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11.29.2010

The True Nature of the Wikileaks Scandal: Gossip Galore!

Logo used by WikileaksLogo used by Wikileaks Image via Wikipedia
Wikileaks is having a field day with American foreign policy! And the media along with Wikileaks.  People who love gossip have never had it so good.

Here in Italy every newspaper put the news of the latest humongous "leak" on their first page. And humongous it is: the daily communications of American diplomatic posts, over 250,000 secret messages sent by American diplomats to the State Department

For two days before the release of the leaks, Hillary Clinton  did some damage control on a grand scale, contacting every country concerned, from India to Italy. I wonder whether she contacted Lybia too...Because the leaks on Ghedafi were pretty strong stuff, calling him a hypochondriac and worse.

The White House upon the release of the leaks immediately stated:“We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.”

Of course, one would expect the White House to do so. All this is hugely embarrassing for American diplomacy, but in truth, the leaks have NOT revealed much of anything that is new or earth-shaking (see the Daily Beast analyses attached below). Just a few amusing things, like Berlusconi's romance with Putin and perhaps a few surprising things, like the US resisting its Arab partners wishes to attack Iran.

Once the dust has settled, expect little change in international politics.

There are however two problems for American foreign policy: one, is a probable breakdown in trust. In future, foreigners - at least until they start forgetting the wikileaks scandal - are likely to avoid confiding anything to American diplomats from fear that one day all will be revealed. Many have always maintained that Americans can't keep a secret and now they surely feel vindicated. But a word of warning is in order: leaks from other countries are also possible. Who knows whether Wikileaks won't come out with Chinese, German or Russian diplomatic dispatches one of these days?

The other problem is harder to disregard. While whatever American diplomats wrote is not equivalent to American foreign policy, the trouble is that it presumably helped to shape it. And a lot of those cables betray an extraordinary low level of analysis, an ingenuity in believing anything one is told, a lack of control over data, a disregard for trying to ensure that the information is correct.

If American foreign policy is based on this kind of dispatches, God help us all!

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11.26.2010

Austerity = Less Income = Lower Tax Revenues = Fewer Social Benefits = More Poverty

ATHENS - FEBRUARY 10: A public servant wears a...Protest in Greece Image by Getty Images@daylife
Austerity programmes have become all the rage - in Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, the UK, and next in the US -  yet...they can only lead to more poverty.

The equation is ironclad:
austerity = less income = lower tax revenues = fewer social benefits = more poverty.

Why? Because austerity programmes mean cutting back on government expenses, including  slashing employment in the public sector. That means fewer people with jobs, less income, less consumption throughout the economy. Remember that the income multiplier works both ways: with a stimulus policy, it expands the additional funds. With an austerity programme, it expands the cutback. And that means less revenues from taxes. And if taxes are also raised to reign in government budget deficits, the effect is even worse.

With less revenues, fewer social benefits can be paid for, and the most vulnerable areas are health, education and research. Health, education and research! Yes, it means jeopardizing the future! So far, military expenditures, while also cut back, have managed to defend themselves better, but that's thanks to the military-industrial lobbies that, as everyone knows, are politically powerful in every developed country.

The question is, once you've depressed the level of national consumption and created more poverty, is that the kind of environment in which business can thrive?  Sure, sovereign debt bondholders are happy that politicians are at last "acting responsible" and tackling the problem of deficits. But since when are bondholders good businessmen and entrepreneurs?

Now, if austerity programmes were meant to re-direct the role of government away from useless expenditures and damaging clientelism, then it would be okay. It would help build a beneficial climate for business. Some have suggested "investing responsibly in social and ecological assets" as "the key design criterion. Creating robust vehicles to direct public and private savings toward long-term investment in low carbon technologies and infrastructures, in resource productivity, in social goods and public spaces, in land and water and ecosystem services -- here is the cornerstone for economic renewal." (see article below: "Frugal living is road to new prosperity").

If that's what austerity policies were all about, I would subscribe to them whole-heartedly. Unfortunately, that's not the case...Except for France, but we'll see how ably they will devise an austerity programme that does no damage to social benefits. I doubt that they'll manage it.

In the meantime, expect more and more people going on strike, descending in the streets and protesting the manifest unfairness of auterity policies...
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11.24.2010

Is India in Financial Trouble? When Dreams turn into Nightmares...

