Brad Pitt to play Steve Eisman in Big Short film: Michael Lewis at LSE

Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, was in converation at a free LSE lecture tonight. He confirmed that the book, about the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, and subsequent spectacular fallout, had been bought by Brad Pitt and Paramount Pictures.

He also said that Brad Pitt would star in the film as Steve Eisman, a hedge fund manager who made millions by betting against the subprime market.

Lewis, in his usual irreverent style, described Eisman as a guy who ‘gets pleasure out of saying things that are true and offensive, like a really bright four-year-old on steroids.’

Eisman’s wife says of him in the book, ‘Even on Wall Street people think he is rude and obnoxious and offensive.’

So it looks Pitt should have a lot of fun playing this character, and we should have a lot of fun watching him when the film comes out.

Lewis had a host of great throwaway quotes at LSE:

“People have unreliable memories, especially about their own financial decisions.”

He pointed out the most of the characters in the book are reprehensible in many respects. About Greg Lippmann, who had shorted the market at Deutsche Bank: “Even when he is saying a profound truth he can seem like he is lying.”

About the bond traders: “None of them thought they had made bad decisions. They thought they were victims of a natural disaster…they were not good witnesses. They hadn’t understood what was happening to them when it was happening to them.”

He also told a terrific story about his own LSE days when the students used the sport budget to buy a racehorse. Upshot was the racehorse wasn’t very good and some people weren’t happy so the sport budget was instead spent on sending folk like Lewis around Europe to play basketball.

Lewis described LSE students in the early 1980s as ‘the most irresponsible people I’ve met, including sub-prime mortgage traders.’

He also showed himself to be a master of the Q&A, using all of the questions as an opportunity to pull out more from his seemingly endless supply of stories.

And finally he gave this wonderful insight into his writing style and indeed good writing generally: “The trick is to leave a hole in the story to allow the reader in and let them exercise judgement.”

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Quotes from Mark Twain autobiography

My dad was given the Mark Twain autobiography for Christmas. Great big thing, about a thousand pages long, of such formidable size you could never get it on the tube or bus. It’s the kind of awesome volume which you can only read if you are a scholar, or retired. I am neither; fortunately CW Purnell is both. Happily he has pulled out some of the juiciest quotes from the first third of the book from the inestimable writer of Huckleberry Finn.

So, in page order, here they are. Thanks daddio. For all Twain fans – enjoy!

Selected quotations from Mark Twain’s Autobiography 

On James W Paige, a failed businessman who cost Twain $170,000 (p102)

(He) is a most extraordinary compound of business thrift and commercial insanity; of cold calculation and jejune sentimentality; of veracity and falsehood; of fidelity and treachery; of pluck and cowardice; of wasteful liberality and pitiful stinginess; of solid sense and weltering moonshine; of towering genius and trivial ambitions; of merciful bowels and a petrified heart; of colossal vanity and – but there the opposites stop. His vanity stands alone, sky piercing as an Egyptian monolith.

 On Countess Massiglia, landlady of Villa di Quarto (p241)

She is excitable, malicious, malignant, vengeful, unforgiving, selfish, stingy, avaricious, coarse, vulgar, profane, obscene, a furious blusterer on the outside and at heart a coward. Her lips are familiar with lies, deceptions, swindles and treacheries as are her nostrils with breath.

On his discussion club (p273)

The Club was founded by a great clergyman: it always had more clergymen in it than good people.

Twain’s quote from Bill Nye about Wagner (p288)

I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.

On Duelling (p294) 

In those early days duelling suddenly became a fashion in the new Territory of Nevada and by 1864 everybody was anxious to have a chance in the new sport, mainly for the reason that he was not able to thoroughly respect himself so long as he had not killed or crippled somebody in a duel or been killed or crippled in one himself… I was ambitious in several ways, but I had entirely escaped the seductions of that particular craze. I had no desire to fight a duel; I had no intention of provoking one. I did not feel respectable, but I got certain amount of satisfaction out of feeling safe.

The Character of Man (p312)

 … of all the creatures that were made he is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one – the solitary one – that possesses malice. That is the basest of all instincts, passions, vices – the most hateful. That one thing puts him below rats, the grubs, the trichinae. He is the only creature that inflicts pain for sport, knowing it to be pain…. All creatures kill… but of the whole list, man is the only one that kills in malice, the only one that kills for revenge.

