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October 2014
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205: The NFL, Brain Trauma, and Domestic Violence

It's been a rough couple of weeks for the National Football League. Ever since a sickening video emerged on September 8th of Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancee (now-wife) Janay Palmer, the public outcry over the league’s handling of a series of domestic violence issues has been at fever pitch, even reaching the nation’s highest office. All the while, the looming specter of concussion consequences is generating more discussion than ever regarding the future viability of the sport itself.


But is there a link between playing a violent sport involving repeated hits to the head, and someone’s propensity to commit domestic violence? To discuss the evidence, Guy Evans welcomes Dan Diamond, contributor at and author of the recent article 'Does Playing Football Make You Violent?'


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Direct download: the-nfl-brain-trauma-domestic-violence.mp3
Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 11:25pm EDT

204: Scottish Independence

Tomorrow, Thursday September 18th, voters in Scotland will be asked in a referendum to vote on whether their nation should be an independent country, breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom. A yes vote would establish a separate Scottish state for the first time since 1707, when a need for economic security resulted in union with England, and the subsequent formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain.


Despite periods of backlash against the ideology of Britishness, particularly at the end of the 19th century, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Scottish nationalism was revived as a serious political movement. After the famous ‘Wind of Change’ speech by UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan signified the start of decolonization in Africa and the end of the British Empire, many in Scotland began to question the ultimate purpose of the United Kingdom.


Throughout the early part of the following decade, the 1970s, the discovery of North Sea Oil increased the momentum and support for nationalism and devolution – the process designed to decentralize government through the granting of powers at a regional or state level. The Scottish National Party (or SNP), which by now could make a strong case for independence – organized a highly successful campaign with the tag line “It’s Scotland’s Oil”, disseminating the idea that Scotland would not significantly benefit from the oil revenue while it remained part of the UK.


In the late 1990s, the UK government began to devolve powers from the parliament in London to assemblies in Cardiff (Wales) and Belfast (Northern Ireland), and the newly minted Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. By 2011, a landslide victory by the SNP in Scottish parliamentary elections ensured that the party had secured the required seats to advance a referendum on secession – the act of formally withdrawing from membership of a federation or body, especially a political state. Although polls at the time indicated that Scots disapproved of independence by a two-to-one margin, SNP leader Alex Salmond remained steadfast in his conviction to hold the vote – and thus, by agreement with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Britain’s political and economic landscape could change forever if a majority of balloters vote ‘yes’ tomorrow.


And so, the long history of Scottish skepticism towards union with England, plus relatively recent political differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK, have meant that a decades-long push for political autonomy has led to an independence referendum.


At this point I’d like to look at the arguments on both sides of the issue – so let’s begin with examining the case for Scottish independence.


Firstly, there is the matter of Scottish pride and cultural identity. Polls consistently reflect the fact that the majority of Scots regard themselves as being Scottish first and foremost, as opposed to British. On a related note, Scottish culture is highly distinctive and well-recognized the world over.


But according to former human rights lawyer Amanda Taub, happy coexistence with the rest of the UK may have continued were it not for political divisions between the decidedly more liberal Scotland, and the lead party in the U.K.’s current coalition government, David Cameron’s conservative party. Cameron himself is a particularly unpopular figure in Scotland, with his posh boy image completely at odds with the way many Scots see themselves. While this political divide has existed, as Professor Dauvit Brown of the University of Glasgow points out, since the time of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, Cameron’s involvement in the ‘no’ campaign has arguably weakened and undermined its message.


Writing for the Huffington Post, Sarah Moyes, a Scot, provided some insight into the mindset of the pro-independence argument. “My decision to vote Yes,” she wrote, “is not one I’m taking lightly, yet it’s one that feels completely natural. I haven’t had to do months of soul searching to come to this conclusion. It just feels right for me and the country I live in. After all, why wouldn’t we want to live in a country that makes its own decisions? At the moment, we’re living with a London based parliament making our decisions for us. Of course, Scotland has the right to make some of the choices, but a lot of the decisions which affect us are still being decided by people in London. Can they really have our best interests at heart? And more importantly, can they even understand our needs?”


In essence, the ‘Yes’ campaign argues that in 2014, Scotland shouldn’t have to be dependent on the rest of the U.K. Some estimates have suggested that 90 percent of the revenues from North Sea oil would cause the per-capita GDP of the “new Scotland” to be higher than that of Italy, in spite of concerns that the wells may be starting to run dry.


