Thursday, April 22, 2010

Betting Against the American Dream



Two Sundays ago, This American Life, a weekly NPR radio program that takes on themes from the good ol' US of A, broadcast an episode called "Inside Job."

The first act focuses on Magnetar Capital, a financial company that made billions of dollars by creating and then betting against toxic financial securities, while the second act looks at Barry Cooper, a former dirty narcotics cop, who now specializes in helping in helping drug dealers and busting crooked cops. Act two is pretty awesome, and well worth checking out, but it's the storied story of Magnetar that really steals the show.

After recognizing that Magnetar's money making scheme was similar to the plan cooked up by the crooked producers in Mel Brook's musical, The Producers, This American Life commissioned Robert Lopez, the creator of Avenue-Q, to make a short Broadway-style parody. You can listen to the musical number in the video above.

The background research on Magnetar was done by ProPublica, an online news site. Their story on Magnetar's sleazy dealings is also worth reading.

Video by This American Life.

> Continue Reading: Betting Against the American Dream

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rallying Around Fairfield

Faifield Park Toronto Etobicoke
Last weekend, I covered a rally held by the WRKA (West Kingsway Ratepayers’ Association) in Etobicoke to save the section of Fairfield Park that the TDSB is planning to sell off. You can read my full article about the event at Torontoist, and see some of the pictures I posted there.

It was an absolutely beautiful day, and I took a lot more photos than I ended up needing, so I figured I'd post them here.

Faifield Park Toronto Etobicoke
Faifield Park Toronto Etobicoke
Faifield Park Toronto Etobicoke
Faifield Park Toronto Etobicoke
Faifield Park Toronto Etobicoke
Faifield Park Toronto Etobicoke
Faifield Park Toronto Etobicoke
All photos by Stephen M.

> Continue Reading: Rallying Around Fairfield

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Americans Like Goodies, They Just Don't Want to Pay for Them

Americans Willing to Spend Budget

A new poll from The Economist/YouGov reveals that while most Americans want to cut the Federal deficit, they aren't willing to raise taxes or cut spending, with the exception of foreign aid, which only works out to less than 1% of the budget.

When simply asked how to cut the deficit, 65% of Americans said they preferred cutting spending over raising taxes (only 5% wanted to raise taxes). When asked specifically what they would cut, well...I guess Israel is out of luck. Though most Americans probably wouldn't want to cut foreign aid to Israel, if knew that's where a lot of their dollars were going. It's those loser countries like Haiti that they want to cut off (lousy freeloaders).

Ultimately though, Americans are pretty much the same as the rest of us: we all love getting stuff, we just don't want to pay for it, and we definitely don't want to pay for other people's stuff.

Image from The Monkey Cage. Government spending reduction graph originally posted at The Economist.

> Continue Reading: Americans Like Goodies, They Just Don't Want to Pay for Them

The Slate Political Gabfest Storms New York

Slate Political Gabfest Emily Bazelon John Dickerson David PlotzEmily Bazelon (left), John Dickerson (centre), and David Plotz (right).

Last month, the Slate Political Gabfest—America's endless source of political insight and sarcastic wit—held a live tapping at Housing Works downtown cafe in New York City. Even though the podcast is pretty old now, I thought I'd repost it, if only to feature this awesome photo of the gabfest crew at the event.

I also recommend checking out the drinking game that the gabfest's producers concocted for the event. I don't recommend playing along however, as the list of drinking terms includes "New Haven," "optics," and "narrative," which in a regular gabfest are more than enough to get anyone sloshed.

Photo by Steve McFarland. You can check out more photos from the event on his Flickr page.

> Continue Reading: The Slate Political Gabfest Storms New York

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Geographic Centre of Toronto

Toronto Plumb Line MethodThe Plumb line method.

A few weeks ago, I put together I put together an article for Torontoist on Toronto’s geographic centre. With the help of Marcel Fortin, a GIS librarian at the University of Toronto and a GIS program called ArcMap, we determined that Toronto’s exact geographic centre is at 33 Wanless Crescent, a quaint, English-style style house in Lawrence Park.

In the article, I go into quite a bit of detail about Fortin’s method, but I thought I might talk a little bit more about the cut and paste methods that I used.

1) The plumb line method [PDF]:

How to:
  1. Cut out the object you want to find the centre of mass for.
  2. Using a pin make three small holes at three random locations long the edge of the object.
  3. Attach a string with a weight on the far end and hang it from each point, one at a time.
  4. Trace each path the string forms.
  5. The point where the lines intersect is the object's centre of mass.
This method produced almost the exact same results as the computer program, which surprised me, as I wasn’t convinced of the accuracy of the map I was using, and my cutting job was less than stellar (take a look at the Toronto Islands). Oddly, this didn't really have much of an impact on the final result.

2) Balancing Method:

How to:
  1. Cut out the object you want to find the centre of mass for.
  2. Cut out a equal sized piece of cardboard and glue it on the back.
  3. Balance the cut-out on a pencil, or another point object until you find its centre of mass.
This is method that Londonist used (one of Torontoist's sister sites, and the inspiration for this project). I tried this method twice, and got two different results—most likely the result of my poor cutting around the Toronto Islands.

Photo by Stephen M.

> Continue Reading: The Geographic Centre of Toronto