May 2010

Mental Tougness for Managers

by Limbic on May 26, 2010

I am enjoying the podcasts from the American Management Associations (AMA) podcast series Edgwise.

Today I listed to an interesting interview with  Dr. Graham Jones, an world expert on Mental Toughness. Well worth a listen.

What does Lebron James have in common with Warren Buffet? Whether we’re getting ready for the big game or the big meeting, we all deal with high pressure situations; it’s natural to everyone on the job and a reality of the workforce. In his new book Thriving on Pressure: Mental Toughness for Real Leaders, Dr. Graham Jones encourages us to channel that pressure and make the hard decisions.

Dr. Jones is formerly professor of Elite Performance Psychology at the University of Wales in Bangor. An author of 150 White Papers in publications on the subject of high level performance. He is the Founding Director of Lane4 Management Group Limited, which is a leading performance in consultancy that has offices in the U.S. and around the world.

Dr.
Graham Jones on Mental Toughness » AMA Edgewise

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I knew that Ireland’s economic woes were bad, but not quite this bad:

Ireland’s economic miracle was a mirage and it should consider leaving the Euro say two leading economists writing in The New York Times.

They also say Ireland’s real economic situation is as bad if not worse than Greece when you take multinational tax havens out of the equation.

Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, and Peter Boone of the London School of Economics say that “Ireland’s politicians, rather than facing up to their problems, are making things ever worse. Simply put, the Irish miracle was a mirage driven by clever use of tax-haven rules and a huge credit boom that permitted real estate prices and construction to grow quickly before declining ever more rapidly.”

They claim that “Ireland’s problems are, sadly, far deeper than the need for simple fiscal austerity.

…[R]oughly 20 percent of Irish gross domestic product is actually ‘profit transfers’ that raise little tax for Ireland and are owned by foreign companies. Since most of these profits are subject to the tax code, they are accounted for in Ireland where they are lightly taxed; they should not be counted as part of Ireland’s potential tax base. A more robust cross-country comparison would be to examine Ireland’s financial condition ignoring these transfers.

When we adjust Ireland’s figures accordingly, the situation is dire. The budget deficit was about 17.9 percent of G.N.P. in 2009, and based on European Commission data (and assuming the G.N.P.-G.D.P. gap remains the same) it will be roughly 14.6 percent in 2010 and 15.1 percent in 2011.

“There is no simple escape, but if the government hopes to avoid a sovereign default, the one overriding priority should be to stop bailing out the banks…

…“Finally, the Irish need to consider seriously whether being in the euro zone is worth the cost. The adjustment to this awful situation would be far easier outside the euro zone — even though leaving the zone might have adverse repercussions for other nations. Once again, a comprehensive program with European Union and I.M.F. support might make this the least worse option.”

From: Ireland worse than Greece, faces financial ruin, say two leading economists | Irish News | IrishCentral

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The green rooftops of Copenhagen

by Limbic on May 26, 2010

Copenhagen currently has about 30 planted rooftops. In future there will be vastly more.

The City of Copenhagen’s has decreed that any new flat roof with a slope less than 30 degrees must be planted with green vegetation.

The new guidelines make the capital to the holder of the world’s most ambitious policy on green roofs.

Only Toronto in Canada is approaching the level of ambition with its requirement that all new flat roofs must partially planted.

Engineering and Environmental Mayor Bo Aamus Kjeldgaard is excited about the new green policies.

“I have the goal that the whole of Copenhagen will be much greener, and that the green roofs will give CO2 savings ‘, he said.

The plants on the roofs also insulate against cold and heat, allowing the  building to conserve energy. It should help the municipality to achieve its objective to be CO2 neutral in 2025.

Furthermore, the plants will clean urban air and act as absorbent sponges when it rains, so sewers and sewage plants will be less loaded.

It is estimated that green rooftops will grow at a rate of about 5000 square meters per year.

The new guidelines do nit require that the roofs should be accessible, it will be up to developers to decide whether they will seize the opportunity to create recreational areas with views of Copenhagen.

Today Copenhagen has about 200,000 square meters of flat roof space, but the new political initiative contains no requirement that they be planted.

The government feels it cannot compel building owners to plant green roofs, but it can educate owners to the benefits and demystify the risks.

The municipality is providing incentive funds for those who want to convert their roofs to gardens.