SKS Microfinance ClientImage by kalyan3 via FlickrSKS Microfinance client

Sorry, this post is late: I'm just back from Vienna (what a wonderful town and the Viennese are sooo hospitable! Do make sure you put Vienna on the map on your next tour of Europe!)

Watching the Irish debacle this week and the threat to the Euro, which in turn could jeaopardize recovery in Europe, and perhaps in the rest of the developed world, I was reminded once again how much we depend on the emerging markets.

Now that their GDPs have grown to about half of world GDP, trade with them has become the key to recovery. China and India have become preferred trade partners.

But how solid are they? 

We all know that China suffers from debilitating social tensions that could potentially become devastating. What about India? It  has been one of the great success stories of the Great Recession. It has grown at a fast pace and produced hordes of millionaires while the Western World was teetering on the brink of disaster. But there is a chink in the armour, a small one that could grow into a big chasm...This week, when Andimuthu Raja, the Indian government minister for telecommunications had to step down in the midts of a corruption scandal, possibly the biggest in India's history, we were all reminded how corruption in India's governing elite is a constant threat to the country's stability. As reported by the New York Times (see article below), "he is accused of using his post to sell off valuable mobile telephone spectrum licenses in 2008 at rock-bottom prices. His decisions may have cost the Indian treasury as much as $40 billion, according to a government investigative report released last week."  Yip, $40 billion!

But is corruption limited to the political classes? Hardly. Lending to the poor - otherwise known as microfinance - is another area where serious problems have recently surfaced. Here, it's not exactly corruption, but a determined pursuit of one's own personal profit and a general disregard for the common good. The problem came to the attention of the media  when the poor began to default en masse, particularly in the State of Andhra Pradesh. Suicides, especially among  poor indebted women, suddenly rose. So State authorities have moved in, capping interest rates and clamping down on lending practices. This has had the immediate effect of slashing revenues of SKS Microfinance, the largest microlender in India, backed by big investors like George Soros and Vinod Khosla, and the first to be quoted on the Mumbai market. Its shares have fallen and will probably keep falling as long as people worry about knock-on effects on other borrowers.

Why would that be important in India's financial world, famously known for the stability and conservatism of its banking system?   Because microfinance  which started small some twenty years ago in Bangladesh has turned into a tsunami in India over the last five years. The trouble is that this vertiginous growth has much in common with  the sub-prime mortgage phenomenon in the US. The pattern is strikingly the same: loans are showered on small borrowers without any checks on whether they can pay back their debt. Multiple loans are allowed, and a borrower starting with 8 or 9,000 rupees soon finds herself (because it's usually a woman) owing multiples of that sum, simply because she has borrowed to pay off the first loan and then borrowed and borrowed again.

In short, microlenders are out to build their own institution - they would all like to end on the stock market like SKS and be able to rake in lots of additional funds - and so they just  pile up loans and couldn't care less whether borrowers have any sort of viable business plan.

Business plan? Not quite the right word. Here is how it all started. Microlending was the brain child of Mohammad Yunus who worked with rural women's groups back in the 1990s. He worked with poor women who needed seed money to get started in small, artisanal enterprises, and while they had no collateral to put up, they had formed groups that could back them up and pay in case of default. Group pressure was exercised, which ensured that microlending was extraordinarily successful in keeping defaut down and allowing small businesses to be born in the poorest sections of the rural world - in this case, Bangladesh. Yunus earned a Nobel Prize for this. It was a beautiful dream and for a while it really seemed to work. And it was eagerly copied around the developing world, not only in Asia but elsewhere. I saw it in Nicaragua. It really was a great idea, it stimulated women to work, it opened doors on a bright new world.

But the idea was founded on the group. Without a solid group of women backing it - women who know each other and trust each other - and with a clear, realistic development plan, it has no chance of working. Ever. Indeed, in India, microlending has fast turned into a sophisticated form of shark lending. In other words, good old-fashioned usury. Except the ones doing it are urban-based savvy, modern companies that drop in on the villages once a week to collect money.

One may assume that the Indian financial community will know how to defend itself: there is talk of setting up an emergency fund. But microfinance will never be the same again: it had started as such a beautiful dream and has ended a nightmare - like so many human endeavours.

I worry that this seemingly small financial hiccup is taking place in a political environment threatened by corruption. India is obviously going through growing pains and I can only hope that she will come out of them, stronger and a healthier trading partner for all of us...



