Michael Lewis gave the graduation speech at Princeton this spring and discussed luck.
The book I wrote was called "Liarâ€™s Poker." It sold a million copies. I was 28 years old. I had a career, a little fame, a small fortune and a new life narrative. All of a sudden people were telling me I was born to be a writer. This was absurd. Even I could see there was another, truer narrative, with luck as its theme. What were the odds of being seated at that dinner next to that Salomon Brothers lady? Of landing inside the best Wall Street firm from which to write the story of an age? Of landing in the seat with the best view of the business? Of having parents who didn't disinherit me but instead sighed and said "do it if you must?" Of having had that sense of must kindled inside me by a professor of art history at Princeton? Of having been let into Princeton in the first place?
This isn't just false humility. It's false humility with a point. My case illustrates how success is always rationalized. People really donâ€™t like to hear success explained away as luck â€” especially successful people. As they age, and succeed, people feel their success was somehow inevitable. They don't want to acknowledge the role played by accident in their lives. There is a reason for this: the world does not want to acknowledge it either.
I've read similar thoughts to that second paragraph before. People who are successful want to believe they're special. Sometimes they are, but often they're just lucky.
Michael Lewis's latest chapter length depresso is about California and how many of the cities there are pretty royally fucked because of pension promises that will begin to come due very soon, and in some cases have already begun to cause problems. One thing I learned, the states won't ever have to bust their budgets because they can force more and more costs on to the cities. (I guess counties can do this, too, because this is exactly what happened in Topeka yesterday, where the city council voted to decriminalize domestic battery in order to force the county district attorney to start trying these cases again. He stopped last month citing budget concerns.) Anyway, we're screwed, so here's Lewis talking about a bike ride he took with Schwarzenegger.
He hauls a bike off the back of the car, hops on, and takes off down an already busy Ocean Avenue. He wears no bike helmet, runs red lights, and rips past do not enter signs without seeming to notice them and up one-way streets the wrong way. When he wants to cross three lanes of fast traffic he doesnâ€™t so much as glance over his shoulder but just sticks out his hand and follows it, assuming that whatever is behind him will stop. His bike has at least 10 speeds, but he has just 2: zero and pedaling as fast as he can. Inside half a mile heâ€™s moving fast enough that wind-induced tears course down his cheeks.
Heâ€™s got to be one of the worldâ€™s most recognizable people, but he doesnâ€™t appear to worry that anyone will recognize him, and no one does. It may be that people who get out of bed at dawn to jog and Rollerblade and racewalk are too interested in what they are doing to break their trance. Or it may be that heâ€™s taking them by surprise. He has no entourage, not even a bodyguard. His former economic adviser, David Crane, and his media adviser, Adam Mendelsohn, who came along for the ride just because it sounded fun, are now somewhere far behind him. Anyone paying attention would think, That guy might look like Arnold, but it canâ€™t possibly be Arnold, because Arnold would never be out alone on a bike at seven in the morning, trying to commit suicide. It isnâ€™t until he is forced to stop at a red light that he makes meaningful contact with the public. A woman pushing a baby stroller and talking on a cell phone crosses the street right in front of him and does a double take. â€œOh . . . my . . . God,â€ she gasps into her phone. â€œItâ€™s Bill Clinton!â€ Sheâ€™s not 10 feet away, but she keeps talking to the phone, as if the man were unreal. â€œIâ€™m here with Bill Clinton.â€
Michael Lewis is finally writing a screenplay for Liar's Poker. Finally. I've only been clamoring for it for two and a half years. "John Requa and Glenn Ficarra of Crazy, Stupid, Love will direct". Liar's Poker tells the story of Lewis' time as a bond salesman at Salomon Brothers, the firm that pretty much created mortgage bonds. The leveraging of which, you might remember, were at least partly responsible for our current economic troubles. Why wasn't this movie made 2 years ago?
I went through my archives to see how many times I talked about them making this movie. 9 times. 9 times since February, 2009 I've wondered why the movie hadn't been made. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Now what am I going to write about?