Other reasons that have been cited in favor of independence include nuclear disarmament, as control over defense and foreign policy would result in the potential removal of nuclear weapons; renewable energy, with Salmond himself suggesting a focus in this area could lead to the ‘re-industrialization’ of Scotland; and the idea that a new “cultural awakening” would unleash a fresh wave of cultural ideas and expression.


Switching over to the anti-independence side of the coin, the obvious counter-point is that changing the political structure of the UK would be too risky for Scotland. The “Better Together” campaign, an organization made up of the parties, organizations and individuals supporting a ‘no’ vote, argues that separation would leave Scotland’s economy weak, and that its proposed exploitation of North Sea Oil is not a long-term strategy for economic prosperity.


Aside from discussion of potential economic issues, those on the side of the “No” campaign have looked to take advantage of the shared history and ties of the union with various attempts to tug at voter’s heartstrings. These attempts to appeal to hearts and minds have not occurred without several missteps along the way however, notably, the decision to utilize the slogan “no thanks” – not to mention the release of a patronizing video aiming to make the issue crystal clear to undecided female voters.


The Better Together campaign’s most famous supporter is Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who donated £1 million to the cause and said the following in an open letter warning against the apparent end of the Union:


If we leave…there will be no going back. This separation will not be quick and clean: it will take microsurgery to disentangle three centuries of close interdependence, after which we will have to deal with three bitter neighbours. I doubt that an independent Scotland will be able to bank on its ex-partners’ fond memories of the old relationship once we’ve left. The rest of the UK will have had no say in the biggest change to the Union in centuries, but will suffer the economic consequences.


Currency has also been another huge area of disagreement. Under independence, the Scottish government wants to keep the pound as part of a formal currency union with the rest of the UK. The three main parties in Westminster however — David Cameron’s Conservatives, their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, and Labour — have all said that this simply will not be an option. Therefore, Scotland may have to eventually turn to the unstable Euro, which based on recent history could be disastrous. It’s also unclear what would happen to Scotland’s share of UK debt if the nation does go it alone.


If Scotland votes to separate, it will take 18 months of negotiations before independence is officially declared. The repercussions of a yes vote would be significant for the rest of the U.K., with speculation that Britain might leave the European Union and even find itself deserted by Wall Street banks. The queen herself emerged to give her first comments on the issue this week, cryptically urging voters to “think very carefully about the future.”


As has been widely reported, the polls have the race neck-and-neck as both sides gear up for a monumental last day of campaigning.


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Direct download: scottish-independence.mp3
Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 4:15am EDT

203: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Throughout July and August of this year, social media users were inundated with an almost constant stream of short videos featuring people from seemingly all walks of life dumping buckets of ice water on their heads. This trend, known as the 'ALS Ice Bucket Challenge', went viral in an effort to promote awareness for the disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. It soon became a most unlikely pop culture phenomenon, with various celebrities, politicians and athletes performing the challenge and posting their videos online.


Prior to this craze, ALS, a devastatingly debilitating and usually fatal disease, hardly registered at all on the consciousness of the public. On August 29th however, the ALS Association announced that the total donations resulting from the challenge had exceeded $100 million. For this reason, it would appear that it would be difficult to criticize the campaign, but it certainly has not been met without any detractors. One such individual is the investigative journalist and television producer Willard Foxton, author of an article written at the height of the craze entitled ‘The Ice Bucket Challenge – a middle-class wet-T-shirt contest for armchair clicktivists’:


"The whole thing has turned from a decent enough attempt to raise cash for a good cause into a ghastly narcissistic freakshow, combining the worst elements of social media self-love and celebrity worship with armchair feelgood clicktivism."


Mr. Foxton joined the Smells Like Human Spirit Podcast to discuss his article further, explore some of the issues with the Challenge, and evaluate possible alternatives to the current charitable-giving paradigm. Other topics covered in this podcast include online mysogyny in the wake of the hacked private photographs of a litany of female celebrities, and the Scottish Independence debate. Enjoy!


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Direct download: als-ice-bucket-challenge.mp3
Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 12:17pm EDT

202: The Birth of Korean Cool, with Euny Hong

For Episode 202 of Smells Like Human Spirit, Guy Evans interviews Euny Hong, a journalist and author whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, among many other places. Euny’s most recent book, ‘The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture’ examines the 21st Century rise of South Korea becoming a global leader in business, technology, education, and – as the title implies – pop culture.


