Showing posts from January, 2021

300. Wall Street, the XXI century connection between Howard Pile and George Orwell

Pile wrote, in the late XIX Century, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, highly recommended bedside reading for any young teenager. Orwell wrote the outstanding Animal Farm, which I have quoted previously, highly recommended bedside reading for older teenagers. In it, Napoleon enunciates the darkly meaningful All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others . This week, in Wall Street, Robin Hood Trading suspended GameStop shares to control volatility, as private investors teamed up to drive up the price, in a move which has cost shorting hedge funds a fortune, and, for once, transferred wealth from funds to small investors. Robin Hood’s action seems to protect the rich from the poor, hardly the modus operandi of the Middle Ages folklore hero the trading platform takes its name from. This makes for a great, Orwellian conspiracy theory, but I fear the true explanation is more prosaic, related to Robin Hood’s lack of financial resources to cover exposures, as it must do in la

299. The not smart art of looking far back

Interesting, and concerning, to realise, when reading on geopolitics and business, two fields with a huge bearing on our quality of life and prospects, that the main references practitioners of these disciplines seem to have are, respectively, Thucydides, the V Century BC Greek general, and Sun Tzu, the VI Century BC Chinese general. The rivalry between the current superpower, the US, and the new upstart, China, is understood by geopolitical planners, in both countries, in the light of Thucydides’ work. According to it, as China’s economic might and political influence grows, the ultimate, inevitable consequence will be a hegemony war. Of course, as a planner, if you prepare for this, you’ll most likely bring it about, a perverse self-fulfilling prophecy. The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, is compulsory bedside reading for many businessmen. No wonder humanity’s future appears fraught with insurmountable problems, if our go to references ignore all we might have learnt in the last 2,500 years

298. XXI century utilitarianism

I have started producing a video channel, on YouTube, with Twitteretter posts, read by myself in English and subtitled in Spanish. This is a bit of an experiment. I am interested in whether this initiative will drive any views and following. My expectation is not many. I know that I would get many more should I start a channel on start up and running business, an area where I have significant expertise and where I have built a reputation over the years, but which I regard as much less interesting than Twitteretter. We seem to be more and more focused on consuming information for its practical usefulness, rather than its intrinsic interest. And in our utilitarian and consumeristic universe, usefulness is defined exclusively in economic terms. Alas, Twitteretter does not aspire to teach you how to make a living, but to get you to think about how to live a life. And for this, I fear, the audience is much smaller. Still, let’s not pre-empt the experiment, only running it will tell Length:

297. Is there a speculator in every one of us?

There are two types of money. Money made by working, performing tasks demanded by your occupation, and money made by other means, such as investing or gambling (these two activities can be very different or almost identical depending on each individual’s approach to the former). We seem to derive more pleasure from money made the second way. I have observed that, presented with a speculation opportunity which promises the possibility of large, easy financial returns, most of us, even those typically uninterested in wealth, excitedly jump at it. This is interesting, as one would think that money earnt by effort and toil and by performing duties well should provide more satisfaction. But it does not. I think the reason is that anyone, or almost anyone, can earn money by working, but earning money by investing or gambling makes us feel clever, different to others, special. It feels like a prize to our ingenuity, boldness and courage, earnt by our talent, rather than a salary for our toil

296. Nostalgia, as useful in cinema or literature as pernicious in politics

Noun, a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a time in the past. Interesting how valuable nostalgia is to disciplines such as literature or cinema. How effectively the bringing back to life of the past can elicit strong sentiment in their audiences, giving them license to transport themselves to a time past, remembering the good and forgetting the bad, as one can choose to do in fiction. Interesting also how it can be catastrophic in politics, how when the citizenship takes license to try to bring about a time past, which they remember as being better than the present, they invariably succeed at rescuing what was bad, and little of what was good. Politics is about building the World of tomorrow, accepting that the past is gone but learning from it. It’s about recovering, maybe, something that worked well, but realistically adapting it to future circumstance, accepting that circumstance, environment, cannot be wound back. Politics calls for aspiration and ambition, not nostalgia

