Why I had to stop reading Michael Lewis’ The Big Short

I’m a fan of writer Michael Lewis. Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, Sandra Bullock Wins An Oscar, are all good books. As is The Big Short, his latest. I started reading it yesterday and by bedtime I was half-way through (it’s a short book and I’m a fast reader). When I got up this morning Mrs. CollateralDamage said I was making very unhappy noises in my sleep and I’ve felt on edge all day. I read some more of the book, realized I was getting increasingly agitated and finally put it down. This book is a non-fiction horror story, and one whose end we don’t yet know.

Daily Show gets it right again. The Big Short is about four people who guessed (and bet) right about mortgage-related ponzi scheme which has led to our current economic “downturn”. What is probably upsetting me about the book is that it confirms my most cynical beliefs about the world. Several of the people in the book repeatedly ask questions of bankers, bond raters, bond salesmen and anyone else they can find in hopes that someone can prove to them that all this buying and selling of sub-prime mortgage securities isn’t just a house of cards. They want to know because they are betting that it is and want to find out if they’ve just blown their money. That, my friends, is a motivated investigator. They are either told they don’t understand how this all works (which we quickly realize means the person who should understand doesn’t) or they are met with blank stares. They try to tell regulators, they try to tell other investors, they even try telling the investment bankers who created this train wreck what is about to happen. AND NO ONE WILL LISTEN. They are Cassandra’s writ huge – except that they make a crap load of money, whereas Cassie just had to suffer.

The other terrifying thing about Big Short, is that it confirms my greatest cynical fears: That most of the people in places of power are either corrupt or fools. Now you’d think that after eight years of George W. I would already have had these fears confirmed but there’s something about Lewis stories of smug, arrogant idiots/crooks gaming the system that scared the feces out of me. It doesn’t help that I really don’t see any reason for the economy to improve. The head of our bankrupt government wants to spend more money. His opposition thinks the best way to deal with the government’s being bankrupt is to keep in place a tax cut for the richest people in the nation. The banks are pretending they’re solvent. People keep saying it’s up to consumers to spend our way out of this mess but it’s overspending that got us into the mess in the first place.  And no one but no one is talking about what happened to all the debt created by the mortgage fiasco. Wall St. and the financial press seem to think that as long as the Dow is over 10K all is right in the world – EVEN THOUGH NONE OF THE PROBLEMS THAT GOT US INTO THIS HAVE BEEN ADDRESSED. Meanwhile no one who was responsible for any of this is going to jail and the nation continues to bleed money and people in two wars everyone knows we have no business fighting.

Sorry, Mr. Lewis, I can’t take anymore. I’m going to go read something much more soothing, like World War Z or John Dies At The End. As my old drinking buddy John Milton once told me, “Stare into the abyss long enough and it starts to stare back.” Well, at least St. Peter told me I was the nicest of the damned…

 

BitterlyBooks does great catty reviews of non-fiction books

I have no idea who is writing BittlerlyBooks but he/she/it/they are geniuses (or a genius).

Here’s just a few great quotes

From the review of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Second Life: Making Money in the Metaverse by Daniel Terdiman:

… there is detailed information on other opportunities in the adult services industry including sex fasion, sex clubs, sex animations, and sex furniture. For example, "escorts can earn from US$3 to US$14 in an hour. Again, over time, and with volume, it adds up pretty quickly"(p.17), or you can sell "a wide range of penises and vaginas in various sizes and levels of functionality and complexity"(p.165), and "there’s also fashion for all kinds of specific subcommunities, like furries"(p.16). Other chapters cover topics such land sales and construction, but they don’t have phrases like "people whose job it is to manage the escorts,"(p.166) which is nicest way of writing "pimps"(p.167) that I have ever seen.

From the review of Healing with Crystals by Pamela Chase and Jonathan Pawlik:

What is in this book: Instructions for owning and operating crystals, which are actually a lot like housepets. Pets that occasionally ask to be buried in dirt. "Crystals like to be stored in sunlight and open spaces. They like to be used and enjoyed"(p.34). You can ask your crystal questions about where it would be most comfortable: "Would you like to be on the window sill? By the bed? Etc."(p.51) and question it about its uses: "Shall I place you in my receiving hand, on my heart, on my third eye?"(p.51).

From the review of Game Widow by Wendy Kays

Would you recommend this book to widows of U.S. servicemen who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan? Without reservation. Ms. Kays’ description of a game widow as “a woman whose husband might as well be dead to her because he is constantly engaged with video games”(p.xii) is as respectful to their situation as it is similar. The fact that Ms. Kays’ not-dead husband has earned a living by sensationalizing the ongoing sacrifices made by the United States Armed Forces and marketing it as entertainment can only add another layer of empathy and understanding.

I could quote more but I’m pretty sure I’ve already run afoul of the fair use rules.

My only complaints:

  1. New reviews are only published on the 1st and 15th of each month. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO IN THE MEANTIME???
  2. Needs more hardcore business books. If you can stay awake through them business books are comedy gold.

Amazon explanation fails to actually explain

Online retail giant issues an explanation for delisting of books — many of which had gay and lesbian topic matter:

amazon-sucks "This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error," Drew Herdener, spokesman for the online retailer, wrote in a statement. "It has been misreported that the issue was limited to gay- and lesbian-themed titles," he said. "In fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as health, mind and body, reproductive and sexual medicine, and erotica."

As David Sarno reports at the LATimes this explanation has more than a few holes in it. Among the books effected (not impacted!) were:

“Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography," "Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk" and "Greek Homosexuality"…  Herdener did not respond to requests to clarify the cause of the error, nor about why works such as the "Milk" pictorial — which did not appear to be listed in any of the categories mentioned by Amazon — may have been removed from the search listings.

I am told that “Heather Has Two Mommies” was delisted. Would it fall under health, mind and body, reproductive and sexual medicine, or erotica?

Well, this certainly means those book orders not filled by my two favorite local dealers – Pandemonium Books & Games and Brookline Booksmith – will be going to Powell’s and, as a last resort, Barnes & Nobles. If you’ve ever seen my house you know this is no small revenue stream.

UPDATE: Turns out Amazon has a history of dropping LGBT books from its lists. Friend Erik Sherman reports the full story & gets more wishy wash from Amazon.

FURTHER UPDATE: Amazon now tries to blame this on the French (I wish I could make this stuff up)

Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as "adult," the source said. (Technically, the flag for adult content was flipped from ‘false’ to ‘true.’)