A wintry mix, musical Mormons, and Wall Street wolves

by Rob Tiller

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It started to snow and sleet in Raleigh around noon Wednesday, and Red Hat and many other businesses shut down that afternoon. There were many who got stuck on the road and lost power, but I was able to walk home, which was cozy and warm. The next morning Larisa couldn’t make it to our personal training session, so I worked out in the little gym on our building’s top floor. Just after sunrise, I got some pictures of clouds and ice.
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It was windy and cold, and the sidewalks were icy, when I walked to work on Thursday. The office was officially closed. It was pleasant to have some uninterrupted time to think, read, and write. I worked on an amicus brief for the Supreme Court concerning a complex legal and social problem, and felt the flow. I’d been scheduled to do a speaking engagement for the NC Bar on Thursday afternoon, but this was cancelled on account of weather, so I could make some good progress on the brief.
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On Friday we went to see the musical The Book of Mormon in Durham. Diane, my mother-in-law, generously treated us to the seats. I was glad to see the show, which had some good laughs. But the things I thought were good were mostly in the dialog and lyrics. The music was almost willfully unoriginal. At its best, it sounded like a really good commercial for a new Ford. But I will say the soaring anthem, I am a Mormon (and a Mormon just believes) is, however derivative, a truly clever, and sort of moving, hoot.

I expected to feel a little guilty for being complicit in making fun of a minority religion, especially when there are people who I really like and respect who subscribe to it. But the Mormons actually come off as mostly likeable, responsible, and with high ideals, and with the same problems as everybody else. Of course, the doctrine seems bizarre to non-believers. But a lot of the barbs could easily be read as aimed at religion in general.
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There was an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio in the Saturday NY Times about The Wolf of Wall Street, which we saw last weekend. While I didn’t think it was a movie for the ages, and did think it was too long, I also found myself thinking about it through the week which means it touched something.

The subject matter is the rise and fall of a penny stock boiler room fraudster, and the atmosphere is one of extreme excess – the biggest mansion, biggest yacht, most exotic cars, most beautiful prostitutes, and lots and lots of cocaine. LD is in almost every scene, and holds our interest, as a character with incredible drive and confidence, and an absolute indifference to the plight of the people he’s exploiting. He’s addicted, not only to drugs, but even more to money. He’s sick, but also recognizably human.

I suspected, and the interview tended to confirm, that Scorsese and DiCaprio viewed the penny stock king as emblematic of the more-difficult-to-dramatize Wall Street shenanigans of the mid-2000s leading up to the crash of 2008. Of course, pure stock fraud and financial engineering + speculation aren’t the same thing, but they both run on greed and require similar heedlessness and indifference to others.
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