Showing posts from October, 2020

210. The lady is not for turning

The title of this post is a famous Margaret Thatcher quote, gleefully repeated and celebrated by her fans. Thatcher was a clear exponent of the strong leader. One that sets a course and will not be diverted. Not by difficulty, not by obstacles, but not by new information or improved analysis either. In today’s politics, you see, changing direction, because of the legacy of Thatcher and a few others, carries a huge penalty with electorates. It is politically more damaging to realise a mistake, admit it and correct it than, having realised the mistake, ignoring it and persevering on the set course, hoping to steamroll through difficulties and somehow come out at the other side, maybe not completely unscathed, but proud. It is a sort of modern homage to the plight of Odysseus, who, toyed with by the gods, sailed through endless tribulations to reach home. Sadly for us, when our leaders imitate him, our Ithaca does not only not get closer but, if anything, at times it gets further away  Le

209. The arrogance of governments and political advisors exposed by coronavirus

Extraordinary circumstances, and I am sure readers will agree that the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as such, require extraordinary measures. If these are to be taken, public support is necessary. Our political class, however, has become used to a time of such peace and prosperity (in our First World cocoons) that allowed them to get away with confrontational, tactical politics, focused on short term political gain in detriment not only of political opponents but, if necessary, of large swathes of the population. Political thinking has become accustomed to short term electioneering, regardless of consequences, invariably mild and forgiving. But this time is over. The coronavirus pandemic heralds a new age of global challenges, with climate change, extreme inequality and people displacement hot at its heels. The arrogance of Teflon leaders and their advisers will not do in this new playing field. Current times need society building, statesman like politics back, if we are to survive  L

208. The justification, even revisionism, of defeat

  This post is written in the aftermath of Wales’ rugby team’s comprehensive defeat by France at a November test match. The mechanisms to cope with disappointment our brain employs are fascinating. Victory needs no analysis, just an elated ‘We were great’, and unfettered wallowing in the rerunning of events, over an over, for a further endorphin kick. But defeat… Defeat ferries us on the turbulent waters of the Stages of Bereavement, which I have written about previously. To arrive at the last stop, Acceptance, and after the initial, unabated Grief, we must control our Anger and analyse, dissect, in search of a justification which makes the disappointment bearable. Victory turns sport into joy, whilst defeat turns it into analytical endeavour. Where victory brings leisure, defeat brings hard labour. Does regular defeat form character in a way that victory does not? This is so far an unchallenged, fresh thought, but should employers be asking, without fail, what team do you support?  Le

207. The Chinese virus

The Chinese virus. The Eastern European benefit claiming immigrant. The hooded black gang member. The border breaching, dinghy equipped refugee. What do they all have in common? They are all invented monsters, sketched to elicit an emotional response and divert our focus from the real issues. They are all images conjured up by those responsible to avert our gaze from the realisation that they are not fulfilling the duty we have commended to them, in some cases in hopeless, misguided wishful thinking. In the US, UK and some Spanish regions, the Chinese virus, a natural phenomenon vested, with just that toponymical adjective, with intention and geopolitical purpose, is used to cover up the syphoning off of millions of our taxes in corrupt supply contracts and failure doomed service contracts. It is easy, for those most emotional amongst us, to fall for this, to stare at the mirage, in vacuous self-righteousness, and let ourselves be driven, unwitting victims, by that imaginary focal poin

206. To QR or not QR, that is the question

The coronavirus outbreak and our society’s struggles to control it provide ample material for this literary endeavour. Last night, I became embroiled in a discussion about the draconian Chinese measures to control the outbreak. It was not long before QR codes, anonymity and personal freedoms were at the conversation’s centre. The narrative, you see, is that by using QR codes which locate us and check for infection exposure we relinquish our freedoms to an unacceptable level. That is, of course, a one sided view of freedom. Should my right to illusory anonymity, which I willingly surrender to major social media corporates, be defended in detriment of my neighbours’ freedom to leave their houses without fearing for their lives? We have, in the West, built altars to personal freedoms, whilst abandoning the civic duties which helped us overcome the great challenges of the past. From this viewpoint, we are decadent and, as one of my interlocutors put it, faced with this virus, cannon fodder

