October 2008


In these curious and uncertain times I found this wisdom:

Ethics will be the best long-term investment

 

 

I started working in ‘the City’ nearly 20 years ago. I have seen, especially over the past five years, some very major investment banks engage in behaviour that is certainly unethical and only legal because it exploits obvious loopholes. There are individuals I have come across with whom I wouldn’t work, and feel uncomfortable if I am in the same room.

Extremely aggressive and barely legal trading has been very profitable but was always high risk. I have argued, with the government among others, for tighter regulation of debt trading and credit ratings. Unfortunately, when markets have been performing well and investment banks have driven economic growth, being a Jeremiah has resulted in, at best, being ignored and more often being cold-shouldered. When markets collapse, it’s too late.

If ‘the City’ ever existed as a common-minded group of people, it certainly does not today. There are some greedy slimeballs, some of whom the Archbishop of York has quite reasonably called bank robbers. There are also people who are principled and generous. Many major charities benefit significantly from support from investment bankers and hedge fund managers, some of whom are unstintingly generous with both time and money.

Most of the senior bankers with whom I have dealt have been principled. However, most have also been focused on delivering targets for this year and at most the next three years. To prioritise ethical decisions this year – effectively giving up profit and pay – requires bankers to care about the very long-term future of their banks. I don’t know precisely how long most investment banking chief executives stay in their jobs, but I expect it is about three years – too short to worry about long-term prospects if shareholders will fire you for failing to live up to your competitors for one year. If investment banking is to be reformed, banks will need to change their approach from a narrow definition of compliance and risk management to one of genuine ethical scrutiny: out with the compliance officers, in with the moral philosophers. But, other than in a major downturn, an individual investment bank will find that if it loses out on more and more opportunities by taking ethical decisions, its best staff will just be poached by more successful competitors. Ethics is the best proxy for long-term decision making – but can only be imposed on all investment banks from the outside.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has criticised ‘trading of the debts of others without accountability’ and compared unfettered belief in the market with fundamentalism. The mistakes made in the past – the collapse of Enron in 2001, the dotcom boom and bust, the Russian banking crisis in 1997 – have been repeated, implausibly soon.

To avoid repeating them again, we need regulators (the FSA and the Treasury) and to be more interested in understanding markets and less interested in bureaucracy. We need politicians to be less in awe of money and less influenced by the seemingly munificent gestures of companies seeking to show they aren’t just greedy bastards (when in fact they are). Above all we need more individuals to make a stand. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York should go further and call for more Christians to work in the city. ‘I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ (Matthew 10:16).

John Reynolds is chief executive of Reynolds Partners, an independent investment bank, and chairman of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group

I have read the heartbreaking news about the young man from the Midlands who has travelled to Europe for assistance with his death.

What are we to make of this – here are Libby Purvis’ excellent reflections:

Assisted dying is not the same thing as assisted suicide: we need to tread very carefully – and sympathetically

The story of Daniel James is almost unbearable. Paralysed in a rugby scrum, he made several suicide attempts and finally persuaded his parents to take him to the Swiss Dignitas clinic to end his life. At 23.

His parents have been questioned by police; what happens next is anybody’s guess. Since its inception Dignitas has left the British legislature mortally confused. Take Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis: she has challenged the Director of Public Prosecutions to state unequivocally whether or not her husband will be charged with assisting suicide (a 14-year sentence) if he takes her there, when she decides the time has come. Ms Purdy robustly says that, if the answer is yes, then she will go alone – and therefore much sooner. If he is in the clear, she can enjoy her remaining time. She deserves that clarity.

Earlier cases have produced only mutterings of “insufficient evidence” or “no public interest”, which is not enough to reassure the couple. The sooner the DPP decides, the better. Nor would this small step take us as far as Lord Joffe’s proposed Bill on assisted deaths: allowing people to take the dying to Switzerland would be a typical, and not entirely toxic, temporary fudge until Britain grows up enough to debate the issue without the usual alarmism and political cowardice.

