Podcasts and ch(ill): history, history, astrophysics, polar bears

Like a lot of chronically ill people, I spend a lot of my time in bed doing not much of anything. Fatigue is being exhausted and bored at the same time. I would like to be a robot, switching off my consciousness while I recharge, plugged in and blissfully unaware, but sleep is a tenuous game for me, and often if I sleep during the day, I can’t fall asleep at night, facing the next morning gritty-eyed and even more exhausted. BB-8 I am not (which makes me sad for many reasons). At the same time, when fatigue really hits, sitting often takes as much energy and pain as being upright, and laying down is the only way I really rest.

So what do I do to keep my brain working? I listen to podcasts.


So, hopefully you have a better idea of what everyone is doing once these battles get going. Pikemen will be jabbing away at each other, trying to convince the generals that they’re actually fighting; musketeers will be lined up, blasting away at each other until they run out of ammo, whereupon they will start hitting each other over the head with their guns; the Royalist cavalry will be charging into the Parliamentary cavalry and then the Parliamentary cavalry will be riding off into disarray; and the dragoons will be trying to convince their officers to let us stay on our horses, please. The artillery is stuck in a bog somewhere.

– Episode 1.5a, “Supplemental – The Armies”

Revolutions is a weekly history podcast examining different political revolutions. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly boring subject material – unsurprisingly if you’ve been following the 2016 American presidential election, political history is often simultaneously ridiculous and profound, and the host handles the subject matter with wit and humor, bypassing reverence for such enormous figures as Simon Bolivar and George Washington for critical (and sarcastic) analysis. The episodes are also short, about 10-20 minutes each, so it’s easy to take a break and then come back to the story.



Sydnee: There were also a lot of ways to give warts to corpses. If you’re going to give warts to somebody, it may as well be somebody who’s dead, so as you saw funeral processions pass by, you could rub things on your wart and throw them in their path. Like, “Take this wart with you to the afterlife!”

Justin: NATHANIEL I SAW THAT! You get back in the house this second, young man. I saw you scrape your wart fragments off on that casket!

– “Warts” (Live Show)

Speaking of snarky history podcasts, there’s Sawbones, “a marital tour of misguided medicine”. Sydnee, a family doctor, teams up with her husband Justin, a comedian, to bring us on a wild ride through all the ridiculous, crappy, and just plain terrifying ways we’ve tried to fix people through the ages. Each weekly episode covers a different topic, from cholera and spontaneous combustion to the bizarre life of Henry Heimlich, and the live shows especially are not to be missed. Definitely not for the squeamish, though – as Justin says, “we don’t swear, but there are things in this show that would make a child’s head melt.” (As a note to folks with chronic Lyme, though, you might want to skip that episode, as Sydnee is not up on current research and says some things that might be felt as invalidating. Everything else, full speed ahead.)



CHEMIST PANELIST: The difference between chemistry and physics is that if something doesn’t work, we don’t just put the word “dark” in front of it.

– Series 5, Episode 5, “I’m a Chemist, Get Me Out of Here”

If science is your thing – or even if it isn’t – there’s The Infinite Monkey Cage, a radio show on BBC 4 that’s also available in podcast format. Each week, physicist Brian Cox and writer/actor/comedian Robin Ince gather together a panel of two scientists and one writer or comedian (or occasionally an Anglican priest) in front of a live audience to discuss a different scientific topic like the Arctic, speed, the point of plants, science vs. art, and the science of Doctor Who. The episodes are always interesting, funny, and accessible to scientists and the scientifically illiterate alike, and the panels have hosted big names in science and the arts, like Alan Moore (who worships a snake god) and Bill Nye (who pulls no punches when he’s educating adults rather than children).



JOSH: [About the team of Nazi saboteurs Hitler planned to use to invade America] That’s it! They got 18 days of training.

CHUCK: And apparently with Dasch, the leader of Team Eins – I read one account that said he basically snoozed through most of it, which would go on to explain a few things later.

– “The Time Nazis Invaded Florida”

I will confess to being somewhat of a dilettante. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in any particular subject, but I love learning new things, especially if there’s interesting stories behind them, and that’s why I enjoy this podcast. Part of the How Stuff Works network, which produces other favorite shows like Stuff Mom Never Told You and Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff You Should Know is a hodgepodge of information about hundreds of seemingly random topics, ranging from dark money to polar bears to the time that Nazis invaded Florida (or, um, tried. Three times.)



DAVE: Chicago Tribune, 1881: “Councilman Peevee has prepared an ordinance which he will submit to the council. Its object is to abolish street obstructions. The ordinance stamps him as a public benefactor. He proposes to abolish the woman who peddles pups in a basket, the fellow who peddles flowers in a wagon, the woman with two sick children who was drawn through a carding machine in a wool mill and grinds “Molly Darling” incessantly on a hurdy-gurdy (a hand-cranked instrument) on a street corner, the fellows who yell “Bananas!” and all other nuisances, including beggars of all classes, and especially the organ grinder. The alderman wants to leave the question open as to allow a specific one-armed and one-legged soldier to permit to grind an organ.”

Okay, that law was very specific.

– Episode 50, “Ugly Laws”

Oh, The Dollop. Possibly my favorite podcast ever, it’s a rollicking look at some of the wackiest stories American (and occasionally Australian) history has to offer, and boy, are there a lot. Like Sawbones, it’s set up as an information and reaction show – as they say in the opening, “Every week, Dave Anthony tells a story from American history to his friend, Gareth Reynolds, who has no idea what the topic is going to be about” – although the humor is decidedly more ribald (but rarely crosses into offensive). Of special interest to fellow spoonies and disabled folks might be their episode on “Ugly Laws”, which was America’s attempt in the 1800s to get rid of all the unsightly poor and disabled people on their streets. The show occasionally blunders into some ableist humor, but by and large they succeed in punching up with consistently hilarious results. They aren’t just funny stories, either – a lot of them tie into current events and big shifts in American history, like “The Norco Shootout” (militarization of police), “The Actor Rivalry” (theatre as an upper middle class activity), “The Racism of Maryland Route 40” (federal desegregation of private businesses because of pissed-off African diplomats), “Martin Tabert and Convict Leasing” (the prison industry and massive incarceration of black men in America) and “The Torture Psychologists” (America’s current use of torture).


Stay tuned for the next round of ‘Podcast and ch(ill)’ – this time, with storytelling.



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