National Health Service

A nightmare for any government, no matter what colour, what persuasion!

The problem is almost certainly structural. No business (don’t kid yourself, the NHS is a Business, just as are all schools and institutions) can work efficiently if it is not professionally managed.

We saw the same at Lloyd’s of London which from its recognised start in 1688 until the Franchise was introduced in January, 2003, was not properly managed from bottom to top.

What the NHS needs is a complete overhaul. It will take courage and determination to disturb and replace entrenched ‘management’. But unless the structure is re-made, crises will recur again and again.

Throwing money at the problem is no better than handing out placebos to those who need proper medication.

Bitcoins! Bitcoins?

No, I do not own any bitcoins, nor does anyone in my family.

In my own case this is because I make it a rule to not own anything I don’t understand.  If I don’t understand something it’s either because I can’t spare the time to research + track it, or it’s so complicated I cannot understand it no matter the time I spend.  Either way without understanding it I can’t figure out its fundamental value, so I don’t know when to buy and sell.  In fact the very best investments in my experience seem to have a simple premise (and easily understood).  For example, the company Mastercard basically levies a toll on every transaction for business that use its cards to lure shoppers into buying.  You can explain its business model to a stranger in just a few sentences.  If it deviates from its simple premise or something changes in the fundamental assumptions, you know right away when to sell.

I too am a big fan of Mackay’s “Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.”  It’s one of my favorite books.  In the case of cryptocurrencies, we all KNOW we are in the middle of a Tulipmania or South Sea Bubble.  There is no doubt at all.  It’s not like there’s a fundamentally fair-valued asset that might later become a bubble.  No, it’s a bubble right from the start!  Right now.  As such the only reason to invest in cryptos is to garner as much profit as we can before the bubble bursts; to find a greater fool to buy our coins.

Knowing when to buy and sell a bubble is very hard.  It always seems so easy when you look at long term charts in hindsight.  You see a big bubble rising up and you think, “I could have just bought there and then sold here.”  Easy.  However when you’re in the middle of investing it becomes very hard to know when to buy and sell.  If we had a gain of 100% in a week, would we sell at that point or stay in hoping for 200%?  When it falls 40%, do we stop out and sell or double down to catch the “bargain?”  It depends on our personality.  Cryptos have no fundamental value so the only way to trade them is by technical analysis, trying to market time buys and sells.  That type of approach can make money for a very disciplined stock trader, but for the rest of us it tends to magnify all our faults.  We buy high and sell low.  We double down and throw good money after bad.  We hang on too long and end up losing everything.  We act entirely on greed and fear.  I think I am a fairly disciplined trader after decades of practice, but I know trading something purely on technical analysis with no fundamental value is way beyond me.  I simply cannot manage my emotions well enough.

It is possible, though extremely unlikely, that this is not really a Tulipmania but more of a tug-of-war between competing technologies, that is a fight for market share.  Remember VHS videocassette tapes versus Beta?  Beta had much better clarity but a smaller market share.  Despite its advantages Beta lost and disappeared, and VHS remained the dominant format for years until DVDs were invented.  There are >150 different cryptocurrencies.  Bitcoin is just the most popular right now.  Is Bitcoin Beta?

It is very difficult to watch someone else make 400% in a week.  I have been tempted to buy a small (a very small!) investment in cryptos, just because I hate missing out on the bubble of a lifetime.  But if I did invest, it would take a huge amount of time to research — which I don’t have — and then I’d be trapped into watching my picks all day long on a computer screen.  If there was a single “basket” of cryptos easily available as an ETF stock, I’d buy a little now just for fun.  But nothing like that exists yet.  (Best estimates says six months to a year.)  So even if I wanted to, I couldn’t invest now because I don’t have the time to do the necessary research on which cryptos to buy or the daily time to watch them.

Lastly, be very careful assuming that one of these cryptocurrencies has to “win.”  Like I said, there are over 150.  New ones are being invented all the time.  I do think a true digital currency is inevitable.  And I think the use of blockchain technology in that currency is likely.  But I have absolutely no faith that one of the present cryptos will be adopted by everyone to the exclusion of the others.  They may all go to zero.  In fact if you take a long-term view, pretty much every government in the world has been trying to eliminate every form of currency except digital bank transfers and credit cards.  Their stated purpose is to eliminate criminal and non-taxed transactions, but really they want every financial transaction to be reported to the government, so they can track your movements and habits, tax everything, and have the ability to decrease the value of your currency at their whim without your consent.  This attitude by government is worldwide and has been manifesting recently as a war against cash (Europe, UK, Australia, India + US have all banned large denomination bills in the last few years), various anti-secrecy banking laws, draconian penalties against carrying cash over national borders, and a requirement to fill out government forms to fully disclose all assets.  Given this attitude, I don’t see any government allowing any cryptocurrency unless it is one they have designed themselves that includes all details of every transaction being sent to the government as part of the process.  So in the long term, I think all the present cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin will go to zero.  And it could happen very fast, with a single announcement by a major government.

