Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryi Suzuki

"Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" was a recent, random purchase from charity shop just up the road. As a somebody who doesn't practice meditation, I expected to find a useful introduction into the world of Zen practice. Afterall, this is kind of what the title suggests. However, the book is not at all for beginners. It presupposes knowledge of the techniques of basic meditation and instead goes on to the next stage, discussing what we should be trying to achieve or not achieve from practicing Zen meditation. This is where adopting the 'Beginner's Mind' comes in to play. Despite not agreeing with everything in the text, the book was certainly enlightening in parts and worthy of many a quote.



...the most difficult thing is always to keep your begin-
ner's mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding
of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must
read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say,
"I know what Zen is," or "I have attained enlightenment."
This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner.

Whatever we see is changing, losing its balance. The
reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of bal-
ance, but its background is always in perfect harmony. This
is how everything exists in the realm of Buddha nature,
losing its balance against a background of perfect balance.
So if you see things without realizing the background of
Buddha nature, everything appears to be in the form of suf-
fering. But if you understand the background of existence,
you realize that suffering itself is how we live, and how we
extend our life. So in Zen sometimes we emphasize the
imbalance or disorder of life.

Sincerity itself is the railway track. The sights we see from
the train will change, but we are always running on the
same track. And there is no beginning or end to the track:
beginningless and endless track. There is no starting point
nor goal, nothing to attain. Just to run on the track is our
way. This is the nature of our Zen practice.
But when you become curious about the railway track,
danger is there. You should not see the railway track. If you
look at the track you will become dizzy. Just appreciate
the sights you see from the train. That is our way.

If an artist becomes too idealistic, he will commit
suicide, because between his ideal and his actual ability
there is a great gap. Because there is no bridge long enough
to go across the gap, he will begin to despair. That is the
usual spiritual way. But our spiritual way is not so idealistic.
In some sense we should be idealistic; at least we should
be interested in making bread which tastes and looks good!
Actual practice is repeating over and over again until you
find out how to become bread. There is no secret in our
way. Just to practice zazen and put ourselves into the oven
is our way.

Zen is not something to get excited about. Some people
start to practice Zen just out of curiosity, and they only
make themselves busier. If your practice makes you worse,
it is ridiculous. I think that if you try to do zazen once a
week, that will make you busy enough. Do not be too in-
terested in Zen. When young people get excited about Zen
they often give up schooling and go to some mountain or
forest in order to sit. That kind of interest is not true
Just continue in your calm, ordinary practice and your
character will be built up. If your mind is always busy, there
will be no time to build, and you will not be successful,
particularly if you work too hard on it.

Buddha said the same thing about the good ox driver. The
driver knows how much load the ox can carry, and he keeps
the ox from being overloaded. You know your way and
your state of mind. Do not carry too much!

...Zen is not concerned about philosophical understanding.
We emphasize practice.

This is how we should appreciate our life. Those who are
attached only to the result of their effort will not have any chance
to appreciate it, because the result will never come. But if moment
by momen t your effort arises from its pur e origin, all you do
will be good, and you wil l be satisfied with whatever you do.

Nothing exists but momentarily in its present form
and color. One thing flows into another and cannot be
grasped. Before the rain stops we hear a bird. Even under the
heavy snow we see snowdrops and some new growth.

Useful Advice from Men's Health Magazine?

My trial subscription to Men's Health (3 issues for £3) confirms the sham of the industry, with it's celebrity work-outs, miracle foods of the month, and exercises guaranteed to give you a six-pack in 4 weeks. The magazines feel no different to the few copies I read about a decade ago. It's not all bad though. Just flicking through them can be motivational.

My favourite piece of advice to date is shown above in an adopting 'The Samurai Mindset' piece:
"You don't need to feel like doing something in order to do it". Next time a difficult task rears its head, just notice that it's there and 'act alongside it'.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Levni Yilmaz - Procrastination

It was only through an obscure Japanese web-site on the philosophy of a chap called Shoma Morita that I stumbled upon the wonderful cartoon shorts by Lev Yilmaz. I will present my favourites over the next few weeks. The first animation is on the topic of procrastination. Enjoy. : )

