Bankers

Before Wells Fargo was Wachovia. Wachovia’s superior management screwed things mightily with the complete list of blockhead banker follies from the mid-aughties, namely credit products they didn’t understand and outlandish home lending.

From the distance of eight or so years, the malfeasance of so many highly-paid people looks even more dopey. Banking, particularly domestic and small business banking, just isn’t that hard. You take deposits. You pay interest on (some) of those deposits. To make those interest payments, you lend money and charge interest. If the difference between what you charge and and what you pay out is a positive number, you have made a profit.

The kicker about banks is this: they lend out multiples of the dollar figure they have on deposit. This is called fractional banking, and is really the golden egg of a banking licence. At some points banks were lending up to fifty times their deposit base. That means for every dollar I had in my checking account, they were lending and charging interest on fifty.

Gearing like this nearly cost us the entire financial system, or so we’re told. And as an aside, no-one has yet been indicted nor have they been jailed for any of the many regulatory and civil breaches from that. Ahem, regulators?

So Wells Fargo, which was less bad at this game than Wachovia, took them over in 2008. They are now my bank, but only by way of inertia. I do not like them. But this morning I finally got around to opening an account at the Suncoast Credit Union. We’ll see how that goes. Hopefully it will smell cleaner and fresher than the stinky old megabank.

Group Think

For six years beginning in 2002 I made a stab at working for myself. Self-employment was a dream for me, the chance to undo the strictures of working for a big company.

Sadly, I was a worse boss than my corporate tormentors. Sure, I was hard-working and focused. I had discipline and goals. But a couple of things went wrong.

Mostly I think it was the little stuff that got me. I know now that being at home and working is a trickier gig than it might seem. Without a clear delineation between earning money life and non-earning money life, the two tend to become confused. Confusion is bad because your energy then becomes more diffuse.

So what happened is that I worked kinda all the time, but actually achieved less. Distractions filled up minutes, and then hours. There was no-one – except that less-than-stellar boss – to keep me on track.

The lesson is that I need a clearly defined place of work, not at home. And here’s the odd thing: I need people around too. Being alone was a mistake, even though I think I am a loner and work best that way. People mostly annoy me. But I need them.

Boring Holes in the Sky

Albert Einstein and wife Mileva Maric

Einstein, right at the height of his creativity in 1903 said:

Ach, relativity. Give me a good whodunnit. That would be better.

Okay, that might not be quite true. But I’d bet your apfelstrudel against my peach shnapps that at some time in his life, Albert the Amazing was looking around for something more…engaging.

And I bet the same is true for you as well. We humans are primed for novelty. The new things quickly become mainstream which slumps into routine and then plummets toward torpor. Think of how quickly the cellphone became a snoozefest when the smartphone came along. As if it weren’t enough to be able to talk wherever and whenever you chose –  no, that wasn’t good enough. We had to be online as well.

Jobs and vocations too, will run into the quagmire of day-to-day drudgery, no matter how stimulating they were to begin. In  my younger days, I was a pilot. Most people think that this would be right up there with the most engaging and stimulating of professions, and they are wrong. Long-haul flying is excruciatingly boring. In fact, most airline flying conforms to the idea of “ten hours of boredom punctuated by three seconds of sheer terror.”

Well, not quite. But we lived with the fact that all night long we bored holes in the sky. An apt a description as any.

The Small Gulp

Coke

The date: Sometime in the late 1980s.

The place: Somewhere between Naples and Rome.

The event: A shared can of Coca-Cola.

I vaguely remember it to be late summer, but every day in Italy feels like summer to me. The day had been tiring, not helped by my jetlag. My body was somewhere between Sydney and Mumbai, reminding me of the cruelty I was inflicting upon it.

But I had seen Naples and Pompeii that day, a reward worth the pain of ignoring one’s metabolism. I’d taken a bus tour from Rome, a tactic I often use to scope out a new place before striking out later, on my own.

We’d stopped for a break, the last one before the drive back to our hotels. The place was nothing special, a little town; a coffee bar, a few shops. I was wandering around, breathing, watching. A group of office workers strolled along. There were three or four women and one man. The man suggested a drink, a Coca-Cola. He went into the store, and returned to the group with one can and four glasses.

He handed the glasses to the ladies. He opened the can. He poured out an equal share for everyone. They clinked glasses, sipped their fizzy drink, and proceeded with their animated conversation.

After ten minutes, everyone had finished. The man collected the glasses and walked them back into the store. I walked back to my bus, and it took me home.