Friday, June 29

The law of contradictions

What me boss said

As we rebuild the regulatory system we need to be wary of two traps — firstly, we should also be wary of using the phrase ‘never again’ — if we learn anything from history it is that we are destined to repeat mistakes whenever we believe that we have solved definitively the cause of the most recent crisis. Secondly, we have to avoid being over-prescriptive, as we cannot foresee every possible scenario.

These traps are seductive, pandering to the basic human desire for there to be meaning in life, for there to be some kind of order to show that fate is not capricious — ie, somehow we all get what we deserve. Indeed, it is a core objective of both political and economic systems to promote a comforting perception of predictability. Ever more today, society does not want to acknowledge unpredictability, particularly around economic outcomes — we want to believe an unwelcome outcome is the cause of failings that need both to be compensated and cause revisions to be made to the system to reinforce predictability and so restore confidence in the future.

This leads us to seek out definitive solutions to identified problems. But just because a solution is demanded of course does not mean there is a soluble problem. Many commentators would make this observation about the eurozone today. If only it were as simple as moving a toggle switch between ‘austerity’ and ‘growth’.

And there are many such conflicts challenging the restoration of growth:

· We want stability as well as growth, we promote economic growth as well as fiscal austerity;

· We want banks to lend more and also grow capital both in absolute and ratio terms;

· We want the banking system to have access to private capital at the same time as we debate the future shape and capitalization of its activities and restrain dividends;

· We want to see more competition in financial services but we don’t want to see the higher returns that would attract external private capital;

· We want to see fewer interdependencies without losing the benefits of scale;

· We continue to incent the banking system to lend ever more to governments and then agonise what happens if the same governments don’t/can’t pay;

· We want the system to respect market signals but then we don’t like what ratings agencies say;

· We want greater transparency but fret about how immediately markets react to events not yet able to be responded to a policy level;

· And finally, while we have made great strides in defining what we don’t want the system to do we have made less progress in determining what we want the system to look like when we are finished.

We continue to pose important questions which underpin many of the challenges in getting the financial system back to business as usual.

· For example; are there gaps in coverage? Shadow banking?

· Is the aggregate of all the measures both complete and in train duplicative or reinforcing? Who is responsible for ensuring this?

· Is there coherence between banking, insurance, pension fund and asset management regulation? Again whose responsibility is it to check this?

· Is there market capacity for the capital raising and funding assumptions being made?

· Does the understandable focus of national fiscal authorities towards limiting their contingent risk to domestic deposit bases risk unwinding many of the elements of globalisation of economic activity?

· If fiscal authorities don’t want the contingent risk of the banking system does anyone else and at what price?

· If a consequence is to unwind globalisation to some degree and establish a ‘home market’ bias — does this impact the availability and cost of financial services delivered to multinational groups?

· Does this change the competitive landscape between companies domiciled in Europe versus the US versus Asia? Does this matter?

· Does the public policy concern over systemically important institutions create a greater probability of stability because of their higher capital requirements and supervision or does it further concentrate activity into these institutions because of their elevated status; current experience suggests that in times of great uncertainty customers prefer the largest institutions.

· Does prospective bail-in of creditors change positively the probability of a future bank failure because of greater market led discipline or does it simply reallocate systemic losses away from the future income of society (through taxation) towards society’s current and future savings (via insurance and pension funds) — and if so have we deceived ourselves that we have achieved very much?

· And finally, is there too much focus on products, platforms, infrastructure, capital and liquidity because they can be defined and measured as opposed to focussing on behaviour which is much more difficult to pin down objectively?”

Thursday, June 28

Do not mess with Finland

I found this interesting because I had read about the best sniper in the world who operated in this war. He popped off 505 Soviet Soldiers, in 100 days, during a time when the hours of daylight were very small, using a basic rifle and NO telescopic sight. Fascinating. There is an updated factoid here.

Stalin had eviscerated the Red Army and the result was rather predictable. (Despite the presence of Zhukov, but that’s a post for another day)


Dont also forget that Finland then threw its lot in with Germany to regain its lands in the continuation war and then in World War II. Complicated stuff.

That said, PISA tells you that Finland is usually the best in the world in education. Go figure. What an amazing country.

Wednesday, June 27

My role model

John send this story to me asking if I was looking at him as my role model? lol, (my dad has a large number of qualifications as well..).


Every June, students all over the country don their caps and gowns for graduation. Whether it's from high school, college or graduate school, most people could easily count their own graduations on one hand.

But not 71-year-old Michael Nicholson of Kalamazoo, Mich.Nicholson has earned 29 degrees and is now pursuing his 30th.

