Brockwood Tower

At the south-eastern end of the house is the water tower, built in 1912 by Mr. Coates in order to supply water both to the house and the neighbouring cottages he built around the same time. Like other old buildings this too has a ghost associated with it, which has its origin in the unhappy love affair and the tragic end of a young maiden who jumped off the top, during the time of Lord Chesham. The tower, apart from the water tank at the very top, now houses the biology, physics and chemistry laboratories.

I ain’t afraid of no ghost! Especially not after lunch on a clear, bright day. Here are the views over the school, parkland and beyond.

Debt or Taxes – the battle of our time

The key is this: by bailing out the banks and the private financial system we are diverting tax and the power it confers from the Nation State and its system of democratic accountability, and instead empowering a system where debt not democracy reigns supreme. As more and more of our as yet un-earned wealth is already pledged to support the system of private debts and private debt-based wealth we find ourselves less and less able to control it or enforce even its own laws upon it. The financial system and those whose power comes from it are increasingly able to disregard any restraining laws. They can incur debts and ignore them forcing others, us, to pay them for them. How? because we have tied our selves to their system and weakened the old system which used to protect us and work for us.

via Debt or Taxes – the battle of our time

Scrap Book: Me and my Dad in the garden

Here we are, Dad & I in the garden of Boundary House, Broughton Gifford. I’m three and a half. Dad must be just back from work, still in his brown suit and shiny shoes. Check out my 1974 red and blue combo with matching wellies! The dry stone walls were all rebuilt around this time and the large slabs were laid as a path through the vegetable garden. Back then our garden ended at the fence behind this wall, with cows or horses coming close to drink at the trough. Later we bought a diagonal slice of the field, extending the garden to the end of the hedge. In the background is the old pigsty and farm buildings we called The Camp. It was incredible! We fixed up the wooden shack and had great fun climbing the walls.

Credit Crunch 2.0?

So now we have almost every aspect of the original sub-prime credit crunch reproduced by the same people who did it the first time and were never punished or even rebuked but instead were allowed to reward themselves with millions in bonuses.

So to summarize, MF Global invested in sub prime. Only this time sub prime bonds not mortgages. It leveraged them hideously, pretended it had off-loaded the risk when it hadn’t and then got caught when the value of the bonds went down and counldn’t pay the debts it had taken on using the bonds as collateral. Sorry to belabour the point but I want you to see how this really is subrpime all over again.

And like the original sub prime it means when one bank goes down it leaves all those to whom it owes money, with their own losses.

So now let’s move on from MF Global, because as some wag commented, you never find just one cockroach in a dirty kitchen. Which logic nearly killed a second brokerage, Jeffries. Its stock collapsed on the rumour that it too had bought up lots of European bonds. Jeffries had to take the amazing step of publishing every single position in bonds that it had. Only then did its stock recover.

Since then other banks have been less forthcoming about their exposure, namely Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Only they are not so much suspected of having lots of European bonds themselves as having perhaps provided the one part of the whole sub prime crisis we have not so far mentioned, CDS insurance. Goldman and JP Morgan are among the world’s largest derivatives traders. And they revealed that between them they have sold ‘protection’ on over $5 trillion globally. No one knows how much of this is on dodgy European debt and neither Goldman nor JP Morgan is saying.

In sub prime credit crunch 1 it was AIG that provided much of the short term funding and much of the CDS protection. This time who knows who are the main providers. But one thing you can be sure of, there will have been a great deal of it sold. Because it would have been sold using the same logic which inspired MF Global to buy the debt. The logic which said, these are countries too big to fail so in the end they will be bailed out even if democracy has to be suspended to ensure it. If you believed that logic then you wold have sold CDS protection and pocketed the premium.

So that, I believe is all aspects of sub prime accounted for. You can now see that while sovereign bonds and debts may be the fissile material the bomb itself and its explosive potential was constructed by the banks just as they did last time following the same blue-print and same greed.

And how soon might it go off. For that we end with UniCredit. Last quarter the trillion euro bank suddenly posted a ‘surprise’ 10.6 billion euro loss in just this last quarter! It’s bonds are now trading as junk while it faces having to raise another 51 billion euros to re-finance its debt in just the next year. That, to me spells BOOOOM! It is only the first. It certainly won’t be the last. There will be others and they may be along fairly soon.