205. I am a coronavirus winner

I must be honest, coronavirus has been a godsend for me, despite contracting it early on, in March, and being pretty sick for a while. Before, it, my average week involved ten hours of driving and four flights, on top of long work hours, to the detriment of environment, health, family life, personal fitness and spare time. Since the pandemic started, I stay at home most of the time, have replaced car with bike, airplanes with running shoes, airport food with home cooked meals and security queues with good literature. I’ve even found the time to dust off my Twitteretter project. It would be easy, in this circumstance, to ignore the plight of the great majority, the coronavirus losers, to rejoice at the new state of affairs and wish its prolongation. But what is being lost is real lives, and livelihoods, and my previous pains were, after all, my choice. This is a case in which we should all understand the stark choice between our own good and the common good and choose, wisely, the latte

204. The morality of free school meals

I had a conversation yesterday about the morality of denying poor children free school meals during half term with an indignant, rather beautiful, interlocutor. Her fury was directed at the immorality of such decision by the UK Conservative government and those who support them. But this, more than a moral question, is a perception question. The great majority of those denying school meals don’t want children to starve. The problem is that they have bought into a narrative in which parents can indeed afford to feed their children and, by receiving free school meals, will be able to divert money to other uses, fags, drink, gambling, etc. Framed this way, the decision is no longer immoral. Sadly, the assumption is far off the mark. Many poor households don’t make those indulgences. Some others may prioritise them over children’s nurture. When you imagine, or believe, an alternative narrative from the comfort of your own home, you risk making horrifying decisions with the best intentions 

203. All the president's men

Last weekend I rewatched Alan J. Pakula’s excellent political drama recounting events leading to Richard Nixon’s resignation as US President, known as the Watergate scandal. A good movie, with an excellent cast, which gives us insight into the workings of the US democracy of the day. As the scandal unravelled, Nixon used plausible deniability to preserve his position. However, after US Congress issued articles of impeachment, the Senate authorised a wide ranging investigation into the affair, by a 77-0 majority, which proved Nixon’s involvement. Such a majority is unthinkable today, at a time when the Senate, in similar circumstances surrounding Donald Trump, splits down party lines (with the honourable exception of Mitt Romney) and conducts a farce hearing to quickly acquit Trump rather than investigate further. It seems that 1970s GOP Senators put democracy above party, whilst today’s GOP Senators put party above democracy, a worrying evolution of democratic values in American societ

202. The paradox at the heart of Republicanism in a parlamentarian democracy

It is not unusual in parliamentarian democracies such as Spain or UK to hear those who profess themselves republican argue that a republic is a more democratic, therefore superior system than a monarchy. They claim the monarchy is undemocratic, as the monarch is not elected, but rather inherits his or her position and this lack of election renders their role, and their existence, undemocratic. However, this is paradoxical in that a system, and the laws that sustain it, derive their legitimacy, become actual laws, by their acceptance by the general will of society. It misses the point of democracy. In a territory in which the general will is to live in a parliamentarian monarchy, or even to not stop living in a parliamentarian monarchy, this system is eminently democratic, as it enacts the will of society as to what system to live in. A minority revolution, in such circumstance, to install a republic, or remove the monarch, is in fact undemocratic, in that it opposes that general will 

201. The part time virus

Oh, how relieved I felt the day I learnt that coronavirus is a part time virus. It turns out that a curfew, at a certain time in the evening, say 9.00, or 10.00 pm, depending on whether you live in France or UK, protects citizens from infection. Go to a pub, bar or restaurant by all means, so long as you leave by that time, no harm will befall you. Unlikely as it may seem, coronavirus is not that different in custom, even if it is in size, to other legendary foes of humanity, the vampire, the werewolf, or the immigrant shift worker. Like them, it cowers in daylight, leaving the run of the streets to us, humans, only coming out, with devilish intent, to hunt the foolhardy as the sun sets and the shadows conquer our cities. Then, rush home, lock your doors and windows, follow the advice of Bram Stoker, of Clemence Housman, of Nigel Farage. Let the monster, which not yet has its bard, roam the dark streets in vain so that, having failed to find its prey, it dwindles, slowly, into oblivion