Nexit

Is there no way that common sense can prevail? Does the UK have to follow a path which is almost certainly destructive and self-destructive?

I have experienced the odd occasion when a persuasive advisor has done his best to convince me that 1+1=2 but more often than not the evidence clearly produces a different number, sometimes 1+1=2.2 or if things are bad 1+1=1.8 or even less.

In Brexit the participants are likely to arrive at 1+1=1.5. In Stexit (the status quo ante) 1+1=1.88 or thereabouts, noting the recognised flaws in the package of Brussels Sprouts.

But Nexit! Now you’re talking!! The UK stays in with changes to the package: fresh, juicier sprouts; away with some of the excess layers of waste. Just imagine 1+1=2.4🏆

Spare the basket, spoil the dog

At one time we had five dogs, four Yorkies and a rescue mixture who went by the name of Heksie (in case you don’t know, there is an Afrikaans children’s book called “Liewe Heksie” which translates into ‘Beloved Little Witch’).  Our Heksie was certainly beloved.

Anyway, we are now down to one remaining Yorkie, Jessie.  We inherited her along with Poppy from previous owners who treated their dogs with considerable disrespect and certainly no love.  When those two Yorkies came into our lives Poppy turned out to be fairly normal while Jessie was erratic in her behaviour.  Our vet identified her as my dog.  Ever since then she has been my dog.

Several years later, living in a house full of love, at least for the pets, Jessie has settled down and is now a very special member of the family.  So special is she that it is quite appropriate to use the phrase ‘Spare the basket, spoil the dog’.  This doesn’t mean to say that Jessie never gets into her basket or at least lies on her cushions, but these occasions are principally limited to those rare hours when we leave her unattended in the house.  Then she has to languish in the scullery and I can be quite certain that when I open the scullery door and look in I will find some element of her presence which one could do without.  No big deal.

So where is Jessie when we are at home?  She is either lying on the sofa or on the back of the sofa, taking no notice of whatever Alessandra and I may be doing, usually watching TV and reading at the same time.  Otherwise she might be asleep on our bed which means that she is lying between the headboard and my pillows, leaving me in as much discomfort as possible, invariably leading to neck ache.

This might be alright except that during the night Jessie will decide that she needs a drink of water.  Being of an age she does not relish jumping from the bed to the floor in the dark.  I have to put her down.  So she goes for a drink and then usually goes onto her blanket.  However, some little time later, maybe one or two hours, there will be a little bark which indicates that Jessie wishes to be picked up and put back on the bed.  It has been a long time since I have had a full night’s sleep.

How else might I refer to this somewhat spoiled dog?  How about food?  A new routine has recently developed.  Patrick, who looks after the house and arrives at about 07h00, will summon Jessie for breakfast at about 08h10.  Should Jessie still be asleep and not really be interested she might stay in bed till midday.  Alternatively (and this is part of the new routine) Jessie will condescend to go downstairs which, by the way, involves my going downstairs to unlock the bedroom door.  You might think that Jessie would then be completely ready for her breakfast.  No way.  She expects to be taken for a walk to the park, to be let off her lead to play with the other dogs.  She loves this and won’t eat until she has been treated accordingly.

As for what is in her food, there are the granules appropriately recommended by the vet and carefully selected, plus a treat which usually comprises roast chicken bought from Woolworths specially for Jessie.  No one else is allowed to touch it although occasionally either Alessandra or I will sneak a little bit.  Thus comprise her two meals of the day, lunch being served at precisely 13h00 at which point Jessie may let off steam if lunch is not ready.  What about the evening?  “Where is my treat?”, she looks at me.  Are you feeding it to me by hand?  If not, don’t expect me to eat it.

It is just as well that Jessie is so lovable and I do mean so lovable.  She gets away with murder but we wouldn’t be without her.

Polar Bears

The first thing to remember about polar bears is that you will find them in the Arctic but not in the Antarctic.  The Antarctic is reserved for penguins.  Never the twain shall meet.

The second thing to remember is that polar bears eat fish.  Honey is not on their diet sheet mainly because honey is not on offer.  The third thing to remember is that Arctic ice is slowly but surely melting.  It cannot be relied to survive much beyond 2050.  It would therefore be appropriate to consider a new home for the polar bears.

