George Soros slams ‘parasite’ banks

‘Incestuous’: Soros has taken aim at the relationship between national authorities and banks in the EU. Photo: Michel EulerGeorge Soros, the billionaire investor, believes the banking sector is a “parasite” holding back the economic recovery and an “incestuous” relationship with regulators means little has been done to resolve the issues behind the 2008 crisis.

“The banking sector is acting as a parasite on the real economy,” Mr Soros said in his new book “The Tragedy of the European Union”.

“The profitability of the finance industry has been excessive. For a while 35 per cent of all corporate profits in the United Kingdom and the United States came from the financial sector. That’s absurd.”

Mr Soros outlined how the problems that caused the Eurozone economic crisis remain largely unresolved.

“Very little has been done to correct the excess leverage in the European banking system. The equity in the banks relative to their balance sheets is wafer thin, and that makes them very vulnerable.

“The issue of “too big to fail” has not been solved at all.”

The proposed solution of a European banking union does not address the underlying problems, Mr Soros adds.

“A real danger to the financial system is the incestuous relationship between national authorities and bank managements. France in particular is famous for its inspecteurs de finance, who end up running its major banks. Germany has its Landesbanken and Spain its caixas, which have unhealthy connections with provincial politicians.”

In his new book Mr Soros outlines, in a series of interviews with Dr. Gregor Peter Schmitz, how he believes the European Union is in danger of becoming a thing of the past unless its flawed structure is reformed.

The German economy at the regions heart could also be its biggest weakness.

“What was successful in Germany before the crisis will not be successful as a prescription for the rest of Europe in the years ahead.

“In German the word Schuld has a double meaning (both “blame” and “debt”). So it is natural (selbstverstandlich) to blame the debtor countries for their own misfortunes,

“Germany’s tone, is sometimes self-righteous and even hypocritical…. In 2003 Germany was among the first countries to break the eurozone rules. “

The prospect of Germany leaving the eurozone is very real and it would have serious implications as the euro would depreciate sharply and deutsche mark would go through the roof, Germany would find out how painful it is to have an overvalued currency.

Mr Soros, who famously “broke the Bank of England” by betting against the pound during the 1992 sterling crash, talks candidly about his most successful trade.

“I have a clean conscience. The big events in which I participated would have occurred sooner or later, whether I speculated on them or not.”

Telegraph, London

Can a different plate change how the same food tastes?

Photo: Ryann Cooley Photo: Ryann Cooley

When it comes to dining, most people trust their tastebuds. Food, after all, is food and there’s no fooling that hardwired, primeval sense of taste or flavour.

Or is there?

To put this popular notion to the test, food scientists at Monash University designed a short but telling experiment. A sensory panel of four tasters was presented with exactly the same recipe for a chicken mango curry. The meal was served randomly in four ways: on a large square plate, a normal-sized circular plate, a small bowl and in takeaway foil.

Although two chefs cooked the meal, the tasters were provided with food prepared by only one chef, leading the tasters to believe there might be some subtle nuances in flavour.

The results were intriguing. Despite the food being identical, all four participants reported distinctive variations in the meal’s smell, taste, flavour, appearance, texture and after-taste.

Ratings of appearance and smell were weakest in the case of the takeaway foil and strongest for the normal-size round plate. Most tasters reported that the curry on the large square plate was bland, although they felt it had the most agreeable texture. In contrast, the food dished up in the small bowl was deemed to have the strongest and longest-lasting flavour.

The sample size was too small to be statistically analysed. but it seemed clear enough that something made the same food taste different when presented in varying ways.

“This simple experiment clearly shows that our oral sensors are influenced by what we observe,” says Monash University dietetic researcher Ricardo Costa. “For example, the fact that curry in the small bowl tasted strongest suggests a more concentrated sensation in response to food presented in a more condensed fashion.”

The findings accord with a burgeoning body of scientific research demonstrating that the human senses interact and combine to form an overall impression of experiences. Taste is no exception. So the sounds we hear, and the shapes and colours we observe, markedly influence the flavour of food and drink.

“It is an area of research only flourishing in recent times,” says Dr Costa. Research, he adds, is now beginning to explore the influence of cutlery texture on flavour – such as whether a fork or spoon is made of plastic or metal.

The same principle applies to drink. Water presented in a cool-coloured glass, such as pale blue, may seem more thirst quenching. But in a yellow glass, for instance, the water may taste less refreshing.

