First Monday: New in business TV, DVDs, magazines and books

Recent topics have included Philip Morris and the usefulness (or not) of economists. Coming up on May 14 is a talk with popular Good to Great author Jim Collins, whose new book, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, will be excerpted in the magazine's May 15 edition.

Byrne, who says the Collins podcast will be his 180th, is open to song suggestions to play during the introduction and fade-out. Byrne likes to tie the tunes to the topic, though not too obviously. Tweet ideas to JohnAByrne. Perhaps the Mighty Mighty BossTones' Where'd You Go?


Bombs, Bullets & Fraud: Smithsonian Networks, May 12, $14.98

With all the Bernie Madoff hullabaloo, portions of this TV documentary about the U.S. Postal Inspection Service suddenly have become very topical.

This somewhat obscure federal law enforcement agency had a hand in shutting down the scam that first put the Ponzi in Ponzi scheme.

In addition to showing re-enactments of a mail-bomb case and a deadly 1923 mail-train robbery, the DVD retells the fascinating story of Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant living in Boston in the 1920s who raked in millions by promising investors outrageous returns for taking advantage of the difference in international and domestic prices of international mail coupons.

As with Madoff, it went spectacularly well, until it ended with jail time for the mastermind: more than three years for federal mail fraud and nine years on state larceny charges for the original Ponzi.

By Michelle Archer


A capitalist coup?

Political coups happen in unstable or developing countries run by corrupt leaders in the pocket of powerful oligarchs.

Coups could never happen here. Don't tell that to MIT economist Simon Johnson.

Writing in May's The Atlantic, Johnson argues that public policy has been hijacked by a Wall Street elite that "gained power by amassing a kind of cultural capital — a belief system." That belief — an evangelical faith in free financial markets — became a political creed on Capitol Hill.

Wall Street's seductive power, Johnson writes, extended even to the Ivy League, where professors of finance and economics in pursuit of Nobel Prizes succumbed to the siren song of fame and wealth.

Deciphering puzzles

Mystery is the theme of May's Wired magazine. Front to back, articles may leave you scratching your head. In "Mission Impossible," Steven Levy writes about a sculpture at CIA headquarters that contains a coded message that has stumped the agency's brightest minds for two decades. In "American Stonehenge," Randall Sullivan writes about an enigmatic monument in Georgia, consisting of huge slabs of granite, inscribed with directions for rebuilding civilization after the apocalypse.

Time for a meeting of minds?

The latest edition of The International Economy asks if the world's best financial minds should assemble to find a global independent means of regulating credit markets. The magazine points to an example of such a gathering in response to a financial crisis nearly a century ago. Using an excerpt from Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, released in February, the magazine presents the circumstances in 1912 that spawned a meeting that led to the formation of the Federal Reserve.

Up on the house tops

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