Audio Astra: This is normal. Whatever that means.

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reports on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio reports. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

We need to talk about Covid, part 1

The Daily, January 26, 2022

Am I normal?

Political slate Gabfest, February 3, 2022

Last year, my students in the photojournalism class at the University of Kansas produced a book, “The new normal.” We considered “the new normal” to be the 16 weeks of this fall semester with reduced classes, strict social distancing and underground social lives.

Although I am extremely proud of their work in document pandemic life (and lack thereof) in Lawrence, we didn’t concern ourselves with what the real “new normal” would be: the weather after the virus receded and our daily plans and social interactions weren’t primarily driven by the rates of ‘infection.

These last few weeks seem to be the time to define this reality which is happily advancing. And I’m ready to listen to the logic of why the virus is increasingly ignored now more than at any time since March 2020.

Of course, part of my openness has to do with my acquired immunity from a double vaccination, a timely booster, and a recent omicron infection. And yes, I am less afraid of the virus after seeing dozens of friends and family around me experiencing symptoms as mild as a cold (or more severe symptoms, depending on their vaccination status).

However, the biggest factor that made me open to a less COVID-19-driven routine was listening to data: both data about my political leanings and data from a medical scientist.

As I mentioned before, podcasts are an ephemeral medium, so it’s rare to find one that lodges in your brain, let alone change your behavior. Corn January 26 episode of “The Daily” did both for me. The podcast features data collected by New York Times lead writer David Leonhardt. By conducting an opinion poll, he found striking miscalculations that we as Americans make. Young people overestimate their limited risk, while older people underestimate their more serious risk – and both are likely the result of Democrats being, on average, younger and Republicans also being older. Leonhardt explains how this broad dynamic ripples through so many other attitudes we have towards the pandemic: vaccines, schools and more.

Faced with the data, I ask myself more and more: am I more afraid of the virus? Likewise, I question my other pandemic attitudes: is my masking in public a sign of virtue or a real public health measure?

Faced with the data, I ask myself more and more: am I more afraid of the virus? Likewise, I question my other pandemic attitudes: is my masking in public a sign of virtue or a real public health measure? After all, with the omicron variant accounting for nearly 100% of cases in the United States, I am extremely unlikely to contract, let alone spread the virus at this time.

Joseph Allen of the Harvard University School of Public Health joins the Slate’s “Political Gabfest” in an episode released Thursday. His proposal? Start tracking more relevant data to guide personal decisions and public policies. Along with other scientific recommendations, he argues that sewage samples are much better indicators of community spread than individual test results.

I also appreciated his expert suggestions on how to avoid overwhelming hospitals, as this is my main fear of detaching our daily lives. Our healthcare professionals and hospital capacity should be among our top concerns, regardless of personal political leanings.

“I think we’ve treated (public policy toward COVID-19) as hit or miss on either side,” Allen said. “It’s not fair to say, ‘Get ripped!’ and, ‘Everyone can do what he wants to do.’ It’s also not fair to say shut things down again and go after zero COVID, which is totally unrealistic, and probably unrealistic all along…. So there’s a middle ground.

This week, I was teaching photography to my KU students again. So, I demonstrated some portrait techniques on students who volunteered. Unlike a few months ago, I told them, “Yes, you can remove your mask for a quick photo, if you’re comfortable.” Beneath these masks are faces of students that I may never see, depending on KU’s mask policy in the future and unmasking for student comfort.

For the students I photographed, behind those masks were faces I hadn’t seen in three weeks in class. There was the stubble of an unshaven beard. Chin quivering hoping not to burst out laughing. And on each face, a broad smile.

Those smiles are the product of returning — safely, of course — to a time not dictated by the virus. This moment is approaching more clearly and noticeably.


Chillin’ at the Statehouse, January 31, 2022

“A fine example of gerrymandering”

Kansas City today, January 31, 2022

How Kansas Could Redesign Congressional Districts

Kansas City today, January 27, 2022

I remember my perplexity when I heard about gerrymandering. I’m sure it was the AP government in high school. What a stupid name and a selfish comedic political maneuver, I thought.

While I might have shook my head in laughter decades ago, I’m shaking my head in resignation now. If there’s one toxic pill we as Americans have to swallow, it’s the ruthless redrawing of political maps after every U.S. census. It feeds the minority government. It pits Democrats against Republicans. It pits neighboring political allies against each other. Like Andrew Bahl of Topeka Capital-Journal’s Podcast “Chillin’ at the Statehouse” said, some card designs can be like an Italian Renaissance drama with alliances, stabs and rivalries.

The “Statehouse” podcast also provides a historical review of map drawing in Kansas, while the two episodes of “Kansas City Today” provide political information. reaction and forecast — which some have predicted Thursday’s veto on Governor Laura Kelly’s proposed Republican map.

Resignation Nation

When the experts attack, January 18, 2022

Disclosure: “When Experts Attack” is produced by KU, my employer, and the host this week is Jon Niccum, a friend and colleague.

My recommendation of this podcast is inspired by the episode’s relevance to almost anyone. Whether you’re a new grad, middle manager, business owner, or someone outside the workforce, KU researcher Clint Chadwick has insight into your place in the tumultuous job market.

The genius of Buster Keaton

Fresh Air, January 24, 2021

This episode was such a treat: a stunning portrayal of an American icon and Kansas native, Buster Keaton. Guest and author Dana Stevens traces Keaton’s life from a little boy in a violent vaudeville act to a silent film entertainer to a cog in the mid-century Hollywood machine. His book seems remarkable, and just his recommendations of Keaton shorts and characteristics on YouTube are worth checking out.

What did we miss? E-mail [email protected] to let us know about a Kansas-based audio program that would be of interest to Audio Astra readers.

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