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About The Birth of Korean Cool:


In 1985, 12-year-old Euny Hong, an American, entered a Korean public school system that thrashed students for wearing unzipped jackets; her elite Hyundai apartment building regularly faced brownouts and water shutoffs. Two decades later, Korea had leapfrogged from third-world military dictatorship to first-world liberal democracy on the cutting edge of global technology. It paid back a $57 billion loan from the IMF, wired the entire country for superfast Internet, and created the Ministry of Culture to spread the Korean Brand worldwide. Samsung, once known as 'Samsuck', now generates 1/5 of South Korea's GDP and dominates the global smartphone market.


Hong pairs stories from her own childhood, spent first in Chicago and then in the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul, with in-depth reporting and exclusive interviews. She spoke with government officials and cultural icons - Samsung execs, admins at Korea's National Institute for International Education, Michelin-starred chefs, rapper Psy of the viral hit "Gangnam Style" - to show us how one country made an unprecedented leap into the 21st century to become a global leader in business, technology, education, and pop culture.

Direct download: the-birth-of-korean-cool.mp3
Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 6:36pm EDT

201: Music Psychology, with writer Tom Barnes

This episode of Smells Like Human Spirit is a continuation of sorts from SLHS 197, a show which examined the rise of the so-called 'evil empire' of radio, Clear Channel Communications. To further explore the current state of the music industry and mainstream music in particular, writer Tom Barnes joined Guy Evans to expound on his very popular recent article, ‘The Music Industry Is Literally Brainwashing You To Like Bad Pop Songs – Here’s How'. Enjoy!


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Direct download: music-psychology.mp3
Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 11:18pm EDT

Guy Evans interview on Tom Secker's 'Clandestime' Podcast (09/03/14)

This podcast episode contains the audio of Guy Evans'  recent appearance on Tom Secker's 'Clandestime' podcast (aired 09/03/14). 


As part of Tom's series of shows looking at various motion pictures with surveillance themes, the subject at hand was the 2002 movie 'Minority Report'. Throughout the 40+ minute talk, specific topics of discussion included the film's origins, the technology featured in the film and how much of it is now operational in 2014, and the philosophical dimensions of the movie. Enjoy!


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Direct download: GuyEvansInterview090814.mp3
Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 9:16pm EDT

200: Media Matters

On the heels of the decision by the New York Post to defy basic rules of decency with its disgraceful James Foley cover, Guy Evans looks at three other recent instances of egregious coverage in the mainstream media.


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Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 11:01pm EDT

199: Podcasting No Longer Under Attack? Eric Garner Update, and 'The Tech Utopia Nobody Wants'

Guy Evans welcomes Sydney-based writer James 'JR' Hennessy to the podcast to talk his recent Guardian article, 'The tech utopia nobody wants: why the world nerds are creating will be awful.' Other topics of discussion in this episode include Adam Carolla's refusal to accept patent troll company Personal Audio's offer to drop their lawsuit against him, and an update on the fallout from Eric Garner's death.


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Direct download: the-tech-utopia-nobody-wants.mp3
Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 6:33am EDT

198: Beyond The Paint - How Philadelphia Became The 'City of Murals'

1980s Philadelphia. Reeling from rising crime, Mafia warfare and the proliferation of drug gangs, the city’s murder rate had skyrocketed. Although the birthplace of America was in desperate need of healing, the pain and uncertainty experienced by local residents manifested itself in a radical change to their city’s outward appearance, courtesy of the prevalence of graffiti. Graffiti became such an issue, the most pressing issue according to then-mayor Wilson Goode, that it came to be seen as a social epidemic.

Goode wasted little time taking action following his election as Philadelphia's first African-American mayor in 1984. Within the first month of his administration, the Anti-Graffiti Network, led by a young community activist named Tim Spencer, was formally established to combat the problem. However, it wasn't until two years later that the influential Mural Arts Project, headed by Jane Golden, developed within the initiative. Golden, an artist in her own right, was able to work with local taggers in harnessing their talents towards something beneficial for the communities in which they lived. Wisely, she understood that a focus on collaboration rather than punishment was needed to gain the trust of the young people within the sub-culture.

The impact of the Mural Arts program has been staggering. Although it was originally intended to simply help to eradicate graffiti, it has enabled professional artists and young Philadelphians to showcase their artistic talent in a constructive way. To date, the program has produced more than 3,600 murals. As Golden profoundly puts it, Philadelphia has become somewhat of an outdoor museum.