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11.18.2010

French Food, the latest UNESCO World Heritage ? Ouiiiiiii!

french cousins eating french friesImage by bubbo-tubbo via Flickr         French Cousins eating French Fries
You've all heard about the UNESCO listing as World Heritage famous monuments like the Egyptian Pyramids with the objective of assisting in their preservation for humanity. Now, for the first time ever, gastronomy has been added to the list, under the wonderfully fexible category delicately called "intangible heritage".

No, it's not a joke!

A very serious UNESCO committee - called the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage - meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in the afternoon of Tuesday 16 November 2010,  has broken new ground. It has declared that the "French traditional gastronomic meal" to celebrate festive events is accepted in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Along with Mexican Food, Spanish Flamenco, Chinese Acupuncture, falconry and the Mediterranean Diet, bringing the list up to 229 protected cultural practices.

No kidding! So, as of now, your Sunday meal is a UNESCO Heritage feature provided you're French and eating it in France. You're allowed to do all that heavy eating and drinking as long as it is done in the name of celebrating some culturally important event, such as a birth, a marriage...what about death? UNESCO says nothing about that - what a pity. But then, that's good, it leaves the door open to the famous Irish wake, all that traditional eating and drinking that the Irish engage in all night long as soon as someone in the family dies. Quick, better tell the Irish diplomats at UNESCO to get moving and register their candidature for listing the Irish wake!

But wait a minute - this listing of a "French gastronomic meal", what is it supposed to achieve? Oh yes, the UNESCO language is clear on this point: it's meant to help preserve the "bien manger" and "bien boire" - good food and drink -.  But...How about the "bien parler", the art of conversation? Isn't that also part of a gastronomic meal - if not, if it's just about eating and drinking, what kind of celebration are we talking about? Rolling around on the floor, dead drunk? Vomiting in the bathroom ?

Last and not least, how is the French Government going to preserve this heritage? Will it set up a special department in the Ministry of Culture to inspect Frenchmen's Sunday and festive meals to make sure they are gastronomic? A French-form of "Big Brothers is Watching You" (over your meals)?

Don't laugh! This is no laughing matter. I think this is wonderful news, it opens the door to all sorts of good things. I'm going tomorrow to Vienna and I'm going to tell my Viennese friends to make sure to candidate the Wiener Schnitzel to UNESCO...And I'm sure there are many more candidates to the Intangible Heritage Listing. Hey, what about you, the Chinese? Bird's nests? And you, the Japanese, how about raw fish? To get it into the list, all you have to do is wrap it up in the framework of  a feast, sorry, I meant a cultural celebration. 

Please join in, everyone from all over the world,  the good word should be spread everywhere! You are  urged to provide UNESCO with worthwhile Heritage candidates for the food, sorry, I mean the good of humanity...
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11.16.2010

The Roots of the Great Recession? Dead Peasants!

Cover of "Capitalism: A Love Story"Cover of Capitalism: A Love Story
What is the cause of the Great Recession? Yes, we all know, it's the sub-prime mortage collapse, it's derivatives, credit default swaps and other fancy financial instruments - those that Warren Buffett famously described as "financial weapons of  mass destruction".  In one word: it's Wall Street.

But, bottom line, what's behind all this financial hubris? Dead peasants!

No, I'm not joking, I'm dead serious. Dead peasants, I tell you!

Let me explain. I just saw Michael Moore's latest effort, Capitalism: A Love Story, a brilliant documentary that seeks to explain how we ever got into the Great Recession in the first place. Of course, as he points out, it all started much before  the collapse of Lehman Brothers on 15 September 2008. Moore takes us all the way back to the 1970s when President Jimmy Carter tried to tell America that it was fast becoming a society that had lost its values. The middle-class was in trouble, its values were being perverted, but who ever wanted to listen to that message? "What a bummer!" is Moore's comically terse comment about Carter's bungled attemtp to set the country back on a (more moral) course.

Whereupon, with the backing of Wall Street, a minor politician (a second-rate actor who looked like a cowboy, a politically desirable physique), I mean  Ronald Reagan, was elected president and saved the day. As I've said in an earlier post, and here I agree with Moore (even if everything he does is not always in the best taste or even effective), the  destructive game of deregulation started with Reagan (and with Thatcher in the UK). The dismantling of the Glass-Steagall Act was probably the turning point: it opened the door to unbridled high finances. From that moment, capitalism in its worst form - unregulated, iniquitous - had won the day. And it was a bi-partisan effort:  Clinton's Democrats were as much at fault as the Republicans.

