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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Financial Banking and Trust

A Bank, otherwise known as A House of Ill-Repute

Here in Spain every country house has bars on the windows and super strong doors, plus a wall around the house, some with barbed wire along the top. This, in comparison with my own country where no house has bars, or even a fence. For the first ten years of my life we never locked our doors, in fact the door didn't have a lock. So, I was a little taken aback at so much security when I arrived in Spain. Once you entered the house, you had to take real good care that a fire didn't break out, because if you were not able to make it out through the door you would have been barred in, as happened on more than one occasion.

Finally, I asked why so much security just to protect the stove and refrigerator. I was told that it was the custom not to trust banks, so people kept their savings at home in caja fuertes, or safes built into the walls. Each house was a bank unto itself, but gradually people started placing their savings with bankers after home breakins rose to alarming rates. Those people knew something the rest of us didn't, and going to the bankers was a mistake.

In the old days banking was a relatively simple matter. Clients were encouraged to place their savings in the bank, for which they would earn annual interest of, say, 3%.  The banker would then carefully vet people who required loans, and they would lend your money at,say, 7%. The difference of four points was the bank's profit. There were other earning possibilities, but the one thing that the bank didn't do a lot of was lose their assets.  "Their assets" was actually yours and my own money. Through prudent management  our savings grew, and all was well with the world.

Then some bright spark got the idea that banks should expand their area of influence and start to dabble in investment opportunities with a little more flair and dash. One thing led to another, arriving at a situation where banks have holdings in all manner of situations, many of which were big earners as long as the market was going up, but when the bubble burst, had it not been for government intervention most banks standing today would be history.

There is at least one bank that I must place emphasis on. This well-known bank placed an incredible amount of money in the hands of Bernie Madoff, the prince of scoundrels who ran a pyramid scheme that collapsed, as collapse it was bound to do, taking with it the bank's money and and a large number of other greedy and stupid investors savings. I say greedy and stupid because if you are promised, or guaranteed, a return on your funds that is way out of line with a normal return, it will be too good to be true. Indidvuals who let their own greed get in the way of sound decisions is one thing, but a bloody bank has to know the difference between what is possible and what is a scam. I can tell you this, I would not have been taken in by this scam, because I have turned my back on a number of others, so how the hell did a bank get conned?

We are now hearing that a number of banks have lost money over the past years, some going back to 2008, including Lehman Bros that went to the wall. Three of the banks within which I diversified my small savings have had the following results: One came dangerously close to closing its doors and declaring bankruptcy. For those shareholders who held the bank's own shares, they are now worthless. Another has a hole in its accounts with losses of over 900 million euros, mainly due to real estate losses as the bottom fell out of the market; and the other has losses totalling 1,270 million euros due to real estate losses and just plain silly, and possibly malicious management decisions. The courts will decide.

The Spanish banking system is in such a mess, with possibly the worst to be discovered, that trust is gone. Unfortunately a lot of people's saving have gone along with trust, but still those bastards think they should be rewarded with ultra-high salaries and a freaking bonus!  Preachers are constantly telling us that if we do not conduct ourselves as good Christians we will go to hell. Well, I hope there is a special and dedicated hell for money managers who have brought so much misery upon the human race. Were I one of these creeps I certainly would not be handing out business cards that say  "Bank Manager" or "Money Manager." There is no honour in those occupations.

If there are any such people who are diligently trying to do a good job for their clients, and who believe in morality, I do apologise if anything I have said does upset you about your profession. I am a client and I have been given the impression that I have from all the public knowledge that is before us. I cannot be expected to believe that any of you have even a clue as to what you are doing.

One more thing: I personally have not actually lost any money because of banking losses. Yet!  Imagine if I had!

Copyright (c) 2012  Eugene Carmichael  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Men talk, Women Communicate!

Men and Women, together apart.

I'm on a roll thinking about the many differences between men and women, and this week the thought occurred to me of just how big a divide there is over something so very fundamental as talking. There was a time when I thought that men hardly have much to say at all, except perhaps on matters of business, sports and politics. However, while that may be true in America and Britain, nothing could be farther from the truth here in Spain.