"I just stayed in school and took menial jobs to pay for the education and just made a point of getting more degrees and eventually I retired so that I could go full-time to school," Nicholson told

"It's stimulation to go to the class, look at the material that's required and meet the teacher and students. It makes life interesting for me," he said. "Otherwise, things would be pretty dull."

Nicholson has one bachelor's degree, two associate's degrees, 22 master's degrees, three specialist degrees and one doctoral degree.

Most of the degrees are related to education such as educational leadership, library science and school psychology, but other degrees include home economics, health education and law enforcement.

Nicholson is currently working on a master's degree in criminal justice.

"I would like to get to 33 or 34. I'm almost there," he said. "When I complete that, I'll feel like I've completed my basic education. After that, if I'm still alive -- that would take me to 80 or 81 -- I would then be free to pursue any type of degree."

Nicholson's early interest in education came from the encouragement of his parents, who wanted him to be well-educated. His Canadian father was forced to drop out of school after the third grade to work and his mother graduated from high school.

"We were motivated to continue with our educations and go as far as we could go," he said of himself and his siblings. "She [his mother] wanted something better for us than simply working at a factory, so she kept doing the necessary for us to continue."

Nicholson's first degree was a bachelor's in religious education from William Tyndale College in Michigan in 1963.

Five degrees later, he was pursuing his doctorate in education from Western Michigan University in 1978.

While pursuing the doctorate, he met Western Michigan University Professor Tom Careywhen Nicholson was working as a parking lot attendant writing tickets for the university. He wrote Carey three tickets in one day and the two have now known each other for 35 years.

"I've had 18,000 students in class and I've never heard of anybody like this," Carey told "He's the ultimate life-long learner. I marvel at his tenacity to go to school."

Nicholson has earned all of his degrees; none of them have been honorary or awarded degrees. Though Carey was never Nicholson's professor, the two meet at least once a year for Nicholson to give Carey an updated resume, which he shows students in his classes.

"He's intrinsically motivated. It's unique, but it almost sounds bizarre," Carey said. "Some people collect animals and he collects tassels."

And collect tassels he does. Nicholson has been to 28 of his 29 graduation ceremonies.

What does he enjoy about the graduation ceremonies? "Just the pomp and circumstance. ... I could do without the speeches," he said with a laugh.

"Eventually, it became getting as many as I could," he said. "There's the excitement of graduation, but the overall objective was to get the degree."

He has earned degrees from a dozen schools in places including Michigan, Texas, Indiana and Canada, and he always goes to class.

"I would not take an Internet class. That's far too difficult," Nicholson said. "I'm not one of those all-A students."

He still works on a typewriter and his wife Sharon Nicholson helps him type up his assignments. His wife is highly educated in her own right, with seven degrees of her own.

"She helps me with my homework all the time," he said. "I cannot function on a computer, so she has to do it."

When asked what advice he would give to recent graduates, Nicholson paused before saying, "Don't quit too soon. Keep up with your aspirations. A lot of people tend to throw in the towel and have to come back to it later. Don't give up on your aspirations too soon."

And the admittedly competitive Nicholson has no plans to give up on his own aspirations, hinting that he has his eye on a few more degrees in the next few years.

"He likes going to school and doesn't want responsibility," Carey said. "This is what Mike lives for. He's about 70 and he's not going to stop. It wouldn't surprise me if at one point he tried law school or something else."

Tuesday, June 26

Heart of Dark Chocolate

An interesting story son. About chocolates no less. People can get very precious about chocolate. And with good reason. I've tasted these European chocolates. They are totally different from the mars and snickers that you might have tasted. 

I think we have a piece of Venezuelan chocolate at home. Anyway the other interesting piece is to read about how these non profit organisations screw up the local economy therefore proving that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As I've said before son, be very careful about charities and NGO's specially with your money. 

One day we will go to the amazon :) 



Monday, June 25

The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami

An interesting article about a Japanese writer son. And no I haven't read him but will put him on my to be read pile. But that's not the reason I'm sending this to you. It's to give you an idea of Japan. 

Most countries that I have visited are open to the world. But out of the 60 or so countries that I have visited, Japan is perhaps one of the most insular in the world. It's an extraordinarily polite society. The taxi drivers or others do not take tips. It's violently clean. Seriously totally extraordinarily clean. Everything is clean, roads, garbage bins, loos, you name it. 

And because of its insularity, the culture is strange. It's like another planet. Art, language, paintings, sex, working, hair styles, tv etc etc have evolved just enough to make you feel amazed and confused slightly. It's like going to Australia and observing its natural history. Because of its distance and remoteness from any other landmass, animals and plants in Australia have evolved differently. Same with Japan. 