Who should get the Olympic stadium – West Ham or Spurs?

You know the debate about the future of the Olympic stadium at Stratford has become farcical when Pele starts piping up with his opinion.

Pele is the most notoriously wrongheaded pundit in football (I know, a bold claim, but one he comfortably justifies). This is the fellow who said that Nicky Butt was the future of football, as he did about Freddy Adu, the wonderkind who flopped hopelessly from that moment on. He also declared Totti the best player in the world, which might be true if you were judging him on his hair and overlook that he always goes missing in big games.

It’s true, Pele was good at scoring goals. He is also a geriatric loudmouth who should, as Maradona so wisely put it, ‘go back to the museum.’

An irritating old man who used to be good at football

Now, possibly guided by a conversation with that impartial and sober judge, Jimmy Greaves, he has been led to think that Tottenham are the rightful inheritors of the Olympic stadium. That’s the proposal, you will remember, to rebuild the stadium for football with no running track. Which is perhaps not quite what the British public thought the Olympic legacy would look like. This is in opposition to West Ham’s proposal to move in, retaining the track.

So what is the right decision?

I’ll admit, it’s a tough one. On the upside, if Tottenham get the stadium it would leave their fans harrumphing about loss of identity and give opposition fans years of fun along the lines of ‘you’re just a shit club from Stratford,’ etc. It would leave West Ham fans feeling like they’ve been robbed, which is their natural state. It would also make Lord Coe a hate figure among athletes.

If West Ham get the stadium they will get a nice new home which is vaguely in the right part of town for them. However, the track would be retained, therefore robbing fans of their ability to intimidate opponents and linesmen. As a Rangers fan, I’ve long enjoyed abusing the lino, so I can feel the Hammers’ fan pain on this sensitive issue. When the super hoops are not having a good day, you can always amuse yourself by shouting at the linesman:

‘Oi, Lino. Dipstick!’

It’s part and parcel of the game, a tradition that has gone back generations, and one I would hate to see lost.

To make a proper judgement we must look at the wider ramifications. If Spurs get a bigger stadium it would give them greater income and secure their top five status. It would, therefore, leave Liverpool stranded in the longer-term as England’s sixth club (unless Sunderland or Villa are having a good year).

For me, the sound of the whinging scouser ringing up 606 saying this player or that player is ‘not fit to wear the shirt’ in that preposterously egotistical fashion the Reds fan has perfected is, in its way, rather endearing. It should be nurtured at every opportunity.

So, in summary, these, I feel, are the salient points to consider:

1. We must do everything we can to keep the scouser whinging
2. Upton Park should remain a haven for fans to abuse players and officials alike
3. West Ham fans should retain their sense of bad luck and injustice.

So, for the good of football, and it does pain me to say this: give the stadium to Spurs.

Review – Russell Brand, Booky Wook 2

Another quiet night for Russell

When I first saw Russell Brand on telly I thought he was an annoying twat.
There he was: all hair, eyeliner and belts, delivering a steady stream of innuendo-laden inanities.
My housemate at the time, Dan, put it succinctly:
‘I can’t stand that cunt,’ he said.

Dan didn’t just turn the channel over, he switched the tv off, as if to ward against Brand sneaking onto a different channel. I heartily agreed with this affirmative action. From there I cast aspersions against him at any opportunity without ever bothering to check if the fella was actually funny.

It was about this time that Russell Brand became ominpresent, what with his tv and radio shows, and daily appearances in the tabloid press. He even had a column in the sport section of the Guardian on a Saturday, and I went to great lengths to fold the newspaper in a way in which meant I could safely avoid looking at his odious fizzog.

However, there comes a time when a celebrity reaches a threshold of visibility when they simply cannot be avoided. Russell Brand, of course, achieved that point when he insulted Manuel on his radio show.

I hadn’t heard the broadcast but got the basics from the blanket media coverage seeping into my skull. I was coming home on the tube from a solid night’s boozing when my friend Alex asked me what I thought about the Brand controversy. I’m from Rainham, just a few miles away from Grays, where he’s from, so I was being consulted as a fellow Estuary Essexman.

‘I think he’s a disgrace to his county,’ I said vehemently, my views unbesmirched by any factual knowledge of the incident.

‘You can’t really think that, can you?’ said a bloke sitting opposite. ‘It’s all a storm being whipped up by the Daily Mail. It was just a joke that went wrong.’