200. So, why do our citizens think that democracy is the rule of the majority?

Yesterday’s Twitteretter stated that democracy is not the rule of the majority, but much more than that. It also stated that many citizens nowadays do not appreciate this, and make exactly that simplification. The worrying question, for me, is how can this be possible? How can it be that citizens that have lived in democracies for, in some cases, such as UK, a couple of centuries, fail to understand the basis of the political system they live in? The answer is lack of political education. Our education system devotes much more effort to creating individuals effective in the workplace than to creating individuals effective in society. It is all about the economy, it is all about productivity, it is all about wealth creation. Somehow, we build citizens who are much better at creating wealth than at deciding how it must be shared in society. This is a fortunate combination for those intent on keeping the lion share of it. It is high time that we teach citizens to truly take back control 

199. Democracy is not the rule of the majority

The title of this post may be shocking to many, since the understanding of democracy in our society has been simplified, reduced, to the rule of the majority. Democracy is understood as a system where one man gets one vote and where whatever is voted for the majority must come to pass. Period. But democracy is much more complex, and many things are above the rule of the majority. The fist, separation of powers. Democracy is a system in which individuals can rely on the judiciary to protect their rights and in which all citizens are equal in front of the law. Democracy is a system where the basic rights of individuals are protected, and where the rights of some do not trample over the rights of others. It is a system where violence by the stronger is not permitted in the political discourse, and where the right of citizens to information trumps (sic) the right of others to disinform. Without these and many other checks and balances, we don’t have a democracy, we have a mob dictatorship 

198. The purpose of education

I’ve lately been thinking about the real purpose of education. Our society seems to see it as a way of imparting knowledge, received wisdom, and preparing learners for a useful professional life. This manifests in teachings of what the World is, how it works, imparting a World view which is presented as a fixed reality, with its concepts and limitations, with its constraints. We educate people to accept reality. But the World is possibilities, not reality. It can be approached not as a given, but as a canvas on which to leave one’s imprint, a piece of clay to try to sculpt, to match reality to our imagination. Education should give us the tools for such approach, the critical spirit to not accept what is given, the ambition and creativity to want to improve it, incrementally, or change it, radically. Life will have plenty of time to knock us into shape, to coerce us to accept status quo and reality. But education should demand of us the will to take on the World, and equip us to do it 

197. Conservatism or reactionary anachronism

There is currently a big storm brewing in the US over the nomination of Amy Comey-Barrett to the US Supreme Court by incumbent president Donald Trump. Justice Barret is described by the media as being conservative, spousing, amongst others, anti-abortion views and the opinion that the existence of climate change and the fact that it is human caused is a matter of opinion. Abortion is a complicated issue and I will steer clear of it. But man made climate change is scientifically proven nowadays. The scientific method has been extensively used since the XVIII century, bringing about incredible progress and huge increases in standard of living and live expectancy, amongst other things. Denying scientifically proven fact is not being conservative, it is being anachronistically reactionary and dishonest (either with others, if the defended position is not believed, or with oneself if it is). If only the media would describe Justice Barrett in the right terms, not the misleading conservative

196. The arrogant miscalculation of mainstream politicians that just keeps on happening

Mainstream politicians tend to coalesce with the fringes to serve short term aims, accepting coalition with extremists to get to power, expecting them to remain marginal and return to oblivion once it suits the majority partner. The US Senate made this calculation in refusing to hold a serious hearing on impeachment of a rogue, populist and nihilist president, the Spanish PP when bringing Vox into coalition government in Madrid. These miscalculations are frequent in history, each time with the same outcome. Extremists can be marginalised but, once you rescue them from oblivion, you open a Pandora’s box and no longer have the power to put them back in. Once you lend undeserved credibility to their ideas, once you present them as legitimate to the populus and accept anger, hate and animosity in politics, you lose control. Hitler, Caesar, Putin or Mussolini rode these waves, with the initial connivance and later aghast helpless horror of the political establishments they ultimately depose

195. Does a greater wealth change your politics?

This is an interesting observation, even if also a somewhat disappointing one. I have over the years known many cases of people who have evolved, as their wealth and age increased, from a somewhat antisystem, progressive political outlook, to a conservative mindset. This is, at first sight, a change in politics, from left to right. But appearances can be deceiving, and I think it really is something else. This is the politics of ‘whatever suits my personal circumstance, and not society, best at any given point’. And it remains consistent. When poorer and younger, more sharing of the wealth of the haves and help for the have nots. Once you are enlisted in the ranks of the haves, the opposite, lower taxation, individualism and a conviction that those who have not choose that situation and do not deserve help. I guess how steady your politics are as your circumstances change depends on how you answer the fundamental question ‘Does society exist to serve me, or does it exist to serve all?’

