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Lanchester • London Review of Books
On the dangerous state of U.K. banks and how they can be fixed.
The linked difficulty, or the overarching problem of which this is a sub-category, is to do with bank culture. Let's for a moment propose a counterfactual, in which one of the big banks was headed not by a banker but by someone whose central focus in life was the attempt to be better, both personally and in the corporate sphere. Let's raise the stakes and make this person a professional ethicist, greatly admired by his peers, who writes books about the need for banking to be a moral enterprise. Leadership is important; although plenty of people who specialise in bullshit love saying that, the fact is that it's true: leadership is very important. So what would a big bank be like with a person of that calibre and focus in charge? How much difference would he or she be able to make? As it happens, we know the answer. The bank was HSBC, and the person in charge as CEO and then as chairman of the board was Stephen Green, who is an ordained minister in the Church of England. One of the four biggest UK banks literally had a priest in charge. His first book on banking ethics is Serving God? Serving Mammon? and his second is called Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World. As for how that worked out, well, it was on his watch that Mexican drug-dealers made special boxes to deliver drug cartel money over the deposit counter. It was while the Anglican minister was running things that HSBC undertook criminal actions which led to a fine of $1.9 billion. So the counterfactual isn't really counter to anything.
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz • Vanity Fair
The story of the attack that killed U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, told from the perspective of the security agents there to protect him.
A. leaned upward, glancing out through the murky transparency of his window, peering across the bars at the violence before him. He watched as the fuel bearers inched their way forward toward the residence, and he limbered up the fingers of his shooter's hand as he laid a line of sight onto the targets closing the distance to the villa. He controlled his breathing in preparation to take that first shot. He found himself relying on his instincts, his experience, and, above all, his training. The purpose of the training that DS agents receive-the extensive tactical and evasive-driving skills that are hammered into each and every new member-is to show them how to buy time and space with dynamic skill and pragmatic thought. The DS trains its agents to analyze threats with their minds and gut instincts and not with their trigger fingers.
In that darkened bunker of the villa's safe haven, A. faced a life-changing or life-ending decision that few of even the most experienced DS agents have ever had to make: play Rambo and shoot it out or remain unseen and buy time?