Recipe reference: Spicy root & lentil casserole

My sister cooked up this spicy vegetable curry/casserole recipe last weekend and the flavours blew my socks off. It's had 350 ratings on the BBC GoodFood website with an average of 5 stars ...damn, it's good.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Film: Killing Them Softly

*** 1/2
Killing Them Softly is originally linear and strikingly well made for its simplicity, although the graphic brutality may turn some viewers off. The lack of any twists or sense of real build up places greater emphasis on characters and dialogue and, fortunately, this is where the film shines. The only two drawbacks are the unnecessary empahasis on the news broadcasts of the US elections and financial crisis (just wasn't required in this movie) and second, is this lower case helvetica being used in the poster?..I am not impressed!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Invention: The single hole diet belt

Stop the presses. I have just been discussing a neat invention with a fellow housemate and am offering it to readers at zero cost.

The idea is to produce a belt that looks like any ordinarily belt, save for a unique, special feature: it has just one hole. Hold on. A limitation as a feature? What gives, Zeek?

Here's the idea. Once you have attained your ideal weight, you give us your precise waist measurement and we create a tailor made belt for you with a single, optimal hole. With a single hole, you are forced to maintain your ideal weight. If you are getting too heavy, there is no 'move-up-a-notch' allowance and you have to step back on the eating. Think of it like stomach stapling from the outside.

On the flip side, if you are losing too much weight, you can't notch down and you face potential embarassment by having to constantly pull your trousers up, or risk having them drop to your ankles (although there is a good chance your trousers wouldn't drop all the way, in which case you may end up starting a trend for wearing your suit trousers in the fashion of a low riding, East Cost gangster).

The idea is a riff on my current system for bulking up using the simplest strategy possible:  I am eating loads more and exercising reasonably frequently. Instead of getting too scientific about the whole affair, all I do is look to my waist size as the feedback signal to tweak my diet/exercise approach: When I run up againt my regular belt hole, I know there is too much fat versus muscle and I use diet and cardio to perform a 're-set'. Then I continue with the heavy eating and exercise. I eat as 'clean' as possible but pay little attention to counting calories, other than making sure I am closing the day sufficiently north of the 2000kcal mark. It seems to be working as I'm up almost 3/4 stone in a matter of months.

Why Tea is So Very Magical

... from a nice little tumblr called "A Folder Mind", via somewhere else!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rustic vintage cool - death of a movement

As usual, the marketeers have done gone killed a good thing:

For a long time, I have been a fan of all things retro, vintage, and especially Art Deco (a large part of why I love the old Poirot series which airs repeatedly on one of the lesser ITV stations). I guess this originates from a response to the functional, poor quality aesthetic that prevailed in our national home furnishing stores across in the 80s and 90s, when sharp corners and plywood materials dominated the scene. The styling of so many objects spoke only of short, throw away life cycles with a view to temporary practicality. Against this backdrop, scouring second hand shops and charity warehouses for nice bits of a furniture was a bit of an adventure - little was actually purchased but there was a pleasure in seeking out the aesthetically pleasing gems from yesteryear.

As time went by the aesthetic caught on and entered into the mainstream. I didn't mind this at all, because it meant that the old chip-board, cheap looking furniture was being replaced with items that were much more pleasing to the eye. This acceptance applies more to replicas and borrowing from retro and art deco furnishings and less so to vintage items that are made to look old (i.e. items are pretending to be something they are not). The latter objects that are manufactured with a weathered, aged look often don't pass the near-eye test and as a consequence, my heart sinks a little when I realise that a deception is at play.

This year, however, the marketeers have taken this movement too far and now we see these terms (an outcrop of the above movement) splattered about everywhere:

- Rustic
- Vintage
- Hand crafted
- Locally sourced
- Gourmet (I've eaten gourmet chips from a gourmet snack van and they were anything but)

Through excessive use and misapplication (see the Starbuck's advertisement above) these terms have lost their appeal. If something looks rustic, I will give a nod to the aesthetic appeal. I do not need to be told. Ditto if something is vintage. If something is handcrafted, in most cases I really don't really care. Is my coffee made from a machine or by someone's hand? Maybe I would prefer a machine made beverage if I could get a good coffee every time (an impossibility in Starbucks). It's not a selling point. Don't tell me. Locally sourced? Again, I don't give two hoots. Gourmet? I think I'll decide.