Why did UniCredit suddenly make such a loss? What was happening during the last quarter? Well Spanish and Italian bonds have lost a lot of value. what do you think, might UniCredit have been holding a lot of them? Surely not I hear you cry. Who would be so stupid. UniCredit blames the loss on its Kazakhstan and Ukraine units. What would those units have been doing to wrack up such monumental losses? UniCredit is now trying desperately to sell bits of itself.

The banks know what is going on. They each know the risks and losses they are hiding and know if they have them then so do the others. Exactly as in Credit crunch1 interbank lending is frozen with both libor and repo markets in disarray.

I suggest these are the real reasons the banks are in an absolute panic and are shrieking about how the ECB MUST print and print now and why elections and voting of any kind at all must NOT be allowed to upset the smooth imposition of the bank’s required plan. There is contagion but it is bank contagion, its sub prime greed and failure all over again.

Buckle up – Credit Crunch 2

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar

I am reading Light on Life by Iyengar, slowly and somewhat surely, as is my way. I thought I’d share some extracts and quotes as I read and practice. Whereas Light on Yoga looks in detail at the practice of asana, this book shows how yoga and life are one.

Introduction

When you and I meet together, we forget ourselves – our cultures and classes. There are no divisions, and we talk mind to mind, soul to soul. We are no different in our deepest needs. We are all human

Yoga is the rule book for playing the game of life, but in this game no one needs to loose.

When I say that yoga saved my life, I am not exaggerating. It was yoga that gave me a new birth with health from illness and firmness from infirmity.

Yogasana brought tremendous brought tremendous physical benefits and helped me to grow from a sickly child into a reasonably fit and agile young man. My own body was the laboratory, in which I saw the health benefits of yoga, but I could already see that yoga would have as many benefits for my head and heart as it did for my body.

You do not need to seek freedom in some distant land, for it exists within your own body, heart, mind, and soul.

Kripalu Yoga Videos

It’s been two years since I was in Massachusetts to undertake my yoga teacher training. I studied at the Kripalu Centre, who’s approach to yoga is one of awareness, and spontaneity, whether one wishes to teach or practise a gentle approach, moderate or vigorous. Recently Kripalu have put some video yoga classes online for free. It was great to be able to see my teachers, Devarshi, Megha, Coby and Jovina teaching online, and these are very good practices to work with at home.

Here’s Devarshi Steven Hartman’s class:

And a trailer for the course itself, truly one of the best and most profound experiences of my life.

And many other classes and short sessions here

I mean to post some more from the journal and course notes from that month. Here are a couple from early in the course:

Goals of teachers

And one of the more memorable days, the blindfolded meeting of hands

Weekend Walk 32 – Emsworth to Hilsea – Solent Way

Getting up too late to finish the South Downs Way, I switched to The Solent Way. Stage one of my back to front walk took me from Emsworth near the border with West Sussex to Hilsea in the north of Portsmouth. This was a level walk via Warblington, Langstone, Brockhampton, Farlington and the Hilsea Lines, with a long loop around Farlington Marshes in fading light.

The World Is Drowning in Debt, and Europe Laces On Concrete Boots

Three metaphors describe Europe: drowning in debt, circular firing squad and trying to fool the money gods with an inept game of 3-card monte.

The world’s major economies are drowning in debt–Europe, the U.S., Japan, China. We all know the U.S. has tried to save its drowning economy by bailing out the parasite which is dragging it to Davy Jones Locker–the banking/financial sector– and by borrowing and squandering $6 trillion in new Federal debt and buying toxic debt with $2 trillion whisked into existence on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet.

It has failed, of course, and the economy is once again slipping beneath the waves while Ben Bernanke and the politico lackeys join in a Keynesian-monetary cargo-cult chant: Humba-humba, bunga-bunga. Their hubris doesn’t allow them to confess their magic has failed, and rather than let their power be wrenched away, they will let the flailing U.S. economy drown.

Europe has managed to top this hubris-drenched cargo-cult policy–no mean feat. First, it has indebted itself to a breathtaking degree, on every level: sovereign, corporate and private:

Germany, the mighty engine which is supposed to pull the $16 trillion drowning European economy out of the water, is as indebted as the flailing U.S.

