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Monthly Archives: December 2006

A wise internet page (it was most likely this one,) once gave me the sage advice that the most important thing in life was laughter. It is wisdom that I have recently taken to heart. The happy go lucky laugh along confident approach to life is enviable but not something that most of us can attain. We live life with different perspectives, different attitudes and different emotional reactions. This is part of the vibrance that keeps the human species dynamic and it doesn’t need to be sacrificed to this principle.

The pragmatic application that was counselled was more simple: Find the things that make you laugh. Then keep them with you. Keep them somewhere accessible, so that when life gets you at its harshest darkest moment; where you really can see no light in the distance; this treasure of laughter will be available to you. I share with you my personal application.

I have two big flaws that effect my emotional reaction to things. I tend to overthink, my brain stuck in top gear endless permutations scrambling past the projector in my mind and to think verbally too much. My comedic cure to these symptoms is the irrelevant humour of Scrubs and QI. Scrubs is irrelevance personified and this whacky casual view of the world is conveyed to me, basking in the glow of its characters. It feels strange but a TV show is usually as good a way as there is for me to inhabit an alternate world. Books are for serious things. QI which I imagine my non-UK reader will never have heard of is a quiz show that while being informative is more a portal into irrelevance; the understanding that just because the paddle pool of ignorance is connected to the ocean of knowledge I do not have to run straight into the sea. Sometimes the paddle pool has its own wonders. It is an attempt to revive the fun of words and the pleasure of language, language at the beach and the amusement park instead of the office.

These two items in my treasury both serve to remind me through comedy of the things that my brain needs for its own good. Sometimes it needs to be off; sometimes it has to be left in neutral if it is to run at full speed at other times. It serves two other important purposes. It banishes the darkness; laughter instrinsicly is the emotion of the alive and the happy and this treasury can put you in touch with this at a time when you can’t recall them. A life line that is truly priceless. Also it gives you detachment – for a few minutes you forget the here and now; you inhabit the world which the material inhabits and can get yourself recentered by reminding yourself of the full range of human experiences; not only of human experiences but also your experiences.

I have had need a few times to put this advice to the test, and I can confidently say that while not a problem solver it has the magic quality of making problems more bearable, to make solutions more possible and the spirit more willing. And so many of our problems can be solved by these simple changes that I could say that they were problem solvers when the problem was me rather then the outside world.

This weekend I had to reformat my laptop after some sort of critical software screw up essentially made it impossible for it to boot up successfully the whole way. Invariably on every start something would go wrong and I would get the once ubiquitous, now thankfully less, Blue Screen of Death; whereby Windows told you in a rather incomprehensible way why a component had failed you at a critical point. With no way to get into recover my files I had no choice but to go for a rough and ready format and accept the loss of my files.

In the few days after, as things have been slotted back into place and I reinstall all the software that made my computer work in the way that I wanted it to I’ve found myself missing some files that I really didn’t put much thought into at the time. Google has backed up my emails, and my blog posts are all still alive on the net somewhere, so while the loss of my copies is regrettable it’s not like I’ve lost access to that content for eternity.The files that I miss are the conversation history files from MSN. I had conversation histories from the ICQ days which is like 1999 onwards and Trillian logs from 2001 onwards when I made the switch.

Now as a personal perversion I’m a big fan of keeping archives of my conversations and emails so the loss of these was something that I found quite sad. I still have some of my conversations that I had with Craig and Mubaraka in 2000 and thereafter, and as a record of my history I don’t have a better source. Our conversations on MSN were sometimes rather epic and even when they were more benign they recorded what we did with our days, what we talked about and what we planned to do with our remaining hours. They reminded me what I had done in those times. With no other method of preserving my daily actions for posterity then these archives functioned as my diary, my record and my portal to memories that I would not otherwise remember. They’re the only contemporary record of times that were some of the best that I had with the best people it has ever been my fortune to have stumbled across.

Recently there have been a few conversations that have exceptionally worth retaining and rereading for their general tenor and audacity. While I took that opportunity only once, I would have loved to give them a second reading to extract as much information as I could from conversations that were operating at more levels then I was able to extract at the time.They have a special quality that made them enjoyable and also that made them worth retaining. In many ways it’s the modern successor to those conversations with Craig and Mubaraka that were so delightful and I feel equally they might be definitional of an interesting time in life again. The period of now is always interesting in that sense, especially when you get a chance to review them later.

