31st December 2011: John Lewis Gaddis on Grand Strategy


I’m reading John Lewis Gaddis’s biography George Kennan: An American Life (New York: Penguin USA, 2011) at the moment.


Gaddis is an expert on the Cold War and grand strategy: the coordinated use of a country’s diplomatic, informational, military and economic resources to achieve national aims. In this lecture at Princeton University on 30th April 2009, Gaddis explains what grand strategy is; the origins of Yale University’s grand strategy program (information and 2010 syllabus here); and considers the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s expansion as a case study. You can read the talk’s transcript here.


Yale’s grand strategy program has three strands. Classics involves immersion into the Western canon of Thucydides, Publius, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Kant, Metternich, Churchill, Hitler and Reagan, and Eastern philosophers such as Sun Tzu. An Odyssey internship provides a praxis in metic intelligence and decision-making. Finally, the Responsibilities semester considers the contemporary grand strategies of Fukuyama, Huntington, and Zakaria; provides student-driven Marshall briefings on contemporary issues; and a crisis simulation exercise.

31st December 2011: Trading Books

Market Wizards: Interviews With Top Traders by Jack D. Schwager (Columbia, MD: Marketplace Books, 2006). (TS-3). Schwager’s interviews are frequently at the top of professional traders’ recommended reading lists for their insights into the personalities, backgrounds, decisions and different strategies of traders. Schwager’s follow-up books The New Market Wizards (Columbia, MD: Marketplace Books, 2008) and Stock Market Wizards (Columbia, MD: Marketplace Books, 2008) feature further informative interviews with different groups of traders. Useful for comparison with Brandt, Einhorn, Lewis, and Mallaby below.


The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (New York: Penguin Books, 2010). (TS-3). Lewis (Liars’ Poker, Moneyball) profiles the Wall Street analysts and hedge fund traders who foresaw the 2007-09 global financial crisis: Steve Eisman, Mike Burry, Greg Lippman, Charlie Ledley, Ben Hocket, John Paulson and others. The Big Short how credit default swaps and other synthetics of financial engineering were created. Lewis exemplifies how ‘contrarian’ traders think and make trading decisions about financial markets: there is enough journalistic reportage in this book to actually model the trading strategies. For details of J.P. Morgan’s creation of collateralised debt obligations see Gillian Tett’s Fool’s Gold (Little, Brown, New York, 2009). For details of John Paulson’s ‘Soros trade’ see Gregory Zuckerman’s The Greatest Trade Ever (Penguin Books, London, 2009). For the best account of the negotiations behind the 2007-09 global financial crisis, see Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail (Viking, New York, 2009). For further analysis of the business cycle implications, see Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm’s Crisis Economics (The Penguin Press, New York, 2010).


More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite by Sebastian Mallaby (London: Bloomsbury PLC, 2010). (TS-3). Mallaby’s history of hedge funds – financial vehicles that enable pooled investors to speculate on stock-markets – has interviews and historical details which are unavailable elsewhere. More Money Than God explores how hedge funds have evolved over the past four decades, from journalist Alfred Winslow to philanthropy. There are interviews with George Soros, Julian Robertson, Bruce Kovner, Paul Tudor Jones, John Paulson, and details of David E. Shaw’s firm D.E. Shaw and James Simons’ Renaissance Technologies: two ultra-secretive quantitative hedge funds. As with Jack D. Schwager’s series on traders, this is an invaluable book for understanding how hedge funds actually work and the motivations of their founders. For some of the best academic research (and influenced by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series) see Andrew Lo’s Hedge Funds: An Analytic Perspective (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2010). For a comparison with ratings agencies, see Timothy J. Sinclair’s The New Masters of Capital (Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY, 2008).


Fooling Some of the People All of the Time: A Long Short (And Now Complete) Story by David Einhorn (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011). (TS-4). In 2002, hedge fund manager David Einhorn gave a speech advising investors to ‘short’ Allied Capital. Einhorn’s talk triggered a criminal investigation and maneuvers between Einhorn and Allied Capital. This book can be read as an investigation of corporate governance issues that foreshadowed the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Its primary value lies in revealing the research methods and decisions that a successful value-oriented fund manager uses; the accounting tricks that firms use; and how Kahneman’s biases and heuristics can influence hostile situations. If you want to understand the basics of corporate finance, valuation and fundamental analysis then see the McKinsey model in Tim Koller, Richard Dobbs, and Bill Huyett’s Value: The Four Cornerstones of Corporate Finance (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2010).


