Stressed – what makes you think that?

Here is a potted version of the last 7 days.  Today marked the end of one of the most stressful weeks in a long time. 

Last Monday we had to transfer some money into another European country to complete a project that we have been working on for 3 years.  Leading up to this Monday had required quite a lot of detailed engagements with a number of other third parties to make sure that everything needed was in place.  That actually was reasonably smooth.  So, Monday, execute the transfer.  Everything was set up for the 2 of us to fly out of Amsterdam on Friday morning to arrive and finalise everything, some weeks ago.

Wednesday afternoon I get a phone call.  “Apologies, but the schedule has changed.  Because of public holidays the offices of everyone involved will be closed by midday on Friday and we know your flight arrives at midday.  Can you change this?”.  Rapid calls to KLM and to my amazement could change things to Thursday night, last flight out.  Checked bank account late Wednesday night – all the money is back in the account. Shit, it take 3 days to transfer anything and this needs to be in specific accounts Friday morning.  Holy shit, what to do?  Try a different transfer method and this time pay for immediate transfer, – let’s try that.  Phone calls and screen shots emailed on Thursday. 

Booked a rental car earlier in the week.  Something in the back of my mind was aware that not everything was settled with this.  Checked reservation and noted in very bottom left hand corner saying that because we booked the pick up time at 11pm, reservation couldn’t be confirmed because the office shuts at 10pm – shit.  On the phone, called the hotline, “Dont worry sir, you can pay an additional fee and the people will wait for you” – great.  Arranged that.  Thursday mid afternoon, same feeling.  Called hotline again – “no problem, if they don’t wait the leave a note at the desk and the key and contract with airport information”.  Hmmm, this is Italy, why do I not believe this?  Decided to call Sixt in Italy to check.  Lady was helpful but not entirely convincing, so she put me through to the office at the airport – “wait for you, not really possible, yes, yes you have paid for me to wait but if you are delayed I cannot wait” (this is better this is the Italy I know).  “Try Hertz, they are open until midnight”.  OK, now we are talking.  Called back Sixt to cancel the reservation (that was never really a true reservation, apparently) and then get onto the Hertz site to book.  Fortunately this time I get a confirmation number.  Everything good to go.

Out to airport, jump on plane arrive on time 10.30pm in Rome.  Out through the doors, followed the signs towards the rental car desks.  Signs direct you through some doors.  Doors don’t open – they get locked at 10.00pm.  Hmmmm – lets follow the other Italians who seem to know where to go.  Around the corner into an elevator, up to the 2nd floor, out, down some corridors indicating direction to hire cars, doors locked at 10.00pm (only in fucking Italy).  Reverse direction, back down to arrivals area go to the exit – yep doors locked at 10.00pm.  Go further down airport until we find the one remaining exit.  Outside to taxi area of course no signs toward rental car area as all signs are inside.  Asked a person, yes 100 meters that way and up some stairs – easy.  Off we go.  Yes, there are the stairs, race up 4 flights and miracle of miracles, the fire doors are jammed open so we can go through.  The alternative would have been ugly as there was no way to open the fire doors from the outside.  Into the overhead walkway, relocate signs and off we go to Hertz.  Arrive at desk sweating like a pig.  Calm helpful lady – good.  Gave her the reservation printout, passport, credit card and drivers license.  After a few minutes the lady gets my attention “Excuse me sir can you please help me”?  “Whats up” says I.  “From what I see here your license has expired in January”. “Expired, impossible” – looking, looking – fuck me it expired in January – 9 months ago.  In that time I have hired 2 other cars (ironically from Sixt) and the police pulled me up to check papers and licence in Germany in April.  As you can understand this took a few minutes to process.  Holy shit, what happens now.  “K, please tell me you bought you licence and that it’s not expired” She tentatively pulls hers out and thank god, it’s all ok.  Why is this such a MAJOR problem, you ask?  Well we HAD to get a car because we then had to drive another 2 hours to be where we needed to be to meet people at 7.00am Friday morning and there is no public transport at all going anywhere at midnight and a taxi would have required a second mortgage.  “So ma’am, you will have to drive as he cannot”.  Yes that I figured out.  So bags in the car, GPS plugged in let’s go!.  “Why isn’t the GPS locking onto the satellites”?  Dont tell me that the major map upgrade I did 2 days ago has fucked something up?  Cant be, we used it yesterday in Holland.  Then why doesn’t it activate and pick up the satellites?  Bloody hell, how do I know?  Look follow directions as I remember them and I will figure this out!   Wait, 15 minutes into this journey the bloody GPS decides it can find the satellites and lock on.  Thank God.  Location plugged in, everything good.