Second, the euro’s handlers have already sunk staggering sums into hopelessly insolvent debtor nations, for example, Greece, which has 355 billion euros of outstanding sovereign debt and an economy with a GDP around 200 billion euros (though it’s contracting so rapidly nobody can even guess the actual size). According to BusinessWeek, the E.U. (European Union), the ECB (European Central Bank) and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) own about $127 billion of this debt.

Since the ECB is not allowed to “print money,” the amount of cash available to buy depreciating bonds is limited. The handlers now own over 35% of the official debt (recall that doesn’t include corporate or private debt), which they grandly refuse to accept is now worth less than the purchase price.

From Of Two Minds

Portsea Buildings

Today I walked around Portsea, between Gunwharf, the university and the naval base. The area has a much less genteel, more rugged feeling than Old Portsmouth but in amongst the council housing and blocks are some interesting old buildings. The area being right next to the naval base was heavily bombed in WWII and before that, the old slums and buildings were cleared. These photos largely focus on those buildings prior to 1900, including St George’s Square, Burnaby Terrace, Queens Street and Bonfire Corner, up against the barbed-wire walls. I didn’t get as far as The Hard, nor the base itself.

This page has some interesting history and photos of Portsea in the c19, including areas cleared of decaying houses.

It doesn’t get any more immoral than this

Citigroup had to pay a $285 million fine to settle a case in which, with one hand, Citibank sold a package of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting customers — securities that it knew were likely to go bust — and, with the other hand, shorted the same securities — that is, bet millions of dollars that they would go bust. It doesn’t get any more immoral than this.

It probably gets a lot more immoral, but this sure is ugly.

via Did You Hear the One About the Bankers? – NYTimes.com.

The Corporation of London undermines all attempts to curb the excesses of finance

It’s the dark heart of Britain, the place where democracy goes to die, immensely powerful, equally unaccountable. But I doubt that one in 10 British people has any idea of what the Corporation of the City of London is and how it works. This could be about to change. Alongside the Church of England, the Corporation is seeking to evict the protesters camped outside St Paul’s cathedral. The protesters, in turn, have demanded that it submit to national oversight and control.

What is this thing? Ostensibly it’s the equivalent of a local council, responsible for a small area of London known as the Square Mile. But, as its website boasts, “among local authorities the City of London is unique”. You bet it is. There are 25 electoral wards in the Square Mile. In four of them, the 9,000 people who live within its boundaries are permitted to vote. In the remaining 21, the votes are controlled by corporations, mostly banks and other financial companies. The bigger the business, the bigger the vote: a company with 10 workers gets two votes, the biggest employers, 79. It’s not the workers who decide how the votes are cast, but the bosses, who “appoint” the voters. Plutocracy, pure and simple.

There are four layers of elected representatives in the Corporation: common councilmen, aldermen, sheriffs and the Lord Mayor. To qualify for any of these offices, you must be a freeman of the City of London. To become a freeman you must be approved by the aldermen. You’re most likely to qualify if you belong to one of the City livery companies: medieval guilds such as the worshipful company of costermongers, cutpurses and safecrackers. To become a sheriff, you must be elected from among the aldermen by the Livery. How do you join a livery company? Don’t even ask.

To become Lord Mayor you must first have served as an alderman and sheriff, and you “must command the support of, and have the endorsement of, the Court of Aldermen and the Livery”. You should also be stinking rich, as the Lord Mayor is expected to make a “contribution from his/her private resources towards the costs of the mayoral year.” This is, in other words, an official old boys’ network. Think of all that Tory huffing and puffing about democratic failings within the trade unions. Then think of their resounding silence about democracy within the City of London.

The Corporation exists outside many of the laws and democratic controls which govern the rest of the United Kingdom. The City of London is the only part of Britain over which parliament has no authority. In one respect at least the Corporation acts as the superior body: it imposes on the House of Commons a figure called the remembrancer: an official lobbyist who sits behind the Speaker’s chair and ensures that, whatever our elected representatives might think, the City’s rights and privileges are protected. The mayor of London’s mandate stops at the boundaries of the Square Mile. There are, as if in a novel by China Miéville, two cities, one of which must unsee the other.

If you’ve ever dithered over the question of whether the UK needs a written constitution, dither no longer. Imagine the clauses required to preserve the status of the Corporation. “The City of London will remain outside the authority of parliament. Domestic and foreign banks will be permitted to vote as if they were human beings, and their votes will outnumber those cast by real people. Its elected officials will be chosen from people deemed acceptable by a group of medieval guilds …”.

