The best thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them while you’re doing other things: Washing dishes, going for a run, coloring, and especially, driving. But there are so many podcasts these days that it’s simply impossible to keep up. New ones are debuting all the time, and it’s hard to know whether they deserve a spot in your feed.
Every week, we highlight new and returning podcasts we couldn’t put down. Whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest or you’re just dipping your toe into the vast ocean of podcasts, we’ll find you something worth listening to. This week, we’ve got podcasts about apologies, elections, apocalypses, science, stem cells, and faith.
If you’re looking for something Halloween-y, check out our roundup of scary (and not-so-scary) podcasts.
There are pieces of writing that, read at the proper time, will stay with you. For me, one has always been Charles Baxter’s essay about the phrase “mistakes were made.” He writes about Richard Nixon’s “masterful ability to deny guilt while claiming that he himself was the victim of his own actions.” Other leaders followed in his footsteps, Baxter said, like George H. W. Bush: “In their efforts to acquire deniability on the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran, their administrations managed to achieve considerable notoriety for self-righteousness, public befuddlement about facts, forgetfulness under oath, and constant disavowals of political error and criminality, culminating in the quasi-confessional, passive voice-mode sentence, ‘Mistakes were made.’”
Not everyone has trouble saying “I’m sorry.” (Just Google ‘women and apologizing.’) In The Hardest Word, Brett de Hoedt brings listeners apologies from around the world. Some are to objects or places, others are to animals and people. Some will make you chuckle, like the little girl who gave her sister’s doll a haircut, and some are heartbreaking, like the woman who forgot to post a letter and the man who couldn’t save his neighbor during the Rwandan genocide. In the first episode of season two, a man apologizes to a monkey. It’s not at all as silly as it sounds.
In 2020, Iowa will hold its caucus for the Democratic presidential nomination on February 3. New Hampshire will follow with the first primary in the country on February 11. If you can remember all the way back to 2012, you might recall a flurry of date changes after Florida moved its primary to January 31. New Hampshire, originally slated for a February primary, held the voting on January 10, 2012 instead.
Why is New Hampshire so adamant about its first-in-the-nation primary status? That’s the subject of Stranglehold. Reporters Lauren Chooljian and Jack Rodolico tease apart the history behind the state’s primaries, starting with its most ardent defender, Secretary of State Bill Gardner. He started his career helping to lower the voting age so those fighting in the Vietnam War could have a say in elections. Then, some allege, to hold onto his seat, he tried to suppress young voter turnout.
I’m a big fan of what I call “getting ready” podcasts. Not to be confused with a (NSFW) getting ready song, these podcasts are around 10 minutes and will give you great information to pass on to your co-workers or inquisitive children.
Short Wave is just such a podcast. And it’s about science! Host Maddie Sofia devotes a few minutes every day to explaining topics like adversarial artificial intelligence or the rainforest. She interviews guests like xkcd cartoonist Randall Munroe, who likes finding unusual solutions to common problems. You’re bound to discover something you didn’t know, like how scientists are researching psilocybin, the ingredient in magic mushrooms, as a possible way to help people stop smoking.
In March, the BBC reported that a man with HIV had spent over a year in remission following a stem-cell treatment. He was actually being treated for cancer, and some doctors cautioned that stem cells are expensive and not feasible for every patient.
While stem cell treatments have led to such amazing results, they aren’t always the miracle cure-all some clinics proclaim them to be. Laura Beil, who hosted the podcast Dr. Death, takes a six-episode look at Liveyon. In 2018, the company recalled a batch of its product, which is derived from umbilical cord blood. It was infected with E. coli and ended up making a group of patients dangerously ill. Federal regulators haven’t approved these kinds of products, meaning there isn’t much oversight. Yet people with diseases ranging from cancer to multiple sclerosis are desperate for a cure, and clinics with expensive, alluring advertising can be hard to differentiate from legitimate facilities with rigorous safety procedures.
In the past few days, a video has been making the rounds on social media. A young woman playing soccer stops to adjust her hijab, which has slipped. Members of the opposing team come to a halt as well, forming a circle around her, so she can cover up her hair again in privacy. It was a simple act of respect and kindness.
The first episode of Simran Jeet Singh’s new podcast is a good reminder that values like generosity are taught across religions, from Christianity to Islam to Judaism to Hinduism and so on. Rep. Ilhan Omar discusses how her faith and identity shape her work, even as she’s attacked for them. If you mostly know Omar simply as a member of the Squad, it’s worth hearing her on her own.
Earlier this year, when an earthquake made my closet door rattle, I immediately fired up Twitter to make sure I wasn’t just imagining things. Instantly, I was reassured that others had felt the shaking, too. But when you’re isolated, it’s easy to question your own senses.
That uneasiness is palpable in the first two episodes of Zero Hours. If you can’t trust yourself, can you really trust the only other person by your side? The anthology podcast deals with the end of the world — in some sense — with each episode progressing forward 99 years. The stories aren’t necessarily related, but even as technology and culture changes, some emotional chords remain universal. Creators Gabriel Urbina, Sarah Shachat, and Zach Valenti write and direct different episodes, and fans of audio drama may recognize the voices of Briggon Snow, Ellen Winter, Felix Trench, and other members of the cast.
American Elections: Wicked Game
The second episode of Stranglehold deals with the 1976 Democratic primary, when Jimmy Carter focused on Iowa and New Hampshire, going on to win the nomination. It will be a while before Lindsay Graham’s (not that one) new podcast gets to that race, though.
Each episode of Wicked Game — named for John Adams’ description of campaigning — focuses on a different U.S. presidential election, starting from the very beginning. As Graham points out, knockdown, drag-out smear-fests have been a part of politics for centuries. To prove his point, he recites some of the insults that were flying back and forth in letters and the press as early as the 1790s. “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. “Truth itself becomes suspicious by put into that polluted vehicle.” Of course, Jefferson himself was responsible for many of the attacks found in the papers.
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