Now of course I am completely stressed because my licence expired 9 months ago and I can hear the conversation already “I am sorry sir, 9 months is too long.  You will need to sit your test once again and yes the fact that the whole thing is in Dutch is a complete major pain in the fucking arse, but rules are rules”.  I could visualise this conversation!  Lets add to the stress of everything else.  Monday I have to figure this out.

Arrive back in Amsterdam late last night.  Up really early to make sure I have all the paperwork required to present myself at the Dutch Immigration office to renew my residents permit, which expires in December.  And the problem is?  To achieve this appointment took 3 weeks of pure Dutch bureaucracy at its finest.  It would take too long to explain, but bottom line was that because I haven’t passed the required exams that prove I have integrated, I cannot get an appointment.  So you then you enter this closed loop of bureaucratic insanity where everyone is apologetic, but those are the rules without any clear answer except you have to leave.  Luckily there is one absolute constant in Holland.  If you can clearly demonstrate to them that a certain action will end up costing the state considerable money (and supporting my 2 dutch children until 18 would do that), suddenly things become very easy.  “Oh, just fill out the form we send you, bring a photo and we will see you at 10.00am”. So got there, spent 30 minutes with a nice lady who takes my forms, photocopies them, then photocopies the photocopies, stamps the photocopies and then stamps the stamps on the photocopies, takes my money and tells me that they are a bit backlogged and the process could take 4 months. Oki doki.

Jump into my car (yes without my valid licence) and race to the local government office to see what awaits me.  Well the first thing is waiting time of one hour.  My number gets called and I go to the desk of a pleasant man and I explain what has happened and the fact that the agency didn’t send me a letter to remind me to renew.  (For those living in Holland you understand the importance of this observation.  Every single thing about you resides in a central database and you get letters reminding you about all the required things needed to function here).  The man from the local government office listens and says, quote “well that’s fucked up”!  I instantly knew things would be ok, and it was.  Entered more info into the computer, extracted a reasonable sum of money from me and told me to come back this Thursday morning and pick up my new licence!  Thank you God and my guardian angels!

Tomorrow morning I am up at 4.45am to get ready to fly to Geneva and so life continues. 

I think I need to sleep.

Advertisements

The lunatics are loose in the asylum

Here are a selection of excerpts in the news over the last 10 days.  Despite the fact that personal greed drove the global economy to the very brink of the precipice, it would seem that the certain sections of society still have no real links to reality and one could argue, why should they because neither society nor the law hold them accountable.

Dexia (Franco-Belgian lender) lent €1.5bn of capital to its two largest institutional shareholders so that they could buy shares in ………….. Dexia.  In a further interesting twist Dexia accepted its own shares as collateral for the loans.  “Byzantine doesn’t even begin to describe this structure” was the reaction of someone briefed on the situation.

Investment banks are using gaps in global pay reforms to persist with some of their most contentious bonus payment practices.

Despite UBS losing $2.3bn, UBS Executives said that it would not force them to rein in this years bonus payments, as it set aside nearly 90 per cent of its investment banking revenues for staff pay.

Olympus, the Japanese camera maker are struggling to explain the $687m payment to a third part ‘advisor’ on their purchase of Gyru.  This fee represented 1/3 of the total deal value.  The consulting company, registered in New York was suddenly de-registered and disappeared shortly after being paid.

High end London properties are increasingly sold off-market by vendors who do not like the thought of selling to a wealthier buyer. ( My god – what is wrong with these people?)

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the US economic & political woes who seem to impact everyone with the exception of the top 1% (by wealth) and the politicians. 

You would like to think that after a million odd years of evolution we may have evolved a little further.

Why I don’t live in New Zealand

There is absolutely no coincidence in the fact that I live on the polar opposite side of the world.  This article captures the reason why I ran away from the place as soon as I was able too so.  One extract of the article;

Rugby is a huge part of every community here. Children are raised on it, and have it with them for life. In New Zealand, you meet countless exceptional people, within whom the spirit of rugby is almost a guiding light for themselves and others.

To provide context I should point out that I was the first boy in the history of my school to refuse to play rugby. This was met with utter incomprehension, why would a male born in New Zealand consciously make the decision to reject his ‘birthright’?

Like Australia, New Zealand suffers from being a very young nation with little cultural depth & identity, where sport becomes the definition of culture.  I personally find this quite sad, but I did vote with my feet.