194. Talk tough, do nought

‘Do as I do, not as I say’ is a commonly used adage, speaking to the sense in following what people do, not their claims. I’ve observed lately, in politics, the opposite phenomenon. I am having conversations with otherwise theoretically intelligent people who seem to support politicians on the basis of what they say, not what they do, in a kind of political ‘I love it when you talk tough’. Take Donald Trump’s protestations on his tough stance on China and its CCP, talking up his trade war even though during his presidency the China-US payment imbalance has widened. Or Priti Patel’s tough talk on human trafficking, which has thrived in the over ten years her party has been in power. Failing to deliver on one’s words is not new in politics. What may be new is voters accepting it, even enthusiastically embracing it, because, despite all evidence, which is actually readily available, they rather listen to the words and follow the liars on a sado masochistic trip down Virtual Alley  Length:

193. Pandemic control, the lockdown perverse disincentive

We are seeing a return to potential lockdowns as many countries are confronting the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with colder weather in the Northern Hemisphere, the return to schools and colleges and the progressive reopening of economic activities. Most governments seem intent in using the same playbook applied last spring, when the virus caught them unawares. The last six months should have been a time in which society could prepare to control the pandemic without lockdown but, alas, we seem to be in a very similar situation to that in March. Businesses and institutions which have implemented better measures to prevent spread of the virus will be locked down, just on the basis of their postcode, in the same way as those who have not. This is a disincentive to implement effective controls, as, in the advent of a second wave, these effective controls will not prevent compulsory closure. General lockdown was understandable first time round, but a complete failure this time 

192. Jean Jacques Rousseau, much more than a philosopher

I’ve already introduced JJ Rousseau and his The Social Contract in previous Twitteretters. He is not only a very renowned philosopher, but quite possibly the most influential political author of our history. His work set the basis for the advent of modern democracy, providing the ideological backbone to the constitutional assemblies of the French Revolution and, nearly at the same time the other side of the Atlantic, to the American Revolution and its development of a sophisticated parliamentarian republic. However, and unlikely as it seems, Rousseau was hugely influential also by writing what is credited by many as the first romantic novel, La nouvelle Heloise, opening the floodgates of a genre that has produced incalculable pages and book sales of a volume unthinkable for philosophy works. Interestingly, and perhaps paradoxically, Rousseau both gave us the tools to challenge our social and political environment, to possibly improve it, and to evade it, reducing the urgency to do so 

191. Llangoed Hall, old British charm

Llangoed Hall is a beautiful Powys manor house hotel in spectacular grounds on the banks of the Wye as it traverses the enchanting Wye Valley from Builth Wells to Hay-on-Wye. The hotel is exquisite in its architecture, decoration, antique furniture and Old World service. Elegantly understated, a polar opposite to the strident luxurious nouveau arrivĂ©e hotels in London, Dubai or Florida. At Llangoed time moves so slowly that it appears to have jumped fifty years back. You cannot get an espresso, or a bar meal mid afternoon. Filter coffee and food from seven. And forget a lie in, breakfast is over by 9.00, even on weekends. It’s as if the hotel expects from you British phlegm and the proverbial stiff upper lip. It’s charming like an old grandfather full of great stories and protective cares. In it, you are invisible, and others to you, even when in the same space. Its understated elegance is as relaxing as the strident showboating of its counterparts is exhausting. Progress? What progre

190. The Muro di Sormano theme park

There is a cycling climb in the Lariano Triangolo, on the shores of the breathtaking Lake Como, called ‘Il Muro di Sormano’. It is the fruit of professional cycling’s continuous search for the next barrier, the latest trick. It is impossibly steep, 1.7kms at an average of 18%, with over half a kilometer well over 21%. Alberto Elli, an ex pro-racer and local entrepreneur, tells me that Il Muro has become the most popular attraction to amateur cyclists who visit the region. This does not surprise me. Once you come to accept that Alton Towers receives more visitors than Stonehenge, in any given year, you should not be shocked by the venerable slopes of Stelvio and Gavia lying in solitary abandon whilst all comers race to take on, and succumb, at Il Muro. It is of course a challenge worth taking on, one more way of answering the question: ‘Am I up to it?’, but also a further sign of today’s fast, intense, immediate retribution culture, since Il Muro will answer you within a few minutes  Le

