8. Because you’re training for a marathon/ putting in a lab-work marathon/ cleaning house/ doing anything that’s better with someone talking in your earphones, and you’re just not getting enough with NPR, Slate, and that one about the things from the British Museum—and you’ve already used up all the Audible.com freebies offered via those podcasts
7. To hear Dan take a victory lap after Rick Santorum lost his Senate seat (while trying not to dwell on how U.S. politics have changed/not changed/gotten ten times worse since then)
6. As part of creating a drinking game for a sex-ed themed cocktail party (maybe you’re hosting a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood?)
5. For the episode recorded immediately after Thanksgiving dinner
4. To pin down the exact moment of origin of the phrase “tech-savvy at-risk youth”
3. For every time Dan has a special guest/ co-host/ foil
2. Because back in the day Dan and/or the TSARY weren’t so selective about which calls deserved an answer
1. For the old, Monty Pythonesque brass band intro music
With its mildly lefty contrarian tone and frequent crossovers with NPR – and, I should say, solid but accessible policy analysis and spot-on cultural reviews – Slate has long been a staple in my online reading. It’s also been a staple in my podcast lineup, ever since I got my first iPod and suddenly needed something to put on it for long spinning sessions. Since several of the Slate podcasts are calling for listeners to recruit more listeners this week, I thought I’d note my favorites, and where to get them.
The Political Gabfest is the original Slate podcast, and the template for newer models. Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz talk about (usually) three topics in the week’s (usually) political news. Plotz is a liberaltarian grump, Bazelon more idealistic, Dickerson focused on the political mechanics behind the issue of the moment; all three bounce off each other in endearing and enlightening ways. Dickerson mediates (or tables) at least one Plotz-Bazelon argument per episode. (Subscribe in iTunes.)
Political Gabfesters Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz at a live Gabfest event last May. Photo by presta.
The Culture Gabfest applies the Gabfest model to cultural news. Stephen Metcalf moderates in Plotz-y tones, and is usually joined by Julia Turner and Dana Stevens – but the Culture Gabfest often includes fourth or fifth panelists to discuss particular topics. My tastes track Metcalf’s pretty closely, but Stevens’s reviews were informing my movie-going decisions long before the podcast launched. (Subscribe in iTunes.)
Dana Stevens also helms Spoiler Specials, in which she and another film critic or two dissect a current movie, with no regard to hiding plot points. It’s great fun after you’ve seen a movie, or, if you’re into schadenfreude, often just as much fun with reference to a movie you have no intention of seeing (Transformers, for example). (Subscribe in iTunes.)
Hang up and Listen is back to the Gabfest model, but about sports – the conversation between sports journalists Stefan Fatsis, Josh Levin, and Mike Pesca is like sports talk radio, but you don’t call in, hence the name. In fact, it’s not really like sports talk radio, inasmuch as I, a nerd whose sports are unwatchable individual endurance events (running, cycling), find it totally interesting. Part of this may be because both Fatsis and Levin Pesca* are regular NPR contributors, who are used to talking sports with an audience that doesn’t follow them. (Subscribe in iTunes.)
Conveniently, you can subscribe to each of these individually at the links I’ve given above (they’re all on a weekly-ish cycle, with Spoiler Specials somewhat less frequent), or get them as part of Slate’s daily podcast stream. If you go with the daily stream, you’ll get a few less-frequent ‘casts I’ve left out, that are nevertheless good when they show up.
I’m moving back into a labwork-intensive schedule at the moment, which means that I’m burning through podcasts like nobody’s business. Fortunately, I’ve recently been sucked into the orbit of Too Beautiful to Live, the online incarnation of Luke Burbank’s daily talk/music/newsish show. I only found TBTL after it lived up to its its name by getting dropped from the air by Seattle-area radio station KIRO.
