Elon Streisand, Podcasting Heroes, and Mystery Sounds
Plus: Feliz Navi-DUD, Beanie Babies, and a man who always dresses like Santa.
Welcome to this week’s Follow Friday, the last one I am writing before I see Avatar 2. I still have no idea if I’m going to like this movie, but I’m seeing it in the best possible conditions, in IMAX 3D, and I’m going to smuggle in a bubble tea because, I don’t know, The Way of Water? Bubbles? Whatever, let me enjoy my boba.
The single best thing I saw online this week: In case you don’t know, The Onion has a fictional conservative cartoonist, “Kelly,” who’s (allegedly) been working for America’s Finest News Source for more than 50 years. Kelly’s most popular cartoon to date is this strip from 2015, which gave us a man labeled “Sickos” peering in the window while laughing to himself. It’s unlikely anything will ever top that in terms of sheer cultural impact, but this recent strip about “tradition-ruining teens” killed me. Make sure to click through so you can see all the little details.
The best podcasts I’ve heard this week
Do not miss the latest episode of You’re Wrong About, where Sarah Marshall is joined by guest co-host Jamie Loftus (creator of My Year in Mensa, Aack Cast, and many other great shows) to talk about Beanie Babies. I had never given a second’s thought to Ty Warner, the namesake of those little red and white “ty” tags,” but yikes! At one point in the show, Sarah and Jamie compare him to the villain of a Disney Channel Original Movie, which is more accurate than you can possibly imagine.
The third Twenty Thousand Hertz “mystery sound” quiz dropped this week, and it’s a delight as always. This year, Dallas Taylor invited the hosts of Endless Thread — Amory Sivertson and Ben Brock Johnson — and their sound designer Emily Jankowski to play, and it’s a great hang. Plus, you can play along at home! If you like this one, the two previous mystery sound quizzes feature the McElroy Brothers and the hosts of Underunderstood.
I have some Swedish heritage, and had a vague awareness of the winter holiday tradition Luciadagen. This beautifully crafted episode of The Atlas Obscura Podcast, hosted by Sarah Wyman, filled in the gaps and then some; it’s still not enough to convince me to visit Sweden in winter, though.
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help i’m addicted to this stupid twitter drama
Cutting Twitter out of my daily habits has been easier than I expected, thanks in large part to Discord and the RSS feeds I wrote about last week. But I can’t quit reading about Twitter, and specifically the capricious intellectually bankrupt babyman running the show there.
This week’s inane drama is brought to you by the letter S, for Streisand Effect.
Elon Musk — who had previously promised he would not ban the account that tweets where his private jet has traveled — banned the account that tweets where his private jet has traveled. Why? A newly made-up rule that you can’t share “live location information … regardless if this information is publicly available” about anyone on Twitter without their permission. And then he unbanned the account, because that rule is stupid. And then Elon banned it again, because he is stupid. All of this happened in the span of a couple hours.
As you might have guessed, this account was not breaking any laws. Programmer Jack Sweeney created ElonJet and several other accounts like it to track the private jets of people like Mark Zuckerberg, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump, and he did it by scraping and repackaging publicly available air traffic data. One could easily argue that it’s in the public interest to know where the world’s most powerful people are coming and going (I wonder what Elon is hiding?), but we’ll have to go to one of these places to stay informed.
^ … I wrote all that on Wednesday afternoon, and then on Thursday Elon doubled down: He started banning journalists like The New York Times’ Ryan Mac and The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell for reporting about him and the jet account. I’m sure that’ll stop them. What a fucking moron.
The best time to quit Twitter is yesterday. The second-best time is today.
The coolest thing I’ve learned this week (should you choose to accept it)
What I said to Ira Glass
I met two of my podcasting heroes this week — This American Life host and co-creator Ira Glass, and Radiolab co-creator Jad Abumrad, who came to San Francisco to do a joint live show. Their talk was partly about process; Jad recounted how Radiolab convened a chorus to perform on the all-timer episode “Colors,” and picked a fight with Ira over how the TAL team scored a story called “The Elephant in the Zoom.”
But it was also part comedy show — Ira opened by ranting about a man dressed as Santa Claus who was on their Southwest Airlines flight — and part confessional. Jad opened up about creative self-doubt and why he didn’t know if Dolly Parton’s America was working until deep into the reporting process, when the team caught a lucky break and got invited to see the real “Tennessee Mountain Home.”
I bought a VIP ticket, which got me into a reception before the event with both of them. Jad gave me some advice on a podcast idea I’m toying with, and I got about 30 seconds with Ira before he had to run to the sound check. I didn’t know what I was going to say, but this is a facsimile of what tumbled out:
At the end of my first radio internship, when I was 18, the editorial director told me I should stick with radio even though I didn’t have a traditional “radio voice.” And it’s because he was listening to shows like This American Life that were opening up opportunities for all kinds of different people to be heard. So thank you, for everything.
I’m sure the actual syntax was less coherent, but the sentiment was there, and Ira was audibly excited to meet another podcaster. I’m sure he hears dozens of stories like mine every month, but that doesn’t make any of them any less true.
The best thing I’ve read this week
I’m a week late to this one, but it’s gotta be “Secrets of the Christmas Tree Trade” by Owen Long for Curbed. I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a taste of the main character of the piece, a veteran “tree man” in Manhattan named Greg Walsh:
Greg himself is large, with a big belly and a long white beard, so inevitably people compare him to Saint Nick. Greg delights in this. He keeps a Santa hat on him at all times, and his license plate reads SANTA09. In the summers, he wears red-and-green Hawaiian shirts, and at all times of the year, whenever he enters a business, he shouts, “Ho, ho, ho!” at the teenager standing behind the counter.
Palate cleanser: “Both baby are crying”
The long-awaited sequel to one of my favorite internet videos of all time.
… And the rest
Scritch scritch scritch (sound on)
And finally, “There are two types of kids…” (sound on)