Friday, 9 December 2011

David and Goliath

A small club gets knocked out of the Premier League. Problems continue and the club teeters on the edge of bankruptcy until a consortium buys it out. Negotiations stall over a move to the old Crystal Palace site from Selhurst Park. A new manager joins.

Every year Crystal Palace FC start the season well and then seem to falter. Fans begin to reconsider the idea of renewing their season ticket, given that the rewards seem to be outweighed by the costs.

At the other end of the scale, Manchester United go from strength to strength. Sir Alex Ferguson has managed the club for 25 years and the cupboards are full of silverware. Despite the buyout by the Glazer family and subsequent financial transactions that left the club with significant debt, Ferguson has ensured the security of ManU for the forseeable future through his long run of success.

On 30 November Palace played ManU and won 2-1 by Glenn Murray's goal in extra time, strengthening their chance of a place in the final of the Carling Cup. ManU may well have played the B,C or D team, because of more important fixtures coming up, but they still had substantial financial assets on the pitch in the form of overseas signings, and still lost.

This is a great boost to Palace and their dispirited fans and encourages people to trust in Dougie Freeman, the new manager.

Denmark showed how minimal expectations and determination can produce results, when they won the European Championship in 1992 (replacing Yugoslavia, who couldn't play because of the Bosnian conflict.) If you have nothing much to lose and everything to gain, then it's possible to beat impressive opponents, if you shift mindsets and persist. The psychological battle is the hardest to win, the rest is down to persistence, effort, skill and luck.

Congratulations Palace.

Someone had some fun with this spoof:

Rapper Fat Joe says "Educate yourself to weight loss"

Here's how he used to look:

In this video he talks about how he lost 100lbs by educating himself on the science of food and metabolism. Basically Rapper Fat Joe cut out most starch and sugar.

'Super crack head level with sugar...... and then we wonder how we caught diabetes...'

'I lost 6 friends last year to heart attacks..... all younger than me...'

'We're not superheroes, we're human beings. I'm being a realist. That's going to happen to me if I don't switch it up.'

'Not only do I feel better, I'm not missing nothing. I still eat chicken, steak, lobster, with sauteed vegetables or salad. I don't eat it with that pasta, rice or bread.'

In breaking news, Denmark has levied a tax on saturated fat and Norway is running out of butter from the increasing popularity of high fat/low carb ways of eating.. 2 neighbouring countries with diametrically opposed views on diet and obesity.

Listen to da man. Rapper Thin Joe tells it like it is.


Monday, 5 December 2011

You must be crazy!

As a boy, Jørn helped his father build and sail small boats.

In Denmark he observed the intricacies of the natural world and marvelled at interlocking fish scales and the mechanics of a bird's wing in flight.

When he travelled abroad as an architectural student, he noticed how these details sometimes appeared in building design, such as intricate interlocking roof tiles on a grand mosque. His observations went into the melting pot and culminated in a visionary design for an important building, which he submitted in open competition.

Jørn's drawings were discarded by the panel early on in the weekend. The Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen, turned up late to participate in judging entries. He worked through all of the entries, including those that had been eliminated, and decided that Jørn's ideas were the most outstanding of the bunch. Saarinen championed Jørn's design until it was finally chosen.

Building was a major challenge. Jørn had not included any engineering slant on how his vision might be turned into reality. Danish Engineers, Ove Aarup and Partners, were brought in to find a solution. However, Jørn had included detailed consideration of elements to enhance sound and performance as well as facilities for the audience, which would take the project way over budget if included. The project was finished without Jørn, as he was thrown off the project in the middle, refushing to compromise on the detail. The building has become an iconic landmark and is famous worldwide to tourists and musicians alike. Much later the authorities began to admit that some of the additional details could be retrofitted, as they would make a significant difference to the quality of the experience.

That is the story of how Jørn Utzon designed the Sydney Opera House.

I thought about Utzon when a young Georgian architect friend told me he plans to build a financial district in his country - the City of Tbilisi. There is a long history of visionary architects and planners being thrown off their own projects mid way, so the risks of the undertaking are huge.

Meredith Belbin devised a way of considering how people work together in drawing up his Team Role Inventory. He encourages us to look at the range of functions that must be fulfilled in order to complete a project. Each of us can fulfill one or more roles. We may have functions that are strong, moderate or weak, so it makes sense to work to our strengths and find others who are strong at our weak functions.

Utzon holds the visionary or Plant function. He clearly also thinks through to the consequences of his designs down to the smallest detail, which covers the Completer Finisher function. He probably also carries out the Specialist function, in that he shows little interest aptitude for the areas outside of his own narrow field (including finance and engineering.)

Ove Aarup and Partners were brought in by the government to make Utzon's design work and held the Implementer or Company Worker function. Others sorted out the finance, when the project went well over deadline and budget and held the Resource Investigator role. There was also a driving force to ensure that the project maintained momentum and was completed (Shaper). The Chairperson or Co-ordinator role was also carried out, but seemed unable to manage the external pressures effectively.

Neglected areas seem to be those who detached themselves to check out what was happening in the team to ensure that appropriate decisions were taken (Monitor Evaluator); and those who kept the peace and ensured constructive relations in the team throughout the crises (Teamworker).

Other notable architects manage to stay the course and avoid being kicked off their projects. I suspect that, in some cases, the named star takes the role of Co-ordinator and delegates the Plant and Implementer roles to underlings, who don't ususally share the glory. This seems to be common practice in architectural firms, but Ken Shuttleworth is the most notable example of the mismatch between fame and quality of output. His former boss, Norman Foster, built the company's reputation by tackling small industrial projects in the early days.

