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Dan Harmon talks fellatio etiquette, Playing House pals continue their rounds

The best podcasts for the week of June 14-20

Podmass comments and suggestions for future coverage can be directed to podmass@avclub.com. 

Quotes of the week

“What does your [camera] stand-in look like? Does he have the same back of the head as you, or…” 
“It’s Jodie Foster’s guy.” —Scott Aukerman to Zach Galifianakis, Doug Loves Movies 

“You don’t give someone notes on their performance at a soup kitchen.” —Dan Harmon on whether or not men should provide women with tips on fellatio, Harmontown

“Let’s talk about something fun. Let’s talk about the suicide of your sister.” —Paul Gilmartin, keeping things light, The Mental Illness Happy Hour

“I didn’t know much at 8, but that day I knew my grandma loved me. I knew it from the bottom of my heart. She beat that lady’s ass.” —Lily Be on her grandmother’s response to an adult slapping her little cousin, The Moth 

“Let me ask you a question: This book, how many chapters are about you putting a curtain up in the back of a comedy club?” —Jimmy Pardo on Todd Glass’ new memoir, Never Not Funny

“Every teenage weirdo has a need to define themselves, to establish their independence but in doing so also needs to feel a sense of belonging, but maybe belonging to something that’s a little outside of what everybody else belongs to.” —Kurt Ballou of Converge, Song Exploder

“The two of them practiced swearing while doing their needlework so they could get used to it.” —Tracy V. Wilson explains how Edna St. Vincent Millay and her sister taught themselves to curse like New Yorkers, Stuff You Missed In History Class

“It just bumfuzzled me.” —Wayne Greenshaw on the episode’s big reveal, This American Life

“It’s gonna be Goo Goo Clusters just crying my name, like sirens in a freezer! And I’m not tied to the mast of a boat! I can just go to the freezer!” —Marc Maron on recently received Goo Goo Cluster treats, WTF

“What I used to love about stand-up is that some of my most fun and rewarding sets were... not horrible sets, but just horrible circumstances.” —Ray Romano, You Made It Weird

New (To Us)

Mistakes We Made
As a Chicago-based storytelling podcast, Mistakes We Made has found a real niche for itself. Committed to recounting tales of “blunders, fuck-ups, mix-ups, and break-ups,” Mistakes We Made is hosted by Jessica Galliart and Lenny Gilmore, two RedEye Chicago staffers. They kick off each story with a few mercifully short moments of sometimes-strained banter. So far, there’s only been four episodes, so perhaps with time, these two will become a bit more comfortable on the mic.

From the cold open to the musical theme to the humorous closing tag, Mistakes We Made seems to be intentionally posing itself as a cross between This American Life and The Moth for the Midwest millennial set. That doesn’t make for a bad podcast necessarily, just a narrow focus.

Most stories are recorded live with a small audience whose comments are often picked up on the mic, which can make each episode seem a bit more like an amusing conversation among friends that happened to be caught on tape. Loosely built around a single theme stated at the top of each episode, many of the stories are Chicago-centric as that is where the podcasters (and often the storytellers) are based.

For the most part, this podcast is simply young people (some more witty than others) telling light, entertaining stories. The exception being the second story in “False Expectations.” Though the storyteller’s ultra-somber tone give away its serious nature, this story is still truly harrowing by the end—to the point where that story is an anachronism in this otherwise lightweight fare. [AB]


Betty In The Sky With A Suitcase! 
“Betty N. Thesky” is a bubbly, Star Trek-loving flight attendant who podcasts the weirdest tales happening aboard the unidentified major airline where she is employed. It’s almost unbelievable how many strange stories surface at 30,000 feet—topics range from rescuing a customer’s fallen artificial vagina from the lavatory to dealing with the peculiar pets flyers bring onto airplanes. Episode names are misleading, but the tangents get fascinating, especially when Betty doesn’t tell all the stories herself and instead invites countless flight attendants to share their misadventures on the show. Astronauts, Ambien-induced nudes, and dwarves all get a nod on “Two Puffs,” while the most recent episode “Betty The Stewardess Doll” finds Betty recounting her travels to the Isle Of Capri and the time there was an actual snake on a plane. It’s not the most riveting of podcast, but it is fun; Betty In The Sky listens like your aunt telling you the parts of her storied life your parents never mentioned, giggling at the memory. [PM]

