What I listen to – the best podcasts around

There are people who don’t listen to podcasts – often these are the same ones who surprise me by buying and downloading public domain books. It’s like we live in different realities. Parallel universes. So the sad truth is that most of my listening is not to music but I much prefer lectures and podcasts. I cannot listen to music while I run or go to the gym, so I am the one grunting to some obscure point being made by a speaker. And since I was asked what I listen to, I thought that I would make a list. Feel free to recommend stuff to me.

For a shorter podcast try A Point of View it’s just what it says in the title. My recent favorite was Adam Gopnik explaining his indifference to Twitter. But no matter the topic, it’s always worth the 15 minutes. BBC Analysis is an in-depth discussion on a current affairs. An Australian version of this is  RN Big Ideas.

The Naked Scientist produced by the University of Cambridge its a light look at whats on in the science world. Big Picture Science is similar light hearted nerdy fun. For more science fun I highly recommend The Infinite Monkey Cage.

Little Atoms is about ideas, Crossing Continents is world affairs with a human touch, From Our Own Correspondent is a personal observation by a foreign correspondent somewhere in the world. The latter is a favorite even if it does overlap crossing continents at times. File on Four is analytical and deeper, really good with the right topic but less so when the subject matter doesn’t connect. The Forum is all about ideas and thinkers and is really worth listening to.

Radio Dude by Wrote CC BY NC

My fiction list includes Drama of the Week which is a classic type of radio theater, Radio 4 Comedy of the Week, Friday Night Comedy (both make lifting heavy weights difficult) and the Swedish witty show Spanarna. While not fiction but the storytelling of This American Life and The Moth seem to fit into this category.

For history I listen to Great Lives where a guest and expert discuss the impact of a historical person, History Extra usually interviews the author of a recent historical work of non-fiction, The History Hour plays interviews of survivors of historical events (both great and obscure), In Our Time is a panel of distinguished academics dissecting an event or concept, and   Revolutions has gone through the English Civil War and has now begun on the American War of Independence.

For long distance running, light humor, heavy banter, occasional rants and film reviews Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s Film Review is a must have. More or Less looks at statistics gone wrong in the media (more interesting than it sounds), Philosophy Bites is a 15 minute bit of depth, The World Book Club is a long interview with a well established author (always want to go and buy books after this).

The Why Factor looks at the meaning behind everyday objects and, saving the best for last, my absolute favorite podcast is Thinking Allowed sociological discussions of current thoughts and ideas. Brilliant.



The Habit of Fear

In a recent episode of the BBC podcast From our own correspondent I heard a segment by Kevin Connolly contained a quote worth remembering:

One middle-aged woman told me, at the beginning of this last revolution in the battered centre of the city of Benghazi, that she thought the worst thing about living under a dictatorship was that it made you ashamed that you did not resist, that you were not a hero.
“You pass the habit of fear on to your children,” she said.

The habit of fear.

This position reminds me of another quote, this time by Salman Rushdie from his book The Moors Last Sigh

By embracing the inescapable, I lost my fear of it. I’ll tell you a secret about fear: its an absolutist. With fear, its all or nothing. Either, like any bullying tyrant, it rules your life with a stupid blinding omnipotence, or else you overthrow it, and its power vanishes like a puff of smoke.

Being a queen is no laughing matter

Birmingham radio station BRMB turned on the Queen’s speech by mistake (The Telegraph) DJ Tom Binns makes some anti-royal remark about the France doing fine even after beheading their royals and switches over to the song Last Christmas by Wham! with the comment “from one Queen to another” (which Queen should be upset by this?)

What happens? He gets sacked! He must of known it was a bit of a provocation – but seriously to sack the man? The Telegraph writes that

Orion Media which owns the station said Mr Binns’ comments were inappropriate and confirmed the presenter would not be working for the station again…

“We do not condone what he said in any way, whether said in jest or not,” said Mr Lloyd. “Tom will now not be featuring again on our radio stations.”

The owners naturally have the right to fire their employees but isn’t it a bit spineless to react in this way because some listeners complain?

Err wait, that can't be right

Media Culpa reports a fantastic blooper from Swedish Radio (SR) when they reported the death of Nobel Prize laureate Harold Pinter on Christmas Day. The reporter managed to confuse the name Harold Pinter and turn it into Harry Potter.

“The British writer and dramatist Harry Potter is dead, it was announced today. Potter received the Nobel Prize in literature in 2005. He wrote about 30 plays and more than 20 screenplays. He was 78 years old.”

Listen to the news item during the 00.00 broadcast, Dec 26 (at the very bottom of the page). Download in mp3 format also available. The piece about Pinter/Potter starts at 1.26 minutes.

My personal balkanization

In 1995 the term daily me began to be bandied about by some writers and thinkers, Nicholas Negroponte for example discussed the concept in his book Being Digital. The term’s democratic and social implications was developed in Cass Sunstein‘s book Republic.com (2001). In this book (and followed up with Republic 2.0 in 2007) he argued that …the Internet may weaken democracy because it allows citizens to isolate themselves within groups that share their own views and experiences, and thus cut themselves off from any information that might challenge their beliefs… (Wikipedia). This process is sometimes known as cyberbalkanization but I feel the latter is a badly chosen term since it implies the need for cyber, which is not necessary.

No matter what term you prefer it is obvious that the daily-me phenomenon can be easily achieved with digital technology. Yesterday I took another step in my personal balkanization.

Already in my work the main part of my reading and writing is based on mainly non-Swedish sources and publications. The blogs I track track across the Internet are mainly non-local, defined by subject rather than geography. For lesuire I mainly read foreign magazines and books. I rarely read newspapers (not even online), seldom watch television (but plenty of DVDs) and since I travel around Sweden a great deal I tend to miss local events.

Together this leads to a negative (or positive – depends on your perspective) spiral and increased disinterest in local affairs.

Yesterday I took another step in my own personal balkanization by buying an Argon Internet radio. I was actually very skeptical to this but after I quick and easy install I now can listen to live radio from anywhere in the world (within the confines of language). My presets include English, American, Spanish, Maltese and Australian stations.

The little radio is perfect in my kitchen and connects easily to my wifi. In addition to this it actually does work as a “normal, old-fashioned” radio, which was a large factor in convincing me to chose this model but I have not felt the need to use it.

The argon even connects nicely to the music on my computer and to my personal selection of radio stations I chose on the radio website. My only gripe so far is that I have not managed to get the podcasts working but I guess I will have to read the manual.

So now it is even easier for me to ignore what is going on around me and focus on the stuff I like. This is becoming more than a daily me or a balkanization but it is definitaly a step in the fragmentization of a society. But at this stage I would like to quote Margaret Thatcher (I never thought that would happen) “Society does not exist“. Thatcher used this provocative statement to promote extreme individualism. But I would like to use this to remind us that “society” is a social construct which has no meaning outside that which we consciously and unconsciously agree to fill it with. But the short sharp Thatcherite version sounds better.