“Certain colours are associated with events in nature – for instance, red or yellow with fire, blue with cool water, green with refreshing leaves. Bright and vivid colours, on the other hand, signify dangerous poisons, perhaps,” Dr Costa explains. “This may predispose people to having a particular perception before consuming a meal or drink.”

Working in tandem

The sense of taste refers to five main qualities: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami – a fondness for savoury substances triggered by certain amino acids and nucleotides, says Deakin University sensory scientist Russell Keast. “We know the senses work together to form a perceived sense of flavour – so there is plenty of opportunity for one sense to influence the perceptions experienced from a second sense.”

For example, adding a strawberry aroma to a sucrose solution makes it taste sweeter than sucrose alone. “If we are concerned about excess consumption of sugar, this type of information allows us to reduce the level of sugar while maintaining sweetness, which we all like,” Professor Keast says.

People also need to be able to separate the pleasure derived from sweet foods from the quality of sweetness, he says. “They are independent systems and can easily be disentangled from each other.”

The context in which a meal or drink is consumed also influences flavour. “I like a beer after mowing the lawn, but if given the same beer when I awake at 5am, I don’t like it, even though the beer is the same,” Professor Keast says.

Food scientists have also identified something called the dose-response effect. “A pinch of salt in a bucket of water cannot be tasted,” he says. “But the same quantity of salt added to a stew really heightens the flavours, while again the same quantity sprinkled on one potato chip would be excessively salty and unpleasant.”


Taste itself is just physiology, says Baker Institute biochemist Merlin Thomas. “Taste molecules bind to taste receptors, setting off nerve impulses that go to the brain, and so forth,” Professor Thomas says.

But the ways we interpret this taste, he says, are determined by factors including age, gender, past experiences and associations, mood, the setting and whether or not one is hungry. Even music can play a part.

“Although shape, colour and texture don’t affect physiology directly, they influence our interpretation of these impulses,” Professor Thomas says.

It is well known, he points out, that when participants take part in the same taste test but in complete darkness, or wearing tinted lenses, remarkably different results are obtained.


Expectations also play a crucial role in how flavour is experienced, says Cambridge, Massachusetts-based food author Jeff Potter.

“Food shapes, colours and textures have in common the perception of how what we expect something to be lines up with our sensory input,” Mr Potter says. “For instance, if you’re looking at an apple and expecting it to be crisp, a little tart and juicy, and instead you get something mealy – well, it’s not enjoyable,” he says. “That’s not to say things that crumble and are mealy always taste bad. If you were biting into baked potato and it was crisp – instead of having that fall-apart texture related to mealy – that’d be bad too.”

People are satisfied when foods conform to their expected taste, smell and texture, he says, but may be surprised when they are different. “Sometimes that surprise can be fun and novel, and some high-end restaurants pull this off with the modernist culinary stuff.”

British celebrity chef Hestor Blumenthal, famed for experimenting with a range of dishes in his restaurant The Fat Duck, springs to mind.

“But usually it’s the opposite,” Mr Potter says. “And we’re disappointed when we don’t get what we’re expecting.”

Mr Potter describes a landmark study in which scientists altered the colour of some 70 foods. With the exception of bacon, subjects found that odours appealed more when colour was “normal” for that dish.

In the US, some high schools conduct simple experiments on food and perception. In one, orange dye is added to clear soda and compared with orange soda. “Obviously the clear soda and orange dye shouldn’t have a fruity orange taste, but the colour suggestion can be strong,” Mr Potter says.


Experiments on taste began in the 1930s, when a scientist at the chemicals company DuPont accidentally spilled a compound called phenylthiocarbamide on his lab bench and a co-worker complained of experiencing a bitter taste.

“Like any good scientist, the chemist started giving samples to various people, and watching what happened,” Mr Potter explains. The research found that one in four people tasted no bitterness.

More recent work concludes that people divide into two groups: super-tasters who find phenylthiocarbamide unbearably bitter and others who find it less bitter or not bitter at all.

“There are other compounds, such as caffeine and nicotine, that are chemically similar to phenylthiocarbamide and which some people find bitterer. As a result, they tend to avoid such substances.”

It seems super-tasters have inherited certain characteristics from their parents, Mr Potter says. “The percentage breakdowns differ by ethnicity and gender.”

