A hedge fund named Magnetar comes up with an elaborate plan to make money. It sponsors the creation of complicated and ultimately toxic financial securities...while at the same time betting against the very securities it helped create. Planet Money's Alex Blumberg teams up with two investigative reporters from ProPublica, Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger, to tell the story.
The Erie Canal.
Two short ideas that didn't work out so well as full stories.
Host Ira Glass talks about the infamous line in the band Van Halen's contract insisting that the groups' dressing room include a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown M&Ms removed. Ira used to think this request was just petulant rock-star behavior.
Ira invites Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon to perform a song from his Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog DVD extra commentary, which is a musical satire that pokes fun at the idea of DVD commentary.
When Eric Hayot was 23, he went on an exchange program to China one summer. He took an opera class on a lark, and before he knew it, he was on stage, singing the part of a famous judge.
Host Ira Glass point out that it's not enough this time of year that we eat millions of turkeys. Someone also went to the trouble to make up a song about turkeys getting the supernatural power to play baseball.
Musician David Berkeley has gotten a lot of requests in his life, but none quite like the offer his agent got last year. A fan wanted Berkeley to come to his house and help save his relationship by serenading the troubled couple with a personal concert.
A mortgage broker named David Philp discovers that his old punk band from the 1970s is hot in Japan. He decides to leave corporate life and revisit his teenage years by going back on tour, playing music for the first time in two decades.
Yet another testimony to the power chickens have over our hearts and minds. Contributing editor Jack Hitt reports on an opera about Chicken Little.
Recording "The Three of Us"
In the wake of a break-up, writer Starlee Kine finds so much comfort in break-up songs that she decides to try and write one herself—even though she has no musical ability whatsoever. For some help, she goes to a rather surprising expert on the subject: Phil Collins.
Sarah Vowell examines what happens when TV takes on a subject it really has no business exploring at all, but seems fairly obsessed with nonetheless: The Pilgrims. Sarah's most recent book is Assassination Vacation.
Ira says a few words about what he learned from working on a television show himself and about what it's like to hear your name mentioned casually by a fictional character on a prime time drama.
Host Ira Glass talks with producer Alex Blumberg and his parents about a bad dog they once had, and how nothing—not getting hit by cars, attacked by bigger dogs, or being shipped off to live on a farm—could stop this dog from coming home. "The Cat Came Back" is sung by Nedelle Torrisi.
A brand new Christmas carol gets its world premiere: A song about both Christmas and American history. With lyrics by Sarah Vowell.
Alex Blumberg tells the story of an audacious act of rebranding done by a group of people who aren't normally thought of as very audacious: public librarians. In Michigan, they've started staging rock concerts in libraries.
Host Ira Glass talks about some truths contained in the 70's hit "Reunited," by Peaches and Herb. (2 1/2 minutes)
A group called Improv Everywhere decides that an unknown band, Ghosts of Pasha, playing their first ever tour in New York, ought to think they're a smash hit. So they study the band's music and then crowd the performance, pretending to be hard-core fans.
About 20 years ago, a Los Angeles prosecutor named Michael Guarino thought he'd make a name for himself by taking the lead singer of the Dead Kennedys to court for obscenity. He was so sure of success, he didn't even bother to listen to the lyrics.
Rob Miller is a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps commanding a weapons platoon in "Charlie Company" of the First Battalion, Eighth Marines. He led his men recently in the battle of Fallujah, and in a recent satellite phone call, he told This American Life contributing editor Jack Hitt (who also happens to be his uncle) what we never seem to hear elsewhere: Details of what it's like to fight house-to-house in urban warfare.
David Segal of the Washington Post investigates the competitive world of db drag racing ("db" stands for "decibels"), where people customize their cars with stereos so loud that they can't actually be played—or listened to—at least not without risking a nose bleed.
Chaim and Billy both lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just blocks away from each other, in worlds that almost never collided. Chaim was a Hasidic Jew—he'd never heard pop music or watched MTV.
Fans of movie musicals might know about something called the "I Wish" number. In many movies and Broadway shows, it's the main character's first song, in which they express the hope that will set the story in motion.