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Stitcher Radio



Summers, C. (2014). Great Art? The graffiti of the New York subway. BBC News

DeNotto, M. (2014). Street Art and Graffiti. College and Research Libraries News, 75 (4), 208-211.

McDevitt, J. (2013). Philadelphia Sees Rise In Graffiti. CBS Philadelphia. January 21 2013.

Davies, D. (1997). Rizzo: The Nation's Worst? He, Goode Top Poll's List Of Bad Mayors. Philadelphia Daily News. July 15 1997.


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Direct download: city-of-murals.mp3
Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 3:21am EDT

197: Manufacturing Popularity - The Rise of Clear Channel, Radio's 'Evil Empire'

While a slew of recent corporate mergers and acquisitions this year have sparked renewed concerns over media monopolies, the radio and concert conglomerate Clear Channel has long been considered the poster child for what’s wrong with media deregulation. The corporation is the number one radio station owner in the United States, with the 840 stations under its umbrella amounting to about 245 million listeners per month.


Now I know what you’re thinking – who listens to the radio anymore? A fair question, it would appear, on the surface, particularly given the rapid rise of web-based services such as iTunes and Spotify. But consider a recent Neilsen report that found that even with these technological advances radio is still the dominant way people discover music, with the notable exception, if fairness, of the teenage audience. Still not convinced that radio tastemakers remain important in the current media climate, or skeptical that the medium isn’t, as broadcaster Terry O’Reilly put it, the ‘ultimate survivor’? Well, consider the Clear Channel-run initiative called ‘On The Verge’, a strategy designed to quite literally manufacture the popularity of a new artist, making it practically impossible for a chosen song not to catch on.


This strategy, perhaps already obvious to anyone reading this, was first outlined in detail by Emily Yahr of the Washington Post last month. Her piece revealed that when an artist’s song is designated as being ‘On The Verge’, all of Clear Channel’s radio stations (again, all 840 of them) are required to play the track at least 150 times. Why 150 times? Because that’s approximately the number of plays it takes for a wide enough group of listeners to form an opinion about a song, according to Clear Channel’s president for national programming platforms, Tom Poleman. It’s all very cold, calculated, and completely scientific, which reminds me of a conversation I had with journalist Ryan Ripley earlier this year about the prevalence of news sites to base their decisions on coverage almost wholly on analytics (see SLHS Episode 134).


We’ve been told that in the Internet age, it’s never been easier for a new singer to break into the music industry, and of course there are certainly examples out there of aspiring musicians that have found fame through uploading their work to the Web, and gaining fans without record label involvement. However, an all-too obvious paradox has been created courtesy of technological innovation and the trend towards digital consumption. The fact that it is apparently so easy now to be heard, actually makes it rather difficult to be heard. In other words, the proliferation of affordable digital recording hardware and software means that while almost anyone today can make a song, the Web has been flooded with so much content that the odds of standing out from the crowd are slim-to-none. All of this makes the ‘On The Verge’ program all the more significant.


So how exactly does the program work? It begins with the brand managers at the top of the Clear Channel food chain that pick the songs they deem to be potential hits. These selections are sent to program directors across the country, who then vote on which ones they think their listeners will respond to best. Despite the claims of Tom Poleman that this is all in service of developing new artists, the end result is that the same song gets played over and over and over and over again in New York, California, Texas, and all points in between until it has passed the threshold of being annoying into being ‘catchy’. There is little variety, almost zero consideration for local artists (meaning no distinguishable difference between radio stations), and in the age of the empowered consumer, no room for the listener to do much else but passively be told by a select few executives what is and isn’t good music.


Now of course, as listeners we can choose to change the station, or turn off the radio altogether, but with such a massive spotlight guaranteed to be shone on a chosen song, these commercial records can become almost inescapable. In effect, Clear Channel is engaged in a perfectly legal yet highly insidious form of ‘structural payola’, destroying any sense of artistic merit and creating an atmosphere whereby artists and labels must ‘play the game’ in order to even be considered for airplay.


As a case study, let’s look at the career trajectory thus far of the Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, who herself, as documented by Emily Yahr, has benefited tremendously from ‘On The Verge’. After her first three official singles flopped, the single ‘Fancy’ was released on February 17th, debuting at Number 88 on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts on March 22nd. Two weeks later, it was named an ‘On The Verge’ song for six weeks, with its pervasive airplay guaranteed until May 15th. Unsurprisingly, by the end of May, ‘Fancy’ had reached the top of the Billboard 100, where it stayed at number one for seven weeks.