Rant over. Almost. While I'm off on one about the marketeers, please oh please quit with the current trend in advertising of telling me how I should feel: "be free", "be inspired". Some advertisements are becoming unknowing parodies, so far are they delving into this emotive advertising. Oh, and what's  with the change in L'Oreal's tagline message from 'Because you're worth it' to 'Because we're worth it'? That just gives me the creeps.

Anger vs s**t happens

I was cut up on a motorway slip road yesterday, with the car in question pulling up in front of me at a distance of just one metre or so. We were both travelling at 70mph, or thereabouts, so this was a pretty high risk manoeuvre by the driver of the offending vehicle. What's more, it was completely unnecessary. My blood reached boiling point for about half a minute and, using the car as an extension of my person, I shot the offender some glares (i.e. full beam flashes) and screamed a torrent of abuse (i.e. repeated use of the horn).

After this brief period of road rage, I reflected with some shock: this was the first time I had truly been made angry this year. I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing. On the one hand, it means that I have been taking most things, good and bad, in my stride. It's part of a broader rational approach of expecting a certain amount of parking fines, thefts, personl affronts, etc through the year, simply because them's the probabilities of life, and so if you know they are coming, why get angry? On the other hand, this may be an overly passive approach to life, removing too much colour from the emotional scene.

Scott Adkins talks training

Here is some training advice from Scott Adkins, culled from the end of audio interview on Muscle&Fitness:

... if I have to put muscle on for a movie, I think just your basic volume training, you can't fail with that. ... I've tried a lot of different ways to pack muscle but for me it's eating a lot of food and volume training with a three day split in the week, or a four day split in the week.

... for me there's no secret to it. You've just got to train hard. If you can push yourself every time you go to the gym, then you're going to see your body change. There's no secret to it. It's just hard work. There's no quick fix.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Book: The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer

Here be another ninja book I received for my birthday. This one came from my sister and is a children's book aimed at a readership (listnership) aged around the 3-year old mark.

"The Boy Who Cried Ninja" is good fun and is wonderfully illustrated. We have the ninja himself, who can kick a cake off a plate straight into his mouth, a time travelling monkey, an astronaut, and several other chracters besides who are all upto various mischiefs. The only drawback is that it's a quick read, coming in at about five minutes if read and looked at slowly. Still, cracking fun for kids and adults with a fertile imagination.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book: Ninja AD 1460-1650 by Stephen Turnbull

A former housemate bought this volume for my birthday, knowing of my fascination for all things ninja related. The volume is slim and yet it is packed with information covering every facet of the ninja (dress, training, famous assassinations, weapons and strategies). Most interesting however, is how the author attempts to strip away the myth and fantasy, revealing the strategic role of the ninja (subterfuge and cunning rules the day) and how the ninja serves as a useful complement to the way of the samurai (samurai are all about facing your enemy head on and winning your battle with honour ... hint: send the ninja in first to weaken the enemy position!).


Film: Lawless

On "cheap Tuesday" at our local cinema, a picture can be enjoyed for a mere £3. At this price, you can afford to take a punt on film like Lawless, which has received very mixed reviews in the presses. I'm not sure what the critics were expecting of this type of movie but I thought it delivered the goods in spades. 

The movie tells the tale of a band of three brothers who are bootlegging moonshine in the prohibition era, when the Chicago boys move in to take over the action, corrupting the cops in the process. One element that some folk may have found wanting could be the absence of proper heroes. Afterall, the three brothers (the main characters) are also criminals. To me however, this misses the point, as the same point could be made about films like the Godfather. 

If what you want is a strong, well acted, well rounded gangster film, where the importance of brotherhood and family feature heavily, this is one for you. Like most gangster pics set in this era, you can expect a lot of violence, a sense of foreboding and an array of exaggerated chracters, the best being the almost Hannibal Lecter like Guy Pierce as the menacing villain of the piece. The star of the show, however, is Tom Hardy, playing his usual invincible self.

**** (ending could be improved a bit)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book: Peter Schlemihl by Adelbert von Chamisso

Peter Schlemihl is a mesmerising fairytale type story, that tells of a man who sells his shadow to a man in grey (the devil) in exchange for untold riches. Not long after the devil has carefully peeled away Peter's shadow and folded it away in his pocket does Peter begin to regret his decision as he becomes the source of widespread derision and rumour. Only after much hardship does our Peter find some measure of solace in what he has and what he has foregone.

