Showing posts from December, 2020

269. The art of the lie

I posted previously on Trump’s staggering amount of lies during his presidency. The same could be said about Boris Johnson’s whole career, from his Brussels correspondent times, the halcyon days of straight bananas, short coffins and such outlandish flights of fancy, eagerly printed by his employers with complete disregard for truth. These are careers built on lies, subterfuge and cons, without political penalty. Electorates, at least a sufficient percentage of them, choose to believe them. This is because these characters have mastered the art of lying, consisting, from my observation, of two main elements. First, complete sincerity. The consummate liar convinces himself of the truth of his lie, in true Raspe’s Baron Munchausen fashion. Armed with that conviction, they lead others on (the preposition is critical here, lead on, not lead). Secondly, the lies must be outrageous and outrageously uttered, so that audiences believe nobody would make up such a thing, which must make it true

268. Is Twitteretter not aggressive enough?

I am at times preoccupied with how to increase the Twitteretter readership and, at those times, I am relieved that I am not trying to do the same on Twitter. It seems to me that, to find resonance in social media, to achieve that holy grail of virality, the most effective tactic is to be aggressive or offensive against an idea or person respected and despised by equal portions of the population. This tactic has the best chance to generate engagement (here is the English language showing its ability to evolve with technological evolution for the third time in just a few lines) and to attract platform (fourth) users, some of whom may stick (fifth).   I should probably try it, at least at some point, to see how it transfers to longer content and, should I decide to do so, there are plenty of people and ideas which would fit the above target specification and who I would have no logical trouble or moral qualms in attacking.   If you have a favourite, leave me a comment and I will give it a

267. Truth is in the eye of the beholder

Donald Trump has uttered over twenty thousand lies during his presidency, without losing his support. This is difficult to fathom, until you understand that his supporters believe those lies to be true. And therein lies the problem. Truth, such an apparently easy idea to understand, one of the first morality concepts we teach children, is, in fact, extremely complex. We often distinguish objective and subjective truth, but we do not know for sure whether the former exists. Even physical laws or fundamental mathematical relationships only exist, only appear, when they are observed, so they may not objectively exist. Trump supporters choose to believe Trump’s utterances, Trump’s ‘truths’, to our shock and horror. But, alas, even those of us who believe (note the word) that the scientific method, proof by experiment and verifiable facts are the only sources and tools of truth are, ultimately, choosing that belief. This is the realisation at the heart of nihilism, Trump’s most potent weapo

266. Social media, another great misnomer of the XXI century

The XXI century has witnessed the birth and spread of a series of computer programs and environments for unmediated, simple communication which have self-abrogated the common moniker ‘social media’. Few appellatives are as inept to describe their subject. The name implies, for a start, that other media, whether it is traditional printed media, broadcasting, literature, etc., are somehow not social. Further, it ignores the fact that these technologies are used as much for asocial or antisocial behaviour as they are for social behaviour. Social media, or social networks, may have been, as a name, an aspiration. But it is one that not only has not been fulfilled, but that is unlikely by its design, by its innate briefness and the ease with which messaging can be uncritically repeated and amplified. I do understand that, from a marketing view point, the much more apt ‘dumb media’ or ‘lazy media’ would not have quite the same effect, but they would at least show honesty and self-awareness L

265. Remain… agreement… not so good agreement… no deal Brexit… unprepared Brexit

In two weeks the UK will abandon the common European project. To some, hankering for an imperial grandeur which will never return, to others, to enjoy the freedom to individualistically grab opportunities offered by a changing environment and to build a new greatness. We don’t yet know the final terms, but what we do know is that the status has evolved from Remain (pre-referendum) to Leave with agreement, to not so good agreement, to no deal Brexit to a further stage, which many are not even aware of, fully unprepared Brexit. If anyone had told us in May 2016 that the UK would be leaving the EU and UK companies would, 2 weeks before, not know on which terms, that the bureaucratic system needed to support transition would not exist, we would have thought this prediction fanciful or worse, interestedly defamatory. That is, however, exactly where we are. At the very worst possible end of the range of possibilities on offer at the start. By design or ineptitude? It does not really matter 

264. Passion and curiosity, XXI century tools

Curiosity and passion are historically interesting. At many times in history, probably most, they could bring about strepitous downfall. But today, in most walks of life, they are the key to not only success, but also happiness. At a time when information, data and calculation abilities are no longer advantages, and when things change so quickly that our capacity to adapt is continuously challenged, the most important assets education can give young people are passion and curiosity. The passion and curiosity which will drive them through an uncertain, rapidly evolving environment in which jobs for life and single field careers are but a distant memory and in which those able to take advantage of the inherent system’s flexibility will flourish, whilst others will flounder. Gone is the time to teach information and exercise memory, replaced with a time for rapid experimentation and ultimate adaptation. This can be terrifying or incredibly exciting, depending on the tools in your toolbox

