Sunshine promotes optimism

Here, where I am, the sun peaks out now and then and there’s that smell, you know, of earth outside. And I found a few snowdrops, just outside our front door!

Snowdrops in January.
Snowdrops in January.

In Davos the sun has also been out and one of my favourite BBC reporters, their financial guy Robert Peston has interviewed Richard Branson. Branson is virtually brimming with optimism! I couldn’t embed this video, but just click here.The clip is 5 minutes long.

This article (also BBC) describes one of the “secret” meetings in Davos, where some of the economists who’ve been predicting this crisis for quite a while were gathered. The interesting bit of course was to hear if they had any predictions as to the length and gravity of the crisis. Nothing super-soothing, but they did agree that the crisis will not deepen into a depression like the one in the 30ties with unemployment rates around 25%. They attribute this to the governmental packages, which I wrote about yesterday.

These economists (Crunch Cassandras, as the BBC so charmingly has named them) who turned out to have well functioning crystal balls are quite interesting. One of them has written a book, which I’ve had on my Amazon wishlist for quite a while. Now I’ve moved it up in the world – into my shopping basket… Nassim Taleb is his name, the book is called The Black Swan. His homepage is highly unusual and well worth a visit.

Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, has been preaching gloom for years and has suffered ridicule among his peers. One might say that this year’s Davos is his vindication. The last of the three is a controversial historian, Niall Ferguson. I don’t quite know what to make of him…

Well, enough economy, cake baking next. It’s Friday is it not?

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If it looks like a bank and quacks like a bank…

we’ve got to capitalize it as a bank,” Lord Turner said.

This is MY money...
This is MY money...

It’s a quote from this article on CNBC, which briefly explains the ideas behind the bank rescue packages both here in the UK and in the US. The heart of the matter is the so-called Bad Bank (just Google it if you want to have it explained). I kind’a like that term ;-)

Here’s a few video-clips from Davos, the World Economic Forum. One of them is with Rupert Murdoch, who not surprisingly is against the rescue package. I don’t know if he explains the alternatives later on in his speech (apart from a quick little war (another one?) to get the wheels spinning), but I’m still looking through blog-posts, news articles, video clips etc. to find a viable alternative.

Here’s a syndication of comments to the package, divided into YES, it will work & NO, it won’t work. I’ve read through the first four of the Nos, but apart from BIGGER TAX CUTS, there are no alternative solutions in sight. Am I looking in the wrong places? Please direct me to somewhere, where I can read in clear an understandable language, what would be a good and viable alternative to the stimulus packages, which are now under way on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s the British Conservative Party’s idea of an economic rescue package. Tax breaks seem to be the answer here as well!

Here, in the Financial Times, Martin Wolf explains why the packages should be bigger and how a lot of other measures must also be taken into use, if the US is to overcome its financial woes. The article is quite a mouthful – i stumbled over the word deleverage several times…

If you hear speeches from Davos, you’ll also hear “the Swedish model” mentioned. It is explained here and here, where Tyler Cowen raises doubts as to whether it could work in the US and also whether it’s as good as they say.

Here’s cable news directly from Davos, if you want to delve into the speeches. And as you could expect, the New York Times Davos blog is excellent. That’s also where I found a reference to this clip. I think it more or less speaks for itself…

(It’s Michael Dell who asks the question)

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All is said

so I’ve surfed around for some less serious titbits to add colour to this day of promise.

If you haven’t read any comments, I suggest you pop by The Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post (this one is good), Huffington Post and dont’ forget the always thorough Andrew Sullivan on The Atlantic (comments from right), (comments from left). Oh, and Whitehouse.gov has got a very new look and feel. On Kottke.org I read that all third-party content is licensed under Creative Commons. Is that cool or what?

Back to the less serious. You did wonder who designed Michelle Obama’s dress, didn’t you? And have an opinion? Well, you’re not alone. Read about the designer and what hundreds of NYT readers thought here.

The Inauguration lunch is also described in detail. It’s modelled over one of Lincoln’s lunches.

