Showing posts from November, 2020

240. Hannah Arendt, a thinker for our times

We live in dangerous times, at least in a precarious equilibrium. It is easy to dismiss warnings about current terminal threats to democracy and the nihilist autocratic attack on the institutions of many countries as exaggerated and over dramatic. To those who may be flippantly of this opinion, I recommend reading Hannah Arendt, witness to the rise of totalitarianism in the 1930s. When you read her naked analysis of the totalitarian takeover, you are shocked by how relevant it is to current times. Practically any Arendt quote you choose can be applied, unedited, to today’s politics. This is a warning. Even though very few of us were alive in the 30s, we don’t need reminding of how they ended and how close to an existential cliff edge our species was. The aftermath of a great recession and fast geopolitical change conflated, as they do today, with overconfidence by the media and our institutions to allow a monster to rise which took all the will of humanity, and many lives, to defeat  L

239. The dangers of badly understood media neutrality

The last few years have been marked by the accession to power, in a number of countries, of regimes and people we can define as nihilists, who operate as if reality did not exist, and could be moulded by their will. When reality goes, accountability goes with it, creating the perfect environment for those who govern for power and not the governed. Several conditions must exist for nihilists to succeed. The one I focus on today is badly understood media neutrality. In the interest of balance, Western media, for a number of years, chose to present reality and falsehood as equivalent positions, as opinions, refusing to highlight falsehood as being different to fact, concerned with being accused of bias, negligent of their duty to report fact. This created fertile ground for the likes of Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro or Farage to sew confusion. Hannah Arendt, the chronicler of a previous brand of nihilism, explained it thus: ‘The only way to recognise reality is that it is common to all of us’

238. Patriotism, different things to different people

I found myself imbued in a conversation about patriotism this morning, in particular about the brand of patriotism which, in some countries, resents those who emigrate, who leave, as they see it as a slight to the fatherland (I use father rather than motherland only because father, pater , is the original etymological root of patriot). Patriotism is defined as love for one’s country and the defence of its interests. Emigrants often act not only in their own interest, but also that of their country. By leaving when there may be little opportunity to develop and work, they release pressure on services and on their families. Whilst away, they send money back, contributing to the development of the local economy. And they often return, to invest and spend their hard earnt wealth in what they still see, despite many years abroad, as their home country. You could, in fact, think of the love of emigrants for their country as unrequited, unwavering, faithful love, the most generous kind  Lengt

237. Is corporations' decision not to pay taxes a wilful one?

We know we have a problem with large multinational corporations not paying due taxes if they can by any means avoid it, which they indeed can. This seems immoral. When so many need solidarity, and when such huge profits are made, how can this tax avoidance be justified? But here there is a problem borne of our personalisation bias, the human tendency to personalise in order to relate and understand. Corporations don’t make a wilful or moral decision to put profit over taxes. The effort to minimise or avoid taxes is rather the result of internal incentives, for managers and financiers, which are not considered on morality but on efficacy. They are just the way things are done, the way business and management schools teach us to act. What is missing from corporations (nearly by definition or necessity) is dreamers, visionaries with the capacity to redesign received wisdom at all levels. All we need for corporates to contribute is for their leaders to focus on this, accept its importance 

236. Technology startups, the new Gold Rush

The title of this post may be over optimistic. Right now, the new gold rush may be cannabis decriminalisation. But still, that specific vertical’s current popularity is extremely opportunistic and not sufficiently durable to qualify as a trend. The real gold rush with legs is tech startup. We all marvel at the success stories of the new tech giants and their unprecedentedly fast growth, which is not that unprecedently fast, as you would see if you cared to look at the previous rise of railway companies, steel makers, car and supercomputer manufacturers. Still, a successful tech start-up is the path to huge wealth today. But are entrepreneurs who succeed in new tech driven by the promise of those riches, or are they motivated by the chance to change the World, impact lives, improve processes or fix malfunctions? As a tech entrepreneur, I have my answer, which, like many things in life, follows the 80/20 rule, impact 80, riches 20. But others may have others, to paraphrase Groucho Marx L