‘I bloody well can think that. He’s a disgrace, going around abusing short men like that.’ (NB: I’m 5ft 4ins). ‘I’ve met people from Grays and he’s typical of the low-grade people you get there. He should be sent to Australia, I reckon.’

The bloke, a lily-livered liberal type, looked shaken. We glared at each other a bit, and then I got off at Victoria, and the matter was not further commented upon.

After that incident, I was intrigued enough to actually watch some footage of Brand doing stand-up on YouTube. He was okay. Not really laugh out loud funny, but intelligent, eloquent, and addictive to watch.

You could call Brand a lot of things, but you could never call him an attention-seeker

I was impressed by the fact that he had created a complete comic persona which allowed him to be confessional, surreal and a storyteller. And to pull vast hordes of women. He reminded me of my friend from school, Rob Howard, who could turn absolutely anything into innuendo, and had a sensational record with the ladies, too.

I loved the way that he cared about his audience. He managed to involve them, and allow them to share his pain and joy. That takes great skill and courage. To me, it was only moderately funny; but as a comedic journey towards truth it was brilliant. This is a man who truly knows himself and, like any great artist, can provide insights into our own lives.

A few months ago, I finally stumped up the money to buy Brand’s first autobiography, My Booky Wook. This was one of the best autobiographies I have ever read, and certainly the best modern memoir. He doesn’t allow himself to be anything less than totally honest, or totally funny.

This second book is clearly less well-written than the first installment. He’s run this off while he’s busy doing films and getting hitched to Katy Perry. So, he’s busy. Much of the text is cobbled together from his stand-up performances over the last few years, detailing appearances at various music award shows where like Ricky Gervais this week, he became notorious for telling mildly offensive jokes about famous people. Yet it says a lot for the quality of his lives shows that they stand up remarkably well when read off the page.

The original sections are mostly to the front of the book and this paragraph talking about how his pratfalls caused Kate Moss to dump him is typically briliant:

What no one realised, not Kate nor the red-top tabloid press, was that far from viewing her as a conquest, I was absolutely smitten. When I clumsily ballsed it up by flatly telling journalists who I’d not yet learned to ignore that I was ‘just larking around’, she wisely withdrew and I had enough sense to stop calling her. I didn’t delete her number from the phone though. I left it stored under ‘Grimy Tyke’, which is what I’d call her in an attempt to punctuate the endless flattery and awe.

And even when he’s got his hero, Morrissey, round at his house for filming, his mind is on other things:

Morrissey perused the house. I perused his make-up lady’s boobs; that is the miracle of big boobs, they remain interesting above all else.

This next sentence should go on his headstone:

I have stared over the shoulder of enlightenment to get a butcher’s at a cleavage.

His awareness of his own ludicrousness is what makes him so engaging. This second Booky Wook is the story of his escape from British TV and comedy, to superstardom. He’s made it. He’s got the pop star wife, the film career, and no doubt marvellous homes in LA and London. And even if he eventually loses touch with ordinary life in this country, it probably won’t matter, because as long as understands himself as acutely in the future as he does now, he’ll always be entertaining.

My mate Dan wouldn’t agree with me, though.

The demise of Ricky Ponting – Australia’s Napoleon

Ricky Ponting in happier times

I sit here, at the end of a successful Ashes series, reflecting on the demise of Ricky Ponting. A man who has scored 12,000 Test runs finished the series injured, defeated and with an average a shade over 14. This is unquestionably the end of the era of Aussie dominance in Test cricket.

As an impressionable youngster I first experienced the Australians in the 1989 series in England. Their main bowler was Merv Hughes, a frightening-looking fellow with a thick, flowing moustache and a beer gut. Coming off a long run, with his belly jiggling around, he looked more dart player than cricketer. He would deliver a venomous short ball around the throat area, and finish about six inches from the frankly terrified batsman, all bulging eyes and boozy breath. The English succumbed quickly, which seemed sensible. I had heard that England had once won an Ashes but it seemed the stuff of myth.

When it was England’s time to bowl, a friendly bloke such as Derek Pringle would lollop in and send the ball at medium pace outside off-stump. The fellow at the other end was, again, a snarling, heavy-set man with Victorian moustache. This was Hughes’s soul mate, David Boon, who would respond by carving the ball through the covers for four.

England lost that six-match series 4-0. The only person who put up much resistance was our resident South African batsman, Robin Smith, a man who had a devil-may-care attitude to short-pitched bowling.

