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Wall Street Books: Liar's Poker, When Genius Failed, Barbarians at the Gates, and Monkey Business

have been reading wall street books lately. starting with trading/financial markets side are the celebrated--due to its wits--Liar's Poker and When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management.

Liar's Poker is by Michael Lewis, an ex-bond salesman with solomon brothers in the eighty when solomon was THE bond house on the street. the book charts Lewis' life from graduation at the LSE (ahem!) through to the graduate program, to his transition from lowly associate to a 'BIG SWINGING DICK', and to the downfall of solomon. i read this book quite a long while ago so my recollections will not be really precise. anyhow, the book mainly tries to protray the culture of trading in one of wall street's most breakneck trading floor, and the colorful personality that makes it all the more fascinating. a memorable scene is when a banker walks into the trading floor and was immediately petrified by the heat of it. the book is also useful in learning fixed-income instruments (beginner lvl), especially in the birth of mortgage-backed securities that was originated by one of the solomon trader.

the second book, "When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management", looks at one of most glamorous hedge-funds--not least for its two nobel laureates members Merton and Scholes--that, with its fall, almost brought down the entire financial system. the fund's head, john meriwhether, is also featured in Liar's Poker who legendarily (and alledgedly) challenged John Gutfruend (CEO of Solomon brothers) to a hand of liar's poker for US$1M. anyhow, the book is not as well written as the rest of the bunch. the tone is quite sterile and at times almost journalistic, and is not as gripping as the other books. some sympathies for the author, though, since hedge funds are not the easiest thing to understand, however, i find the technical parts are badly explained. the book is useful, though, in getting a primer into how hedge fund works, especially if you have a grounding in finance. you'll know how do yield-curve arbitrage, risk arbitrage, etc. (the fact of the matter is ... i don't really remember them, heh). but yeah, one of the fund managers, Victor Haghani, was from LSE. lol.

now, on to corporate finance. there's "barbarians at the gates: the fall of RJR Nabisco" and "monkey business: swinging through the jungle of wall street" (what's with bankers and the colon ..). anyhow, let me first talk about "barbarians..." which i think is a VERY VERY WONDERFUL BOOK. it is about one of the biggest LBO's of the 80's and withit came the close of an era. it is about greed as well as competition between men with HUGE egos. it is a great primer into the world of investment banking (and private equity) and, given that this is non-fic, almost like a historical account of the greed game at the very top level of CEO's and senior bankers battling it out. the book is actually SO GOOD that you forget that it's non-fic. what's best is its characterisation. the characters .. from Ross Johnsson of RJR Nabisco to Kravis of KKR to the executives of all the banks ... make for incredibly vivacious roller coaster through the ups and downs of this epic deal. MUST MUST READ!!

the other book "monkey business.." is a lighter look at wall street. it is about two associates of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette (now part of CSFB) who had to suffer--to pay their 'dues'--through their mundane existence as investment bankers for the hope of being promoted from the lowly associates--read "slaves"--to the coveted position asa big dick swining banker. this book is great for ppl who want to learn about i-banking in a no-bullshit way; and to enjoy while doing it! the book guides you through from the recruitment process to the various aspects of investment banking such as pitching for deals, writing prospectus, doing the road show, the due diligence, etc. it is very, very useful and easy to read i must say. most of all, it is funny. however, it's not very polished .. a good read but on literary terms it is not very accomplished. read 'barbarians ...' if u r looking for a 'good' novel. anyway, this is also highly recommended.

so, until next time. (i have another wall-streetish book to read though, the celebrated Bonfire of the Vanities although it's non-fic and is less about banking than it is about the 80's swining NY).




 

Create Date : 12 ตุลาคม 2548    
Last Update : 12 ตุลาคม 2548 22:24:00 น.
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Update on readings: Dan Brown's 'Angels and Demons', Fiodor Dostoyevsky's 'White Nights'

Finished reading two books (or rather, stories).

First, Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons". i think i like this more than Da Vinci's code. although the style and everything is very similar, i feel that the message in angels and demons is more important and accessible. more specifically, some of the discussions on religion were very insightful. especially on 'faith': langdon was asked if he were religious. his answer was that he believed in the 'core' of all the religion--namely as teachings to better our lives--but as a scholar, he could not take the leap of 'faith' to believe in all the surrounding myths, rituals, and miracles that actually make up the entirety of a religion. that is exactly how i personally feel. i had a heated debate with a friend of mine once. he maintained that by the term 'religion' one should only look at the core of the teachings--buddhist's nirvana, christian's repentence, etc. but i argued that that would be cheating, since the perception of religion that most practitioners have come complete with all the surrounding 'faith', so to speak. so the debate continues, but really, i think most of the religious followers are more absorbed in the faiths and the literal translations of the teachings so taht they ignore the core idea. that's why i'm becoming more and more distant to religion.

i've also read dostoyevsky's 'white nights'. first i read it in one of murakami's short stories, the 'super frog saves tokyo' in the 'after the quake' short stories collection. anyway the story was super. especially for me, a dreamer. and i quote:

"my god, a moment of bliss. why, isn't that enough for a whole life time?"

(i hope it is not a spoiler) but what nags me most is the comma (,) after why. if we change this to:

"my god, a moment of bliss. why isn't that enough for a whole life time?"

the meaning changes dramatically. the comma ... that seperates the dream from the reality.




 

Create Date : 03 สิงหาคม 2548    
Last Update : 3 สิงหาคม 2548 12:14:32 น.
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Camus and Sartre: The Outsider and Nausea

I've just finished reading Sartre's Nausea and i'd like to comment on it in comparison to another great existentialist novel, Camus's L'etranger (The Outsider).

The two is about a man who tries to live admist the absurdity of existence. Antoinne Roquetin in Sartre's Nausea is a history writer who has bouts of nausea which intensified as he realised the enormity and arbitrarity of human (and ineed non-human) existence. the existence is absurd and superfluous: there is no meaning and every existents are in themselves redundant.

One of the central thought process which Sartre employed to lead us to the meaninglessness of life is by suggesting the randomness of life and everything. More specifically, it is demonstrated by Roquetin's desire for 'an adventure': namely, a sequence of events that has distinct beginning and end. Similarly, Roquetin's sweetheart, Anny, also desires for a 'perfect moment': moments that are somehow meaningful and more priviledged than others; moments that the elements fall in to place--requiring certain gestures, certain words, certain acts. However, as the book unfolds, there is no such thing. History fades into nothingness, the future is but a blur, all that is left is meaninglessness.

What i like most are the moments when Roquetin ponders about his own identity and his own past. Roquetin, being a traveller, had travelled around the world--the middle east, the far east, europe, etc.--however, it is meaningless to him. the 'memories' that used to be as clear as reliving the experiences slowly fades into just words; vague forms of ideas, blurry images of bygone past. this is so powerful because you can perform your own thought exercise on this. imagine yesterday, imagine last week, imagine last month, imagine last year: how much can you say you've truly 'lived' the moments? did you live them, or was it someone else's? what does it mean when you say "i've lived in england" or "i fed the dog"? could you recall the sensations, the smell of the dog, the playfulness of its demeanours, the touch of its fur as it jumped up on you? no, all that is left are the simple sentence, the words, the letters--solitarily meaningless--but which now reads "i fed the dog": the simple 10 letters and four words that hangs in your head and which you have now christened as 'reality'.

the book is about this realisation. the realisation that life is absurd and arbitrary. yet, many have commented on the implication on this meaninglessness. following from the randomness and absurdity of life, now we are FREE: free such that nothing is meaningful and all choices are equally random. we are free in a deterministic way, free only to know that we are free to choose from equally futile paths. YET, i really feel this part is not emphasised in the book. the book focuses on the central thesis of existentialism, namely, the absurdity of life. yet, it does NOT tell us what we should DO in spite of this futility. in fact, despite the great effect the novel has on undermining the meaning of life, the ending is especially lame. it is weak and patronising, considering the tone of the entire book, and looked as if it was tagged on so that we could end with some sense of finality--only the effect is anything but.

but anyhow, that is what leads me to Camus' The Outsider. If Sartre's Nausea is the process of accepting the nothingness in our lives, Camus' novel is the next step, namely: how we should LIVE our lives in the face of meaninglessness.

the book is about mersault, who was sentenced to death because he simply did not cry at his mother's wedding. although this is the 'standard' tag line of the novel, i don't really agree with it. come on, if you just shoot a person just because the sun was in your eyes, you deserve to get serious jail time.

