s Earther, are the most musical animals in the world:

There’s something really nice about focusing on endangered species and songs that are disappearing and not being preserved and to use music to raise awareness about the species. I believe music has a big power for social activism and social change and for environmental change.

Listen to A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean for free on Spotify.

Buy the album or individual tracks on Bandcamp to benefit the charities above.

Robin Perkins’ limited edition prints of the featured birds also benefit the bird-focused regional charities and can be purchased here.

via MyModernMet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Breaks Down How He Wrote Hamilton‘s Big Hit, “My Shot”

The current moment has forced the original cast and crew of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s massive hit musical Hamilton to revisit and reevaluate the story it tells about America’s founding. As Miranda himself told The Root’s Tonja Renée Stidhum, “All of these guys are complicit in the brutal practice of slavery, slavery is the third line of our show… that is just a prerequisite for the story we’re telling.” But he didn’t first set out to write history. “Originally, this was a concept album. I wanted to write a hip hop album, so I was never picturing the guys on the statues that are being torn down right now. I was picturing, ‘What are the voices that are best suited to tell the story.’”

Debuting in more optimistic times, when the country had its first Black president, Hamilton declared, says Leslie Odom, Jr. (who played Aaron Burr) that “if this history belongs to all of us… then we’re going to take it and we’re going to say it and use our own words to tell it!” Controversy and critique aside, there’s no denying Miranda’s tremendous gifts as a dramatist and songwriter, on display not only in Hamilton but in the Moana soundtrack.




How does he do it? Riding the wave of renewed Hamilton fandom after the Disney release of the original cast film, Miranda recently sat down with Rotten Tomatoes to discuss his process. When he gets to Hamilton, he gives us a detailed breakdown of “My Shot,” which, he says, took him a year to write.

“It was not only writing Hamilton’s ‘I want’ song,” says Miranda, “although it certainly is that. It was also proving my thesis that Hamilton’s intellect is what allows him to propel through the narrative of the story.” The play’s protagonist proves his intellectual worthiness by mastering and making his own the styles of Miranda’s favorite rappers, from Big Pun to Jay Z to Biggie to Mobb Deep. “I’m grabbing from the influences and paying homage to those influences. …I’m literally calling on the ancestors of this flow. …The ‘Whoah’ section, I’ll just say, is based on the AOL startup sound because I wanted it to feel like …his words are connecting with the world.”

Whether or not any of Hamilton’s younger viewers have ever heard the AOL startup sound, the detail reveals how Miranda’s mind works. His creations emerge from a matrix of references and allusions, each one chosen for its specific relation to the story. Many of these callbacks go over the audience’s heads, but they still have their intended effect, creating tension in “the densest couplets that I could write,” Miranda says. The message in “My Shot,” within the context of the musical itself, is that “Hamilton is the future within this group of friends.” But the message of Hamilton has nothing to do with the 18th century and everything to do with the 21st. Perhaps its most subversive idea is that the highest leadership in the U.S. might just as well look like Hamilton as Hamilton. See Miranda and the Hamilton cast perform "My Shot" at the White House just below.

via Laughing Squid

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Icons of Art Wearing Masks: Frida Kahlo, Mona Lisa, Girl with the Pearl Earring & More

We hear the phrase “unprecedented times” every day now, but the truth is few calamities in human history are more precedented than plagues and pestilences. In Western history, at least, disease epidemics seem always to have been followed by Machiavellian opportunism and cultish conspiracy theories that only made things worse.

During the 14th century, almost six hundred years before Naomi Klein defined the shock doctrine, the Black Death “strengthened the power of the state and accelerated the domination of key markets by a handful of large companies,” write Eleanor Russell and Martin Parker at The Conversation (hello, Amazon). In their argument, disaster capitalism may have preceded actual capitalism, and it started with the plague.

In his history of the Great Plague of 1665, Daniel Defoe described how “everyone behaved badly, though the rich behaved the worst,” as Jill Lepore writes at The New Yorker, forcing their servants to put their lives at risk to provision the great houses. “This Necessity…,” writes Defoe, “was in a great Measure the Ruin of the whole City,” though few in London then understood how to slow transmission of the disease.