The Corporation’s privileges could not withstand such public scrutiny. This, perhaps, is one of the reasons why a written constitution in the United Kingdom remains a distant dream. Its power also helps to explain why regulation of the banks is scarcely better than it was before the crash, why there are no effective curbs on executive pay and bonuses and why successive governments fail to act against the UK’s dependent tax havens.

But now at last we begin to see it. It happens that the Lord Mayor’s Show, in which the Corporation flaunts its ancient wealth and power, takes place on 12 November. If ever there were a pageant that cries out for peaceful protest and dissent, here it is. Expect fireworks – and not just those laid on by the Lord Mayor.

If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Try Time

Why might concentrating on time get us closer to our centuries-long search for happiness? One reason is because time spent doing something, especially when compared to owning something or spending money, is associated with personal meaning and evokes emotionally laden memories.

You might not recall how much money you had in your bank account when you were 20 years old, but most people remember their first kiss. Time also fosters interpersonal connections: the camaraderie that people get from attending a baseball game with friends, for example, would be more conducive to happiness than watching it alone in front of the television.

Drawing from their research and that of others, Aaker, Rudd, and Mogilner extracted five time-spending happiness principles:

Spend time with the right people. The greatest happiness levels are associated with spending time with people we like. Socially connecting activities — such as hanging out with friends and family — are responsible for the happiest parts of the day. However, work is also an essential element in the time-happiness relationship. Although spending time with bosses and coworkers tends to be associated with some of the lowest degrees of happiness, two of the biggest predictors of people’s general happiness are whether they have a ‘best friend’ at work and whether they like their boss. Therefore, people should try to reframe relationships and workplace goals such that colleagues become friends so that time spent at work becomes happier.

Spend time on the right activities
. Certain activities are energizing, and others make us feel drained and defeated. To increase happiness, people should avoid spending time on the latter activities in favor of the former whenever possible. Of course, the bills have to be paid, the bathroom cleaned, and it’s sometimes a challenge to get through the day. But people need to reflect on how they are spending their time — the extent to which they mindlessly move from activity to activity without considering what they would really prefer to be doing. For instance, when deciding how to spend the next hour, simply asking yourself the question, ‘Will what I do right now become more valuable over time?’ could increase the likelihood that you behave in ways that are more in line with what will really make you happy.

Enjoy experiences without spending time actually doing them
. Research in the field of neuroscience has shown that the part of the brain responsible for feeling pleasure — the mesolimbic dopamine system — can be activated when merely thinking about something pleasurable, such as drinking a favorite brand of beer or driving a favorite type of sports car. In fact, this research shows that people sometimes enjoys anticipating an activity more than actually doing it.

For example, reading guidebooks in advance of a big vacation and anticipating the food you’ll eat and the activities you’ll do while there could actually give you more pleasure than the vacation itself. In short, research suggests that we can be just as well — if not sometimes better — off if we imagine experiences without having them. So to increase happiness, spend plenty of time happily daydreaming.

Expand your time
. Unlike money, time is inherently scarce. No one gets more than 24 hours per day. In fact, there is a bidirectional relationship between time’s scarcity and its value: not only does having little time make it feel more valuable, but when time is more valuable, it is perceived as more scarce. To increase happiness, it can make sense to focus on the here and now —because thinking about the present moment (vs. the future) has been found to slow down the perceived passage of time. Simply breathing more deeply can have similar effects.

In one study, subjects who were instructed to take long and slow breaths (vs. short and quick ones) for five minutes not only felt there was more time available to get things done, but also perceived their day as longer. And even though feeling time-constrained makes people less likely to take the time to help someone else, doing so actually makes people feel as though they have more spare time and gives them a sense of a more expansive future. Therefore, if you can’t afford to “buy” more discretionary time (e.g., by hiring a maid), focus on the present moment, breathe more slowly, and spend the little time that you have in helpful and meaningful ways.

Be aware that happiness changes over time
. As we age, we experience different levels of happiness and how we experience happiness changes. Recent research found that younger people are more likely to experience happiness as excitement, whereas older individuals are more likely to experience happiness as feeling peaceful. Therefore, you should be aware that basing future decisions on your current perceptions of happiness may not lead to the maximum levels of happiness in the long run.