But Debbie Purdy has an incurable degenerative disease and all she wants is permission to shorten the last painful months. Knowing there is an escape route might be so comforting that you never use it. Many terminally ill people willingly live each day, particularly if they get palliative care and comfort from the hospice movement rather than suffering in a stressed, overlit general hospital. But the law on Swiss-bound helpers must be clarified. Dignitas will not be un-invented.

However, assisted dying is not the same thing as assisted suicide. Even in Switzerland it is illegal to help a healthy but depressed person to die. There have been some troubling cases: three years ago a couple with chronic but not fatal illnesses ended their lives there, to their family’s horror; more recently a healthy German woman faked a medical certificate to do the same. In an unnerving comment the Dignitas leader, Ludwig Minelli, admitted that six clients were depressed rather than terminally ill, and said: “We should accept that when nature produces human beings there are mistakes, not only physical but mental mistakes.”

Whoa! Mistakes? The danger with euthanasia enthusiasts is that they develop an unwholesome keenness to tidy up the world by killing off those who can’t appreciate it properly. It is at this point, oddly, that Lord Joffe’s Bill becomes attractive: it applies only to the terminally ill, and if the “assistance” was taking place in the UK we could monitor it with our own values, whatever we decide those are. I doubt that Daniel James would have got his wish in those circumstances, not least because only 18 months – eight in hospital – had passed since his accident. One would wish anyone, at any age, more time to reflect: most suicide attempts in the newly paralysed (mostly men) come in the first year. They need intense support, example and information from outside the family as well as within. But even that might not have changed his mind, and legally harassing his stricken parents is in nobody’s interests.

But thinking about Daniel James, something else occurs with force. The humane creed of disability rights, with its vocabulary of challenges and being “differently abled”, may have a less helpful side-effect. It may blind us to the utter, visceral awfulness of confronting a major disability, especially when young. As civilised people we do not allow ourselves to flinch at a half-wrecked body in a wheelchair; yet the flinch and the fear are still there inside. Actually, one reason I enjoy sailing with the mixed able-bodied and disabled crews of the Jubilee Sailing Trust is that, after 24 hours of lurching about and having your hat blown off, the barrier of shyness and pity evaporates. We are all shipmates, each limited in our own way, and fine about it.

But we should not prattle on about fulfilling lives, Paralympians, Stephen Hawking and the rest if it makes us belittle the terror and self-disgust of a fit young person, paralysed. No amount of pious wittering about the Disability Community should blind us to that psychological impact.

In the early 1980s Stewart Yesner, paralysed in a car accident, founded the International Spinal Research Trust (now Spinal Research). I met some of the founders: young men crippled by their own daring in cars or sport or the military, who in an equally gung-ho spirit resolved to throw their energy into supporting research on spinal nerves. Much medical opinion strongly opposed such “false hope”, insisting that it was necessary to encourage a fulfilling wheelchair life and never speak of cure. The young men ignored this, and adopted a daring logo of a wheelchair user rising. Their work has certainly advanced – though not completed – medical knowledge on spinal regeneration. They did it with humility, knowing that the answer might come too late for them; they showed larky macho humour, undertaking feats such as the Big Push (Land’s End to John o’Groats in wheelchairs). They faced the grimness of paralysis, but shook their fists at it.

Listen to Simon Barnes, who broke his back on an assault course at 21 and then worked with the charity. On the website he describes: “A constant struggle against an excessive share of difficulties, frustration and fear… it’s tough to live with a body that only half works. You need to have an inexhaustible strength of spirit… the most painful part of being paralysed for me is missing out on the overwhelming fulfilment that comes with a loving sexual relationship; those are the feelings that help define us as human beings and often lead to the beginning of new life.”

Yet 20 years on, he concludes: “Even though I would jump at the chance to get back all the things that paralysis has taken away from me, I’m starting to appreciate that the spirit can carry us through real heavy stuff.”

