Showing posts from February, 2021

328. The gig economy

I have just taken a look at the Collins dictionary. I was interested in the word gig, defined as a life performance by someone such as a musician or a comedian, synonyms show, performance. The reason for this foray into the dictionary, which I rarely engage in, was the many references I find lately to the gig economy, basically to those without the protections afforded by normal employment, to the self employed, which have become one of the worst affected groups by the lockdown. Plumbers, handymen, drivers for hire and the like. I get the simile to gig performers, who suffer with the same uncertainty and insecurity, but gig is a specific term implying performance of a public nature. I guess politicians prefer to use that somewhat positive connotation than the unsecured or working not employed, which would be more accurate and descriptive. Wait… Politicians… Accurate… Descriptive… I see the problem. I guess insecurity is not great, but thinking you are gigging does make it sound cooler

327. What a waste

We have a problem. The Independent reveals today that top supermarkets in the UK throw away enough food to put together 190 million meals per year. This does not even account for what we, the consumers, dispose of. At the same time, 100,000 children go hungry every day and 280,000 homeless people roam the streets, again, hungry. Get your calculator out. The food discarded by the supermarkets, sent to landfill and to, as it decomposes, generate greenhouse gases, would be enough to give each of these people one and a half meals per day, all year round. We could, pretty much for free, eradicate hunger, an embarrassment to a country with the resources of the UK. The fact that we don’t, that there seems to be no willingness, by government, supermarkets or even the public, is despicable and infuriating. We, the public, can fix this, by pressurising the supermarkets to develop a system that efficiently transfers that unwanted food to those who want it. Logistics, after all, are their strength

326. Is constantly searching for meaning the right choice?

When it comes to living life, one of the choices to be made is whether to just live it, day to day, slowly advancing towards death without a narrative, or whether to search for meaning, to try to make your life count for something, to make a difference (whatever you may find your meaning in). Searching for meaning may make life more fulfilling, at least when you find it. The searchers like to think so. But, also, searching makes life undoubtedly harder. It is not enough to just live, the searchers demand more, expect more from their existence. As a consequence, what would for others be a perfectly fine day, for the searcher is a day wasted, if it does not contribute to the existential narrative. The temptation of nihilism is always there, the void, its tempting mindless rest, which the searcher, at times of exhaustion, envies of others. But, alas, once you choose meaning, giving into the void would be admitting defeat, calling it quits, which the searcher, invariably, refuses to do Len

325. Easy morality

In terms of morality, it is not difficult to talk a good game, to take the moral high ground when decisions are theoretical. But, as they become real, and as the stakes get high, we soon find talk is cheap and not many who talk the talk will walk the walk. We are seeing a startling example of this with coronavirus vaccination. I was offered to vaccinate, well before my turn is due, a couple of days ago, in that grey area of unclaimed vaccines. The temptation to yield, to give in, to lower the bar and walk from the moral high ground to the valley of convenience was certainly there. The decision, should I have taken it, not that hard to justify to myself. Surely my importance to economic activity and my efforts to develop solutions to coronavirus itself making me deserving of early vaccination, a win for society should I take the chance offered. A duty, almost, to jump the queue. But also false, a theft of a vaccine from someone who needs it more than me. My turn will come, in due course

324. Star Wars in business meetings

I had a business meeting today which mainly revolved around Star Wars, featuring my not very good Darth Vader impression and some espresso machine jokes. This may seem unusual, or even incredible, to you, especially if you are not involved in business or if you are, but have not properly understood it. Business, you see, is part of life, for those involved in it. It does not exist to serve money, an inert object which needs no servicing, but rather to serve people, its participants. If you understand this, and many don’t, you then also understand it must be fun and not taken overly seriously. A willing, cooperating, organised group of highly prepared, motivated humans, can achieve a lot. The real trick is to achieve it whilst, at the same time, enjoying it, contributing to creating a virtuous circle around willingness, cooperation and motivation, a self-feeding success. This obvious fact is often missed by those in business who, lacking the perspective of distance, miss its real purpos

323. Vaccine theft

Reading Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, his imagining of an ideal society in the XVI century, one is also reminded, by contrast, of the conditions in his home country, England, at the time. One specific passage explains that theft, however small, was punished by death. This is certainly Draconian. We are living through a period where getting vaccinated against coronavirus, at least for those who have not surrendered their brains to mindless conspiracies, is a primary aspiration. And UK pharmacies are offering some vaccines outside of the government priority lists, under the counter, if you like. All you have to do, if offered, is lie about your circumstance, invent some vulnerable household member whose life is at risk while you don’t vaccinate. The problem is, in so doing, you are stealing the vaccine from those who do need it, putting them further down the list and, by doing so, putting their life at risk. It may look like a victimless crime, but although it is a crime, victimless it is not