I suppose the end result is a salutary lecture in the virtues of backing up, and keeping alternate copies of those things that are important. But the time for lessons learned is a little distant. While I know that it lives inside me and that friendships are current as well as historic, sometimes the history can be as beautiful and worth fighting for as the past – and that I feel the loss of now.

It seems strangely odd to say it, but it is a sentiment that I have been repeating to many others when I mention my slightly busy time in the run up to exams, with the revision that needs to be done and the writing that needs to be done for my two other assessments, but it really is nice to have some work to do again.

My time so far at HKU has been less then satisfactory, and I’ve made that rather amply clear to those who have talked to me and in my prior post about the prestigious institution here as well. My problem with it at the core is that I don’t feel like I’m being pushed at all, that my potential is being enhanced by the mental calisthenics that I would expect that post graduate education would demand of me. At undergrad, every year I could take stock of where I was at that point and compare it to the point that preceded it and I could actively chart my improvement.

In first year I was abysmal, couldn’t do a decent amount of work and lacked the focus, discipline and the mental fortitude to knuckle down and expand my exposure to the legal world. In second year the methods learned painfully over the first year with all its mistakes was harnessed to develop stronger and better methods. Second year was an absolute nightmare as we took all of the big three together (tort, trusts and property) the acknowledged hardest subjects on the course (and compulsory I might add) but it resulted in better thinking, writing and planning as well as time management being an absolute necessity. Third year was a bit easier, the topics weren’t as hard cause they were the optional modules and Public International Law was something that I knew perhaps better then my teacher in some aspects and the course was definitely taught below the level of the reading. Yet there was still Company Law, with the formidable Eva Lomnicka that served as an excellent template on how to learn complex and demanding law which made no sense at all, and Trade marks which gave me an excellent guide to structuring legal knowledge, which to be fair I don’t think she knew she was doing, but I still use that method to teach myself topics and prepare for exams and so far it’s doing good.

At HKU on the other hand, the reading is trivial, always well above the level of the lecture and my own personal reading done on the side for some of the topics is putting me well beyond the level of the material taught. Now I accept that is tangentially my own fault for getting through the material too fast and demanding too much of myself and my course. But that sense of being engaged in an intellectual pursuit that demands me too put my A-game in has gone and it is rather disappointing to end up in that situation. I would have hoped that an institution of the pedigree of HKU would keep me stretched.

The effect of a demanding undergrad time has been the net result that I’ve been bent out of shape in a rather fundamental manner that does not permit me to be lazy for too long and without engaging myself in work that feels substantial. In my second year I recall that I vegged out for one week watching Star Trek episodes by the dozen, but the moment that finished I had to find something more substantial for me to do to pass the time as well as doing the social stuff. A day spent idly is something that has only really beginning to happen at the moment, and I can’t help but think it is because the deformity that King’s imposed on my character to make me an aficionado of hard work is fading away. The desire to be productive has only been slightly filled in the exam period by having me work hard. Let’s hope that we can find a way for the rest of the year to be conducive to that kind of work and develop a way to push myself a little harder.

I have started becoming more of a committed Formula 1 fan in recent months. I was never one before I went to the UK, it only featured on my map of the sporting world because it was Sumer’s sport, the sport that he was the most interested in and talked about an awful lot. And as one of those de facto things that litter life, if your friends talk about something a lot, you learn a lot about it yourself, and begin to develop a little interest of your own to complement them. But that was initially the extent of my interest; more the interest of my friends then my own.

It changed with university, as did so many other things. ITV in the UK broadcasts F1 free to air, with a top notch presentation crew and commentary that is both accessible and informative and served as a bench mark into the sport. Also the times were suddenly much more reasonable with races being in the afternoon on weekends, times when I had more time on my hand without having to go to madressa or being constrained by the thought of work due in on Monday. I begin to appreciate the excellent fusion that the sport provided between machinery operating at its maximum, the tremendous performance at the top end of any game, and the tremendous focus, precision and concentration that they drivers demonstrated, bringing a car around at 300km/h stopping with infinite precision in a breaking zone all while tussulling with one another for the smallest advantage that they could open out into an opportunity to get ahead or get away from their fellow competitors.