Survivors also include engineering expertise in their designs, so they can demonstrate the HOW of the building and not just the WHAT to prospective customers. Bringing the Implementer role in-house or under their own control ensures that projects don't slip out of their grasp so easily.

Utzon's story also reminds me of how much innovation may depend on luck or serendipity. If he had not found a champion in Saarinen, then we might have a functional, but pedestrian building in Sydney harbour.

As Pinchot reminds us 'Go to work each day ready to be fired.' That seems sober and realistic advice for young visionary innovators starting out.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Doers versus Dreamers

Books offering home spun philosophy, such as 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' do well in the best seller lists, but don't seem to draw on life experience in a useful way.

Here are 2 excerpts from an interview with Steve Jobs, where he offers 2 concepts that helped him.

The first relates to change and the power of ordinary people to make a difference:

The second gives us an insight into how he made progress in his career, mainly by asking for help:

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Sharing my secrets

Bruce Muzik talks about his experience of challenging perceptions and prejudices he absorbed from birth in Apartheid South Africa. Here's how he took off those distorting lenses and experienced his native country in a new way.

It started by sharing his terrible secret:

He gives a good insight into how generalisations about other cultures and communities arise and are perpetuated.

His main purpose is in motivating others to take steps to remove numbness and increase aliveness.

In management studies we consider various ways in which people interact and cooperate. There are psychometric instruments to help us distinguish personality and style differences. Emotional intelligence guides us in ways to manage ourselves and our interactions with others. Team roles enable us to consider various functions that have to be fulfilled in completing a project and the distribution across members of the group engaged in the work.

Bruce Muzik encourages us to come back to ourselves and work on the inner kinks that block energy and a full sense of aliveness. I don't think he's encouraging people to be naive and blunder into the boss's office with the words 'I hate you and all you stand for'. He does suggest ways that might improve working relationships and trust.

One of his coaching examples might shed some light on the mysterious suicide of Welsh football manager, Gary Speed, who did not seem depressed and had no major conflicts with family and friends in the days before he died. Perhaps he nursed a secret that became unbearable?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Me and my shadow

As I see it, the ultimate purpose of taking psychological inventories and analysing our style is to improve how we relate to other people. Merely learning to label ourselves and other people adds little to the sum of human knowledge.

Daniel Goleman's work on emotional and other non-standard forms of intelligence encourages us to distinguish between awareness and management of self and relationship with others. Our personal style shows up in patterns that may or may not blend well with others and have a positive impact on communication and relationships.

Jung's archetypes, the inspiration for work on modern style inventories, included the notion that we come to terms with some of our weaker dimensions as we go through life. He noted that the weakest trait was our shadow side and likely to rise up and bite us on the backside at awkward moments in life. If we don't recognise the shadow, develop self awareness and do something about it, we may be stuck with patterns that are destructive and don't serve us well. The intention is not to get us to change personality, but work to our strengths. If we have a wider choice of responses and behaviours, we may defuse unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings.

My colleague, Kieran Duignan, is breaking new ground with what he calls Behavioural Diplomacy, building on the work of Scott Benjamin. He has developed a questionnaire (to be used with clients and their close network) to illuminate those dark corners. His portrait of behaviour patterns may not make comfortable reading to clients. With time and changing circumstances, client motivation may shift and bring them to the table ready to work on managing themselves and relationships differently. Mergers and acquisitions with their job insecurity or changing demands from new management can be one catalyst for a shift in motivation.

Richard Fisch, co-author of a seminal book on change, who died last month, founded the Brief Therapy Centre at MRI in Palo Alto California. He took a revolutionary approach to mental health research, focussing on the problem that the client was most concerned about rather than telling the client what he believed was wrong with them (current practice in psychology at the time.) This solved problems of 'resistance' or lack of motivation for change, as sessions dealt with major concerns brought by the client. Reading some of Fisch's case examples, there are some clear shadows or areas that don't work in his client's dealings with others, of which they seem totally unaware. Fisch is able to frame them as skill deficits and work successfully with the client to change patterns in the service of their desired goal.

In discussion with Kieran Duignan on his work on Behavioural Diplomacy, I reflected on my experience in some organisations where senior male managers with sub-optimal patterns sometimes appoint a woman in a floating role to act as a buffer between them and humanoids. The senior managers showed minimal interest or awareness in their own style, but felt the need for someone to deal with what they regard as trivial, routine and time consuming people issues.

Many years ago I talked to the Managing Director of a major UK agency supplying temporary secretarial staff to offices around the country. His partner, an Executive Secretary, was launching a work-to-rule of people in her position to campaign for better recognition and reward for their services. Thus, for example, when the chief executive told her to respond to a client requesting a meeting "Tell him to p*ss off, I'm going to play golf", she would do exactly that, rather than relaying a more diplomatic message to the caller.

Perhaps the Executive Secretary of decades ago has transformed into non-Board roles such as Strategy Consultant or Development Analyst, but always held by women. Maybe senior women who are criticised for being too aggressive or lacking sufficient people skills are those who don't have a buffer to deal with those pesky humanoids.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Truth, Justice and the American Way

This week UNESCO voted with a majority of 93 votes to recognise Palestine as a separate entity for the purposes of the organisation's work:

The United States voted against, along with 13 other countries including Canada, Germany and Australia.

