Showing posts from April, 2020

35. The ebeer dichotomy

Few things entice more conflicting feelings in me that this new coronavirus concept of the ebeer. For those of you who have been under a rock for the last 3 months, this is a coronavirus lockdown activity consisting in meeting your friends for a drink over a web meeting platform, sharing video and catching up as a group. It is critically important and a great device to keep social ties and stay in touch with your social circle, and it makes you realise how much harder this lockdown would have been before we developed these technologies (at which point there would be no lockdown, just many more deaths, but that’s for another post). So why the conflicting feelings? The ebeer is great in lockdown, but it would be terrible if abused in normality. What if, after lockdown is lifted, we all decide to stay at home on grounds of safety, and stop going to bars, restaurants and pubs? I will certainly keep the ebeer to engage more with geographically remote friends, but will we return to the bars

34. The 'Todos tus libros' platform

My eye has been caught in the last few days by an initiative started in Spain to protect local bookshops. The idea is simple and can be extended to any other industries. It aims to address the short term cash problem that independent bookshops can have due to the fact that they are currently closed and therefore can’t generate revenues, whilst still needing to pay most of their bills, especially as government help is there theoretically in some cases, but can be harder or more complex to access than would be ideal. ‘Todos tus libros’, which means ‘All your books’ allows you to spend money now with your bookshop, which you can then redeem for any books later, once they are back open. This is a great idea. It seems obvious, like all great ideas. It could save many retailers (and other companies) during these difficult times, if they have the support of their communities. And consumers should really support it, unless we want to come back to a World of large chains and internet shopping

33. PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment

If you had asked me, at the end of last year, what professional acronyms would have graduated into general public consciousness in 2020, PPE would not have been anywhere in my answer. Such graduation is normally a sign that a new technology has really made it and is becoming widely adopted, and therefore marks new steps in human progress. For this year, I would have probably chosen the likes of AI (Artificial Intelligence), DL (Deep Learning), IoT (Internet of Things) and VR (Virtual Reality). I’m sure I am missing something important. All these are breakthrough technologies which represent a step forward in humanity’s capabilities. But the acronym of the year is PPE. Everyone knows what it means, everyone talks about it every day. There is a technological element to making PPE that affords the right level of protection, but it is hardly a breakthrough. We could argue that coronavirus is not only knocking back the economy, but also human evolution. What will be the next acronyms? Le

32. Master in epidemiology, economics and public health

I have observed, in the last month, a curious phenomenon going on in my WhatsApp groups. Groups which, in the past, have devoted their conversations to mundane, if not even mendacious, subjects, are now discussing epidemiology, economic policy and public health. People are reading on these subjects, they are interested. This is a dangerous moment, if you believe the adage ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’, and I have seen some situations which seem to illustrate this point. Most reading is done on WhatsApp, Facebook and highly selective Twitter threads. These are not the sources I would recommend for gaining a masters in any of these worthwhile, complex subjects. Information may be mistaken or even wilfully faked. And even if not, the critical reading of complex information, combined with awareness of potential intentional and unintentional bias, are essential when trying to gain full understanding. We should be moving to books and peer reviewed articles, if at all possible

31. Is PPE and medical supplies protectionism a good idea?

In the last few weeks, amidst difficulties to procure PPE and ventilators, amongst others, experienced by all countries, a school of thought has started to gain traction. We got it wrong with globalisation and need to bring back to each country the manufacturing of strategic or critical goods. This is a natural kneejerk reaction to current difficulties, but may not be very smart. Globalisation is the global implementation of division of labour, by which we all become richer by each community manufacturing goods they have the capability and skills to manufacture, gaining from scale and concentration of labour and with supply chain contributing to GDP. Should we give that up to avoid this situation again? What is the sustainability of many companies in many countries making goods we may not need for many years? What we need may be rather a more geographical sparse supply chain for these goods and a better legal framework for fair supply in times of crisis. May be too civilised for us ye

30. The 5 stages of grief in coronavirus lockdown

Some of you reading this may be familiar with the 5 stages of grief, first published by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, in 1969, in her book ‘On Death and Dying’ (granted, the title does not develop the expectation of an enjoyable read). When someone close to us dies, or we suffer a serious personal setback, we go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Somewhat regular trips to the supermarket as the coronavirus lockdown ensued unveiled for me the equivalent stages for a pandemic lockdown. Hand sanitiser. Toilet paper. Pasta. Flour. This is it so far, and I cannot wait to see what the fifth one is. Curiously, as Kubler Ross told us, we only moved to one stage when the previous one was complete (this impression may have been aided by supermarkets’ quick reactions to stock depletion). Has our society become so materialistic that we have replaced feelings with consumer goods? I, for one, refuse to be defined in history by those four objects, there must be something we can d

29. The no recovery scenario of a permanent GDP collapse

The biggest economic risk of the coronavirus pandemic, which no trader has so far factored in, is a permanent change in consumption habits. After having been obliged to try it for a while, consumers may actually stop buying products and services they don’t need. This would be catastrophic for the economy, or at least for GDP, the useless, coarse measure of how our economy is doing. GDP would be permanently affected and there would be no recovery. Of course, the economy only makes sense as a construct to improve human lives and, therefore, in real terms this may not be a disaster at all, after a period of adjustment to pivot jobs, develop new industries, etc. The big fly in the ointment, and there is always one, is that our tax system generates its revenue from middle income work and consumption, and tax revenues may not suffice to sustain, let alone develop, the welfare state. We may come to a point where we finally have to tax corporations and wealth fairly, perish the thought Leng