295. Is slow justice justice?

This post stems from a combination of experiences I have had of late with the courts and my observation of how people like Donald Trump go about their business, or life (not sure they see a difference between these two concepts). These days, justice is not only blind (as it should, in the sense that it does not see status, class, education, faith or any other grounds on which to treat those it judges unequally) but also very slow. To the point that, quite often, when it rules, it may be too late for justice. Mr. Trump relies on this, throwing money at delaying court rulings, appealing continuously, pretending to seek all avenues for justice to be done, in reality looking for justice to not be done, not because of an unjust ruling but the lack of one. Many deserving plaintiffs find that, by the time the ruling comes, it is too late to matter. This is fundamentally unjust. As a society, we must ensure we resource and protect justice enough so that it is not only blind, but also timely Le

294. Who rules the World?

I’m reading Noam Chomsky’s ‘Who rules the World’. Chomsky is one of the great political thinkers of our age. His work is well researched, quoting over 600 references, and full of public but not commonly known facts. It is very critical of US and Israeli policies, mostly but not only in Palestine in the latter case, globally in the former. Chomsky presents them as engaged in a global fight against democracy, convincingly and with plenty of the evidence lacking from the conspiracy theories others are pushing. It strikes me that the one feature they both have in common, possibly the reason they disregard humanity’s interest to pursue political power and influence, is they both consider themselves special. Israel for religious reasons, their Doctrine assuring they are God’s Chosen People. The US for more mundane reasons, their XX century economic and political success. Isn’t the World far too small today to regard humans one side of an arbitrary line as better than those the other side? Le

293. Vaccine hogging, the latest Western sport

While coronavirus continues to rage, wreaking havoc and destruction all over our planet, we continue to develop and manufacture our vaccines, the silver bullets that may slay the monster of quasi lycanthropic horrors. The problem is global, and so called First World countries are well aware of this. Many are contributing money to initiatives to fund the purchase of vaccines by the poorest countries in the World. On the face of it, solidarity, an admirable, philanthropic gesture. But, alas, what one hand gives, the other takes away. These same countries are buying and storing vaccine stocks which exceed what is needed to vaccinate their whole populations, so there are no vaccione stocks left for the countries they have funded. A live experiment, trying solidarity and selfishness simultaneously. When doing so, the latter will win the day. Virtue is often more fragile than sin, less prepared for the head on clash. If you act morally and immorally at the same time, you are acting immorally

292. The impeachment record set by Joe Biden

One day after Joe Biden’s inauguration, republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has issued articles of impeachment against him, based on debunked conspiracy theories of corrupt practices related to Hunter Biden’s business dealings and election fraud. The process is doomed to failure, given democrat control of House and Senate, but it is a timely reminder of the precarious position US democracy finds itself in after years of organised, meticulous attack. Greene is an affiliate of QAnon, a cult which believes a deranged narrative of politicians in power and captains of industry being child rapists, murderers and cannibals, akin to the narrative about Jews which took a similar cult to power in 1930s Germany, with well known global consequences. The problem is, she has been elected to congress on that ticket. Many may have thought, after Trump’s defeat, that US democracy had been saved, but we are not out of the woods yet, the election was a stay of execution, much work lies ahead

291. What do presidential pardons tell us about Donald Trump?

Donald Trump has issued his outgoing presidential pardons. Categorising the pardons can be quite informative about the mind of this president and his acolytes. A few rappers for illegal possession of firearms, I guess pandering for sympathy from their many followers. Many other black people incarcerated for the same crime remain unpardoned. Several fraudsters and embezzlers. Understandable, as this kind of behaviour is standard fayre for Trump himself. One pardon to a proven industrial secrets thief. In Trump’s mind, business is war, and in love and war, everything is allowed. Therefore, this is fair enough, if Google allowed this secret to be stolen from them, that is their problem and they should be afforded no legal protection. And finally, one for acting as an agent for a foreign government which, on the basis of significant evidence, Mr. Trump has done himself. You certainly cannot fault the guy for consistency, he pardons as he acts, which is his equivalent to do as you preach Le