True, Obama was elected on a platform of change - "Yes We Can" - which tried to empower the American middle class. Did it mark a change in direction in America? For a while, with the reform of national health, it looked like it might. But it didn't last long. Barely  two years, judging on the results of the last mid-term elections in America, where the Tea Party won on the improbable platform of "let's have a tax holiday for the rich and let's balance the budget! Out with Social Security!". Contradictory messages have never killed anybody, on the contrary. That's democracy in action.  To close the door now on all this nonsense is probably next to impossible.

If you have any doubts, consider the "dead peasants" scandal. It is symptomatic of the disease affecting America. And exemplary. Do you know what "dead peasants" are? I didn't know until I watched Michael Moore's film. I was horrified. "Dead peasants" is the disparaging term used to refer to life insurance on a corporation's employees. The problem is that this life insurance is not owned by the employee but by the employer corporation, with benefits payable to the corporation. Moore interviewed a woman whose husband had died from cancer and whose employer benefited from a $1.5 million payment from the life insurer, while she, the widow with two children, got nothing. Yes, she got nothing, not even a small percentage of this sum!  It's like taking life insurance on your neighbour's house: you would benefit if it burned down, therefore you'd be sorely tempted to become an arsonist, wouldn't you?

You could argue that at first, such insurance policies did make some kind of sense: a corporation would take it out on "key employees" to protect itself in case of death, since such key employees are relatively difficult and costly to replace. The trouble is that the usage of such policies was expanded over the years and came to cover minor employees, particularly women, for whom such protection was hardly needed. Why women more than men? Because they live longer, so if they die young, the life insurance premium is much juicier...And the beauty of all this (I mean from a capitalist's point of view) is that the practice is entirely legal.

That's what happens if you don't regulate capitalism...Dead peasants galore! 
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11.12.2010

THANK YOU, MR. BUSH, FOR ALL THE BLESSINGS YOU'VE BROUGHT ON AMERICA!

A piece of Street Art expressing opinion of U....Image via Wikipedia

Bush has just come out with the much-awaited memoir of his presidency, Decision Points, and is now doing the grand tour of media interviews starting with the NBC Today Show and going onto Oprah Winfrey and others. It was an occasion for him to settle some personal scores (like his relation with Cheney or his handling of Hurricane Katrina). As might be expected, he has provoked on the way, all sorts of reactions, most of them positives, which should come as no surprise given the results of the mid-term elections. I bet his book is going to be a run-away best-seller!

Indeed, a rumour has been started that this is the moment to reassess (positively) Bush's presidency and I'd like to add my (small) voice to the chorus: thank you, Mr. Bush!

Thank you for the War in Iraq and the War in Afghanistan!Without the war in Iraq, we could never have outdone Saddam Hussein in the number of Iraqi killed: Saddam with the help of his trusted Chemical Ali managed to massacre some 8,000 Kurds, not to mention the several thousands civilian lives lost in his war with Iran. But since the Americans and Coalition partners have invaded Iraq, over 100,000 civilians have been killed and some sources speak of five or six times that number (but I'll stick on the conservative side: in any case, that's more than Saddam managed to do...) And of course, who's ever going to say that Saddam Hussein could outdo Americans on the subject of torture? We didn't need Wikileaks to know that he hasn't!     As to the war in Afghanistan we've just discovered the wonders that corruption can achieve: thanks to generous flows of ready cash from Iran to Karzai's government, Iran has helped maintain America's ally in power. Who'd ever believe that Iran would support American foreign policy? And in both places, we've seen how profitable the privatization of security has been for private companies. The army has given up one its essential functions - maintaining security in war zones - to the private sector. What an achievement!
    
But wars are not the only blessings you have brought us, Mr. Bush. Thank you for the Great Recession too! One of my readers rightly reminded me (see his comment in my previous post on America folding up) that the single event that started the hubris on Wall Street was the repeal of an obscure piece of legislation which had kept separate the bank's investment and lending functions (this had been one of the great lessons of the Depression: that banks who lend to businesses shouldn't be allowed to play with money on Wall Street).  That fateful event took place not under Bush but under Clinton's stewardship. True enough, but the philosophy of deregulation started much earlier - in fact, back in the 1980s with Thatcher and Nixon, and it was gleefully continued under Bush and the then head of the Fed, Greenspan. And it got its final boost when the Soviet Union collapsed, bringing confirmation that there was only one way to organize the economy: let the market have a full and free reign. So down with regulation!
 
