Chris Hedges On How The Corporations Have Won

Chris Hedges, a much respected journalist, wrote this speech which he intended to deliver at a conference on Toronto recently but his plane was delayed due to weather. It’s worth reading in full, but here’s a taste:

The elites and their liberal apologists dismiss the rebel as impractical. They brand the rebel’s outsider stance as counterproductive. They condemn the rebel for being inflexible, unwilling to compromise. These elites call for calm and patience. They use the hypocritical language of spirituality, compromise, tolerance, generosity and compassion to argue that the only alternative is to accept and work with systems of despotic power. The rebel, however, is beholden to a moral commitment that makes this impossible. The rebel refuses to be bought off with government and foundation grants, invitations to parliament, television appearances, book contracts, academic appointments or empty rhetoric. The rebel is not concerned with self-promotion or public opinion. The rebel knows that, as Augustine wrote, hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage — anger at the way things are and the courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. The rebel is aware that virtue is not rewarded. The act of rebellion defines is its own virtue.

 

Thanks to Duncan Strong for the link.

Why You NEED To Be Worried About Mass Surveillance

I’ve seen a number of posts on Facebook today where people say things like “I don’t care, I’ve got nothing to hide”. I used to think like that too. But the bad news here is that it isn’t you they care about.

Let’s think about a couple of scenarios.

A journalist or an activist is trying to build a story around government or corporate corruption. The government or corporation in question gets wind of it. They can use this mass surveillance to dig up any embarrassing details about this person’s life and threaten to destroy them if they proceed. Let’s say the person has been having an affair or just talking shit about their boss in an email. When the security state has unfettered access to everything you’ve ever written or said on the phone or searched for online, they can destroy anyone who poses a threat to them.

A politician is trying to push through some major changes to, let’s say, election funding or corporate fraud or cutting back on the military. Again, this kind of unfettered access means that any past mistake or screw-up in their lives can be used against them, to stop them from pursuing their agenda of change.

This isn’t a crazy theory. If you read about what has happened in the last 100 years of history when the security state got out of control, you can see this kind of thing in action.

The Stasi in East Germany.
The KGB under Stalin.
The FBI under Hoover.
The CIA under …. well just the CIA forever.
Hell, even the NSA today.

The more access we give security agencies to have unfettered access to our personal information, the more damage they can do – not to you or I, we don’t matter – but to the people who are trying to curb their power or change the system.

That’s why it matters.

 

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Mexican Bond-age

What’s the world coming to when you can’t trust a Bond film to tell you the truth? Apparently Sony accepted $20m in bribes to rewrite the new Bond film in order to improve Mexico’s image. Why didn’t Kim Jong Un think of that?

Obama Admits: The US Invasion Spawned ISIL/ISIS/Daesh

If I said something like this on Facebook, I know for a fact certain folks (you know who you are) would attack me with comments like “oh here we go again, everything is always American’s fault”.

Well it looks like Obama agrees with those of us who have been saying for the last year that the US-lead invasion of Iraq in 2003 indirectly lead to the creation of Daesh. In this VICE NEWS interview, he says (at 11’50”):

“Two things: One is, ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is an example of unintended consequences, which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.”

That’s pretty bold for a sitting American President to admit. He continues to make sense:

What I’m worried about” he said, “is even if ISIL is defeated, the underlying problem of disaffected Sunnis around the world – but particularly in some of these areas including Libya, including Yemen – where a young man who’s growing up has no education, has no prospects for the future, is looking around and the one way he can get validation, power, respect, is if he’s a fighter.”

“That’s a problem we’re going to have, generally. And we can’t keep on thinking about counterterrorism and security as entirely separate from diplomacy, development, education.”

He goes on to talk about why it is in the best self-interests of the US to fund education in the Middle East. I agree. Unfortunately he didn’t go the final step and connect the US’ desire to control to oil of the Middle East, and it’s long history of interfering in the politics of the region to control that oil, with the rise if Sunni and Wahhabist extremism – but it was a good and surprising start.

