Podcasts to Ponder Plus

1. NPR’s Hotel Corona.

“When the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem was leased by the government to house recovering COVID-19 patients, the new guests gave it the nickname, “Hotel Corona.” The nearly 200 patients inside already had the coronavirus; and so, unlike the outside world on strict lockdown, they could give each other high fives and hugs and hang out together.

What was even more surprising than what they could do was what they were doing. Patients from all walks of life – Israelis, Palestinians, religious, secular, groups that don’t normally mix – were getting along and having fun. They were eating together, sharing jokes, even doing Zumba. And because they were documenting themselves on social media, the whole country was tuning in to watch, like a real life reality TV show.”

34 minutes of joy and hope.

2. Malcolm Gladwell, Revisionist History, A Good Walk Spoiled.

“In the middle of Los Angeles — a city with some of the most expensive real estate in the world — there are a half a dozen exclusive golf courses, massive expanses dedicated to the pleasure of a privileged few. How do private country clubs afford the property tax on 300 acres of prime Beverly Hills real estate? Revisionist History brings in tax assessors, economists, and philosophers to probe the question of the weird obsession among the wealthy with the game of golf.”

In my junior and senior year of college I was a teacher’s assistant at the Brentwood Science Magnet School for the best third grade teacher ever, Marilyn Turner. I parked across from the school on the leafy border of the Brentwood Country Club next to the chain-linked fence Gladwell describes with great disgust. This excellent story hit home.

3. What Does Opportunity Look Like Where You Live? An interactive story, made even more interesting by putting in the name of the county you live in (if a U.S. citizen). The New York Times is unrivaled when it comes to interactive, data-rich, compelling story telling.

[Some readers have informed me they can’t access the New York Times articles I link to. You have to register at the New York Times to access them. Registration is free.]

 

What’s Your SSQ?

Social science quotient.

Probably not as high as it could or should be because we’re shaped by Ron and Don.

The “Ron and Don Show”  is a popular Seattle-area radio program on 97.3 FM that I occasionally tune into during NPR fundraising campaigns and sports talk commercial breaks.

Their success isn’t accidental, it rests on great names, radio voices, personalities, energy, chemistry, and pacing, all topped off with a laser-like programming focus on whichever individual is deemed most interesting each particular day: the barefoot bandit from Whidbey Island, the Bellevue City Council person who got mauled by a black bear, the police officer charged with deadly force, the college student that committed suicide.

Ron and Don hammer away at each individual’s story for hours on end and we eat it up because we always have been and always will be suckers for detailed stories well told. Even better when the stories are somewhat sordid and make us feel better about our lives.

But we’re out of touch with the effect of the Ron and Don-like media shining its spotlight so continuously and narrowly on individuals.

The cumulative effect is we’re utterly unable to think sociologically about pervasive patterns and themes among groups. Put differently, we can’t take stories of individuals and extrapolate about what they do and don’t represent in terms of larger social scientific trends.

We’re intellectual weaklings.

Here’s two non-Ron and Don stories from last week that I offer as a social science quotient quiz. Determine your “SSQ” by using a scale of 1 to 10. Assign yourself a “1” if these findings completely surprise you, a “10” if you were already familiar with the studies and the findings, and “2’s” through “9’s” for points in between.

Story one is available here. An excerpt:

Harvard and Duke Biz school professors Michael Norton and Dan Ariely asked over 5,000 Americans about US wealth distribution and how it should look if things could be changed.

“Respondents vastly underestimated the actual level of wealth inequality in the United States, believing that the wealthiest quintile (20 percent) held about 59 percent of the wealth when the actual number is closer to 84 percent.” Studies show current US wealth inequality is near record highs, with the top one percent of Americans estimated to hold around 50 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Story two—available at Slate.com.

The U.S. imprisons more people in absolute numbers and per capita than any other country on earth. With 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. hosts upward of 20 percent of its prisoners. The country’s incarceration rate has roughly quintupled since the early 1970s. In 1980, one in 10 black high-school dropouts were incarcerated. By 2008, that number was 37 percent.

For extra credit, submit your score via the comment section.

If our scores are low, as I presume they will be, it’s not Ron’s and Don’s fault. They don’t have a dog in the “individual versus collective thinking” fight I’m outlining. All they care about is that more listeners tune into them than NPR and sports talk. And their winning formula elevates the individual at the expense of social scientific understanding because we tune in and don’t demand any more from them.