A voice of reason amid the madness

 

An interesting article that is worth the time it takes to read.

“I hear all this, ‘well, this is class warfare, this is whatever’. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear:

You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”

– Elizabeth Warren

 

– 61 per cent of Americans “always or usually” live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 per cent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007

– 66 per cent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1 per cent of Americans

– 43 per cent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement

– 24 per cent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age

– Only the top 5 per cent of US households earned enough to match the rise in housing costs since 1975

– In 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s paycheck was about 30 to 1; since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 and 500 to 1

– The bottom 50 per cent of income earners in the US now collectively own less than 1 per cent of the nation’s wealth

– More than 40 per cent of Americans who are actually employed are now working in service jobs, which are often low paying.

 

Al Jazeera – big thumbs up

This week, as events unfolded in Libya I started to go to the website of Al Jazeera to see if the news was presented differently.  I have now spent the rest of the week checking the site each day and I am impressed by the balance and quality of the content and reporting.  Al Jazeera has invested heavily in its resources and the quality of the journalists.  It is clear that they made a fairly sensible decision early on not to employ any executives from Fox News.  Up until now I always used to check the BBC News site but I have made the decision to change.  What Al Jazeera has achieved (an I suspect that it may have been a deliberate decision) is to show the bias in Western news sources.  Even with the BBC you can see a certain subtle bias, for example it is rare to ever see content that openly criticises, questions or condemns western global policies.  I don’t even want to waste my breath commenting on the quality of reporting from CNN, Sky & Fox.  Which does lead to an article I read about Al Jazeera and “The land of the Free”.  AJE (Al Jazeera English) has been running a campaign for Americans to put pressure on their cable providers to start showing AJE. In the last few months 70,000 emails have been sent and slowly AJE content or channels have started to be aired.  I completely understand why the American power base wants to keep AJE out of the “Land of the Free” and have tried to do so by insinuating that it is a propaganda channel for Middle Eastern terrorism.  The threat to both the political and to the entrenched media interests in the US is that if AJE becomes widely aired people may become aware of the pure propaganda that they are being fed 24/7 and become slightly disillusioned. If you look at the relevant page on their website there is a feed of comments made by people and I found the following to be particularly illuminating;

“Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news”.
– US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

A production line called ‘School’

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a parents evening at my eldest daughter’s school. The purpose of the evening was for the teachers and the Director to give an overview of what was the focus of this school year. This is her second year at high school and there are two more years to follow. I was told that this year is very important because depending on her performance it shapes which stream she will go into the following two years. The school Director gave a presentation that absolutely amazed me. Within the presentation there was the structure of the courses, the structured variation of the one exam that she will take, and then a list of all the jobs that she would be be qualified to do after leaving school. To be honest, I’m not sure why I was so amazed. The entire structure of the modern education system is premised upon a production line. By it’s very nature it tends to kill creativity and individualism. I don’t believe this was a conscious decision but it’s an output of having all these children conform to a certain structure, a certain flow and a certain outcome. Schools were actually created at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when there was a realisation that there was a requirement for educated people to work in factories and on production lines. They were taught certain specific skills, allowing them to become useful and productive within a factory environment. It is clear that fundamentally little has really changed. This is not strictly a criticism, because I am still really impressed by the breadth and choice of the subjects that my daughter can do which provides much greater intellectual stimulation than the dross that was served up at my school, purporting to be education.

Something that I do find a bit scary is the cultural imperative in Dutch schools to label everybody and put them in a box. The definition of this box is actually the exam that you passed at school. This does determine where you do end up in Dutch society. In my own experience, when I first arrived here and looked for jobs, one of the first questions was what exams did I pass at school. I quickly understood that it was very important to make this answer as confusing as possible. This of course made it nigh impossible for them to put me into a “job box”. This allowed for much more interesting conversations, albeit very confusing for the Dutch interviewer. However, what I have realised is that for the average Dutch person, breaking out of this set of labels and boxes is virtually impossible unless you then go on to do much more study, many more exams, and gain more qualifications, but ironically you just get transfered into a ‘higher educated’ box. The one way to beat the system is to leave the country, travel overseas and get a lot more experience by choosing varied jobs and gaining confidence in your own abilities to think and move outside of the box that defines you in Holland.

There are some very good videos by Sir Ken Robinson on Ted.com, who describes with considerable humour the waste of human capital because societies have failed to recognise the need to bring the education system into the 21st-century.