107 countries voted for the motion including France, Russia, China and Austria.

The United Kingdom abstained along with 51 other countries including Denmark and Georgia.

Comments from the source of these numbers:

'Most of these are no surprise, although it is worth noting the division in Europe, with Spain, France, Ireland, Austria, Finland and Greece voting “yes,” Germany, Czech Republic and Sweden voting “no,” and the UK, Italy and Denmark abstaining. It’s also probably worth noting that the US didn’t manage to get a “no” vote from such solid supporters as countries like Latvia (which voted “no” to bringing the motion to the General Assembly earlier this month but abstained today) and Tuvalu, Nauru and other island states that almost always support the US in international forums. Another formerly stalwart US supporter who voted for Palestine is Iceland. I remember chatting with an Icelandic diplomat during the Bush administration who had told me that after one particularly egregious instance of Washington dictating terms on what should have been a bilateral decision between Reykjavik and DC the US could no longer count on their automatic support in international forums.'

The United States has since cut off $60 million funding to UNESCO. The spokeswoman at the press conference stated that the USA criticised this unilateral move, which undermined their efforts at brokering a peace settlement in the Middle East.

Wikileaks (strongly attacked by the US government as a hostile force working against democracy) released the Palestine Papers earlier this year, revealing the true nature of this 'peace process'.

They revealed that the Palestinians had made concessions requested of them repeatedly, only to be greeted with indifference by the Israeli/US parties to the negotiations, who then demanded more:

Other papers revealed communications between Israel and the US describing policy to keep Gaza on the brink of economic collapse, without tipping it over to the abyss completely:

Noam Chomsky has been critical of US support for Israel, posing as an honest broker in peace negotiations, when its role is firmly partisan. Part of the problem is the economic benefit to the US arms industry that flows from the huge amount of aid given to Israel. The US government has promised $30 billion in military aid over the next decade. He also believes that the US contributes to a PR offensive to soften public opinion to accept an attack on Iran. The principal rationale is the allegation that Middle Eastern people want such a military offensive, when the idea comes from Middle Eastern dictators (allied with the US) rather than ordinary people:

What do you do when you want to enforce policies, but find yourself in the minority?

Bully and coerce by withdrawing funding. Go on the offensive with mis-information.

Who abstained?

Countries that rely on good relations with the USA... such as UK, Denmark and Georgia. It's easier to remain neutral than vote against and risk public ridicule.

When Israel voted against the motion, other delegates laughed.

The United States and some other western governments have taken action to starve Wikileaks of funding. They have targetted online payment conduits, banks and other financial institutions to ensure that money does not flow in for further revelations.

Professor Chomsky believes that the US government reveals itself as defiantly anti-democratic in its foreign policy action. He also thinks that the scare tactics about the threat to security by the leaks is a smokescreen. He cites the example of a study from a medical journal in Falluja (attacked by US forces in November 2004). They found levels of cancers, leukemias and other diseases higher than in the aftermath of Hiroshima. This was not covered in the US media, which focussed on Iran and Afghanistan:

From a Palestinian viewpoint it seems fruitless to continue negotiating with two parties, who have huge economic interests in delaying a resolution or allowing concessions from their side. It makes more sense to take another route and seek acceptance by a UN body responsible for humanitarian aid and cultural heritage. Trust networks within the UN have built up over time and recognise some of the attempts made by Israel to erase Palestinian territory, homes and culture. UNESCO has censored Israel several times for its treatment of Arab sites of archaeological significance (to little effect.)

It will be interesting to see what happens when the UN resolution is tabled to recognise Palestine as a separate state.


Israel has today decided to speed up building 2000 new settlement homes in the West Bank and withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians are appealing to the UN to intervene.

The USA and Israel have long criticsed Middle Eastern governments and held Israel as a prime example of democracy in the region.

How strange that their response to democratic election processes is to punish people for 'voting the wrong way.'

Perhaps the world does not share a common perception of democracy and dictatorship.

Update 2

Canada has also announced a cut to its UNESCO funding. It would be fascinating to have heard this week's conversations across North America between US and Canadian diplomats and politicians.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Give us the money

There's a view that financial resources are a necessary pre-requisite for creativity and innovation. Some say that commercial firms won't produce anything of value unless they can find a way to monetise it.

One curious exception to this idea is the development of the internet. 'Necessity is the mother of invention' seems to have been a driving force in opening up communication between people via computer in a variety of settings. Academics and research scientists at CERN contributed to a mixture of piecemeal developments that eventually led to what we use (and take for granted today):

Tim Berners-Lee was one of the pioneers at CERN and often credited as one of the fathers of the world wide web. He has recently spoken at UK Parliamentary sub committees discussing the idea of a 2 speed internet, charging people a premium for faster data transfer. He argues passionately that web innovation developed (and continues) through a culture of cooperation, free exchange of ideas and collaboration. He describes it as a Worldwide Open Data Movement:

The European Court of Justice has recently banned the issuing of patents for embryonic stem cell research. Research companies protested that this would set back the timetable for research into cures for a range of chronic and life threatening illnesses. News reports warned that scientists and their research could migrate to other territories, where there were no legal barriers to the work. They hinted that profits from drugs would benefit other economies than our own.

On the one hand there is growing criticism of the ways in which drug companies have profited from harvesting tissue samples, stem cells and genetic code for their work, without rewarding individuals who contributted to them. Henrietta Lacks is a famous example of someone who benefitted mankind through her tissue samples, but did not gain any reward for her family.