290. Vaccinate or not vaccinate, that is the question

After an unprecedented technological race, humanity has researched, developed and approved several vaccines against the virus which shook our society at the start of last year. The approval comes with record speed and may provide a welcome solution to the otherwise possibly unsurmountable social problems the pandemic is creating.   We now can continue to develop, to grow, to increase wealth (the distribution of which is not for this post) without unpalatable sacrifices of life. Alas, vaccination success will rely on its adoption, on a sufficient percentage of the population accepting it. Given the speedy development and approval, many are justifiably wary of its potential risks. Humanity will, once again, split down the middle, those who believe in institutions and in the fundamental virtue underpinning society and those who believe in conspiracy, exploitation and nihilist individualism as their only antagonist. It is not a matter of safety, but of outlook. My arm is ready, is yours? L

289. Esperpento

This is a Spanish word, coined by one of Spain’s most famous writers, Don Ramón María del Valle Inclán, at the start of the XX century (its first appearance, I believe, was in the great ‘Bohemian lights’). It is not easy to translate to English, something like distorted caricature of reality would be as close to the money as I can get. Valle Inclán used a metaphor, concave and convex mirrors, to describe what he perceived as the deformity of Spanish society at the time. It was brutal and beautiful. I can only imagine what he might have come up with, what metaphor he may have elicited, had he witnessed the events we have in the last few years. The systematic, short sighted destruction of the environment by many governments. The systematic, short sighted destruction of US democracy by its ruling party, the GOP, as they call themselves. The destruction of UK society and social rights by the Conservative government, with the complicity of UK workers. I somehow feel mirrors would not cut it

288. Modern day slavery

My recent post 284 referred to the start of the slip in standards in the UK post Brexit. The Independent informs us now of plans by the UK government to scrap the 48 hour maximum working week limit. This fits with Conservative neoliberal ideology, let the market fix working hours, let workers work as much as they like, which works (sic) just dandy for business in what will be a employers’ market. Many will have to work more than 48 hours and, as a result, lower the value of labour and relinquish rights gained in the social battles of the XIX and XX Century. Since Brexit was fuelled by fond memories of Britain’s global position in the Victorian era, a return to Victorian conditions is perversely fitting. Thus, the completely predictable progression towards a UK whose competitiveness is based on the erosion of food and environmental standards and of workers rights will continue as expected. It would all make perfect sense, if workers had not voted for it. Turkeys and Christmas come to mi

287. What happened to normality?

I’m concerned by the disappearance of normality. Not the actual quality. That is, indeed, disappearing. If you need convincing, take a look at the range of characters in costumes that assaulted the Capitol the other day, or review, say, the video of a rampant, clumsy Boris Johnson aggressively running through five year olds in what was meant to be a mock rugby game. But today’s post is concerned with the disappearance of normality, the word. A perfectly good word, in perfectly common, dare I say, normal, use. And then, a few months ago, it disappeared from American reporting, suddenly and unexpectedly replaced, everywhere, by the much less common ‘normalcy’. Those of us who have been speaking English with normality for years, suddenly had to guess what we might be returning to when returning to normalcy as promised after the coronavirus pandemic or Trump’s presidency, and checking dictionaries to confirm the word is not the figment of a febrile, COVID afflicted, journalist’s imaginatio

286. Should Donald Trump be pardoned?

Following events at Capitol Hill on confirmation day, as well as the many misdemeanours in which the US President has engaged in beforehand, both during and before his presidency, Joe Biden is being asked to consider a presidential pardon in the fashion of that issued by Gerald Ford to Richard Nixon. The rationale is to heal the nation and allow it to move on, united. This would be a grave error. Trying Mr. Trump, both in impeachment proceedings and likely a number of times in the courts, is not about retribution, but about justice and morality. A pardon would give him and those of his nature carte blanche , send the message that democracy, rule of law and society’s integrity are fair game and can be attacked with impunity. Where Trump may have failed, others will succeed. I have written about appeasement before, and its historical failures. Trump has become what he is because he has, through life, got away with it (whatever ‘it’ was). Getting away with it again will not change him  Le

