Podcasts of the Week for Two Weeks Ending May 19


I’m not doing well at getting these podcast recommendations up every week, but here’s a good crop of podcast for your listening pleasure.

HUB History :: The Battle of Jamaica Plain

There was a gang shootout right here in my own neighborhood over a 100 years ago that had international implications and ended up involving Winston Churchill, and I’d never heard of it?!?

Hidden Brain :: Baby Talk: Decoding the Secret Language of Babies

It’s been a long while since I’ve had a nice chat with a baby.

Planet Money :: The Land of Duty Free

The mass quantities of liquor, cigarettes, chocolate, and perfume sold in airports has always fascinated/perplexed me.  Here’s the story of how the duty free shop got started at Shannon Airport in Ireland.  It also confirms my suspicions that duty free shop purchases aren’t really bargains.

LeVar Burton Reads :: “As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders

A live performance of LeVar Burton reading a hillarious/poignant story about a worldwide apocalypse, a genie in a bottle, theater criticism,  and the nature of wishes, complete with an interview with the author

BackStory :: Shock of the New

The history of World’s Fairs fascinates me and this episode commemorates the 125th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, with special focus on women’s and African American perspectives on the fair.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Cherokee Story Slam

The stories and life of the talented Robert Lewis.

More or Less: Behind the Stats :: Tulipmania mythology

The Dutch tulip bubble always makes a good story about economics and finance, but the truth of the story is not as dramatic as the myths, albeit more interesting in many ways.

 

Movie Review: The Big Short (2015)


TitleThe Big Short
Release Date: 2015
Director: Adam McKay
Summary/Review:

I wouldn’t think that The Big Short by Michael Lewis, a book about the investors who saw through the complex shenanigans around financial instruments leading to the great collapse of 2008, would make a great movie.  But director McKay and his cast and crew do a great job of making a film that is funny, educational, and heartbreaking.  There are a lot of pomo kind of tricks like breaking the fourth wall to speak to audience and celebrity cameos that are reminiscent of 24 Hour Party People.  The movie is anchored by strong acting, including Steve Carell as the crotchety New Yorker from ” America’s angriest hedge fund,” and Christian Bale as the quirky genius who first thought to short the subprime mortgage market.

I don’t know if this was a common reaction, but as the film depicted the crash and all the suffering caused by Wall Street, I wept openly in the movie theater.  This is a terrific film that works on both the mind and the emotions and I think everyone should try to see it.  Well, unless your easily offended by foul language and strippers and those sort of things.

Most telling dialogue in the entire movie (regarding some douchey mortgage agents):

Mark Baum: I don’t get it. Why are they confessing?

Danny Moses: They’re not confessing.

Porter Collins: They’re bragging.

Rating: *****

Book Reviews: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis


Author:Michael Lewis
TitleFlash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Narrator: Dylan Baker
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2014)
Previously read by same author: Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, and The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.
Summary/Review:

This book focuses on the contemporary financial trading practices of high frequency traders or “flash traders” seeking to gain advantage in fractions of seconds by having more direct cable connections to the markets.  This is emphasized by an effort to lay a cable from to New York to Chicago through the mountains of Pennsylvania as directly as possible.  Many financial intermediaries are taking advantage of the high frequency trading to basically rip-off their customers and by proxy making the whole financial system susceptible to collapse.  The heroes of the book are the quirky iconoclasts who create the Investors Exchanges (IEX) to counteract this effect.  Lewis can get bogged down in technical details and traders’ talk at times, but mostly keeps things moving along to be entertaining and informative
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Big Short by Michael Lewis


Author: Michael Lewis
Title: The Big Short
Publication Info: New York : W.W. Norton, c2010.
ISBN: 9780393072235

Other books read by same authorMoneyball and The Blind Side

Summary/Review:  While no amount of listening to NPR’s Planet Money prepared me to understand all the financial jibber-jabber in this book, Michael Lewis’ always engaging storytelling style made this book an enjoyable (if infuriating read). And central to this narrative is that few people understood the financial instruments that lead to the great collapse of 2008, even the CEO’s of Wall Street’s top financial firms.  The heroes of this book are the odd bunch of characters who saw the flaws of bundling subprime mortgages into triple-a-rated bonds and profited by betting on their eventual collapse.  The part of the book where one of Lewis’ subjects speaks at a Bear Stearns event at the same time that companies stocks are crashing is unbelievable and cinematic in its brilliance.  This is a must-read for anyone wanting to learn about the fiscal crisis and the evils of the Wall Street system.

Favorite Passages:

“That was Eisman’s logic: the logic of Wall Street’s pecking order.  Goldman Sachs was the big kid who ran the games in the neighborhood.  Merrill Lynch was the little fat kid assigned the least pleasant roles, just happy to be part of things.  The game, as Eisman saw it, was  crack the whip.” – p. 175

“The ability of Wall Street traders to see themselves in their success and their management in their failure would later be echoed, when their firms, which disdained the need for government regulation in good times, insisted on being rescued by government in bad times.  Success was individual achievement; failure was a social problem.” – p. 210

Recommended books: The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by Paul Krugman, The drunkard’s walk : how randomness rules our lives by Leonard Mlodinow, and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Rating: ****