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Friday, June 28, 2013

Paraguay, Greece draw to advance


Paraguay, Greece draw to advance
The drawing of lots has seen Greece advance to the last 16 as Group D winners after a 1-1 draw with Paraguay took both teams through with identical records on Friday. Both finished the section with the same number of points, goals for and goals against ...
FOOTBALL > Greece, Paraguay reach last 16 of U20 World Cup in IstanbulHurriyet Daily News
Result: Greece, Paraguay qualify from Group D in Under-20 World Cup with drawSports Mole
Greece vs. Paraguay Live Stream, Score, Preview, Predictions: U-20 World Cup ...Latinos Post
Give me Goal
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Greece's Eurobank must follow autonomous course, new CEO says

Greece's Eurobank must follow autonomous course, new CEO says
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's fourth-largest lender Eurobank (EFGr.AT) must follow an independent course, its new chief executive said on Friday, casting further doubt on whether a suspended merger with peer National Bank (NBGr.AT) would go ahead.


How To Prevent The Mid-Day Sugar Crash At Work

snacks, food, healthy, business insider, bi, april 2012, dng

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You had a good lunch, maybe a sandwich or a salad, at noon and you felt satisfied. Well, you were for about an hour, but then around 2 p.m. you find yourself craving something else.

It’s too early in the afternoon for a coffee break, but that bowl of Snickers and bag of Skittles you stuck in your drawer yesterday start calling your name.

You just need a little pick me up. You convince yourself you will be able to work better if you have a little sugar. A little sugar never hurt anybody right (well, except those kids in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)? So you break down, have a little snack, and it works! For 20 minutes you feel like you have the energy to run the company and do a SoulCycle session at the same time. Then comes the crash.

It suddenly becomes too tiring to hold your head up. The words on the computer go out of focus. Your phone at the corner of your desk seems miles away. You went from feeling like Superman to Dorothy in that poppy field scene in The Wizard of Oz. You get a little bit of energy back eventually, but you feel pretty groggy the rest of the afternoon. What just happened?!

You were just the victim of a classic afternoon sugar crash, except you victimized yourself. Registered Dietician Annie Herzog broke down why we feel like Superman around cryptonite after we have a little sugar:

When we eat carbohydrate-containing foods, our bodies release the hormone insulin to pull sugar out of the bloodstream and onto our cells. This is a good thing. However, when the carbs we eat are in the form of simple sugars and highly processed, we digest them very quickly and they enter the blood rapidly. This causes a huge insulin release, because glucose (sugar) in the blood at very high levels is toxic and the body is trying to lower the levels as quickly as possible. Hence the sugar “rush” and then subsequent “crash”. After insulin takes all that glucose out of the blood, we are left with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and feel hungry and tired. And so the cycle continues.

This happens to the best of us. My previous office had a vending machine with Skittles in it. That was a problem for me to say the least. I would remember how lousy I felt when I came down off my sugar high and yet everyday I would buy a pack. If you looked up sugar crash in the dictionary, there would literally be a picture of me with my head on my desk next to it.

So should I just eat carrots instead? Herzog says it isn’t so much about eating the right snacks, but by eating right throughout the day.

This keeps blood sugar stable because carbs are absorbed slowly and insulin is released more gradually. The foods that slow digestion and absorption are fats, protein, and high-fiber complex carbs. Someone eating a combination of healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbs from unprocessed foods for meals and snacks should not have that afternoon slump.

Herzog suggests the following diet tips for having a crash-free day:


Try mixing up your breakfast routine with eggs and whole wheat toast, oatmeal and fruit with greek yogurt, or a banana and peanut butter.


Put down the Chipotle burrito and enjoy a turkey and avocado sandwich on whole wheat bread with an apple or a spinach salad with walnuts, chicken breast, veggies and balsamic vinaigrette instead.


Greek yogurt with almond slivers, apple and peanut butter, cheese and whole grain crackers, veggie sticks with hummus, whole grain cereal with blueberries and milk, or a handful of mixed nuts are all healthy, and delicious, alternatives to a pack of Skittles.