But then he says legalisation of marijuana shouldn’t be young people’s top priority. Really? When the US has the world’s largest prison population and much of that is being driven by the drug laws? I definitely think legalisation of all drugs, not just marijuana, should be a top priority of American’s youth.

 

Read John Ashton’s Shell Smackdown

shell desert

John Ashton, who served as Special Representative for Climate Change at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from 2006 to 2012, delivered a speech last week at the Conseil Francais de L’Energie 4th European Energy Forum in Paris where he took apart both the CEO of Shell and the fossil fuel industry in general. It’s also an interesting depiction, from someone who has spent decades on the front lines of the climate battle, of how these fossil fuel megacorporations operate.

Here are some of my favourite excerpts:

You are not detached, and in reality your authority is compromised by your obvious desire to cling to what you know, whatever the cost to society.

The psychopath displays inflated self-appraisal, lack of empathy, and a tendency to squash those who block the way. All these traits can be found in your text. There is a touch of psychopathy in the story of your face.

I have lived in a period when politics has been linear, and therefore predictable. You are skilled at navigating linear politics. Corporations became ever more skilled at rigging the choices made by linear politics for their profit against the public interest. That is one reason why linear politics ending.

 

Read the whole speech here.

How To Feed System Audio Into Skype On A Mac

If you have ever wanted to feed your system audio into a Skype call – for example, you’re recording a podcast and you want to play a clip from a song or a movie or a voicemail from a listener and you want the other person on your call to hear it and you also want it to come through cleanly on your recording – then this might help (assuming you’re on a Mac).

I’ve wanted to do this for ages and just figured it out. As it turns out, it wasn’t difficult at all and I should have taken the time to work it out ages ago. So I’m writing this for anyone else who might go searching for a solution.

Here are the apps you’ll need to install:

1. Audio Hijack
2. Soundflower

Steps.

1. Set up a new Audio Hijack session we below. So what you’ll end up with is two audio inputs – your mic and your system audio (or you could make the second one an app, like iTunes or Chrome, etc) feeding into your headphones and then through to Soundflower.

2. Once you’ve done that, open up your Skype settings and set “input” to Soundflower.

Once you’ve done that – you’re set.

Turn on Audio Hijack my clicking the round button in the lower left corner.

When you want to feed your secondary audio source into Skype, just click the secondary source node in Audio Hijack and set its status to “on”.

When you have finished with that piece of audio, turn its status back to “off”.

That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Using Audio Hijack and Soundflower to feed System Audio into Skype

Using Audio Hijack and Soundflower to feed System Audio into Skype

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How To Monetize Podcasts

About seven weeks ago, I launched my latest project – The Life Of Alexander The Great history podcast, with my partner, the ever-polite southern gentleman, Ray Harris.

alexanderthegreat.life history podcast

 

We are trying something different this time – this history podcast is subscriber-only. The first episode is available for free as a taste-test, but the rest of the series is available only to subscribers. This is pretty unusual for podcasts, which are usually either totally free or operate with a freemium model, whereby you have the main series which is free, then you have to pay either for special VIP episode or for archived episodes. There is also advertising as a revenue model – but I already experimented with podcast advertising during my days running The Podcast Network v1, and I know the pitfalls of it. I decided that for podcasting to work as a business, it has to be paid for by the listeners.

We decided to test out the subscriber-only model because we figured it’s about time people started to think differently about podcasts. Ray & I collectively put about 80 – 100 hours of work into the Life Of Caesar (our other history podcast) each month and it’s a hell of a lot of effort. And we do that show for free. So to add another series on top of that, with the same amount of work, we needed to start to earn a buck out of it.

Of course the big question is always “will people pay for content they are used to getting for free?” We are all familiar with the attempts of large media companies to put their content behind paywalls and how poorly they have (apparently) worked out. On the flipside, though, people are used to paying a small amount of money for content services these days – iPhone apps, tracks in iTunes, Spotify, Netflix, etc. Our question is whether or not people would be prepared to pay a small amount each month to listen to more content from us?