The best

Book Fight! Summer Of Shorts #2: Dubus And Jorts
This is the second installment in Book Fight!’s Summer Of Shorts endeavor, and Barrelhouse’s Tom McAllister and Mike Ingram are finding a groove. This week the short story up for discussion is “The Fat Girl” by Andre Dubus, a masterpiece of a story about how a young woman’s struggles with her weight play out in her personal relationships. And the hosts have a worthwhile talk about the difficulties of teaching the story in a college course and the differing manner in which men and women often react to its events—though they do insist on pronouncing the author’s name “duh-BYOO,” which takes some getting used to. The shorts (as in short pants) segment about the oft-maligned jort and its socio-economic implications once again goes on a bit long, though. [AB]

The Cracked Podcast #37: Why The Food Industry Is Evil: Jason Pargin
Considering that The Cracked Podcast is devoted to busting myths and exposing often insidious conspiracies, it’s kind of surprising that one of the darkest and bleakest episodes is devoted to food. For this edition, Jack O’Brien spends the entire episode having an intense one-on-one conversation with writer Jason Pargin. Naturally, there’s a lot of talk about obesity, in particular, the fact that global obesity rates are rising at an exponential level. There’s also some grim discussion on how much of the processed food industry is centered around exploiting addictive behavior. The bleakest part of the discussion is centered around the inherent impossibility regarding maintaining weight loss over a significant period of time. Although it’s the podcast’s most pessimistic episode, it’s also one of the most compelling. [MS]

Doug Loves MoviesZach Galifianakis, Dustin Ybarra, Scott Aukerman
Scott Aukerman makes good on the shaky-sounding promise he made to return after winning last week’s Upright Citizens Brigade episode, and thank goodness for it. His whimsical, absurdist sensibility onstage (he even draws the comparison between frequently returning to Doug Loves Movies and his old UCB Comedy Bang! Bang! live-show gig) is such a fun pairing with Zach Galifianakis’ equally riff-tastic tendencies that the two play off of each other through most of the hour-long episode. Dustin Ybarra jokes early on how out of place he is onstage with his co-panelists, but it’s needless modesty, and he melds right in. It’s one of those great shows where even the business—name tags, the prize bag, plugs—are full of spontaneity and solid laughs. Once again, Daniel “Mark Wahlberg” Van Kirk drops by to further prove the phenomenon that the people slowest to recognize movie quotes are often the actors who star in them. [DJ] 

Filmspotting #495: Night Moves / Top 5 Pacific Northwest Movies
Adam Kempenaar returns to Filmspotting after an extended absence to help Josh Larsen muse over show favorite, the new intensely laconic environmental terrorism thriller Night Moves. Taking a cue from the film’s Oregon location, the cinema enthusiasts count down their favorite films also set in the Pacific Northwest. This may seem like a somewhat arbitrary theme, but once they begin tossing out titles, a complex and intriguing portrait of the region comes slowly into relief. One with inhabitants brimming with not just a confused longing, but a strong determination to survive despite the harshness of both terrain and circumstances. From The Goonies to Meek’s Cutoff to First Blood to McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the characters in these films share a rugged determination and a spirit of the frontier, that isn’t nearly so pervasive in movies set in either New York City or Los Angeles. [DD]

The Flop House #154: I, Frankenstein
If the Flop House hosts’ episode on G.I. Joe: Retaliation missed the mark slightly, their treatment of I, Frankenstein makes up for it within the first 10 minutes. As the previous episode was a departure from form, this one is a return to it—the Original Peaches find and maintain the rhythm that makes the show great as it is, and an early tangent about the bizarre sexual fetishes of various Archie comics characters is signature Flop House. It helps, of course, that the film at hand gives them plenty of dumb, confusing, and boring fodder to work with—hearing the premise of the film alone is amusing and the entire film seems more absurd the more detailed their discussion of it gets, and it does indeed get very detailed—which helps make for a strong episode. [CG]