perhaps, that is the central concern of existentialism, namely, what is the moral implication it imposes on us, if any? that is what i think the outsider is trying to answer. we admire mersault's passion in life, his refusal (or rather inability?) to lie, and his rebellion to traditional ideas (namely religion--with the powerful climax in the end). unlike Roquetin, Mersault is not intimidatedby life and existence, on the other hand, he embraces it. he lives to his best and massages every joy possible from whatever he does. he does not get bogged down by neither the confines of society nor the enormity of his existence--most of all by his refusal to lie and secondly by following his impulses. the impulse which sadly lead to his shooting.

now, i think this is perhaps overlooked by most people. when i hear people speak of the outsider, most talks of mersault as a victim, when in fact, he is also very wrong--'wrong' in this case according to the society, but more importantly, killing is wrong to our normal sense of morality. it is perhaps important for existentialism to define its morality, and i think this is the biggest flaw of the outsider. it paints a convincing and sympathetic picture of a man who stands by truth despite the opagueness of the very truth he stands by. yet, as much as it shows us, the very protagonist fails to be human as soon as he commits an act that is so contrary to human's natural moral instincts. that is not to say that i am a humanist; far from it, yet, when a system of thought allows you kill a person, that troubles me--not from any philosophical standpoint, but just as a human being.

so overall, these two books give me a good picture of existentialism. one is the realisation of the central tennet of existentialism, namely the absurdity of our existence, and the second is the fight, or rather, the embrace of that absurdity. end.




 

Create Date : 17 กรกฎาคม 2548    
Last Update : 17 กรกฎาคม 2548 22:33:25 น.
Counter : 2828 Pageviews.  

George Orwell's 1984 + Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking: ความสำคัญในการสงวนประวัติศาสตร์

[practicing thai]

วันนั้นเพิ่งดู big brother และไม่มีอะไรทำ ก็เลยออกไปซื้อ 1984 ของ george orwell มาอ่าน เพราะอยากอ่านมานานมากแล้ว แต่ไม่มีโอกาสซักกะที

หนังสือสนุกมาก มันส์ดี โลกที่วาดไว้หนุกดี แต่ยังมีตรงที่งงมั่ง เช่นใครเป็นคนเขียนหนังสือของ Goldstein (คาดว่าเป็น O'Brien แต่มันฟังดูค่อนข้างไม่สมเหตุผลถ้า O'Brien จะต้องมานั่งเขียนหนังสือปลอมนี้เพียงเพื่อจับพวก thought crime) แต่อย่างไรก็ตาม สนุกดี และได้แง่คิดในหลายแง่

แต่ที่สำคัญที่สุดในตอนนี้คือ การที่หนังสือที่เขียนมาร่วมครึ่งศตวรรษ กลับยังมีความเกี่ยวเนื่องกับเหตุการณ์ในปัจจุบันมากขนาดนี้ ถึงแม้ว่าสิ่งที่ orwell ทำนายไว้ จะไม่เป็นจริงในปี 1984 ก็ตาม แต่ในข่าวเร็วๆนี้ เกี่ยวกับเรื่องที่จีนออกมาโจมตีญี่ปุ่น เกี่ยวกับการบิดเบือนประวัติศาสตร์สงครามโลกครั้งที่สอง

หนึ่งในเรื่อง ที่ทางฝ่ายจีนนั้นออกมาแสดงความไม่พอใจ คือเรื่องของการที่ญี่ปุ่นได้ออกตำราเรียนประวัติศาสตร์ใหม่ ซึ่งได้พยายามบิดเบือนเรื่องราวของการกระทำอย่างโหดร้ายป่าเถื่อนต่อประเทศจีน และหลายๆประเทศ

the rape of nanking ของ iris chang นั้น ได้อธิบายความชั่วร้ายในสงคราม และสิ่งที่ญี่ปุ่นได้กระทำต่อชาวจีนในเมืองนานจิงได้อย่างชัดเจน โหดร้าย ทารุณ และที่สำคัญที่สุด มันเป็นการกระทำที่ขัดต่อความเป็นมนุษย์อย่างสิ้นเชิง

