This is Your Brain on Podcasts

Scientists studying how the brain reacts to storytelling have found that listening to podcasts, especially ones that tell stories, can make time pass much quicker than music can.

“Consider the case of just the word ‘dog,’” Dr. Gallant said. “Hearing that is going to make you think about how a dog looks, how it smells, how the fur feels, the dog you had as a kid, a dog that bit you on your paper route. It’s going to activate the entire network for ‘dog.’”

And so it goes, for each word and concept as it is added to the narrative flow, as the brain adds and alters layers of networks: A living internal reality takes over the brain. That kaleidoscope of activation certainly feels intuitively right to anyone who’s been utterly lost listening to a good yarn.

I know that podcasts have been indispensable to my commute for years, never more so than now as my commute has lengthened to 2-1/2 to 3 hours per day.

Disciplining Children, the Little House Way

No matter how much times change, human nature remains the same. Thus the lessons of child rearing we see in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, as explicated in this Crisis article, remain applicable today:

  1. Children need clear boundaries.
  2. They need consequences for transgressing those boundaries.
  3. They need to know trust is earned and can be lost and must be earned back.
  4. They need to be able to trust their parents not to be cruel or capricious, to love and respect them, not to ridicule them or hold them up for public mockery.
  5. They need to know that discipline is not just an anger response, but can be accompanied by love, caring, comforting, and even shared laughter. But it still must be discipline.

Although the Ingalls family lived in the nineteenth century, they still set an example for the twenty-first-century families who are faced with the knowledge of one thing that does not change: Children make mistakes. Knowing this, adults in positions of authority who want to discipline children with dignity can do what Pa and Ma did.

We can set clear boundaries. We can listen. We can talk privately and confidentially with the child. We can ask questions to help us better understand what happened. We can calmly determine sensible and just consequences—without forgetting to smile. We can believe the child can and will do better.

I don’t always live up to these ideals.

As I’ve heard snippets of the Little House books in recent years–in audiobooks during car rides, as Melanie reads aloud to the kids, and as Isabella has read them aloud to me–I’ve been impressed by the life lessons found there, whether about the dangers of the world, the way to be a family, or fair dealings in a market-based society.

Secrets of Star Trek


In our latest episode of “Movies, Games, and Television Secrets”, Fr. Roderick and I discuss the news and rumors around the new Star Trek movie coming this summer, “Star trek: Beyond”, and the untitled TV series coming next January. We also discuss our hopes and fears, what we like about what has happened with Star Trek and what we don’t like. I reveal my favorite Star Trek captain, while Fr. Roderick has a surprise guess at who the ultimate villain in the ST universe is. And we also discuss my Star Trek fan fiction.

Poof! Technology is Magic

A New York legislator is proposing a new law that would mandate the creation of a device, similar to a Breathalyzer, that instead of detecting blood-alcohol level instead analyzes mobile phones to determine if they were being used before a crash. He calls it the Textalyzer.

It would work like this: An officer arriving at the scene of a crash could ask for the phones of any drivers involved and use the Textalyzer to tap into the operating system to check for recent activity.

The technology could determine whether a driver had used the phone to text, email or do anything else that is forbidden under New York’s hands-free driving laws, which prohibit drivers from holding phones to their ear. Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyzer.

Keep in mind, this device doesn’t yet exist, except as a prototype. Now, setting aside all the privacy and constitutional concerns–which are not insignificant–the fact is that this legislation is technologically unworkable. Despite the claims of the company creating the Textalyzer software, this is no simple task, if only because it has to work for every brand of mobile phone on the market. And has to keep up with every security update. And deal with increasing level of encryption. Not to mention sideloaded security apps that don’t go through the app store and designed specifically to defeat such measures.

Just because you can theoretically imagine a technology doesn’t mean that can be the basis for legislation. We don’t live in Star Trek and you don’t have Scotty/LaForge/O’Brien at your disposal to invent the solution by the end of the episode.

Wanted: Literary Director to Pick My Next Book

literary director

There are life coaches for helping you get your life in order and to plan out your career path. There are personal trainers to help you get physically fit or in shape for a fitness challenge. There are spiritual directors who help you to pray and improve your relationship with God.

