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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Archives for: September 2013

God and Gold

We humans are imperfect creations. When no one is watching over us we tend to stray from the right path and succumb to the lure of unbridled chicanery and general corruption. Just reading the Old Testament alone will give you plenty of food for thought. From Sodom and Gomorrah to the Noah's Ark - debauchery, overindulgence and idolatry ran rampant. The image of the hoary Charlton Heston descending from Mt Sinai into the middle of a free-for-all orgy and throwing the stone tablets into the fire in disgust comes to mind. Sadly, not much has changed over the past 3,000 years.

But the strength of our moral fiber is not the only quality in question. When it comes to money, we are not much better off. Ever since the Ancient Rome, the ruling elites invariably fell prey to the possibility of stretching the reach of their currency by inflation. In order to satisfy their growing needs they took the easy path and rather than making hard choices and taking responsibility they just kept chipping away the underlying value. That would tie them over for a bit but the eventual monetary downfall was inevitable. At the end, both currency and ethics followed the same path - which is down and out. Down the drain and out the chimney.

I thought about this inherent vulnerability of our species the other day and realized that the slowly evolving mankind had really needed a pair of crutches to overcome this debilitating weakness. A source of strength that would have supported our growth until such time that our own character would have been sufficiently developed - both in the moral and monetary sense. To put it simply, we needed to brace our soft flesh with a solid steel backbone. With a structure that would be robust, easily understandable and preferably outside of our finite realm so that our cunning fellow evolvees wouldn't feel tempted to tamper with it.

You can probably guess what could constitute such supportive skeleton. In the monetary field it is Gold and in the moral one God. And humanity took full advantage of either. These entities may seem unrelated at first, but on closer inspection they provided us with the same service. They established a firm footing and a relatively incorruptible standard for our many endeavors. With a bit of exaggeration - God became our spiritual gold and gold played the role of our monetary God. They both clearly transcended our transient physical existence and thus built a mechanism that removed the arbitrariness of our chaotic ways and tied the hands of those who would like to serve only their particular interests. In other words, they made sure that our collective actions were measured and guided by something higher than any single one of us.

No, I am not proposing that we should return to the Gold standard at once or that religion is to become mandatory part of our life. I am merely reflecting on our propensity to abuse power and pointing out two support mechanism which - historically speaking - served humanity well. You can think of them as a pair of everlasting horses that we hitched to our ephemeral cart on the way to enlightenment. Are we now strong enough to pull the cart ourselves now? Only time will give the definitive answer to that. But perusing the political blogs tonight, I'd say we are not quite there yet.


Tour de Finance

Lance Armstrong won Tour de France seven times. A feat worthy of emulation for armies of racing enthusiasts all over the world. I bet the French mountains still salute the indisputable general of fast bicycles. However, in January of this year, Armstrong admitted that the doping charges previously filed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency were in fact correct. As a result he was banned from competitive cycling for life. And rightfully so. The sportsmanship and fair play are a big part of the universal appeal of sports, so the purity of athletic achievement is paramount. You win based on your skills, talent and hard work, not based on having a trainer who is well versed in the magic of organic chemistry. Cheaters should not be emulated.

So far so good. But I wish we were as principled in other areas of life as well.

For the fifth year and counting, our too big to fail banks have been on a winning streak. Their trading prowess knows no limits, their profits keep waxing and their executive pay is at the historical high. At the heart of this miracle is the never ending flow of increasingly cheap credit and more specifically the fact that these financial behemoths can borrow money virtually for free due to the extraordinarily accommodative policy of the central bank. Consider this socio-economic travesty from a little guy's perspective. You borrow a cool billion from the Fed at 0%. You invest in virtually risk free Treasuries at 3% and low and behold, you are "making" $30 million a year without having to move a finger. Say bye-bye to your gray cubicle and hello to a hammock gently swaying between a pair of Caribbean palm trees. Wouldn't that be grand?

But not all businesses are created equal. Do you think fisherman in Louisiana have access to such generous uncle? Nope. Do car mechanics in Detroit, doctors in New England or computer wizards in Silicon Valley enjoy such generosity? I do not think so. They make their money the hard way, by earning it. The big banks - while having a legitimate business as well - get their big advantage from simply positioning themselves closest to the splashy monetary trough. The global wealth flows are mighty rivers and skimming them seems easier than ever. This well orchestrated charade is really nothing else than a case of financial doping. Yet instead of shaming these guys, like we did Lance Armstrong, we adulate them and pronounce them heroes of our twilight recovery.

Can you say "double standard"?

Picnic at the Dry Curb


a drooping caravan crosses the dunes of night

camel hoofs are idly popping the bubble wrap
king's gaze sailing through annotated stars
shave the whiskers of the astral cat
push a vat of lard on rusty scales
this is your billboard in the desert
a dollop of beef on the sandy floor
if only you can find its hidden door

swirl like a confused moth
cupcakes and dinosaur broth

bratwursts and nightingales
lipstick that never pales

rhapsody in b sharp flat
laminated omelette

ding dong and click and cluck
statue of a roasted duck

queen is dawdling with her delicate scissors
clipping the nails of a sleeping polar bear
only innocent lies under the frozen surface
scratch her name into the ice of desperation
breath on it with a balmy breeze
this is your royal dose of anti freeze

two hurricanes tiptoe across the river of piano keys


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