The Science Behind the Bible

The latest podcast put out by The Chronicle of Higher Education (iTunesStreamWeb Site) doesn’t shy away from hot-button issues. Below, we’ve pasted the summary that accompanies the podcast on The Chronicle’s web site. Read it and then give the audio some time and thought.

“University-trained archaeologists and historians are scared to take on the Bible, says Eric H. Cline, an associate professor of classics at George Washington University. He talks about his new book, From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible, in which he argues that Bible studies have become dominated by ‘junk science’ (Noah’s ark found in Turkey!) because academics have yielded the field.”

Your Secret iPod Shame

We talk a good deal about virtuous podcasts here. But this episode of The Brian Lehrer Show (iTunesFeedWeb Site) coming out of NYC, focuses on the downright embarrassing songs that you have hidden on your iPod. And they talk about it with Kelefa Sanneh, the pop music critic from The New York Times. If you care to admit to your own songs of shame, you can use the veil of anonymity and list them in the comments below. And don’t worry, we won’t hold it against you… Have a good weekend.

Tracking Wikipedia’s Manipulations

wiki2.jpgIn 2006, we learned that staff members on Capitol Hill logged into Wikipedia and gave a partisan air-brushing to the biographies of various Congressmen and Senators. Meanwhile, in 2005, 15 paragraphs were mysteriously deleted from a Wikipedia entry on Diebold, the major American voting machine vendor that has found itself at the center of recent election controversies. And soon enough, these edits were traced back to a Diebold IP address.

All of this raised the question: Just how often is Wikipedia the victim of biased editing? And to what extent can corporate and political entries be trusted? According to Wired, some of these questions may be soon put to rest. A new web site called Wikipedia Scanner provides a “searchable database that ties millions of anonymous Wikipedia edits to organizations where those edits apparently originated…” Much more easily, users can now get a bead on just how prevalent these spin jobs are, and, more importantly, they can help keep these partisan edits under better control. Will Wikipedia Scanner (and program like it) help save Web 2.0? Perhaps so.

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Voices of American Presidents

fdrstamp2.jpgHere’s another example of podcasts that bring the past back to life. Thanks to Michigan State University, you can listen to audio recordings of twenty modern American presidents (iTunesFeedWeb Site), starting with Grover Cleveland (1892) and ending with GWB. The recordings mostly taken from inauguration addresses and State of the Union speeches include some good historical finds. Here you get Teddy Roosevelt blasting the elite’s subversion of the popular will, FDR speaking of an enduring democracy, Harry Truman calling for a lasting peace after World War II, JFK outlining the US response to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Bill Clinton touting the longest peacetime economic expansion in modern American history.

For more archives of presidential speeches, here are a few other collections worth checking out:

FDR: A Presidency Revealed (iTunesFeedWeb Site) Presented by the History Channel, this collection features some of FDR’s famous speeches, including his Fire Side Chats and his first inaugural address. (“There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”)

Presidential Archives Uncovered (iTunesFeedWeb Site) Produced by the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives, this collection presents clips of presidents’ serious policy discussions as well as their personal conversations with family members. Includes talks by Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.

Truman Library Podcasts (iTunesFeedWeb Site) Among these recordings you will notably find a lengthy talk by David McCullough, Truman’s Pulitzer Prizing Winning biographer.

The Speeches of John F. Kennedy (iTunesFeedWeb Site) A new but still small collection. Looks poised to grow, however.

The Beatles: Podcasts From Yesterday

Podcasts often have a nice way of bringing the past back to life. Beatles fans will undoubtedly appreciate several audio files dedicated to the Fab Four. Let’s start with a particularly good one. Rolling Stone Magazine, as part of a web feature called Lennon Lives Foreover, has released a podcast (iTunesFeedWeb Site) of Jann Wenner’s famous 1970 interview with John Lennon, which was conducted shortly after the band’s bitter breakup. Running over 3 hours, it is one of Lennon’s most extensive interviews, and it ranges broadly, touching not just on the breakup, but also on art and politics, drugs, Yoko, primal therapy and more. Another notable podcast along these lines is The Lost Lennon Tapes (iTunesFeedWeb Site). Originally presented by Westwood One in 1988, this podcast presents a collection of Lennon’s private tapes — tapes that include early recordings of The Beatles, radio interviews with John, demo tapes, chronicles of the Double Fantasy recording sessions, and private moments at home.