285. Bad president, bad debt

I woke up this morning to news that Donald Trump is refusing to pay Rudy Giuliani for his legal services during the last months of his presidency, when he has run up a bill of staggering proportions, combination of the former’s insistence in persevering with lost legal battles and the latter’s extortionate fees. This is not surprising, but rather the chronicle of a death foretold, to borrow a Garcia Marquez title. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, it is lunacy to expect results to change when all else remains the same. Mr. Trump does not pay, unless he really has to, for services or even taxes. He has built his alleged fortune and destroyed his reputation by following this simple method: Take goods and services, only pay after long protracted legal processes that not all suppliers can either afford or have the energy for. It works for many, like him, born into money and privilege. I will watch with interest, amusement and a cold beer that ultimate of pathetic battles, Trump vs Giuliani  L

284. And so it begins

In amongst the media ruckus around Capitol riots, Trump’s possible impeachment and a rampant coronavirus pandemic, some important news can easily be missed. The UK’s Environment Department has issued emergency use authorisation for neonicotinoid thiamethoxam, a pesticide banned in the EU because of its dangers to biodiversity and pollinators. This is really what is at the heart of Brexit, the desire by neoliberal ideologues to march along the deregulation drive initiated by their ideological matriarch, Mrs. Thatcher. Standards will not slip quickly or catastrophically, but slowly, one small, by itself not significant, deregulation at a time. The economic imperative driving them will win the day at every junction, pushing the UK’s regulatory framework and, with it, its society, slowly right, and ultimately off an inequality cliff. Those who can afford to will live outside the UK society, as many Brexiteers have already done. Those who cannot, after all, don’t really matter, do they? Len

283. The trouble with journalists these days

I‘ve lately had several interesting experiences with traditional media, including the BBC and Spanish papers. The routine is well honed. They ask for an interview and contact you with a few questions. Your answers are then edited, taken out of context, mixed in a perverse ratatouille with information, not always true, they’ve gathered elsewhere (in what they call investigative journalism, basically writing a few sentences in Google and clicking on a random selection of clicks presented) and printed as an article or interview where truth, inaccuracy and misrepresentation fight in equal terms for space. Headlines are concocted with the sole objective of generating clicks and complete disregard for veracity or coherence with the body of the piece. You are only safe from misrepresentation when between quote marks. The final result is reminiscent of Frankenstein, not the beautiful and insightful Mary Shelley romantic novel, but its main character, the conflicted, well meaning, ugly monster 

282. When the critical editorial job is delegated to Artificial Stupidity Systems (ASS)

Donald Trump has been banned from Facebook. All he had to do to get to this outcome is engage in a ten year campaign of overt racism, inciting to hate and violence against foreigners, blacks, women and Muslims, insult a wide range of public figures, attempt to delegitimise American democracy, apologise for white supremacism, excuse a number of murders and lie to the public over 20,000 times in under 4 years. My 17 year old son has also been permanently banned from Facebook, after two innocuous posts and the grand crime of attempting to create a business page for his first, minor entrepreneurial project. All requests for reinstatement so far have been cast aside by Artificial Stupidity Systems (their performance doesn’t grant the more common AI moniker) and we have to date not managed to reach a human intelligence which may take a more sympathetic view. I hope the only thing Samuel ever has in common with Trump is the complete inability of Facebook to treat both of them commensurately 

281. It's the democracy, stupid

The title paraphrases the Bill Clinton 1992 election campaign slogan, aiming to focus the debate on economic performance. The implication was that we are in a post-political period, where ideology is no longer important and where what matters is economic outcomes. This is a view shared by many, and the basis of most elections these days. Let’s not vote on how we may fundamentally change society to be fairer, but on how we may grow the economy so we all get a little bit more despite horrific distribution inequality. The Capitol riots, however, help us refocus. What good is it to have a reasonably good economy when the legal security afforded by democratic institutions may be in peril? How does money help you in a country run by a bully who may, at his whim, direct angry mobs against you with a single tweet? This could destroy your job, your company or even your life. If your safety and security are beholden to the whims of a sociopath and their sycophants, is economic comfort enough?  L