Lawyers have already quietly shifted their strategy to patenting the drug therapies rather than the stem cells, so the argument seems to be specious.

Dennis Ritchie is another innovator who gives the lie to the 'money first' premise of creativity and innovation.

Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson worked for Bell Labs (at AT & T) and were designing a complex muti-user operating system called Multics. Bell Labs stopped the project, but Ritchie and Thompson decided to continue building the operating system themselves and came up with Unics (which became Unix). As a telephone monopoly, AT & T were not legally able to sell computer products.

'So the researchers in Bell Labs did what geeks do – they gave it away to their peers in university research labs, under a licence that permitted the recipients to modify and improve it. In doing this Ritchie and Thompson unwittingly launched the academic discipline of computer science, because university departments were suddenly able to give their students software that was not only powerful (and malleable) but also free. The result was that virtually every computer science student in the world became a Unix geek in the course of his or her education.'

Graduates took their Unix experience with them to industry and continued to modify and improve it in commercial applications.

This was the catalyst for several developments. Richard Stallman founded the free software movement (GNU), following Bob Wallace's Shareware. Linus Torvalds modified Unix and released it as Linux.

C++ and Java were built on the C language that Dennis Ritchie devised. Steve Jobs used Unix as the basis for his NeXT computer workstation. He took this experience back to Apple. OS X is built on Unix and and powers all Apple products.

Money does come for good work, but not necessarily for the original patented design. It seems that holding on tight to an idea only seems to squash it, rather than sharing and helping it grow.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

War on terror?

The USA give an annual subsidy of $3bn to an independent and affluent state. Much of it is in the form of military hardware.

The policy supports the line that Israel is conducting a war on terror.

This is part of state supported military action:

Destroying the means for a population to feed themselves and earn money from food crops does not fit into my perception of a war against terrorism.

However it does support the idea that Israel wishes to systematically remove Palestinians from land and colonise it for Israeli (non Arab Jews). That reminds me of something my parents' generation fought against as part of a world war.

Such action will continue unopposed until the USA recognises that their subsidy is used to displace, starve and destroy one ethnic group.

Friday, 14 October 2011

We're all in this together.........

UK politicians tell us that cuts and economies are painful but necessary. We need to reduce government debt and deficit to secure our position in world markets and ensure that cash continues to flow into the UK and through the economy.

So far so good.

We are part of the global capitalist economy. The focus is on private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods and services for profit in a market. Profit enables businesses to expand and grow. Without profit, companies must cut their coat according to their cloth and trim expenses.

Some UK banks were in trouble and needed government assistance to survive. Some of them stopped paying dividends to shareholders until they were in balance and had made efforts to repay government loans. I have written before about interesting practices used by Bank of Ireland (supported by the Irish government), which included some sleight of hand in dealing with bond holders (who had purchased bonds in other financial institutions, only to find that BOI had taken them over and intended to squeeze them to the limit.)

This post reflects on an interesting new breed of UK capitalism.

It seems that when they don't make a profit but losses, some organisations reduce shareholder dividends, staff wages, capital spending and other outgoings. At the same time, or after a suitably discreet interval, they increase executive pay. A lot. More than the rate of inflation.

Here's the comment of one seasoned investor on this practice and his lone cry at shareholder meetings challenging the economics and ethics of it.

He quotes the reply of one non-executive to his challenge:

'Well .... you do understand it is the Chancellor that you need to blame for all this !!? You see he raised the tax up to 50% last year on all pay after £150k.'

So remuneration committees ensure that executives don't have to tighten their belts in a tough economic climate, unlike everyone else in their organisation.

Mothercare is one company that experiences this pattern.

Will Hutton, editor of the Observer, is said to be in the same boat.

Protests in the United States may spread to the UK. The focus over the Atlantic is banking profits at the expense of ordinary people's jobs. Here the socialisation of capitalism at executive pay levels seems to be a greater concern. If excessive executive pay empties the coffers of the company, the ship is sinking and the boardroom occupants are taking on board more water. Action by ShareSoc is focussed on government regulation. They want to end the practice of directors voting 18x the salary of ordinary workers for new directors and CEO (who probably had nothing to do with any profits generated). Sharesoc are here.

My complaint is a behaviourist one. B F Skinner taught us about reward and punishment through his animal experiments.

If you reward success, it's more likely to continue. If you reward failure, there's no incentive to improve the business or evaluate risk before taking action.

Clearly we're NOT all in this together.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs the common sense entrepreneur

That's the view of Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple computers.

Woz describes Steve Jobs as someone with a very quick mind, who thought things through. He knew when something would and would not sell. Jobs also had a clear notion of when to be ahead of the world and when to be a follower.

Woz describes Steve Jobs' legacy as someone who built Apple into a strong company with great products. The distinction is that people love the products and enjoy doing their work on them, which is rare in technology. Fans associate Steve Jobs with this because he was a manager of the tiny little details that mattered. Above all, says Woz, marketing was his greatest strength.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Woz described the last phone conversation he had with Steve Jobs. He was clearly weak, but Wozniak never asked about personal issues. Jobs reminisced about the old days and sounded his old, boyish enthusiastic self about the future and the impact that Apple had made on the world.

Eric Schmidt (of Google) has some interesting memories of Steve Jobs here.

Mona Simpson, his sister, delivered the eulogy here.


