Actually, I’m a fan of FC Freiburg, not FC Schalke 04, but I found the idea of creating a cemetery for Schalke fans in the shadow of the stadium in Gelsenkirchen absolutely absorbing. In honour of its founding year, the club plans 1904 graves in this ‘terminal turf’. Only the most faithful fans will be able to rest there after their final whistle, but they will enjoy an unimpeded view of the Veltins-Arena and the posthumous feeling of being part of every home game.
Radiohead in an open air concert at the legendary ‘Waldbuehne’ in Berlin, a babysitter on hand for our son in the form of my sister, who lives in the German capital, and the two of us enjoying a balmy July evening. Yeah – we had this wedding anniversary all planned out. At least, that is what we thought when we bought the tickets last winter.
The conviction of Rajat Gupta, (the former head of McKinsey and ex-board member of Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble) is being seen as a milestone in the long crackdown on insider trading by US prosecutors. Gupta was found guilty even though he did not personally benefit from the crime and the conviction was secured largely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. By setting the bar lower than the usual standard for conviction, the prosecutors hope to establish an effective deterrent for would-be insider traders. It could be working: the UK’s financial market regulator, the FSA, has revealed that there has been a dramatic decrease in unusual trading ahead of the London-listed M&As. Among other things, it attributes the decline to the much-debated Rajat Gupta trial.
The one wants to have it at any price; the other wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole. There is no doubt that the Facebook IPO has polarised opinion. Still, if everything goes to plan, the social network will come to market at a price that values the company at $100bn. That is as much as a PepsiCo, a Total, or a Unilever. Is Facebook really worth that much?
Even a dull picture can capture attention when colourfully painted by the media. The opportunity to do so emerged this week with yet another negative story from the eurozone. The target was a country that is stable, whose unemployment is among the lowest in the EU, and which boasts a trade surplus and years of responsible budget management. The collapse of the Dutch government was the result of disagreement over budget cuts in 2013 and movements to further austerity.
It seems the infant Pirate Party in Germany is emerging as a political influence to be reckoned with. Last week it managed to count its 25,000th registered members – that’s half the number of members as the Green Party, the youngest among the established parties. For the behaviourally-trained eye, however, the party’s rise is not surprising.
Does the copyright protection of ideas have to mean that freedoms are sacrificed in the internet? This is the rather disturbing thought I was left with recently after reading a newspaper editorial that discussed a proposal Germany’s increasingly notorious Pirate (political) Party to scrap intellectual property rights.
With the first round of presidential elections in France approaching, I have been forced into the realisation that my long-held belief in a Nicolas Sarkozy win seems stretched. Poll after poll in the past six months have favoured the socialist challenger, Francois Hollande, should it come to a second round run-off between him and the centre-right incumbent, Sarkozy. Yet, I held on strong despite the knowledge that these polls were conducted among representative samples of voters, and that second-round voting intentions remained stubborn. Couldn’t I detect a hint of irrationality in my own behaviour along the way?
Back in 2002, with the freshly-minted coins in my euro starter kit, I bought a movie theatre ticket. Those shiny new coins had an almost comic feeling – I regularly had to turn them over to check what each was worth. Today, ten years after the introduction of euro notes and coins, it is difficult for me to remember what it was like to pay with the old D-Marks. My first proper salary was in euro; so was my first rent payment. The bothersome mental conversion back into D-Marks was something that I abandoned after just a few weeks. The euro now courses through my veins (and, sadly, slips through my fingers).
German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble seems to think the pound is doomed and that Britain’s future lies in the eurozone. The mere suggestion was met with a collective round of thigh-slapping in the UK. One Tory MP, Philip Davies politely suggested that the good minister would do better to concentrate on solving the euro crisis and, in particular, to listen closely to what the German population wants. They would rather have the deutschmark back, he mused, than to have to bail out Greece and Italy.
As far as I am aware, the idea didn’t come from the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team, but the plan for the UK Treasury to issue “project-specific bonds” is certainly deserving of a behavioural moniker. Instead of just issuing generic gilts to meet the government’s policy objectives, the Treasury is thinking about labelling the bonds according to the use the money would be put. So, for instance, the financing of new roads, hospitals, or bridges would be done through the sale of a specifically-labelled bond and the money raised would be put to that purpose only.
When the hapless Mr Bean, through a string of clumsy gestures, manages to convert a harmless sneeze into the destruction of a priceless painting, movie audiences laugh until they cry. Nobody actually thinks that something like that could happen in real life. They are wrong; not only does it happen, but Forbes magazine has taken to documenting the most expensive mishaps. Take the example of the Porsche owner who tried to dry the floor mats in his car using a leaf blower balanced on the back seats.
A friend of mine contacted me yesterday to share news of what he considered to be a remarkable coincidence. In an e-mail (liberally dotted with exclamation marks) he informed me that his wife’s sister used to go to church with the sister of the UBS rogue trader Kweku Adoboli.
‘If I fall, Italy falls. If Italy falls, the euro falls.’ Italy’s economics and finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, made this declaration to his staff at the weekend as news of a corruption scandal within his inner circle became known. With all due respect, Mr Tremonti, isn’t that a bit much? A Roman emperor couldn’t have said it better.