189. The unbearable lightness of being

The other night I rewatched the Philip Kaufman movie adaptation of the seminal Milan Kundera novel, a book you should read, if you haven’t, and, at the very least, a movie you should watch. It makes you appreciate how lucky we are to be born, and live, in the social freedoms Western democracies afford us, secure in the protection of the rule of law. This story is a stark warning to those tempted by the easy solutions peddled by autocratic regimes. Tomas, its protagonist, pays a very heavy personal price for trying to defend his intellectual dignity, for refusing to retract an idea expressed. He sacrifices, by not yielding to the system, first his career and, ultimately, his life. Kundera, who grew and lived in an autocratic regime, describes with brutal realism the humiliating choices his protagonist must make to survive. The suffocating, crushing, relentless pressure he is put under is Kafkian in its overwhelming dimension. Be careful of letting the wolf in, tempted by false promises 

188. All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others

George Orwell’s brilliantly sharp political allegory, Animal Farm, is memorable, amongst many other things, for the sentence in the title of this post. In the dystopian society Orwell depicts, one of the fundamental pillars of democracy, the principle that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, falls apart, with ultimately dire consequences. This principle is one of the main differences between democracy and other political systems, such as autocracies or absolute monarchies, where the leaders, and sometimes their courts, are above the law and can act with impunity without concern for the consequences that would rein in their subjects. Donald Trump’s political interference with investigations of his affairs with the support of the US Senate, or the flouting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions by a number of members of the UK government inner circle, just to name a couple, are examples of a ruling class in our modern democracies which is dangerously drifting towards Animal Farm

187. The mounting absurdity of property speculation

The general economic malaise resulting from the sharp slowdown caused by coronavirus has one counterbalance, the growth in house prices during this period (UK a prime example, boasting an apparently healthy and frankly absurd 7%). Whilst most other economic activity is precarious, property development is more profitable than ever. A well rehearsed trick. There is an entente cordiale between property owners, the older generations, and governments whose main mantra is to fuel a housing market on which their economic castles in the air are built. Votes for wealth, political power for a license to exploit the young through property values. Buying a rundown property, refurbishing it, decorating it and renting it out to those unfortunate to have been born too late is more profitable than founding a company, employing people, making new goods and services and creating real wealth. Government certified exploitation of the young, built on low interest rates and reckless low deposit mortgages 

186. The information bubble

I am lately getting the occasional enthusiastic feedback about Twitteretter. This is welcome, and interesting. Often, the most enthusiastic feedback comes on entries which, in my mind, are not the strongest, whilst those I think the best are met with indifference (or, at least, silence). This is entirely normal. Enthusiastic feedback is elicited when the opinions, or interests, of specific entries mirror those of the reader. This, however, is not my aim with Twitteretter. My modest hope is to open minds, to get readers thinking about subjects, considering opinions, that, otherwise, they may not have. I can only hope that those enthusiastic responses to likeminded blogs will translate into closer following and greater willingness to consider the ideas in those entries which do not so well mirror one’s own opinions. Reading, and its homonym, listening, have as their main value opening one’s minds to the ideas of others, not just the endorphin loaded retribution of self-affirmation  Lengt

185. Do companies exist for the benefit of their shareholders?

No. Or not only. The title summarises a common view which informs most company management nowadays. The fundamental driver of a company is to maximise shareholder value, simplistically equated to profit or, rather, dividend or yield. This is a misconception. Companies are not only a vehicle to grow shareholder wealth. They are an environment where workers spend a significant part of their day. They are actors in a community, contributing to its dynamics and impacting its environment. They are entities integrated in society and their objective must be maximising the benefit to their stakeholders. These are, in my order of importance, employees (since they spend good part of their lives there and rely on them for their livelihood), customers, suppliers, shareholders, local community and wider community. Shareholders demand continuously growing returns, which drives managers to underpay employees and suppliers, shortchange customers and community. In the midterm, it is a recipe for failur