Monday, 3 October 2011

Israel versus Israel

Where do people in the West get information about the situation in the Middle East?

Talking to many Jewish people in the UK, I get the impression that some rely solely on news that is filtered, particularly by commentators from the East Coast of the USA. Few seem to have heard of Israeli English language newspapers like Haaretz, much less have read them online. This enables many to take the view that Israel has a homogenous and completely negative view of relations with Palestinians and see Israel as a powerless victim defending itself against those who seek to destroy the state.

Swedish filmmaker, Terje Carlsson, has made a film about internal resistance to the harsh treatment of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians and the increasing occupation in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

He charts small acts of resistance to settlements and the humiliation of Palestinians crossing internal borders to work, study or attend hospital. Israelis involved are not just radical students, but rabbis, former soldiers and concerned middle aged, middle class people defending human rights.

The Israeli army protects Israeli Jewish settlers and demonstrators and activists risk their lives in taking action. Participants describe it as their moral obligation to demonstrate, to challenge the actions of their government.

RT televised the film, which is available here:

When asked about the response of Arabs and Palestinians to his film, Carlsson speaks of hope fostered by the knowledge that some Israelis want to cooperate and live peacefully together with them. This runs counter to the current charm offensive being mounted by Israel and the attempt to suppress criticism of their policy in the region.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Make do and mend in the Philippines

What do you do when there's no electricity and you're poor?

In the Philippines they've started generating power with simple plastic bottles:

Litre of Light is an initiative to make solar bottle light in a country where energy prices are high.

In parts of Africa they've leap frogged the development cycle by jumping straight into mobile phone technology. Landlines and universal secure power supplies aren't necessary for telecommunications. This has also enabled many people to run businesses from their mobiles, handling payments electronically rather than having to visit a bank.

The project in the Philippines may point the way to a leap straight into sustainable energy supplies.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Peace One Day

At regular intervals the media announce that today is International ***** Day (insert worthy cause in the gap.) It's easy to be cynical and assume that a committee of retired bureaucrats have devised this as make-work activity. Little seems to change.

The same reaction occurs when emails circulate about World Peace Day on 21 September. The story of how this came about is intriguing.

Actor and filmmaker Jeremy Gilley decided to campaign for the idea of one day of peace and non-violence. Gilley was frustrated at the relentless level of conflict in the world. He was influenced by the early death of his grandfather, who, as a prisoner of war, witnessed the bomb in Nagasaki and had lasting health effects from the radiation. Gilley chose the date because 21 was his grandfather's favourite number.

Gilley had no money. He wrote to everyone he could think of to promote the idea. He travelled all over the world filming and listening to ordinary people in war zones and the difference that peace might make to them. He decided to build a case and make it stronger and more detailed.

Finally UK and Costa Rica proposed a motion to the UN General Assembly on 7 September 2001 and it was passed unanimously. Kofi Annan invited him to a press conference at 8am on 11 September, but the attack on the twin towers make it impossible.

Gilley persisted and toured with his film. People in Israel sneered that it's just symbolism, after watching Gilley's film. He recognised that he needed tangible results to convince people.

He came to understand the 4 pillars of success:

- A great idea
- A constituency
- Finance
- An ability to raise awareness

His profile was too low to make an impact, so he recruited the actor, Jude Law. Together they went to Afghanistan and spoke to all organisations involved in the conflict. A major problem was the safety of humanitarian workers in the country. After Gilley returned home, a letter came from the Taliban agreeing to a ceasefire on 21 September.

On that one day of peace 1.6 million children were vaccinated against polio as a result.

Later it was announced that there was a 70% reduction in violence on that day.

Gilley then aimed for a Global Truce on 21 September, with the idea that a 70% reduction in violence could be possible everywhere if it had been achieved in such an intractable situation as that facing Afghanistan.

One of his mentors told him that it's not going to come from the action of governments. 'It's all about individuals - you and me, partnerships, local businesses - working together.'

In Pinchot's terms Gilley has followed most of the commandments, particularly doing any job necessary, finding people to help him, running in his own race and being true to his goals.

Lowering blood sugar

Those concerned with weight loss, diabetes and heart disease have found that blood sugar levels are one of the keys to making positive changes. Specialists such as Dr Richard Bernstein and Dr William Davis recommend lower levels than typical Department of Health guidelines (indicated here).

Bernstein, Davis and others recommend eliminating sugars from the diet and starches (easily converted to sugars). Fats and proteins, as well as non starchy vegetables and berry fruits are helpful in maintaining blood glucose at optimum levels.

Blood sugar can also be affected by drugs, raising, lowering or causing swings in levels. The list includes caffeine, which can contribute to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), so coffee, tea (including green tea) and chocolate may cause a spike. If caffeine is consumed with sugars or starch the blood sugar spike can be followed by a dramatic drop to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This may be dangerous for diabetics on insulin.

Each person responds differently to food and may tolerate more carbohydrate/fat/protein than others without raising and maintaining blood sugar above the recommended levels. Dairy products can raise blood sugars and increase weight, for example. Some people struggle to limit food intake and reduce their appetite, in spite of curbing addiction to sugars and carbs.

Dr Gundry recommends increasing levels of raw vegetables in the diet to increase the feeling of fullness, which encourages us to stop eating. The diet includes high levels of fibre to help regulate how the body processes food and maintains an even blood sugar level.