We figured that it was worth an experiment – nothing ventured, nothing gained. For a few months we had been asking people to sponsor Life Of Caesar on a volunteer basis. Nearly 200 people had generously volunteered to contribute and the average amount seemed to be about $5 per month, so we wanted to see what percentage of our Caesar audience would be prepared to pay us that amount to produce more content.

My guess was that only a small percentage of our listeners would come on board – my goal was to reach 10% of our regular listeners (which I think is in the region of about 12 – 15,000 people, although podcast stats are hard to get a handle on – in total, the Caesar show gets about 120,000 mp3 downloads a month, but each new episode gets about 12 – 15,000 downloads) – so about 1000 subscribers would be a great result.

For a few years, Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of WIRED Magazine, has been promoting this idea of 1000 True Fans:

“The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply: A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

We like that idea. 1000 people sounds like a reasonable goal. Out of the million people who have enjoyed our previous podcasts for free over the last ten years, we hope we can find 1000 True Fans who are willing and able to support our work.

Fortunately, so far it’s been going very well. In the first six weeks we had over 300 people subscribe to the show and the feedback from them has been extremely positive. The show generated about $7000 USD in the first month. Okay – we’re probably never going to get rich off of this, but isn’t our goal. Still – $7000 is by far the most money I’ve ever received from listeners in one month. In ten years of podcasting, I’ve never even come close to that kind of support.

Our goal is to make a reasonable living from podcasting. If Ray and I can both get to a point where we are producing several series a month and earning a livable wage from it, I know we’ll both be very happy. This is what we love to do and apparently some people like to listen to what we do. Now – some people seem to think that’s ridiculous. I’ve had some email recently from people basically suggesting I’m a total douchebag for wanting to earn a living out of podcasting. My reply is always the same – do you go to work every day for free? Of course you don’t. So why should we?

The other argument I hear often is “people won’t pay for something they expect for free”. And I agree – most people won’t. But there are exceptions – the true fans. If you have some true fans and they really, really enjoy your schtick (and that’s important – for this to work, people really need to want to hear our content over and above all of the free content), then they seem to be willing to throw us the price of a cup of coffee for ~4 hours of entertainment a month. I don’t think that’s too much to ask and apparently a few true fans don’t think so either. When someone emails me and says something like “why would I pay for your content when I can get great podcasts for free?”, I think “hey that’s cool, I get it, you’re just not a true fan, no problem”.

The hardest part of all of this was setting up the infrastructure to be able to handle a paywalled podcast. I needed a solution that would integrate hosting, membership and billing. Unfortunately, that solution doesn’t seem to exist off-the-shelf for podcasting. So I had to cobble something together, working with a couple of developers to integrate disparate systems until I had something that would work. I’m writing a “Guide To Making Money From Podcasting” that I’ll make publicly available in a few weeks that will make the process of pulling all of the components together easy for others.

 

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A Decade Of Podcasting

Today is the tenth anniversary of my first podcast – G’Day World #1 in 2004.

It wasn’t only MY first podcast, it was a milestone in a number of ways:

  • It was the first podcast ever produced in Australia (AFAIK)
  • It was the first podcast produced over Skype (AFAIK)
  • It was the first podcast to include live guests (AFAIK – but that didn’t happen until a couple of weeks later when I interviewed my mate Buzz Bruggeman)
  • It was the first podcast on The Podcast Network, the world’s first podcast production business that I co-founded in Feb 2005.

Podcasting has come a long way since 2004. Back then I was predicting that it would become mainstream within a decade. Has it? I’m not sure how you measure “mainstream” – or even it that’s a worthy metric at all. It certainly hasn’t taken over the world. And I still meet people who have never listened to one and don’t really know what a podcast is.

But here are my thoughts on the matter.