Recently, I’ve managed to ‘acquire’ a copy of EA Sport’s F1 Challenge which is perhaps the bench mark of realistic racing on the PC, a genre so niche that no one even competes with a game that was last really updated in 2003 and only is current today by the endeavours of a committed set of modders that add updates and strive to improve the game as much as they can, which they are able to do by the excellent open ended design of the game to allow modding and amendments that have enabled the success of these dedicated maintainers of the F1 PC gaming legacy.

A few weeks of playing this modest game, has impressed upon me how much I underestimated the top notch professionalism of an F1 driver. The difficulty is not in mechanics and car control, that is a huge potential problem though, and one not to be lightly discarded. A vehicle going at 200km/h going out of control and into a tyre wall is a sobering thought that would keep most sane people firmly glued to their unmoving seats in the audience stand, not rushing out to the raceway. What is more daunting, and perhaps even tougher is the exacting concentration that is required in every moment and at every turn of a race. You cannot switch off for a single moment without dire consequences. You cannot miss a breaking point, you cannot get caught up in the competition, the proximity of another car on the race track, you have to race your own race while all the time being aware of the ever fluid changing circumstances.

It has shown me how weak actually my concentration is. I find it impossible to focus on anything like race distance. In fact in any given lap, there are probably two moments where I’m on the thin line between everything breaking and the car just staying on the road, and I’m not even consistently able to correct when I think that I might be close to overstepping the line without knowing what to do. That kind of focus, that kind of concentration on anything is something that I lack at any level in my life and I really admire the ability for anyone to do it. There’s a hope that the weaknesses in my racing game can finally function to allow me to get more out of life.

I have a tendency to performance. I have a sensation that I am coming to realise something here that I did not come to realise before. This explains much of what I found myself doing and perhaps where I want to go with things.

I am referring to the desire that I have for public approbriation and performance. It is a rather recurring theme if you wish to look at it with an extended perspective. MUN, is ultimately a public speaking event, you go out and talk, the centre of attention and the focus of all events. People listen as you speak, you feel the nervous tension, that anxiety that adheres to all public performance, and I get a rush out of it. This rush is perhaps the closest thing to an adrenaline rush that I ever got on a regular basis. The performance, the style and the theatrics, to play with words and attack or defend a position.

In jumaat (functions at the mosque) that incredible ego rush and power trip of performance is there. And it’s perhaps the reason I’ve been holding back for the last few months from doing anything. I’ve conquered that arena and I’m not really fussed whether I recite or not.

Three months ago during Rajab, when I was the front line in a very real sense, above men who are many years my senior was perhaps the pinnacle of this feeling so far; the tremendous showing off that was dass surat with its casual performance that was almost contemptuous excellence; all done above many who are my senior, those who by right should have the performance I was putting on. In a sense these are moments that I get an incredible ego rush out off. They are the culmination of the expectation, the central position and the rising to meet the challenge without really feeling stretched, in a publicly casual manner that I loved. I loved upstaging people, defying expectation, and accomplishing something dramatic in the centre. It’s an almost palpable feeling of “I showed them”. And perhaps a malicious undercurrent of “I am better then you. Watch me prove it.”

It also translates into what I want to do. A barrister is inevitable theatricality, its a performance, verbal, that is about conveying information while occupying the central position in a ritual theatre that defines justice in dozens of countries. The desire again is to take that central stage and dominate it in a casual and commanding manner, that artfully conceals the hours of painstaking preparation and planning to win the adulation of the world. This desire to transcend, excel and to bask in the limelight, without an ounce of effort being apparent is what I want. And it explains a lot.

We have a new word of the year, courtesy of the eminently qualified people at Merriam Webster, who have pronounced Dr. Steven Colberts phrase truthiness as the embodiment of this annus horribilis. Those of you unaware of the good doctor’s work, truthiness is a satirical term which refers to person who claims to know something intuitively, instinctively, or “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts. This kind of evocation is a constant factor in American politics, it being just about the sole kind of justification the White House has ever put out for any of its policies.

