(Political) Podcast Junkie 

bike helmet portraitSince I started riding my bike to work about four years ago, I have had much more time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks. As I discover new podcasts the time spent on audiobooks naturally diminishes and if I get bogged down in an uninspiring audiobook I end up overdosing on podcasts. Nearly all of these podcasts are about politics.

I’ve listened to “This American Life,” “Serial,” “Stuff You Should Know” numerous podcasts on the yogic life, various titles published by The New Yorker, and Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History.” My interest in these is ultimately transitory. I would always go back to the political podcasts.

Currently, I am listening to about ten to fifteen hours of podcast programming throughout the work week. I tend to clean up my habit over the weekend mostly because the podcasts I listen to don’t publish on Saturday or Sunday. I get down to about an hour each day–usually last week’s dregs that I didn’t finish. Then Monday rolls around, and I’m looking for the good stuff again. My name is Jack, and I’m a political podcast junkie.

Here are my favorite podcasts, in no particular order. By the way, if you think I’m missing a good one let me know, just don’t suggest “Stuff You Missed in High School.” I’ll take ice picks in my ears first!

The Intercept from Spoken Edition
Type: News/Politics
Drop frequency: two or three times each weekday
Drop length: Varies between about 8 to 20 minutes

The Intercept is one of the best investigative journalist sites on the web. Started by Glenn Greenwald (who is best known for being one of the journalists that broke the Edward Snowden story) and Jeremy Scahill, the site also has heavy-hitters like David Dayen, Matt Taibbi, Lee Fang, and Naomi Klein. Spoken Edition is a service that reads selected articles from the latest editions of “The Intercept” as well as “The Huffington Post,” “Reuters,” “Wired,” “Time,” “Playboy,” “Slate,” and about ten other publications. If you like your podcasts in shorter run times check out Spoken Edition’s offerings at http://www.spokenedition.com/

The Daily and The Daily 202’s Big Idea from the New York Times and Washington Post, respectively
Type: News/Politics
Drop frequency: one each weekday
Drop length: Around 20 minutes and 5 minutes, respectively

“The Daily” and “The Daily 202’s Big Idea” are polished straight news services that give the listener a top story from the day’s two top papers as well as briefings. Neither of these shows challenges the corporate media’s take on current affairs, but they do offer the listener relatively well-investigated stories, and they are convenient if you didn’t get to read much of the newspaper in the morning.

Economic Update from Democracy at Work
Type: News/Politics
Drop frequency: Every Thursday (roughly)
Drop length: About an hour

Ever since my older son turned me onto this American economist’s work, I’ve been listening to his insightful critiques on corporate America and neo-liberalism. Wolff’s podcast is not about dry economics, but where business, government, and the human condition meet. Wolff calls the podcast “a weekly program devoted to the economic dimensions of our lives–jobs, incomes, debts–those we have, those coming down the road, and those facing our children.” If I were forced to delete all the podcasts from my phone except one, this would be the one that would survive.

Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill from The Intercept
Type: News/Politics
Drop frequency: Every Wednesday
Drop length: About an hour

Scahill is a founding editor of the online news publication The Intercept. He is also the author of two important books: “Blackwater” an in-depth and damning expose on the private American military company of the same name and “Dirty Wars” about the US’ expansion of war, assassinations, black sites, torture, and lack of accountability. His podcast is hard hitting and, at times, hilarious.

FiveThirtyEight Politics from FiveThirtyEight.com
Type: Politics/Political Polling Analysis
Drop frequency: Every Monday with occasional “Emergency Podcasts.”
Drop length: Around 40 to 50 minutes

Hosted and produced by Jody Avirgan and features political writers, Clare Malone and Harry Enten, and Editor in Chief Nat Silver, “FiveThirtyEight Politics” covers the latest in U.S. political news and how the current events may bode for candidates. The show also does an excellent job illustrating how good and bad polling affects the elected officials and candidates for posts. “FiveThirtyEight Politics” also evaluates the validity of current polls and surveys.

Start Making Sense from The Nation Magazine
Type: News/Politics
Drop frequency: Every Thursday
Drop length: Around 35 to 45 minutes

Jon Wiener, the host and a Contributing Editor to The Nation Magazine, is best known for his 25 year battle with the FBI over the release of the Bureau’s documents on John Lennon. He also was a consultant for the documentary “The U.S. Versus John Lennon.” “Start Making Sense” usually features two short pieces. If you like the longest running progressive magazine in America (150 years!), you’ll like this podcast.

On the Media from WNYC Studios
Type: News, Politics, media
Drop frequency: Once a week (roughly)
Drop length: Varies between about 20 to 50 minutes

Press critics Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield co-host this award-winning program that focuses on the how politicians and newsmakers spin the news. In these Trumpian days where the media is being attacked, OTM does an excellent job explaining how often the media itself is the news.

