A television show you’ve never heard of is currently the next big thing in the US.
I know a fair amount about Duck Dynasty, and yet I have never watched a minute of it. I doubt I ever will. But it is part of the cultural fabric of the US and the American-focused web milieu, and my understanding of human culture is more comprehensive for knowing about it.
I learnt about Duck Dynasty from a podcast, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. PCHH saves me a lot of time – one hour a week, and I’m up to date with a range of pop culture references that I would likely never have encountered otherwise. I’m leveraging the critical cultural apparatus of talking heads to diversify my investment in cultural capital.
My tendency to rely on outsourcing a lot of my cultural consumption is not unique. It’s indicative of a wider social movement. We are faced with such an overabundance of content that there is no time to read, watch, consume and participate in everything – and it has always been thus, but not to such a huge extent.
Reliance on review culture is not new, but it is evolving. The depth of review coverage has lessened to a large degree, as the breadth of available content stretches thin our attention. We’re faced with recommendation culture, and have become more discerning about what we consume in full, and what we merely glimpse – like Duck Dynasty.
Now, enough valuable time reading about recommendation culture, let me recommend some cultural recommendation systems.
Slate podcasts – the original and still often the best marker of what has captured the zeitgeist in any given week, these podcasts are discussions covering the most interesting happenings in their designated field – politics, culture, sport. They also have Spoiler Specials and Book Club podcasts, particularly handy for quick and dirty cliffnotes on that movie or book that everyone is talking about.
NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour – a weekly conversation about entertainment and pop culture events, with the podcast hosts sourced from the National Public Radio’s culturally-attuned writers and presenters. PCHH closes every week with a segment called ‘What’s Making Us Happy’, which is useful for cultural tip-offs ranging from the San Fermin album to the newest Broadway adaptation.
Vulture – there are a lot of entertainment news sites, but New York Magazine’s Vulture is frequently the informed, diverse and witty. Not only do they have the most up-to-date pop culture news, insider gossip and review coverage, but the style is playful and often more entertaining than the ‘entertainment’ it covers.
Book Riot – one of the most fun book sites, their tag line ‘Always books. Never boring’ is a succinct but accurate description. Their ‘Critical Linkage’ posts are particularly useful as a concise and amusing round-up of news from the world of books.
Slashfilm – this movie review site, and particularly their podcast /filmcast, features movie nerds talking about films in great depth, with background knowledge and differing perspectives. You’ll never need to see a movie again – but in case you want to, they break their podcast into two segments, clearly signposting the spoiler-laden coverage in the latter half of the recording.
What are your recommendation recommendations? Come tell me on that one recommendation engine to rule them all, twitter @annetreasure.
Anne Treasure is a recent survivor of the book industry.
A man dumped a baby outside a Melbourne hair salon after he realised the infant was sleeping in the back seat of the car he had stolen.
Gassam Chehade, 42, stole the car when a couple left it unattended and with the keys in the ignition outside their workplace in Campbellfield.
Melbourne Magistrates Court heard Chehade realised the baby was in the back seat seconds after he began speeding from the scene.
Prosecutor Karen Argiropoulos said he drove 2.7km before dumping the baby boy, still strapped into his capsule, outside the salon and fleeing in the car in June.
Chehade, of Heidelberg West, has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, child stealing and reckless conduct endangering life, but guilty to car theft.
Chehade told police he had initially contemplated returning the baby to his parents but feared they would attack him.
His lawyer Tara Hartnett told his committal hearing he wanted to ensure the baby and his parents would be reunited.
"He does not want to leave the child in an unsafe place, for example by the side of the road," she said.
Chehade left the couple's mobile phone, which had been in the car, beside the baby to make it easier to locate the parents, Ms Hartnett said.
"He made eye contact with the woman behind the (salon) counter who was on the phone, he put the capsule down and pointed to it," she said.
The parents collected their child from the salon about 10 minutes later.
Ms Hartnett asked Magistrate Cathy Lamble to drop the kidnapping charge given it implied force had been used in the offending.
But Ms Argiropoulos argued the act of separating the parent and child constituted force.
"A jury could find that continuing to drive a car with a baby in the back seat away from the parents and without the permission of the parents constituted force," she said.
Ms Lamble ordered Chehade to face a Victorian County Court trial at a date to be fixed.
Decriminalising abortion in NSW will be harder if controversial changes to the Crimes Act, known as Zoe's law, are passed, critics say.
A small band of protesters gathered outside NSW parliament on Thursday, as the bill was debated.
They waved banners emblazoned with various slogans, including "Men against misogyny" and "my body is not your temple".
Speaking at the protest, Labor MP Helen Westwood said the bill would make it harder for pro-choice campaigners to decriminalise abortion, which still comes under the Crimes Act.
"Once you give a foetus personhood, then it is a great threat to reproductive rights, but it is also a great way to control women's behaviour while we are pregnant."
The bill, which is being put to a conscience vote, is named in honour of the unborn baby of Brodie Donegan, who was hit by a drug-affected driver on Christmas Day in 2009.
Under the changes, a foetus that is either 20 weeks or 400 grams would be treated as a living person, allowing someone to be charged for its harm.
It would not apply to anything done with a pregnant woman's consent or during a medical procedure.
But independent MP Alex Greenwich told parliament he believed anti-abortionists could use the laws to prosecute women.
It was "not a given" that abortions would constitute a medical procedure, he said.
"I understand that in an overseas law, recognition in the status of a foetus has been used against pregnant women who have addiction problems," he added.
Liberal MP Ray Williams supported the bill, however, arguing: "Any normal woman would not only feel the pain of the accident that was suffered but also the anguish of losing her child".
