Thursday, May 31, 2012


This week a particularly nasty stomach bug has infiltrated our home.  I will spare you the details, but it has not been a pleasant experience.  I spent most of yesterday trying to summon the energy to get out of bed, which I managed to do a couple of times, immediately regretting the decision each time.

The illness that I am experiencing this week is annoying but not life-threatening.  Unfortunately, not all illness is so easily recovered from, and some diseases have no recovery. 

While we are healthy we don’t think about sickness.  We sometimes pause to reflect on our wellness when we see others suffer, but for the most part sickness seems alien to us.  Something is wrong.  We know it happens, and it could happen to us, but when it strikes, it seems so unfair.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Winning Through Negativity

I assume that negative political advertisements work – otherwise why would they be paid for?  That is, if they didn’t work we would be rid of them by now.  But do they convince or merely cement the opinions of those already inclined to the position being advocated (if the negative ads can be described as advocating).  This kind of discourse is not going to bring about positive change. 

To change someone’s opinion requires that person to make a choice.  It cannot be forced upon them.  It also requires openness to new ideas, especially those we might not be accustomed to entertaining.
Civilization is the willingness to listen to others, trying our best to keep our prejudices and preconceived ideas in check.  That is not to say that all ideas are equally valid, I firmly believe that truth is objective and not subjective, and that reasonable persons can get to it.  If history has shown us anything, it is that ideas can be the most dangerous things of all.  But all ideas deserve a listen until we figure out their value.

But, the exchange of ideas without civility can have the opposite effect.  If we go beyond the bounds of legitimate persuasion towards coercion, we may get our way for a while, but resentment of those forced to toe the line will grow and we will find ourselves in a worse position than before.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man

Three minutes and 20 seconds into added time.  Manchester City were about to finish behind Manchester United.  Their first change to win the English league title for 44 years was slipping away.  Worse, their city rivals, Manchester United, were about to win it in their stead. Pain was etched on the faces of the City supporters.  Many started to leave.  Then to use a sporting cliché, “cometh the hour, cometh the man”, Sergio Aguero, goal.  Manchester City were champions.

Where does this phrase come from? This idea that the hero will appear at the right time to save the day, or that when the time comes someone will step up and become the hero?

This is a sporting cliché, but it resonates with us.  Could we live with the idea that there will be no hero?  That when things are at their very darkest, no one steps in  (well, as a Liverpool fan, I’ve witnessed that scenario a few too many times this season).  That we are all standing by watching helplessly as everything goes to pot.

We look to heroes who promises that will lead us to better times.  Just look at the euphoria of President Obama’s election victory.  In France, President Hollande has promised to ease the European economic crisis without crushing austerity measures. 

Interestingly, we see potential heroes fail, or at least fail to deliver on their promise all the time.   For example, I don’t think that anyone, no matter what side they face politically, would deny that Obama has not delivered all that he promised in 2008.  Similarly, Hollande may struggle to painlessly ease the French and the wider European debt crises.

But we still believe.  We still hope.  We may even pray.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Sometimes We Need To Draw Lines

The recent announcement by JP Morgan of a $2 billion trading loss caught a lot of people’s attention and caused financial stocks to drop globally.

Was the trade at JP Morgan Chase wrong because of the unnecessary risks involved or wrong because it failed?

What would have happened if the trader in question had made money on the trade?  It definitely would not have made the news, or affected global capital markets.  But, would it have been criticized at the bank? What I am asking is whether the trade was wrong because it failed or wrong because an unnecessary risk was taken.  Of course this is speculation on my part.  Here is a quote from JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon:
It was a bad strategy, it was badly executed, became more complex, [and] it was poorly monitored,(i)
However, news reports suggest that Dimon was not taken by surprise by the trade, but that alarm bells began to ring when it became clear that the trade was not going well. (ii)  So, it seems likely that the problem with the trade was that it lost money.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Nothing New Under the Sun

We have advanced greatly in knowledge, but this problem of meaning is no nearer to a solution. The ancient writer of Ecclesiastes, thought to be Solomon circa 970 B.C., highlighted the meaningless of life; that life has no meaning if there is nothing to it besides being born, living and dying, and attempts to find meaning in success are doomed to fail. Success is fickle and fleeting, and as the ancient writer points out, it never satisfies.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (i)
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (ii)
Millennia later existentialist thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre echoed the ancient lament of Ecclesiastes that life is without meaning. Sartre pointed out that we then have to make our own meaning in such a world without equality or fairness or direction.
I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating. (iii)
However, the ancient philosopher pointed out there is a meaning. There will be equality. God will judge all actions. Jesus stated that in His Kingdom “first will be last and last will be first”.  (iv)

Sartre, himself recognized that without belief in the supernatural there can be no meaning to life. He rejected belief in God as “bad faith”, but his solution that everyone make their own truth is hardly any better. If we each labored under the guise of our own truth, society would break down. If no one recognized the truth of standards such as criminal laws or the rights of others, the world would be a horrible place.

There is a choice in front of us. Is life truly meaningless because it is unfair or can we find solace in the fact that God will usher in a world of fairness – the world we want to live in?

(i)  Ecclesiastes 1:2 (New International Version).
(ii) Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 (New International Version).
(iii) Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea.
(iv) Matthew 19:30 (New International Version).

Monday, May 7, 2012

Looking Down

It never finished raining
But something was happening
The day the answer never came
A doorbell and a bird with a broken wing

A time for remembering
That to get this far was not without suffering
Or joy, relief and lesser miracles
If they can be written off in a minor key

I have not reached the top
But I can look down
And see the winding paths below
That I stumbled over not so long ago