The word has been chosen at an appropriate time, because I also am under siege due to my logical approach to life, being told to advocate something else then cold rationality in my daily interaction. Now I think it’s fair to say that cold rationality is one of my strong points, and that it is one of the aspects of me that I actually like. I don’t like doing or thinking things that have no connection with reality in real world situations. I’m not dismissing the power of imagination or the utility of a flight of fancy (who doesn’t indulge in those) but I don’t think decisions and words should be wasted without regard this requirement.

Others would disagree suggesting that I should replace my logic with…Well they haven’t been forthcoming about what I should replace it with. I think the alternatives would either be more gut instinct, more random behaviour and less planning. An adaptation of truthiness if you will.The value of spontaneity is something that I can appreciate, and it really is something that I don’t do a lot of. It might be just the way I’m configured but I also feel that I don’t have the people around me to let me be spontaneous in a meaningful way with constructive results. Saying silly things has never appealed to me; I’d rather be actually witty or telling jokes which I flatter myself but I think I’m good at playing with words instead of doing silly things which I can’t do because I have the grace of galloping hyena.

In the end though I’m comfortable with what I am, I like being rational, and thinking things through before committing myself to anything. It’s what I’m used to doing, and it seems idiotic to resile from a position that is eminently rational to a position less rational because of no articulatable benefit. So till the case is better made, I’ll be staying the way I am.

I’ve been contemplating my passive interventionist approach to leadership these last few days. My ‘method’ loosely put is that I don’t like to take the lead from the outset in any endeavour. There are always those who see themselves as in command, or have done the necessary work or effort to deserve command out of a sense of seniority, and so I prefer to take up a number two position . This perhaps ties into my belief that real power often accrues to those who are the men behind the throne, although often they can bear the brunt of failure as well.

More often then not though, the situation is dynamicly leaderless due to it being social or haphazardly organised (class group presentation) and I take charge out of a sense of frustration. I start passive if I can afford it, letting people run their arguments and ideas together to get a sense of all the possibilities that the discussion can head down so that we have an appreciation of the full spectrum of opportunities available for us.

I find this awareness of the full spectrum tends to bring progress to a rather grinding halt. The more possibilities people find, the more scope for error there becomes and the more averse they become to advocating any specific course. This is usually my niche, for I’m very good at advocating a particular path to proceed down, without finding myself prone to prevarication.

I recall reading an anecdote, probably somewhere on Slashdot, where a person was relating that they had gained a promotion becuase they were a good decision maker. This they were told, didn’t mean that they made right decisions or that their decisions were the best possible decisions, but that they took decisions with the best mix of timelyness and effectiveness and that the decisions were well done as decisions, as opposed to the brilliant resolution of the current dillema. The notion being conveyed was that you can be taught what the best decision in a given set of circumstnaces is, but you cannot be taught how to find that decision, how to make that decision and how to abide by them.

I get very quickly frustrated at the circular discussions that can quickly develop amongst people who are not able to agree on any position or agree on what position they hold. I see it always as quick rational analysis of what position to hold, what its key arguments are, what peripheral points can be negotiated and how sustainable the position is overall. All that’s then left is trading these jigsaw pieces around until everyone has a puzzle that they enjoy the sight of. Not difficult, not complicated and there really is no need for it to be time consuming.

I find that this style of decisive leadership has two results. Firstly people are quite greatful that someone is making a decision and they tend to agree with what I’ve suggested unless there is another person with strong views and a reasoned case, in which situation me and that person usually hammer out a compromise that is acceptable to him and therefore to all. The second is that people tend to resent it, because (I speculate) that it seems to be overly efficient and too ruthless in preening their ideas and contributions to make them fit into a coherent model that deals with the problem we actually have, rather then the problem they want to have.

I’m not sure I’m willing to change it, though I’ve made efforts to involve others more and to keep soliciting their feedback on a more continuing basis especially to make sure that the solution is still functioning rather then a paper plan. But at the same time I’m averse to mindlessly reviewing decisions we’ve already made without there actually being any new information that would justify such a review, and I get irate when people attempt to waste time doing this..