White females, for instance, have a 35 per cent chance of being super-tasters, while white males have a 10 per cent chance. Asians, sub-Saharan Africans and indigenous Americans are much likelier to be super-tasters.

Feeling the heat

Temperature also plays a crucial role in the way food tastes. Take a vanilla cake. “The recipe says set your oven at 175 degrees and bake for 25 minutes,” Mr Potter says. “Why can’t you set it at, say, 300 degrees and bake it in just 10 minutes?”

For vanilla cake, certain heat-dependent chemical reactions are needed, such as getting the water in the batter to steam up or getting the baking powder to generate air bubbles to make the cake light and airy.

“We also want to ensure other chemical reactions don’t occur at temperatures higher than 175 degrees,” Mr Potter adds. “So, if you set your oven at 300 degrees, such reactions would ruin the taste.”


Learn about Ricardo Costa

Follow the exploits of Russell Keast

Delve into Jeff Potter’s book Cooking for Geeks

Tuck into top-notch tucker

Local coffee prices set to rise as drought hits bean supply

The price of a morning caffeine hit is set to become more costly, rising 10¢ to 60¢ a cup, as a drought on the other side of the world threatens global coffee supplies.

Arabica coffee bean prices have surged 76 per cent since the start of this year, and Australian roasters are now questioning how much of the increase they can absorb.

The market hit a two-year high last week, above $US2 ($2.20) a pound. Unseasonably dry weather during January and February in Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee producer, triggered the rally.

Analysts have cut crop forecasts for the harvest in Brazil this year, with the world set for its first coffee deficit in five years.

Phillip Di Bella, who owns and runs one of Australia’s biggest speciality coffee companies, supplying 1200 cafes across the country, said while his business was immune from the volatility because he locked in prices directly with farmers at the start of year, he expected a modest rise in the price of coffee.

”The cost increase to us might be $4 a kilo at worst. You’re looking at an average of 60 cups a kilo … you’re talking [an increase of] 10¢,” he said.

Mr Di Bella said roasters would either pass that cost on to customers or switch to a lesser quality of coffee within the next month.

”The biggest problem for people here is they can’t guarantee the quality of coffee they’ll be drinking because of the brokers [who] will be affected straight away,” he said.

”But there are other brands out there that won’t drop the quality of their coffee. They’ll keep it at a high standard. They’ll pay more for it and absorb it or pass it on.”

Sensory Lab managing director Ross Quail, who runs a wholesale speciality roasting business and cafes in Melbourne and Sydney, said he would never alter the quality of his product but he was questioning how much of the price increase his company could absorb.

Mr Quail said he charged $4 for a cup of coffee and people could expect a price rise of 5 to 15 per cent, or 20¢ to 60¢. ”We will absorb as much as we can but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that in the wholesale cafe market a price increase is inevitable,” he said.

Mr Quail said the market needed to be re-educated about coffee prices and a price rise was natural.

”Since January, we’ve seen about a 65 per cent increase in the seed price. If you’re saying to any business that you’ve seen a 65 per cent price increase in that base level price of your main product, you could expect price rises to follow in the market.”

Coffee growers in Brazil are expected to harvest 52 to 53 million bags this year compared with the previous forecast from December of 56 to 57 million bags. Some analysts say Brazil needs to produce at least 55 million bags to avoid a global shortage.

Maria Kang is not your wake-up call

Maria Kang Photo: FacebookMaria “what’s your excuse?” Kang has hit the news again. This time she’s sharing an airbrushed image of herself showing off toned thighs and a flat stomach, along with slogans such as “limited sleep”, “no nanny” and “works 8hr+ days”. The message behind it: “If I can look like this, you can too.”

The response has been divided. How can it not be when she is making a comment on two very touchy subjects, motherhood and our bodies? So is she an inspiration? Or is she fat-shaming?

When I first saw the original “what’s your excuse” image in October, I found it pretty revolting. Actually, I was livid … until I questioned why was I feeling so defensive about it. Maybe she did have a point. What was my excuse? I’m now pregnant with my second child, but even between pregnancies I didn’t look like that.

My initial response stemmed from an insecurity that if I was a toned size-eight my life would be more enjoyable. Perhaps a lot of women felt that way, and that’s why the reactions to her have been so strong. Who doesn’t want to be fit, especially when we have little ones to take care of? I want to be active with my kids, to live a robust life where they don’t have to worry about me.