Herzog also gave us her list of foods to stay away from. This is going to be tough for me.

The No-No List

Processed foods are a no-no because they give you a lot of unnecessary chemicals. This includes, protein bars, shakes and energy drinks. To my surprise, this also includes candy even if it is in the shape of fruit! ”You can trick your body for a while into thinking it’s getting what it needs to stay alert, but eventually the crash comes and it sucks. Nothing can replace real nutrition from REAL food,” said Herzog.

Join the conversation about this story »



Chobani Kicks Off Second Creative Agency Review This Year

Chobani Kicks Off Second Creative Agency Review This Year
Chobani, which is the top-selling Greek brand in the U.S., had moved the account to Boston-based independent agency Boathouse in February after a short stint with Leo Burnett, New York. Boathouse will not be considered in the review, according to a ...


This Greek Teen Is Developing An Iron Man Hand

Business Insider

This Greek Teen Is Developing An Iron Man Hand
Business Insider
This Greek Teen Is Developing An Iron Man Hand · Finance · Markets · Your Money · What Adderall Does To Your Body · It's The 30-Year Anniversary Of The Greatest Wall Street Movie Ever... Upper East Side Dad Explains The Brutal Market Facing Divorced ...

and more »


Greek Crisis Spiked Suicides

The number of suicides in Greece during the period 2009-2011, as recorded by the registries and forensic services was revealed in Parliament by the Finance Minister, who quoted relevant documents of the Greek Statistical Authority. According to the data, during these three years the financial crisis had already started, a total of 1,245 suicides was recorded. Specifically, in 2009, 391 committed ...


It?s Raining Locusts in Chios

An impressive phenomenon has been occurring on the island of Chios since June 23, according to the website Swarms of locusts appeared in the regions Komi, Lilika and Kallimasia. The inhabitants are concerned about the phenomenon, but there isn't yet any official information - complaint to the relevant department of Rural Development of the Regional Unit of Chios. ...


EBU Makes New Call for Athens to Reopen ERT

The European Broadcasting Union has called again on Greece to reopen its public broadcaster, ERT, while it attempts to overhaul the organization as daily Kathimerini reported. In a statement released as the EBU held its 70th general assembly in Malta, the union expressed disappointment that ERT remained off air despite a recent Council of State ruling that stated public broadcast should resume. ...


Two draws leave Greece top

The drawing of lots has seen Greece advance to the last 16 as Group D winners after a 1-1 draw with Paraguay took both teams through with identical ...


Croatia, a nation lost in translation

Despite the fact that our country joins the European Union on Monday, we don't seem in the mood to celebrate

If Croatia could have chosen the moment for its accession to the European Union, it would not be 1 July 2013. The Pew Research Centre has just published the results of polling conducted in eight EU member states. The most disturbing finding is that the percentage of citizens in favour of the European project has plummeted from 60% a year ago to 45% now. A failing economy, Europe's north-south divide and distrust of the political elite have led to such results.

Then there are the consequences of Romania and Bulgaria joining the EU in 2007 without adequate preparation. Disappointment with the two new members was followed by a more sceptical approach to further accessions. As it is, the EU has had enough problems with former communist countries, and now yet another one is joining. Yes, Croatia is smaller and perhaps better prepared, but enthusiasm is nevertheless lacking on both sides.

When the newly independent nation began the negotiation process, Croatians regarded the EU like a rich aunt. After all, they always thought of membership not as coming in but coming back. But even so, the nationalist opposition was fairly vocal. Why join a new community of states just after leaving Yugoslavia, and a bloody war that had cost thousands of lives? If the 1991-95 wars were for independence, then why give up that newly won political sovereignty? And what about the Croatian national identity that had been reinvented and celebrated with so much energy by the first president, Franjo Tudjman? The most serious argument was that the whole region was too volatile.

However, the political elite at the time presented it in ideological terms: Croatia does not belong to the Balkans. The Balkans are the Others – Orthodox and Muslims, not Catholics. Joining the EU would reinforce the difference, and "draw the line" between them and us. This must be the only reason Croatia's Catholic church supported the yes vote in last year's referendum, when 66% voted to join the EU.