Freakonomics: There’s No Such Thing As A Free Appetizer
This week’s episode begins with a cute plea for donations, interviewing a couple who would not have met had one of them not taken advice about dating from Stephen Dubner and company. The main question for the podcast, though, is “Why do restaurants give away free appetizers?” On the face of it, free chips, bread, or other snacks just cut into diners’ appetites, so they eat more of the gratis food and less of the pricey stuff. Dubner presents a series of theories from experts, servers, and regular people about why places serve free appetizers, without ever landing on a particularly good account. But, the lack of answers leads Dubner to a historian of restaurants, who gives an interesting primer on how modern dining came to be.  [NC]

Harmontown #103: Tony Shalhoub Award
It’s Father’s Day in Harmontown and the gang celebrates just about how you’d expect they would: with personal revelations about the respective strained relationships they each have with their fathers and with a fierce debate about any possible benefits to having a dilated butthole. With Jeff Davis away, Kumail Nanjiani adroitly mans the comptroller seat, keeping the atmosphere especially light, including when Harmon unveils yet another hilarious aspect of his non-feud with Chevy Chase. After Nanjiani slyly plugs his new podcast The X-Files Files and Channel 101 alumni Willy Roberts and Wade Randolph stop by to plug their new podcast Real Life Sci-Fi, Erin McGathy leads a pretty decent round of Erin’s Game Corner that somehow leads to one of the more impressive impressions of Ira Glass you’ll hear today. It all ends with a lightning round of D&D that’s both unintentionally destructive and a little irrational—just like Dad. [TK]

How Was Your Week #172: Max Silvestri “Pellet Of Pleasure”
This week’s monologue is engaging if not laugh-out-loud funny, with Julie Klausner riffing on Mike Myers’ fitness as a director, the horror of ugly celebrity babies, and Shep Gordon’s apparent pervertedness. Her strongest bit insightfully compares an awkward party conversation to the weirdly personal questions of Taxicab Confessions. Klausner’s conversation with the personable Max Silvestri, who is promoting both a new comedy album and an upcoming TV show about the culinary world, is similarly charming. The interview is surprisingly conventional for How Was Your Week, with Klausner asking the expected questions about Silvestri’s work and playing straight woman to his mile-a-minute chatterbox. But the range of Silvestri’s projects allows for an exceptionally inclusive conversation that spends equal time on their shared love of food and the challenges of stand-up comedy, as well as touching on a Top Chef murder mystery party, the challenges of working with an editor and the remarkable elegance of Marcus Samuelsson. [AH]

Improv4Humans #139 Penis T-Zone: Seth Morris, Mary Holland, Stephanie Allynne
Matt Besser’s well-documented fury toward the world of short form improv provides excellent fodder for a cold open and kicks off another hilarious episode of Improv4Humans. Seth Morris, Mary Holland, and Stephanie Allynne, all familiar voices to fans of the show, join Besser and create a host of utterly bizarre and unusually long scenes. Most notably the group jumps into a moving train and follows the obscene creative process behind staging a four person theatrical adaptation of the two character book Of Mice And Men. In terms of sheer hilarity, nothing tops the scene inspired by a video of a man faking a heart attack, poorly, in a courtroom. What follows is an absurdly funny courthouse run amok by friends of the court arguing over the semantics of a purported possession. The whole episode flies by thanks to the natural chemistry of the four improvisers and could very well be a great starting point for new fans to the show. [MK]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #178: Anna Akana
For more than three years, The Mental Illness Happy Hour has been a welcoming forum for guests to share uncomfortable truths. This revealing conversation with performer Anna Akana highlights the kind of interesting place Paul Gilmartin has created with his one-of-a-kind program. During an 89-minute conversation that shifts tones numerous times, Akana shares a heartbreaking account of her sister’s suicide and discloses her struggles with lying. The YouTube personality is candid throughout, but her admissions about being a serial fabricator are particularly fascinating and noteworthy for their self-awareness. It’s not a perfect episode as the conversation takes a little while to get on track and occasionally drifts into dead end topics, but there are even more moments of real substance and honesty that make this discussion worthwhile. [TC]