These are healthy blood sugar targets recommended by Jenny Ruhl:

Fasting under 83 mg/dl or 4.6 mmol/L

1 hour after food under 120 mg/dl or 6.6 mmol/L

2 hour after food under 100 mg/dl or 5.5 mmol/L

Bernstein and Davis advise people to aim for lower levels, but this may be difficult to achieve, particularly when losing weight.

Some people struggle to bring blood sugar down, even when following these guidelines and may risk long term health effects from excess glycated haemoglobin. One challenge is coping with signs that the body is adjusting to a lower background level of sugar and getting through symptoms that seem to be hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) but are not:

'The symptoms you feel during a false hypo may include a pounding pulse, shakiness, a raised blood pressure and other symptoms very similar to those of a panic attack.'

One simple food seems to produce startling reductions in blood sugar, without first spiking or taking blood glucose down to dangerous levels. Chia seed comes from a plant, which is part of the mint family, native to Central and South America. The seed can be soaked in coconut milk to make a porridge or sprinkled on any food.

According to Dr Wayne Coates, who wrote 'Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs' chia is 16% protein, 31% fat, 44% carbohydrate of which 38% is fibre. Most of its fat is omega-3 fatty acids including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

The high fibre content of chia, both soluble and insoluble, induces a feeling of satiety, which seems to last for some time, without converting to sugar and spiking blood glucose levels. On the contrary, blood sugar levels may drop to mid 4 or 3 mmol/L (85, 75 or 65 mg/dl).

Jenny Ruhl states: 'Doctors do not consider true hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) to begin until under 3.9 mmol/L (70mg/dl). It does not become dangerous until it reaches levels like 2.5 mmol/L (45 mg/dl).'

Dr Coates has collected research on his website, following the work he undertook at the University of Arizona. He gives sensible advice on choosing your seed for best results.

Some organisations are trying to patent strains of white chia seed, to make some money out of a simple, safe food that has many health benefits. Doctors are unlikely to recommend adding chia to the diet and may continue to prescribe medication to control blood sugar and blood pressure. Obese people might find chia helpful in controlling appetite and losing weight steadily without drugs or surgery.

The internet provides a medium for sharing information and research, so that individuals can choose a diet and lifestyle approach to avoiding surgery and unnecessary drugs. The Wiki Patient won't conform.

Friday, 9 September 2011

How to lose weight

Dr William Davis recommends this simple bit of kit (for example):

The simplest way is to check your blood sugar before food and then check it one hour after eating. The aim is to maintain a healthy level of 100 mg/dl or less (5.5 mmol/L) before and after food.

Youtube has several videos showing how to take blood for the test:

Jenny Ruhl runs a website dedicated to sharing accurate information about blood sugar.

She gives sensible, current guidance about 'normal' blood sugar levels. For optimum health, she recommends staying below 120 mg/dl (6.7 mmol/L). Blood glucose levels that are consistently in the 140 (7.8) range endanger health and indicate glycation and heart plaque build up.

OK where is the advice about counting calories? What are the restrictions?

This way of eating leaves everything up to you (ie it doesn't ask you to calorie count or avoid anything).

Use the glucometer to research which foods raise your blood glucose and which foods enable you to maintain optimum normal levels. Notice which quantities tip you into higher blood sugar levels (as too much protein, especially dairy, is alleged to do.)

We all differ. Some have genes that favour higher metabolic rates and lower fat accumulation around the middle. Others remain slim until middle age, when hormonal changes trigger visceral fat deposits around the internal organs. Some people have minimal effective beta cells in their pancreas, after years of high starch and sugar foods. They may have minimal insulin response and 'metabolic syndrome' combined with obesity. Others develop diabetes when young without dietary overload of insulin spiking foods.

Keep a note of all the food and drink you consume and quantities. Keep checking the blood sugar levels and eliminating foods and drink that raise the levels above 120.

Maybe this:

Or these:

Exercise, in moderation, seems to help insulin response, especially when the focus is on slow strength training.

The overall aim is to change eating habits and find a way of life that works to promote health and longevity. This isn't a diet, but a way of shifting from food and drink that damage us, while maintaining muscle mass and overall well being. It's a slow and steady march to control over our health and destiny. Gary Taubes has some interesting points to make about the impact of type of food intake versus the old model of 'calories in, calories out'. In this post he quotes recent research on sugar (high fructose corn syrup) and fructose.

This is easy for me to say, as I've never been grossly obese. One blogger points out the contrasting difficulties faced by people who became obese as kids and as adults. One of the challenges he faced was losing touch with the body signalling system.

One aspect he mentions, that I've seen in my work as a psychotherapist, is the difficulties kids face when adults control the food supply and continue to buy foods that 'sabotage' any attempt to control food intake and weight gain. We've recently had media coverage of kids being taken away from their parents and put into care because of obesity, though newspaper reports indicate that the children were of average weight.

This is hard to justify when Department of Health guidelines still emphasis low fat high carbohydrate diets, which, according to my glucometer, raise insulin and encourage weight gain.

Don't believe me, test yourself (and keep testing.)

Banking pirates?

30 years ago Allied Dunbar financial advisers used to sit down with prospective clients and review their finances using a set of forms on a laptop. One of the first questions was about the level of risk the client found comfortable. Smiling indulgently at the baffled expression, the adviser would then talk about low, medium and high risk investments. High risk might be small cap shares, medium risk might be bonds or extra pensions and low risk could be banks.

The adviser would mention the Post Office account and the mattress as 2 of the lowest risk places to stash their money, pointing out that lack of interest earned would erode the value of their savings over time.