An anthropologist muses over Obama’s changed way of speaking. I’ve noticed a change, but am not exactly a linguist, so hadn’t caught exactly what kind of change it was.

Here’s Hollywood Obama gossip on a Washington Post level. It’s Dana Milbank writing – he’s not just any old gossip columnist. (Note that you may have to sign in to Washington Post to read this – but it’s free).

And here’s what we’re now rid of. I know you’ve probably already seen this. But funny it is!

The ObamaNene poster was created here. Go get your own!

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Tools for a better understanding of conflicts

I’m trying my hand with some new podcasts now that I’m exercising three times a week. You can hear a lot of podcasts in 4-5 hours! One I listened to today was BBC’s technology podcast called Digital Planet. It was surprisingly good and this episode focused almost exclusively on the Gaza conflict. Some of these wonderful Open Source people have developed a debate wiki called DebateGraph, which encompasses all the stand points and all the arguments in the Gaza conflict and shows them in a graphic way. I’ve been trying to embed it here on my blog, but I just can’t get WordPress to do it. What kind of media is a wiki exactly, anyway? But click here and have a good look at it. The British newspaper The Independent has been more successful than me, it’s embedded on their website and they are presently using it to show “What Obama should do next”. Really marvellous tool!

Digital Planet also mentioned another tool called Ushahidi, originally developed for the conflict in the Democratic Replublic of Congo, which monitors all sources to find out the correct number of casualties. This one is adopted by Al-Jazeera.

A couple of other news tit-bits from around the world: Obama has, in yet another show of supreme insight in how the media works, released a letter he’s written to his two little girls here only a few days away from his inauguration. Read it in its entirety here. There’s also an interesting letter going in the other direction, namely the star of the blogosphere Arianna Huffington‘s letter titled “Moving forward doesn’t mean you can’t look back”. It’s about America not closing its eyes to the crimes committed by the Bush/Cheney administration. She quotes George W.

As for the economy, Bush insisted, “I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted growth.” Which is kind of like saying the flight of the Hindenburg was fabulous up until the landing.

Which reminded me that I still haven’t seen Bush’ farewell address. It’s a must-see, I think. With remarks like that!

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That yellow feeling

Oh, why am I not the kind of person who gets invited to this? My favourite economist will be speaking there – along with several other people, who’s writings I’m following. I’d much rather be at TED than at the Oscars, the Cannes Film Festival or any other gathering of personas. Envy, I think this yellow feeling is called.

Picture borrowed from Leonard on Flickr
Picture borrowed from Leonard on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/

Before I retire to bed to read another TED speaker, namely Malcolm Gladwell (oh, did I mention him before?) I’ll just share this fun idea with you. On Boing Boing I read that January 27th will be a special day for all bloggers: We must shed our normal blogging style and come up with something really Alice in Wonderland-ish. The day is called Rabbit Hole Day. Read all about it!

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Dealing with criticism & what makes us happy

On Gretchen’s Happiness blog there’s a post about how to deal with criticism. Inspired by Gretchen’s own honesty about how not-so-good she is at dealing with criticism, I’ve decided to publish her advice here and comment on it with my own thoughts.

1. Listen to what a critic is saying. Really listen, try to understand that point of view, don’t just nod while you formulate your retorts.

This is very, very hard. When the pulse quickens, blood rushes to your head, the eyes sting, it’s almost a super-human effort to really listen. Only way to deal with this is to use rule no. 4.

2. Don’t be defensive. This is the toughest step for me. With my writing, for example, I always have to take a deep breath before reading an edit letter or meeting with an editor, to remind myself, “I welcome criticism. This person is helping me. I’m eager to hear how to improve my book/article/post.” Act the way you want to feel! That’s my Third Commandment. Along the same lines…

When the criticism is on the personal level, I find it almost impossible not to be defensive. I’m hurt! But professional criticism in a friendly environment I think I’ve learnt to handle. And I even like it when my sister-in-law criticises my English, because I strive for perfection and she helps me!