280. Why is this government not stopping the snow?

Spain is seeing record snowfalls this week, which combine with the coronavirus pandemic to create chaos. They have resulted in, amongst many other things, many drivers who ignored travel alerts being stranded all over the national geography. It is simultaneously amusing and depressing to hear them angrily calling national media to denounce that, after hours stranded, nobody has come to their rescue. We inhabit a society in which many want to exercise their personal freedoms to act ignoring all advice, pay little taxes and, convergently, have the state immediately get them out of the messes they wilfully walk into. They denounce the curbs the ‘nanny state’ imposes on their personal freedoms, but cry for their nanny as soon as their ill advised exercise of those freedoms in defiance of the state lands them in trouble. This incoherent attitude is not unusual in small children who have not learnt the meaning of responsibility yet. Freud would have a field day studying these so called adult

279. Lost opportunities

As Donald Trump was finally permanently banned by Twitter, after four years of testing the boundaries with the gusto of a rebellious teenager with over-permissive parents, a parody profile appeared with his photo on the handle, tweeting what the owner of the profile, in satiric tone, imagined an out of work Trump may be tweeting. Within one hour, the profile had over 7,000 followers and 66,000 retweets. Comedy is good, it can even be a tool for sanity and survival in these crazy times, but the fact that all it took was this imaginative impersonation to gain more followers than those accumulated over years of effort by people and organisations with serious, worthwhile messages and stories of import to tell reminds us of the opportunities we are losing with social media. They could be a forum for real debate, democratic engagement, information or even education, but the substance is completely lost in the cacophony of inconsequential nonsense that many, in their escapism, seem to prefer 

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

The title sentence is probably the best known in the outstanding bibliography of George Orwell. I have borrowed it from him to reflect on recent events at the Capitol. An angry, aggressive mob forced its way into the seat of the country’s legislative chambers, aiming to, at least, protest, at best, from their perspective, overturn the outcome of the democratic elections held in their country a couple of months before. The act they engaged in is clearly typified in law as terrorism and rebellion, two very serious crimes. However, they did so with impunity, with little consequence, for the great majority of perpetrators. Their race and political views protected them from police violence. Had their race and views been different and their actions the same, the consequences to them and the violence of the security forces reaction would have been much graver. This difference is Orwellian, an adjective we have come to use to describe oppressive, dystopic, unequal and unjust societies  Length:

277. Unsurprising surprises

I am trying to find the right nouns to describe my reaction when hearing those who abetted and supported Donald Trump for the last four years, and even for the two months following his electoral defeat, expressing shock and bemusement at the events at the Capitol a few days ago. It is not easy. Trump has been warning us that he was going to do just this for months. Social media are full of threads among his support base organising and threatening just this, if not worse. Nothing we have seen in the last few days came unannounced, on the contrary, it was just a partial realisation of ongoing threats. In the aftermath, many politicians and commentators are trying to distance themselves from the events, relinquish their responsibility, claiming they did not know it would come to this. In fact, it would be surprising if anything else had happened. We must urgently question how fit to lead a nation are those who wilfully ignore an obvious reality to fit facts to their wishes and biases  Len

276. Building talent

I have a very apologetic piano learner at home at present. Truth is, she is pretty good, just rusty after years of oblivion following a long time spent at the Kaunas Conservatory in the somewhat distant past. I find the apologies unnecessary, and certainly less warranted than when, a few years ago, I had an unapologetic drums learner at home. Granted, the learning is not always tuneful or harmonious, in fact, it probably is not most of the time right now. We all like to witness accomplished performance, but we are typically not aware of the painstaking, long drawn process leading to it. For me, the process is as interesting, as fascinating, as the performance. The latter cannot exist without the former. Understanding how the performance is achieved, reached, adds to the experience of witnessing it. That is often missing from spectating and it can easily lead to the wrong conclusion, to the myth of talent over work. The very talented would often tell you their talent is built, not given

275. The shower door

As a species, humanity’s technological accomplishments are, to our current knowledge, unparalleled. We’ve mastered fire and electricity. We’ve escaped our gravitational earthly prison, sending satellites and even people into orbit. We have put men on the moon. We are sending probes to faraway planets, have connected our whole species via the miracle of real time communication and are in the cusp of domesticating quantum theory to build computers. We are now even attempting to create intelligence, in our image, but more powerful. Despite such staggering shows of prowess, there are some challenges, some problems, that still escape us, and may do forever. The shower door, for example. My observation is that we are, as a species, so far incapable of creating a shower door which efficiently fulfils its purpose, namely keeping water in and the floor outside dry. However modern the home, or swanky the hotel, a wet bathroom floor remains, almost always, an inescapable reality, a humility cure 

