If cotton candy could talk. . .

May 17, 2015 • 8:45 am

. . . .it would sound like Krista Tippett. If you’re in the UK, you’ll know cotton candy as “candy floss”, which, like Tippett’s weekly radio show, is saccharine, fluffy and insubstantial.  Why does National Public Radio insist on broadcasting her show “On Being” (subtitle: “The Big Questions of Meaning”, earlier title: “Speaking of Faith”) just when I’m driving to the North Side to do my weekly grocery shopping? I can listen to either her, mariachi music, Christian broadcasting, or country music.  Thinking that Tippett would be the lesser of four weevils, I listened to the show—for 40 minutes of the hour.

Big mistake. Her guest this week was Maria Popova, creator of the site Brain Pickings, which I’ve looked at occasionally (and sometimes found something useful), but which in general seems to be a self-help site for New Agers who have a God-shaped hole in their psyche. Popova gleans “lessons” from writers and artists, which usually turn out to be something spiritual (sample Popova post: “The diffusion of useful ignorance: Thoreau on the hubris of our knowledge and the transcendent humility of not-knowing.“)  If you want the real candy floss, read Popova’s “7 things I learned in 7 years of reading, writing, and living,” where we learn that we should “build pockets of stillness into our lives” and to appreciate that “presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity.”

All of this nebulous spirituality made Popova a perfect guest for Tippett (who called Popova a “cartographer of meaning in a digital age”), and so, against my better judgment, I listened to these two natter on, desperately hoping to hear something substantive.  Alas, there was nothing: just a bunch of high-octane spirituality and excited agreement about things nebulous. When the overexcited Tippett called Popova an “old soul,” I knew I was in for a ghastly time.

Here are a few of the gems that Tippett unleashed on Popova (Tippett often tosses out her own aphorisms and asks the guests to react to them):

“Hope inspires the good to reveal itself.”

“I love that literature is ‘stewardship’.”

“They say that literature is the original internet.”

It was like eavesdropping on two Deepak Chopras in conversation.

If you want to listen to the show (and I hope at least one reader does, or already did), go to this link and hit “play episode” on the upper right. Trigger warning: Strong desire to bang your skull (or the radio) with your fists. If you find anything worth knowing, post it below.

In 2009, Tippett was paid $146,992 ($160,722 with deferred benefits and other compensation).

137 thoughts on “If cotton candy could talk. . .

  1. Popova is a copyright-violating sleaze, republishing Elmore Leonard’s entire 10 Rules of Writing on her site, complete with illustrations from the book. My boyfriend (Elmore’s researcher of 33-plus years) and I wrote to her and tweeted to her to take it down, and use a passage in tune with “fair use.” She ignored us. Putting to waste statements like “Hope inspires the good to reveal itself” from that show. John Brockman, whom I tweeted on about her ugly theft of Elmore’s work, chose to look the other way. Yick.

  2. Why does National Public Radio insist on broadcasting her show “On Being” (subtitle: “The Big Questions of Meaning”, earlier title: “Speaking of Faith”) just when I’m driving to the North Side to do my weekly grocery shopping?

    Could it be an intricate plot by the local grocery stores, or some internet store?

    1. Did you buy all kinda of unhealthy snacks to get the saccharine taste out of your mouth? (PS – you’ve gotta have some better stations thsn those in Chicago!!)

  3. Breaking News: NPR’s ‘On Being’ has been twinned with BBC Radio 4’s ‘Beyond Belief’ in another case of religion’s inability to get beyond the letter B. x

              1. L&M appear out of order. But while I’m here

                Obfuscating obtuse observations of obscurity.

              2. Hey, nattering nabobs needs Spiro’s ™

                These have all been great, but I think possibly Mr/Ms X wins the post. We should make an alphabetical list of them all.

    1. Heh. “Beyond Belief” immediately grabs me as a component of my favourite superlative, “FUBB”

      SNAFU – Situation Normal, All F@#$ed Up
      FUBAR – F@#$ed Up Beyond All Recognition
      FUBB – F@#$ed Up Beyond Belief


  4. PCC, with all due respect, I don’t for one second believe that Chicago does not have a single classic rock station. I can’t get away from the stuff. In fact, sometimes I play a game to how many stations are playing a Rolling Stones song at the same time. I award myself bonus points when it is the same song.