Call me a masochist; call me an inveterate idler. I was hooked on cricket. I didn’t mind that England lost. The Ashes was something in which comforting certainties, a natural order, existed.

With Victorian moustache, bulging eyes and xxxx on the chest, Merv Hughes was the archetypal Aussie cricketer

They came back in 1993, with Shane Warne in their team, and won 4-1. David Boon bludgeoned runs, Hughes snarled his way through the England batting. In 1997, Boon and Hughes were gone, replaced by sadly clean-shaven men called Matty, Mark or Jason. It was hard to tell these identikit Aussies apart.

In 2001, I settled down to watch the series knowing that England had no chance. The new Aussie No 3 caught the eye. Small fellow, by the name of Ricky Ponting, full of bullheaded aggression, like a distilled David Boon.

In the first three Tests, he showed flourishes of brilliance, but it was in the fourth that the English public got its first proper sight of this arrogant genius. In the first innings he scored 144 off 154 balls. He did not so much bat, as slap the ball about. If you bowled short, he pulled for four. If you bowled full, he drove for four. And if you bowled wide, he cut for four.

England bowlers, by this point, had enjoyed a decade of uninterrupted failure against the Aussie. But it was only with the accession of Ponting to No 3, that Australia went from being superior to completely driving England into the dirt. Humiliating them. In frank terms, taking the piss.

In this belligerent short man, the English cricket fan heard a historical echo. Here was not simply another Aussie cricketer, over here to bolster his average and claim the Ashes. This was a short man on the rampage. Damn it, Ponting was another Napoleon.

The English were roused from their gentle slumber. They realised it was not good enough to simply turn up and lose 4-1. That was fine, before Ponting. Not now.

The England team had to try a bit harder. Central contracts were introduced. The lads went for the occasional jog. They laid off the booze and fags before matches. They did a bit of catching practice.

By 2005, England wanted to win. They knew the only way to do that was by targeting Ponting, now captain. As a cricketing Napoleon, England knew he had a short fuse. It was just a case of working out how best to help the chap ignite.

Ricky losing his rag, in fine Napoleonic fashion

 

Firstly, like all successful English campaigns, some foreigners were brought in to help. We got an Aussie (Troy Cooley) to whip the bowlers into shape. Crucially, we brought in a South African (Pietersen) to bolster the middle order. Ponting wouldn’t like this. Oh no.

Then the winding-up started in earnest. The schoolboy tactics. The England team, full of big lads, were encouraged by our Wellington, Michael Vaughan, to taunt Napoleon. Matthew Hoggard, a bluff Yorkshireman, was deployed in press conferences to tell Ricky they had plans for him. During the match, the England fielders had mouthfuls of wine gums to help shine the ball and make it reverse swing. Vaughan started giving bowlers ‘toilet’ or ‘injury’ breaks during the day, so they could put their feet up and get a massage before their next spell, replacing them with crack fielders.

Ponting, nonchalant at first, safe in the knowledge that the Aussie would prevail, did not react. But through a tight series, the pressure grew. The Press started asking leading questions about whether he was happy with English tactics. The fuse was ready to explode.

And then, in the fourth Test, with England dominating, Damien Martyn pushed a ball into the covers for a quick single. The substitute fielder, Gary Pratt, picked the ball up and hurled down the stumps at the striker’s end with Ponting some way from his ground.

Ponting, whose temper had been contained until this point, exploded. He flew into a rage, waving his bat at the English dressing-room like a modern-day Yosemite Sam. Vaughan laughed, and England laughed with him. From there, with Pratt as 12th man for the final Test, and our South African plundering runs, the series was won.

The template of English success against Ponting was laid. In this present series we have merely refined it. We have another South African in Jonathan Trott to further solidify the middle order. We have an even better Aussie bowling coach in David Saker. And we made smart use of the referral system which caused Ponting to go apoplectic, again in the fourth Test.

It is unlikely Ponting will be seen against England in the next Ashes series. It is unlikely the Aussie batting order will quickly recover its former strength. Drawing the Napoleonic parallel again, I can’t help but think that putting the short man in charge caused great triumphs in the short-term. But while Australia, like France, enjoyed great success with a short-tempered short man as leader, it was in that very appointment that the seeds of their humiliation were sewn.

Ponting modelled his captaincy closely on the Yosemite Sam model