The Moth: All-Stars, Veterans, And Boxers
Given the tendency for family-focused stories on The Moth to lean to the saccharine or maudlin side, an all family-story hour-long episode sounds a bit, well... insufferable. The curators seem to be aware of that, though, and this week they highlight four excellent stories, two of which benefit from exceedingly bad behavior. Against all good parenting advice by today’s standards, Michaela Murphy travels across the country alone with her brother to see an All-Star game with particularly sentimental value. It’s easy to root for them and their increasingly fraught and exciting adventure, even when it depends on the (technically terrible idea) of accepting travel and accommodations by an adult stranger. Lily Be similarly benefits from misbehavior when her grandmother abandon’s civility in a God Of Carnage-like dispute between kids. Graham Shelby navigates his relationship with his birth father, and like many children from adoptive parents, discovers  the worst scenario behind his upbringing was the one he carried in his head. An excellent short by Corey Rosen tops it off with an underdog story definitely worth a listen. [DJ]  

Never Not Funny #1420 Todd Glass
Todd Glass brings his singular energy to Never Not Funny, and it makes for one of the best episodes listeners have heard in a while. As many surely know, he and Jimmy Pardo are longtime friends and that’s made abundantly clear in their repartee. It would almost be sad to hear how brutally Pardo cuts his guest down at every turn if the insults weren’t eliciting such joyful laughter from their target. This is obviously a well-worn dynamic. This is not to say that Glass behaves as a doormat. One of the best parts of the show comes when he hijacks a advertising spot for NatureBox and drags it down the kind of long and loud tangent that characterizes his own podcast. Don’t skip past this “commercial.” You’ll lose, not only a significant chunk of the show, but a really solid bit. [DD]

Professor Blastoff #160 The Moon: Mary Holland
There are all kinds of conspiracies and misconceptions about the Earth’s moon, from the hoax landing to its gravitational pull. This week Professor Blastoff tackles the vastness of the topic by inviting fledgling Improv4Humans favorite Mary Holland to the hatch to tell them what she learned about it on Wikipedia in the few days immediately prior to recording. After fielding a barrage of questions by David Huntsberger that leads to Holland’s research methods being exposed, she competes with Kyle Dunnigan in the episode’s highlight bit—a too-specific trivia contest hosted by Huntsberger—with ease and eagerness that are all too uncharacteristic of the program’s recent guests. Dunnigan leads a great new Mother Meditation and gets teased for how he beets his meat to counteract his celiac disease, rounding out a worthwhile installment. [NJ]

Sklarbro Country #240 The Zeit’MothaFuckin’Geist: Jessica St. Clair, Lennon Parham, Jason Nash
This is, from start to finish, one of the most consistently funny episodes of Sklarbro Country. Randy and Jason Sklar kick off the show with an in-depth bit regarding a news story about the recently crowned Miss USA who couldn’t name the capital of the state she was representing when quizzed on a radio show. They go beyond the obvious joke bait regarding the intelligence  of a beauty pageant contestant and really construct a funny and unconventional segment. The Sklars go on to interview Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham. Although the actresses have been making the podcast rounds to promote their new show Playing House, the Sklars manage to make the interview fresh and fun. [MS]

Song Exploder #12: Converge – “Dark Horse”
After a series of episodes focusing on shoegaze electro-pop, this one represents a major change—Hrishikesh Hirway interviews guitarist Kurt Ballou and Jake Bannon of the hardcore band Converge about their song “Dark Horse.” Ballou, who is also a recording engineer, is extremely eloquent in his discussion of the band’s sound, explaining how to create “the classic Swedish death metal tone” on guitar, the importance of song structure, and the unique challenge of recording vocals when your singer only has two modes: “shouty” and “monster.” The conversation is deep enough to appeal to even those who usually dislike the aggressiveness of metal and hardcore (though they may want to skip the last few minutes, which is just the song). Ballou and Bannon make a compelling case for their oft-maligned genre, explaining the fundamental positivity of the music and the sense of community they’ve found in the hardcore scene. [AH]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Part 1
Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey begin this two-part series on one of their favorite literary figures, Edna St. Vincent Millay. A bit of a cult figure in the early 20th Century, Millay one of the first women to win the Pulitzer Prize and her success gave her a reputation that helped her wield a formidable personality. These early years of her life are full of charming notes about her bohemian lifestyle dominated by heavy drinking and endless affairs. Frey and Wilson are clearly enamored with Millay’s story; Wilson has recently visited Millay’s home and both hosts insist on referring to her as “Vincent” as Millay’s close personal friends once did. Though the hero worship awkwardly precedes the explanation of her accomplishments, Millay’s life is indeed interesting enough to warrant Stuff You Missed In History Class’ attention. The episode ends in a vivid tale of an evening that began with a party full of Millay’s former lovers and ends with Millay having her intestines reconstructed. [DT]  