235. Expecting a different outcome from the same behaviour

A couple of days ago I wrote about how appeasers, in this case Republican congressmen and Senators in the US, expect a different outcome from the same behaviour, borrowing a quote from Winston Churchill. Observant readers may have noticed that the initial statement was a reference to another quote, this one from an, in my opinion, even much greater mind, Albert Einstein, who is credited with saying: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result’. Einstein was referring to the scientific method but, in fact, his quote is at the crossroads between science, philosophy and even self-help (not that he would understand the latter term). This in fact is a common human trait that manifests itself everywhere. Many wish for different outcomes, different results, but few have the will, the desire to change behaviours to bring them about. Honesty with oneself is the first and most important step in that hard road, wishful thinking its worst fo

234. We are getting rid of the uniforms, but are we getting rid of the uniformity?

One interesting and, from my perspective, welcome trend in business habits evolution is the gradual but undeniable superseding of the business uniform. During my business life I’ve seen first the tie, then the suit and ultimately the shirt and shoes give way to jeans, tshirts and trainers, adding welcome colour and variety to the working environment. However, whilst we are allowing aesthetic personality into the business environment, are we allowing real personality? We may dress differently, but I am still impacted by the uniformity of thinking, attitudes and methods. Business schools churn out uniformity of substance, if not of appearance. Managers, leaders and even employees share the same understanding of the purpose of business, the nature of workplace relationships and the suitability of methods, metrics and practices. The variety of appearance is interesting and fun for a fleeting moment only. I would happily don a suit and tie if we could wear uniqueness in substance in return 

233. The crocodile in the White House

Winston Churchill had talents. Not as many as British folklore might claim, but significant. Maybe his greatest was his turn of phrase and ability to coin memorable quotes, such as: ‘An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last’.   Churchill was referring to how pre WWII allied policy fed the Nazi rise in Germany. He might well have told the same to Republican Senators during Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing. By absolving him regardless of evidence and with near unanimity, the GOP helped feed Trump’s narrative of being unjustly prosecuted by the establishment amongst his base. This is the same narrative fuelling his rigged election claims and refusal to concede, imbued with credibility by that failed and delegitimised impeachment process. And Republicans are appeasing him again, expecting a different outcome from the same behaviour, hoping Trump will suddenly abandon his narrative just like Chamberlain and Daladier hoped Hitler would suddenly start liking Jew

232. You may say I am a dreamer

On reading some of my Twitteretters, some friends have described me as an idealist. This, by the way, was not meant negatively, and I did not take it that way. I do in fact take it as a compliment. You see, there is a connotation in many people’s thinking that idealism is not realistic, that wishing for an ideal society (in the context of this specific discussion, idealism can of course be deployed in many other areas) is nice but ultimately futile for unfeasible. This is a line peddled by those with less lofty aims. If idealism can be discarded as well intentioned but useless, it is acceptable to not be an idealist, and be instead individualistic, egotistic or just realistic, someone who likes and wants to maintain the status quo. The thing is, the only condition needed for idealism to become eminently achievable would be for the great majority to believe. If we did, we would achieve whichever Utopia we choose to seek. You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. Join us Len

231. The day Twitteretter will end

I did an interesting exercise today, at least interesting for me. I calculated the date on which I’ll publish my last Twitteretter, post 1,001. 22 nd December 2022. Firstly, this is very fitting. When growing up in Spain, 22 nd December was the start date of the Christmas holidays, packed with the excitement of the break and festivities ahead, and with the feeling of having completed an important stage, the first term of the academic year. Ending Twitteretter on such a date works serendipitously. I wonder what I will be writing about at the time. I can promise you it will not be coronavirus, hopefully because it is gone and not just because I am fed up with it as a subject, which will happen much, much sooner. I expect I will still be writing about social injustice, inequality and political cloak and dagger. I hope I will, however, also be writing about amazing achievements in science and technology and the paradigm changes they may bring to our society and politics. I look forward t

