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…

 

An Expose of the Baby-Industrial Complex

This story I wrote years ago about how marketers prey upon the self-inflicted fears of new parents has been getting a lot of traffic of late, so I thought I’d give it a plug.

FIRST, LET’S DISPENSE WITH any pretense of objectivity, I am a paranoid, first-time parent. As I write this, my son Greg is playing quietly and contentedly in his room. At one year old, he coos, takes tentative steps, laughs, screams like the devil’s on his tail when he wants to, beats his arm in time to music (at least as well as his father), and in general seems to thoroughly enjoy his life.That’s why I’m convinced he’s autistic.

Either that or it’s another neurological malady no one will notice until it’s far too late. Yesterday he was scratching at a bug bite, and I instantly knew it was lyme disease. Today he is crying more than usual, which means he is undoubtedly suffering from the first horrible arthritic symptoms of the disease.

I am not alone in this private hell. My wife has diagnosed nearly as many ailments as I have. Her biggest fear seems to be breathing stoppage. Not choking, just immediate, independent cessation, sort of like spontaneous human combustion of the lungs. This is what exposure to too many warnings about sudden infant death syndrome will do to you.

All of which makes us only slightly less rational than any of the other new parents we know. It also makes us the perfect marks for the Baby Industrial Complex (BIC), whose motto seems to be: If You Scare Them, They Will Spend. The BIC’s ad campaigns have refined this application of guilt and fear to a fine art. Their message: You are a bad parent. Your child is going to die a horrible death unless you buy our products.

You can read the rest here if you want.

(BTW, just so you can gauge the accuracy of my predictions: Greg is fine and finishes sixth grade this month. Well, at least I think he’s fine — there’s always the chance he has … )