That was not the case when the Influenza epidemic took the lives of hundreds of millions around the world between 1918 and 1920. Doctors understood how the flu spread and recommended that everyone wear a mask in public. Cities passed ordinances and immediately resistance sprang up, leading to organizations like San Francisco’s Anti-Mask League, whose rhetoric sounds like that of anti-mask protestors of today.

The times may be unique—for the speed at which COVID-19 spread around the world, for instance, along with the disinformation—but humans have lived through many versions of pandemic, and many disastrously selfish, opportunistic, and short-sighted responses to it. We may contemplate these historical repetitions as we admire the Instagram creations of artist Genevieve Blais, who has been posting images of famous paintings, statues, and photographs with their subjects wearing masks.

More than novelty memes or highbrow public service announcements, Blais’ creations are part-whimsical/part-sobering reminders of the persistence of plagues throughout history—their influence on the rise and fall of dynasties and powerful patrons, and the ignorance and folly that led to so much preventable death. Technologically speaking, humans are better positioned than ever before to combat epidemics of disease. But it’s worth remembering the precedents for our current conditions. Plagues have shaped human history. We don’t always have to respond to them the same way. See all of Blais's masked fine art images at her Plague History Instagram page. If you DM her, she will make you a print.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Dr. Fauci Reads an Undergrad’s Entire Thesis, Then Follows Up with an Encouraging Letter

Photo via the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases 

What are some qualities to look for in a leader?

  • A thirst for knowledge
  • A sense of duty
  • The scruples to give credit where credit is due
  • A calm, clear communication style
  • Humility

Dr. Anthony Fauci brings these qualities to bear as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health.




They’re also on display in his message to then-undergrad Luke Messac, now an emergency medicine resident at Brown University, whose research focuses on the histories of health policy in southern Africa and the US, and who recently tweeted:

13 years ago, I emailed Dr. Fauci out of the blue to ask if I might interview him for my undergrad thesis. He invited me to his office, where he answered all my questions. When I sent him the thesis, HE READ THE WHOLE THING (see his overly effusive review below). Who does that?!

Here's what Fauci had to say to the young scientist:

It certainly reads like the work of a class act.

In addition to serving as one of the COVID-19 pandemic’s most recognizable faces, Dr. Fauci has acquired another duty—that of scapegoat for Donald Trump, the 6th president he has answered to in his long career.

He seems to be taking the administration’s potshots with a characteristically cool head, though compared to the furious criticisms AIDS activists directed his way in the 80s and 90s, he's unlikely to find much of educational value in them.

Last March, The Body Pro, a newsletter for workers on the front lines of HIV education, prevention, care, and services quoted ACT UP NY’s Jim Eigo on the doctor’s response to a letter demanding parallel tracking, a policy revision that would put potentially life-saving drugs in the hands of those who tested positive far earlier than the existing clinical trial requirements’ schedule would have allowed:

Lo and behold, he read the letter and liked it, and the following year he started promoting the idea of a parallel track for AIDS drugs to the FDA. Had he not helped us push that through, we couldn’t have gotten a lot of the cousin drugs to AZT, such as ddC and ddI, approved so fast. They were problematic drugs, but without them, we couldn’t have kept so many people alive. 

Fauci, despite being straight and Catholic, was not only not homophobic, which much of medical practice still was in the late 1980s, he also wouldn’t tolerate homophobia among his colleagues. He knew there was no place for that in a public-health crisis.

Speaking of correspondence, Dr Messac seems to have taken the “perpetual student” concept Dr. Fauci impressed upon him back in 2007 to heart, as evidenced by a recent tweet, regarding a lesson gleaned from Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron, a 1977 documentary about bodybuilders:

Schwarzenegger explained how he would figure out what to work out every day by looking in a mirror and finding his weakest muscles. It’s pretty good advice for studying during residency. Every shift reveals a weakness, and greats never stop looking for their own.

In writing to Messac, Dr. Fauci alluded to his commencement speeches, so we thought it appropriate to leave you with one of his most recent ones, a virtual address to the graduating class of his alma mater, College of the Holy Cross:

“Now is the time, if ever there was one” he tells the Class of 2020, “to care selflessly about one another… Stay safe, and I look forward to the good work you will contribute in the years ahead.”

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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