Finally, although the meaning of happiness may change, it does so in predictable patterns. Therefore, it is possible to anticipate such changes, and you should allow yourself to shift how you spend your time over the course of your life — as the meaning of happiness shifts.

Aaker points out that “the experiences people accumulate over the course of spending their limited time, quite literally makes up each person’s life. So, if you take away anything from this research, it should be that spending time with the people you love doing the things you love is the best road to happiness.”

via If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Try Time | Stanford Knowledgebase.

Beijing’s air is ‘slightly polluted’

I could taste it again as I read this

The homes and offices of many top leaders are filtered by high-end devices, at least according to a Chinese company, the Broad Group, which has been promoting its air-purifying machines in advertisements that highlight their ubiquity in places where many officials work and live.

The company’s vice president, Zhang Zhong, said there were more than 200 purifiers scattered throughout Great Hall of the People, the office of China’s president, Hu Jintao, and Zhongnanhai, the walled compound for senior leaders and their families. “Creating clean, healthy air for our national leaders is a blessing to the people,” boasts the company’s promotional material, which includes endorsements from a variety of government and corporate leaders, among them Long Yongtu, a top economic official who insists on bringing the device along for car rides and hotel stays. “Breathing clean air is a basic human need,” he says in a testimonial.

News that Chinese leaders are largely insulated from Beijing’s famously foul air comes at a time of unusually heavy pollution in the capital. In recent weeks, the capital has been continuously shrouded by a beige pall and readings from the United States Embassy’s rooftop air monitoring device have repeatedly registered unsafe levels of particulate matter.

But those very readings, posted hourly on Twitter or through an iPhone app, have prompted a public debate over whether the Chinese government is purposely obscuring the extent of the nation’s air pollution. Unlike the American Embassy readings, Chinese environmental officials do not publicly release data on the smallest particulates, those less than 2.5 micrometers, which scientists say are most harmful because they are able to penetrate the lungs so deeply. Instead, government data covers only pollutants larger than 10 micrometers — a category that includes sand blown in from the arid north and dust stirred up from construction sites.

In response to criticism over the heavy smog of recent weeks, a spokesman for the city’s environmental protection bureau, Du Shaozhong, assured the public that they should feel secure in the government’s own readings, which termed the city’s air “slightly polluted” even as the embassy monitor found it so hazardous that it exceeded measurable levels. “China’s air quality should not be judged from data released by foreign embassies in Beijing,” he said.

According to the Broad Group’s Web site, it did not take much to convince the nation’s Communist Party leaders that they would do well to acquire the firm’s air purifiers, some of which cost $2,000. To make their case, company executives installed one in a meeting room used by members of the Politburo Standing Committee. The deal was apparently sealed a short while later, when technicians made a show of cleaning out the soot-laden filters. “After they saw the inklike dirty water, Broad air purifier became the national leaders’ appointed air purifier!” the Web site said.

Via New York Times

Old Portsmouth and Gunwharf

Photographs taken around Gunwharf and Old Portsmouth in October. While certain others are shopping I like to wander around the city in the immediate area of Gunwharf. Inside Gunwharf itself are many original dock buildings dating back to the c18. Past the harbour in Old Portsmouth and Spice Island you can still get a feel of the old maritime city in the time of Nelson, with many interesting Georgian buildings, doorways as well as the defences and churches. See also, Portsea

Weekend Walk 31 – Woodingdean to Alfriston (South Downs Way)

A 12 mile hike along the South Downs, from a suburb of Brighton to the village of Alfriston (mispronounced in the video). This section of the trail goes above Kingston, Lewes, Ilford, Rodmell, into Southease with its interesting c12 church. The path then leads across the Ouse Valley past Newhaven back to the downs above Firle and Seaford.

It was a very windy day and my camera’s wind reduction couldn’t cope.

One more stage of the South Downs Way left to walk, to Eastbourne along the river and coast. I hope to do this in the next couple of weeks before the days get too short.

A Tour of the Krishnamurti Centre

Central Hampshire, in the quiet English countryside, a unique building for the study of the the works of J. Krishnamurti, which really means the study of oneself and one’s relationship. I spent the previous four days as a guest at the Krishnamurti Centre, relishing the quiet and space it provides for serious inquiry and light-hearted conversation at mealtimes. Here is a photographic tour of the building designed by religious architect Keith Critchlow, using the principle of sacred geometry