Next up is something for George Harrison fans. This podcast, called George Harrison Living in a Material World (iTunesWeb Site) takes a look back at George Harrison’s 3rd solo album. And, among other things, it includes interviews with artists who played on the album. Living in a Material World, which went to #1 on the charts in 1973 and was digitally remastered last year, represents, at least for some, Harrison’s most artistically pure solo work.

Lastly, we conclude with a couple of podcasts that look at The Beatles as the collective Beatles. Here, we give you Beatlegs Podcast (iTunesFeedWeb Site), a show that always features rare interviews or behind the scenes clips, followed by a rare outtake or live performance that few have heard before. And then there is Beatles Minute (iTunesFeedWeb Site), a podcast coming out of Philadelphia that gives you short, daily tidbits about the band.

Bonus: you can get a few alternative takes on songs from the Help! and Abbey Road-era here. (The site provides songs in mp3 format.)

As a final note, all of these podcasts are housed in our developing Music Podcast Collection. If you are not sure what a podcast is, check out our Podcast Primer. And finally, if you want more cultural media along these lines, be sure to Subscribe to Our Feed.

Weekly Wrap – August 12

A quick recap of what we served up this past week:

Download 75 Free University Courses as Podcasts. Click here.

Learn to Use Podcasts. Read our Primer.

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What Books Made a Difference? Last Call

Over the past week, we’ve been sounding out our readers on what books have made a difference in their lives. We have about 35 replies so far (and probably 75-100 listed books), and we’ll keep collecting replies until tomorrow (Saturday). Feel free to make your book choices known. The basic guidelines for participating can be found here. We’ll post a hopefully useful summary of your book picks next week. And, as mentioned, we’ll give a $50 gift certificate from to one randomly selected contributor. Thanks for taking part and have a good weekend.

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Download 75+ free courses as podcasts from leading universities, or check out our University Video Collection.

The Rich Get Busy and the Poor Get Poorer

Gregory Clarke, an economic historian at UC Davis, offers an unusual take on the Industrial Revolution in his upcoming book, A Farewell to Alms. Most scholars argue that the changing institutions of industrialization–factories, corporations, cities–worked together to drag us humans into the modern world. Clarke turns that idea on its head.

As the New York Times put it in a recent review, Clarke “believes that the Industrial Revolution — the surge in economic growth that occurred first in England around 1800 — occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population. The change was one in which people gradually developed the strange new behaviors required to make a modern economy work. The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save emerged only recently in human history.”

The most fascinating part of the argument is that, according to Clarke, these values spread in part because the upper classes were more successful at breeding and making sure their offspring survived to adulthood. By examining historical wills and property exchange, Clarke determined that “[t]he modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages.” Generations of illegitimate offspring, profligate parents and non-inheriting progeny sallied forth and married into the lower classes, bringing their capitalist ways with them.

If this theory holds up, it might shed some light on the rise of the English novel. The great Victorian novel-writers have traced uncannily similar processes of social intermingling and dispersion, and it’s a truism that almost every story pivots around an inheritance. We might visualize the process as hundreds of characters circling a few well-guarded piles of money. Most of them end up settling for less, and most of the drama and tension in the plot arcs stem from these compromises. And, of course, the novels trace the spread of just the bourgeois virtues Clarke is researching.

Clarke’s work raises a disturbing larger question: is this a form of Darwinian selection at work? Is capitalism having an evolutionary impact on human progress? Or is that a ridiculous proposition? To see for yourself, you can check out the first couple of chapters for free on Clarke’s website, here.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.