230. Is politics replacing religion and, in so doing, becoming one?

Hear me out on this. One way to understand religion is as a belief system built on the purported word of a superior authority, a god, mediated through an inner circle, the priesthood. For a religion to survive, when the word of its god and facts contradict each other, the followers of the religion must align with the former. This explains the prosecution of figures like Galileo, who did no more than state clearly observable facts. The god drives the narrative, describing reality in advance, providing a framework for confirmatory and complementary facts to slot into and for contradictory facts to be discarded as fabrication, misinterpretation or lie. Modern politicians are adept at driving the narrative, telling the story before it happens, providing interpretation guidelines for every ensuing fact. This is the reason why Trump started claiming election fraud weeks before the election happened, or why you can predict reality by expecting the opposite to anything stated by Michael Gove  

229. No way back

We are a few weeks away from the end of the EU withdrawal transition period, and a new YouGov poll tells us that 51% of Brits are against Brexit, with 38% still for it. The anti-European sentiment fanned by the populism of Farage and Johnson, Britain’s pied pipers of Hamelin, is receding. Alas, there is no mechanism for reversal. Even though we know stopping Brexit, remaining, would make us all immediately more prosperous, in the UK and Europe, and more relaxed, and happier, and less ashamed, there is no path for the change of mind. On we march. The Light Brigade. Leonidas’ 300. The wise know not to decide the important in anger, to leave sentiment for leisure. But we were not wise. And the pied pipers keep on playing, leading us to the cliff. We follow, hypnotically , against our will, or rather devoid of will. Tired. Disillusioned. Defeated, after many sang victory songs on referendum day, before we knew the wrong battle had been fought and, vanquished or victors, we all lost  Length

228. The heist of the century

A recently published Rand Corporation study reveals an ongoing significant redistribution of wealth, from 90% of the population to the top 10%. This is not new and, for me, not a surprise. I’ve written about inequality before. What is new about the Rand study is that it quantifies the redistribution, at least for the US. If the share of wealth and income in US society had remained unchanged since the three decades following World War II, the 90% would be $47 trillion per year richer. The figure is staggering, less than 10% of the population would know how to write it in extended form. The average American would be $42,000 per year better of. How can the wealthy and powerful get away with this in a democracy, where people vote on policies? Simple. We know we have an enemy, but we don’t know who it is. For white men, Latinos and blacks. And for them, white men. For Brits, Europeans and, for many Europeans, African and Asian refugees. Meanwhile, the true enemy hides in plain sight  Length

227. Conspiracy theories

I don’t actually know whether conspiracy theories are a modern ailment or whether they’ve always existed but have found in social media a fertile ground in which to thrive. They are fascinating. Even when there is an easily experimentally proven, incontrovertible consensus on a subject, say for example the non-flatness of Earth, an alternative view, fuelled by nothing other than the mild sexiness its contrarian veneer imbues it with, arises and spreads, a highly contagious stupidity virus. The logic paraphrases that of one of my favourite heroes, Sherlock Holmes: ‘When all sensible looking explanations have been disproven, the remaining, however unlikely, must be true’. Just substitute disproven by wilfully ignored. Conspiracy theories serve two valuable purposes for their acolytes. They allow those who never stood out to do just that, feel special, more in the know than others. And they provide a sense of belonging, a community, to those who feel left out in our modern, isolated times

226. The kingdom of share

Don’t get excited, this is not a post about a fabulous land where inequality crushing solidarity rules. It refers, on the other hand, to the rule of audience share above all else in media, driven by a need to sell advertising to finance the production, or acquisition, of content. The loss of reputation Donald Trump has suffered during his presidency, racking up a set of criminal and corruption accusations that would have made Bugsy Siegel proud, would, in other times, make him untouchable, turn him into a pariah, compel him to abandon public life and adopt a low profile. Not today. I expect that, soon after he leaves the presidency, which he will ultimately do, and regardless of the outcome of the barrage of lawsuits which may closely follow his stepping down, Trump will have his own TV program in one of the main networks, likely Fox, or even his own network, from where his divisive, dishonest message will continue to be amplified to a large, loyal following. Share above all else  Leng

