The Cosmopolis Effect


I had high hopes for Don DeLillo’s novel and David Cronenberg’s film adaptation Cosmopolis. On 30th October 2012, I wrote Australian publisher/editor Ashley Crawford the following reflection:


I finally finished DeLillo’s Cosmopolis last night. It has three problems: background research; the characters; and the final narrative arc (a weakness in Point Omega, too). I’ve not yet seen Cronenberg’s film.

DeLillo had a potentially interesting story idea. Eric Packer’s rise-and-fall was very much like how Victor Niederhoffer ‘blew up‘. Packer like Niederhoffer is interested in how abstract systems can be used to chart financial markets using technical analysis. Apart from Niederhoffer the real life equivalent to this was probably Richard D. Wyckoff who had a model based on Pythagorean geometry. But DeLillo’s trader — like the defence intellectual in Point Omega — is a media stereotype. Real traders do use the Yen “carry trade” a lot and currency speculation is very popular in Japan — the Japanese magazines are more sophisticated than their US or Australian counterparts. But sophisticated traders wouldn’t necessarily make the money or risk management errors that Packer makes in the book that destroys his personal fortune (what about diversification, hedging market risks, and testing assumptions?).

This makes the characters a little unbelievable — they are there as style and to personify the moral points that DeLillo wants to make (which resonate more after the 2008 global financial crisis). They don’t really develop emotionally despite what happens in the plot. The characters around Eric Packer are like little portraits or set pieces that are incidental.

The final third of the book is a series of fairly disconnected scenes. The finale with the nemesis ex-employee had potential but seems half-realised.

Looking forward to reading White NoiseMao IILibra and Underworld.


This morning I read that Brazil’s Eike Batista has lost $US34.5 billion; and hedge fund manager Bill Ackman lost $US2 billion on his Herbalife and JC Penney trades. There’s also the FBI’s takedown of the alleged Dread Pirate Roberts and Silk Road black market. The DeLillo’s Cosmopolis still reads as a postmodernist idea of millionaire currency speculation rather than how good traders actually deal with market volatility. But maybe the Cosmopolis Effect — the fallout of self-destructive hubris, cognitive biases and decision heuristics — has crossed from DeLillo’s fiction into the financial elite. Risk on?

31st July 2012: Fixing

In the late 1990s, I used to discuss magazine redesigns with publisher/editor/journalist Ashley Crawford. I also got to interview designer Roger Black on his creative process. I kept this in mind when Disinformation went through several redesigns whilst I was site editor. Now, Josh Brown, John Standerfer, and Mebane Faber consider how 1990s trader site could be renewed. Brown focuses on the kind of editorial and content changes that I would discuss with Richard Metzger and Gary Baddeley at Disinformation. Faber notes the growth in financial and trader bloggers who challenge the late 1990s model of a site with editorial and writing staff. Standerfer distinguishes between three types of content developers: Reporters from media outlets; Observers who are like Faber’s bloggers; and Parrots who create ‘noise’ to drive advertising revenues and social media presence. (My preference is to combine the Reporters’ craft with the Observers’ accessible writing.)


It’s a good exchange that could apply to a lot of sites.

Polly Borland’s Untitled III

A few months ago publisher Ashley Crawford (of 21C and World Art fame) asked me to contribute to a Photofile Magazine roundtable about a mysterious bunny image.  I sent Ash a brief piece with in-joke references to the Discordianism movement, the horror author H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Adams’ novel Watership Down, intelligent design, and the 1977 hoax Alternative 3 (in Photofile #84, Summer 2008, p. 60).  It was a lot of fun.  The image turned out to be Polly Borland‘s Untitled III (2004-04), and private collector David Walsh now curates a billboard version in Melbourne, Australia.