In later years, though, the important if not crucial argument about peace and stability was neglected more and more. Politicians of both right and left chose to perpetuate a rosy picture of economic benefits, investments, employment opportunities and so on. Yet with accession approaching, it became clear that this was not going to happen. The economic crisis in the EU coincided with negative results from the badly handled privatisation of state assets, with allegations of political corruption. The state bureaucracy is huge and no reform has touched it. Unemployment climbed to 20% and is still rising. Over half those unemployed are young people. In Europe, only Greece and Spain have worse jobless figures. The public debt is almost 60% of GDP. No wonder Germany fears Croatia is a future Greece.

Croatians themselves seem not to be in the mood to celebrate. In this last month before joining the EU, the media expressed anxiety, for instance about the likely competitiveness of our products – although our main industry, tourism, is doing well. One could sense an atmosphere of closing instead of opening, of fear instead of joy. When people are faced with uncertainty, they usually turn to traditional values of family and religion. Conservative civil organizations, backed by the Catholic church, held a referendum for to change in the constitution, demanding to that it define marriage as heterosexual. There is also uncertainty about how the new rules and regulations will operate.

The only people looking forward to joining the EU seem to be young people, who anticipate the possibilities of study and work abroad – there will be no more customs at our western borders, no more queueing up in non-EU queues for those who have money to shop and to travel.

It looks as if in the whole process of accession the most important elements were "lost in transition". Beyond Croatia being Europe's long-lost Catholic child, the fact is that the country was at war only two decades ago, and that peace and security should mean more to it than putative economic gains. Economic survival for this small and poor state would be even harder outside the union. This is why 1 July is a historic date, even if the actual moment of joining is really not the best one either for Croatia or for the EU. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Greece sees benefits for youth employments and SMEs after EU leaders summit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) speaks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (right) and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (center) during a European Council summit in Brussels. ...


Captain Wei We Will Turn Hellinikon into Dubai

"I will encourage Chinese businesses to invest in your country"- A Chinese fund is interested in the site of the old Athens airport in Hellinikon. The powerful man of COSCO, Captain Wei Jiafu, used the example of the artificial island-hotel in Dubai, to show the extent of the projects the Chinese businessmen have in mind for Greece. Speaking at the event on the signing of the ...


Youth Parliament?s 18th Session Begins

The 18th session of the educational program, Youth Parliament, in Greece began on June 28 and will be concluded on July 1. The fundamental aim of the program is to initiate young people into the parliamentary institutions and the cultivation of democratic values in modern society, such as the interest in the commons, as well as the contribution to responsible and documented dialogue, cooperation ...


ELSTAT says 1245 Greeks killed themselves in 2009-11 period

More than 1,200 people committed suicide in Greece between 2009 and 2011, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) has found.In data conveyed to Parliament on Friday by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, the ELSTAT figures revealed that 391 people took their lives in 2009, 377 in 2010 and 477 in 2011, totaling 1,245 for the three years.ELSTAT said it did not have statistics for 2012 yet.The ...


A Greek classic! Ancient amphitheatres and warm hospitality in the Peloponnese

Hop on one of Greece's superhighways and you'll escape busy Athens for the peaceful Peloponnese in just three hours. Mark Palmer hits the road to explore classic sites and a stylish modern hotel...


Croatia's president: No doubts on joining EU

Croatia has no second thoughts about joining the European Union despite the continent's economic crisis, and it supports enlarging the bloc even further to help bring about reconciliation in the once-warring Balkans, the country's president said Friday.


Greek deposits post fresh growth in May


Greek deposits post fresh growth in May
Greek business and household bank deposits rose in May after outflows in the previous month on worries over the Cypriot banking crisis, central bank data showed on Thursday. Bank of Greece data showed deposits increased to 163.39 billion euros at the ...


Greece, Paraguay draw 1-1 at U20 World Cup to reach knockout stage; Mexico beats Mali 4-1


Greece, Paraguay reach last 16 of U20 World Cup

Associated Press - 28 June 2013 13:07-04:00

ISTANBUL (AP) — Greece and Paraguay drew 1-1 in their final group match at the Under-20 World Cup Friday which was enough for both teams to advance to the first knockout round.