Diary of a Professional Commodity Trader: Lessons from 21 Weeks of Real Trading by Peter L. Brandt (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011). (TS-4). Most trading books feature post facto selections of trade examples and market timing. Brandt’s diaries and technical analysis charts convey how difficult trading actually is; the importance of risk and money management; and the struggles to deal with Kahneman’s biases and heuristics. This book dispels the myths of day-trading success and much of the publishing books that Wiley Finance, McGraw-Hill and other publishers release.


Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011). (TS-1). Kahneman (awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics) and his late colleague Amos Tversky pioneered the study of psychological biases and decision heuristics. Kahneman distinguishes between System 1 (fast, emotional) and System 2 (slower, methodical, logical), and how these different cognitive systems affect us. An excellent primer on how to think, reason, and decide more effectively, which makes accessible over four decades of Nobel Prize-winning research. Effective trading is about making reasoned decisions in a fast, volatile environment. For an example of how event risk and volatility can affect decision-making and financial models, see Roger Lowenstein’s When Genius Failed (Fourth Estate, London, 2002) on the 1998 collapse of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management.


Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment by David Swensen (New York: The Free Press, 2005). (TS-3). Swensen is the successful investment manager with Yale University’s endowment fund. Unconventional Success distills his insights on the investment process; how to develop an investment portfolio; the different asset classes; and the role of asset allocation over market timing (trading). Swensen — like John C. Bogle (founder of The Vanguard Group), Burton G. Malkiel (A Random Walk Down Wall Street), and others — recommends that you put most of your money into a low-cost index fund like Vanguard or Dimensional Fund Advisers. Swensen’s companion book Pioneering Portfolio Management (The Free Press, New York, 2009) deals with active managers in an institutional funds context. If you want to understand the institutional money management approach, see Richard C. Grinold and Ronald N. Kahn’s Active Portfolio Management (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1999) for quantitative and risk management processes, and Antii Ilmanen’s Expected Returns (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2011) for asset allocation decisions.


The Predators’ Ball by Connie Bruck (New York: Penguin USA, 1989). (TS-3). In the 1980s high-yield or junk bonds led to a mergers and acquisitions bubble. Bruck profiles junk bonds trader and market creator Michael Milken (now a philanthropist) and the major deals that his firm Drexel Burnham Lambert financially engineered. The Predators’ Ball has substantive insights and journalistic reportage on Milken’s thinking and strategies, similar to Lewis (The Big Short) and Mallaby (More Money Than God). This period is also covered in the Adam Curtis documentary The Mayfair Set (1999). This is a cautionary tale of ethics and power: Milken essentially created and monopolized the junk bond market but acted unethically and was involved in the Ivan Boesky scandal. The epochal RJR Nabisco deal is covered in Bryan Burrough and John Helyar’s influential Barbarians At The Gate (Collins Business, London, 2008). For a comparison of Drexel Burnham Lambert with the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts see George P. Baker and George David Smith’s The New Financial Capitalists (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1998).


Inside Job (Sony Classics, 2010). (TS-3). Charles Ferguson’s Academy Award-winning documentary dissects the 2007-09 global financial crisis and its roots in a housing speculative bubble, the failure to regulate derivatives markets, and a ‘winner takes all’ trading culture. Features interviews with George Soros, Nouriel Roubini, Raj Rajaratnam, and others that summarise complex issues.


Million Dollar Traders (BBC2, 2009). (TS-3). European hedge fund manager Lex Van Dam and ex-trader Anton Kreil supervise 8 novices who run a hedge fund in London’s Cass Business School for two months. Several weeks into the project, the 2007-09 global financial crisis begins, and each trader reacts in different ways. Interesting for its use of simulation learning, event arbitrage and how the various personalities deal (or don’t) with stressful situations and uncertain decision-making. In one sequence, the cameras reveal that Kreil is having instant chat messages with outsiders using a producer’s account: Van Dam may actually be trading against the novices.