Creating a green roof is slightly more expensive than conventional roof solutions. It costs around 500 kroner (£50) more per square meter, equivalent to about 0.5 percent above the total construction costs – calculated for buildings above three storeys.

“For the small additional investment you get in return a roof with a double life and a building that is future proof in terms of environmental requirements”, says Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard.

The policy is being welcomed by Copenhageners, being described by Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard “crazy hip”.

From Københavns huse skal have stenurt og husløg på toppen – iBYEN.dk

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Kosovo’s shame debt growing fast

by Limbic on May 23, 2010

Another day, another attack on Serbs in Kosovo, this time Serb returnees trying to resettle in their homeland.

It has been over a decade since Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo after the NATO bombing ended with UN Resolution 1244 .

In that 10 years, the International community, the Kosovo Albanian majority and the Kosovo government have completely failed the Serb, Roma and Gorani minorities in Kosovo.

These minorities have suffered multiple pogroms, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, intimidation, violent attacks, interruption of basic services and near constant abuse at the hands of ethnic Albanian politicians, criminals, paramilitaries and mobs.

It is worth reminding ourselves what Resolution
1244
promised, especially with regard to security and rights.

Here are selections from two paragraphs  (emphasis mine):

9. Decides that the responsibilities of the international security presence to be deployed and acting in Kosovo will include:

(a) Deterring renewed hostilities, maintaining and where necessary enforcing a ceasefire, and ensuring the withdrawal and preventing the return into Kosovo of Federal and Republic military, police and paramilitary forces, except as provided in point 6 of annex 2;
(c) Establishing a secure environment in which refugees and displaced persons can return home in safety, the international civil presence can operate, a transitional administration can be established, and humanitarian aid can be delivered;
(d) Ensuring public safety and order until the international civil presence can take responsibility for this task;
(h) Ensuring the protection and freedom of movement of itself, the international civil presence, and other international organizations;

11. Decides that the main responsibilities of the international civil presence will include:

(i) Maintaining civil law and order, including establishing local police forces and meanwhile through the deployment of international police personnel to serve in Kosovo;
(j) Protecting and promoting human rights;
(k) Assuring the safe and unimpeded return of all refugees and displaced persons to their homes in Kosovo;

Most Serb, Gorani and Roma refugees cannot return home to Kosovo. Those that do are, like all minorities in Kosovo, are subject to violent attacks, intimidation and discrimination.

In addition to the violence, there is low level harassment and intimidation, ranging from having basic utilities cut off (Electricity and Mobile Phone coverage) through to more serious human rights abuses.

Minority communities do not have freedom of movement nor pubic safety. NATO troops need to camp next to Serb villages to guard then against mobs or paramilitary forces taking pot-shots at Serb villagers. Buses are stoned, landmines are laid to
obstruct returnees convoys, people are beaten up and knifed as they walk home, petrol bombs are thrown at houses, there are drive-by shootings.  

All of this has happened since the war was ostensibly over. The worst thing is that this is still going on, 10 years later, and there is very little sign that things are getting any better for the minority communities.

So whilst we acknowledge the crimes of the Milosevic regime committed a decade ago, and we must still account for that crimes of that regime, but we must hold the Kosovo Government and Kosovo Albanian people to account for what has happened and continues to happen now in their country.

The crimes of Yugoslav forces 10 years ago are not and have never been an excuse for the continuing brutal treatment of non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo.

If these Human Rights abuses continue against Kosovo minorities, we should start preparing a cell for Kosovo Prime Minister Thraci at the Hague. 

Perhaps in 10 years we will have apologetic Kosovo Albanians denouncing “the Thraci regime” and acknowledging with shame the crimes committed in their name?

The decent Albanian people of Kosovo need to speak up and act. Their country is widely seen as an absolute disaster. It is riddled with corruption, with no real economy and it is an international organised crime hotspot. Add into that gross Human rights abuses of minorities and one has to wonder: Why do Kosovo Albanians deserve help and support? It is a question being asked in capitals around the world.

Its central role in Human Trafficking alone should be enough to agitate decent people of Kosovo into a frenzy of action.  One day Human Trafficking and its attendant sex slavery, child rape, mass exploitation and murder, will be considered one of the most shameful practices in the modern era.  When the history books are written, Kosovo will be central to the that story, and like the Atlantic slave trade, it will be a badge of shame for generations. Right now you are collaborationists with a regime that tolerates slavery and human rights abuses.