This American Life #527: 180 Degrees
Beloved by many as a book that promotes tolerance, Forrest Carter’s The Education Of Little Tree tells the story of a young boy who goes to live with his Cherokee grandparents. Joe Richman’s expose on the book and its author delves into the book’s history and ends up in a much more troubling place: the Jim Crow-era south. The piece tells the story of how the infamous white supremacist and political extremist Asa Carter, a Ku Klux Klan member who wrote speeches for George Wallace in the 1960s, left politics and re-emerged in Texas as the kindly-seeming author Forrest. Incorporating audio of Carter’s racist political speeches along with interviews with people who knew Carter as both Asa and Forrest, Richman produces an unsettling and resonant account that easily stands among the best This American Life segments of the year. The remainder of the episode, however, feels like filler, and is less essential. [DF]

Who Charted? #185: Letting Go Of Macklemore: Karen Kilgariff
Right off the bat, it’s clear that Howard Kremer adores comedian, writer and Mr. Show alum Karen Kilgariff and his affinity for her fuels the conversation. It’s easy to see why Kilgariff wins Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack over instantly. She’s easy to talk to, charming, laid back and knows how to move a conversation along. It’s a shame that Kilgariff isn’t more of an Earwolf fixture and hasn’t appeared on the podcast as often as say, Kumail Nanjiani or Harris Wittels. Kremer is particularly enamored with how unaware Kilgariff is of the top five songs on the music chart and the fact that she’s blissfully unaware of top 40 music in general. Plus, the music segment gives Kremer the chance to have some fun at Ed Sheeran’s expense. [MS]

WTF #507: Josh Groban 
Josh Groban—vocal chocolate to fangirls, goofy sing-along material to drunk bros, easily pigeonhole-able to many, is “just a dude who likes to hang out” to Marc Maron. In spite of these manifold qualities, Groban presents an easy charisma and an unflinching interview. Beginning with Maron mentioning his own musicianship, the conversation thankfully turns to (and remains on) Groban’s life in music. Stories from the world of classical vocalists (read: Celine Dion) might seem dubious to WTF’s demographic, but Groban’s enthusiasm and self-awareness makes them entirely engaging. The chemistry between the two is easy and bright, making the entire 78 minutes enjoyable. There is something rewarding about hearing the man behind “You Raise Me Up” express his admiration for alt-comedy and explore his nervousness about the future. A good WTF presents a raw, humanizing portrait of the people who entertain us, and Maron mines just that from Groban on this episode.

You Made It Weird #212: Ray Romano
Despite seeming to have only the thinnest of ideas of what these podcast things are, Ray Romano manages to become one of the most satisfying You Made It Weird guests in recent memory. He may currently be on the uncool end of network success for many comedy fans, but sitting across from Pete Holmes, discussing the mechanics of joke-writing and the euphoria of winning over a roomful of strangers, he reveals a grumbly, uncertain, deep-in-the-bones stand-up comedian millimeters beneath that patina of industry success. Students of comedy should enjoy his explanation of the hoops an ’80s-era comics had to leap through on a nightly basis to slowly gain recognition and success and eventually, hopefully, pass the improv’s nerve-wracking audition process. One of the best parts of the episode comes when the sitcom star divulges his depths of hatred—and continued intense dislike—for the name Everybody Loves Raymond. You can practically hear him squirming through the speakers. [DD]

The rest

Comedy Bang! Bang! #294: Honk Shoo: Ian Edwards, Brendon Small, Jessica St. Clair
It’s got its ups and downs, but this stilted episode never feels fully formed. First-timer Ian Edwards talks for maybe 34 seconds, Brendon Small struggles to really embody his new character (corporate rock comedian Bernie Fretts), and even intern Marissa Wompler (Jessica St. Clair) seems a little out of sorts. [TK]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #295 I Turned It On For The Dog Penis: Alex Anfanger, Dan Schimpf, Lauren Lapkus
Alex Anfanger and Dan Schimpf, the duo behind the bang-up webseries Next Time On Lonnie, make for entertaining guests, but save for the titular subject, their conversation with Scott Aukerman and co-host Traci Rearden (Lauren Lapkus) skews toward the mundane in this week’s bonus episode. [MK]