Food there is exquisite in terms of fish and beef and and but avoid their curry, it's like warmed over puke. They are so stoic but are capable of extraordinary sensitivity and brutality. Their music is quite different and their plays are also amazingly different from the usual ones you might see here in London. It's like they have a very placid, very thick, very deep cover which makes them very phlegmatic but underneath its a swirling writhing mass of molten lava like emotions. For a bong whose emotions and feelings are on my face and surface without any control, it was amazing to experience Japan. 

But there is one thing which I learnt from them son, and is to love nature as they do. I'll try to explain it. You know I keep on saying that something spoke to me? For me, the best experiences in my life have been when something speaks to me without using words. A little church in Athens, the vivekananda rock, saqqara, edge of the world in Riyadh, the woods up in grimsdike in stanmore, some places in lake district, etc etc. 

The reason is that one has to quieten yourself to listen to what nature is telling you. If you go to Japan, or be with Japanese, you might learn this. Quieten yourself. Stay silent and then watch the mountains, a cloud, a little brook, a beautiful tree, a lovely sculpture, an old book. Whatever son. See inside and you will see the beauty around you. 

You may want to look at the Japanese movies we have, they are a good start. 




btw, here is an interesting item which lists the things that people find surprising about Japan.

1. The trains actually come on time
2. The fruit is really delicious (There’s a lot of cross breeding)
3. The bread at 7-11 is really good
4. Taxi doors open automatically
5. The high likelihood of lost items being returned to you
6. Everyone eats KFC for Christmas dinner
7. There are vending machines absolutely everywhere
8. You can buy alcohol and tobacco from those ubiquitous vending machines
9. The
Washlet bidets
10. You can drink water from the tap
11. The tea isn’t sweetened
12. You can smoke in restaurants
13. There are free samples at the supermarket
14. There are tolls on the highways
15. You can find absolute masterpieces of pastry at cake shops
16. The confusing, complex layout of Tokyo
17. The buttons to summon a waiter at family-style restaurants
18. Touch-screen menus at bars and restaurants
19. There are holes in the 5 and 50 yen coins
20. People hand out free packets of tissues on the street
21. The quality and selection at 100 yen shops
22. Japanese people really like Yahoo!
23. GPS is automatically included in rental cars
24. You can leave a bag to save your seat and no one will steal it
25. A small-size drink is actually quite small
26. There are power lines all over the place
27. People politely line up to wait for the train
28. Heated toilet seats
29. The high price of movie tickets
30. There are pachinko parlors everywhere
31. The skill used in wrapping gifts and other purchases
32. The multi-story parking garages
33. The ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) system on the highways
34. There are hot springs just for your feet
35. There are women-only cars on the trains
36. The love hotels
37. Cigarettes are really cheap
38. It’s so safe you can go walking around in the middle of the night with no problem
39. Japanese squat-style toilets
40. The incredible variety of KitKat flavors
41. There are still elevator girls who operate the elevator for you
42. The packets of condiments that you can easily open with one hand
43. Capsule hotels
44. The
lucky bags sold at New Years
45. The rooms at business hotels are tiny.
46. The foreign guys dating beautiful Japanese girls are often ugly

And the 25 things which will blow your mind.

Sunday, June 24

The Archbishop should really step out

The archbishop of Canterbury apparently has defined the entire concept of Big Society as Aspirational Waffle. Nothing wrong in aspiration, but for him to say its waffle is extremely rich. He says

"Introduced in the run-up to the last election as a major political idea for the coming generation, [the Big Society] has suffered from a lack of definition about the means by which such ideals can be realised.

"Big society rhetoric is all too often heard by many therefore as aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable."

He went on to say that if the Big Society is "anything better than a slogan looking increasingly threadbare as we look at our society reeling under the impact of public spending cuts, then discussion on this subject has got to take on board some of those issues about what it is to be a citizen and where it is that we most deeply and helpfully acquire the resources of civic identity and dignity".

It works, take for example the work which we do at HSH. We have some public sector funding, we have some private sector funding, we mix that with about 40-60 volunteers, with 2.5 FTE’s, 6 trustees and we help about 100 families per year. Each child which goes into care costs up to £50k, and we end up saving a ton more than just one. So we are saving a shed load of money, we are showing volunteering, our volunteers use this opportunity to learn to get back into work and it is a win win all over the place.

Withdrawal of the state? What on earth is this man talking about? Stick to your platitudes mate, leave the real work to people are actually doing something in the real life. JESUS (and yes, pun intended).