Six podcasts to follow the insanity that is current US politics

1. NPR POLITICS @nprpolitics

I mean, obviously.

NPR is the mother of all politics podcasts. It’s literally the only half-hour you need to keep on top of what everyone will be talking about for the week. It’s also a great insight into how the US political media functions (spoiler: not like in Britain).

Best for: Non-partisan (ish) analysis by super experienced political reporters who know a helluva lot about the complexities of US government.

Hosted by: It varies, but regulars include White House correspondent Tamara Keith and congressional reporter Scott Detrow, with appearances by political editor Domenico Montanaro.

Ignore if: I literally can’t think of a reason. Everyone should listen to this.

2. THE DAILY @mikiebarb

I covered the launch of the New York Times second attempt at a daily politics podcast for Forbes and I have to admit, I was kind of sceptical. It was billed as a sort of sequel to the hugely successful The Run-Up, but I worried it wouldn’t be able to differentiate itself from standard morning radio you might listen to while you get ready for work. Actually, it’s great. More of a deep-dive than a news bulletin, it gives you more information about the issue than you’re likely to pick up anywhere else, leaving you to seek out the rest of the news on your own which, let’s face it, anyone listening probably already has.

Best for: Knowing more than anyone else about the background to the front page stories.

Hosted by: Michael Barbaro

Ignore if: You’re not on EST. I mean, not really, I listen to it anyway, but if it was up at 7am London time that would be much more enjoyable. It just has a morning feel to it.

3. POD SAVE AMERICA @podsaveamerica

The first podcast from Crooked Media, which is basically the Gimlet of current affairs. Hosted by former Obama staffers, they unapologetically side with the Democrats on everything, and refer to the previous administration and the party in the first person. The exclusive and kind of dogmatic vibe (and the fact that it’s hosted by four identical-sounding white men, two of whom have the same name) is offset by its charming nature. It feels fresh, passionate and there’s banter aplenty, plus loads of inside knowledge on the workings of the White House.

*Apparently there’s also an adorable dog

Best for: Reflecting on the current administration in relation to the Obama years. And feeling vindicated in your indignance.

Hosted by: Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor.

Ignore if: You think the media should always be objective.

4. BLABBERMOUTH @thestranger

Ah, The Stranger: the reason I got over my Meg Ryan trauma and decided I desperately wanted to visit Seattle, and the publication that gave us Dan Savage, without whom Santorum would still be a politician’s name and ‘pegging’ would conjure up images of cribbage and not… well, google it. Savage is arguably the best part of Blabbermouth. If you like the rants at the top of the Lovecast this one is for you.

Best for: Really good arguments you can file away and use on your weird right-wing relatives next Christmas.

Hosted by: Eli Sanders, associate editor at The Stranger.

Ignore if: You’re planning to listen around kids.

5. FIVETHIRTYEIGHT @FiveThirtyEight

Ah, Nate Silver. Remember him from the 2008 elections? How the mighty have fallen, as polls have become unreliable to the point of irrelevance. To be fair, he still predicted a much higher likelyhood of a Trump victory than any other mainstream analysis, but still gave Hillary a 71% chance of winning. That said, when you take the podcast more as commentary than as prediction, it has interesting insight.

Best for: Understanding the science behind the figures the media keeps referring to.

Hosted by: Nate Silver, technically, although the politics team at FiveThirtyEight often take over.

Ignore if: You’re more into the salacious stories about grabbing people by the pussy than the minutia of political data.

6. THE EZRA KLEIN SHOW @ezrklein

Vox is up there in my top five “new media” (urgh) companies, and its success cements Klein as one of the great digital news content innovators, alongside the likes of Jonah Peretti and Ev Williams (I know, I know, three white men — shoutout to Arianna, who started it all). Regardless, Klein is also a fantastic interviewer, and despite his ideological leanings manages to remain staunchly objective when discussing the White House lunacy with a variety of guests including Hillary Clinton, David Miliband, Ta-Nehisi Coats, Jessica Valenti, Malcolm Gladwell and, perhaps most notably, Barack Obama (yes, that Barack Obama)..

Best for: Listening to stupidly clever people talk about endlessly fascinating stuff.

Hosted by: Ezra Klein (obvs).

Ignore if: You’re short on time — they average at over an hour each.

 

*NOTABLE MENTIONS: Vox’s The Weeds, Slate’s Political Gabfest, and KCRW’s Left, Right and Centre — also great, not quite I-couldn’t-live-without status.

Stop saying we’re addicted to the digital world, the internet is a virtue not a toxin

coffeeIf I had to pick one trend that has gripped my internet ecosystem in the past year I wouldn’t pick courgetti, or Lululemon, or the amaro filter. I would have to – somewhat ironically – pick the ubiquitous digital detox.