Some people however are having second thought about deregulation: the President of the World Bank for one. He's recently suggested we go back to some form of the gold standard. Economists howled, particularly those on the right. How will the G-20 react now in Seoul? Will re-regulation be on the agenda? Not likely. Obama already has a problem: a currency war with China is looming, and the Fed's "quantitative easing" (read: $600 billion added via the printing press) hasn't helped matters. It has (and will) send the value of the dollar down and there's no telling where all this will land us. Not to mention all those deficit control policies raging in Europe (and about to enter the American scene) that will dampen recovery and heighten social tensions. Why this sudden emphasis on deficit control? Because it is needed to keep those big sovereign debt investors happy. Wait a minute! What the Fed has just done with its $600 billion shows that those investors should beware of governments: the printing press is always a way out of deficit. And has been for centuries (with catastrophic results, but that's another story...)
  
Actually, surveying the situation, I'm beginning to think that everybody's got it wrong: the politicians, the central bankers, the people protesting in the street. Do politicians (Bush and others) really understand anything or are they just reacting to winds of change and fashions they scent out in their electorate? Is this mess just the result of democracy in action? Churchill used to say that democracy was the "least bad" of all possible systems of government. Least bad ? Perhaps, but, let me tell you, it's pretty bad indeed...
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11.08.2010

What's in a Pizza? A Calorie Bomb!

Picture of an authentic Neapolitan Pizza Margh...
How many calories in a pizza? The New York Times recently reported that in a quarter of a pizza, there could be as much as 430 calories...that's about one quarter of the number of calories allowed per day, assuming your are not aiming to become obese in the shortest possible time!

Of course, we're talking here about American pizza, which is vastly different from the stuff we eat in Italy. American pizza is chockful of cheese, even up to six different kinds of cheese and yet more cheese worked into the crust (!). I'm not sure who makes them, whether Dominos Pizza or Pizza Hut, but they're definitely not Italian. Pizza in Italy - the birthplace of pizza - can even be entirely devoid of any cheese and generally has only small quantities of mozzarella and never, NEVER, does one add cheese to the bread dough. A cheesy crust? Pouah! What you want is a nice contrast between the filling and the crust, not something that is entirely cheesy from top to bottom!

This said, Neapolitans are also the authors of an unbelievably caloric pizza: they make fried pizza. Imagine, a pizza filled with cheese and sausage (!), then neatly folded on itself, and deep-fried! Deeelicious! But no one's ever bothered to count the calories, nor eat the stuff on a regular basis. In fact, my advice is: don't!
American cheese consumption has reportedly tripled since the 1970s, and today, American nutritionists consider that cheese is the major culprit in the wave of obesity engulfing the country. And, of course, the obesity wave is fast coming to Europe too, and no doubt for the same reasons (is there anybody around who doesn't like French and Italian cheese? Not to mention the Swiss, the Dutch etc).  The problem is that an ounce of cheese (not all but most varieties) contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk. And cheese is a major source of sodium, another no-no. All of this is bad for your figure and bad for your heart.
As you can observe from the many articles and blogs I've listed below, this is fast becoming a subject of national debate in the US: pizza as the main source of obesity - or rather, cheese.

The real scandal uncovered by the American press is that the US Department of Agriculture - or rather a branch of it called Dairy Management -  is actually the one behind several campaigns to promote milk and especially cheese consumption, as a way to help dairy farmers that produce far more milk than they can sell on the market. Because too much milk is produced as a result of technological advances that have made American dairy farms among the most productive and efficient in the world. Until some years ago, the excess milk was shipped abroad in the form of aid to developing countries but now, the law has changed and the excess milk has to somehow be absorbed in the American market. As everybody knows, the best way to consume vast quantities of milk is through cheese consumption (after all, cheese is nothing but a condensed form of milk). Hence the US Government's efforts at promoting cheese consumption in response to the economic needs of one section of its electorate (the farmers) at the expense of  the health of consumers (everybody else - actually farmers included...)

Here we have the private market at its best and in full action: unbridled competition leading to increased productivity (in milk) leading straight into an obesity epidemic on a national scale, and all thanks to savvy marketing! Of course, the savvy marketing is the doing of the Government...Go tell the Republicans! I would love to know whether they want to defend milk farmers and the government intervention on their behalf, or whether they believe in letting the market work it out freely, letting the demand for milk drop and the dairy farmers be damned...