263. History means different things to different people

I spend a lot of time thinking about identity and shared culture, about the things that join us and the things that separate us. I like to say that I regard myself as a global citizen and every day I try to prove this statement, by consciously exercising tolerance and working on empathy. I see myself, however, also as European. And it is interesting to think about what this means. My biased observation is that Europe is a continent that tells its history through its philosophers and artists (Socrates, Fidias, Plato, Aristotle, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, to name a few of my cultural influences), whilst other cultures tell theirs through their generals, scientists, politicians or industrialists (Drake, Newton, Nelson, Watts, Churchill in the case of the UK, or Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Rockefeller, Eisenhower, Jobs or Gates in the case of the US). We share a heritage, but less so a perspective. For other, more distant cultures, I don’t even know, and I should  Le

262. Are empty endeavours more financially successful than meaningful ones?

The question is prompted by watching, in disbelief, the quick success of business ideas which, at least to my mind, contribute little to our society or way of life. It’s hard to find deep meaning in rising stars like Tik Tok or Facebook, to name a couple. Their success appears fast and huge. Of course, success is not only measured in economic terms, impact and significance carry the day long term, but I may be in a minority these days in professing this iconoclastic view. Even in financial terms, there are larger successes by more meaningful businesses, but they are less public. Meaningless enterprise relies on publicising its success to feed its progress, the proverbial emperor’s new clothes. Plus, our system is not perfect. Meaningless or even harmful businesses will always succeed, but not in numbers. Cocaine trade has succeeded for decades by feeding the need of some for mindless escapism, in the same way as Tik Tok succeeds today by feeding the need of some for mindless narcissism

261. Shed your fears, become free

I have been having a few conversations of late with people who are considering changing careers. They are well paid, successful, but profoundly dissatisfied in their professional life. This is not unusual, we often choose careers combining intrinsic factors, such as what do I enjoy and what satisfies me, with extrinsic ones, where are the best employment opportunities and the biggest salaries. Extrinsic motivators tend to wear out over time and, if we initially prioritise them over intrinsic ones, which are more durable, we can find ourselves in this position. Unfortunately, career changing carries a big penalty in loss of income and status when you start again in a new field, and this penalty makes changing intractable for many. But it should not be. You have only one life and you should use it free of the chains the system restrictions impose on you. Shed your fear by imagining how you can be happy on a lower income and a more meaningful job, and make the change, while you still can 

260. The Great Escape

An announcement of new lockdown restrictions yesterday by the UK government in light of a novel coronavirus strain which is out of control in the London and South East area was immediately followed, predictably but still disappointingly, by news of full trains and jammed roads, as many in the capital tossed themselves to the four winds, in direct contravention of the advice, abandoning the about to be locked down area for others less restricted. With them, they will take the virus. Given the current prevalence in London, an average of at least two people in each one of those carriages would have been infected, and now many more will take the new strain to their extended families and friends all over the UK. Society and democracy are based on a balance between citizen freedom and civic responsibility. When we demand the first but relinquish the second, we abandon democracy and functioning society for dysfunctional individualism with ultimately dire consequences we are about to witness 

259. Subversive essay, where art thou?

This week saw the annual prize giving of a literary competition in memoriam of my late father, a subversive essay tournament for those in college age. It is easy to underestimate the importance of such an event in today’s World, in which we surround young people with domestication tools, sapping their nonconformity with a myriad of time killing, distracting assaults through their mobile devices. Our market-based society encourages young people, unwittingly but unapologetically, to observe instead of act, to passively like instead of uncompromisingly protest. In this context, subversive essay seems more important than ever. Gone are the days when being young was synonym of being, indeed, subversive, when conformity to society’s norms came only with the experience, or defeat, of age. I confess I had not paid enough attention to the importance of this initiative but, if we can get our young to write subversive essay, and applaud them for it, we still have a chance to build a better World

258. The time markets

When you start the journey of life your pockets are full of a currency, time, which you can trade for anything else. As you skip along the life Monopoly board, your time reserves slowly deplete, as you trade them for experience, activities, relationships, knowledge and even wealth. The analogy is not perfect. When you spend time, you cannot earn more, at least not yet, even though as a species we are working in that direction, or trade back, buying time with for example experience. You cannot accumulate it, or unequally redistribute it, taking it from others. At the end of the journey, your pockets are full of the things you traded for, and empty of time. When you think about it this way, time is a unique asset, it cannot be grown, only spent. It is its absolute limitation, its inflexible scarcity, that make it the most valuable thing we have. From this perspective, it is bemusing to watch many waste it with a profligacy they would never show with that much more flexible asset, money 