สิ่งที่สำคัญในหนังสือนั้น ไม่ใช่แค่เพียงจะอธิบายเรื่องราวที่เกิดขึ้น แต่ยิ่งไปกว่านั้น ผู้เขียนพยายามที่จะเรียกร้องความเป็นธรรม ให้แก่ชาวจีนในเมืองนานจิงกว่าล้านคน (มั้งจำไม่ได้) ที่ถูกค่าอย่างโหดเหี้ยม และถูกโลกลืม โดยที่รัฐบาลญี่ปุ่น ไม่ได้ออกมาขอโทษ เหมือนอย่างที่เยอรมันเคยทำ และยังพยายามจะบิดเบือนประวัติศาสตร์อีกด้วย

สำหรับตรงนี้ บางคนอาจจะมองว่าเป็นเรื่องธรรมดา ประเทศไหนพอมันสอนประวัติศาสตร์ มันก็ต้องเข้าข้างตัวเองเป็นธรรมดา ยิ่งประเทศที่มีจักรพรรดิปรกครอง เพราะความเชื่อในตัวจักรพรรดิเป็นสิ่งจำเป็นที่จะปลุกความรักชาติ

อย่างไรก็ตาม จากเรื่อง 1984 นั้น เราจะสามารถเห็นความสำคัญของการสงวนประวัติศาสตร์ และความสำคัญของภาษา และประวัติศาสตร์ในการควบคุมความคิดของประชาชน

"He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future."

ในโลกของ orwell นั้น Big Brother มีอำนาจในการควบคุมสื่อทุกอย่างในโลก และจะมีกระทรวงหนึ่งกระทรวง ไว้ควบคุมข่าวสารทั้งหมด (ironically named Ministry of Truth) ซึ่งจะจัดการ ลบข่าวสารที่ไม่ต้องการออก

ที่แย่ไปกว่านั้น คือ ทางกระทรวงจะเปลี่ยนแปลงข่าวไปเรื่อยๆ เพื่อให้เหมาะสมกับความต้องการของตัวเอง เช่น ถ้ามีคนไหนโดนรัฐบาลฆ่าปุ๊บ (aka vaporized) ทางกระทรวงก็จะต้องมานั่ง ลบทุกอย่างที่เกี่ยวข้องกับคนคนนี้ให้มันหายไปจากโลก เหมือนว่าคนคนนั้นไม่เคยเกิดขึ้นมาเลย

แม้ตัวอย่างนี้จะค่อนข้างเป็นกรณีที่เหนือความเป็นจริงไปมาก แต่มันมีความสำคัญในการแสดงให้เห็นถึงความเป็นไปได้ และอำนาจของประวัติศาสตร์ในการ เปลี่ยนความคิดและจิตใต้สำนึกของความคิดของสังคม

และเหมือนกัน หากเราปล่อยให้เรื่องที่สำคัญๆ เช่นการกระทำอันป่าเถื่อนผิดมนุษย์ของญี่ปุ่นนั้น ถูกลืมไปจากโลก มันคงอีกไม่นานที่ความทรงจำรวมของมนุษย์นั้น อาจจะลืมเหตุการณ์นี้ไปด้วย ซึ่งเราควรจะจดจำมันไว้เพื่อไม่ให้มันเกิดขึ้นอีก

ps. on a side note, an aspect of 1984 that i found interesting, although overlooked by most people, is in the Party's denial of external reality. it is only when one denies external reality that one can be manipulated by the party, since then the only reality will be subjective and in the mind of oneself. and with the Party's method of mind control, the Party has control of YOUR MIND. therefore, they have control of your reality.

this subtle point of the reality being subjective is quite interesting. it implies that reality is made up of just languages (the way you perceive the world) and media, since even your perception is temporal and with no objective record of your perception -- only through secondary media -- one is extremely vulnerable to a reality that is distorted.




 

Create Date : 28 เมษายน 2548    
Last Update : 28 เมษายน 2548 6:15:42 น.
Counter : 252 Pageviews.  

Book Review: American Psycho

American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis

"I'm into, oh, murders and executions mostly. It depends"
"Well, most of the guys I know who works in mergers and acquisitions don't really like it"

The opening quote is my favorite part of this book. As you might have guessed from the little excerpt, this book is about a wallstreet yuppie in the 80's named Patt Bateman who is actually a serial killer. This book has been made into a movie of the same name, one that I have watched prior to reading this book and enjoyed deeply, hence I read the book to see how it is. The movie is a thriller but the book is more of a dark humoured satire than a thriller. They are really not alike at all. I'd recommend watching the movie first though, since it is more coherent and more 'meaningful' but the book is more explicit in its violence but at the same time the protayal of the 80's yuppie life is more articulate. Anyway, i will review the book here and obviously there will be spoilers.