The climate in (South) Africa is not conducive to polar bears which is a pity because locally, just outside Johannesburg, we have a wonderful reserve known as the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre.  Ann van Dyk is a remarkable woman who set up this reserve as a centre to rescue cheetahs and actually looks after a wide range of animals and birds.  No one is presently suggesting that polar bears are in need of a rescue centre but who knows what may be required in less than 30 years?

Just recently I purchased four polar bear pastels by Mark Adlington.  They are wonderful examples of these magnificent creatures.  Let’s make sure that the bears remain part of our lives and never disappear into extinction.

North Korea-again

It has seemed to me for some time that nothing would stop that pudgy North Korean megalomaniac dictator from his personal ambition of becoming a nuclear power. ‘Personal’ may be the right word: it’s hard to believe that the typical North Korean subject welcomes the spending of hard-earned foreign currency on nuclear development costs.

Kim Jong-un must be gambling that his country’s sole ally of value, China, will hold the ground and dissuade Donald Trump from unleashing the full force of American power onto the Northern part of the Korean Peninsula.

That is a very dangerous gamble. The more that Kim continues to follow the nuclear road, the more certain it is that the US will not tolerate his ambitions.

The risk grows larger, the longer the international community wags its fingers at the pudgy little man. No more time to waste! Carthago delenda est. Today it’s the North Korean regime.

Is there anything positive to be extracted from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey?

Is there anything positive to be extracted from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey?

Certainly not for all those thousands who have been directly affected. For all of those, the extended storm has been nothing less than a catastrophe if not a disaster. Lives have been lost, cars flooded, homes destroyed; by far the worst experiences  most of them have ever suffered.

Round the world there have been exceptional weather exposures: floods, wildfires, drought, ice melts and avalanches, earthquakes. The ice is melting in the Arctic.

One really has to be deaf, blind or dumb (or Donald Trump!) to believe that all of these weather extremes are not related to Global Warming (Warning).

So those who have little or no idea where are those towns in New Zealand or Central Italy where there has been exceptional earthquake activity; or little or no comprehension of the drought which has reduced water supplies in the Western Cape to a drip; or to all those many other towns or locations or countries where really strange weather has produced destruction beyond historical records, perhaps Harvey will prove to be the catalyst for the US administration not only to support but even to lead action to control and reverse the impact of global warming,

Please, Mr President, wake up! You are not Rip van Winkle.”

Brexit

Brexit is as much a disaster as is Tropical Storm Harvey. That Storm has been going backwards and forwards, on and off the Gulf Coast, causing untold damage.

The Brexit ‘negotiations’ are stalled before they start. Both sides seem to be determined not to negotiate with the objective of reaching constructive solutions. In the process there is scope for untold damage.

Why is this? Perhaps it seems like jobbing backwards and it may be unreasonable to suggest that there was not enough forethought at the time when the UK joined the European Community.

But history would support the argument that the UK does not belong in the EU. No one should enter into a commercial arrangement when the relationship between the parties is not well-founded. Don’t make friends with those who are not your friends.

The EU is a very dubious mixture of ingredients. There are clear beneficiaries and clear losers. Nothing is uniform. The problem for the UK is that withdrawing from this unholy alliance is likely to be much, much more painful with exceptional uncertainties than almost any Brexit voter could have imagined.

The UK shouldn’t have joined. Once in, it would be better to try to improve the structure than leaving. Is there perhaps still time for wisdom and common sense to prevail over rather than short-term emotion?

Chutzpah

Before the end of June I knew of two definitions of chutzpah: the first is the teenage boy who shoots both his parents. When he is brought into court, he pleads in his defence that he is an orphan.

The second is the elderly woman who parks herself outside a large office building in New York, selling bagels for 25c (a quarter) each. An executive who works in the building comes by each day and drops a quarter into her basket but doesn’t take a beigel.

One day she stops him: the price has gone up to 30 cents.

Now there is a third example: the self-serving President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, has encouraged the ANC (his political party, the African National Congress) to go back to its core values.

Those values, as might have been defined by Nelson Mandela, surely did not include corruption, embezzlement, theft, creating new South African citizens by sleight of hand.

What chutzpah!

Warranty for body parts

I recently went to a new (to me) neurologist who earlier this year suffered a heart attack. A fit man, well exercised so not an obvious candidate.

I suggested that he might be able to take something positive from his most unpleasant and concerning experience. In his case letting go and taking things a bit easier. Rebalancing his life. He is doing just that, though not because of me. Just common sense.

As for the idea of a body parts warranty, I’ve asked myself quite often, typically when yet another part from my 17 years old car needs to be replaced, why can’t I do the same with my body?  I’m 76 and I’m in quite good working order. Still, I’d be glad to replace or at least upgrade certain body parts.

However, if there had been a warranty, it would by now have long expired.