Wednesday, 11 July 2018

'You lost, get over it!' part 2

England lost to Croatia in the world cup in Russia.  Nobody suggests that England should give up and never attempt to play in the world cup again.  That would be absurd.

Congratulations Croatia, you did a great job!  I am amazed that you managed to pull back the score after being down to Russia, who were supported by the home fans.  You played to the bitter end and won on penalties.  That takes some endurance and nerve.

You have one major advantage over us and that is your continued membership of the European Union into the future, while we seem to be on course to crash out into economic and social turmoil, for no good reason that I can see.

It's been tough to be an England fan for decades.  I remember the first time England played Croatia in an international match.  I met a bunch of Croatian fans on a train and said I hoped their team would win.  They were shocked.  I explained that our star players in the Premier League had become lazy and often ignored the phone when the England manager called.  They earned more money off the pitch from product endorsements.  Croatia thrashed England in that match and I didn't feel sorry.

This time is different.  At last we have a young team of relatively unknown players.  They work hard, develop a team approach and avoid turning into prima donnas.  There's no star striker, who is seen as the main scorer, so cannot be picked off or boxed in by the opposition.  They are keen to improve and win, which makes them a joy to watch.

We have an increase in xenophobia and racism in the UK since the EU referendum.  It's good to see such a talented group of players, who mostly come from immigrant parents and grandparents.  This team is more mixed than many England sides in the past.

The other huge difference is the England manager, Gareth Southgate.  He is quiet, serious and focused.  There is none of the hysterically optimistic forecasts of the days of Bobby Robson.  Southgate manages expectations, but gives us confidence in his steady approach.  He is warm and appreciative of his players and allowed one to go home for the birth of his baby and then return to play.  There is no hint of the tantrums and sulks of Mourinho or Wenger, either towards players or decisions of referees.  The media have reminded Southgate of a missed penalty many years ago, so it was particularly welcome to see the team win a penalty shoot out.  Pickford, the goalkeeper, has also done a fine job in saving us from defeat.

Inevitably the media will turn on manager and players.  I think the UK will still thank all of them for their great work and fine peformance, taking us up to the level of the England women's team in World Cup achievement.

I'm happy to be an England fan again after many years of supporting teams from other countries.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

'You lost, get over it!'

That is the battle cry of Brexiteers, particularly followers of far right, neo Nazi, Tommy Robinson of the English Defence League.  They line the streets at Remain marches, but hide their faces from the media when involved in dubious acts.  Tommy is in prison for various criminal acts including intimidating witnesses at a criminal trial.  Nice to know that Roseanne Barr and a relative of Meghan Markle are both fans of this man.

After the 'You lost get over it' comment they ask 'What do you want a best of 3?'

Brexit supporters omit any mention of the first referendum on Europe in 1975, when we voted with a majority of more than 32% to remain in the Common Market.  Apparently a majority of less than 4% in 2016 to Leave the EU is a greater representation of 'the will of the people' to both Labour and Conservative parties than the previous resounding majority in the 1970s.

No minimum thresholds were set for voter turnout or for the level of majority needed for a major constitutional change.  MPs were told this was merely an advisory vote.  MPs then said:  'We took the advice.'  That is not a great way to run a Parliamentary democracy.  The government had no plan, strategy or impact assessments prior to the referendum.  We have had 2 years of chaos in negotiations, with both red and blue parties demonstrating their ignorance of EU law and the treaties we agreed with the EU.

They also ignore the mounting evidence of fraud by the Leave campaign, collecting money from foreign donors, setting up various groups, that were all controlled from the centre, which was a way of exceeding spending limits by pretending these were distinct entities.

Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore treated Parliament with disdain, when asked to explain this breach of rules, treating it as a joke and walking out halfway through the session.  So much for democracy and 'taking back control'.

In June 2017 we had a snap election, which the Prime Minister called in order to gain a large mandate for her Brexit approach.  Politicians regularly tell us that people didn't elect either Remain party.  They omit to say that neither red nor blue major Brexit parties won a working majority.  The current government only clings to power because it paid a £1.5 billion inducement to the DUP for their support.  Many Tory MPs claim to have a crystal ball that tells them what the electorate was thinking when they voted to leave the EU in 2016, even though the ballot paper only specified Leave or Remain.  Sadly they didn't foresee that Labour would  collude with the Tories and enable a hard Brexit by voting with the government or abstaining on key aspects of the Withdrawal bill.  This could have saved them a load of money.