Peter Schlemihl is a slim volume and this is its only drawback because the story is fantastical and the darkly magical writing leaves you wanting more. Highly recommended.

**** 1/2

"I had soon stocked up with everything I needed and embarked on my new life as a solitary man of learning. 
I travelled all over the east - measuring the mountains, the temperature of its air and waters; observing its animals and studying its plant life. I hurried from the equator to the pole - from one world to the other, comparing experience with experience. The eggs of the African ostrich or northern seabirds and fruit, especially bananas and dates from the tropical palms, provided my staple diet. Instead of my lost riches I had a good pipe for enjoyment - it took the place of human sympathy - while as an object of my affections, I had a little poodle who loved me and played the watchdog over my cave..."

Expendables 2: JCVD's henchman #1

In the Expendables 2, Jean Claude's evil henchman (Scott Adkins) stood out as one to watch in future, putting up a good final fight against Statham and displaying hints of genuine acting ability. It turns out that Adkins is a local boy from the Midlands who has recently turned up in some pretty good action films (as well as many bad ones). As you can see from the training montage above, the guy is basically a modern ninja. Keep an eye out for this lad.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Recipe: Peanut butter banana open top sandwich

One thick slice of hot toast, a thick layer of peanut butter, chopped banana and a light drizzle of honey. I can't believe that I haven't made this simple but delicious combo until now. It's the perfect, high protein, high energy snack. Okay, not good if you are looking to lose weight but ideal if you are coming from the opposite direction. There must be close to 500 calories in this little food parcel.

Elsewhere in sandwich land, I recently made a simple butter jam sandwich at work. Like fish fingers, there are certain foods you just shouldn't grow out of. One food item that doesn't do so well on the revisit is the Farleys Rusk.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dredd 3D

Dredd 3D is a nice follow on from the Expendables. The violence is gory, the dispensing of justice swift and brutal and the weaponary cool. The movie is better than the trailer suggests but not massively so. The 3D was very impressive in a few bits of the film but for the most part I would have preferred it in standard but crisp 2D. 

Dredd himself is a cool cat with a firm eye on the law, and he is well played by Karl Urban. As to the mask covering half of the character's face, the creator of Dredd, John Wagner, explains "It sums up the facelessness of justice − justice has no soul. So it isn't necessary for readers to see Dredd's face, and I don't want you to" (Wikipedia).

*** 1/2 (worth your while on an Orange Wednesday)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is the lower case tide starting to change?

For the first time in many years, I have noticed that somebody has changed their brand logo from lower case to upper case. Okay, so the "brand" is a little blog by the name of Farnham Street, but it all has to start somewhere, right.

The trend for presenting logos using a softer approach of lower casing and rounded corners has finally reached a point of saturation, such that you can now stand out from the crowd with a bit of upper case lettering.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Alzheimers as another form of diabetes?

Food for thought from the latest edition of the New Scientist:

"It is well known that bad diets can trigger obesity and diabetes. There is growing evidence that they trigger Alzheimer's disease too, and some researchers now see it as just another form of diabetes" - New Scientist

"Until recently, the hormone (insulin) was typecast as a regulator of blood sugar, giving the cue for muscles, liver and fat cells to extract sugar from the blood and either use it for energy or store it as fat. We now know that it is a master multitasker: it helps neurons, particularly in the hippocampus and frontal lobe, take up glucose for energy, and it also regulates neurotransmitters, like acetylcholine, which are crucial for memory and learning. What's more, it encourages plasticity - the process through which neurons change shape, make new connections and strengthen others. And it is important for the function and growth of blood vessels, which supply the brain with oxygen and glucose." - New Scientist
I'm still snacking on cakes etc as a way to bulk up a bit, but will soon go completely "clean". It's increasingly difficult to see any upside from consuming sweet stuffs and other pure carbs, beyond an initial sugar rush that leaves you wanting more shortly after. Having gone for long periods without on previous occassions, I know this is easily doable. The hurdle is just the initial adaptation period.

