Monday, June 29, 2009

Let's just take a minute for a quiet cup of tea...

... and a lie down.

Well, the lie down's not necessary, unless there's a warm body nearby.

David Lange once famously suggested we pause in our pell mell rush to reform the over-regulated financial sector, and it turns out that he may have been right. (I can hear Roger Douglas' missing moustache bristling now..)

It occurs to me that our deecision-making skills are being over-burdened. Not with the quality of decisions we are being expected to make, but the speed in which we must make them.

Back in the days before penicillin and good oral hygeine (the so-called "good old days" when the average male would have been expected to die at age 50 ) the world had the leisure of being able to take a day or two to make a decision.There was no email demanding an instant answer: instead, there was a hugely unreeliable snail-mail. A letter was received, read, put aside, thought about,re-read, set aside for afternoon tea, discussed, set aside for a stirring game of croquet, discussed some more, then answered. Seven drafts would have been made. (Remember Mark Twain? He said something along the lines of "If I'd had more time, I'd have written a shorter letter.") Even so, he wrote with an early-design typewriter, laboriously. Each word was thought about.

In the financial sector, which globally managed to ignore the few wise men who raised their voices, hollering "The market has no wisdom! Market forces are a sham!", millions of decisions are made every minute ... by imperfectly programmed computers. We know they're imperfectly programmed, because they were programmed by people, and people always bring their prejudiceds, peccadilloes, facial twitches, and ugly personalities to all endeavours.

When I'm writing blogs, sending emails, grafting and drafting away on Facebook (yes! I know two things about Facebook now! Yay! Still can't put a photo up, but nonetheless progress is being made) the temptation is to rush into print. To answer qauickly, thereby demonstrating my extraordinary wit. Naturally, one is more likely to demonstrate one's remarkable half-wit.

The wheels of justice, they saw, grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small. Legal decisions, especially ones that set a precedent, are made slowly. That's because they will impact on a vast number of people's lives. Yet financial market decisions that affect millions, perhaps billions, of dollar - and therefore tens of thousands of lives, are made in a micro-second. Often, by a machine. With no oversight. We allow it to happen.

Let's take a day or two to think about this. Then let's take to the time to draft a strong letter to the powers that be, asking that something be done to the fiunancial sector. I'm not advocating a return to the hide-bound, stuffy, over-regulated days of the pre-1980s. But I am suggesting that we set some rules in place that makes it impossible for a Madoff to steal up "up to US$150 billion dollars" in a Ponzi scheme. Yes, there are fools born every minute: people who will make bad or foolish decisions. But society is judged by how it protects its most vulnerable.

As an aside: Madoff stole between $US65 and 150 billion. It is worth noting that the money did not disappear. Unless Madoff got the physical cash, made a paper mountain of it, and burnt it - it still exists. The bean-counters and book-keepers may not know where it is, but it's still in circulation. A little de-valued, but still there. And you know something? Not one red cent of it is in the hands of small investors. The oft-touted trickle-down theory is wrong in one aspect only: the direction of the trickle.

READING: Went to Dymock's sale, and bought John Connolly's latest, "The Lovers". The man is incapable of writing a bad sentence.

LISTENING TO: Simon & Garfunkel's "Bookends", their most complete album.

WORD OF THE DAY: Dad. My son is about to become a Dad, I lost mine a few months ago... and last night I dreamed that all four generations were together: George, Allan, Adam, and Georgia.

Time for some more Henry. Enjoy.

Of course, the one thing that Henry would want for, he couldn’t have.