Striker Dimitrios Diamantakos gave tournament newcomer Greece the lead in the 68th minute before Brian Montenegro leveled five minutes later. Paraguay was reduced to 10 men after 24 minutes when defender Gustavo Gomez received a second yellow card.

In the other Group D match, Mexico bounced back from losing its opening two matches and defeated Mali 4-1. Mexico finished third to leave itself a chance of also reaching the last 16, while Mali has been eliminated.

Later Friday, Australia was playing Turkey and El Salvador was taking on Colombia in the conclusion of Group C.

News Topics: International soccer, Soccer, Sports, Men's soccer, Men's sports

People, Places and Companies: Brian Montenegro, Turkey, Greece, Paraguay, Middle East, Western Europe, Europe, South America, Latin America and Caribbean

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
This article is published under the terms of the News Licensing Group, LLC.
privacy policy, in addition to the terms of use and privacy policy for this website.


AP Interview: Croatian president says despite economic crisis, no 2nd thoughts on joining EU


Croatia's president: No doubts on joining EU

by DUSAN STOJANOVIC, Associated Press - 28 June 2013 13:09-04:00

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia has no second thoughts about joining the European Union despite the continent's economic crisis, and it supports enlarging the bloc even further to help bring about reconciliation in the once-warring Balkans, the country's president said Friday.

Ivo Josipovic told The Associated Press in an interview that after 10 years of painful membership negotiations, Croatia "did not have the opportunity to choose the time" of its formal EU entry, which is set for Monday.

The EU is in deep financial turmoil and Croatia's own economy has been in recession for five consecutive years, so the excitement of becoming the 28th member of the bloc has dimmed, though street festivities are planned starting Sunday.

"We are aware that we are not going to be perfect from the first of July," Josipovic said. "But, together with the EU we have better opportunities to fight the economic crisis than by being alone."

Croatia, a nation of 4.2 million, sees the EU "primarily as a peace project, and then a common market and economy," the president added. "That's the reason we are supporting our neighbors as well to join the EU."

It was only two decades ago that Croatia was ravaged by a war that killed some 10,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless when minority Croatian Serbs rebelled against Croatia's proclamation of independence in 1991.

The Serb-led Yugoslav army came to their rescue by relentlessly shelling and destroying many Croatian towns and villages. The war in nearby Bosnia was even more brutal, killing around 100,000 people and leaving millions homeless.

Croatia is only the second of the six former Yugoslav states to join the EU, after Slovenia became a member in 2004.

Serbia is likely to start EU membership negotiations in January; Montenegro is probably the next in line after Croatia to join; Macedonia's bid has been blocked by Greece over a name dispute; and Bosnia is far from joining because of bickering among its Muslim, Croat and Serb leaders.

Josipovic said Croatia wants to help its Balkan neighbors "politically and technically" gain EU membership.

"Being together in the EU means that any further conflict is senseless," Josipovic said. "It would be definitely the end of the tensions in southeast Europe."

Some EU countries, including Germany, have been reluctant about immediate further enlargement of the EU, primarily because of the ongoing financial crisis. Iceland has dropped its EU bid, while Britain is considering holding a referendum on whether to stay in the club.

The pro-EU voices in Croatia note that joining the bloc means Croatians could find jobs in more prosperous EU countries, that their country could attract more foreign investment, and that the EU's leadership in Brussels could help keep widespread corruption and economic mismanagement in check.

But euro skeptics worry that already plunging living standards will further decline, with increased taxes that could result in rocketing prices. They also fear that the opening of the labor market will result in other EU citizens occupying their jobs.

The Croatian president said Croatia had come a long way, and that joining the EU would help it progress even more.

"Croatia was destroyed in the war, not only physically," Josipovic said. "There are some consequences of the war still, but our negotiations (with the EU) show that a society like Croatia can recover from war, can make friendships, can make good relations with neighbors and fulfill very hard requirements from the EU."