When I had planned to start trying for my second baby I sheepishly confessed to my GP, “I haven’t lost all my pregnancy weight and I’ve heard this could cause complications with the baby if I fall pregnant again.” It was as if I wanted her to say, “Stop being so selfish and lose those five kilos. Can’t you think about your children and how your weight effects them?” Instead, she considered my question and then did her job. She weighed me, took blood and urine samples, tested my blood pressure and checked I was up to date with my immunisations. Once she had all the data she needed she gave me the go-ahead to get cracking. It turns out that as a size 12 with lots of wobbly bits I was still healthy. My guilt vanished and it turned out that body acceptance made me feel pretty bloody happy.

But let’s assume for a moment that Maria Kang is being genuine when she says that she’s not purposely being controversial, and that her goal with these campaigns is to encourage mothers to be healthy. Maybe she really does believe that being harsh is the only way to help women find happiness.

But I think we need to bear in mind that while Maria Kang might think she knows what is best for us, her ideas on health and happiness are going to be biased.

Maria Kang is a recovering bulimic. On her website she talks about her fears of becoming overweight like her own mother. We can never really know how happy or mentally healthy Kang is. And just like we don’t know everything about her, she knows nothing about you and your circumstances. If you want (or need) to improve your lifestyle, Maria Kang isn’t the wake-up call that you need. Neither is your mother or your friend or your partner. The only person that should be allowed to encourage you into losing weight is a healthcare professional – and, more importantly, one you trust.

It took me years to find a GP I can rely on. She also oversees all my son’s check-ups. When she says he doesn’t need antibiotics, I believe her. When she says he does need them, I go out and buy them. If I entrust this woman with my son’s health, why wouldn’t I believe her when she says I’m a good weight?

It would be near impossible for Maria Kang to not bring her own baggage into how she feels about women’s bodies – and we shouldn’t expect any more from her, because that’s not her job. She is not a doctor or a psychologist, and unfortunately, does not hold the key to our happiness. Which is why I can confidently say, if she asked me what my excuse is, I would reply, “My doctor”. And even a hot mama with a washboard stomach is going to struggle with a decent argument against that.

Brisbane families pray for missing couples

A world away from the frantic scenes at Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, two Brisbane families prayed for hope.

Close friends Rodney and Mary Burrows and Bob and Cathy Lawton were on Flight MH370 headed to the Chinese capital.

It was to be an adventure – both couples seemingly moving into the next phase of their life, their children having grown up and started families of their own, their working lives beginning to wind down.

Mr Burrows was a long-term employee of energy company Energex. He had accepted a redundancy in the past two years.

At Cathy and Bob Lawton’s neat Springfield Lakes home on Sunday, an estate so new Google Maps is only just catching up, rose bushes have been lovingly cultivated and a sign welcoming grandchildren to ”Nanny and Poppy’s”, ”where memories are made and grandchildren are spoilt” hangs on the front porch.

A lone bunch of flowers sat under it on Sunday afternoon.

Rodney and Mary Burrows had recently sold their Middle Park home, as they were ready to downsize and enjoy some travel. Fairfax Media understands they were staying with their adult children and grandchildren in Sinnamon Park, a suburb about 20 minutes away from their former home.

On Sunday, family and friends had gathered inside the Sinnamon Park home.

Young couples could be seen on the front lawn embracing each other, but no one wanted to talk.

Neighbours said that one of the children was having a birthday party, a long planned event.

”I don’t really know them,” one said.”But I guess you’d want normality.”

New phase: Catherine and Robert Lawton of Springfield Lakes with their grandchildren. Photo: Facebook

Travel after redundancy: Mary and Rodney Burrows from Brisbane. Photo: Supplied

On Sunday night the familyof Cathy and Bob Lawtonreleased a statement through Queensland police thanking the Australian public for their well wishes and prayers.

“Our family is at present trying to come to terms with this terrible tragedy of the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.”

“Our family’s hearts go out to all of the 239 passengers, crew and their families on board this flight. The family understands there is an extensive search and rescue operation being undertaken.”

“Although best efforts from all the family members are trying to remain positive for any hope of survivors, we are bracing ourselves for the worse possible outcome.”

“Cathy and Bob are very much loved by their family, extended families and friends.”

Brisbane Times