Last Saturday at the local farmers’ market I was taken in by the lovely June strawberries on offer. Uniform little baskets of them, pre-weighed, lined the vendors’ stalls, and I presently fell in line at one to take some back home. A middle-aged man waited ahead of me and ahead of him was a lady who had just ordered a kilo of asparagus along with a basket of berries. Then it happened – just as the vendor behind the counter turned to ring up the bill, the lady client snapped a fat strawberry from another basket and placed it in her own.
‘One has to have the passion to teach to join the French education system.’ She spoke from experience. ‘The selection examinations are gruelling, the salaries are very lean and novice teacher recruits have practically no say about where they teach.’ France’s teacher placements are decided by a points system; the more of them a teacher has accrued, the greater the choice in schools. Young, single, childless, able-bodied, entry-level teachers start with a minimum of 21 points, which ensures that they wind up at the most challenging establishments in the most notorious neighbourhoods.
I’ve heard Dominique Strauss-Kahn variously described as a philanderer, a womaniser, a seducer or, more euphemistically, as someone ‘with a reputation’. This had me wondering: what is a reputation? It appears to be nothing more than a norm, a reference point that is associated with an individual. One can imagine that a reference point will ultimately crystallise around the typical behaviour pattern of the individual. Hence ‘a reputation’ could be thought of as some rough average of the behaviour an individual exposes observers to over time. Remember, all reference points only exist in the mind of the observer; we cannot therefore perceive our own reputation, only other people’s.
They would never leave on holiday on that day. Some call in sick to avoid going to work; others hardly dare getting out of bed. These are the approximately 17 to 21 million people who worldwide suffer from Paraskevidekatriaphobia. Para…what? This is the medical name of the irrational fear of Friday the 13th. This phobia is a variant of Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13.
Would you risk riding your bicycle every day through the rush-hour traffic in a UK city in order to avoid being victim to a 7/7-style terrorist attack on the bus or Tube? In the immediate aftermath of the 2005 tragedy, many people would probably have answered in the affirmative; six years on, perhaps less so. Yet, although the death toll of the terrorist attack was 52 dead and approximately 700 injured, more than twice as many cyclists are killed on British roads every year, and another 2,600 are seriously injured.
I am not sure whether it is a good or a bad thing, but a mid-afternoon workout on the cross-trainer at my local sports studio invariably has me watching TV shows that I would not ordinarily choose to view at home. The machine stands right in front of a huge flat screen whose soundless images ultimately become so annoying that I reroute the headphones from my iPod to the sound jack on the machine’s control panel. Today the show was about the luxury lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Few people in finance would willingly describe themselves (above a whisper) as a financial market astrologist. The combination of capital markets and stellar constellations all sounds a little too esoteric and fanciful for finance types. However, even coldly-calculating fund managers are often willing to lend a curious ear when they think there might be a chance to make some easy money – even if the method has to do with astrology.
The Masai call it ‘the never-ending plains’, the savannah that stretches from northern Tanzania to southern Kenya. The Serengeti is also home to constantly migrating animal herds, including some 1.3 million gnus, 400,000 Thomson’s gazelles, and 200,000 zebra, the last existing ecosystem where the huge herds are able to gather and roam. Tanzania’s National Park Service once had plans to downsize the endless plains, including ring-fencing a part of nature preserve in the 1950s
The expression, ‘the wrong kind of snow’ is guaranteed to raise a chuckle in Britain. It was the explanation given by a railway official some years ago when a snow-clearing machine proved unable to clear the tracks for trains to run after a modest episode of snow. In the meantime, it has come to signify the apparent inability of almost anything in the UK to run correctly once it has been dusted with a few snowflakes.
Somebody tweeted yesterday about new research that shows the devastating effect the smell of women’s tears has on men’s testosterone levels. I immediately recounted the news of the discovery to Todo, my blogger-in-crime, who informed me that he had already gotten wind of it – the story that is, not the smell.
At the height of the subprime crisis in 2008, billionaire Warren Buffett’s company accepted an invitation from US bank Goldman Sachs Inc. to buy its stock. The purchase was sizeable, $5bn, and well-publicised. The bank wanted fresh capital and also knew that the ‘endorsement’ of a celebrity investor like Buffett would help to buoy the tumbling stock price
In the middle of an EU debt crisis, especially one where Germany is seen as the paymaster-of-last-resort, it is no surprise that many Germans are nostalgic for their long-lost currency. A couple of surveys recent showed that more than half distrust the euro and think the deutschmark was a better money. One survey revealed that 29 percent believe the eurozone is in danger of breaking up as a result of the crisis.
Worldwide, which of these occurrences claim the most lives: shark bites or falling coconuts? Few people hesitate before answering shark bite. For me too, when I first read the question, the image of endless rows of razor-sharp shark teeth appeared infinitely more deadly than that of a hairy coconut. In reality, though, 15 times as many people are killed by falling coconuts than by shark bites.
Like many other viewers, I watched last Saturday night’s world championship heavyweight boxing match between Vitali Klitschko and Shannon Briggs from the comfort of my living room. Nevertheless, by the sixth round, I started to feel phantom pain around the eye and jaw and a huge amount of sympathy for the visibly tattered challenger Briggs.