Insights Summer Entertainment Guide
With Christmas holidays upon us, there is no shortage of potential diversions. Insights came up with a short list of worthwhile ways we will spend our spare time.
Podcast review: Cautionary Tales
Cautionary Tales by Tim Harford is a Pushkin podcast. Using his background as an economics journalist, Harford spends 35 to 40 minutes examining historical curiosities, weaving narratives together to extract important lessons from which we can all learn. At the heart of these lessons is the exploration of human nature, and the traps we can fall into, despite the supposedly logical systems we have collectively created and surrounded ourselves with.
Spanning back from 2019, and 65 episodes deep, Cautionary Tales can be comedic and, at times, downright horrifying. Just as with traditional fairy tales, he uses a coda, or moral of the story, which can sometimes end up in unexpected places. While often uncomfortable, these tales have important lessons.
From covering an infamous plague village which selflessly sacrificed themselves for the good of others, to a more recent episode that shone the spotlight on the dangers of accepting Halloween treats from strangers, history buffs will enjoy a wide range of anecdotes from many cultures and centuries.
One of the more memorable cautionary tales covers the Chicago heatwave in 1995, an awful occurrence that cut off electricity. The heatwave led to the deaths of over 700 people and hospitalised far more. As Hartford explores, one of the key findings is that connection helped people overcome the heat. Those who had friends and family to check in on them were far more likely to survive. For the church, there is a lesson here in the value of providing people with these points of connection and care.
In an age where misinformation is everywhere, Harford offers a calm and rational approach, providing situations that may bewilder and frighten us into acting irrationally.
For those who enjoy delving further, Hartford’s recent book, The Data Detective: How to Make Sense of Statistics, is an excellent source by which to understand increasingly complex issues. It also aims to encourage people to have conversations about often polarised political debates, and to approach things with a curious mindset.
Cautionary Tales is available on Spotify, Audible, and Apple Podcasts.
Book Review: Curlews on Vulture Street, Darryl Jones
Australians tend to think of nature and the urban world as mutually exclusive. But take the time to look – there is plenty of wildlife to see. As Darryl Jones says, ‘nature has come to town’. As their ranges diminish elsewhere, animals, perhaps especially birds, find suitable habitat in cities. Formally, this is known as ‘urban ecology’. Overall, it’s not a positive story, but there are pockets of positivity. In Townsville Jones finds 16 different species, and a huge population density in just one suburban street.
The book is not only full of facts about birds in cities; there are stories, interwoven with the larger story of Jones becoming an ‘urban ecologist’. His Honours thesis involved counting urban birds in Wagga, despite a sceptical supervisor who still had the mindset that you don’t find nature in the city. A career as a consultant to bemused and sometimes angry residents began when a woman in a wealthy Brisbane suburb wanted to know why a brush turkey was building a huge mound in her otherwise immaculate garden.
Previously, frequent visitors to urban gardens had been sparrows and blackbirds, the former generalist pioneers, the latter thriving in the suburban garden setting. Recent, larger and obvious additions have been ibises. Jones recalls a panicked Brisbane council asking for help, which involved spraying the birds with paint using children’s water pistols in order to track their movements. Ibis have a reputation for bin-diving, but actually get very little food for the practice. They are also not as maligned as is usually supposed, coming in second in a recent poll of our favourite birds.
Jones also writes about the worlds of magpies, crows and lorikeets. Magpies are both our most loved and most hated urban birds, depending on whether it is breeding season or not, their ferocious behaviour targeted at supposed threats to the nest, from individual people they remember from year to year. Crows congregate in cities, like teenagers, near fast food joints, unlike their less social rural cousins. Lorikeets are apparently scared of the dark, benefitting, counterintuitively, from our tendency to brightly light up places like carparks at night.
Podcast Review: The Imperfects
Now in its fourth year, The Imperfects was started by Hugh Van Cuylenburg the Director of The Resilience Project as a way of deep diving into what makes us all tick and that we are all in fact imperfect beings. Over the years guests have included celebrities, authors and sporting legends who share, with sometimes brutal honesty, their imperfections and struggles. It’s fascinating and interesting primarily because males are not great about talking with others when they are not okay, but the podcast asks its guests to be vulnerable about all aspects of their lives.
I came to the podcast after listening to Van Cuylenburg’s book Let Go: It’s Time To Let Go of Shame, Expectation and Our Addiction to Social Media. Much of The Resilience Project is about teaching people how to find happiness through gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.
Both the podcast and the book, helped us understand the value of connecting with others. We are often not vulnerable enough with our friends and family and sharing this podcast has encouraged me to connect more closely with those around me.
Podcast Review: Pop Culture Happy Hour
This NPR podcast is a daily does of pop culture, served via a variety of guests and reviews TV, films, music and books. There are daily episodes around this subject matter, so you can dip in and out and the episodes are generally not longer than 25 minutes.
Every week, reviewers choose something to review and guests share what’s making them happy that week. I have often found these recommendations helpful as my music and book recommendations grow from these insightful reviews.
Blue Rose Podcast
This excellent podcast is a deep dive into foreign film gems, cinema classics and contemporary masterpieces. Out every Wednesday, the podcast is from Jonty Cornford who is a music producer and currently works for Uniting Heart and Soul Uniting Church in Woollahra. It’s new, but an excellent way of connecting to film and information about how the film was received and the cultural landscape that it was released into.