Peter Zhang

Rabbit Holes: Podcasts


Welcome to Part 3 of rabbit holes, where I lay out random, niche interests of mine. This time: podcasts. They’re an essential part of my morning routine and my primary way of learning things that aren’t math or algorithms. Here are six of my favorites, alternating between mainstream hosts and lesser known shows. If you find these interesting, be sure to check out Part 1 (music genres) and Part 2 (music artists). Next edition will probably come out right around finals season.

1. The Daily

From the New York Times, he’s Michael Barbaro. I love waking up to his 30-minute deep dives into pressing topics. Unsurprisingly, the episodes are well-produced, fairly concise, and always out by 6AM. Something I particularly like about Barbaro’s reporting style is that he provides abundant historical and political context to each subject. I also enjoy the diversity of topics—in the past month alone we’ve learned about Rush Limbaum, the British royal family, Israel’s successful vaccine rollout, and the Texas blackout.

The Daily definitely has a liberal tilt. Some episodes are clearly trying to tell one side of the story. A recent example is their coverage of Biden backing down against Saudi Arabia. While the dangers of Biden’s acquiescence are briefly acknowledged, most of the episode is devoted to justifying his actions and qualifying the criticism. That’s why I also listen too…

2. 3 Martini Lunch

…the 3 Martini Lunch, my conservative counterpart of choice. It’s a daily talk show run by Greg Corombos and Jim Geraghty. The format is three pieces of (mostly political) news a day, sorted into good, bad, and “crazy” martinis. Jim and Greg are funny people. They’re also reasonable people. I often found myself nodding along as they brought up frustrations and qualms with former president Trump. I also find myself agreeing with their reasonable critiques of the left.

I like to tune in once or twice a week. Although I think leftists are generally correct, that predispositions can cause me to take unreasonable positions. If there’s one thing I learned from Superforecasting, it’s that ideology is dangerous for the pursuit of truth. For example, Jim and Greg have relentlessly roasted Andrew Cuomo for the past two years, a deep hatred that is now proving prophetic.

3. Freakonomics Radio

It’s a classic hit run by one of my favorite people, Steven Dubner. The show examines the “hidden side” everything from macroeconomics to sports to politics. I’ll just point out my favorite episodes:

The spin-off show with Angela Duckworth, No Stupid Questions, is also quite good.

4. Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain is a similar show that zeroes in on human psychology. It’s hosted by Shankar Vedantam, a great storyteller and interviewer. Each week, he explores an aspect of human behavior by beginning with a story and then delving into the research. I really like the format—it keeps the show’s topics immediately relevant. Sometimes, the show feels a little too dramatic; most of the time, it is heart-warming and enlightening.

5. Philosophize This!

I can’t believe the show is free. For several years, Stephen West has explored dozens of schools of philosophical thought. Despite tackling complex ideas, his explanations clear, well-informed, and immediately applicable. It’s really one of those shows where each episode leaves you with a genuinely novel insight and worldview. My favorite episodes are his series on Deleuze, Kant, and Heidegger, the episode on Baudrillard, and the unfinished series on Wittgenstein. Brilliant through and through.

6. Why Theory

It might be my personal favorite on this list and it most certainly is the most obscure. Why Theory is a show run by Professor Todd McGowan and his friend, Ryan Engley. They’re both awesome people… and they’re both Lacanian psychoanalysts. When they aren’t parsing through Lacan’s lectures and texts, you can catch them analyzing films, interpreting recent events, and reflecting on aspects of life.

Now, the show is often slow (and I don’t think they have a producer), but the content is so good that it pulls its own weight. They’re also thoroughly not-ivory-tower. I was almost surprised to learn that McGowan has a strong leftist political bent and imminently practical beliefs about how to create social change. He just happens to also think that we’ve all been castrated.

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