Murray has it ...

well, almost. At pixel time, Andy Murray is two sets up in the final of the US Open, against arch-rival Novak Djokovic. It's midnight now so I'm off to bed, but here's hoping he takes the third set as well. It would be the perfect follow-up to the Olympics victory.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

BIC pens for Her

BIC For Her Amber Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - BlackThere are some great Amazon reviews for the "BIC For Her Amber Medium Ballpoint Pen". My favourite paragraph from the countless comedy reviews:

"Normally my hand writing is defined and strong, as if chiselled in granite by the Greek gods themselves, however upon signing my name I noticed that my signature was uncharacteristically meandering and looping. More worryingly the dots above the I's manifested themselves as hearts, and I found myself finishing off the signature with a smiley face and kisses. Obviously I had no choice but to challenge the delivery man to a gun fight on the rim of an erupting volcano in order to reassert my dominance. Had I not won this honourable duel this particular mistake might have resulted in a situation that no amount of expensive single malt whiskey and Cuban cigars could banish. I leave this review here as a warning to all men about the dangers of using this particular device, and suffice-it-to-say will return to signing my name with a nail gun as normal"

Thursday, September 06, 2012

BBC science correspondents slacking

Can you be fat and fit? Maybe. The evidence is mixed, erring more on the yays (within limits) than the nays. A new study reported on by the BBC appears to lend strong credibility to the notion:

"When adjusting for fitness and other confounders, metabolically healthy but obese individuals had lower risk (30–50%, estimated by hazard ratios) of all-cause mortality, non-fatal and fatal cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality than their metabolically unhealthy obese peers; while no significant differences were observed between metabolically healthy but obese and metabolically healthy normal-fat participants."

This is a very powerful finding that has been picked up quite widely by the presses. However, what the BBC report (along with others) fails to note is that the study is co-sponsored by Coca-Cola. Now, this doesn't mean that it can't be trusted and is a load of baloney. However, a key pillar of neutrality is seriously hindered by this vested interest, throwing the validity of the claim into doubt. Me thinks we must await more studies before making up our minds. 

Vitamin D update - Dietary Heliotherapy

The latest bits of research in the field:

- This study finds vitamin d is no help in lowering cholesterol levels.

- This study finds vitamin d is significantly helpful in accelerating recovery from tuberculosis, supporting the old practice of heliotherapy (prescribed sunshine) for TB patients. "We demonstrate a previously unappreciated role for vitamin D supplementation in accelerating resolution of inflammatory responses during tuberculosis treatment. Our findings suggest a potential role for adjunctive vitamin D supplementation in the treatment of pulmonary infections to accelerate resolution of inflammatory responses associated with increased risk of mortality."

I continue to supplement my diet with edible sunshine but will become more rigorous with my intake as we move into the autumn months.

At the speed of Google

Google, what are you doing?

First you scrap a perfectly practical, light offering called Google Notes. The product served its note-taking purpose perfectly well and didn't need much support. And then you killed it. You killed it hard.

And now you announce that you are killing iGoogle, a wonderful personalised homepage that brings the web to use by way of useful widgets and RSS feeds. I have used iGoogle for about five years or so and love it, as do countless others.

I also use Google Blogger for my blogging platform but upgrades to the interface have been few and far between. It's still alive but the day may come when Google pull the plug here as well. Ditto for Google Picasa on-line.

Ironically, my reason for using so many Google products was that the company's size, expertise and financial strength increased the odds of innovation and probability of product survival. Not the case.

Technology may move at a fast clip but Google time is much slower, sometimes stopping completely.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Picadilly Circus Circus

The "Picadilly Circus Circus" event this Sunday was spectacular. The roads around Regent's Street and Picadilly Circus were temporarily pedestrianised to make room for a host of circus style acts, including acrobats, wire walkers, crazy opera singing women in massive dresses, a crazy hula hooping bendy-pole climbing monkey-man, a funny speed painter and much else besides. The grand finale was straight out of a fairytale and was the perfect ending to the affair,  with a group of acrobats dressed in white and wearing white face paint whizzing above our heads on zip-wires, releasing hundreds of thousands of feathers which drifted slowly down like tufts of snow. The whole area soon became blanketed in a sea of soft feathers. Cue music, feather flinging, and all round good times.

My camera was out of battery power on the day but fortunately my mate had his powerful snappy at the ready: 




pop quiz

Q) What is the the similarity between Adele's "Rolling in the Deep", Coldplay's "Princess of China" and Alex Care's "Too Close"?