Did we lose?  Are we importing the US system of unlimited donations to political campaigns, so the mega rich can buy elections and impose their will on the electorate?  Our regulatory bodies have been severely weakened and we are battling to maintain a viable democracy.  I'd suggest that the referendum was poorly conceived and executed, but above all it was stolen.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Nutritional Fundamentalism

Jenny Ruhl has spoken about obsessive dietary behaviour and the need for balance.  After her cancer diagnosis, she decided to stop punishing herself for the occasional lapse in eating a doughnut or something else that triggered a blood sugar spike.  Life is too short for constant self punishment and the occasional deviation could be swiftly corrected.

A number of commentators in the Low Carb/Paleo community talk about the general principles, but say you should choose a diet that works for you and stick to it.  In practice few practise what they preach.  Jimmy Moore, of Livin' La Vida Low Carb is scathing about people who include low carb
commercial products in their diets, because of pressure from their children and peers, (except those of his major sponsors).

I've written about some doctors in the field who provide sensible nutritional information and are genuinely helpful, such as Dr William Davis and Dr Steven Gundry.  I've seen both of them move
further down the commercial road.  Dr Gundry has created a new Diet Matrix, which is followed by
a community on social media.  US members of the group seem to treat Dr Gundry as a religious saint and scan his books for deeper meaning as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I hear little about any severe health disorders, but many of the community slavishly follow the diet and buy all the products Dr Gundry has developed in the last few years.

I've commented before about the risks of following nutritional advice slavishly.  Dr Gundry and others recommend consumption of a particular vitamin that may exacerbate certain dangerous health conditions (as in my case.)  I've heard many people recommend eating spinach and chard to combat anaemia, ignoring the oxalic acid content of these vegetables and their effect of binding to iron and preventing it from being bioavailable in the body.

I see people twisting themselves out of shape to conform to a doctrine that may not completely suit their body, metabolism and needs.  Instead of experimenting and adapting, they persist.

I was surprised to read a thoughtful article today by Karen Pendergrass, who is prominent in the Paleo Community.  She tells the story of her journey from fitness fanatic and weight gainer to Paleo dieter and beyond.  Karen found that the Paleo diet and associated lifestyle triggered baked goods binges and sustained weight plateau.  She investigated the history of Dr Ancel Keys' research into starvation diets and the psychology of lack.  Now she has found a balanced and sustainable diet within the Paleo framework that helps her lose weight and remain healthy.  Great example of a person who thinks for herself.

I tend not to argue with the true believers on the Gundry Matrix Diet group, or point out how much like a religious cult they seem.

The person I find most persuasive in the field of nutritional science is Dr Jason Fung.  He is not commercial and does not merchandise his approach, presumably because he works in the national health service of Canada.  He truly respects people's diet and lifestyle choices, particularly if they are older and have followed the diet and lifestyle of their particular ethnic minority culture all their life.  He has found that intermittent fasting works in reducing weight, obesity and blood sugar levels, without triggering adverse effects and feelings of lack.  His patients certainly report improved health and fitness on the regime.

I believe we will all achieve better, lasting health if we exercise discernment and avoid accepting everything our teachers and experts say without question.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

To Passive House or not to Passive House

This week I went to Ecobuild, the annual exhibition devoted to sustainable building.  Normally I'm spoilt for choice with seminars, but this time I went for a meetup group with Ben Adam-Smith of House Planning Help podcast.

Ben gathered a small group of architects, builders and punters together to talk about self build and passive house projects.  

There were alarming accounts of the vagaries of the planning system.  These and other stories from professionals on some of the exhibition stands left me with an impression of a bunch of people sitting around making key decisions based on whimsy and personal taste.

I talked to one of the architects in the group, Paul Testa, who has been involved in a range of sustainable building projects.  He told me he uses the discipline of Passive House planning (PHPP planning software) for every project he does, even if clients don't want the expense of going for full certification.  To me that's strange and rather like coitus without an orgasm.