Safe banks?

In the UK we have seen queues of people outside branches of Northern Rock bank and other demutualised building societies, when it became clear that the banks couldn't meet their obligations.

Safe pensions?

Ordinary Equitable Life policy holders are still waiting for compensation years after being reassured by government that their savings were safe, only to find that the facts did not support that view.

Since the late 1980s and privatisation of many public sector organisations such as utility companies, the Great British Public have been encouraged to participate in stocks and shares and have a stake in the economy and wealth creation. Empowerment of ordinary people in this way was well meaning. Sadly the pace of globalisation and frequency of mergers and acquisitions has made it confusing to keep track of who owns what, particularly when the name of organisations is maintained as a brand.

The sell off of UK assets has attracted many foreign investors to our shores. That's fine when it's a company running busses or piping gas to our homes. It's more tricky when foreign firms by British financial institutions and then operate under non-UK regulations.

The most prominent example on the high street is of Abbey National building society, which demutualised, became a bank and was then bought by the Spanish bank, Santander. It looks the same as a British bank, but shares in the company are subject to Spanish withholding tax. Customers in 2011 have complained about poor service and have not been reassured by Santander's response.

Investors in BOI (Bank of Ireland) are nervous about the bank's ways of getting out of debt following the financial crisis in Ireland. Bond holders in the UK have been told that they face losing 80% of their money and that the UK regulatory body the FSA will do nothing about it.

As with Equitable Life, one way of overcoming negative publicity has been to characterise this group of investors as wealthy people who could easily bear the loss. Many are small investors, who invested their meagre savings with a local British building society, never suspecting that their money could be seized and the authorities would take no action.

(Thanks to Chattanooga Times Free Press for the above image.)

What about the post office?

Bank of Ireland has a 16% stake in the Post Office and takes over 50% of its profits. The Post Office relies on BOI for its banking licence granted by the FSA. It is not a member of the Government Compensation Scheme, so in 2010 account holders would not get their money if BOI had problems. It is alleged that the arrangement has changed so that investors would get some money back.

What's the worry?

Bank of Ireland has form. It acquired Bristol & West Building Society in 1997 when it was demutualised. BOI took over the renamed Bristol & West plc's banking business (but not the insurance side) using a banking transfer. 'BOI raided permanent investment bearing shares (PIBS), which are typically used by people with small savings to top up their pensions pots.' There was no meeting of bond holders and scant notice of the High Court hearing was given.

As one investor wrote:

'So what has effectively happened is that thousands of unsophisticated UK retail investors who invested in a UK Building Society have unwittingly, unknowingly and without consent or full information had their investment reclassified as subordinated bonds of a foreign bank and changed to foreign regulation and foreign law for the only remedy under the Trust Deed - being a winding up of the Issuer. And now, as a result, they are threatened with confiscation of their investments by a foreign finance minister using a foreign law.'

Who is responsible for protecting these people?

It seems that UK regulators and institutions stand aside.

Many elderly people in the UK rely on Post Office accounts for their pension and small savings. The branch is local and accessible.

The key issue is about trust between lender and borrower. If the 'lowest risk home for UK savings' is under threat in this way, then that only leaves the mattress.


Bank of Ireland is continuing to strengthen its position by plans to take money from 'subordinated bondholders'. Banks of other EU countries seem to be considering bondholders as a way of dealing with their debts. Beware.

Update 2:

Some success and an appreciation of the work of Mark Taber here (and an opportunity to donate).

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Why don't we all get cancer?

This question is the title of a lecture by Craig B. Thompson, President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer. He's talking about the latest findings in cancer research.

The answer focusses on the state of our genes and specifically those responsible for glucose metabolism. A PET scan checks this.

Glucose is the trigger for dormant cancer cells to proliferate.

'It matters where your calories come from. We have good evidence that excess fat does not increase your cancer risk, excess carbohydrate does increase your cancer risk and protein is somewhere in the middle.'

As Tom Naughton comments, 1/3 of the student audience had misunderstood the lecture and still believed that dietary fat would increase the growth of tumours. Low fat health messages have taken hold on public perception.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The weight loss 'expert'

Fitness trainers at the gym often profess to be experts on nutrition and weight loss. Here's an example of one leaflet circulated on the topic.

Metabolism and why diets don't work includes a paragraph on body fat percentage and ratio of fat to lean, but does not distinguish between visceral fat (surrounding the internal organis) and body fat (under the skin.) The first is the main indicator of potential problems with heart disease and poses a greater risk than the second.

Guidance focusses on calorie restriction and increased exercise (calories in/calories out). Anyone who has exercised on machines in gyms, that show calorie expenditure, know that much exercise expends far fewer calories than we consume in food. It makes no mention of the effects of different foods (irrespective of calories) and how some people lose weight even when injured and unable to exercise, by changing what they eat.

The section on understanding food labels includes some sensible advice:

'What else to look out for

• Foods that have lots of artificial ingredients such as artificial flavours, sweeteners,
colours, stabilisers and preservatives
• Foods that have a lot of fat, sugar and salt
• Foods that contain “trans fats” or “hydrogenated fats”
• Foods containing very few natural foods, or foods that have been altered: “modified”, “hydrogenated”, “reconstituted”, etc
• Watch out for ingredients that you do not recognise, if in doubt leave them on the shelf
• Foods that have no nutritional information - “takeaways”'

Slipped in the middle of the list is the warning against: 'Foods that have a lot of fat'

Gary Taubes has demonstrated that saturated fat is important for most people, except the few with conditions such as hyperlipidemia, in his books: 'Good fats, bad fats' and 'Why we get fat'. Saturated fat, such as coconut oil, can be useful in working with dementia.