There are so many blog posts, vlogs, think pieces and podcast episodes about the so-called “joys” of a digital detox that one would be forgiven for suspecting people are choosing to embark on the experience purely for the content fodder.

Last week the national press fell over itself to report the findings of a dubious Ofcom survey, which stated that six in every 10 British internet users say they’re “hooked” on their smartphone, the implication being what? That we’re creeping towards a world where we’re stealing old ladies’ handbags to fund the ever-increasing need for digital content, which we’ll cook up with baking soda under a pigeon-infested bridge and inject into our veins with dirty syringes?

The problem is the mis-use of the word “addiction”. Merriam-Webster defines it as either “a strong and harmful need to regularly have something or do something” or “an unusually great interest in something”. That’s pretty broad. I definitely have a strong need to check my work emails regularly, but it’s no more harmful than my predecessors’ “strong need” to call their voicemail mid day-out to check whether they have any messages. I have a great interest in Snapchat but the platform’s 100 million daily active users prove this really isn’t “unusual” – so does my somewhat compulsive relationship with the internet really constitute an addiction?

According to the report, further evidence that we have a collective problem includes the fact that 48% of us will ignore housework in favour of the internet and that 47% of us lose sleep due to our time online. This seems tenuous – I will watch paint dry in order to avoid doing housework, and way before we had broadband in my house I would stay up until the wee hours because I simply had to finish my new Judy Blume novel, or there was an all-night Sabrina the Teenage Witch marathon on.

As humans, most of us are prone to distraction and procrastination, programmed to seek out escapism. But we also crave human interaction, and that’s what the internet offers us. Over and above everything else, this is what we spend the most time chasing around the web, and this is what we’re “hooked” on. The internet provides us with a constant feedback loop which can be rewarding or destructive – in the same way as real life can.

The positioning of the internet as something we’re addicted to and need to detox from due to the negative impact it has on our lives is problematic because it paints the entire internet as a toxin and doesn’t allow for nuance. The internet isn’t an unhealthy habit or a guilty indulgence – it’s the means for me and most of the people I know to launch their careers and make friends, it allows us to hear the voices which have hitherto been silenced, and gives us the opportunity to discover parts of ourselves we never knew existed. The internet makes us better informed, more creative and more empathetic human beings.

Older generations have always been disparaging of new technology, regardless of the benefits it offers society at large, but it’s our job as people who live online and are creating a better digital world for the future to fight these misconceptions, not promulgate them. Of course it’s important to see the beauty of the world beyond Instagram, to have conversations beyond Twitter and to abandon the screen to occasionally play a vinyl record or pick up a paper book, but let’s stop labelling this as a “detox”, implying the internet is a toxin we need to forcibly remove from our system, when we all know deep down it brings us more joy than our ancestors could ever have dreamed of.

How to respond to the ridiculous arguments people are making in favour of leaving the EU*

* “Brexit” is horrible. I’m passionately against unnecessary portmanteaus and refuse to use it. Soz.

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They say: “We need to control immigration!”

You say: You people may desperately try to argue this isn’t about asylum-seekers fleeing the Middle East, but we all know the truth. The reality is though that the so-called “migration crisis” really wouldn’t be affected by the UK leaving the EU. The reason Germany, Croatia and Austria are struggling with migration levels is because of the Schengen agreement, which allows free movement without the need for passports or visas within the EU.

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The UK is not a part of Schengen, so we can refuse entry to migrants and asylum-seekers as it is – and this privilege would not be increased by leaving the EU. In fact, we would be more vulnerable: the Dublin convention of 2003 dictates that if a country in the EU processes an asylum application, they are responsible for the individual, and if they end up in a different country they can be sent back to their original point of entry. This means that if migrants try to cross the Calais border into the UK, French officials have to try and stop them. Were we to leave the EU, this would no longer be the case – we wouldn’t be able to count on the cooperation of the French authorities and we would lose the right to send migrants back.

They counter: “What about Turkey? If they join we’re screwed. I’m sure they want to work, but there are only so many jobs to go around!”

You respond: Nope. Actually that’s the exact opposite of how the economy works. More citizens create more demand for goods and services and hence, more jobs. It’s literally impossible for “them to come here and take our jobs”. And anyway, the UK has a veto which means Turkey will NOT join if we don’t want them to. Not to mention that making the drastic changes to even bother re-applying would take Turkey decades. (more…)

Stop mocking Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts at social media, at least he’s trying to engage a younger audience

jeremy corbyn at rallyThis weekend, breaking news in certain corners of the internet has been Jeremy Corbyn’s recent foray into the worlds of Snapchat and Instagram, and how it’s a social media car crash to rival a Kanye meltdown.