The Mayfair Set (BBC, 1999). (TS-3). Adam Curtis (The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, The Trap, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace) profiles a group of entrepreneurs associated with London’s Clermont Club, including Jim Slater, James Goldsmith and Tiny Rowland. The Mayfair Set documents their stock-market deals and internecine fighting from the late 1950s to the 1980s mergers and acquisitions bubble in the United States. Curtis links together fears about national sovereignty, business cycles, financial innovation, media battles, and luck. Jim Slater’s Return To Go: My Autobiography (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1977) recounts the Slater Walker years whilst Geoffrey Wansell’s Tycoon: The Life of James Goldsmith (Grafton, London, 1987) is an insightful, semi-authorised account of how Goldsmith pioneered mergers and acquisitions raids and asset management techniques.

24th December 2011: Journal of Financial Markets: Observations

Last night, I read articles from the 2007-2012 issues of the Journal of Financial Markets (Elsevier). I check-in with this academic research to keep abreast of developments in market microstructure, trading mechanisms, and institutional trading strategies.

Some of the academic research findings I noted:


• Growth managers are momentum traders.

• Style neutral and value managers are contrarian traders.

• Trades with high price impact – medium sized orders, large trading volume, trade early in morning.

• Limited capital – traders tend to use momentum and value strategies.

• Morning losses for day-traders – afternoon selling trades – attempt to meet daily price targets.

• Psychological biases lead to correlated trading of individual investors – buy stocks with strong recent performance (momentum); refrain from selling stocks held for a loss; and net buyers of stocks with highly unusual trading volumes.

23rd December 2011: Holiday Reading

My holiday reading for late December 2011 and the first week of January 2012:


1. George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011).  I’ll need a few weeks to get through this masterful biography of the foreign affairs maven who conceived of Cold War containment. It took Gaddis almost 30 years to research and write this authorised book, based on archives and extensive interviews.


2. A bunch of private equity books for a planned journal article on the EMI-Terra Firma Capital Partners deal.


3. Aum Shinrikyo chapter notes for the PhD — hope to have a draft for the PhD committee by mid January.


4. Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Publishers, 2008) for a new project.

22nd December 2011: The Nihonbashi Working

The Nihonbashi Working

2:30-3:30pm, Tuesday 11th October 2011
Tokyo Stock Exchange building and TOPIX computer system area, Nihonbashi, Tokyo: http://www.tse.or.jp/english/


Preparation material: Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Milm’s Crisis Economics (on speculative bubbles); Rishi K. Narang’s Inside the Black Box  and Brian Brown’s Chasing The Same Signals (on quantitative trading); Sebastian Mallaby’s More Money Than God (on hedge funds); Joel Hasbrouck’s Empirical Market Microstructure (on market microstructure); Connie Bruck’s The Predators’ Ball (on Drexel Burnham Lambert and Michael Milken’s junk/high yield bonds); and ThomsonReuters’ Datastream and Sirca database services. I took Bruck’s book with me on the subway ride to the TSE.



(i) Reflection on a personal ‘lost decade’ and prospective plans for self-sufficiency as defined in Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the LHP
(ii) Consideration of the initial period of the Mammon Project
(iii) Illustrative working to understand the TSE, in particular the TOPIX supercomputer system, and Bloomberg and ThomsonReuters services


Nihonbashi’s power lies in the longevity of financial institutions and an evolving trading environment, in which computer algorithms, high frequency trading and machine learning shape financial markets rather than individual investors. Milken had two pivotal insights: (i) how to actively use academic research on junk/high yield bonds for trading opportunities and monopoly market creation; and (ii) how to structure and fund an autonomous organisation (with unethical consequences due to lack of corporate governance controls and effective institutional oversight). Bloomberg and ThomsonReuters illustrate the market-making role of information intermediaries.


