October 8, 2009
The casualties from the financial crisis keep rolling in, in the most unlikely of places. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that there are a number of unexpected losers from this financial crisis: the Venezuelan government, who given their anti-American rhetoric had a surprising amount of money invested in the failed investment bank Lehman brothers, and sovereign wealth funds in countries like Singapore, who were initially singled out as posing risks to the countries they were investing in.
Today, however, I read about the most unlikely candidate of all to be suffering big from the collapse of modern capitalism: the Church of England. It turns out that the Church of England’s investments have lost almost £1.5 billion of value since the onset of the financial crisis, mostly because they had their money invested in hedge funds. Seems that the CoE has moved beyond the typical investment portfolio of religious institutions (property, jewel-encrusted chalices and gold relics) to something much more modern.
As today’s FT reports (on the front page, no less, some editor must have found the news as amusingly ironic as I did) that the Church has submitted a letter to the UK Parliament advocating that new EU legislation regulating hedge funds take a light-touch approach. To quote Voltaire: when it’s a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.
June 4, 2009
From his speech in Cairo today: “Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared…”
Ignoring some of the cheesy themes in the first 10 minutes (the Arabs invented algebra!), it was a ground-breaking and honest speech. As others have noted, however, it did not provide new or detailed solutions to problems in the Middle East. My favourite commentary about the speech was actually printed before the speech: an excellent column by FT commentator Gideon Rachman, who pointed out that while Obama is a “soft power” president, he faces “hard power” problems.
But given that Obama gets the soft power messages so consistently right on (I was reminded of his speech on race while listening today), one is hopeful that he will apply the same rational thoughtfulness to the hard power problems the US government faces.
May 22, 2009
I have a whole series of serious posts in draft about recent happenings in global finance, but I couldn’t resist sticking to frivolity for a moment to share these statistics with you. In the 2008 presidential election, an astonishing 131 million Americans voted, the first time in more than 40 years that the turnout had topped 60% of registered voters. Compare that to another election of sorts which took place this week, when America voted for their new “American Idol.” 100 million votes were case by text or telephone for this week’s finale, which paired a clean-cut, Christian and primarily accoustic musician from Arkansas (Kris Allen) against a gay goth-esque rocker wearing eye-liner from California (Adam Lambert). It set a record for direct voting for a television show, which is unsurprising as the vote total was insanely high. To put it in further perspective: approximately the same number of votes were cast for Idol as the 2000 presidential election.
Of course, Idol has three advantages on turning out the numbers: you can vote as many times as you like, you can vote from your couch instead of standing in line at a school or church hall on a cold Tuesday morning in November, and any pre-teen with a cell phone can vote – no need to meet a pesky age requirement. You’d hope that the relative importance of the presidency would count for something in pushing up the totals, but you’d be hoping in vain.
And just in case you’re wondering who won, it was the clean-cut Arkansas hearthrob, despite the fact that there was a nearly universal opinion that the rocker was a better singer and entertainer (not that I spend my time reading about these things, of course). Interestingly, while America made the bold choice to elect a young, black man with relatively little legislative experience to the presidency, they made the conservative choice on American Idol. I’ll leave speculation that the Christian right turned out the vote against the gay idol aside, but as I’ve noted before, electing a gay man or woman is the next big challenge for the US (though I had in mind as president, not as idol). In any case, it might have been those pre-teens in love with Kris who swung the pendulum in his favour despite his less impressive performance, which to me seems a good rationale not to lower the voting age, and certainly to prevent people from voting for the president by text.
April 29, 2009
Fat pig. Eat like a pig. Sweating like a pig. Let’s face it, pigs had a PR problem even before the swine flu outbreak began in Mexico. The flu itself is quite scary, but sounds even more ominous because it is called swine flu. Bird flu brought up images of people sprouting wings, flying away. Swine flu on the other hand sounds devilish, for obvious biblical reasons (“A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs.” Mark 5: 11-13).
The FT is reporting this morning that a number of different communities of scientists and politicians are upset about the name, for a number of reasons. People who work in the pork industry are upset that the flu is giving pork a bad name – several countries have already banned the import of US and Mexican pork, even though there is no scientific basis for doing so as the virus, like bird flu, does not spread through eating cooked meat. Indeed, the virus was only 50% porcine: the other half is avian and human, which seems to make swine flu a misnomer. Additionally, the Israeli Minister of Health was quoted as saying that the name was offensive to Jews and Muslims, who are forbidden by their religions to eat pigs.
Thus some are proposing renaming the flu “Mexican flu” or “North American flu.” But that seems to me to be putting lipstick on the pig, rather than addressing the real risk of a flu pandemic spreading quickly thanks to globalisation.