225. The apostrophe, such an essential tool in a Twitteretterer's arsenal

It is so slender, so light, so visually unobtrusive, that it is easy to miss the great contribution the apostrophe makes to our language. Its elegant economy reminds you of Seb Coe’s gait or Hemingway’s prose. Just ‘, instead of ‘of the’. Such a saving! Most of us likely to go our whole life without ever noticing its contribution, missing, in our distraction, its power to simplify. Some of us may notice, at some point, but fail to grasp its importance. Probably use it sparingly, randomly alternating it with its much heavier, clumsier cousin. It is not until you start a project like Twitteretter, until every single character counts, that you come to appreciate the apostrophe in its full glory, its full power. I could not have kept my bargain, achieved my self-imposed limit whilst keeping my entire meaning, without its invaluable help. I know not how it came to be, or to whom we owe this magical resource. Even this small, inadequate homage, would have exceeded its length limit without it

224. I am entitled to my opinion

This is becoming a very popular statement, deserving of sympathy when out of context. In fact, everyone is, indeed. The phrase is often used, however, at the end of the following sequence of events: Someone repeats a, at first sight, factual statement. Others rebuke or challenge it, demanding justification or evidence. The proponent makes a meek attempt to repeat baseless information the source of which they can’t identify. This is checked and debunked as being false. The proponent now has a choice. Withdraw the statement or stay with it, but with no justification. The first option feels like a comedown, a loss of face. Then, the trump (get it?) card is pulled, with the utterance ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’. Indisputable at first sight, unchallengeable. It avoids the comedown and, in the eyes of the proponent, the subsequent loss of face. It begets a pyrrhic victory, a tactical win which negates the much greater win of having the courage to change opinion based on evidence or challeng

223. Hips up narcissism

After far too much political posting of late, today I want to divert to a phenomenon which has been concerning me for a while. I will call it ‘hips up narcissism’. With this I am referring, in particular, to a significant percentage of the younger male population’s obsession with building up their upper bodies and cultivating their beards. We concerningly seem to be evolving in a direction in which self body image is becoming, or in fact has already become, much more important than intellectual development. But, even if we are to accept this disappointing trend, we still have the hips up problem. In most of these cases, narcissism seems to stop at the hips. My observation of most of these ‘gym types’, as we can call them for economy, is that leg day is often, if not always, skipped. They seem to hold the shared belief that the body does not exist below the hips, or maybe they just expect interactions to be conducted over a table, hiding lower limbs? I blame half-length mirrors myself L

222. The restitution of Major Trapero

In amongst all the US presidential election kerfuffle many, even in Spain, may have missed the sentence of the trial against Josep Lluis Trapero, the ex-commander in chief of Catalonian police, accused of rebellion by Spanish prosecutors. Major Trapero has been exonerated, to the chagrin of Spanish nationalists and the elation of Catalonian ones. The former will see it as evidence of a corrupt court system soft on independentists, the latter as evidence of an oppressing Spanish state. Both are extreme interpretations. It is no more than the completion of a normal process in society and evidence that the separation of powers in Spain is alive and well. An accusation with sufficient merit is brought, heard and adjudicated on the basis of the case built. For justice to be done, however, we still need to see Trapero restored to his role, if he still wishes to fulfil it, and the mitigation of any pecuniary and other personal damages the ultimately unsuccessful prosecution may have caused h

221. The nouns of our (political) time

Egotism, narcissism, aggression, cheating, self-righteousness, pride, dishonesty, corruption. The list goes on. For those who invented, developed and spread democracy, in ancient times and in the Europe of the Enlightment and the America of Independence, association with one of those nouns was sufficient disqualification from public office or leadership. Today, in modern democracies, it seems that even association with all of them simultaneously, which requires dedication and seems like pretty hard box ticking work, is condoned or justified by large sections of the electorate, taken as secondary to perceived economic management skill or self-professed toughness in international commercial relationships or on imagined immigration crises. Does this reflect the fact that electors are permissive of these traits in themselves and feel represented by them? Or the fact that the undermining of institutions has succeeded to the point that all in political life are tarnished with the same brush?

