Thursday, August 09, 2007

Moving Home is Like Learning a New Language

Moving back to Britain after twenty years has required me to learn what is, in effect, a new social language.

For example, one pays for things in the oddes tways here. For electricity I have a meter into which I have to insert a payment card which I can 'top up' at any convenience store: for pay-as-you go cellphones (called mobile phones in the UK), I can pay at my bank's cash machines. If you one doesn't have a credit card one can pay by 'SMS', which means your cellphone is debited for certain payments.

No one here grasps how odd all this is.

And don't get me started on SCART cards or how plugs, sockets, and fuses work.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reasons to Love Britain 3

After 20 years in the US, you gain a new respect for the sheer local intensity of history in the UK.

I am now living around 6 miles from the centre of Manchester in an old mill town called Radcliffe. Just down the road is the Parish Church of All Saints Manchester. It's a spectacular early 19th century Church that in the US would be a major monument. Here, literally noone seems to notice it. In the centre of Radcliffe, a mile away in the other direction, is another spectacular 19th century church. And then a mile outside is another Anglican Parish Church - St. Mary's Radcliffe, which is on a site used as a church since Anglo-Saxon times and which today has a church building which dates from the 15th century.

There are literally hundreds and hundreds of such buildings within a 20 mile car journey. Very few people here seem to even notice them.

After 20 years in the US, I am stunned.

In fact I feel a new website coming on - a Medieval Manchester site to accompany my Medieval New York site.

Reasons to Love Britain 2

Everyone complains about the Royal Mail, But it's because it has reached only 90% next day delivery with standard first class mail.

You send a letter here for 34p and it gets to its destination the next day. Amazing.

Where You Live is Entirely a Matter of Choice

Here I am, at a desk, at a keyboard. The world around me is created by the media I consume.

Since I have moved back to the UK, I am sedulous in consuming/following the British media (The Guardian/the BBC/The Manchester Evening News etc.)

But, as a matter of FACT, I could equally choose to live in a US, or even Jacksonville, media world.

Right now in fact, I am listening to Diane Rehm (on WJCT, but from WAMU), and I can watch CNN/I, listen to NPR, read the New York Times and skim the Florida Times-Union. I can even watch CBS and NBC nightly news, and get the Jay Leno show. I choose to go with cable TV/Broadband, but if I had chosen Sky Satellite, I could also get the Fox News Channel in its full unabridged US glory.

For the time being, I have chosen to live in two worlds.

The Sub Prime Mess in the US

In one of my less successful ventures, I worked/trained as a mortgage broker in Jacksonville FL in the fall of 2006.

I could have predicted everything that is happening now to the US housing market, but, alas I didn't. What I can say is that I don't think even the tip of the iceberg has been touched

For instance, the press is still talking about sub prime new loans. What has not emerged yet is that on a local level mortgage brokers, when getting home-owners to refinance typically induced the homeowner to refinance the entire loan, not just get a second mortgage (since the payoff to agent was much greater in a complete loan refi). "Hey, I kept refinancing a crack user to bankruptcy" was one line I heard from a trainer.

The upshot is that a lot of mortgage brokers, and Mortgage Broking companies, were
taking massive immediate payouts while moving very marginal clients into very bad situations. The only thing that kept the whole near-Ponzi scheme afloat was rising house prices.

That now seems to be over.