The faux pas have by any measure been fairly cringeworthy: his Instagram handle is jeremy_corbynmp, making his surname sound like it should rhyme with gore-gimp, and half of his snaps are in landscape format shot by a weirdly omnipresent third party who captioned a charming upload ‘selfie queue’ despite a distinct lack of selfies (clue’s in the name: it’s when you take a picture of yourself, not just anything involving a camera) and queues.

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Jeremy Corbyn is the first major political figure in the UK to sign up to Snapchat, the messaging service with 100 million daily active users of which almost half are under 25. It’s easy to stick to the snarky judgements, but it’s a lot more important to realise what this means. (more…)

Hi, mainstream media. Can we all stop with the Zoella-bashing please?

 

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Last week was big for the YouTube world. Jim Chapman hosted a BBC3 documentary about the ‘rise of the superstar vloggers*’ and Zoella – possibly one of the most recognisable faces of UK vlogging – hit 10 million subscribers, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the mainstream media.

It was disappointing to read one of my favourite media commentators, Roy Greenslade, speak so disparagingly about the young content creators who are changing the rules of the entertainment industry and building careers by being approachable, savvy and incredibly determined.

The first sign in the Evening Standard piece that Mr Greenslade really knew very little about the world he was criticising was when he selected a Zoella make-up tutorial to cynically break down into derogatory soundbites. (more…)

It’s crucial that we let young girls use social media with or without parental consent

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A new proposal has surfaced which would force under-16s in Europe to get parental consent in order to access social media, and people are quite rightly outraged. Everyone from the Huffington Post to MTV have reported on the reasons why this would put vulnerable young people at risk.

When I was a teenager we didn’t really have social media. MySpace was a thing in the UK and US but where I grew up (Ibiza – no, it’s not as cool as you might think) there was MSN messenger and a smattering of dodgy chat rooms, and that was about it until I went to university, flirted briefly with Facebook and then fell head over heels in love with Twitter, before discovering the wonders the rest of the social internet had to offer. (more…)

The three days that almost turned me into an unlikely nature lover

IMG_20151103_141549“I don’t do the countryside,” I claimed a couple of years back on my first date with my boyfriend, when he told me that his dream was to wind up living somewhere with a 360 degree view of green stuff.

I was being truthful: I’m not into trees, or mountains, or “peace and quiet” (inevitably a euphemism for “boring as drying paint”); until relatively recently I couldn’t remember ever having actually seen a cow.

Fast forward to last month and I woke up one Saturday morning after weeks of late nights, early mornings, 14-hour work days and a to-do list that just seemed to get longer and longer and started to see the appeal of a cottage in the middle of nowhere, with no wifi, no phone signal, no responsibilities, and no google calendar alerts. (more…)

Gilmore Girls might be back, here’s why it’s the best show it could have happened to

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Last winter I abandoned the housemate life to move in on my own and while it’s probably the best thing I ever did, it was also a little lonely, so I turned to Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dreamy hour-long comedy drama Gilmore Girls, which was just the right amount fairy lights, humour and comfort. I never got into it the first time round – it was just too quaint for teenage me, and perhaps too sophisticated in some of its humour and references, but now it’s absolute perfection.

The news emerged yesterday that Netflix may well commission a reboot, eight years after that last episode (best finale ever) originally aired. It’s so rare that TV excited me, but this is one of those occasions. Don’t do that thing that people do and decide it’s probably rubbish on the basis of little more than a guess. Here are five reasons to binge-watch it  ASAP.

It’s almost literally all about the women (more…)

Calling bullshit on the cult of the Great British Bake Off

Programme Name: Great British Bake Off - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Embargoed for publication until: 13/08/2013 - Picture Shows: Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry - (C) Love Productions - Photographer: Des Willie

There is an innate rebellion in me that feels the need to eschew all things that were once reserved for the independent thinker and have become a mainstream capitalist commodity: 1950s circle skirts, Amy Winehouse, Lena Dunham, oversized glasses, kale, This American Life and most ubiquitous of them all: cupcakes.

If there’s an hour of television to embody everything I hate about cupcakes, it’s the Great British Bake Off. It’s style over substance, sickly sweet yet simultaneously bland, non-ironically reactionary, and reproduced over and over again, to ever-lower standards. (more…)

Six podcasts for when you need some really good life advice

screenshot-docs.google.com 2015-09-30 11-01-151. DEAR SUGAR RADIO @CherylStrayed & @stevealmondjoy

The Dear Sugar column in online literary magazine The Rumpus is one of the most beautifully lyrical advice columns of all time, and it translates perfectly to audio. Sometimes episodes will focus on one single letter, sometimes on a theme, and sometimes they’ll draft in special guests such as author George Saunders or our generation’s most awesome teenager Tavi Gevinson.

The questions really range from relatively light and easy to pretty hardcore life issues, but Steve and Cheryl seem to wrap listeners in a quilt of rich voices, telling us we will be OK, no matter what. (more…)