    1. Even College Station has a “mix” station that mixes top-40 with older rock … and even Katy Perry would be better than this nauseating dreck.

    2. Yeah, sometimes I’ll listen to that but the classic rock isn’t that great. Plus I tend to keep my radio on NPR (it has a dial, not buttons), so finding other stations is a pain.

      Plus I’m a bit of a masochist, and actually wanted to hear Tippett’s show.

        1. Yes, but so does public broadcasting.

          I honestly have no clue if the radio in my car actually works any more. No radio (nor TV) at home. The closest I come to consuming broadcast media is an Internet stream of Met Opera Saturday matinee broadcasts…but the season finale was last week, so it’ll be several months before I tune into even that again.


            1. That’s because the marketing executives have paid a lot of money to do research to figure out how to make the public radio market segment audience feel good about advertisements.

              Honestly? The only difference — to me, at least — apparent to me when I encounter broadcast media is the tone of voice used by the narrator. The advertisements you like on public broadcasting are read in the same relaxed voice as the news reader’s…and, as often as not, by the exact same person.

              It’s a formula that was hit upon early in broadcasting and remains as effective today as ever.


              1. I find the ads on PBS even more cloying than on regular TV. “Become your own chief life manager….”

              2. Fried okra is good, but okra reaches its zenith in a mighty fine gumbo. Also good lightly browned in butter with garlic and then steamed with a splash of wine and a lid on the skillet.


              3. I prefer it pan-fried and Indian ( but with Deepak nowhere near). I like gumbo, but the okra can get a bit heavy on the slime ( like Deepak, come to think of it).

              4. Yes, I’ve noted this too. As you said, the NPR advert announcers speak in a normal calm tone of voice, while the commercial radio ads literally scream at you.

                Which is why my “dial” is usually set to NPR.

          1. Get sirius/xm radio and you can listen to Met broadcasts 24/7 all year long. Full operas interspersed with miscellaneous arias (arie??) Great to sing/belt along with in the car, with people looking at you kinda funny…

            1. Heck yeah! And if PCC really wants to pop a corky conniption he can listen to the catholic channel – a composium of the foulest dreck anywhere to be found in audioland.

              1. I went to lunch with a friend who picked me up in her car and she was listening to that dreadful Catholic channel. What is weird about this friend is she complains that the Catholic Church is awful yet she not only sent her kids to Catholic school, she listens to the Catholic Channel in her car when she could be rocking out to something. I used to think she stayed Catholic because of her family (she’s French Canadian) but if that were true she wouldn’t listen to the Catholic Channel by choice.

                I almost asked her to turn it off. I even thought of saying, “come on, do I make you listen to atheist stuff in my car?” but I kept myself quiet. It wasn’t a long drive.

              1. Nah- not at all comparable. We always know how the opera’s gonna end – usually badly/sadly – but there are some performances I could listen to/watch many many times without getting tired of them. Also, say, Martha Argerich doing Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto, or Jacques Brel doing Ne me quittes pas, or Leonard doing Dance me to theend of love…I could go on, but I’ll spare you:-)

              2. For the music part, sure…but part of the excitement of the live broadcasts is that they’re not perfectly polished and edited and what-not. As in…will Tonio hit all nine of the high Cs in Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!? And, if not, will he survive to the end of the opera, or will there be an unexpected plot twist and he gets lynched by the audience? Or maybe Marie will rescue him as they both make an hasty retreat to the green room?


              3. Or will dying Tristan slide down the steeply raked stage and bang his head on the footlights after having had a replacement Isolde after the first one nearly barfed during the Nacht der Liebe ( not to mention the guy who missed the swan – different opera).

              4. Maybe Tosca will bounce multiple times off the trampoline when she throws herself off the parapet after the firing squad has just shot Scarpia instead of Cavaradossi?


          2. The radio in my favourite car doesn’t work any more. If the exhaust note doesn’t sound more satisfying than the radio ever could, I’m not driving with enough enthusiasm.