It's good to know that architects find the Passive House design process useful, even if the budget won't stretch to the full standard.  At least you know exactly how the building will perform and which areas have brought it below the PH level in energy and thermal efficiency terms.

Perhaps in time that will change.  Costs will inevitably come down and clients/property buyers will adopt Passive House as readily as solar panels.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Working with insomnia 6

I've written about various attempts to improve the quality and quantity of sleep.  My last post was about the state of the gut.  I now believe that one of the keys is not just digestion, but elimination.  I've spoken to many people who have difficulty sleeping after eating a heavy meal late in the day.  The guts efforts to digest seem to prevent people from falling asleep.  I seem to be sensitive to slow elimination, even when my last meal was 7 or 8 hours before bedtime.  In my case this makes a much bigger difference than how late I sit at my computer in a blue light environment.

Dr William Davis gave a helpful tip.  He suggested taking a small bottle of mineral water, drinking some of it, then replacing the fluid with liquid Milk of magnesia.  This tops up magnesium levels without overdoing it, when you consume a little of the mixture each evening.  Unfortunately Milk of magnesia can deplete the body of potassium, so a couple of dried apricots can redress the balance.

Once again this is useful but not the whole solution.

I had been following Bert Herring's recommendation of restricing food intake to a 5 hour window.  Various circumstances led to weight gain despite this regime.  I recently wanted to restart weight loss and decided to fast for a day.  This was helpful and I continued it for a second day.  Not only did I stimulate weight loss and fat burning, but my sleep improved.

I am not an advocate of the 5:2 diet, which allows you to eat anything 5 days a week, but encourages you to restrict calories to 500 or 600 on the other 2 days.  I ate nothing and  drank only water and herbal teas.  The liquid helped me overcome any desire to break the fast and I came through quite comfortably.  I count that as zero calories or a real fast.  I noticed an absence of other symptoms such as headaches or joint pain that I'd been experiencing in the previous week.

Jason Fung is an advocate of fasting and gives helpful guidance.

When I broke the fast I had a  poor night's sleep.  That doesn't encourage me to starve myself permanently, but I need to tweak what I do on eating days to improve elimination.

This is an N=1 experiment and may not work for anyone else.

Lloyds Bank ECNs and Wild West UK

I have written before about Lloyds Bank, the Enhanced Capital Notes (ECNs) offered to more than 123,000 retail investors in exchange for their perpetual preference shares and former building society PIBS at the end of 2009.  Here's a detailed summary by Mark Taber.

The Financial Services Authority and Lloyds developed this new type of investment as a way to help the bank on the path to independence from government assistance after the financial crisis, saving the bank and taxpayers a significant sum of money.

ECNs were offered in a prospectus, which was put together under rules and regulations and approved by the FSA.

Antonio Horta Osorio joined Lloyds Banking Group as CEO in 2011.  In late 2014 Lloyds Bank announced that they planned to redeem the ECNs early, stating that this had been triggered by a stress test and was in line with a clause in the prospectus.  Nothing in the prospectus indicated that a right to redeem had been triggered and experienced lawyers agreed.

Retail customers approached the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), successor to the FSA, asking for protection.  The FCA declined and suggested that retail investors should deal with the issue in court.

In May 2015 the Chancellor of the High Court judged that Lloyds Bank did not have the right to redeem ECNs early.  Lloyds Bank claimed in the court that they made a mistake in drafting the early redemption clause in the prospectus and that the court should apply a different meaning to what was written.  The bank had never mentioned this error in the prospectus from 2009 until the court case in May 2015.  The FCA was not aware of it until retail investors notified them during the court proceedings.

The Court of Appeal allowed Lloyds Bank's appeal in December 2015 despite lengthy disagreements and arguments between learned counsel.  The 'mistake' was described as a 'drafting error' which all but the most naive investor should have understood.  Effectively the judgement stated that a contract as written can be changed later in court to suit the organisation that drafted it.  'A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on' becomes 'a written contract is an approximation of the legal agreement you've signed.'

In late January 2016 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced a delay to the sale of government owned Lloyds Bank shares until after Easter 2016, because the share market has dropped in the banking sector.