The book is told from a first person perspective by Patt Bateman, a successful Wallstreet yuppie working with Pierce & Pierce (fictional M&A house in Wall Street). He counters his bland, consumeristic, and totally narcisstic and self-absorbed life-style by killing girls and homeless people. He is the epitome of the yuppie lifestyle: no religion, no values, no meaning, just MONEY and BRAND NAMES in substitute for any sense of feelings or morality.

The book is very well-written. It has many enjoyable touches that sends the message of the book out very strongly. For example, individuals in this book is not described by how they look, but they are descibed by the BRAND OF CLOTHINGS they sport. There are seemingly random chapters that are monologues by Bateman describing the 80's artists like Whitney Houston and Genesis. Also, he likes to watch the Patty Winters Show (an oprah-esque talk show). These touches give the book a very pop-culture feel.

The book starts out by showing Bateman as a relatively sane and successful individual, albeit self-absorbed, but we gradually discover that he is not really normal.

HOWEVER, one thing that pisses me off slightly is that the book misprotrays the life of an investment banker. all that bateman does in the movie is going to dinners, lunches, and snorting coke. IN REAL LIFE investment bankers work 100+ hours a week, so it is obviously protraying a luxurious illusion to the readers of the life in wall street.

another thing is that violence is used to great effect in the book. when i say violence, i DO MEAN serious violence. in one of the scenes a girl is killed by having a starving rat inserted into her vagina via a tube and was eaten from the inside. BUT the degree of violence in the book is justified. the effect of such violence is to numb the audience and to stress the pointlessness of life in general. bateman's cold-hearted murders treat humans as worthless lump of flesh -- but is there not some truth in that? especially in a society where people are mere clones of each other, where do we draw the line between true individuals and mere clones living out the drawn-out bland suffering that one calls life?

it is in this respect that the theme of the book is most forceful. it forces us to think of our lives and the question i find most profounding from the book is this: What is the point of living in such an empty and meaningless world? being a wall street (or at least the City) wannabe myself, i DO sympathise with him. with that amount of money and success, he can afford to look down on the world from a perspective of someone who has everything. it is then easy to see that the struggles of our everday life is just so damn futile.

you study to get into a good university, get a good internship, then you struggle to get a good job, then you go off to business school, then you get a job as an associate, work for a few years, if you are good you get promoted into VP's and up, or else you go into industry or retire and do something a person in a mid-life crisis would do like travel around the world or start an ice cream shop, you have a family, and then you die.

a happy life, maybe, but an ultimately empty one. true, you can say you have lived life to the fullest, but through all that it is still meaningless in the grand scale of thing.

that is why perhaps people who have to 'struggle' even in a life as meaningless as one protrayed in the book is actually more lucky. if you have everything, then there is less to occupy your existence.

but what is more important, although perhaps more soap-ish, is that LOVE is important. bateman keeps saying he wants to be loved, though unluckily in a dog-eat-dog society like ours, there is no such thing as love. yet, perhaps this is the only positive message from the movie, we feel that IF ONLY bateman is given real love, if someone sincere were to reach out and touch him, he would be able to become humane again. and that is an important message to us all -- in a society like this, we have to not forget who we are, and we have to SYMPATHISE with others.

like hume said, sympathy is our most fundamental virtue, and is indeed the core of our morality. although we are living in the world that is increasingly unsympathetic, and in an age where worthlessness is measured in currency not decency, it is all the more important to realise importance of sympathy. PERSONALLY I'M NOT A WISHYWASHY SENTIMENTAL PERSON, but this really is important or else you will turn into heartless bastards (may be not to bateman's degree). also, at least, after feeling a bit empty initially from reading the novel, it made me feel a bit better that i could not secure a job in the City. there's more to live than that!

anyway, the book is highly recommended, especially for young professionals. the movie is also VERY GOOD, although the story is SEVERELY DISTORTED from the book, although the movie is more coherent and easier to understand/appreciate. recommended reading for bankers wannabe (below Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis). to keep yourselves focusing on what's real.

ps. do i have a tendency to be a serial killer if i sympathised with bateman!??!




 

Create Date : 12 เมษายน 2548    
Last Update : 12 เมษายน 2548 15:37:38 น.
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