3. Don’t fire back by criticizing your critic. Your comments will just sound defensive, and you’ll escalate the exchange. This urge is very difficult to resist, because the impulse to justify and attack is strong when you feel criticized, but it just isn’t helpful, and it certainly isn’t effective.

Here I also try to use strategy no. 4.

4. Delay your reaction. Count to ten, take a deep breath, sleep on it, wait until the next day to send that email…any kind of delay is good. A friend told me that she has a rule for herself: when she’s upset about something that happened at her children’s school, she won’t let herself do anything about it for three days – and usually she decides that no action is better than action.

This is the only thing I can say with certainty that I’ve become better at over the years. Sleep on it! I never send off an angry e-mail the day I write it, always chew on it at least for a day, sometimes weeks. I can proudly say that quite a few angry e-mails have found their way to the trash – where they belonged!

5. Explain honestly the reason for your actions. Sometimes it’s tempting to re-characterize your actual feelings and motives. Usually, though, that just complicates things more. It becomes impossible to have an honest exchange.

I try to do this, I really do. But sometimes I find that people don’t believe that I am being honest. And then I really don’t know what to do?

6. Admit your mistakes. This is extremely effective and disarming. When I got my first job, my father told me, “If you take the blame, you’ll get the responsibility.” I’ve found that to be very true. Difficult, but true. Admitting mistakes is the first step, then…

I think I’ve become better at this too. But I have also had some bad experiences with it. In the workplace, if you take the blame one time too often (having made a mistake jointly with others) – just to ward off lots of hassle and to be nice to your colleagues, thinking they might take the blame another time – you actually might end up being fired!

7. Explain what you’ve learned. If you can show a critic that you’ve learned something, you prove that you’ve understood the criticism and tried to act on it. That, itself, usually mollifies critics.

This is very true. But sometimes it can lead to the most awful self-righteousness from the other party. And then you want to criticise them…

8. Enjoy the fun of failure. Re-frame the issue entirely to embrace criticism. Fact is, trying new things and aiming high opens you to criticism. I tell myself to Enjoy the fun of failure to try to re-frame failure and criticism as part of the fun. Otherwise, my dread of criticism can paralyze me.

I don’t think I’ve ever tried this tack. Maybe it’s due to a lack of humour. Must try it next time.

A fantastic book on the subject of happiness
A fantastic book on the subject of happiness

As mentioned I found this on a blog dedicated to the search for happiness. You might not know this, but the whole subject of happiness, how we perceive it and how to achieve it interests me a lot – so much that I even read books about it, not only blogs. The book here on the left is practically my bible. And it’s not “psycho-babble”. He gives no advice about what to do to get happier. He tells us about how bad we are at predicting what will make us happy in the future and that is mind-boggling!

Daniel Gilbert is a good example of something I learned while I worked in the music industry. One must separate the (wo)man from the message! Sometimes I’d be giddy for days because I would get to meet an artist, whose music I adored. And I’d be DISAPPOINTED, because the artist(s) turned out to be a first class a……  Other times I’d been dreading a concert because I found the artist bad or just plain old boring. And had a fantastic time, because the person(s) turned out to be ever so nice/funny/intelligent/sexy or all of those things…

I haven’t met Daniel Gilbert, but I’ve seen clips with him on TED and he’s really quite annoying to listen to – it’s something with his swear-words and jokes I can’t handle. But try to listen to what he’s actually saying and ignore his persona. And then go buy the book! This particular video is quite long, but I PROMISE you that it’s SO worthwhile to see it through to the end, where he talks about terrorism and our response to it (the clip is from 2005). There are quite a few videos on TED about Happiness. Find them here.

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Voices of reason

There might be more than good cause for hand-wringing, exaggerations and “loud” statements over the state of things in Palestine. But I believe that the mellow and calm voice of reason is the one that will get us places. Listen to this woman, Syria’s first lady (read about her here first):

She says the most important things within the first 2-3 minutes if you’re too busy to watch the whole interview.

