My favorite podcasts

I received the bulk of my information and entertainment in the second half of 2010 in podcast form — during the baby’s naps, nighttime feedings and playtime. I didn’t have much opportunity to read or watch TV, and haven’t seen the inside of a movie theater since May.

Podcasts are perfect, though. My favorite podcasts are generally about the length of a feeding (including 30 minutes of vertical “burp time”) and they are a wonderful media format. Well-paid pros make great content with high production values and elaborate research, and amateurs can geek out about their points of passion. So I’ve sampled a lot of podcasts, and here are my favorites, on the remote chance anybody cares.

Fareed Zakaria GPS: The only worthwhile show I have seen on a news network, Zakaria covers world news and politics. He is one of the smartest political commentators in the country, and he always makes me think. My only frustration with the show is that even Zakaria has to dumb it down a little bit to keep CNN happy. The show would often be more enlightening if he stuck to one interview or at least a single topic, but maybe I’m just too geeky and most viewers wouldn’t stick around for a full hour of Chinese monetary policy.

The Film Vault: I was a big fan of the late Scene Unscene movie podcast, and the Film Vault is a decent, if inferior, substitute. Two LA movie dorks choose the top five movies in a chosen category each week, and jabber about all things movie. I’m certainly no film buff, but it’s nice to live vicariously through people who have time to see movies. I always learn about a classic movie I haven’t seen, and it’s comforting that these guys are just “mainstream” enough to admit that “A Christmas Story” and “Love Actually” are their favorite holiday movies (I’m still bitter that one of my favorite pop-culture blogs, Videogum, panned “Love Actually” in its “Worst Movie of All Time” feature).

Frontline Audiocast: The best documentary show on TV posts a great audio-only version with added narration and audible identification of each speaker (the names that only show up on screen otherwise). This year brought excellent investigations of vaccine controversies, post-Katrina police shootings in New Orleans, the oil spill and more. I was disappointed with the “God in America” series, though. Even at six hours, I didn’t learn much.

Slate’s Political Gabfest: Three Slate writers spend an hour each week discussing national politics. I think you have to be a pretty big geek to enjoy the show as much as I do, but I’m pretty sure each podcast is more enlightening than the entire prime-time lineup of the three major news networks.

Sound Opinions: A guy who wrote the book on Wilco (literally) and another Chicago music geek jabber about rock music for an hourlong syndicated public radio show every week, and post it all online as a free podcast. They interview musicians, analyze classic albums, explore musical themes and review new music. As Martin Mull (I think) once said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Talking about music at least makes a little more sense. I love reading music magazines, but it’s also complicated because I always want to listen to the music I am reading about. At least the Sound Opinions guys can play the music they are discussing. Sound Opinions is from the same station as This American Life (see below), and both shows close with mocking Torey “Southside” Malatia, the CEO and chairman of Chicago Public Media. I really want to meet that guy. He takes a lot of grief from his underlings.

This American Life: I don’t need to say much about this show. It’s been the most popular podcast on iTunes for years, and was a hugely popular radio show for even more years. If you’re not already listening to Ira Glass and the crew, I’m not sure if I can do anything to help you.

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450 words down, 182,050 to go

I am going to write at least 182,500 words this year. 500 words a day (apparently the tally will include sentence fragments starting with numbers, AP style be damned. It’s going to be a wild, rebellious year). Why? Because my resolution for the year is to be more disciplined and productive (another sentence fragment, Strunk and White be damned). So I will attempt to publish (on the web or in print) at least one article of some type every day. Emails and Facebook postings and crap like that don’t count, and I promise to avoid writing filler just to make my quota (this post notwithstanding).

When I was a weekly newspaper reporter writing about 10 stories per week, I surely cranked out far more than 182,500 words per year. As a full-time freelancer, I was sometimes less prolific. As a part-time freelancer and full-time stay-at-home dad, you might say I have been at times “anti-lific” (yeah, I’m making up words, Webster be damned), as evidenced by the lack of entries on this blog since June.

Still, I probably wasn’t too far off the 500-a-day mark last year. Each month in 2010, I wrote at least 15 articles, at about 500 words a pop, for Networx, a pretty cool and helpful home improvement information and social networking site. I also had a steady flow of other less regular work for various magazines and newspapers.

However, it keeps taking me longer to write each of those pieces. It keeps getting harder to find time to write, and even harder to focus during the time I find. It’s probably telling that it took me several hours to write this (in short bursts during micro-naps and playtime), and I am currently writing this while being very distracted by “The Worst Cooks in America” (but at least the show is making me feel better about my cooking). I know from experience, and from every book on writing ever published, that the best way to improve your writing is to write — and to read. I hope to do more of that this year, too, and write about it, but more on that later.

I’m already behind on my writing goal. I set the 182,500-word bar late last night while feeding my baby — too late to get in the 500 words for Jan. 1. It’s OK. I’ve got five Networx pieces due by Friday, plus this inane verbiage about my forthcoming verbiage.