Edge of Sports with Dave Zirin from The Nation Magazine
Type: Politics in sports
Drop frequency: Every Tuesday
Drop length: About an hour

Sports Editor for The Nation Magazine Dave Zirin talks about the politics in college and professional sports. Favorite parts of this hour-long show: “Just Stand Up” and “Sit Your Ass Down” praise and harsh criticism, respectively for sports/public figures words or actions over the last week. Also, there’s “Kaepernick Watch” where the host updates his listeners on the ex-NFL quarterback’s politics and social work since the embattled athlete took a knee.

Democracy Now! from Pacifica Radio
Type: News, Politics, media
Drop frequency: one each weekday and frequent extended interviews
Drop length: About an hour

If you don’t watch Amy Goodman and company on PBS, or subscribe to the show on YouTube.com, you should at least check out the podcast version. (They also have a smartphone app.) Goodman’s guests are the vanguard of investigative journalists, activists, and authors: Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Naomi Klein, Matt Taibbi, Lee Fang, Jeremy Scahill, and Ralph Nader, to name only a few. I don’t listen to this as much as I used to, but I often watch the show on YouTube.com. Goodman is the best journalist you can see on your TV. It is tragic to say she has no real competition.

MLB podcasts
What: Major League Baseball
Drop frequency: Roughly every day
Drop length: From about 25 to 59 minutes

I’ve got four MLB podcasts on my phone. I listen to Statcast Podcast every week. It’s a little over my head, but I’m intrigued at such arcane metrics as hit probability, exit velocity, spin rate, Expected Weighted On-base Average, and barrelThe Ringer MLB Show is another podcast I rarely miss. Nothing mysterious like what exactly is “barrel,” just talk about why older players are less likely to be considered for Cooperstown, and predictions on who will be the Wild Cards and how the post-season will turn out. I occasionally enjoy Cut4cast, but it can be annoying when the co-hosts try too hard to be funny–laughing at their own jokes. I rarely listen to Fantasy Baseball 411 but keep it on my phone because it might come in handy next season. I might end up in two fantasy baseball leagues next year! How does fantasy baseball work, anyway? I still haven’t looked it up. When April comes along, I just may write a post about my rookie season(s).

Each week, listening to political podcast after political podcast, I have moments of clarity. Moments when I will stop my bike on the work commute, halt the podcast that is informing me of some committee’s decision to limit my rights or fuck over the already disenfranchised and–yearning for some beauty in this world–I’ll swipe to a different type of podcast. A podcast where people talk about the most beautiful game on Earth. Maybe it will be two guys talking about Giancarlo Stanton’s dingers, or Billy Hamilton’s incredible speed on the bases or in center field, or maybe how many batters Chris Sale K’d last night. Maybe it will be someone recapping Aaron Altherr’s inside-the-park grand slam, or how long it has been since a left-handed first baseman like Anthony Rizzo played third base. Maybe someone will point out how the sad Phillies have a promising rookie from my hometown of Sacramento and my alma mater, Sac State! Or perhaps, a podcast will find something promising to say about my Oakland Athletics. (Alas, if the A’s are mentioned in a show, it’s usually about players who are leaving the club.)

My Struggle
I get frustrated at players, teams, owner, and commentators, but those moments can’t compare to the red-hot anger I feel when I hear of another Trump chestnut. Not to mention how his base doesn’t seem to notice what a dumpster fire of a presidency his is. Or, for that matter, how the GOP-controlled Congress is using these high-profile incidents as cover to push through regressive legislation. “The dumpster fire, electorate! Keep your eyes on the dumpster fire!” All the while my dysfunctional Democratic Party continues to take the cynical route and ignore the new voices on the left that could be its/our salvation: Kshama Sawant, Zephyr Teachout, and Nina Turner, to name only a few. Never heard of these people? Well, it just so happens this post has some podcasts for you to sample! When I’m about to scream and ride my bike down the embankment and into the Sacramento River, I opt to cut over for some baseball talk.

Notice the tone switch of those last two paragraphs: from Idyllic to Angry; from Tranquil to Turmoil; from an inside-the-park grand slam to, well, a dumpster fire? Why is the former clearly the place I need to hang out and the latter the one I visit the most? Not sure, but I was this way before podcasts–and the intranet for that matter–were around. I almost always prefer to be outraged, I guess. I blame it on a college professor who pushed the red pill.

I think A. Bartlett Giamatti is right, baseball really does “break your heart,” but it’s like a first lover’s jilt, compared to the slap in the face of bad politics, yet I keep coming back, red face and all.

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