257. Can Twitteretter become highly contagious?

The term R zero number has become familiar, due to the coronavirus pandemic, to many more people than it used to be. I think the concept is only just faintly grasped by most, but that is a start for sure. The problem with coronavirus is that, if unchecked, it has a very high R zero number (anything over 1 is high) and as a result it will spread like wildfire through a population. As a writer, of course, I want my work to be read by the highest number of people possible. This means Twitteretter needs to have a high R zero number. If you support my aim and believe Twitteretter to be useful or interesting, the way we can achieve a high R zero can be modelled on the virus spread. You need to read the articles and convince more than one person to not only do the same but also convince a subsequent person to do those two things, and so on. This would bring wildfire to the Twitteretter readership. It sounds easy when you look at it that way, and I really think we should give it a go Length: 9

256. The relationship between migration controls and economic meltdowns

Our economic system relies on demand to sustain growth. For most goods and services, current productivity means supply is no longer a bottleneck, we can produce as much as we can consume. When things are good, we spend more. This creates jobs and pushes wages up, in turn increasing consumption, and so on. Our economy grows and workers become richer. However, a point comes when there are more goods and services in the economy than we can consume. Demand dries up and excess goods and services accumulate. This leads to job destruction, which further reduces demand, sending our economy into a recessional spiral. But demand does not need to dry up. Open borders, which welcome immigrants, would fuel it. Our politicians and citizens are stuck in a lower productivity mindset, we think we need to select immigrants on the basis of what they can produce but, alas, what we need is spenders. People who arrive with nothing, and therefore must buy everything, keep demand going and the economy growing

255. Last Twitteretter, last chance to say something

Twitteretter keeps progressing, according to my initial aims. I still have over 700 entries to write over two more years. This gives me the luxury to be somewhat unselective as to what I cover, as I have plenty of chance to cover everything I may be, or become, interested in. I am currently in what an economist would call a situation of abundance. However, this will change, as I suddenly realised today, when weighing four article ideas knowing full well I do not have to choose between them. What choice will I make when 1,000 entries are behind me and I can only write one more? When I reach maximum scarcity? I’ve always thought success and happiness are predicated on having choices, on engineering situations in which, when confronted with a difficult choice, you have the resources to not choose, to take both desired avenues, because you have the time, the money or the energy needed to do so. One thing I know for sure, that difficult moment will not make me start Twitteretter Edition Two

254. Ardern's apology

Most may have missed it, with everything else going on in the news, but a few days ago Jacinda Ardern apologised publicly for failings of the New Zealand security forces which contributed to the Christchurch terror attack. The apology issued was unmitigated and accompanied by an explanation of corrective actions taken to do better going forward. This should be common fare in politics. After all, mistakes will happen and, when made by those in power, will have serious consequences. But, alas, apologies are rare nowadays. It is unthinkable that the present leaders of the US, the UK or even Spain would have the political courage to apologise in similar circumstances. They rather double down on a mistake, with the complicit acquiescence of their voting base. Misguidedly, they think apologies show weakness, when only the strong have the courage to issue them and face their consequences, whatever they may be. I used to envy New Zealand their rugby, now I envy also their leadership Length: 98

253. Galicia, the beauty without the marketing

Galicia is the North West region of Spain, with over 2,000 kms of coast, from the rugged Northern cliffs at San Andres to the Southern gentle bays of Rias Baixas. Beautiful fishing towns and no end of golden beaches, in all shapes and sizes and with all temperaments of sea. A twin of the Californian Coast, I can draw a parallel for anywhere on it you care to mention. For Big Sur, Ortigueira; La Jolla, Sanxenxo; San Francisco, A Coruna; Carlsbad beach, Carnota; Pacific Grove, San Vicente; Laguna Beach, Baiona; Huntingdon Beach, Pantin; for Mavericks, Nazaré (granted, just down the road, in North Portugal); Rocky Point, Punta Cabicastro; Mission Bay, A Toxa; Alcatraz, San Simón. But Galicia doesn’t market as well as its alter ego. Where California builds Jake’s or Rocky Point Restaurant, big investment and exorbitant prices, we invest little to do excellent, cheap food. Easier, less demanding, more relaxed and rewarding. Missing Hollywood’s allure and Las Mamás y Los Papás, Galicia dream

252. The mystery of salt

Today I cooked a stew, but, distracted as I was, thinking of my next Twitteretter, I forgot to add salt. It is amazing the difference it makes. How can such a simple thing have such impact on flavour. Life has many mysteries, but one that really fascinates me is who, when, why and especially how did someone come up with the idea of adding salt to food? This seems like an extremely unlikely coincidence, the strangest serendipity. There is no clue, until you add the salt, that it will have such an enhancing effect, so how does it happen in the first place? I guess the key to the mystery is in the Law of Large Numbers. So many meals have been consumed over humanity’s history that possibly every single potential condiment has been added at some point. Some enhanced the flavour, some killed the diner. Trial and error, over such a large experiment, resulted in salt becoming a staple condiment, the champion of taste against insipidness. I wonder what amazing condiment we have not tried yet? 