Ezra Klein points to another voice of reason, Anthony Cordesman. He ends the article published through Centre for Strategic and International Studies like this:

As we have seen all too clearly from US mistakes, any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni, and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends. If there is more, it is time to make such goals public and demonstrate how they can be achieved. The question is not whether the IDF learned the tactical lessons of the fighting in 2006. It is whether Israel’s top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them.

We should also listen to what intelligent people on “the other side” have to say. Here is an interview with Bernard-Henri Levy and here’s one with Israeli soldier and history scholar Michael Oren. With all respect for these two scholars, I think they both grossly underestimate how much Hamas and therefore all the militants in the Middle East gain from this and how much this will harm Israel and then the rest of us in the long run and, no less, how much harm it does to the remaining moderate Arab countries, just as Mrs. Al-Assad says in the interview at the top of this page.

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The Frost & the Rat

This morning it was the MOST unpleasant weather. It was freezing cold and a thick icy fog covered the land. Yukkk! Poor Dane had his beloved football cancelled (icy pitch) and then of course he was dressed all wrong for selling cakes at the farmer’s market.

Blueberry muffins, carrot/orange cake, Cornish Fairings.
Blueberry muffins, carrot/orange cake, Cornish Fairings.

We had plans to go up to London to visit British Museum to see some mummies (Dane has taken a keen interest in all things Egyptian lately), but it was so horrible outside that we just nipped down to Marks & Spencers for some emergency food and to the hobby store for some paraphernalia for making a RAT. Dane had seen this done on one of his favourite programmes on TV, SMART. Dane presents his creation in the below two videos.

[flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/nenelabeet/3185122177/[/flickrvideo] [flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/nenelabeet/3185950008/[/flickrvideo]

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Life as a busy bee and a crippling cold

have kept me from blogging. No running away from the busy bee, but must extend working day at other end! On Sunday I read a very thought provoking article in The Sunday Times, which they’ve been kind enough to publish online. It’s by another of the paper’s excellent writers, Bryan Apleyard and it’s about the possibility of actually proving the existence of an afterlife!

I guess that when someone close to you die or is close to dying, and when you yourself feel mortality creeping up on you, these things become important. I don’t particularly want to “go to Heaven”, but am no fan of the idea of just disappearing without a trace. I always wonder what atheists tell their children when someone close dies? “Your best friend got run over by a car and now he’s nothing.” It may be that I’m just a coward, but I could never say that!

Something along these lines is also this TED talk by a neuro scientist. You’ll have to bear with her absolutely horrible accent and just listen to what she actually says and the humour with which she says it. 

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Humanity

A Nigerian man speaks of humanity so your trust in your fellow man is renewed. Much needed!

A few quotes:

His mother: Anything a man can do, I can fix.

Also his mother: Oh these Americans! We gave them a language, why don’t they use it?

Prisoners on death row in Nigeria: “Take that Spidey!” – being taught English by a 14-year old boy from a Spiderman comic.

(Don’t know where the extra picture came from, but can’t figure out how to remove it…)

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Good bye old friend

Last night a very dear old friend of mine died in a traffic accident. Hilmer Hassig. To you English-speakers the name probably means nothing, but to all Danes with a love of music, the name is also a sound. The sound of a guitar, so completely its own. Before I met Hilmer, guitar solos to me were just the sound of musical bragging, only slightly less annoying than drum solos. But Hilmer’s solos were different. He didn’t show off. He showed us a little bit of his soul – the soul he otherwise liked to pretend he didn’t have. His guitar playing was melodious, but never honeyed, deeply original, but always respectful of the song and always, always innovative.