Hang Up And Listen: The San Antonio Is Beautiful Edition
Big sporting events do not bring out the best in Hang Up And Listen in this installment. An opportunity to approach the NBA Finals and World Cup from a unique perspective is wasted as the episode is overrun with tired panel discussions. [TC]

Judge John Hodgman #165: Wake Me Up Before You Go, Bro
This week’s primary case—older brother forces younger brother to wake him every morning, and younger brother protests—isn’t so compelling, but it’s the kind of episode that unfolds as a listenable profile of a quirky family who come off like a blue-collar Wes Anderson clan. A docket-clearing case explores whether fart jokes are art. [DXF]

Nerdist #535: The Sklar Brothers #3: Randy Sklar, Jason Sklar
There’s a certain trap the Nerdist podcast falls in when Chris Hardwick has a guest return too many times in too short a period of time. This happen in Randy and Jason Sklar’s third Nerdist appearance. Clearly, a lot of the more interesting background stories were exhausted on previous episodes and the resulting conversation didn’t necessarily need to be recorded. [MS]

Nerdist #536: Scott Ian Returns
Anthrax frontman Scott Ian sits down with Chris Hardwick and Jonah Ray for his second Nerdist episode. The conversation touches on a few interesting insights into the music industry, but the bulk of the episode is just the trio swapping stories. Tales of his youthful pranks and drunken nights might be enjoyable for Ian’s fans, but they aren’t the best introduction to the musician. [CS]

Nerdist #537:Ralph Garman
This feels less like an episode of a podcast and more like small talk between three friends that happened to be recorded. With Chris Hardwick and Jonah Ray eager to share stories, there’s little time for comedian/actor Ralph Garman to make much of an impression. [CS] 

99 Percent Invisible #119: Feet Of Engineering
While 99 Percent Invisible’s look at the history of high heels is somewhat interesting, this week’s episode fails to make any big point about the shoes’ practicality or future. Instead, it ends up feeling like surface musing about why women torture themselves. [ME]

Sound Opinions #447: Angel Olsen
There’s nothing wrong with singer Angel Olsen’s in-studio interview and performance, besides the fact that her hospitality runs the segment so long that the hosts are left with no time at all to rip into Lana Del Rey’s new record. [NJ]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Part 2
The latter half of poet Edna St. Vincent Mallay’s story, as told by hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey, tends more toward the melodramatic than the dramatic. Though Millay continued to live an extraordinary life after her string of literary successes, her later years seem more like a tragic series of footnotes. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Soccer Works
Hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant keep the entire episode light with personal stories like their shared childhood inability to play soccer with skill. But their academic points of view make the history of the sport’s prehistoric formation and function of FIFA extremely dry. Those who don’t have an active interest in soccer will not exactly get swept up in their tepid enthusiasm.  [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Is Your Employer Spying On You?
Employer spying on personal emails and browser history is not only rampant, employees in the U.S. have very little room to complain. Yet, somehow an episode laden with research still glosses over social and economic ramifications. The laws that Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant review are up-to-date and informative, but they don’t spend much time on big picture issues like how surveillance increases parallel to an under-employment epidemic. [DT]

Welcome To Night Vale #49: Old Oak Doors Part A
This broadcast from New York City marks a historic time in Night Vale, as the portals to other worlds are opening. It is the day of the mayoral election. We meet Tamika Flynn, the book-loving teen leading the revolt against StrexCorp, and Carlos reappears! The live show is a fun approach, but the plot is difficult to follow with different characters interjecting. And, no weather this time around. 

WTF #506: Billy Gibbons
Billy Gibbons has plenty of stories to tell, but much better ones have been told on WTF before, and none of the ones he does choose to tell to Marc Maron are enough to buoy the rest of the interview, which feels like a fans-only affair more of the time than not. [CG]