Lloyds Bank then set 9 February 2016 as the date to redeem the ECNs, despite a request from investors for an appeal to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court ruled on 8 February 2016 that an appeal by retail investors would be allowed.  This was an unusually fast decision.  Neither the FCA nor the government intervened to delay redemption of the ECNs by the bank and Lloyds has now automatically redeemed these at par.  The appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court on 21 March 2016.  If retail investors win then compensation will be decided by Lloyds Bank.  Other costs, such as increased tax, may not be included.  

The Wild West has come to the UK, as we can no longer rely on the government or financial regulators to uphold regulations and protection for market stability and retail investors, even though this is part of their stated remit.  Organisations with enough money to go to court can make a contract with reasonable terms and then have them overturned in a court of law, arguing that any fool should have known they would have disadvantaged the organisation and were not intended as written.  

Members of the Treasury Select Committee have challenged Lloyds, but they have little power or influence when the regulators and the Chancellor seem determined to focus on national finances rather than the legal and regulatory framework of the UK.  Now our only hope seems to be in the hands of Mark Taber and the Supreme Court.  Perhaps there are still judges and lawyers who understand the risk and future consequences of a decision in favour of Lloyds Bank over its ECN prospectus. 


Thursday, 7 January 2016

Co-op Bank drops ethics

I've blogged many times about the crisis at the Co-op Bank in 2013-14 and attempts to plug their £3.6 billion funding gap by scalping bond and preference shareholders.  This was blocked by Mark Taber and the 3 US hedge funds with a controlling stake in the bank.

Aurelius Capital Management, Beach Point Capital Management, Silver Point Capital effectively owned the Co-op Bank, with their 80% stake, and sought to change the way it worked.  The bank offloaded non-core assets, cut stuff numbers by 21%, closed 62 branches, embarked on a membership drive and fundraising campaign.  Remaining branches have had a face lift and no doubt they are being dragged into the modern world with new computer systems.

One of the components of the drive for new customers was the assurance of their ethical standpoint, one of the major selling points throughout the Co-op Bank's history.

Now we discover that this 'ethical policy' includes closing accounts of humanitarian NGOs with no explanation to account holders.  Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa accounts and others have been closed.  Co-op spokespeople have released statements to the media about 'risk management' and organisations not meeting their standards for due diligence and sending money to certain countries.  None of this was discussed with the organisations concerned, nor negotiations on how they might reach this vague 'standard'.  Presumably the bank is referring to UK money laundering regulations (which seem to be regularly forgotten when high net worth individuals from overseas suddenly want to buy UK property.)

'Such vulture funds are as far from the ideals of the Co-operative Group’s founding fathers as could be imagined.  Where those Rochdale cobblers and cabinetmakers joined together 170 years ago for social equity through mutual ownership of their enterprises, the likes of Aurelius and Silver Point aggressively aim to enrich the few at the expense of the many.'

Various groups plan to take legal action against the bank using equality legislation.  There is no guarantee that they will succeed, given Lloyds Bank's recent success in claiming immunity from prosecution over a prospectus, by arguing that customers 'should have known what they meant to write'.

People seem surprised at the actions of Co-op Bank.  I am not.

Aurelius Capital Management is run by Mark Brodsky, a lawyer formerly employed by Elliott Associates (one of the companies owned by Paul Singer, the notoriously aggressive vulture capitalist).  Aurelius CM (together with Elliott Associates) is attempting to force the government of Argentina to pay $1.3bn following the Argentinian debt default.  Elliott was behind the firm that bought Comet and quietly moved capital offshore before leaving it to fail (and the UK taxpayer to pick up the bill for redundancies).  Paul Singer is openly acknowledged to be pro-Zionist.

'Journalist Greg Palast said their tactics resembled “negotiating while holding the pin of the grenade”.'

The aspect of this that surprises me is the wailing by liberal left-wingers in this country.  They seem astonished by the change in the Co-op bank, but unwilling to move their accounts.  If you keep your money with vulture capitalists, then you support and endorse their activities.  Happily Oxford University students still seem to have their brains switched on after the closure of their PSC account.