So Kosovan’s, what is happening now in your country is deeply wrong and will haunt you forever. Stop pointing at the past, and what you suffered. That is no excuse. You are accumulating shame. Your history is being blighted by your crimes.  Do something about it.

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Police racism or good policing?

by Limbic on May 16, 2010

 

Heather McDonald takes on the New York Times for peddling the old myth that police are racists because they stop and search more non-whites than whites.

We see exactly the same nonsense from the UK Guardian, which regularly accuses the Metropolitan police of racism for stopping and searching a disproportionate number of non-white suspects.

In London as in New York, blacks are stopped at a rate lower than their rate of represetation in the city’s criminal population.

The New York Times’s front page story this week on the New York Police
Department and its allegedly racist stop-and-frisk practices follows a
well-worn template: give specific racial breakdowns for every aspect of
police behavior, but refer to racial crime rates only in the most
attenuated of terms. Disclosing crime rates—the proper benchmark
against which police behavior must be measured—would demolish a
cornerstone of the Times’s worldview: that the New York Police
Department, like police departments across America, oppresses the city’s
black population with unjustified racial tactics.

This week’s story, written by Al Baker, began with what the Times
thinks is a shocking disparity: “Blacks and Latinos were nine times as
likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009,
but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested.” (The fact that
blacks, Hispanics, and whites are arrested at the same rate after a stop
undercuts, rather than supports, the thesis of racially biased
policing, but more on that later.)

The Times’s story includes a graphic breakdown of police stops
by race: blacks made up 55 percent of all stops in 2009, though they’re
only 23 percent of the city’s population; whites accounted for 10
percent of all stops, though they’re 35 percent of the city’s
population; Hispanics made up 32 percent of all stops, though 28 percent
of the population, and Asians, 3 percent of all stops and 12 percent of
the population. The article details a host of other police actions by
specific racial numbers, including arrests, frisks, and use of force.

But when the Times gets around to mentioning crime rates, more
than halfway into the piece, it does so only because the NYPD raises
them in its defense, not because the Times deems them
independently worthy of note in a story on police stops. And it mentions
them only as a form of reported speech, in the most generalized of
terms: “Mr. Browne, the department spokesman, . . . said the stops
mirrored crime—that while a large percentage of the stops involved
blacks, an even larger percentage of violent crimes involved suspects
described as black by their victims.”

…The actual crime rates
reveal that blacks are being significantly understopped, compared
with their representation in the city’s criminal population, another
reason for omitting them from the paper’s reporting.

Here are the crime data that the Times doesn’t want its
readers to know: blacks committed 66 percent of all violent crimes in
the first half of 2009 (though they were only 55 percent of all stops
and only 23 percent of the city’s population). Blacks committed 80
percent of all shootings in the first half of 2009. Together, blacks
and Hispanics committed 98 percent of all shootings. Blacks committed
nearly 70 percent of all robberies. Whites, by contrast, committed 5
percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009, though they are
35 percent of the city’s population (and were 10 percent of all stops).
They committed 1.8 percent of all shootings and less than 5 percent of
all robberies. The face of violent crime in New York, in other words,
like in every other large American city, is almost exclusively black and
brown. Any given violent crime is 13 times more likely to be committed
by a black than by a white perpetrator—a fact that would have been
useful to include in the Times’s lead, which stated that “Blacks
and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped.”
These
crime data are not some artifact that the police devise out of their
skewed racial mindset. They are what the victims of those crimes—the
vast majority of whom are minority themselves—report to the police.

Distorting the Truth About Crime and Race by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal 14 May 2010

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Engineering Black Swans

by Limbic on May 11, 2010

Last Thursday US stock markets experienced a catastrophic 20 minute price collapse with the NASDQ losing over 1000 points.

It was originally blamed on a computer glitch, but now its looking like it was a market swoon triggered by a Hedge Fund advised by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of “The Black Swan“.

Did a Big Bet Help Trigger ‘Black Swan’ Stock Swoon? – Wall Street Journal

Creating the Improbable: Did Bet Trigger Crash? – New York Times

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Just wanted to share some superb podcast episodes I have heard recently.

The Evolution of God – Speaking of Faith
http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2010/evolution-of-god/

“Robert Wright charts an intellectual path beyond the faith versus reason debate. He takes a relentlessly logical look at the history of religion, exposing its contradictions. Yet Wright also traces something “revelatory” moving through human history. In this public conversation — recorded before a live audience — we explore the story he tells, the import he sees in it for our culture, and where it has personally taken him.”