A delicate balance to be sure, and one that I shall have to strive to be more concious in maintaining.

We recently got Fox News at home, the first chance for me to get a glimpse at that much reviled channel on the American right wing, which is an attempt to counter that noted allegation that reality has a liberal bias.

It’s a very interesting channel to watch, and as a general trend it’s probably getting as much air time at home as the proper news channels such as the venerable BBC News.

You may have rightly gotten the impression that our household takes it less then seriously, but it is hard to justify coming to any other conclusion about it. I have never seen as deliberate attempt to spin news as entertainment, and to keep it simple and stupid so as to not confuse the recipient too much by actually supplying them with information.

The formula itself is quite simply dissembled, there are many anchors, the issues are covered in a banter format and issues are dealt with frequently but always in tiny doses, measuring at most a few minutes. There is no attempt at indepth discussion, comprehensive analysis or the frequent procurment of experts to provide a depth of analysis that the news anchors are themselves incapable of providing.

The end result is news lite, an attempt to focus on inconsequential stories and a gloss on the important ones to treat them in a entertaining rather then substantive manner. It barely deserves to be called a news channel, but it certainly is enjoyable to watch, especially if you’re actually informed on the issues they are presenting without any attempt to convey information because you can focus just on their slant.

I just wouldn’t actually reccomend it for anyone who isn’t informed, and given that the vast majority of the American public is woefully informed, Fox News is a rather depressing phenomenon.

Sometimes inspiration can be found in the most surprising places. Sometimes it comes from the most obvious, just when the most obvious was looking like the most despairing. It seems miraculous, almost incredible, but I’ve found something in a University of Hong Kong class that actually interests me greatly.

This miracle maker is the area of financial derivatives. Now normally financial products don’t excite anyone, except perhaps desperate insurance salesman, investment bankers who want to make partner and the individuals who share Li Ka Shing’s asset class, so it is rather dubiously that I looked initially at my own interest. The motivation is simple: derivatives are actually incredibly nifty, effective and the first area of substantive intellectual challenge that I have encountered on my course.

A financial derivative, for those who are wondering what the hell they are, are things like options, futures contracts and more complex creatures such as swaps and credit derivatives. Now the idea essentially put is that it allows low up-front cost gambling on other things such as bonds and equities, so that people can get the benefit from being invested without actually putting up the cash upfront. In market savy Hong Kong I should really have to say no further [and in some areas like covered equity warrants, Hong Kong actually has significant retail activity, unlike a lot of other countries]

The simplest to explain and the most fundamental building block of the derivative market is the option. The option is a document that entitles the holder (upon the payment of a premium) to buy a share or a bond when it reaches a certain price within a certain time frame. The idea is that you have an option to buy 1000 shares at $2 in the next 6 months. After 2 months the price rises to $3, you can then exercise the option, and be put in the position as if you had bought at $2 and sold at $3, realising a thousand dollar profit. Normally this would have required you to actually buy a 1000 shares at $2, costing you $2000. The option on the other hand would probably have traded at considerably less then that, meaning that your actual return on money is substantially higher [return rates of a 1000% are easily doable given the right share option and market volatility]. Of course the flip sides is that if the market goes down, your option [after 6 months the share is only worth $2.50] is totally worthless as you would lose money if you exercised it. If you’d bought the shares you would at least have an asset albeit one that had depreciated in value.

What I really wanted to share anyway, was the satisfaction that comes from finally having a direction to which to apply my energy, and to have a topic that encourages me to find out more by myself, and can reward endeavor with depth even if in the end its an aspect of financial products and risk management, and not really that complicated as an issue of law. It’s just good to find something that can drive that level of interest for me. Last year Public International Law and Company Law helped a great deal to drive through the year for me, and in the year before Tort played a very similar role. It’s nice to have something like that back.

Sidenote: For the one lawyer that doesn’t read my blog anyway, options were that weird thing in Vandervell (No.2) v. IRC and is how they did the mysterious vanishing act with the shares that were held by the RCS. That might not be of much help now, if it makes anything clearer, but I think I finally understand what the hell was going on there. And its probably likely as a matter of financial derivative law, that the court there got the decision abjectly wrong in its legal treatment of the option. I know, who cares.