            But anyway, in more serious vein, you can get CD players or even MP3 players in cars these days (so I am reliably informed), why listen to someone else’s choice when you can listen to your own?

      1. “it has a dial, not buttons”

        I have no trouble envisioning you driving through town in a car like Columbo had. 30 years out of date and with a broken antenna. I always thought he was pretty cool.

        He heads for the door with a bumbling demeanor. Then turns back:

        “Ah, one more thing Mr. Christian…where where you on the night the school board voted to teach the controversy?”

    3. “In fact, sometimes I play a game to how many stations are playing a Rolling Stones song at the same time. I award myself bonus points when it is the same song.”

      That’s because they’re all Clear Channel stations, and the rotate the same playlists through all of them at the same time.

      1. It hasn’t been my experience that the playlists are all on the same schedule although it is pretty obvious that the playlist choices are the same.

        One time — but only the once — I noticed that station x was about 25 hours behind station y. Same songs, same order. But that mysteriously ended after a few hours.

        1. The individual stations can shuffle them around, but the song variety remains the same. Funny that you caught 2 stations just out of phase! 😀

  5. Oh and, “brain pickings” sounds disgusting. I suppose you get those if you pick your nose and dig too deep.

  6. I don’t listen to KT enough to say, but I suspect that just as the quality of Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals varies enormously depending on his lyricist (his stuff written with Tim Rice is reasonably good, the rest often not so much…) the quality of KT varies depending on her guest. Interviewing Eve Ensler on living with cancer- pretty good.

    But if Tippett is cotton candy, Deepak Chopra is chloroform. I find the latter always and everywhere irritating.

  7. I am all too familiar with this weird part of NPR. Pink unicorns and pastel rainbows on fluffy clouds of cotton candy.

    The parts of NPR that I hear around here that I think are good include the BBC news, All Music Considered, The Moth, Science Friday, and many other programs.

  8. The mentioning of Thoreau makes me wonder something in sure others have already wondered: are we in a period of worshipping nature again? I think we are and maybe the nature part isn’t too bad if it is moderated with real thinking instead of a shunning of everything else. I see a trend of apocalyptic movies, fear of the future and the revival of Thoreau so it makes sense people like Tippett have found their niche to spout this BS. It is probably very reassuring to them in a world that offers few reassurances – it is the blanket they can hide under until the boogey man passes (though we all know, blankets never deter boogey men so they are sadly doomed).

    1. Thoreau was always a bit of a crank. And hypocritical too. Build a hut and plant beans on someone else’s land. Let someone else pay your taxes to get you out of jail. And still claim the individual liberty + enlightenment that makes you the libertarian’s Libertarian.

        1. Why not? How would he get a washer and dryer into his little hut at Walden Pond? Have you seen it? It’s smaller than a walk-in closet!

  9. Well, I listened to the first 7 minutes. Did I turn it off too soon to hear anything of substance?

    1. I listened a little longer, but not much. After the “wonderfulness is so wonderful” and “one has to make time for a place deep in your heart” schlock, I couldn’t take it any more.

  10. build pockets of stillness into our lives

    Actually, I didn’t mind this one so much. Well, the language is a little silly, but this:

    Meditate. Go for walks…The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations.

    To me translates to “stop thinking about how hard you’re thinking”, or “work on a different problem and let this one go for a while.” I’ve found that when I can let it go, I might approach a problem from a different perspective later.

    Not sure if this works in science-world, but it works in design-world, for me anyway.

  11. That show sounds like TWO Deepak Chopras having a spiritual dialogue.

    “Tell me Deepak, do you think hope inspires the good to reveal itself?”

    “Yes I agree completely. Throughout the quantum flux, such hope drives fans into excited states that move merchandise off my shelves. I think that’s pretty good.”

  12. Oh, and this one:

    presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity

    Basically amounts to “stop and smell the roses.” OK, good advice I guess. But these 7 items just seem like reworked (and overworked?) platitudes.