The Essential Engineer – Tech Nation
http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail4443.html

“Dr. Moira Gunn talks with Duke University professor, Henry Petroski, about his new book, The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems, where he explores science and engineering and how they must work together to address our world’s most pressing issues. From climate change to cars, natural disasters to renewable energy sources, the scientist may identify problems but it falls to the engineer to solve them.”

In Pursuit of Silence – Tech Nation
http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail4468.html

“Dr. Moira Gunn visits with author, George Prochnik, to talk about his new book, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, where he examines why we began to be so loud as a society, and what it is that gets lost when we can no longer find quiet.”

Ancient Breathing Techniques for Modern Information Workers –  Jon Udell’s Interviews with Innovators
http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail4471.html
http://blog.jonudell.net/2010/05/03/talking-with-linda-stone-about-coherent-breathing-and-human-performance/

“Linda Stone coined the phrase “continuous partial attention” and has long been concerned about the psychological effects of computers and networked information systems. Now she’s exploring the physiological effects too. In this conversation with Jon Udell, she explains what “email apnea” is, and discusses why and how we should learn to regulate our breathing when we work online.”

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Deepwater Horizon Response

by Limbic on May 8, 2010

Many people are unaware of just how dangerously destructve the Deepwater Horizon blowout is.

Most of the media are playing along with a low key story, in which BP are about to solve the problem of escaping oil with the cofferdam whilst Gulf Coast communities brace for the economic and environmental impact of the oil spill.

The Long Emergency communities (Oil peakers, collapsarians etc) are meanwhile heralding doom. They point out that we have an unprecedented engineering event – losing a well head – leading to potentially 10,000,000 gallons of oil gushing into the ocean from a hole in the earth’s crust so deep undersea that is at the very edge of human engineering capabilities.

On the Life After The Oil Crash forums there is speculation that this gusher is unstoppable and may cause unprecedented damage to the entire global oceanic ecosystem.

Oilprice.com has a grim article that reports

WMR has been informed by sources in the US Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Florida Department of Environmental Protection that the Obama White House and British Petroleum (BP), which pumped $71,000 into Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign — more than John McCain or Hillary Clinton, are covering up the magnitude of the volcanic-level oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and working together to limit BP’s liability for damage caused by what can be called a “mega-disaster.”

Obama and his senior White House staff, as well as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, are working with BP’s chief executive officer Tony Hayward on legislation that would raise the cap on liability for damage claims from those affected by the oil disaster from $75 million to $10 billion. However, WMR’s federal and Gulf state sources are reporting the disaster has the real potential cost of at least $1 trillion. Critics of the deal being worked out between Obama and Hayward point out that $10 billion is a mere drop in the bucket for a trillion dollar disaster but also note that BP, if its assets were nationalized, could fetch almost a trillion dollars for compensation purposes. There is talk in some government circles, including FEMA, of the need to nationalize BP in order to compensate those who will ultimately be affected by the worst oil disaster in the history of the world.

Plans by BP to sink a 4-story containment dome over the oil gushing from a gaping chasm one kilometer below the surface of the Gulf, where the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and killed 11 workers on April 20, and reports that one of the leaks has been contained is pure public relations disinformation designed to avoid panic and demands for greater action by the Obama administration, according to FEMA and Corps of Engineers sources. Sources within these agencies say the White House has been resisting releasing any “damaging information” about the oil disaster. They add that if the ocean oil geyser is not stopped within 90 days, there will be irreversible damage to the marine eco-systems of the Gulf of Mexico, north Atlantic Ocean, and beyond. At best, some Corps of Engineers experts say it could take two years to cement the chasm on the floor of the Gulf.

I am dearly hoping these people are simply alarmists and/or wrong. The cofferdam has been successful lowered onto the main leak now, but it will not be operational until Sunday or Monday.

Right now the spill is comparatively small, not even as big as 1989’s Exxon Valdez spill, but it has the potential to be massively worse.

For the official version of events and regular updates, keep and eye on:

Official Deepwater Horizon Response site http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/

Deepwater Horizon YouTude channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/DeepwaterHorizonJIC

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Oil_Spill_2010

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DeepwaterHorizonResponse

Good Breaking News Coverage from Nola.com: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/breaking_news/index.html

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Notes on the May 2010 UK elections

by Limbic on May 7, 2010

Delighted to see George Galloway lose in Poplar & Limehouse.