Another way to look at this is to consider American milk production in the face one one billion people going hungry worldwide. Why not reverse the law and allow for milk to be processed in food aid - not powdered milk that requires the addition of water, which is a problem in many developing countries where the water is polluted or insufficient...but cheese, perhaps of the mozarella type that can withstand tropical temperatures and is more acceptable to local consumers. Or one could consider it as a food additive to complement children nutrition. I was at a World Food Programme meeting this morning, and they were talking about the importance of correct nutrition in the first thousand days in a child's life. It is absolutely essential to ensure a healthy life as an adult yet in developing countries, children under the age of two are the first victims of malnutrition.

So, instead of eating a lot of cheesy pizza, what if we started to work on preventing stunted childhood in developing countries and at the same time fought obesity in the developed world? 
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11.05.2010

IS AMERICA FOLDING UP? THE MID-TERM ELECTION SEEN FROM EUROPE

Image:Republican candidates by state maps.png
It used to be that American elections were looked at as the perfect example of democracy in action. This time around the midterm election exercise has most people in Europe baffled. And I don't mean Europeans were surprised by the results: the Republican handwriting was on the wall, and, on both sides of the Atlantic, we saw it coming.

11.01.2010

HOW MANY LIVES CAN A MAN LIVE?

Metal Hammer Golden Gods June 2010 15 Christop...

Cats are said to live seven lives. What about a man, or a woman for that matter?

On a recent evening, I was watching a fascinating biopic on ARTE TV. It was about Christopher Lee's life and that question popped in my mind. Christopher Lee is a man who has known amazing ups and downs in his long life. Born in Belgravia, London, he started off well with a silver spoon in his mouth, attending  one of the best public schools in England, the kind that leads you to Oxford and Cambridge, and a career in banking or diplomacy. Then things collapsed: his parents divorced, and as a young man,  he found himself struggling to earn a living before finishing his education. He suffered as an office boy until World War II. After honourably serving in Africa, he came back to London, still desperate for a job. The turning point was a meeting in 1946 (or 47) with his uncle Carandini, the Italian Ambassador to Britain, who suggested he might become an actor. An extraordinary suggestion if you consider that it was made by a conservative diplomat. And Christopher Lee's mother (a Carandini herself) disapproved, of course. However that is what he did, meeting with increasing success in colourful Dracula roles and other horror movies, including bizarre ones made in Italy, mixing Hercules with vampires.

Then things started to take a turn for the worse. He found himself stuck with his horror movie image and adversely affected by a slowdown in the horror movie market. Horror movies in the 50s and '60s were always considered a B series kind of market, while Christopher Lee had ambition. He knew he was a better actor than that. But the dreadful lull in his career  was a long, long one. Anyone else might have lost hope, but not him. Remarkable.

Help came from the most unexpected quarter: from Muhammad Ali the boxer whom he befriended. After winning a major fight, Muhammad Ali mentioned Lee's name as one of his friends who had followed him on TV and Hollywood started to make offers. He hosted the Saturday Night Show in New York and that was followed by some 35 million Americans at the time: a record audience! He came off, not as a horror movie actor, but as a man who could tell jokes and brilliantly entertain with his dry wit. He got to play in a James Bond movie as Scaramanga,  the suave, sexy villain in "the Man with the Golden Gun". After that high point, we find him  fifteen years later climbing yet other high points starring in several Star Wars episodes and as the fabulous wizard, Saruman the White, in two of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

So he has moved from horror to fantasy and science fiction to hosting a major TV show. Without ever giving up on his original genre, the horror film. He has always felt that the "Wicker Man" in which he played a major role (a film with a difficult distribution history) was outstanding and so it is - and now he is vindicated: see the Guardian article listed below which claims the film has not only renewed the hackneyed horror genre but thrillers in general.

Quite an interesting "career arc": hardly an arc, more like a zig zag! And to crown it all, he has recently agreed to sing with the Heavy Metals. He has a formidable voice and presence, he looks like a Medieval King, Christopher-The Lion-Hearted! He's just released an album, check it out here! 

How old is our Heavy Metal singer? Born in May 1922, he is getting on...88 years old. Incredible!

So how many lives can a man have? It would seem that in our times, given the general zeitgeist, the incredible opportunities of our market economy and the lengthening of average life with advances in medicine, a man can have more than one...perhaps as many as three or four.

If you can handle it!

Take a look at Christopher Lee. I think the lesson is clear: what you need is willpower, grit, what the Italians call "grinta". I love the word, the way it sounds: grrrrinta! Don't ever give up on your dreams!
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