News Topics: General news, Government and politics, Financial crisis, Economy, Homelessness, Business, Financial markets, Poverty, Human welfare, Social issues, Social affairs

People, Places and Companies: Ivo Josipovic, Croatia, Eastern Europe, Europe

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
This article is published under the terms of the News Licensing Group, LLC.
privacy policy, in addition to the terms of use and privacy policy for this website.


Panel Out To Get Me Says Papaconstantinou

Former Greek finance minister George Papaconstantinou is on the hot seat Former Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou refused to appear again before a Parliamentary committee investigating his handling of a list of 2,062 Greeks with $1.95 billion in secret deposits in Swiss bank accounts, saying it has already decided to indict him and that he’s the victim of a political witch hunt to ...


Anarchist Suspect Says Held Unlawfully

Anarchist Kostas Sakkas The lawyers of Greek terrorist suspect Kostas Sakkas held a press conference to denounce what they said was his unlawful detention by the government and said they would take his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Greek law only allows 18 months of detention before prosecution but when the time expired in Sakkas' case, it was extended to 36 months over ...


NPA decries Greece Embassy's delay of members' visa

NPA decries Greece Embassy's delay of members' visa
DailyPost Nigeria
The President further disclosed that the fare to Greece has risen from N180,000 to N300,000 within the past few months, adding that he had written to the Embassy, but regretted that the Embassy's promise to do” something” had not yielded any positive ...


In Case You Don't Already Hate Your Bank Enough, Here's Another Customer Service Horror Story

mary poppins british banksWarning:  This is a story about customer service in the banking industry, so reader discretion is advised.  Do not read if you are prone to high blood pressure.  Also, this is not an apocryphal story.  This actually happened to me this week. 

The Background to the Problem

One of my businesses became inactive last year, so at the end of the year I closed out my checking account for that LLC with Capital One.  This Spring I filed articles of dissolution with the Delaware Secretary of State (where the LLC was created), as well as with the Texas Secretary of State (where I was doing business.)

Also this Spring I received a statement from an old $25,000 Capital One Line of Credit affiliated with this business entity.  It showed a $0.02 balance owed, a mistaken leftover from the last time I used the line, probably about two years ago.  A few months back I tried to close the line in person at the branch but the branch manager said they didn’t handle business lines of credit there, and she gave me a number to call to sort it out with Capital One customer service, over the phone.  So far, so good.

Two Pennies

I’m enough of a detail-oriented person when it comes to my businesses that I decided to contact the bank and definitively close out the line of credit.

Two cents is silly, and the result of a bank error from a few years back, but it was a loose thread that I needed to tie off, and anyway it’s probably not a good idea to have open lines of credit that I’ll never use, especially since I had dissolved the business.

Also, I’m a Mary Poppins fan, and a finance-guy, so how can I not appreciate the ironic, iconic importance of two pennies (Tuppence), when it comes to banking stability?

Like I said, I had visited my bank branch to close the account, but the manager told me to call customer service.  Evidently Dick Van Dyke was not available at that time.

The Tragedy of Antigone

I called the customer service telephone number at Capital One provided by my branch manager. After receiving an automated voice menu in which “close my line of credit account” was never an option – on the second time through the automated voice menu, I think I pressed ‘1’ for loan account balance – and  reached a human. 

On her request I gave my first and last name and account number and explained that I needed to close my line of credit.

“Please hold for someone who can help.” Click.

Okay…another two minutes pass.

“Hello, this is Antigone for Capital One, can I have your first and last name and account number?”

Of course she can.  Again. Not a problem.

I explain that I would like to close my line of credit associated with one of my business entities which has been inactive for a long time, and that the associated checking account has been closed for months.

This is where the drama begins.

“Uh, do you know you have a balance on the line?  We will not be able to close it.”

“I know that.  It’s 2 cents.  That’s been on there for a couple of years.  After I transferred money from my checking account to pay off the balance, the 2 cents showed up.  Probably a day’s interest accrual or something like that, by mistake.”

“Ok, but the system won’t let me close the account if you have a balance.”