It can. As the Anglo-Saxon poet wrote: “Let the spirit grow stronger, courage the greater, will the more resolute, as the strength grows less.”

But never for a second should the rest of us take shallow comfort – or rush to condemnation – by lightly assuming that every new victim should stay the course and mutate into a cheerful paralympian or a saintly philosopher. It’s very, very hard.

 

I am a very minor collector of books!  I am blessed with the ability to read and absorb material reasonably quickly.  Relaxation is a good book with my feet up and some music playing in the background.

 

My own collection of books particularly concentrates on the post Second World War political memoir and biography.  It’s fascinating to see how politicians give account of their lives.  At some point if I get a couple of free days I need to catalogue this ever expanding collection and put them in some kind of order.  Now there’s a thought – do I separate them by political party, age, importance or date of office?

 

In the light of all this it is not surprising that I came across Margaret Willes’ wonderful book published by Yale University Press entitled ‘Reading Matters: Five centuries of discovering books’.  This book looks at important book collections and what our attitude to books is. 

 

It is easy to forget in our own day of cheap paperbacks and mega book stores that until very recently books were a luxury item.  Those who could not afford to buy had to borrow, share, obtain second hand, inherit or listen to others reading. 

 

Willes covers several centuries and looks at a number of public and private libraries across a period – most of which have survived.  This is a very good book about books and splendidly well written.

The Cross of St Augustine was founded by Archbishop Michael Ramsey. It was first awarded by him on 19 February 1965. It is a circular medallion bearing a replica of the 8th Century Cross of Canterbury and on the reverse side is an engraving of the chair of St Augustine at Canterbury. The ribbon is of “Canterbury Blue” and it is worn around the neck by clergy and on the left breast by lay people.

This award has historically been awarded to clergy and lay people of foreign churches who have contributed conspicuously to advancing friendly relations with the churches of the Anglican Communion. More recently it has also been given for outstanding service within the Church of England whether centrally or in the dioceses, or the Anglican Communion as a whole, and to those who have contributed to advancing relations between the various Christian communions and churches.

Last Friday evening the Archbishop awarded the Cross to a freind of mine who has made an extraordinary contribution the the maginlaised of the Church – here is the citation:

The Revd Andrew Henderson

helped raise £4.5 million pounds to convert an old school to become the London Lighthouse which cared for people suffering from HIV/Aids. At its height it was helping over 1,000 a week and Andrew, who was the Lighthouse’s Chairman for fifteen years, went on to co-found CARA – ‘Care and Resources for people living with Aids.’ A non-stipendiary priest (he was a Director of Social Services for Kensington and Chelsea) his ‘secular ministry’ has been a brilliant success.

Well done Andrew! A very special and extraordinary man.

This is a really moving read about a woman coping with the death of her partner John Thaw. I challenge anyone not to be moved and enthralled by her lovely honesty.

 

 

‘Well now, prove it, Sheila. As John would say, “Put your money where your mouth is.” Be a depressed widow boring the arse off everyone, or get on with life. Your choice.’

In The Two of Us Sheila Hancock relived her life with John Thaw – years packed with love and family, work and houses, delight and despair. And then she looked ahead. What next? Gardening, grannying and grumbling, while they all had their pleasures, weren’t going to fill the aching void that John had left.

‘Live adventurously’, a piece of Quaker advice, was hovering in her mind. So, putting her and John’s much-loved house in France on the market – too many memories – she embarked, instead, on a series of journeys. She tried holidaying alone, contending with invisibility and budget flights. She tried travelling in a group, but the questions she wanted to ask were never the ones the guide wanted to answer. She tried relaxing – harder than you might think.

Finally, heading out of her comfort zone, she found her travels and new discoveries led her back to her past: to consider her generation – the last to experience the Second World War – and the kind of person it made her.Just Me is a book about moving on, but it is also about looking back, and looking anew.