        1. When my oldest son was little we very much enjoyed watching Young Frankenstein, and I knew that the, er, naughty bits would go over his head. So I rented Blazing Saddles. I did not remember anything about it when I saw it years earlier. That lasted about 30 seconds and I had to quickly turn it off.
          Interesting thing is, I do not think you could put out a movie like this today. The political left has changed.

          1. Hmm…if your son was too young to understand the concept of satire, yes, you probably would want to wait to show that one. But any child old enough for satire needs to watch Blazing Saddles immediately if not sooner.

            …though it’d probably be a good idea to elicit a discussion afterwards….


    1. There’s an international market we shop at occasionally in South Nashville where they play mariachi incessantly and loud. Drives me batty.

  13. I had the identical experience, but 15 miles north, and enduring only 15 minutes. As I was monitoring the oily mutual self-congratulation, I was wondering if PCC was tuned in. 98.7, babe. Sunday morning with lower blood pressure.

  14. > I can listen to either her, mariachi music, Christian broadcasting, or country music.


    If you find anything worth knowing, post it below.

    I found you might be in need of a radio with CD function.

  15. I myself loathe hope and any concept surrounding thereof. Reality, reason and hard work of the present accomplishes my tasks, any of them. Not some magical (read that ‘prayerful’ ) supplications into my future. Hope is not only not Truth, hope is a woman – killer. Hope is woo.

    Author Derrick Jensen loathes hope as well: http://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=%22derrick+jensen%22+hope

    The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley, (fictionally, o’course) stated re it, which I soooo, so like, concisely thus: “Hope is a T E A S E — designed to prevent us from … … accepting reality.”

    Thank you for researching that woman’s (contributions – in – part) paid salary, Dr Coyne. That amount for Ms Tippett’s pay for her hostessing this cotton – candy / Big Ick Factor – program entirely reinforces why: .my personal. donations when begged for by npr’s week – long fundraisers two and more times annually head $-wise on over to Madison’s hq of the (Gaylors’ – founded) Freedom From Religion Foundation.


  16. Move to Pittsburgh. WYEP, which depends on member support, AFAIK does not play her. At least, I’ve never heard it.

    More srsly, does she get any traction with this stuff? Do people ask others at the water cooler/coffee shop/pub the next day if they heard what she said?

    1. I think she has a lot of fans. The NPR listeners includes a deep pool of Christians who are on the political left, and of course the deeply spiritual sort of non-Christians.

  17. For some of us who really do live out in the hard to reach radio waves region and don’t listen to the standard Prairie Home Companion on public radio we have the alternative. A local fm station at 97.1 DeVille. It is old hard rock with a motto – No rap, no sap, no bubble gum crap.

    1. You know…if I found myself holding a divine master, I’m sure I’d set him down as quickly as possible — hopefully gently, of course — and leave him to go about his business. If he can’t walk on his own (why else would I be holding him?), I’d at least try to arrange for somebody with a wheelchair to come get him.

      Awfully codependent of Kriata to not let go.


  18. I was perhaps not quite as turned off as Prof. CC with Popova’s “Seven Things”. Not that I thought there was anything particularly original or challenging about them. As you say, it’s kind of like cotton candy. They are are hard to argue with because they don’t have much content.

    I’m commenting only to mention that on her list of favorite posts she has made was one about Richard Feynman–and he is one of my heroes.

  19. “I can listen to either her, mariachi music, Christian broadcasting, or country music.”

    That’s when you switch your car’s audio system to Bluetooth and rock out to your Herreweghe recording of the Himmelfahrtsoratorium.

    Happy Ascension Sunday, everyone!

    1. Leave it to the Germans to describe the apotheosis of their lord and savior as “Heaven Farts.”

      Nevertheless…a most appropriate choice for listening today; suitable for me to run and grab the headphones and stick the iPhone in my pocket while I go make some coffee.


      I’m still in the overture of the Flatulent Skies, so a pointer to a suitable recording of BWV 211 would not be unwelcome….