I have observed Spanish men gathering in their favourite bar or cafe and chatting for hours over this and that. They seem to be compelled to seek out the company of others to "charla" over cigarettes and wine. It would appear to be part of the (wonderful) attitude of the Mediterranean  man to find the time to relax, enjoy the sun, a meal and a bottle of wine and family and friends. Two topics that are central to their interest are football and bullfighting, in equal order of importance. The local nightly news will often occupy twenty minutes, followed by football for thirty minutes.

The situation has been ramped up lately because in the Catalan region, after much talk, of course, the traditional bullfight has been dropped as a custom. I cannot give you a sense of the controversy this caused in the region, and throughout Spain, only to say that this is a huge topic and very divisive.

I think the mindset for men to gather and to talk socially is missing in America and Britain. Someone once said that if two of these men were to sail a yacht around the world together, apart from discussing shipboard matters they would likely not have anything else to say to one another. On the other hand, my friend Pepe is known to talk all the time, without pause. He seems to know a little about every topic under the sun, or at least he has an opinion, and if I were so foolish to lock myself in an airplane with him for a trans-Atlantic flight, he would talk going into the airport, all through the waiting period and the flight, and coming out of the airport on the other end.

Women, on the other hand are united as sisters around the world in that they use the ability of speech to bond together as men never have. I admire the ease with which women communicate with one another with none of the hang-ups that men have. It starts when two women meet and they find things to just love about what the other person is wearing.

From there the conversation could flow easily in any direction, including about things of a business nature, to politics, to family problems and children; home problems, dealing through the financial crisis, sewing, cooking, personal fitness, etc, etc.  None of those topics is of any less importance than men talking about what to do about those Iranians and their nuclear plans, but the subject matters are approached in such a natural manner. You will notice I did not specially mention men, as a talking point, because I think it would be egotistical to imagine that women even think about men when they are having their coffee mornings. In fact, I think that women welcome the break from their dealings with us men and never give us a mention when they are together.

Is one approach better or superior than the other?  I think not!  I think it is the acting out of how we are wired and what works best for men and women. Where problems arise is when a woman wants to make a best friend of her husband or boyfriend, and she wants to spend hours in conversation with him. This is not likely to work that well because he is not a she and just doesn't have that lobe. It is very difficult to interest a man in what you bought at the shoe shop, or the new dress you bought, except when you are wearing it.

To take the husband or lover on a shopping trip is normally pure torture for him. In my wife's case, she is a very careful shopper. She reads everything and carefully inspects every garment as though she were an auditor. My idea of shopping for a suit is that the whole experience should take no more than fifteen minutes. But that is a completely different subject that we will pursue another time.

Copyright (c)  2012  Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What Planet are you From?

A story for St. Valentine

My wife noted that I was reading "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." She said I thought you read that book years ago. I replied that I did, but I thought I would re-read it to refresh the subject in my mind. She replied that it was good that I was doing that, because I sure didn't get anything from it the first time. "You think?" I replied.

The author of this work is John Gray, Ph.D. It was many years ago that I first took to reading it, and the first thing that astonished me was how different men and women see the same thing. We are so different in our outlook that it is amazing that we can collaborate on anything so complicated as going to bed to have the necessary sex that produces offspring. I am convinced that were it not for such strong and instinctual feelings, it just would not happen.
I was quite frankly, flabbergasted at just how wrong we, as individuals get things, if we even think about it. We naturally think that the person of the opposite sex thinks in the same manner as ourselves, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  The book points out the wide divide that exists with something as simple as a couple dealing  with the problems of the day. A woman needs to talk about her problems with a sympathetic listener. That is usually not her male partner, because we think that if she is complaining to us she needs us to offer a solution. Wrong!

Firstly, I find that my woman wants to talk when I am in the midst of concentrating on something that really interests me, such as the news. What she really needs for me to do is turn off the television and pay attention to her. Since she won't want a solution from me, can I read the paper while listening, or work on a project if I'm quiet?  The answer is no. She wants my undivided attention as she gets the problems off her chest, and all she wants from me is the occasional response to confirm that I am listening. If I interject with words like "really?", or "that doesn't sound very nice," or, the best one of all, "what do you think should be done about it?", then I am being there for her and I am her hero. I get the Brownie Points, and she wants to be in love with me.