A) The music video's for these songs all features ninjas (screenshots below).

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Tao of Pooh: Quotes from the Book

I said I'd give you some quotes and here they are:

"According to Lao-tse, the more man interfered
with the natural balance produced and governed by
the universal laws, the further away the harmony
retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the
more trouble. Whether heavy or light, wet or dry,
fast or slow, everything had its own nature already
within it, which could not be violated without
causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary
rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was
inevitable. Only then did life become sour."

"Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
"Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie."

Let's start with the first part: "A fly can't bird,
but a bird can fly." Very simple. It's obvious, isn't
it? And yet, you'd be surprised how many people
violate this simple principle every day of their lives
and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring
the clear reality that Things Are As They Are"

That doesn't mean that we need to stop
changing and improving. It just means that we need
to recognize What's There. If you face the fact that
you have weak muscles, say, then you can do the
right things and eventually become strong. But if
you ignore What's There and try to lift someone's
car out of a ditch, what sort of condition will you be
in after a while? And even if you have more muscle
than anyone alive, you still can't push over a freight
train. The wise know their limitations; the foolish
do not.

When you work with Wu Wei, you put the
round peg in the round hole and the square peg in
the square hole. No stress, no struggle. Egotistical
Desire tries to force the round peg into the square
hole and the square peg into the round hole. Clev-
erness tries to devise craftier ways of making peg;
fit where they don't belong. Knowledge tries to fig-
ure out why round pegs fit round holes, but not
square holes. Wu Wei doesn't try. It doesn't think
about it. It just does it. And when it does, it doesn't
appear to do much of anything. But Things Get

Using Wu Wei, you go by circumstances and
listen to your own intuition. "This isn't the best
time to do this. I'd better go that way." Like that.
When you do that sort of thing, people may say you
have a Sixth Sense or something. All it really is,
though, is being Sensitive to Circumstances. That's
just natural. It's only strange when you don't listen.
One of the most convenient things about this
Sensitivity to Circumstances is that you don't have
to make so many difficult decisions. Instead, you
can let them make themselves.

The Athletic sort of Backson—one of the many
common varieties—is concerned with physical fit-
ness, he says. But for some reason, he sees it as
something that has to be pounded in from the out-
side, rather than built up from the inside. There-
fore, he confuses exercise with work. He works
when he works, works when he exercises, and, more
often than not, works when he plays. Work, work,

Our Bisy Backson religions, sciences, and business
ethics have tried their hardest to convince us that
there is a Great Reward waiting for us somewhere,
and that what we have to do is spend our lives
working like lunatics to catch up with it.

"I was having an awful dream," he said.
"Yes. I'd found a jar of honey. . . .," he said,
rubbing his eyes.
"What's awful about that?" I asked.
"It kept moving," said Pooh. "They're not
supposed to do that. They're supposed to sit still."
"Yes, I know."
"But whenever I reached for it, this jar of
honey would sort of go someplace else."
"A nightmare," I said.
"Lots of people have dreams like that," I
added reassuringly.
"Oh," said Pooh. "About Unreachable jars of
"About the same sort of thing," I said. "That's
not unusual. The odd thing, though, is that some
people live like that."

"Why?" asked Pooh
"I don't know," I said. "I suppose because it
gives them Something to Do."
"It doesn't sound like much fun to me," said

"Say, Pooh, why aren't you busy?" I said.
"Because it's a nice day," said Pooh.
"Yes, but-----"
"Why ruin it?" he said.
"But you could be doing something Impor-
tant," I said.
"I am," said Pooh.
"Oh? Doing what?"
"Listening," he said.
"Listening to what?"
"To the birds. And that squirrel over there."
"What are they saying?" I asked.
"That it's a nice day," said Pooh.
"But you know that already," I said
"Yes, but it's always good to hear that some-
body else thinks so, too," he replied.

The main problem with this great obsession for
Saving Time is very simple: you can't save time.
You can only spend it. But you can spend it wisely
or foolishly. The Bisy Backson has practically no
time at all, because he's too busy wasting it by try-
ing to save it. And by trying to save every bit of it,
he ends up wasting the whole thing.

