My iPod Nods

Upon upgrading to the latest version, Chandra was good enough to give me her old iPod last year. Since my job at the time involved mostly driving, I wasn't able to use the headset (that being illegal while operating a motor vehicle in Mass.), as advanced as it was.

For the past few months, however, I've been outside a lot more and able to spare myself the incessant schilling of commercial radio as well as the thinly-veiled version on public radio. I took the time to hunt down a range of podcasts that update more or less periodically.

My father was interested in the thing I was wearing on my arm. Not a radio -- a recorder, so I can pick the show I want to listen to, when I want to, and stop when I need to, and then pick up again. As the ability to control my listening had sunk in, I've gotten fairly particular on what I am willing to put in my brain.

First up, American Public Media's Marketplace. On the local NPR station, they broadcast this excellent business show during Sofie's bath time. So, instead I get to listen to it the next morning. And what's better, they also have a shorter morning update version, so I can listen to them back-to-back and feel very smart about world economics and global finance by the time I sink my teeth into my peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch.

Once a week, I get to punctuate this with the News from Lake Wobegon. Not the entire Prairie Home Companion, just Garrison Keilor's monologue on his fictional hometown. When I first found this show, it was spring and I listened to the latest show where he mentioned the last of the snow melting. But when I realized I could find past shows and listen to them as well, I loaded up, each day picking older and older shows.

Little by little, as the weather around me was improving and warming, Lake Wobegon was moving backward in time, until it hit subzero in Minnesota - strange thing to listen to while seeing daffodils and tulips bloom. Still, for a few days in May during a bone-chilling northeaster, my listening and the conditions around me in Chatham were about in sync.

Now, I have tried to listen to the Wall Street Journal This Morning online. But they seem to emulate a morning AM business news broadcast, with an almost-breathless delivery and an annoying recap of the top stories and time checks. Hint to WSJ online: a podcast can be played (and replayed) at any time, so I pretty much got that "top story" the first time. However, they also have a tech news briefing, which is blessedly shorter. The gist is that they take a few minutes to talk about the latest gadget and news about technology that most of the time I don't understand or can't afford, but it all sounds very smart.

Recalling my time in Germany, I also listen to Deutsche Welle's Correspondents Report (in English). If I have but a few minutes, I can get any number of stories about news from a European perspective - and it is different. For those of you who listen to BBC news radio reports on NPR, Deutsche-Welle is even further removed from American culture. Of course, there is an emphasis on the role of Germany, like when they talk about NATO in Afghanistan, they typically interviewing the soldiers of the Bundeswehr. Every other broadcast from their worldwide correspondents somehow seems to do with global warming (no controversy; it has been accepted as fact for some time). Even if one does not agree with European issues, listening to their news gives me a much better understanding on why they think the way they do.

If I have time, I try to listen to This American Life. Recently I've begun wondering if some of their contributors are blurring the line between fact and fiction to enhance their stories. But when they partnered with Marketplace to produce a whole show on an analysis of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, I remembered why I barely watch the TV news anymore. Every person who intends to vote this November, or invest, had better avail themselves of the show, "The Giant Pool of Money."

Lastly, I been able to bear Slate Magazine's Political Gabfest, if for no other reason than the personal interactions between the participants. Essentially, it is the editor of the online magazine, Slate, and two of his underlings' takes on developments in the week in politics, and are as candid and informal as chatting in the lunch room. If anyone had any doubt as to the perspective of the newsroom of Slate, their is no pretense at disguising a very left-of-center point of view. My appreciation comes from the "Well, at least your being honest" school of thought.

But I listen because I often hear discussions touching upon such things as the tragedy of public life, meaning that politicians cannot let slip for one minute, cannot be themselves except within a small coterie of family and advisors. I find the level of pre- programmed outrage by opposing camps in the presidential race so tediously insincere and whorish that I am becoming unwilling to take either of them seriously.

However, the Slate's Gabfest participants will, often in the same broadcast, defend their right (and even duty) to report on a politician's possible indiscretions, feeling as if they are owed an explanation, but admitting no sense of inconsistency on their own part. No wonder good people shun public life. Frank Herbert wrote, "It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible." They also make better copy.

Then there are the 15 minute kids podcasts from BBC radio, which are a godsend on long car rides with Sofie. Very original and fun. I can keep switching them around, too, to keep from going insane rather than listening to the same thing for the 500th time.

As entertainment becomes far more personal, consumers grow more demanding. I can hear, for free, virtually any show in the world, produced by anyone at a very low cost, distributed via a free worldwide medium. For Cape Codders, whose radio stations have long been as poor as the market allowed, independence lies in a shoulder strap and headphones.

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