Monday, September 6, 2010

Good Internet Monday: NPR's Planet Money

Happy Labor Day. Here's hoping my wife goes into labor. Yeesh.

One thing I've come to enjoy immensely over the past few years is podcasts. I often ride a bus or walk to work, giving me plenty of time to enjoy several different subscriptions. One that I thought I would never subscribe to, or for that matter enjoy so thoroughly, is a financial podcast- NPR's Planet Money.

To be fair, Planet Money is as much a pure financial podcast as Harry Potter is a series of spell books- not at all. Each episode finds a topic, such as the economic state of Jamaica or the status of health care billing and administration, and puts a real face on it by interviewing the people affected by the topic. Concepts that are usually abstract to people who are not deeply involved in them, such as how the Federal Reserve tries to help the economy, are spelled out explicitly and with multiple examples.

One of the best examples is how the crew has explored the housing market crisis by pooling together $1000 to buy a piece of a real toxic asset- a high risk investment package containing thousands of mortgages. The team tracked down the people who are struggling to pay off their mortgages, leading to the "death" of their asset, aptly named "Toxie". As more of the pieces of Toxie go bad, either through foreclosure or bankruptcy, Toxie starts to "die"- that is, the team stops receiving checks that would otherwise pay off their initial investment and, in a healthier economy, yield a profit. The Planet Money staff explains all the ins and outs of how they obtained Toxie, what it contains, and why it is dying so quickly.

The topics covered are broad and varied, ranging from an excellent show concerning the impact of Net Neutrality on the web to "Deep Reads" with economists to deeply examine the current economic situation. Each show is engaging and thought provoking; I highly recommend it

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Constitutional Obfuscation

It has been difficult to dodge politics recently, as the coming election compels candidates to throw their pamphlets in your face at every corner. One particular candidate in New Mexico has recently caught my attention, Republican Tom Mullins. He has achieved this by handing out pocket constitutions along with his various informational fliers (which proudly point out that he is a Christian who will defend the constitution!) Excuse my cynicism, but the more someone touts the founding documents as a campaign tool, the more likely they are to have little to no comprehension as to what they say.

I was able to confirm this today. Tom had taken it upon himself to campaign at a local pancake breakfast that my family and I were attending. He stopped by our table, introduced himself (to me, but not my wife who is nine months pregnant but INVISIBLE!), and gave me the opportunity confirm my suspicions through this short exchange:

Spacecataz: (After reviewing his business card) I've noticed that you've been handing out a lot of constitutions.
Tom: (Notably proud of this) Yes.
Spacecataz: Do you believe that the United States is a christian nation?
Tom: (Again, quite proud) Yes.

At this point, I merely handed his card back to him in an attempt to signal my lack of support. I could have pointed out that the first amendment explicitly prohibits the endorsement of one religion over another; I could have enlightened him to Thomas Jefferson's concept of a wall of separation; I could have, perhaps more aggressively, asked to which Christianity he refers when describing our government.

All of those would have been a waste of our time, however. Again, excuse me for being a cynic, but any hope of Mr. Mullins being an enlightened man who would have provided a productive discussion on such topics goes out the window when one reviews his website.