I can’t say I’ve found much to like about this pandemic. Today marks the seventh month that I’ve worked from home, hardly venturing out at all. I still have in my wallet the same $413 I had when I stepped off an airplane on March 13 and drove home to quarantine.
But slowing down has had its benefits.
Among them is the discovery of podcasts.
Herewith a brief review of a few I’ve found interesting. I offer this not as an effort at omniscience, but more as an invitation. Here’s what I found interesting and why. Take what you can from this. In return, leave me a suggestion on what you enjoy. In an ideal world, we both might learn something.
First, a word on podcasts. I listen to the items listed below. Some also have video. If I had to define the form, I’d say the following: A podcast is an oral presenation in conversational form, sometime a soliloquy, often a discussion, in which speakers present ideas, points of view or information. I access podcasts through the Podcasts App on my Iphone, and listen to them while walking or trudging along on a treadmill, activities I engage in for hours each day. This app permits me to create a library of items for easy reference.
I fell into podcasts by searching for information about artificial intelligence, a passion of mine. I settled on Lex Fridman’s podcast. (The name is spelled correctly.) But then Lex got so popular, he branched out into general podcasting. The new incarnation is a little disappointing. Interviews can last for three or more hours. He too rarely discusses AI now. But he is invariably informative, and, given his connection to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he has access to world-class talent in many fields. I rate his AI podcast an A-; his newer, more general podcast, is a B+. Don't forget your roots, Lex -- please.
Sam Charrington also podcasts on AI at The TWIML AI Podcast. He’s a machine learning insider. He remains focused and stays focused. He assumes his listeners know more than I do, certainly. I don’t listen regularly because I don’t regularly understand what he is talking about. Grade: B-.
When QAnon broke into the news in a big way this summer, I realized that I knew nothing about it. I found a podcast devoted to following it from a critical perspective: QAnon Anonymous. Hosted by Julian Feeid, Travis View and Jake Rockatansky, the site offers weekly takes on what’s going in Q world, complete with interviews of Q followers at demonstrations. The hosts are young, irreverent, and given to mockery. (I represent one of the men they mock, Alex Jones, so I suppose I am more sensitive than I should be.) That diminishes from the work they are doing providing insight into a mass movement that raises the following critical question: What makes such wild ideas – harvesting babies for youth-enhancing fluids? – appealing. Why are we this crazy? Mockery isn’t the answer. Grade: B-.
Young Heretics is a new blog, hosted by Spencer Klavan, an editor at the Claremont Review of Books. He’s a young Ph.D. in classics who promises to bring exposure to the best in Western literature without engaging on the “culture wars.” Yet he does engage, and it is disappointing when he does so. He started with Homer's Iliad, but managed, somehow, not to discuss the Odyssey, an omission I will forgive as soon as he remedies it. He’s still finding his feet and focus. I believe the Western canon has enduring value, and that Klavan will get his bearings. Forget the left, Spencer. Speak truth. Grade: A-.
The folks at the Daily Wired, founded by Ben Shapiro of The Ben Shapiro Show, offer a conservative counterweight to commentary on public affairs. Shapiro’s a Harvard Law grad, and, despite his youth, 37, he’s been a fixture on the right for nearly two decades. He’s on daily, with an hour for free, and an additional two hours for subscribers. Clearly a polymath, his daily rants at first seem like a breath of fresh air, but, in time, the air becomes stale. He might be the host of the largest and fastest growing conservative podcast, as he says. But I can’t take the steady diet of rage and sarcasm. It would be helpful if he did more interviews. But I gather that talking for three hours a day gives him less time to think than he might otherwise have. I still say check him out. Grade: A-.
Finally, and by no means exclusively, check out The Intellectual Dark Web, a site with a sinister-sounding name, but an enlightened mission: Bringing ideas to light without regard to ideology or consequences. I reviewed this week’s lecture on Marxism on my Patreon site today. Grade: A-. (Learned about Patreon from listening to QAnon Anonymous and Lex Fridman, both whom ask listeners for support, as I now ask for yours. You can subscribed to me at Become a Patron!).
And, of course, the Joe Rogan Experience. He’s got a way about him that I can’t pinpoint. I listened to interviews earlier this summer with an organic farmer and, recently, with Lex Fridman. Rogan is a mensch. It’s that simple. Grade: A.
Tell me about the podcasts to which you listen, and why. I’ll do reviews of podcasts from time to time here.