Luke and his co-conspirators Jen “Flash” Andrews and Sean DeTorre put together an amalgam of music, pop-culture sound cues, news commentary, and whatever else happens to drift through Luke’s head at the moment of recording. Topics range from the current status of the Large Hadron Collider to Alec Baldwin’s self-esteem issues; one recent episode revolved around plumbing issues in the Burbank residence.* It’s weird and silly and oddly compelling, and it works great in the background while I’m racking pipette tips.**
Which sounds like damning with faint praise, now that I re-read it, but really isn’t. I mean, Studio 360 doesn’t usually make that particular cut. Anyway, you should totally subscribe.
——– * The appropriateness of which subject matter was discussed in today’s episode, which was basically a recorded conversation between Luke and his girlfriend on a drive to down to Portland, and which achieved an almost “30 Rock”-grade degree of meta.
** Except for that one occasion when I had to dive across the lab to hit the volume control and kill Jen’s Swedish Chef impression just as my (Swedish) dissertation advisor walked in the door.
I’m barely five minutes into the new Radiolab podcast on parasites, and I’m already going to recommend it just for the introduction, in which Robert Krulwich watches that scene from Alien for the first time. Which is online here, for the nonsqueamish.
Between the gym, the lab, and desk-bound paper pushing, I go through a lot of talky Public Radio podcasts in a week, but I tend to let business/economic ones slide to the end of my queue. Whenever I get to Planet Money, though, I usually find I’m glad I did. Started in direct response to the housing market’s implosion, PM is makes economics more accessible than The Economist, and I like its Radiolab-influenced tone way more than Marketplace. PM is Exhibit A in the case for NPR’s success in the new-media world; they’re a blog, a podcast, a Flickr pool (below), a Facebook page, a Twitter feed …
This week’s podcast from Radiolab is co-host Robert Krulwich’s commencement address to the class of 2008 at the California Institute of Technology. It’s a rousing call for scientists to put in the effort to talk about science to non-scientists, and how to use stories to do it. Because, says Krulwich, science is valuable:
But somewhere in that nightmare of work [leading up to graduation] you may have noticed that your teachers were giving you more than tension headaches. They were giving you values. A deep respect for curiosity. For doubt, always doubt. For open-mindedness. For going wherever the data leads, no matter how uncomfortable.
But that doesn’t do it justice. Go listen to the whole thing. Now.
My new favorite podcast is Radio Lab, from New York Public Radio. It’s sort of Nova plus This American Life, with a heavy dose of the Douglas Adams sensibilities that I’ve come to associate with co-host Robert Krulwich. And it’s awesome.
What’s on my mind right now is the episode of 28 April 2006, “Morality”. It delves into emerging studies of the biology of human morals – what parts of the brain are involved in moral decision-making, and how evolutionary history shaped them. A key point is that there are two kinds of moral thinking, rules-based decision-making (“Thou shalt not kill”) and calculating (“the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”). And these two kinds of moral thinking take place in different parts of the brain. When they come into conflict, maybe because you’re thinking about killing someone in order to save several other people, a third area of the brain kicks in to decide between the two. This third area is (apparently) entirely unique to humans – not even chimpanzees have it.
But chimpanzees (and other apes) do have the rules-based moral thinking area. It helps them get along with other chimps. Which means that rules-based morality is evolutionarily primitive. If they could write, chimps could probably come up with most of the Ten Commandments! Where does that leave Christian morality? Is it all just pre-programmed behavior wrapped up in unnecessary mysticism?
No. As it happens, I’ve just finished reading Michael Ruse’s excellent book Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? (Cambridge University Press, 2001), which addresses exactly this question. And, as Ruse points out, Christ’s teachings call us to live beyond the Ten Commandments – those moral principles that seem to crop up in every human belief system.
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet those who greet you, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as you heavenly Father is perfect. —Matthew 5:46-8 (NIV)
In other words, Christians are to exceed the dictates of morality that everyone already follows. We’re to transcend our biology, using that part of our brain that sets us above the rest of the animal kingdom.