He also challenges the received wisdom about weight loss and exercise, though many acknowledge its role in maintaining insulin sensitivity.

Doug McGuff has some interesting views on exercise and the relative effectiveness of different types on human metabolism:

Petro Dobromylskyj makes a strong case for the central role of insulin in fat gain.

Tom Naughton points out that intelligent people in the West seem incapable of distinguishing good from bad science and the use and abuse of statistics. His lecture helps to explode some of the myths peddled by 'weight loss experts' and gym staff.

Science for smart people:


There's an interview at the end of Tom Naughton's lecture. He talks to an Ob Gyn, who wants to set the story straight about HRT and explain why one of Naughton's examples isn't so simple.

Questions: Who funds him and his research? What about links between HRT and breast cancer? Why should women take HRT anyway, when dietary and lifestyle changes can help them reduce and deal with natural signs of menopause?

Keep your brain switched on, when watching this segment.

Roaming ancestors standing still

Our ancient ancestors kept on the move. They hunted for animal protein and fish. Grains were gathered from wild grasses. Fruit, berries, leaves and roots supplemented the diet where available.

Disruptive innovation occurred when people stayed in one place, built permanent shelter and began to cultivate plants and grasses to crop for large parts of the year and store for winter. This enabled the development of settled communities, more sophisticated social structures and the eventual arrival of villages, towns and cities.

Welcome to civilisation.

Tall wheat was grown along with other grains and formed the basis for staples such as bread and pasta. Potatoes were a better option in places with poor weather and little sun to aid ripening. Domesticated grasses, like tall wheat, supplied fatter grains for a richer harvest.

Modern science and technology considered the challenge of poor yields, vulnerability to pests and diseases and loss of harvest from wind and rain damage. Plant breeding and genetic modification focussed on resistance to insect and bacterial/fungal infection. A major improvement to guarantee robust crops and easy harvesting was the development of modern short wheat.

This series of adaptive innovations in our staple food supply seemed sensible. An increasing population, less land for food cultivation, improvements in healthcare and increasing demand for food made this essential. Wheat was recognisably the same, it produced the same products and we focussed on other issues.

So what's the problem?

It seems that modern, short wheat is not the same. Bread and pasta produced from its grains are not the staff of life described in the bible.

Heart specialist, Dr William Davis, describes the role that wheat plays in triggering coronary arterial plaque and heart disease, in part by raising blood sugar levels higher than most other carbohydrates. When patients turn to him for help with heart problems, he recommends that they eliminate all wheat from their diet, with astounding beneficial results.

Further observation of patients and surveys of readers of his blog have shown that modern wheat is implicated in a wide range of health conditions from obesity, coeliac disease, arthritis, skin problems, accelerated ageing and brain damage. His latest book 'Wheat Belly' gives a detailed account of the issue.

'Diseases of civilisation' is a term widely used to refer to high fat, rich diets.

Wheat and sugar in its various forms seem to be the most ominous fruits of our ancestors' decision to stop and settle down.

If you visited this post from another site, you might like to browse other content on this topic by clicking on diet.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Orphan Brands

One misconception often held by my students is the notion that all innovation has to be revolutionary. Evolutionary change is viewed with contempt. They seem to believe that the only way to conquer the market is to devise something brand new. Blue sky thinking is rarer than we might imagine. I've written before about Apple's tendency to design things from a blank sheet of paper, but they also buy up crucial innovations as a platform on which to move forward, such as NeXt computing for a new Operating System.

Some entrepreneurs have made a lot of money from buying up neglected brands that are no longer generating large profits for multinational corporations. Their skill is in refreshing the brand by altering the packaging and relaunching marketing to boost sales and create a lucrative, steady income stream for the long term future. One product I use that was orphaned and adopted by Asian entrepreneur Mike Jatania's Lornamead company is Stergene, a hand wash liquid.

Other brands lose money because it is no longer economical to manufacture them in the West. Car brands have been bought by Chinese companies and few are now wholly owned and manufactured in Europe and the US.

'(These are).....strategic players, companies that want to expand into new areas or bulk up existing businesses. China's Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial just agreed to buy the Hummer line of SUVs from bankrupt General Motors (GM), while Penske Automotive Group, the nation's second-largest auto dealer, plans to pick up the bankrupt carmaker's Saturn brand.'

Another category that I'd include here is medication that is no longer fit for its original purpose but has been found effective for another complaint.

The most famous brand is Viagra, a medication originally targetted at angina, but was found by chance to be effective in treating erectile dysfunction.

Medical staff struggle to deal with brain cancer. Current treatments work for a small per centage of cases caught at an early stage. Other cases are merely delayed.

Researchers have identified that an old anti depressant, clomipramine, shows good results with brain tumours. A BBC Radio4 programme 'Treating Tumours: Old Drug, New Tricks' reviewed the evidence and lack of research into this treatment. As an anti depressant it has fallen out of fashion because of the side effects and been superseded by drugs such as SSRIs (the Prozac group).

As a licensed drug some cancer specialists are using where nothing else can be done for a patient, with promising results. It is cheap, the side effects are known, so clinicians argue that it's worth doing further research to check whether it's worth prescribing for this difficult condition.