28. Patience is one of the differences between life science and property development

I read with relief that the irresponsible touting of hydroxychloroquine as a miracle coronavirus remedy by Trump and his acolytes has ceased after the drug was shown to have, if anything, a detrimental effect to survival chances in a retrospective clinical trial. Trump was enthusiastic about early evidence and could not help himself. Those who work in life science know that every single day, new treatments and tests against all kind of conditions show promise. Most of them fall by the wayside during the stringent marketing regulatory approval process designed to agree the ethics of their use and to establish their safety and efficacy. An early, anecdotal article on promise is no more than an attempt by the scientific team to inform of the potential and attract some funding, echoed by media looking to produce some content. Patience is needed. This I can imagine is hard to understand for a property developer with a rich dad, whose patience muscle has probably not had enough exercise L

27. Our legacy

I am becoming upset by our lack of care, as a generation, for our legacy. I am frankly embarrassed by the fact that we will go down in history as the generation that, faced with a global health crisis, rushed to the supermarkets to accumulate toilet paper, pasta and flour. We have lost a huge opportunity. We should have considered our legacy and the view that future historians will have of us, and done something unexpected. Like, say, we should all have ordered several copies each of ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ or ‘The Divine Comedy’. Or of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’. Even better, all three. This would have kept future historians entertained for centuries, in speculative admiration at this erudite, unflappable generation. Granted, book pages, whatever the edition, can be a bit rough on your backside, but is this not a price worth paying to go down in history as an intellectually superior bunch who confronted adversity with literature? We would be, in teenage parlance, legends

26. Lockdown clues to human evolution

If you happen to be one of those people who, as I sometimes do, reads science fiction, you will be aware that one of the most common expectations for human evolution into the distant future is that we will evolve to have small bodies, atrophied limbs and supersized heads, to house our overdeveloped brains. This expectation ignores the possibilities offered by bioengineering and mechanical technology integration, but that is for another post. My observation during this lockdown, however, is that most people seem to spend their time lying about the house, randomly snacking on junk food and wasting a lot of time on social media. This is a lost opportunity, when so much time for exercise of the body and the mind is available. And it presents us with an alternative possible evolutionary path, in which we evolve to have large, round, flabby bodies, tiny heads to house dwindling brains and huge thumbs to contribute to the cacophony of nonsense prevalent in social networks. Your preference? 

25. The importance of government at a time of crisis

The coronavirus pandemic has, it seems to me, exacerbated some tendencies already shown by governments previously. What is particularly worrying, at least from my perspective, is watching what is going on in the US, where the president seems to be touting unproven medicines, inciting citizens to armed rebellion and civil disobedience, fighting his expert advisors and waging a budgetary war on beleaguered, underfunded US states to put them under pressure to restart economic activity. This observation has got me thinking that, whilst electorates can get away with practically any voting choice, however idiotic, in normal times, when a crisis comes, who you have in charge can quickly become life critical. The catch is, of course, that most crises come unannounced. Therefore, when going to the polls, it would be sensible to think: ‘If a global, life threatening crisis comes, who would I rather have in charge, a Churchill, von der Leyen, Merkel, Abe or a Qi Jinping, Trump, Kim Jong-un?’ 

24. The key is the front door

A front door to the street. That may be the answer. I have been wondering, the last few days amid coronavirus lockdown, why the UK allows its citizens to go out to exercise, while Spain does not. The first reaction by many in Spain is that their government is just bloody minded, but my long-term observation is that politicians tend to avoid unpopular decisions if at all possible. It must be something else. Could it be, I wonder, the fact that the great majority of Britons have a front door to the outdoors, whilst most Spaniards live in apartment blocks and therefore, the front door to the street is shared by 25-50 families, as are the elevators that will take them to street level? If you consider how the virus propagates, negotiating your way from your 7 th floor apartment to the street is risky business, probably much riskier, in epidemiology terms, than reaching the outdoors from your semidetached, street level house. So here is a tip, get down to street level before the next pande

23. Rotating briefers in the time of coronavirus

Watching the UK coronavirus crisis briefings, a strange phenomenon has caught my eye. An inordinate number of different people are leading or participating in these briefings. It’s hard to build an emotional attachment to any of them, as they continuously rotate. At home we are now playing ‘guess who will brief us today’. This rotation is akin to that sports clubs do with their stars when it comes to press conferences. Sports people don’t tend to like press conferences and the only way to coerce them to do them is to spread the pain amongst the whole squad. But politicians like the limelight. Then it dawned on me! The questions by journalists are the same every day! The rotation must be, thus, protection to avoid terminal, life sapping boredom afflicting the unfortunate speaker who would have to field them day after day. This may be the best planning yet shown by UK government during the crisis, they are still working out how to protect medics, but they are at least protecting briefer