The late 1980s stock and property bubble, and S&P and Moody’s downgrade of Victorian state government debt in October 1992 influenced my family’s finances, whilst the April 2000 dotcom crash curtailed plans to move to the United States. The ‘Black Swan’ cascade events of March-April 1998 were due to a failure to risk hedge publishing contracts, and to an unawareness of money management techniques. The demise of REVelation and 21C magazines; and the internal battles within The Disinformation Company Ltd, the Australian Foresight Institute at Swinburne University and the Smart Internet Technology CRC were due to different combinations of managerial principal-agent conflicts, moral hazard, exogenous shocks to funding, and a lack of institutional controls to prevent conflicts. Each organisation had some initial success; each also endured significant problems. The personal effect of this was to re-experience over a decade from 1998 to 2007 the rise and fall of several institutions in which I had made a significant time and personal investment. These experiences led to personal post-mortems also on the 1998 collapse of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management; the 1990s dotcom bubble; and DARPA’s plans for a terrorism futures market.


In the TSE, I resolved to develop a private, low-key, personal vehicle for long-term self-sufficiency, drawing on insights from active management, event-based arbitrage, tick data analysis of market trading and volatility, and money management. The ‘lost decade’ was reframed as an exploratory period required to build the knowledge base for the personal vehicle. The personal vehicle’s agenda then is to consolidate this exploratory period in practice, and build the personal resilience to avoid potential crises that could arise over the next 10-15 years.

19th December 2011: Kim Jong-il’s Death

The New York Times reports North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack on 17th December 2011.

My 2006 Masters thesis was on North Korea’s covert nuclear weapons program (PDF). I found Kim Jong-il to be a shrewd, rational negotiator able to mobilise national myths (including the Juche philosophy).

I gathered half a bookshelf of North Korea-relevant titles during background research for the project. The Kim Jong-il titles include Michael Breen’s Kim Jong-il: North Korea’s Dear Leader (John Wiley & Sons, Singapore, 2004) and Bradley K. Martin’s Under The Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2004).

On leadership profiling, see the work of George Washington University’s Jerrold M. Post.


10th December 2011: Google Scholar Update

A few weeks ago I mentioned Google Scholar’s personal profiles (here) and that I was reconstructing the Disinformation articles and dossiers I did in 1998-2003 (here).

Whilst there are still some problems with the 1999-2000 and 2002-2003 periods, I’ve now integrated this material into my Google Scholar citation profile (here). Next is putting this material into my Publications list (PDF).

In retrospect, 2000 and 2001 were very productive years of writing.

10th December 2011: Academic Publications ‘In Development’ List 2012-2014

For those of you interested, my Academic Publications list (PDF) now has an ‘In Development’ list, covering academic journal articles I am working on, for 2012-2014.

It’s like an IMDB list of future projects — for academics rather than film producers. These are relatively certain projects — I have a separate list of drafts that are still in development hell.

The articles include topics in creative industries, counter-terrorism, and foresight/futures studies. Ben Eltham (bio) and Stephen McGrail (bio) are two collaborators.

Several are in draft form and available for peer review — just drop me an email.

8th December 2011: Follow-up Stories

Roy Christopher mentions a 2009 conference paper (PDF) that Barry Saunders and I wrote on ‘quality media’ reputation.

At Disinformation, daily site traffic in 1999-2003 averaged around 18,000-30,000 unique visitors per weekday with a spike during lunch hour. We got high hits from places like Eugene, Oregon, and the Middle East. The traffic averaged around 40,000-50,000 unique visitors when Richard Metzger hosted Disinfo Nation for Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. Disinformation’s archive captures this 1998-2003 era material, including experiments with event-based coverage that I wrote-up in 2002 for Swinburne University’s strategic foresight program (PDF). However, by 2006, people wanted more YouTube-like video content rather than articles or dossiers. Even 600-word pieces were too long for some people. In 2007, publisher Gary Baddeley moved the site to its current user-generated version. The same year, I did laboratory-based usability training and began to see what Christopher notes about eye patterns and ‘scanning’ sites.

As Christopher observed to me in a 6th December 2011 email: “Disinformation always did a good job of including the extra links, and I think for the era, that was good. I don’t find that people click on a lot of links from my site. I think it’s a bygone era. I said it in one piece: “We don’t surf the web so much as we just sit back and watch the waves.” People just don’t “surf” like they used to.”

This makes me nostalgic for Gopher and the old alt. newsgroups I used to surf in 1993-94.

For longer stories, there’s always Longform.org and my personal archive.