15 july 2010, four lions

Rare is the comedy film I see and appreciate, but four lions I certainly did; don't think I've cringed and laughed so much since borat. It is humour of the blackest type, very reminiscent of course of brass eye, the television high point of four lions' director chris morris, which really broke boundaries in the kind of fake interview technique that borat's earlier incarnation, ali g, made his name with on the long forgotten 11 o'clock show. All funny stuff, and I painfully laughed out loud at this one.

9 july 2010, moving the market

I wax and wane on the economist's coverage of europe: an admirable zealot on pushing forward the single market, but populist and naive in not seeming to understand the political implications of that. This week they highlighted mario monti's excellent report on how to broaden what is the largest economic area in the world. He talks about rejoining the lost battle on services, and creating a single market in digital, low-carbon, audio-visual and healthcare. As the current successful incarnation has, this would both make the cake of european growth bigger and redistribute it to more efficient and innovative firms. However, nothing can or should happen without political consensus, and monti perceptively notes both "integration fatigue", eroding the appetite for more europe and "market fatigue", reducing confidence in the mechanism itself. It is ironic that the single market is less popular than ever (see the paralysis of contentment, just when europe needs it more than ever.

4 july 2010, the third age

In the first few years, I simply couldn't get enough of my two boys (now 6 & nearly 9). There was so much time to play with and stimulate them, to read aloud, to lark around. I painted their walls with colourful characters, rocked them patiently to sleep, took them for long cycles on the back of my bike. There did come a time though, when, guiltily at the back of my mind, I longed for a little more "me" time, and space with my other half. Playing with the kids was no less pleasurable, but somehow the hours in the day were ever less, and the list of things I really wanted to do ever more. We began to yearn for them to happily play together, without waking us up of a sunday morning. That day has long since come, and they now play without me all the time, reading books, playing football in the garden and on wii, and with all manner of things I long ago gave up trying to be familiar with. My time though is as truncated as ever, and I'm more tired in the evenings than before. Now perhaps, a third age is starting, when I want to stay with them as intimately as ever, but they have their own plans, which will ultimately turn into their own lives. A long way down the tracks perhaps, but I think I see a dawn. If nothing ever changed though, there'd be no butterflies.

29 june 2010, getting more on target

Board meeting at the hospital today, with some pretty chunky items to discuss amidst the great changes the health service is experiencing. We spent most time though (and for the first time voted) on becoming the first english nhs hospital to introduce free car parking. We also had a lengthy presentation on health and safety, which, although vital, was a questionable use of the whole board's time. Annual risk management training though, is a legal requirement - part of a very broad raft of such requirements. Another, I learned, is the chief executive signing a statement of intent and sending it to all staff. This smacks of some good manager somewhere introducing something, and someone in government thinking that making this a universal requirement will improve safety. Actually, what you need is good managers, to allow them to manage and a robust system of local accountability. Having literally hundreds of central requirements has a big opportunity cost in time and brain power, keeping senior staff from thinking things through for themselves, and also taking away responsibility: "well, I followed the rules !". As they did in mid-staffordshire. I do generally welcome therefore a rolling back of centrally-fixed targets.

25 june 2010, loosening up

I have some experience of lobbying on the chinese currency (the remninbi, or yuan), having done a lot of the analysis underpinning a groundbreaking visit of the european "trio" to bejiing in 2007, although that was but a pale shadow of the hugely successful american version. Neither though succeeded in their primary goal, which was to loosen up china's holding down of its currency. That was finally announced this week - apparently. The reason for this is that china, sitting on vast foreign reserves and with huge investment flows risks inflation. Letting the currency rise is like releasing a pressure valve, which also encourages both growth in its own consumer market ("export to china !") and more shopping abroad, as their currency is stronger ("we want chinese investment !"). These effects though will come through only slowly, as the transformation is not all it seems. The yuan will not float, it is managed and, as with most things, the chinese central bank's hand is slow and steady. This will not fix the global imbalances at the heart of the financial crisis overnight, or at possibly at all - and anyway, is the west really comfortable with china becoming the engine of the world's economy and its firms' customers of choice. As the proverbial old chinese proverb says, the bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. As for thoughts on the uk budget...