Mary was still at school: this was to be her School Certificate year, and she would, of course, pass it with a breezy grin, and paint on her knuckles and nose.
Every morning, except for the time he had tonsillitis and the time she had measles and mumps, together, at the same time, measles and mumps, my word she was a sick puppy, every morning for ten years Henry had stopped at Mrs Pickering’s home to walk Mary to school. He had, of course, been teased by his schoolmates, but hey, he felt good when he walked with her, so they could all just boil their bums. Mary and Henry talked about this and that and everything in between, they sang the current pop songs and some of the old ones too, and they usually held hands. Well, he had to. He was caring for her, wasn’t he?
He didn’t always walk her home. As time went by, and as he grew, Henry began to take an interest in sports. He became a fine cricketer, fast-bowling an excellent and consistently deadly line and length, batting nicely at number three, and enjoying the risks of fielding at Silly Mid On. He grew up to be a tall, well-built boy, and was very fast on his feet – so he made both the Northridge Intermediate and High School’s athletic teams, as well as the First XV rugby teams. This, of course, meant he stayed at school after-hours for training, which he didn’t find easy at first, not knowing how Mary was, walking alone. But, of course, Mary had her friends, went to play at their homes, and also developed a keen interest in Netball and Badminton – sports she excelled at. She was a terrier on the court, scavenging and returning and passing ball and shuttlecock alike with passion, verve, skill, and total exuberance.
For ten years, rain, hail, and shine, Mary and Henry walked together to school. For the school holidays, they had spent more and more time in each other’s company, and in the company of each other’s friends. Eventually, Mary became one of the boys, while Henry could only become a stiffly formal outsider with Mary’s girlfriends.
Then came the summer Henry went to Wellington, and everything changed, was unmade, and then remade.
It must be said that despite having the appearance of someone who is slightly too tightly buttoned, Henry is a good-looking lad. In the summer of 1979 he reached his full height of six feet, two and a three-quarter inches, and his musculature was nicely defined, thank you very much. His face was losing its adolescent softness, and the angular planes and angles of maturity were starting to find their resolution. His dark brown hair was wavy and cut shorter than was fashionable, and he had a definite fondness for the browns and blues that made up his wardrobe. His white underwear was neatly folded and put into the second drawer down, beside his socks, with his rugby clothing in the third drawer, cricketing gear in the bottom drawer. His wardrobe was equally organised: summer to the right, winter to the left. Shirts first, then trousers, then his two good sports jackets, then the rainwear. Scarves and ties on a hanger, shoes and boots on a rack on the floor of the wardrobe.
By appearance, Henry was a prime candidate for the Young Nats, that hotbed of reactionary sheep-farmers’ sons and daughters. However, in those days Henry he leaned more to the left – and there was one young lady who discovered he also dressed that way.
Northridge is not a large town. In fact, in 1979 it barely qualified for township status. Things have changed now, of course, but when Henry left Northridge for the hellish sin-pots and stews of the big city, he was, to put it bluntly, naïve and gauche.

His head was easily turned.

Her name was, and quite probably still is, Hazel. Dark and exotic, with long, free hair, eyes that mimicked her name, a passion for running, and an easy manner, Hazel Anderson met Henry on the sports-field, and – after three months of teasing – introduced him to two things. No, three. Two he maintained an interest in, while the first – marijuana – simply made him sick. At the age of 45 Henry is still an avid Jethro Tull fan, and he still enjoys sex, but only a lot.
Hazel started meeting Henry at the caff at lunchtime: she knew his schedule, and made sure she was there. Yes, she chased him. Well, with his little woolly head stuffed with Business Management and Mary and Accounting 101 and Mary, he wasn’t about to go chasing her. So a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do.
Only one of Henry’s old school chums had come to Vic with him: Spot, who was destined for a sticky end.
Spot had become a bit of a larrikin, a tearaway, a proper caution. He was flamboyant, made Boy George look like a Bavarian cigar-rolling nun, and was probably gay, but who can say now? It was Spot who told Henry that Hazel had the moists for him, and initially Henry laughed. It was nonsense! Why, Hazel had seen the photo of Mary! She knew, she knew – but then there came the lunchtime that Hazel asked Henry to the movies. Hazel was doing her anthropology thing, and that evening they were re-screening that old 1970 flick, “Love Story.”

Damn that Ali McGraw!

The poignancy, the melodrama, and Hazel’s warm left hand on Henry’s warm right thigh had an overpowering effect. Henry invited her home, put some music on the stereo, and Hazel opened a bottle of wine.
The rest, your honour, is history.
Henry was guilt-racked, and loved it. He continued seeing, being with, laughing with, and sleeping with Hazel for three months.
And then she moved on, and Henry went back to Northridge for the summer break.
Henry has never watched “Love Story” with Mary.

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