The Big Short

Porter Collins (second from right) pulls a muscle while yelling at Jared Vennett. The collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market is taking longer than expected and everyone is anxious.

On Sunday I went to watch the Big Short, and I loved it. Surprisingly, it had more moral backbone than I thought it would. When you have scenes like Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining what a sub-prime loan is, you can’t expect too much.

So yes, part of me was expecting cash thrown at nude ladies à la Wolf of Wall Street, but – despite Ryan Gosling jumping up and down the whole movie asking if everyone else could ‘smell the money’ – it was quite sobering, and later, rage-inducing.

The movie managed to portray its protagonists (antagonists?) in a genuine way that captures some complexities in their internal struggles. It didn’t portray these people as wrong or cold-blooded. In fact, despite their cynicism, even these people, who bet against the American economy and won, weren’t cynical enough to guess the true damage caused by the sub-prime mortgage market.

Anyone who’s considering giving this movie a go, I highly recommend. It makes the financial crisis crystal clear, but more importantly it makes you feel. You’d think that these guys won against the big banks but at the end of the day, it’s never the big banks that pay, but average Americans. And who gets blamed? Migrants and poor people.


Currently reading…

Reading My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst. Here’s her wikipedia one-liner: ‘Emmeline Pankhurst was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote.’

A book that appeals to my conventional socialist sensibilities, and my conventional reading habits, in general. Sometimes I feel that my book taste could be a bit more adventurous rather than a human interest story whenever I’m not stuck in fiction (rarely). Not to devalue the significant achievements of Emmeline Pankhurst, but I always read books, whether biography or history, that have an emotional focus, or which tells a well-known story from a very personal side. For some reason, I don’t tend to pick up books that are more abstract and that are more about ideas. Big-thinking books tend to escape my shelf.

Anyway, as I recently moved, I decided to join my local library, and this book was the first that I picked up. Not because I am a feminist and respect the suffragettes (I mean, I do, but that wasn’t why I picked up the book), but because of this slightly haunting passage that I read when I flicked through the book (and which then stayed with me):

Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ was so great a favourite with my mother that she used it continually as a source of bedtime stories for our fascinated ears…[a] thrilling tale was the story of a negro boy’s flight from the plantation of his cruel master. The boy had never seen a railroad train, and when, staggering along the unfamiliar railroad track, he heard the roar of an approaching train, the clattering car-wheels seemed to his strained imagination to be repeating over and over again the awful words, ‘Catch a nigger – catch a nigger – catch a nigger -‘ This was a terrible story, and throughout my childhood, whenever I rode in a train, I thought of that poor runaway slave escaping from the pursuing monster.

Bad quoting: J.K. Rowling releases more juicy HP facts on Pottermore

This one induced a hearty laugh from me.

It is a bit like the return to Hogwarts after the summer break.

J.K. Rowling recently released more details about the Harry Potter universe, including the names of four other magical schools. (You can read about it here). After compulsively going through Pottermore and making sure I was on top of every new background detail released ,way back when I was in the throes of second year law school and probably during a swotvac to boot, I dropped off Pottermore and ignored all emails calling Hufflepuffs to pitch in and help the house win the House Cup. Now that amazing new details have been released, I’m back on. And yes, it is a bit like the return to Hogwarts after the summer break, but where did this quote actually come from?

It comes from Christopher Pyne, now Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, previously the infamous Minister for Higher Education who was desperate to push through higher education reforms to deregulate university fees. Someone who knew him once said he’s ‘nice but silly’. I would believe that Chris Pyne is more likely to be silly than actually malicious.

Anyway, he likened going back to Parliament to returning to Hogwarts. This I heard while trying to fix our tv so I could stream Insiders on it (we recently moved into a newly built house and don’t have a tv antenna yet).

Bad quoting: The Spanish Poor

Bad quoting is when I take a perfectly fine quote and put it in a bad context because sometimes irony is fun.

Today’s quote:

there are none who understand the art of doing nothing and living upon nothing better than the poor classes of Spain

When I went to Spain earlier this year, I did a walking tour in Madrid. Our tour guide said that the unemployment rate for people under 30 in Spain is 50%. I haven’t done a fact check, but everyone knows that in general the economy in Spain is doing pretty badly right now.

So where does this quote come from? Who dares to make such a politically incorrect claim?

Well, turns out it was Washington Irving, an American author and diplomat who wrote this circa 1829 when staying in the rooms of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Back in his day, the Alhambra was in a pretty derelict state and mainly inhabited by vagabonds with their makeshift shelters and claims of ancestral nobility. People were poor, but proud and happy – was Irving’s observation. He loved the Alhambra so much that he decided to move into the actual castle despite crumbling walls, open windows and doors that didn’t close; his admitted being frightful on his first night, but quickly adapted to the romanticism of living among ruins.

Here’s a fuller extract:

Here [in the Alhambra] are two classes of people to whom life seems one long holiday, the very rich, and the very poor: one, because they need do nothing, the other, because they have nothing to do; but there are none who understand the art of doing nothing and living upon nothing better than the poor classes of Spain. Climate does one half and temperament the rest. Give a Spaniard the shade in summer and the sun in winter, a little bread, garlic, oil and garbanzos [chickpeas], an old brown cloak and a guitar, and let the world roll on as it pleases. Talk of poverty! With him it has no disgrace. It sits upon him with a grandiose style, like his ragged cloak. He is an hidalgo [gentleman] even when in rags.