        1. Because he couldn’t help it; it was decided in the Big Bang (like the sound of farts).

              1. Well, I feel impelled to add to this sophisticated and cosmopolitan thread with a contribution from the Swiss-Italian Ticino Regional Railways and Buses:

                (I first saw that in 1991 but was out of film, I was overjoyed to encounter it again in 2013)

              2. Name of the Stoke bus company? PMT. Potteries Metropolitan Transport, I presume. x

      1. Shoot. Somehow I missed the request in your final sentence.

        But, as it happens, I’m not all that familiar with different recordings of the Kaffee Kantata. I did hear the Freiburg Baroque do it and nothing seemed to rub me the wrong way about it.

        1. Thanks. I found a quasi-staged version set in a coffeehouse, with the orchestra in place of the tables — quite well done. I’ll be sure to check out Frieberg.



  20. On the other hand, my partner and I were listening to our local NPR station (Oregon’s OPB) yesterday on a way to a local bird sanctuary, and we happened to tune in to a Radiolab episode featuring YOU, Jerry, and your story about the time you had a botfly larva growing in your head. Neither of us had heard it before: we waited in the car to hear the end before starting the hike, fascinated but (truth be told) a bit grossed out as well. So NPR does do great stuff sometimes too.

    (It was also a great intro to you for my partner, as she knows I read your blog. She kind of likes Krista Tippett, but I’m working on that)

    1. That botfly episode, which I find hilarious (NPR did a fantastic production job, and even dug up my old girlfriend), was made years ago. They broadcast it from time to time, and I know because I suddenly get a bunch of emails, most using the term “gross.” There’s a permanent link to it here, starting at 44 minutes in.

      1. “and even dug up my old girlfriend” – somehow using this turn of phrase when mentioning flies is worrying.

  21. One word: audiobooks.

    Saved my sanity more than a few times while driving, since intelligent talk on radio is occurs only about 10% of the time.

      1. Oh, totally agreed. Every time I get into a company car, starting the motor is immediately followed by a string of curses and a mad attack on the dashboard trying to find the knob that turns the babble OFF, before the mindless drivel that is talkback radio soaks into my brain.

  22. There’s a nasty side to the “old soul” nonsense. I’ve heard people tell the parents of young children that “old souls” have one or two important tasks to complete during their return to Earth, and once the task is completed they can die (no one has the gonads to use the word “die”, though – rather something like “pass on” or “move on”), usually at a young age. This after “complimenting” the parents with the observation that the child is preternaturally wise, mature, serious, and therefore an “old soul.” What a horrible thing to say to parents, and of course if the child overhears, it’s even worse.

    1. Let me guess: Canadian First Nations girls with leukemia and Newage parents are among the most likely to be called “old souls”…?


    2. The psychological game-playing throughout religion is loathsome. The victims do not know they are being conned, and in many cases the perpetrators don’t either. Yet, society condones, supports, and perpetuates the noxious fraud from generation to generation.

  23. Jerry, you tune in blather on NPR when you could be listening to beautiful classical music on WFMT-FM 98.7? One of the best classical music stations in the nation. I don’t understand.

  24. I’ve almost had to stop listening to the weekend lineup on NPR completely. I’m using CDs in my shop now.

    I really like Bob Simon as an announcer — I think he’s the best one at NPR. So I can listen to his segment. But after that, I’m just tired of it all.

    And I like our local MPR classical station and listen to it often; but they have segments (often 3 hours long) when they play, for instance, opera (some of which I love, e.g. The Marriage of Figaro; but I can usually only stand a small amount of), film music (which I generally only enjoy during the films), and topical music.

    So, I end up listening to CDs.

    To give a little plug for a recent favorite: I highly recommend Slide Show by Cindy Cashdollar. It’s a fun mix of instrumental ballads, Texas Swing, and blues tracks. And she’s backed up by some greats, such as Sonny Landreth, Marcia Ball, Mike Auldridge, Jorma Kaukonen and Steve James (and any others). My favorite record of the last 12 months.

    1. Do you mean Scott Simon? Bob Simon was with CBS News.
      My problem with Scott Simon — not that you asked, and assuming that’s who you refer to when you write Bob Simon — is that he pronounces his name as ‘Shcott Shimon.” Also (alsho), he laughs like Santa Claus — “Ho ho ho,” a sort of forced bonhomie, in my view.

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