In the middle of a particularly busy day, the
emperor was driven to a meeting hall for an ap-
pointment of some kind. But when he arrived, there
was no one there. The emperor walked into the
middle of the great hall, stood silently for a mo-
ment, then bowed to the empty space. He turned to
his assistants, a large smile on his face. "We must
schedule more appointments like this," he told
them. "I haven't enjoyed myself so much in a long

An Empty sort of mind is valuable for finding
pearls and tails and things because it can see what's
in front of it. An (Overstuffed mind is unable to.
While the Clear mind listens to a bird singing, the
Stuffed- Full -of - Knowledge - and- Cleverness mind
wonders what kind of bird is singing. The more
Stuffed Up it is, the less it can hear through its own
ears and see through its own eyes.

 The wise are Children Who
Know. Their minds have been emptied of the
countless minute somethings of small learning, and
filled with the wisdom of the Great Nothing, the
Way of the Universe.

...We can
go there at any time. It's not far away; it's not hard
to find. Just take the path to Nothing, and go No-
where until you reach it. Because the Enchanted
Place is right where you are, and if you're Friendly
With Bears, you can find it

Saturday, September 01, 2012

An article on the UK housing market

Tim Morgan at Tullett Prebon has written an insightful piece (PDF) on the UK housing sector. Here are some salient and sometimes shocking points to consider:

-  young people ... have seen housing priced out of their reach just as homeowners amongst their parents’ generation have seemed to prosper. Moreover, young would-be buyers no  longer enjoy the perks that benefited their elders, perks such as (a) mortgage interest tax relief, and (b) deeply discounted right-to-buy prices on local authority home sales. This seems - indeed is - grossly unfair to a generation which is also poised to inherit the massive debts recklessly built up by their predecessors.

- According to official figures,  a rise of just 2.2% in mortgage rates could put as much as 52%  (by value)  of all variable-rate mortgages into distress.

- The third, less than obvious problem for existing homeowners is the widespread assumption that they can monetise the equity in their properties to fund a good quality of life in their retirement. But to whom, exactly, do retiring members of the baby boomer generation think they are going to be selling their houses when they seek to realise their equity by downsizing? Certainly not to the younger generation, who cannot afford to buy at anything remotely approaching current price levels.  In short,  demographic distortion is going to spring a very nasty shock on anyone who expects to retire in comfort on the basis of inflated housing equity. Whilst our assessment of price/income multiples suggests further downside  of about 25% in real average property prices, there are well-reasoned arguments which suggest that real-terms price declines could exceed 40%.

- The second set of myths about high property prices is that  they are good for the economy. In the short term, rising prices may be economically beneficial if they boost consumer spending, but this is a function of the rate of change, not of absolute property price levels.  As soon as real prices cease to escalate – which at some point, of course, they must – this beneficial effect is lost, and any benefits are likely to reverse, because homeowners are left further in debt than they were before the escalation began. Between the end of 1999 and the end of 2007, mortgage debt outstanding increased from £494bn to £1.1 trillion, a real-terms increase of 53%. 

- the privately-owned housing sector is a capital sink, absorbing funds which could otherwise have been invested productively. If the £690bn expansion in property debt between 1999 and 2007 had been deployed into industry instead, the economy would be very, very much more productive than it is today. 

- By paying housing benefits, government expands demand and drives prices (rents) upwards, which explains why the cost of housing benefit to the state has risen from £11.1bn in 1999-2000 to £22.7bn in 2011-12. Thus seen, housing benefit has been a subsidy to the private rented sector, since the number of socially-owned homes decreased by 464,000 between 2000 and 2010, whereas there was a 2.1 million increase in privately-rented properties over the same period.  So  the more funds government makes available  in benefits, the higher rents will be, for the simple reason that government has been increasing demand for rented properties.
...f government wants to drive rents (and, hence, benefit costs) downwards, it needs to invest in increasing supply, not in boosting demand. There is, then, a compelling  financial case for a state-funded house-building programme, because it will reduce the future cost of benefits.

 -  ... house-building is an essentially domestic  industry, which has very important economic implications. If government were to initiate a major house-building programme, a host of businesses (including builders, electrical contractors, plumbers, builders’ merchants and various sub-contractors) would benefit, as would their employees. Most of this business would be placed with British suppliers, so far less of this stimulus would ‘leak’ into imports as it would if, say, VAT was cut as an alternative stimulus technique.