251. The privacy debate

A debate is raging about personal data, their value and their protection. Businesses earn staggering profits by selling or exploiting personal data which does not belong to them and which they have not been given explicit informed consent by the rightful owners to use in such way. The result is often exploitative marketing and political misdirection. This is a serious issue most citizens do not take seriously. The right use of data can have huge social value. For example, in the understanding of disease and the development of treatments or diagnostics which fundamentally change the outcomes for patients. But consent must be considered, reflective and explicit, given carefully and taken solemnly. This is one of the great modern challenges. If we can solve it successfully, if we can educate citizens to grant and withhold this consent on the basis of the real value they and society will derive from their data, we will build a better society. If we don’t, our dystopic journey will continue

250. Solidarity, not as rare as you think

The Connollys, a Northern Irish couple who won £115 million on the National Lottery, have been revealed to have donated more than half their winnings to charities and people in need, whilst spending little on themselves. This may be surprising to many, but it is not. A win such as this equips you with the financial security most of us miss nowadays and allows you to live your normal life without pressure, after maybe indulging a couple of expensive whims. Having done that, one soon realises that keeping the balance in the bank, voyeuristically staring at it, or even investing it to try to grow it, is an empty endeavour, and that money is best used where it makes the most difference and, in doing so, where it gives the most satisfaction to those giving it. The Connolly’s behaviour is normal, logical and intelligent. What is not normal is the behaviour and drive of incessantly accumulating millionaires and billionaires, who take a much needed resource from the system for no known purpose

249. The danger of metaphors

Metaphors have their dangers. They require the same level of cognitive intelligence in those who hear them than in their proponents and, without it, they can lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. We’ve seen a good example this week. Humanity was challenged this year by a new virus which spread like wildfire, changed our way of life and reminded us of our ultimately frailty. Humanity, always resourceful, responded with a herculean effort to develop vaccines, diagnostics and treatments which would restore our freedom, conducted with such unprecedented speed, internationally, that the analogy of a race was used. Humanity against the virus. This is how most understood it. Except the UK government, it seems. Whilst the rest of the World cooperated to beat the virus, Hancock, Williamson et al were engaged in a different race. UK versus Europe, the eternal, imaginary enemy. Luckily for us, most governments and normal humans understood we were racing the virus, not our neighbours  Le

248. Accelerating into a wall with eyes fixed on the rear view mirror

There is a famous sentence in the Spanish language: ‘Cualquier tiempo pasado fue mejor’. It translates to ‘Any time past was better’. It is the end of a poem by Jorge Manrique, a XV century stalwart of Spanish literature. It makes me think of how we navigate life, always looking backwards, how we seek guidance from the past when making decisions about the future. I often advise my son on the basis of my experience of when I was his age, a different World, a different time. It is hard not to teach our children to live in a World that no longer exists, but it is critical that we do not do so. We must look forward, use foresight and prediction rather than memory. Values and attitudes are atemporal, applicable to their future in the same way as in our past, but specific actions and practical decisions only make sense in their temporal context. Our experience should be shared, but taking great care that we extricate what no longer applies, the obsolete, to preserve the value of what remains

247. The knowledge economy, or knowledge capitalism

We live in a knowledge economy. This means that knowledge, know how, technology, are the way for individuals and organisations to establish competitive advantage. Some call it knowledge capitalism. The moniker is apt, more so than most using it realise, because there is another aspect, which we often ignore, but also determines outcomes. Talking last night to the parents of a couple of teenagers who have just joined the private school system from state school, a message was clear. Private school confers you a huge advantage, not in the quality of content taught, where public colleges may be adequately competing, not even on the facilities offered to students, superior in private institutions, but not so critical to outcomes, but mainly in the culture of achievement and aspiration that private institutions surround students with and in the exceptional networks of future useful contacts they help them develop. Parents pay deer for these advantages, but the return on investment is high  L