What I got from Dr. Gray was that by doing these things, which don't cost me a thing, I am giving her respect and my time and attention, and that plays very well with her. At the least I am not ignoring her as though she were part of the furniture. She is the one person I am supposed to love more than any other, and let's face it, I would get twisted out of shape were she not to show me attention when I need it. That would not be when I have a problem arising out of my day.

For those who are not well informed, a man's method of dealing with his problems is the opposite to a woman's. She will realise that there is something really bothering him, and she will ask, "what's troubling you, Dear?"  He will then make his problems a thousand times worse by replying, "Nothing, Dear!"  Talk about adding fuel to the fire!  What he means is, "Nothing that you can help me with. I will go to my cave, as men have always done, since time began, and I will think about what I need to do to solve my problems. No, I don't want to talk to you about it , Dear, because you will try to impose your solutions, which will most likely be of an emotional nature, while I am looking for pragmatic resolutions."

It is very peculiar that the last thing a woman wants from a man is a suggestion of how to solve her problem, but it is the first thing she offers to him. Mostly, she wants to talk about it, and that is the last thing a man wants to do, with her.  If he finds that he really does need to talk with someone, he will select a professional and sit down and have a business-like discussion about things. Those professionals are called consultants, and they cost a lot of money. It is ironic that at the end of the day, the advice he gets at a cost is most likely the same as he would have got for free from his wife. But, that's life! So, as we celebrate another day in honour of St. Valentine there are some things to bear in mind:

Men and women are different, perhaps totally so, and our challenge is to maintain an ongoing successful and happy relationship in spite of our differences.

To be able to give and to receive love is more valuable than all the money in the world. Whether your love partner is someone of the opposite sex or the same sex, makes no difference. I believe that a person who lives a life without the warmth of love, lives an empty life, no matter how much material things he accumulates.

If your life is full with love and good health, you are a very, very, VERY lucky person, Indeed!
Happy St. Valentine's Day!

Copyright (c) 2012  Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Honour Murder!

I watched the news report that in Canada, an Afghan family consisting of father, mother and son were convicted of killing the couple's three teenage daughters and an adult woman, because, according to the prosecution, the girls insisted on following a Westernized lifestyle.

My immediate reaction was, if the man didn't want his daughters to be influenced by the West, why did he bring them to the West? That made me so furious because it seemed to me to be the height of stupidity, and in stupidity there is not even a scintilla of honour to be found.

As I calmed down I went on the Internet to research the subject, and what I found has left me gobsmacked. So much so, I don't even know where to begin. I suppose I could say that it amazes me that people leave their own country to go and live in another, only to then reject the culture of their adopted homeland. However, those countries that colonized other people's countries did it, as do people from the colonies who choose to live in the homeland of their occupiers.  Stupidity!

I left my native Bermuda to live in Spain for the change. Here, we live in and amongst the Spanish, and we explore their customs, some of which we adopt, others, like bullfighting we stay away from. We use the Spanish language as much as we can, and generally it can be said that we have thoroughly integrated. We are happy and comfortable with our choice. Should that change we will simply leave.

All around us we can see evidence of people who live only on the fringe of Spanish society, but on the face of things they seem to be living their lives in peace. Beyond that I cannot say, but from what I have now discovered through my reasearch I should not be surprised when some family feel they have to murder their own children.

In the West the concept of killing your children to try and redeem the honour you think has been lost through your children's ideas and behaviour, is something quite shocking. In our eyes, the effect is the complete opposite. You are a murderer and you belong alongside our own loathsome criminals who murdered their own children for no reason at all, other than the children got on their nerves.

It is very disturbing to realise that the practise is on the increase in the West, but, as terrible a thing it may be to say, these families are eradicating their own kind who will not bring into the world even more of their own to perpetuate this odious theme that says to the children, you must OBEY absolutely or we will stamp you out. When they do this they cut off their own noses to spite their own faces.

Nothing anybody else has to say will have any impact on these people. Only education can turn things around. We in the West have finally learned that our children are not really ours, in the sense that they are not our property. They must live their own lives, we can only tell them the way we think they should go, then we let them go to sink or swim.

The sooner the families who are afflicted with the insane notion of what constitutes honour, learn this lesson, the better.

Copyright (c) 2012   Eugene Carmichael