I plan to put a lot more words on this blog and my other two little neglected blogs, plus continue to build my paid freelance business. I also hope to draw inspiration from my wonderful baby and offer some help and solidarity for other stay-at-home dads.

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Support the MS Ride, look at my baby

I’ve had two wonderful additions to my life so far this year — my 10-day old baby Finn and (admittedly in a distant second), a top-shelf but second-hand road bike I named Ace Wheelie. I bought the second because I am riding in the MS150 at the end of this month (frighteningly soon). I have never done one of these butt-kicking organized rides before, but I was inspired to join the event this year after a close friend, Justinian, was suddenly afflicted with MS. He is a wonderful, caring, generous and healthy guy (save perhaps for a near addiction to beer).

He is inspiringly brave and optimistic about his condition. He said the disease has so far been mainly an annoyance, with some mild flare-ups. However, he has a baby on the way, and I want the baby to be able to enjoy Justinian’s active and free spirit for many, many years. Please help me provide support for Justinian, another dear friend’s mother and all the other people who struggle with MS. Justinian has benefited from the support of the Colorado MS Society, and he could seriously benefit from ongoing research funded by the MS Society.

Please click here to donate to the Colorado MS 150 ride. Any amount helps, and if you have already contributed, thank you.

While you consider what amount to donate, look at these photos of Finn. And here is what I should be doing right now instead of blogging at 4 a.m.

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Pop culture catchup

I would have been really annoyed if I had wasted six years watching Lost. As it was, we busted through it in less than two years (mostly helping the time pass during many indoor winter workouts). I increasingly didn’t care about the story as time went on, but I still had to see it through. I was just really annoyed by the ending (and disappointed that they didn’t kill off Kate long before the end of the show). I liked this snarky summary of the last episode more than the actual show.

“Friday Night Lights” is almost a spinoff at this point, having moved on to several new characters and a new school, but it is still full of great writing and good acting. This is one of the most moving and well-written hours of television I have seen.

“Adventureland” is a sweet but forgettable movie about life and love among an amusement park crew. I thought it would be funnier. Turns out that the only funny characters are the park managers, who provide over-the-top and out-of-place comic relief. Also, I liked Jesse Eisenberg but sorry guy, Michael Cera has the market cornered on dorky, sweet virgins. To be fair, Cera is 22 but looks 16, so I’m not sure he could actually play a believable 22 year old.

“Dreamgirls” was a good story with good musical performances, but did it really need the extra musical scenes that advance the plot through song and have everyone spontaneously bursting into song? If I want that shit, I’ll watch a Björk video:

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What I learned in my first 24 hours of parenting

Naming your child after a mythical giant (the Irish Finn McCool) may doom you to a big, hard-to-deliver baby.

My baby is tougher about shots than I am. He has been poked a couple of times, and hasn’t really cried about it.

Newborns seem more interesting when they are yours.

Some babies are born with teeth (but not ours, to Christine’s relief).

I still don’t really feel like a grownup, despite having started to care for my own child.

Food comas come on instantly after eating in the first days of life.

Skin-to-skin time with your new baby is about the coolest thing ever.

Our baby kind of looks like Luke Skywalker in his hospital T-shirt (Episode 4, on Tattooine.

“Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two,” the most recognizable single from one of the biggest-selling albums in history wasn’t getting any LA radio airplay before the string of famed theatrical “Wall” shows in the city. Then a handful of freelance radio promoters basically bribed radio stations to play the song. I know, this has nothing to do with babies, but I’m reading a music industry book in my brief breaks from staring at Finn and changing his diaper.

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The Armenian Genocide: Agreeing on the boilerplate

You know someone who died from cancer. Imagine that every time you tell somebody how your friend died, you have to explain the concept of cancer and wonder if they believe you. You also find vitriolic arguments all over the Internet saying cancer doesn’t exist and it didn’t kill your friend.

American Red Cross archive photo of a forced march of Armenians out of their homeland in the Ottoman Empire.

Now imagine that people blame your company for creating cancer. You want to say, “Yes, but that was a different company and different people a long time ago.” The CEO says you have to keep denying it. You have to perform increasingly elaborate contortions to deny your company’s complicity.

Replace cancer with “the Armenian genocide” and consider the psychic damage of genocide denial. Continue reading

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Finally saw “Amadeus”

I saw “Amadeus” when it first came out and I was a kid. I don’t remember much beyond the powdered wigs and the music that my frustrated piano teacher was trying to teach me — only it sounded better. Then I kept seeing it near the top of the all-time high movie review scores on Metacritic.com. So I saw it again. I think I understood it a whole lot better now than when I was 10. It’s a beautiful and well-produced movie, but I had to check back on Metacritic to see if anyone else found the accents really distracting. I loved “2012.” I can suspend disbelief, but somehow a bunch of supposed Germans and Austrians speaking English in American accents. To make it worse, there are a couple of Italians who speak in heavy Italian accents. Once I got past that, though, it was a great movie — and worth watching the director’s cut. I’m not sure how it could have been just as good if it were 20 minutes shorter.

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