Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

Oh, for crying out loud. I write an entry on Peter Singer and a certain group of American boy fiddlers, and I'm now getting lots of google hits for said group. You lot need psychological help.

Reluctant podcasters

I've just been listening to Start the Week from Monday the 20th of March. I particularly enjoyed Hilary Spurling's discussion of the Royal Literary Fund's survey of undergraduate literacy (or lack thereof). This discussion has been covered pretty well by an argument in the Sunday Telegraph a little while back, as well as a writeup in The Hindu.

All very interesting. While listening to Ms Spurling, I heard this little remark from Andrew Marr:

"I should announce - or - admit, I suppose, by the way, erm, that, Start the Week is now available as a podcast since we're talking about the, the non-literary culture. You can download it, I'm told, in seconds to an MP3 player should you wish to do so. Erm, Hilary Spurling, we're not going to download you in to an MP3 player..."

'Admit' is exactly the right word to use, since it is done, according to the Oxford American dictionary, "typically with reluctance". The BBC should be singing from the hills that they are podcasting. It is perhaps the best thing the BBC have done, with the exceptions, perhaps, of Jonathan Miller's Atheism programmes and a few of the Horizon shows.

Marr is not the exception. I've heard numerous programmes on Radio 4 plead guilty to the sin of podcasting. I mean, who would think that putting an MP3 file online and distributing it using RSS enclosure tags is such a crime! Such remarks seem to have, at their core, a lack of knowledge of the technology which actually underpins podcasting, a lack of understanding of the value of podcast shows and a rather nasty surprise that someone may be out there who uses said technology.

The idea that podcasting is "non-literary culture" is a bit like the statement thrown around - wrongly - by early opponents of radio, and statements made - rightly - by opponents of television. If podcasting is non-literary, so is radio.

First of all, authors are rethinking storytelling for podcasting. One only needs to look to someone such as Scott Sigler, who delivers "sci-fi horror at its most personal and graphic" (or so says one of his reviewers). Not exactly to my taste, but he's putting his work out there, and people are really enjoying it.

Cory Doctorow produces audio versions of his short stories over at Craphound. These are delivered by podcast. I just finihsed listening to "Nimby and the D-Hoppers" the other day, and it's a fantastic story. Definitely "non-literary culture". In fact, Podiobooks offers a whole number of stories that cover all different types of fiction, and LibriVox are giving podcast treatment to many books, stories and poetry. When I've got a bit more time, I'm planning to do a Nietzsche reading for LibriVox. Nietzsche is very much "non-literary culture".

On the non-fiction side, I'm just looking through my iTunes subscriptions, and I've got programmes on terrorism, evolutionary biology, religion, ethics, the Qu'ran, homosexuality and the Catholic church, the Prime Minister's Questions on the New Labour education reforms, Don Quixote, the Macintosh computer, psychology, Israel, Internet advertising, Perl, open source software development, citizen journalism, global warming, Iraq, neoconservatism, drug policy, bird flu, NASA, patent law, Peter Singer, Immanuel kant, the US Supreme Court and Samuel Alito, Bruce Sterling's stunning speech at SXSW, Christian fundamentalism, Shabina Begum's blasted jilbab, chiropractic stupidity and Cheryl Merkowski's stinky whorehole.

In fact, compared to the cursory glances given to a number of these topics in BBC coverage of them (quick, quick... summarise the last two thousand years of philosophy in the next five minutes!), podcasts often cover them in greater depth and the producers of independent podcasts are often more tolerant of differing opinions.

Perhaps the reason why the BBC are reluctant to "admit" the existence of podcasts is because to do so might expose the shockingly thin coverage given to important topics, and the reliance on "media-friendly" thinkers whose actual grasp of the subject is often rather questionable.

Podcasting has done for radio what the VCR has done for television - freed us from scheduling, and given us a fast-forward button when someone's talking nonsense. I guess someone at the BBC doesn't like that, and so considers it an easier target to brush podcast listeners off as beat-obsessed hyperactives who are unable to think. They see the white earbuds poking out, forgetting that there's a brain inside.

All the while, they kick their heels, failing to put more and more podcasts online. Could there be a connection between this dismissiveness of the "non-literary" podcast audience and the BBC's sluggish pace on embracing podcasting.

We ought to have the courage not to use this doublespeak of Digital Rights Management. DRM like the Sony rootkit and the above-linked article are really trojan horses, and companies like Norton and Symantec ought to filter out DRM as a form of malware.

Exodus International, the "ex-gay ministry" which, like the other ex-gay ministries, has some very stupid beliefs, has been legally harrassing it's critics - notably one parody which was a billboard saying "Straight? Unhappy?". What's so amusing about it is that the body who were arguing against free speech are called the "Liberty Counsel", who seem to have this policy which could be broadly summed up as "if you don't believe in evangelical Christianity, you don't deserve liberty". Perhaps they could become the Limited Liberty Counsel or the Loss of Liberties Counsel. If you are interested in the actions of the ex-gay movement, check out Ex-Gay Watch. There's some scary stuff going on.

If you go to the 'philosophy' tag on All Consuming, you'll find that What the Bleep Do We Know?, that creepy movie put out by the cult of J. Z. Knight (aka. "Ramtha", the psychically channelled warrior from 35,000 years previous) that spends half it's time pushing New Age nonsense and the other half getting in a right muddle with quantum mechanics, sits right next to Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Atlas Shrugged, Dan Dennett and Jean Baudrillard. Wow.

I have posted a review of Keith B. Miller's Perspectives on an Evolving Creation over at All Consuming. It's enraged, and it's got every right to be. But I think I get the point across - Miller's is a text which should be read by those most unlikely to read it, and most needing of it. It sits on liberal bookshelves like mine as a ready reference for sane, evangelical theology (no, I'm sort of serious here). It doesn't sit on the bookshelves of the people who should read it.