220. RealDonaldTrump

Assertiveness is a valued trait in our modern, often aggressive society. The outgoing president of the USA tried to use it when claiming, during the ultimately indicting US presidential elections just held, States where he was on track to lose the vote. The rationale was: ‘if I claim brashly enough, maybe I will own’. Luckily, this is not how democracy works and the one in the US, despite significant undermining lately, is still functional enough to brush off such a guileless attack. But this claiming to own is not new to Trump. When joining Twitter, Trump claimed all identity associated to the Donald Trump name. He attempted, with his handle, to trademark Donald Trump to himself. What about all others who happened to also be called Donald Trump, many before him? Are they not real? Granted, most of them will probably already be motivated to change their name to avoid associations with a histrionic, chaotic an unedifying public figure, but surely the decision should be ultimately theirs

219. Gun borrowed courage

I ended up today in a Twitter discussion with Trump supporters (I know, I know) about fraudulent voting claims. There was a lot of potential Twitteretter gold in just a few exchanges, but the one that really pricked my ears was when, at some point, one of them stated that conservatives are fearless, unlike the left, because they believe in the 2 nd amendment. The thread was chaotic and the grammar poor, so it was difficult to follow at times, and it was not clear whether this was actually a threat. But my imagination was caught by the implications of being fearless because of owning a gun. In my mind, if all that stands between you and fear is a gun, then you are very afraid, afraid enough to think you need a gun to protect you, or to impose your views, which is still protecting you from political or intellectual insignificance. Small children use a blanket, or a teddy, to stave off fear. Bigger children use guns. Adults use presence of mind, rationality and self knowledge to vanquish

218. Cree el ladrón que todos son de su condición

The title is an old, popular Spanish adage, which translates loosely as ‘The thief believes all others to be thieves’. This refers to projection, one of the many biases or shortcuts humans have developed through evolution to assist fast decisions when navigating a complex World. This bias makes it acceptable for many to, for example, cheat the tax system. At any level, whether we are talking full blown tax evasion strategy or occasional small misdemeanours, justification is often found in the non justifying and unfounded claim that others are doing it too. Even if it were true, that would be more reason to pay taxes, not evade them, as the tax system still needs the revenues when not everyone is contributing fairly. Another interesting example, from a projection bias perspective, is the Trump presidential election campaign claim that Democrats are systematically, and massively, cheating in the election. What does that tell us about the Trump campaign’s intent, at least, if not actions?

217. Is the justice system about who has the better lawyers?

I’ve been listening to Trump in the aftermath of the US Presidential Election, whilst ballot counts in battleground states proceed at glacial pace. This is a dangerous exercise one needs to be well prepared psychologically for, but it is important. I am struck by his latest complaint, that his strategy to challenge ballot counts in the courts is failing not because of a lack of evidence or basis, which he does not see as the weakness of his position, but because his legal team is not good enough. This assessment is borne from his experience of the US legal system, and let’s face it, few outside the legal profession have more than him. Trump is, inadvertently, highlighting and denouncing a worrying evolution of US justice: The fact that those with the better legal team, i.e., those better resourced, have an expectation of victory, regardless of their claims’ merit. Let us remember one of the maxims at the centre of democracy, ‘All citizens are equal in the eyes of the law’, and reflect 

216. I do not care about the US election

The post’s title, by the way, is not a true reflection of reality. Rather, it is the feeling I had, for a few minutes, when I woke up on Wednesday morning to a sea of Trump red covering the United States map. I do care profoundly about the outcome of this election. I value civility, fairness and equanimity, I treasure democracy, I believe win-win is the only deal worth making and I understand we need very fast action on environmental issues to prevent an irreversible global catastrophe which would make the current pandemic feel like a party. But, faced with uncertainty and fear, with a possible devastating loss, our psyche triggers off our defence mechanism. If I don’t care, I cannot get hurt. So let’s just pretend that I don’t. This is a normal human reaction, which you see everywhere in life. Pretend indifference to mitigate potential failure and, as a result of that pretence, fail. I recommend action instead. Fight for your desired outcome, bring about the success you so much desire