  1. The most recent stats I’ve seen suggest there are about 225,000 active podcasts being produced (but I’ve no idea how they arrived at that number or how credible it is). That probably means there are millions of listeners at least.
  2. The advertising industry still isn’t on board. I produce one of the top podcasts in the world and I don’t have potential advertisers beating down my door. We did sell quite a bit of advertising in the early years, 2006 – 2008, but the GFC hit and that all disappeared – and hasn’t returned.
  3. The technology has improved a great deal. Back then it was pretty hard to FIND and SUBSCRIBE to podcasts. Even after Steve Jobs announced in May 2005 that the next version of iTunes would have a podcast directory (and sent me an email about it), it was still a clunky process to find a podcast, subscribe to it and get it onto your iPod. These days of course there are a bunch of iPhone and Android apps that make it simple and quick.
  4. The business model for podcasting is emerging as listener donations. On my Life Of Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte podcasts, we get regular listener donations. Nowhere near enough yet to make a living out of it, but we hope to change that with our new series that starts in a couple of weeks. I prefer the donation or subscriber model to advertising as it gives us greater independence. We aren’t relying on sponsors to continue their support. If we get them, they will be cream. I know a couple of guys who make a living out of their podcasts, so I know it can be done. This wouldn’t have been possible 10 or even 5 years ago.
  5. While the models for listening and monetizing podcasts has evolved, the technical side of setting up and running a premium podcast hasn’t. There are certain services like LibSyn and Blubrry that provide some options, but their premium services are out of the price range for the average podcaster. If the small podcaster has a chance to get up and running and making money out of their show, we need better tools and guides. I’m currently writing such a guide that is based on my experience over the last year building the Caesar show. I hope to get it finished in the next month or so and think it will help a lot of podcaster take their shows to the next level. Disappointingly, ten years later, iTunes still doesn’t allow podcasters to charge for their shows, meaning we have to jump through way too many hoops to do that ourselves.
  6. In terms of marketing and delivering a podcast, iTunes is still the kingmaker. It accounts of about 90% of our downloads and I’m sure that pretty true for most podcasts. Why haven’t Google, Microsoft or Yahoo done more to promote podcasts? I don’t know.
  7. Has my decade of podcasting been a good thing? Yes. Not financially – but certainly it has in other ways. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have met my beautiful wife Chrissy if it wasn’t for podcasting (we met at Napoleon conference in Corsica in 2008) and we wouldn’t have our baby Fox. I’ve made many wonderful friends around the world who came from listening to my podcasts. I’ve made friends with other podcasters who did a show on TPN back in the day, including David Markham and my current co-host Ray Harris. I’ve interviewed guests from Noam Chomsky to Ray Kurzweil, from Leo Sayer to Jeffrey Katzenberg. It’s been a wonderful adventure.

I maintain today, as I did in this SMH article in 2008, that radio is boring. Every now and again I turn it on in the car and it bores me to tears. It’s still the homogenous shit it was ten years ago and that inspired me to create intelligent content. Yes, there are exceptions – the ABC in Australia, NPR in the United States, etc – but commercial radio is a wasteland of nonsense. Radio listenership in metro Australian cities are in decline but not by much (about 1% per year over the last five years). Will that change when podcasts are available built-in to cars, as Stitcher is promising?  Perhaps. We’ll have to wait and see what the second decade of podcasting delivers.

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Best Australian Podcasts?

What are the best podcasts in Australia?

Of course, there is the Life Of Caesar podcast I co-host with Ray Harris, which sits in the Top 100 on iTunes (sometimes it gets as high as #23) – but aside from that, what else is out there?

I’m asking for a couple of reasons – I’m on a panel at BE Fest next week talking about content marketing and I’d love some examples of people doing it right.

I’m also working on a marketing strategy for a client who would like to support up-and-coming Aussie talent.

To be clear, here’s what I’m looking for:

1. The show must be independently produced – no radio shows.
2. The show should be produced in Australia.
3. The show can be audio or video (including YouTube shows).
4. The show should have a large audience and should have at least 50 reviews on iTunes or YouTube with an average 4 star rating on iTunes or a bunch of upvotes on YouTube.

Let me know in the comments.

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Alan Alda on Free Will and Science

Hawkeye Pierce gets it. In this interview with Robert Sapolsky from Stanford, they talk about the illusion of free will.

This interview is pretty good too.

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