In Nature's Casino is a Michael Lewis article from the NY Times Magazine in 2007 nominally about hurricane insurance, but also about making money in chaotic and hard to predict markets. It's fitting today, with Irene fever gripping the East Coast. I'm pretty sure I posted this already.
But there was an exception: an American so improbably prepared for the havoc Tropical Depression 12 was about to wreak that he might as well have planned it. His name was John Seo, he was 39 years old and he ran a hedge fund in Westport, Conn., whose chief purpose was to persuade investors to think about catastrophe in the same peculiar way that he did. He had invested nearly a billion dollars of other peopleâ€™s money in buying what are known as â€œcat bonds.â€ The buyer of a catastrophe bond is effectively selling catastrophe insurance. He puts down his money and will lose it all if some specified bad thing happens within a predetermined number of years: a big hurricane hitting Miami, say, or some insurance company losing more than $1 billion on any single natural disaster. In exchange, the cat-bond seller â€” an insurance company looking to insure itself against extreme losses â€” pays the buyer a high rate of interest.
The article is fascinating. Load it up on your iPad now so you can read it by battery when your power goes out on Sunday.
Here's a bonus Lewis column from 2005 I found while looking for the above. It was written a couple months after Katrina and talks about how someone was about to make a buttload of money in New Orleans.
It is impossible to imagine anyone who isnâ€™t being paid to do it reading the thing from start to finish. Even I, who still hope to be paid, hauled the book around for six months on business trips and vacations, and spent vast amounts of time staring at Twainâ€™s random ramblings in minuscule type feeling resentful and vaguely dupedâ€”roughly the way I felt a dozen pages into the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc-before I could summon the energy to wade deeply into it.
It says here that Brad Pitt has optioned The Big Short. As loyal readers, you'll know that I've been using the platform of Unlikely Words for several years to advocate for a movie based on Liar's Poker. Actually The Big Short and Liar's Poker could be released together as a part 1 and part 2 of the financial collapse. Shia Labeouf could play a young Michael Lewis.
Pitt's Plan B productions is going full steam ahead on an adaptation of Lewis' latest, "The Big Short," about the events that led up to the current financial fiasco. They're set offer Charles Randolph ("The Interpreter," "The Life of David Gale") $750G to write a script, reported New York mag's Vulture.
Every couple months or so, I do a little Googling to see if Liar's Poker has been optioned yet. Turns out it was optioned 20 years ago. Make the fucking movie already.
Plan B Entertainment, is closing on a deal to option Lewis's next book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, a chronicle of Wall Street greed and the swollen U.S. housing market. Pitt is also considering starring.
I swear if someone doesn't start making a movie about Liar's Poker soon, I'm going to start typing in all caps. And I'll mean it, too. The fact that it's not a movie yet makes me itchy.
The on again, off again movie version of Michael Lewis' book, Moneyball, is back on. Bennett Miller, director of Capote, has been brought in to steer this ship home. He will, apparently, be taking the movie in a direction different, and more mainstream, than original director Steven Soderbergh.
Here's a video of Michael Lewis explaining the origin of The Blind Side. There's about 15 people in the theater when he does.
If it's pettiness you crave, here's a bazillion word, 2 part series on The Forgotten Man Of Moneyball, Eric Walker. In an interesting move assuring a constant bias, the author of the piece is that forgotten man, Eric Walker.
Lastly, I'd like to again ask why Liar's Poker has not yet been made into a movie.
Since the Moneyball script was leaked this summer, some folks took it upon themselves to shoot a scene, just to see how it would come out. Execution isn't flawless, but it is a cool visualization of what the movie will/would be like. I imagine tighter cuts and dialogue delivered a little snappier, but we can work with this.
I'm compelled to see this, but I wish that it hadn't been made so astonishingly formulaic. I guess we really did need Steven Soderbergh's oddball 'Moneyball'. And. Please! Someone. Option. 'Liar's Poker'.