I want a literary director.

I want someone to help me choose what books to read based on my personal interests, what I’ve already read, what I have sitting unread on my bookshelves and in my Kindle, and what will best serve me in the future.

Right now, I choose my books to read haphazardly. Of course, Melanie has her suggestions; she’s a former English professor and book nerd, after all. And she’s made some good suggestions, including the works of one her favorite authors, Guy Gavriel Kay. But I’m not sure she can be completely objective. Don’t get me wrong; I know she loves me, but as a book nerd I think it may be tempting to recommend what she likes rather than what I should read right now.

I also get book suggestions from Goodreads, seeing what my friends there are reading and have read. I listen to a lot of podcasts and many of them will suggest books occasionally. Some of my favorite recent books have been found that way, including books about winemaking in France and a new science fiction series. Sometimes they come from an Amazon recommendation or a newspaper article.

What I want is a disinterested, objective third party who will assess the corpus of books I have read, my current reading interests and hobbies, and my personal objectives in life to help me create a reading list. There are the books I read for fun, including a number of ongoing series: the Tom Clancy novels being written under his name posthumously, Star Wars and Star Trek novels; as well as books by favored authors like Naomi Novik. There are the books I read for fun and edification on topics like the history of the Crusades or on the Guinness family or the maple syrup industry. There are books for spiritual and personal growth, including papal documents and philosophical and theological texts. And books that help me in my job that cover communications and social media and writing.

But there are only so many hours in the day! And so many good books that I keep adding to the list! Just this morning I was listening to the Word on Fire podcast where Bishop Robert Barron gives a list of good books to read on philosophy and I was thinking how I’d like to read some of them.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I often hear from friends about their massive piles of unread books and wondering how to make it through them all.

So if you’re someone who loves books, but can set aside your own preferences in order to help others reach their goals, I think there may be a career waiting for you as a literary director. And I may be your first client.

Now, literary director, should I read this new Star Wars novelization about General Leia or St. Augustine’s Confessions next?

Update: I find I need to clarify. I’m not looking for book recommendations. I have no dearth of books I want to read. I have piles and piles of books I want to read. There are dozens of podcasts, blogs, and articles recommending books to read. What I need is someone who can help me sort through it all to develop a plan to read the books I already have or want to read.

Perhaps an analogy will help. There are all kinds of newsletter and blogs and podcasts to recommend hot stocks and mutual funds. But what I need is a financial planner to help me create a retirement investment plan that will leave me with enough income to live on when I retire. What I need is not a financial planner, but a literary planner.

The Restroom Problem: I’m Coming In, Too

When I’m out with my two oldest daughters, 10 and 8, but without Melanie, when it comes time for them to use the bathroom, I let them go into the ladies’ room alone (unless there’s a family/single-use restroom available). What else can I do? They’re too old for me to take into the men’s room and I can’t go into the ladies’ room with them.

Until now, I guess. As the guy in the video shows, Target’s new restroom policy means any man–no matter how he’s dressed or whether he’s surgically mutilated himself–can now use the ladies’ room.

In the past, I thought my girls would be safe in there with other women. But now that any pervert has access, I’m not so sure anymore. So now, ladies, I’ll be exercising my new right to enter your bathroom and stand guard over my daughters’ bathroom stall while they use it. And you’re welcome to come into the men’s room to do the same for your boys.

Of course, we could just avoid patronizing Target, which we might do. But once this policy spreads to every business–as is the Social Justice Warriors’ intent–that won’t be a real option. So get used to men like me in your bathrooms, ladies. You can thank the tiny handful of trans-activists and their SJW allies for that. Sorry.

A Hamilton Era Will Be Ending This Summer

Hamilton fans who haven't seen the Broadway musical yet, but want to see the original cast better get on it quick. Some of the show's stars, including composer/lyricist/writer/star Lin Manuel Miranda, will be leaving the production this summer according to this report.

Of course, the show itself isn't going anywhere. This amazing musical juggernaut is raking in the cash on Broadway, the soundtrack is killing the charts, it's a pop culture phenomenon, a second production is soon to start in Chicago, a touring company will also soon be making its way around the country, and the movie rights are being negotiated even now.