We met almost 30 years ago through a mutual friend. We came from totally different worlds, but had music as a common denominator. Over the next decade we “made music together”. I.e. he made the music and I/we (the record company) did all the easy bits – like trying to stretch the hardly existing funds, getting an acceptable album cover together, trying to plead with him about his infamous 8 hour snare drum sound checks etc. etc. On a night which should have been triumphant, Loveshop (Hilmer & Jens) were angry with me (it was always money) and I didn’t get to share their moment, when they got a Danish Grammy Award for that year’s best pop album. But a few weeks later they did something that has only happened to me that one time in all my years in the music bizz. They came and apologised. And gave me their Grammy. It has had pride of place wherever I’ve lived and still has. Not because it’s a Grammy, but because of the unique circumstances under which it was given to me.

Hilmer taught me lots and humbly I believe I taught him a bit too. Just not about the same things…

Not very long ago we became Facebook friends and Hilmer sweetly asked me if I’d share a cup of coffee one day – it had been more than a year, maybe two since we last met. He hadn’t heard that I don’t live in the country any more. I’m sorry that we never got to share that cup of coffee.

It’s unbearable that he’s not here any longer. But as a friend wrote on Facebook, the all stars band up there in Heaven just keeps getting better and better.

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Scatterbrain

I’ve always been a Scatterbrain. My memory is lousy, I have to write everything down and often I forget even that. My mind is always jumping ahead of the current situation – that’s super sometimes, but often it’s more than a little distracting. Today, when I was supposed to do two other things, I stumbled over an article…

I swear, I read the whole thing and my mind almost didn’t jump. I remember where it jumped to along the way, because due to the theme of the article, I made it my business to take note of my mind-jumps.

I was visiting this blog, which is a bi-product of some homework I’ve done for my course at uni. The blogger linked to the article in an ambiguous way, which made me click it. And once I’d seen the headline, I just had to read it. The fact that it’s in one of my all time favourite magazines, The Atlantic, of course made it even more palatable. The writer is Nicolas Carr. He has a blog, which after a cursory glance looks interesting, but demanding. The article is called Is Google Making us Stupid?

Here’s a few excerpts:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

But every new technology has had an effect on our brain, as noted by Socrates:

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

In the end paragraph he returns to Kubrick’s 2001, which he quoted in the opening paragraph:

Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they’re following the steps of an algorithm. In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.

I don’t have such a gloomy view of my own thinking as Nicolas Carr. I acknowledge the disadvantages, but think that there must be some great advantages in being able to think “multilaterally” rather than “unilaterally”?

Back to where my mind jumped: At one point it jumped to a piece of Internet lore, which I’ve returned to many times: The Last Lecture by Randy Pauch, a university professor, who after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, gave a farewell lecture about grasping life’s opportunities, even in the face of death:

If any of you have not yet sat through it, you really must. He has a wonderful lecture for us all. It has been viewed 7 1/2 million times on Youtube! Why did my mind jump to that in the middle of this article? I don’t know!

Also, at the mention of Socrates, I though about something I’ve recently read by Aristotle (don’t worry, it was in connection with an essay for uni): “A speech (or document or whatever) consists of three things, the speaker, the subject which is treated in the speech, and the hearer to whom the speech is addressed” – logos, pathos & ethos. I thought of that because isn’t it so, that sometimes, you’re just very, very far from being “the intended audience” of a text – it’s either above you, beneath you or entirely irrelevant to you! When I read stuff like that I get distracted very easily… I’m afraid it happens rather frequently with academic papers for my courses. Sometimes I even think they don’t want me to read it. And certainly not to enjoy reading it.

And twice I suddenly remembered what it was, I’d set out to do, when I settled at the computer. Wrote it down – must do it when I’ve finished this post ;-)

And in the middle of the article I jumped to read about the writer. I knew I’d looked him up before, but had forgotten. I don’t think that’s something Google has done to my brain. I’m afraid I was like that years before the Internet entered my life (and that was in 1995, if anybody wants to know…).

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Economy for dummies

Here’s something every television station should broadcast. An easy-to-understand explanation of the credit crisis:

This talented guy is up there with BBC’s Robert Peston when it comes to educate the masses on these complicated matters. As almost always with things economic, it was Marginal Revolution with the pointer.

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