“But it’s a mistake by the bank,” I replied.  “The line always automatically deducted monthly payments from the associated checking account.  I made sure to request a full payoff of the line when I closed the checking account.”

“Ok, but the system won’t let you close the account.  You’ll have to go into the branch to do it.”

“I have another Capital One business checking account, and I have a Capital One credit card, maybe can you take the 2 cents from there?  I’d really like you to have the 2 cents.  I understand this is important.” (Because, again, “Tuppence”)

 “We can’t do that.  You’ll have to go into your local branch.”

“Well, I went to close the account at the branch, but they said they couldn’t close business lines of credit at the bank.  It has to be done over the phone, and this was number the branch manager gave me.  Maybe you could just check with someone?”

“Ok, could you please hold and I’ll check?”


5 minutes of hold music.  My soul begins to ache.  I can feel the already-advanced process of telomere shortening in my chromosomes accelerate.   Antigone returns.

“I’ve checked with my manager, but there’s really nothing that can be done if you’ve got a balance on that line.”

“I understand.  But you see, the branch says they can’t close it, and now you say you can’t close it.  And I’m afraid if I go back to the branch they’ll say the same thing again.  Could you please just recheck, because we’ve got an insolvable problem.  I’m really trying to get you your two cents, and I really want to keep your records up to date.  But this is beginning to bug me.”

“Ok, let me put you on hold again and call your branch directly to see if I can get them to help you close the account.  What’s the address of your branch?” 

I look it up online and provide her with the correct address.  Then, hold music for another 8 minutes. 

Entire civilizations, like the Whos of Whoville on specks of dust under Horton’s protection, grow, flourish, and perish in the interim.  Red giants become white dwarfs.  And our little blue orb floats alone and unnoticed, two-thirds of the way out on the spiraling Milky Way galaxy.

“Hi, Michael?  I reached the branch, but Cynthia who answered the phone said she couldn’t do it, and the branch manager was in a meeting.  The best thing is probably to just go down there.”

At this point in the call, 18 minutes into my epic quest to close the Tuppence Line, I’ve moved – in my mind – into full-blown unhappy mode. 

The NSA, undoubtedly monitoring this (and every other call we’ve ever made) will have registered a voice-tone recognition alert that the customer on the line, me, is no longer ok with how things are going.  Although I am still calm and mostly even-keeled, the absurdity has become too much.

“Antigone, listen, I’m not upset with you, but can you see how this whole episode really doesn’t work, from a customer service perspective?  Can you get the absurdity of this?  Are you a Mary Poppins fan?  I am.  Do you remember the Tuppence Song with Dick Van Dyke as the old banker?  I understand the importance of 2 cents.  Even though it’s a bank error, I really want to pay it, but I can’t.  You won’t let me.  And even though I’ve now spent 18 minutes trying to help the bank, you won’t let me.  And to leave it unresolved like this is really unsettling.”

I urged Antigone to try to elevate the problem with a manager, and to figure out a way to solve the problem for the customer.[2]  She promised she would “open an inquiry” with a manager and someone would get back to me.  We ended the call.

The Law and the Higher Law

I really don’t blame Antigone.  She remained positive and polite throughout the call, albeit ineffective.  She isn’t the main problem.

Antigone’s stuck in a bank that values ‘the system’ and ‘efficiency’ – whatever that means and at whatever the cost – over human judgment.[3] 

Why do people hate their banks?  We hate banks because we sense, rightly, that banks respond to a single set of laws.  At every turn, bank customers must be treated a certain way, and therefore be reminded that they are subject to non-negotiable societal laws around process, automation, and efficiency as understood by the company.

Sophocles’ character Antigone, of course, argued that a higher law prevailed over traditional societal law.

In classic Greek theater, the name Antigone has become short-hand for loyalty to a higher moral law – the right to honor our dead – over fealty to a flawed societal rule, punishment for challenging the ruler.  I swear I’m not making up Antigone’s name as a customer service rep at Capital One. 