Attached File: briefing.doc

18 june 2010, liquid lunch

I gave an after dinner speech today at what would once be called a gentlemen's club in manchester, the last one apparently. A week ago I was on the beach at the tail end of an outrageous gay pride event, and today I listened reverently to grace, toasts and a vote of thanks. Strange that both can be spiritual experiences. One sensation was a sort of "from the street to the boardroom" elation. Another was a desire to climb the ramparts and throw things, but I fought that, as on thinking about it, my problem was not so much with the club as an institution but rather its make up, which was almost entirely elderly, white, male and middle class. I'm not sure you can get away from the last criteria if you appeal to that section of society that habitually lunches in a wealthy city centre and wants the familiar around it. To survive though, you certainly need to change the first three. Because you need institutions to bring people together, I wish them well.

16 june 2010, health is wealth

Excellent seminar over the last couple of days, getting to grips with the uk's national health service. I learnt, amongst many other things, that the nhs is not so much interested in health (which consumes about 1-4% of its budget) as in illness, which is very lucrative. My hospitals, in common with others, get paid for the more people we get through the doors, which is a stark contrast to chinese doctors, who get paid by all their patients until they get ill. The nhs, which has done marvels over the last few years, but on a rapidly increasing budget, is now entering a phase of contraction, which is not going to be easy to manage, but nor, I think, is it impossible. General practioners, the friendly family doctors, are to be the agents of change and innovation, which is a smart move, as convincing them that the move away from expensive hospital care is the right one is probably the hardest task, and the bit that unlocks a very different way of doing things. The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

9 june 2010, beduin

Trekking across the desert from mitzpe ramon, overlooking israel's largest crater, and introducing the family to this outpost of the sahara. Last night we took a jeep out to see scorpions, porcupine, a fox, a hare and a gerbo, which our eldest held in his hand as it was transfixed by our headlights. Today we drove across the crater, saw fascinating rock formations, made tea from herbs, rode camels and spent a few hours at a beduin village. Israel's attitude to beduin is indulgent, as many used to serve in the army, though less today, "we are losing the beduin" our israeli guide told us. A few weeks ago, in an interesting contrast to the flotilla, a group of hundreds broke across the egyptian border, fleeing a blood feud. In the end they stayed months, as negotiation slowly proceeded. Seeing western lives through a satellite and nearby towns saps tradition, as does access to cheap goods and the ban on their nomadic lifestyle, the negev now being virtually all nature reserve or military zone, and the children must go to school. The roof of the tent we had lunch in was once matted goat's hair, but today cheap black tarpaulin. There was no romance in a grindingly poor community without power in daylight and which lives largely off benefits, tourism and smuggling. Kids get on though, and ours couldn't stop playing with the one-day old goats we were given the run of. Tonight, we sleep at an old council block of flats, now a luxury hotel.

7 june 2010, hot, hot, hot

A sweltering 38c today (way over 100f), in the shade, in the evening. Too hot to stay in the pool, certainly for the kids, so stayed in the shade, visiting masada in the afternoon, and bumping into various from the kids' school - it's that sort of holiday. Reading "the master and margharita" a rather heavy russian tome, bequeathed from my last trip here, and enjoying it, with a cocktail or 4, when the kids are in bed, when the hot wind is not blowing the eyelids to sleep. Staying on what was once a kibbutz (ein gedi), and off tommorow to the heart of the desert to meet camels and beduin and for a nightime walk. Drinking a litre of water an hour and the most unpretentious but delicious food. And lots of it - the dining room is air-conditioned. High - or low - light was the dead sea. Did the mud-thing at the lowest point ON EARTH, and getting lower, by about a metre a year, as tragically the dead sea slowly disappears before our eyes due to excessive use of the jordan river upstream. They can't build the jettys fast enough.

5 june 2010, bauhaus

Having a lovely time in tel aviv, hanging out by the sea and eating and drinking all manner of good things. Highlight was a guided tour of the world's bauhaus capital. The school was german (1919 to 33) but although there are examples the world over, no other city centre is built in the style, as this was just when tel aviv was being built: the population in 1920 was just 2000 people and lots of sand dunes. Bauhaus was deeply egalitarian and utopian, all about building things that are not decorative but purely functional and so cheap to produce for the masses. The square, simple style is evident everywhere here, and the story of its decay, being ignored and then slow restoration and resuscitation is the story of a modern city and people still being built. One favoured solution is to sell off the roof of a typically 3-storey block, with another layer being built and the money used to restore the whole thing. "But that's not preservation !" say the purists. It's wonderful form following function though, and I think those bauhaus pioneers would have approved.

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