184. Would you wish Hitler a swift recovery from coronavirus?

This week on Twitter I agreed with a Trump supporter chastising anti-Trumpers for gleefully celebrating Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis and hoping for his passing. I stated that anyone’s illness is a concern, anyone’s death a tragedy. I was challenged with the argument that not everyone’s death is a tragedy and the question: ‘would you go back to 1925 and wish Hitler a swift recovery from flu?’ This is a good, and important, question. I had to think about it. Humans personalise to simplify. Hitler rose to power and changed German society supported by a large Nazi party apparatus and a dominant minority of Germans. Had he passed due to flu, Goebbels, Himmler or Eichmann would have replaced him, with the same outcomes. This applies today, even if the Hitler-Trump analogy is overstretched. What US society could really do with is a swift recovery and a landslide electoral defeat for Trump, because the real problem is not him, but those electing him and the Republican party supporting him  Le

183. What Trump's tax avoidance (or evasion?) tells us

Donald Trump, the incumbent US President and self-proclaimed billionaire, has paid negligible federal taxes for a number of years, as revealed by a New York Times exposé this week. Many of his supporters have come out in his defence, stating it is smart to use the tools available in the fiscal system to avoid tax, so long as it is done within current legality. Trump himself has often stated this self-serving view. The problem is that having a president who shirks tax obligations is a paradox. Tax is a manifestation of civic spirit, it is one of the tools we use to build a society. The president is a civic figure, the most important one, and the chief executive of the apparatus tasked with building society. What the NY Times revelation tell us, if we did not know already, is that the person charged by Americans with building their society is antisocial, the head of their civic society has no civic spirit. His individual behaviour is incompatible with the role the collective has given hi

182. The futility of nationalism in the face of global challenges

Last night I watched the new David Attenborough documentary, ‘A life of Earth’. It is a powerful witness statement on the biodiversity destruction caused by climate change. it should be watched by every single person on Earth. One obvious conclusion one draws on watching is that the main challenge in solving or mitigating this issue is the difficulty countries face in developing agreements where the global interest is balanced with their perceived short term national interest. It is as if many leaders thought their country can exist even if Earth doesn’t. Climate change and biodiversity extinction are, with pandemics (not only coronavirus, think diabetes, etc.) and inequality, the gravest challenge every human faces. Nationalism prevents their solution, it is not only futile, but prejudicial. We must, to have a chance to solve these issues, shed nationalistic identities and preserve our local, regional and national cultures whilst working as a single species to protect our environment 

181. If tolerance dies, democracy dies with it

In entry 176 I stated that, if tolerance dies, so does democracy, statement which that post did not substantiate. The logic underpinning this statement is as follows: Tolerance is the acceptance of the ideas, positions and policies of the other, and their evaluation on their merit, rather than on who formulated them. The death of tolerance brings polarisation, opposing representative and voter camps fighting each other tooth and nail, refusing to accept any policy suggested or implemented by the other side. As power changes hands, the newcomers set off on an all out demolition of the initiatives implemented by the losers in the previous electoral cycle, only to see their own initiatives demolished by the other side once power changes hands again. Thus, democracy becomes dysfunctional, gridlocked, unable to make progress and fulfil its purpose, serving all citizens, engaged with destroying, rather than building, society. Only through moderate debate and compromise can democracy serve us

180. The strange case of the missing business ethics

Modern business thinking has no time for ethics. True, corporations refer to ethical business, but this is just another product. It is paid lip service, in most cases, as a marketing ploy to attract customers. Some corporations do seem to behave ethically, but not many consistently do. The maximisation of financial returns is the ultimate objective of most businesses and this is widely accepted in society as necessary. But this acceptance is a mistake, the result of an oversimplification early economists made to be able to model economic interactions and the system these build. No universal law dictates this must be the aim of businesses. We could choose to rate and value a business on ethics, or impact on the wellbeing and happiness of stakeholders it interacts with. This is more complex, but would have an incredible effect on our societies. Money has been around so long it is easy to forget it is just a convention to facilitate exchange and, thus, lacks intrinsic merit or substance