215. The legacy of the Enlightment and what is left of it

Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu were household names not that long ago. Today, few know the names, never mind their doctrines. At a time when selfish kings and ruthless oligarchies ruled, the abovementioned opened our eyes to the basic concepts that brought about the Enlightment period and, with it, democracy. Separation of powers, the right to vote and, above all, the social contract, Rousseau’s idea that the power of a state and its leaders exists only in as much as it is willingly granted by its citizens, in the expectation that it will be wielded in the interest of all those granting it. Alas, this does no longer, in many cases, hold true. Many of today’s regimes have grabbed power and no longer receive it from citizens (Putin or Xi, for example). In other societies, governments represent some, but not all (Brexit Britain, Trump’s USA, Torra’s Catalonia). The social contract that legitimated our democratic systems survives no longer, relinquished in febrile populism  L

214. The only effective tax increase in Europe

The Spanish coalition government has just announced its first budget with a chance of coming into effect, given the precarious balances in the Spanish Congress. Progressive newspapers hailed it as the end of austerity and neoliberalism. Conservative ones received it with the moniker ‘the only effective tax increase in Europe’. I guess, given its moderation, it is difficult to criticize it on grounds of radicalism or fiscal irresponsibility. But there is no need. Single it out as going against perceived wisdom elsewhere, that should be enough to discredit it. Change, positive or negative, is only possible by being, at some point, the only something doing something. Without this pioneering, adventurous self-exposure, change is not possible. I, for one, am happy to see change. We know the status quo is not working for many. We know policies which are possibly sensible and logical elsewhere in the EU may not work in Spain. Thus, differing, in this case, is not good or bad, it just is  Leng

213. An auto coup d'etat? A self coup d'etat?

You have to give it to Donald Trump on grounds of originality. His relentless attack on the institutions he presides over, with the apparent objective of dismantling them, based on their alleged corruption, is something democracy seems to not have planned for. Democracies have clear, outlined defence plans for attacks by foreign powers, attacks by their own military or security forces and even attacks by their citizens, known respectively as invasion, coup d’etat and revolution. But they may not have built in protections for attack by their own president and ruling party. This is an eventuality that the Founding Fathers, Jefferson, Washington, Adams or Franklin, could not have conceived of, after such hard fought democratic independence. If the president himself leads a revolution against his own regime, who will command the military to quash it? What is the Secret Service, entrusted with protecting president and presidency, to do when the former attacks the latter? A conundrum indeed 

212. New rules for the wealthy, or money rules

Last week in UK we learnt of a Conservative government plan to exempt for hedge fund managers, company managers and City dealmakers flying into UK of quarantine requirements. The stated rationale, if you care to listen, is that they are not a risk, as they fly in by private jet, use private cars and do 4-5 meetings in a day and fly out. This is disingenuous. For a start, it shares with Trump the unusual notion that people cannot get infected in a car. Secondly, the exempt will be meeting with people in UK, otherwise, what is the point in coming? And further, 4-5 meetings in a day can be done online. In fact, merger and acquisition activity in UK has been strong in the last 6 months, with many deals completed fully online. The exemption seems based in the very Tory notion that the wealthy are not infectious, that they know better and can avoid contagion, unlike the poor, who are also stupid, as their poverty clearly indicates. The virus is not only part time, but also reversely elitist 

211. The guilty pleasure of lesser literature

It is my observation that lesser literature - entertaining fiction, as compared to erudite essay and classic novel - is easier to read and rewards with quicker pleasure. By this I don’t mean bad literature, but rather, good run of the mill fiction, with less lofty aspirations. I am currently reading Glen Duncan’s entertaining, and well written ‘The last werewolf’, during a break halfway through Rousseau’s ‘The Social Contract’, which followed a re-read of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ and a first read of Popper’s ‘The Poverty of Historicism’. The latter three elicit extensive thinking. Concepts barely understood at first reading are slowly developed in one’s mind, turned over and regurgitated until one is confident one has sufficiently understood and, further, developed one’s own thinking. The former requires nothing other than page turning, entertained by the story and enthused by the occasional, genius turn of phrase. Balance between both is important as, in fact, it is with everything in life