It was only a matter of time before the cast would start changing. I can't imagine Miranda wants to keep up the grueling six days per week schedule as he rakes in the cash and is having new opportunities thrust at him from all sides. A movie version of his previous hit play, "In the Heights", is also being considered. Meanwhile, he's working on the score for an upcoming Disney musical film and may co-star in a sequel to "Mary Poppins".

I'm not actually too broken up about this. The odds I would be able to see the original Broadway production were as close to zero as practical. I'm just hoping to see the touring company in 2017 in Boston. Plus, I'm very excited to see what else Miranda will have next. How do you follow up this mega-hit?

Meanwhile, the Lin-Manuel PEGOT Watch begins. The PEGOT is the exclusive club of people who have won a Pulitzer, an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. Twelve people in history are in the EGOT club. Only two are PEGOTs: Richard Rodgers1 and Marvin Hamlisch. Lin-Manuel is a PEGT, only lacking an Oscar, but once the movie version of "Hamilton" is made is there any doubt he is the favorite to win for Best Soundtrack?2

  1. By coincidence, Hamilton is playing in the Richard Rodger Theatre on Broadway. ↩︎
  2. Stephen Sondheim is a PGOT, lacking an Emmy, and thus the other potential PEGOT who is not an EGOT. But since he’s now 86, that seems unlikely. ↩︎

Is Amazon “redlining” minority neighborhoods in Boston?

The Boston Globe notices that Amazon offers same-day delivery service throughout most of the Greater Boston area, except for the mainly black and Hispanic neighborhoods of Roxbury, and implies that the reason is racism, while saying it’s not racism. Same-day delivery is offered to Amazon Prime customers, who pay $99 per year for the program, on order of $35 or more. If you order early enough in the day and pay a little extra for certain, but not all, items, you can get it the same day.

Predictably, the politicians and community activists are quick to decry the unfairness of it all and to claim that all services should be available to everyone, regardless of where they live. But what the Globe and the activists don’t do is ask the most important question: How many Amazon Prime customers live in Roxbury?

Roxbury is the poorest neighborhood in Boston. What are the odds that there would enough Prime subscribers in that neighborhood to make same-day delivery, which is a very expensive premium service for Amazon, a good use of resources? It’s not Amazon’s duty to make people feel better by using money on them.1

As the CEO of Newbury Comics notes in the article, there are lots of retailers that don’t have stores in Roxbury. Is that unfair too?

Whose fault is it?

The Globe then expands the net to decry all the ways that life is unfair to residents of Roxbury. Trendy foodie delivery companies, with names like Caviar and Drizly, don’t deliver to Dorchester and Mattapan, two other neighborhoods with high populations of poor minority residents. Given the cost of the food they deliver are poor people likely to order from them?

People in these neighborhoods also pay more rent relative to their incomes. Well, yeah, because they’re poor. When you’re poor, then everything is relatively more expensive. They also face longer commutes to work. Again, duh.

I drive an hour in the morning and 1-1/2 hours in the evening on my commute. That’s the price I pay to live in a three-bedroom house in the suburbs that would sell for $250,000, rather than a three-bedroom condo near my office that would cost twice that, at a minimum. We all have to make such compromises.

I’m not saying, Let them eat cake. What I’m saying is that the poor would be better served by politicians and community activists who worked harder at fixing the root causes of poverty—“Why are these people poor”—instead of inculcating a sense of entitlement about services and opportunities they don’t have access to in their current situation.

But it’s a lost easier and personally rewarding for liberal pundits and pols and newspapers to get people angry at faceless corporations and the “rich” than at the failed and inept policies that keep them poor. Class warfare doesn’t serve the rich or the poor, but those who benefit from diverting attention elsewhere.

  1. I should say here in the interest of full disclosure that I am an Amazon Prime customer and also earn money from Amazon affiliate links. I also participate in the Amazon Vine program in which I receive products in exchange for reviews. But those facts have no bearing as this post isn’t so much about defending Amazon as much as it’s pointing out the flaw in the article’s logic. ↩︎
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