246. Post lockdown disorders

I went out in town yesterday, food shopping, one of the few activities available in UK during the just finished second lockdown. The streets were full, to the brim. People everywhere, long queues to enter the shops and cafés. This is not surprising, considering that yesterday was the first Saturday after the end of the lockdown and therefore the first full day of unrestricted consumer freedom. I was surprised, however, by my reaction to it. Seeing these agglomerations made me uneasy. My love of buzzing streets and activity flurries seems to have been replaced by a mild case of enochlophobia, not consciously elicited by my rational mind, but primally subconscious. This is just temporary, I expect. But it highlights how quickly we, humans, adapt. How rapidly our expectation and understanding of what is normal changes. This, of course, works both ways. I expect that, after a few weeks of resumed activity, normality will be restored to my perception in line to its restoration to society  L

245. Lockdown over

The second lockdown is over. Vaccines are arriving, to rescue peace of mind and way of life. The future, for the first time in months, looks bright, as illustrated by the furious, exuberant, wide eyed growth in stock values. Where the first lockdown provided opportunity for reflection, reassessment and self-discovery, the second gave us only boredom, frustration and a clear will to regain normality, whatever that may mean. Some things have changed forever and some processes, already underway, have accelerated. Our way of life, post pandemic, will not be quite the same as before, but the nature and magnitude of the changes is yet to be seen. Like all catharses, this one brought pain and opportunity. It showed us the power of international cooperation, data sharing, global consortia, of (most) citizen responsibility and our quasi unlimited capacity to adapt. These may all be abandoned, now the challenge may be receding, to return to old ways. But maybe, just maybe, we’ve learnt something

244. Permanent record or, rather, permanent damage

I’m reading Edward Snowden’s ‘Permanent Record’, his autobiographical account of the experiences that led him to exposing the Intelligence Community’s security abuses in the US in the aftermath of 9/11, only partially mitigated lately by a few court rulings and policy changes that may likely be only partially stemming the tide. I’m not even halfway through, but in his account, Snowden states how that date is ground zero in the evolution of the US from a liberal democracy to a security state. I don’t know the US well enough to have a founded opinion on this statement, and I certainly did not know it well enough before 2001. However, if he is right, then it could be argued that the War on Terror was a US defeat in a war in which its declared foe, Al Qaeda, succeeded at destroying what they loath most, liberal democracy. But it does not have to be that way. Security and democracy are not necessary antagonists. With the initial shock overcome, they can be reconciled, and victory reclaimed 

243. Taking candy off a baby

In fact, off all babies. Our generation may be guilty of the biggest theft in human history, which we seem to be perpetrating with little compunction. We have built wealth on a recipe of low taxation, dressed with unaffordable pensions and garnished with energy gluttony. We cap it all off with unsustainable natural resource exploitation and suicidal environment destruction. We are well off, live comfortably, but are creating a World in which our children will be poorer than we are. A World in which they will have to pay the taxes we did not, to fund services not only them, but also us will need. A World in which they will have to work longer to cover our pensions. And where only their ingenuity and self-restraint may repair, or mitigate, the abuses we are mindlessly perpetrating on the nature that sustains us. They will inherit the Earth from us, a bankrupt estate besieged by impatient creditors and devoid of value. Do we have the will to change our will, while it is not too late?  Len

242. The real outcome of the Trump campaign's efforts to delegitimise the US presidential election

Normality is slowly restored in the US political system, after the incumbent president’s failed attempt to overthrow the election. The mainstream body political breathes a sigh of relief and declares that institutions held surprisingly well and the effort got nowhere. Alas, this may be complacent. The orchestrated attack on truth, fact and reality will have long lasting consequences and could be, if not remediated, a stepping stone, increasing the chances of success of the next attempt. On thinking about this, it is worth quoting, one more time, Hannah Arendt: ‘The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for who the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist’. Through this prism, today’s outcome is not a victory, but rather a precarious truce, an adjournment, calling for vigilance and action, not celebration 

241. The rule of law debate within the EU

In the last few days I have assisted, with dismay, to the rule of law debate in the context of the approval of EU budgets for the coming six years. Hungary and Poland are digging their heels, refusing to approve the budget unless funds release is decoupled from rule of law performance. Their argument is that these are separate issues and should be handled as such. The disagreement really hinges on each party’s understanding of the EU. In fact, the different understandings of what it is, in different member states, pose one of its greatest challenges. Some see the EU as a common market, an economic construct, but others see it as a political union. The answer really is in its founding treaties, which have democracy and the rule of law at their centre, and economic cooperation attached to them. This is the Union Poland and Hungary joined. They may have done it for economic reasons, but they entered a, first and foremost, rule of law, democratic club. Rule of law is not negotiable  Length