274. Telephone dread

This is something that maybe only happens to me, but I do of course project this onto the rest of mankind and assume that it happens to everyone. Making phone calls fills me with dread. I am not talking about calling a friend, or a family member. That is fine and I happily do it. I am talking about using it to book a restaurant, or a dental visit or to order something over the phone. I dread simple phone calls to people I do not know. When I make them, of course, they go quite smoothly most of the time, nothing untoward happens, they often even produce the desired outcome and they are always fairly predictable. But my dread persists, not enough to prevent me from calling, just enough to make it feel awkward. I grew up at a time when bookings, reservations, appointments and purchases were made face to face or over the phone, so I cannot imagine what I would feel like if I had grown already at a time when all that is done online. Does this make me a kind of extremely overaged millennial?

273. Possible word choice error

This seems to be a new MS Word feature, or maybe one I had not noticed before. Word is now not only helping writers with orthography, but braving the much more complex realm of vocabulary, grammar and sentence building. And here, I must say, it still needs significant work. I do not normally encounter the title message when writing professionally, but I often do when writing Twitteretter. Word is not being trained, I guess, on the nuances of turn of phrase and artistic use of language, but on its much more prosaic utilitarian use. This is logical. Whilst I would be willing to accept help when writing for strictly utilitarian purposes, and I am happy for others to receive it when doing the same, I think writing for pleasure, one’s own or that of others, is a very personal pursuit in which any help received must come from others equally artistically inclined, and not from machines. This may change one day, but the perfection that may be achieved may kill the beauty of near perfection  Le

272. The transition, or decadence, from statesmanship to brinkmanship

Statesmanship. A word invented to summarise the range of qualities XIX and XX century democracies expected from their leaders. It means many things, depending on who you ask (I’ve been conducting just this experiment the last few days). Seriousness. Respectability. Concern for the nation and its peoples. Integrity. Steadfastness. Grit. Virtue. Capacity to sacrifice. Responsibility. All those answers, and many more, are correct, they all contribute in different measure to the statesmanship pot. In the past, statesmanship was directly proportional to political success, meaning the higher a politician scored in perceived statesmanship, the better his or her acceptance by the electorate. However, this may be changing and, judging by some electoral results of late, some alternative adjectives, not included in the statesmanship concept, may be correlating to political success, at least in some countries. Brashness. Sleaziness. Goofiness. Dishonesty. We need a collective noun to summarise the

271. Christmas traditions

The Christmas and New Year festivities are awash with traditions. For me, this includes a combination of Spanish and British ones, plus some family specials. For example, watching the Vienna New Year’s concert with a cup of espresso, followed by the ski jumping at Garmisch Panterkirchen. As I was growing up, I stuck to those even through some pretty terrible hangovers in the late eighties and nineties. After all, what good are traditions if one iconoclastically bails out just because one overdid the drink the night before? Some others have been abandoned through lack of practicality, a result of emigrating to the UK. And so a new combination of traditions is developed by me, to pass on, partly common with those of my parents, partly my own, partly Sandra’s contributions. This, I guess, is so much a part of our social environment as the political system or the economy, but this part we can protect and cherish, and their survival is entirely down to us. What are your traditions? Length:

270. Conspiracy theories and their relation to intellectual endeavours

Conspiracy theories grow like well fertilised weeds in the fields of the coronavirus pandemic and the vaccines we’ve developed to fight it. They’ve always been amongst us, a malaise probably as old as intelligence itself, but a diet of unmediated, virus-like, social media and extensive social and economic difficulty is fuelling what may be their unprecedented spread. When analysing them carefully, I conclude that they result from the combination of a hankering to understand a complex reality and the intellectual laziness which prevents their proponents from completing the analysis of such complexity. They are unnecessary to explain reality, but they provide safe harbour from the storms that rage between blissful intellectual indifference and uncompromising, relentless enquiry. They provide a veneer of intellectual sophistication without the effort to build the underlying substance of extensive understanding. They are the laziest path to being able to say: ‘I know what you know not’  Le