The US economy and consumer confidence have taken significant hits from a two week federal government shutdown, economists say, and a major dent to already sluggish American growth is expected.
Even as stock markets rebounded with gusto on Wednesday, analysts said there was clear evidence of damage, and warned that a revival of political battles in January could inflict more pain.
The credit rating agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's estimated that the partial closure of the government from October 1 would slice 0.5-0.6 percentage points from annualised growth in the fourth quarter.
S&P said the shutdown took $US24 billion ($A25.20 billion) from the economy, as hundreds of thousands of government workers stayed at home unsure of getting paid, government contracts were delayed and national parks that drive crucial tourist industries were closed.
Because of that, several economists cut their forecasts for fourth quarter growth to around 2 per cent, barely enough to generate the jobs needed to pull down unemployment.
Many said they expected the Federal Reserve would see the need to keep its stimulus in place through the end of the year, if not longer, to mitigate the drag from the crisis.
"The bottom line is the government shutdown has hurt the US economy," S&P said.
Jim O'Sullivan of High Frequency Economics, added: "Even without an extreme outcome being realized, some damage has been done."
Democrats and Republicans in Congress were expected to pass legislation late Wednesday to end the impasse by funding the government for the first part of fiscal 2014, which began on October 1, and increasing the debt ceiling.
The eleventh hour deal soothed worries that the Treasury could be forced to default on payments, including the debt, in the coming days.
Furloughed government workers are expected back at work on Thursday, and will collect back pay for the time spent laid off.
The deal sparked a strong rally on Wall Street on Wednesday, with gains of nearly 1.4 per cent. The markets were helped by still-buoyant profits in corporate America, with the results from the first releases of the third-quarter reporting season beating forecasts on average.
That left the S&P 500 index less than 1 per cent shy of its peak, struck in mid-September.
Even so, the shutdown exacerbated what already appeared to be a weak spot in the economy, with higher interest rates from the Fed's expected tightening of its stimulus beginning to slow activity in sectors such as real estate.
The Fed saw vulnerability when in September it decided not to begin reducing its $US85 billion a month in bond purchases, though it also cited the dangers of the looming shutdown and debt ceiling fight.
But just how the economy performed last month remains unclear, because publication of key government data, especially the job creation and unemployment report for September, were canceled.
The Fed's Beige Book survey of regional economic activity, released Wednesday, showed slowing in some areas since the September 4 report.
In addition, it noted "an increase in uncertainty" due mainly to the shutdown and fears over the frozen debt ceiling.
Most analysts expect a rebound in consumer activity as the country heads into the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season.
But the details of the deal struck in Congress will continue to weigh over markets and the economy. The deal only budgets the government through January 15, and caps the debt again on February 7, opening the prospect for renewed brinksmanship over fiscal issues in Congress.
That could make consumers and businesses more cautious about investment, spending and hiring, holding back growth.
"Many problems remain unsolved," said Mark Hopkins of Moody's Analytics.
"The bill sets the stage for negotiations over long-term deficit reduction by December 13, but previous attempts to achieve such a grand bargain have failed."
S&P said: "The short turnaround for politicians to negotiate some sort of lasting deal will likely weigh on consumer confidence, especially among government workers that were furloughed.
"If people are afraid that the government policy brinkmanship will resurface again, and with it the risk of another shutdown or worse, they'll remain afraid to open up their cheque books. That points to another Humbug holiday season."
Gently does it is not usually the Cory Jane way.
Yet All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wants exactly that when the 30-year-old makes his remarkable return to Test rugby in Dunedin on Saturday.
When Jane wrenched his knee at Hurricanes pre-season training in January, he was regarded an outside chance to return for New Zealand's year-end tour of Europe.
Instead, he will start the third Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia, having done enough in a game-and-a-half of provincial rugby to convince Hansen he is close to his former status as one of the world's premier wingers.
"He hasn't lost any form while he's been injured. What he has lost is time in the jersey," Hansen said.
"Cory needs to not do everything at 100 miles an hour. Just be patient and trust his instincts particularly, because they're very, very good."
The 43-Test veteran is one of three changes and a positional switch from the side which started the 38-27 win over South Africa at Johannesburg two weeks ago.
Jane's return, made possible by Ben Smith's shift to centre to replace Conrad Smith - who has begun a four-month break from rugby - were signposted by Hansen.
More unexpected are the promotion of lock Jeremy Thrush and hooker Keven Mealamu for their first starts of the season in place of in-form pair Brodie Retallick and Andrew Hore.
Thrush's three bench appearances in his debut international year have totalled just 24 minutes.
Hansen says Retallick was in need of break, while Thrush has the chance to prove himself.
"He's had some little cameos off the bench and done well. It's time for us to find out a little bit more about Jeremy and the way we can do that is by starting him.
"He's earned the right to have a crack."
Mealamu's 108th Test follows five bench appearances this year, with Dane Coles retained as reserve hooker and Hore dropped completely.
Hansen says 34-year-old Mealamu is better-suited to the mobile game of the Wallabies while 35-year-old Hore is ideal against the more confrontational Springboks.
Jane's return and the promotion of Thrush is bad news for Auckland youngsters Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua, who have stood out in their debut seasons but can't make the bench this week.
Three members of a grizzled All Blacks starting pack have played more than 100 Tests, with Mealamu lining up alongside captain Richie McCaw (120 caps) and prop Tony Woodcock (104).
New Zealand are seeking a 10th straight win this year under coach Steve Hansen and a clean sweep of the Bledisloe Cup series after winning the first two Tests in Sydney (47-29) and Wellington (27-16) in August.
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Jeremy Thrush, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Tom Taylor.