If you ever wondered why mainstream radio is so redundant, why we hear the same song repeatedly, or to go one step further, why so many of the acts sound so similar, look no further than the influence of Clear Channel. 


It wasn’t always this way. Radio companies used to be severely restricted from owning too many stations, with regulations permitting companies to own only two in any one market, and no more than 28 nationwide. Government policy used to enforce the idea that because radio was broadcast on the public airwaves, it had an accompanying public trust. Local stations were designed originally not to be conduits for the next mass-produced, carefully-packaged, mind-numbingly repetitive commercial single. Rather, they were supposed to be assets to local communities. The rules were meant to keep ownership as diverse as possible, keeping the stations’ focus on the community in which it existed in.


The death blow to the now antiquated notions of diversity, localism, and competitiveness was dealt in 1996, when President Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Act, enabling the handful of corporations already dominating the airwaves to expand their power further. 


Clear Channel benefited greatly post-1996, leapfrogging from ownership of 43 stations to more than 1200 by the turn of the century (although as previously noted, this number has since dropped to 840). Intriguingly, they hired the congressional aide who drafted the Telecommunications Act, and at one time were represented by the former law firm of the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division. A 2003 Village Voice article noted that Clear Channel's vice chair, Tom Hicks, made George W. Bush a multimillionaire by buying the Texas Rangers baseball team from him, and chaired a state university board that steered most of its endowment to firms with Bush and GOP ties.


But the political influence of Clear Channel doesn’t stop there. You may recall that back in 2003,  its affiliate stations throughout the United States organized pro-war rallies, under the name of Rally for America, to coincide with the Bush administration's launch of war with Iraq. In the aftermath of 9/11, the corporation banned the airplay of any political song, including the entirety of Rage Against the Machine’s catalog, and curiously, the song ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon. Infamously, its stations stopped playing the Dixie Chicks after the group's lead singer, Natalie Maines, told fans during a London concert, "we're ashamed the president is from Texas."


While Clear Channel representatives have stated that the boycott of the Dixie Chicks, America’s most successful all-female group, was solely the work of local station managers, its detractors argue that Clear Channel executives instigated the ban to send a message to other musicians criticizing the Bush administration. This message certainly was echoed throughout the right-wing airwaves at the time, with talking heads such as Bill O’Reilly even advocating that the band be ‘slapped around’ for speaking their mind on the Iraq conflict.


In more recent times, America’s evil empire of radio has come under fire for a variety of nefarious activities, including widespread lay-offs of hundreds of local DJ’s, and a practice called "voice-tracking," which involves piping in popular out-of-town personalities from bigger markets to smaller ones, creating the illusion that the DJs are themselves local residents. In 2006, it petitioned the FCC to relax further the rules limiting station ownership, arguing that the emergence of the iPod, online music services, and satellite radio had placed them at a competitive disadvantage. The following year, when the FCC ordered Clear Channel require its stations to devote 4,200 hours to independent and local artists, it responded by forcing artists to sign away their digital performance rights should the conglomerate decide to use the song over the internet.


But as previously stated, Clear Channel’s sphere of influence goes much further than radio. A 2012 Huffington Post article revealed that Bain Capital, the creation of one Mitt Romney, is one of its primary owners. One has to wonder to what extent the media landscape would be further controlled and manipulated under his Administration.


On a basic level, Clear Channel’s McDonald’s approach to radio programming makes a mockery of artistry and reduces decisions on who and what to play to a depressingly mechanical process. As the media theorist Douglas Rushkoff notes, there is no such thing as true cultural and artistic expression once it has been commercialized to the extent we've seen with Clear Channel.




Yahr, E. (2014). Clear Channel's 'On the Verge' program helped make Iggy Azalea a star. Washington Post (Blog). 


Neilsen Holdings N.V. (2012). Music Discovery Still Dominated by Radio. 


Lichtenstein, B. (2012). Romney, Clear Channel and the Future of America. The Huffington Post. 


Barrett, W. (2003). Bush's Voice of America. The Village Voice.


Federal Communications Commission (1996). Telecommunications Act of 1996. 




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Direct download: ClearChannelEvilEmpireSLHS197.mp3
Category:Podcasts -- posted at: 6:15pm EDT