I see in my interactions with her and Capital One this week as encapsulating certain fixed rules of customer service in an extremely anomic corporate world.  I get it that my bank has a ‘system’ rule about closing lines of credit with outstanding balances. 

I don’t expect Capital One’s Antigone to break out of her proscribed role and commit professional suicide, as Sophocles’ Antigone commits bodily suicide, in honor of a higher law.

But for the love of Oedipus’ cursed lineage and Polyneices’ unburied body, can I please get a human being with some power to be reasonable about the higher-order goal of customer service at my bank?  For fuck’s sake.

And now I will start an argument with myself.

The Bishop and the Banker – Is Automation a Tragedy?

James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, England – a sometime commentator for the BBC such as in this program on prisons – interviewed me last month for an upcoming program the BBC will call “The Bishop and the Banker.” 

The main thread of his interview query was the following: “By automating[4] the mortgage lending process in the lead-up to the 2008 Crisis (and presumably beyond) did we lose the ‘humanity’ in bank/customer relationships?  And his follow-up point by implication: can we reintroduce ‘essential humanity’ to the mortgage lending process?

My answer to the Bishop was essentially “No.”  Of course, you don’t just say “no” to a Bishop, so I said more than that, but really that sums it up.

No, I don’t think automation is the key culprit of the 2008 Crisis, and therefore ‘reintroducing humanity,’ to the lending relationship is not the key solution.

During the interview I talked about the price of tomatoes, as an analogy for mortgages.  Yes, sometimes modern tomatoes are tasteless cardboard things, but they also come cheaply and affordably.  Few people would choose to pay $9 for tomatoes, which is the price we could probably retail them in bulk if we returned to the labor-intensive ‘humane’ way of growing tomatoes – in our back yards. 

Adam Smith’s point about the division of labor in pin-making still prevails.  Incredible gains come from splitting up the task of producing the pin-head from the pin-body.  Efficiency in human production generally is a good thing, with great customer benefits.  Few people, if they understood all the consequences, want to take out super-expensive mortgages, even if George Bailey of Bailey Building and Loan Association kindly oversees the whole process himself.

What I think the Bishop missed, so I’ll reiterate my initial response to him here, is that the efficiencies of mortgage lending since the early 1980s are totally awesome.  Why?  Because my 2.75% interest rate 15-year mortgage is totally awesome.  And that kind of rate is not at all possible from the ‘humanizing’ Bailey Building and Loan Association.  Without all the efficiencies of this dehumanizing specialization, mortgages right now would probably cost 8-10%.[5] 

This interview came back to my mind this week, however, as I smacked up against the ultimate dehumanizing experience at Capital One Bank.  Am I a hypocrite for believing strongly in the efficiencies of mortgage lending when it benefits me, but railing against dehumanized customer service when I’m on the receiving end?

I would still answer the Bishop the same way, but my heightened blood pressure from Capital One gave me a new chance to reconsider his question.

I still don’t think we should blame 2008 on the dehumanization of mortgage underwriting, although I need to be careful to figure out why efficiency works in one context and not the other, aside from how it affects me personally.

How to reconcile this, aka how not to be a self-serving hypocrite

Can a bank be both efficient (cheap mortgage money is good) and humane (torture me for Tuppence is bad)?

One solution seems to me that Antigone, and all of her customer service cohort, need more power to use human judgment.  She should never have to spend 18 minutes with me on the phone – in addition to whatever follow-up time she spent afterwards – trying to solve a problem worth two cents to the bank.  She needed to be trusted with business judgment, which clearly nobody in her chain of command has thought to give her.  To be thwarted twice in her quest to over-ride the ‘system’ means the earthly law of systemic efficiency needs to be trumped by the higher-power law of human judgment.

I think we hate banks because for the most part we sense that there’s no over-ride of the system available for person-to-person judgment.  I’m enough of an Adam Smithian to want total bank efficiency, but I also want to avoid the absurdities of bureaucratization.

The NSA treatment

In my imaginary non-existent poll of bank customers this week – 98% of people[6] reported disappointment with their bank’s customer service.  Why is that? 