Sheila, whether facing down burglars and easyJet staff (cross her at your peril) or making friends with waiters and taxi drivers, whether unearthing secrets in Budapest, getting arrested in Thailand, exulting in the art of Venice or mingling with the Mafia in Milan, is never less than stimulating company.

 Honest – because if you can’t say what you think at seventy-five, when can you? – insightful and wonderfully down-to-earth, she is a woman seizing the future with wit, gusto and curiosity – on her own.

 

 

 

 

Matthew 22: 15-22

 

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: and unto God, the things that are God’s”.

 

And so they conspired to put to him their needling question “Are we, or are we not, permitted to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor?”   They were as ingenious as anything invented by the bright young inquisitors of our modern television screens.  If Jesus had said ‘yes – you must pay the Roman tax’ – then he would have been finished as far as the nationalists and the general public were concerned.  If Jesus had simply said ‘no – you mustn’t pay the Roman tax” – he would have been denounced to the Roman authorities by the collaborators.

 

Notice the terms in which the inquisitors seek to flatter Jesus: “Teacher, we know that you are a sincere man; you teach in all sincerity the way of life that God requires, courting no man’s favour, whoever he may be”.  The bland softening up technique is all too familiar: was is less familiar in our own days the recognition by politicians of honesty and plain speaking as an admirable rather than a threatening characteristic.

 

Jesus refused to be trapped.  “Are we, or are we not permitted to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor?”  He returned the question to his interrogators with a sharp brilliance which suggests the naivety is not the first of Christian virtues.  “Show me” he said “the tribute money”, and they brought him a penny.  Penny here is a mistranslation, coins equivalent to our pennies were, in fact, minted locally in Palestine, but they bore neither image not superscription.  What Jesus asked for was a Roman silver piece, the kind used for paying the tax.  They immediately produced one and in doing so they answered their own question: for simply to possess the foreign coin was to recognise the Emperor’s authority.

 

And for us – notice four things here.

 

First – he himself was far from meek and mild – he exposed his opponent’s hypocritical clap-trap.

 

Second – he refused to become a pawn in the sordid manoeuvrings of two major political parties.  Religion needs distance and perspective and judgement.

 

Thirdly – he recognised the reality of the political situation and the authority of the state in its own sphere.  We are to work out our discipleship in the world that is given to us.

 

And fourthly, and finally – he asserted that this sphere was limited and that over and above the authority of governments and the authority of God, to whom we are bound in obedience.

 

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: and unto God, the things that are God’s”.

People like ourselves, bearing the image of God our Creator, are designed to serve God’s purpose of love.  We are made by God for God; he is our hope, our journey and our journey’s end.  In the words of St. Augustine “Thou hast created us for thy self, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”.

 

 

 There is nothing so certain as death and taxes!

A Recipe for Braised Carrots and Turnips.

 

Here is a recipe where vegetables are cooked with little water.  You will need to check the pans frequently so that the ingredients don’t catch the bottom.  The ingredients are as follows:

 

Carrots

1kg bunched carrots, trimmed and cut in half lengthways

50gr butter

1 tablespoon honey

15ml water

I tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

 

Turnips

600gr turnips peeled and halved

50gr butter

1 tablespoon honey

50ml water

I tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

 

Recipe

Use the same method for the carrots and turnips.  Put all the ingredients except the vinegar and parsley in a heavy based pan and place over a high heat until the mixture simmers.  Turn the heat down, cover pan and cook for about 10 minutes – frequently checking and stirring to make sure they don’t stick and burn.  When the carrots or turnips are almost cooked, uncover the pan, increase the heat and stir in the Balsamic vinegar and cook for 3 minutes; then turn off the heat and stir in the parsley.  The turnips should take a little less time to cook.  Combine both and season to taste.

 

Get ready for a delight – great in the autumn with a good slice of lamb!!

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