Surprised to see the LibDems do so badly. Just goes to show that far left parties are simply not mainstream in Britain, and immigration hurt them. It was gratifying to see LibDem grandee Simon Hughes on the BBC this morning trying to explain why the party did so badly (after he scoffed at exit polls suggesting this result). I think that his attitude (and that of his party) on immigration, which has has been nutty for nearly a decade, was a lead factor in their fall.

The absurdity of the Scots and welsh having regional assemblies, but their MPs voting on English matters, will only be aggravated by this result. The Tories completely dominated England, but only got a a single seat in Scotland and a handful in Wales.  This will create huge tension and lead to more calls for some sort of English assembly.

I would actually like to see the LibDems form a coalition with labour. The government will collapse within a year and guarantee a Tory majority at the next election.

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Notes on Cognitive Ballistics

by Limbic on May 2, 2010

Anthony Judge’s Laetusinpraesens.org site is a marvel. It is packed with superb essays.

In this essay “Cognitive Ballistics vs. Derivative Correlation in Memetic Warfare: Suicide bombing as a weapon of mass distraction?”, Judge argues that suicide bombing is a rather unoriginal and unimaginative form of terrorist attack.

A memetic attack on the Western financial system, particularly one that exploits seeded weaknesses like the Gaussian copula function, is a far more effective attack and give the recent collapse of the system, may indeed of been subjected to just this sort of attack, perhaps by Islamists or the Chinese.

The focus here is on the destruction of the financial system as an example of memetic warfare in a global knowledge society. It builds on the understanding of structural violence as developed by Johan Galtung (Violence, Peace, and Peace Research, Journal of Peace Research, 1969) who distinguishes between physical violence and structural violence. Physical violence is for the amateur, using weapons in order to dominate. For Galtung, structural violence is the tool of the professional employing exploitation and social injustice to achieve domination. In this sense the question is whether the collapse of the financial system was brought about by professionals who had tricked those complicit in the globalization process into acting like amateurs in its defence.

…Given the success with which the western-inspired financial bubble of “globalization” was so disastrously exploded, this is an exploration of the possibility that ensuring the strategic focus on suicide bombing as the epitome of terrorism has been the mistaken pursuit of a decoy. Such a possibility would be consistent with the recognized lack of imagination, and the quality of groupthink, associated with the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

…It is within this context that the innovative formula of David X. Li with regard to the Gaussian copula function is of interest. It is admirably described by Felix Salmon (Recipe for Disaster: the formula that killed Wall Street, Wired, 17.03, March 2009) — or on the title page of the issue as The Secret Formula that Destroyed Wall Street. As Li had indicated in 2005 “Very few people understand the essence of the model” (Mark Whitehouse, Slices of Risk, The Wall Street Journal, 12 September 2005)..

Li’s original paper (On Default Correlation: A Copula Function Approach, Journal of Fixed Income 9, 2000, pp. 43-54) was the first appearance of the Gaussian copula models for the pricing of collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s). This quickly became a tool for financial institutions to correlate associations between multiple securities — allowing CDOs to be accurately priced for a wide range of investments that were previously too complex to price, such as mortgages. In this respect they were at the core of the subprime crisis.

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 the model has been seen as fundamentally flawed, notably as recognized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007): “People got very excited about the Gaussian copula because of its mathematical elegance, but the thing never worked. Co-association between securities is not measurable using correlation,”. He argues that ” Anything that relies on correlation is charlatanism”.

Clearly a group of sufficient intelligence — presumably accessible to, or inspired by, al-Qaida — might well have been able to ensure the design of what would appear to be a “silver bullet” for the financial markets. As the commentary shows, it only needs to work most of the time and people of lesser competence will believe that it works all the time. Presumably there will be plenty of models on offer for the Summit to consider that one or other will be relevant some of the time as a “silver bullet”.

Judge speculates as to who could have been responsible for the memtic virus that disabled the global financial system, he discusses Al-Qaeda, Neocons, China and others.

Each of these possibilities involves the “infiltration” of a cognitive virus — a memetic virus — into the central processor of the financial system, but at a higher order of complexity rendering it virtually undetectable. Whether it is to be framed as a “virus” or as a “corrective process”, clearly depends on the preferred comprehension of the global framework.

These is tons more to think about in this essay. well worth a read.

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