At base we suspect, rightly, that the bank couldn’t care less about us as individuals.  Furthermore, banks operate within such a highly regulated environment that their entire frame of reference is to fit customers into neatly defined market and regulatory segments. 

We don’t think of ourselves as bits of data, but the bank does, and we can’t change that. 

Which reminds me:

Among the most frightening aspects of the recent NSA phone-tracking revelations is the creeping fear that we could, any one of us, be caught up helplessly in a faceless bureaucratic nightmare.

Personally, I prefer my spies to use common sense, actual evidence, the justice system, and human judgment before choosing who to target for snooping on the phone and internet.  Apparently, however, all citizens’ private behavior can be subject to the same anonymous tracking, classification, treatment.  This doesn’t sound like a good direction for us all to go in.

Advanced efficient technology, whether for snooping or banking, has temporarily outstripped our societal ability to set up limits to the system.

The 2008 mortgage crisis also felt like it came from this same uncomfortable place of valuing the anonymous efficiency of the system.  At least a part of the Occupy Wall Street movement responded to this terrible feeling that we are just data-points, adrift in a cruel economy.[7] 

If hyper-toxic CDOs rip financial holes in our biggest banks, and 6 million people suddenly get laid off in a 2 year period, who can you appeal to?  Two million homes get foreclosed upon by robo-signing attorneys.  $80 Billion of public funds get pledged from one day to the next – to prop up systemically essential banks still paying bonuses to their employees.  The efficiency of the “system” must be preserved at all costs, but what about the basic humanity?  What about what’s ‘right’?

I don’t yet think the cruel automation of Skynet – whether in banking or the NSA – has permanently won this war.  But we’ve got to figure out a few higher laws that trump the lower-order laws of the system.  We need a new Sophocles to remind us of what’s right.

Postscript to my Tuppence Debacle with Capital One

After I’d written most of this post, a representative from Capital One Bank called me today to tell me, in a treacly voice reminiscent of Bill Lumbergh in Office Space, that he’d resolved the problem for me.  “We’re just going to go ahead and forget about that two cents, hmmMK?  It seems it was from two years ago, so even though technically it’s still owed we’re just going to go ahead and take care of it on our end, hmmMK? Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Um.  No.  You’ve been a big help already.  I refrained from telling him a less Julie Andrews version of the phrase “Go Fly A Kite.”

If you’ve got tuppence for paper and string, you can buy your own set of wings, with your feet on the ground, you’re a bird in flight with your fist holding tight (da dum dum) to the strong of a kite.  Ooooh, let’s go fly a kite.


[1] And something similar happened to my wife trying to close a checking account with a $5 balance.  And it will happen to approximately 2.38 people nationwide in the time it takes you to read this column.  Ok I made that last number up.

[2] My managing editor (aka wife) insists I clarify that at this point that while the words I use may be technically have been ‘polite,’ that my tone must have channeled my “extremely annoyed bond salesman” voice, which has the power to wither small plants, make children cry, and which she really hates.  Ok, maybe just a little bit of Mr. Gekko returned, but really in this case mostly I stayed cool.

[3] Speaking of allowing for human judgment, this TedTalk is absolutely worth your 20 minutes on this particular topic.  When we rely on rules, algorithms and bureaucracy instead of human judgment, that way madness lies.

[4] I’m paraphrasing the Bishop’s question, but by “automating” I take to mean introducing efficiencies and algorithms that allow different people and distinct institutions in the process to pre-screen customers, underwrite the loan, provide the capital, and service the loan, rather than do this all in one bank.

[5] I’ve frequently been both a creator as well as an investor in seller-financed mortgages – essentially a do-it-yourself mortgage between a buyer and seller of real estate that eliminates the need for a mortgage bank.  It has rarely made sense to lend at less than an 8% interest rate, and as an investor I’ve always demanded significantly higher.  That’s how I know bespoke mortgage lending is WAY pricier than the type of 2.75% rate available through ‘dehumanizing’ automation.

[6] I rounded downward to be conservative.  That’s just good scientific practice.

[7] Another part of the Occupy Wall Street movement I guess just likes camping.  On concrete.

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