322. Vaccination, a collective rather than individual concept

Vaccination is not about individual protection, but group protection. What this really means is that a vaccine with 95% protection will be ineffective if only 60% of people use it, whilst a vaccine with 65% protection will be effective if 95% of people use it. It is not about doting an individual with a shining, Arthurian armour, but about impairing the ability of the virus to spread in a population, so that its famous R number dwindles, and the virus does with it. This poses a significant problem for our highly individualistic societies. It seems, in fact, that many people are incapable of thinking in these terms. They only care, can think of or understand individual protection. The concept of group protection, maybe the concept of group or collective all in all, is beyond them, as if their ability for collectivism, precisely the ability that made humans who we are, has completely deserted them at a fundamental level. The virus, of course, hunts in groups, we must defend as a herd Len

321. Legalising illegals

We are hearing that Joe Biden’s administration is planning to legalise 11 million immigrants who currently have no papers. This is a huge decision and it may be met with consternation by many in the US, preoccupied with controlling immigration. However, for those I have some words of comfort, which they will, most likely, ignore. The US, and many other countries, built their prosperity precisely at the time when immigration controls did not exist. Most people don’t realise this, but the World between 1860 and the I World War was a borderless World, where people could freely move between countries, without even a passport. This immigration built the US, providing badly needed labour, entrepreneurship and consumers which fuelled growth. Illegals are a reality, already in the US, in many cases for years, already working on the economy and contributing, as they are needed. The only problem with them is that they are illegal, which is exactly what Biden’s administration seems to want to fix

320. Politics, a matter of perspective

We are having riots in Spain, or Catalonia, depending on where you sit on Catalonian independence, after Hasel, a rapper, has been imprisoned for crimes including inciting violence and insulting the Spanish crown, in his lyrics and social media. The rioters clamour in defence of freedom of expression, a fundamental right that often nowadays seems to be given prevalence, in the mind of many, over others’ right not to be attacked. I’m following two scientists from the same discipline, whose positions on this issue could not be further apart. Interesting, as they’ve been trained on the scientific method and the need to consider all evidence. However, what for one is black, for the other is white when, in the balance of probability, it is likely grey. This must be an issue of biased sources or, if multiple bilateral sources are being considered, biased evaluation of such sources. When even scientists fall foul of this, imagine the population at large. One of the great challenges of our age

319. Has the rebellion started? Or should we say, the resistance?

A process of extraordinary importance is taking place in Canberra, ignored by most of humanity. The Australian state, a traditional superpower, is engaging in battle with Facebook, a new supranational superpower, over payment for editorial content shared on its platform. Facebook acts, for many, as a news and content hub, a one stop shop which presents content from many sources, shared by their network. The snug is, whilst it makes huge advertising revenues, it does not pay for this content, and the Australian legislature is considering whether this is appropriate, after a claim by NewsCorp. Facebook is retaliating, not by building a Death Star, but by withdrawing news from its platform in Australia and by removing news about Australia from its global platform. When watching this dispute ensue, it is important to remember that the Australian legislature has a democratic mandate, it represents the interest of its people, whilst Facebook does not, it represents its shareholders Length: 9

318. Lockdown hair

I’m quite enjoying my lockdown hair. Normally, I am quite traditional and unadventurous, when it comes to hair. Not because that is necessarily my personality, but because my responsibility in the companies that employ me kind of demands it. Tidy, unassuming and inconspicuous. Pretty much the same thing since I entered the workplace. Not too much of a bore so long as you are not too obsessed with self image, I guess. But lockdown has come along and I have the perfect excuse to let my hair express itself, run amok, unrestrained. The consequence is that it looks completely different everyday, just at the time when every day looks the same, an interesting contrast. The big question, of course, is what to do when lockdown is over and we carefully return to normal activity. This question, the whole of society is grappling with. What lockdown developed habits and customs to allow to survive normality? For me, my lower carbon footprint is one, free hair may be another. What are yours? Length:

317. Unlikely birthday twins

When writing about Gamestop investors joining the Proletariat to fight capital, I discovered that I share my birthday with the International Workingmen’s Movement, born in London on 28 th September 1864, exactly 107 years before I was born in Madrid. This ephemeris is exciting from my perspective and, now that I am aware of it, I may forget my birthday less often. I think, in addition to a birthday, the International, as it is oft called, and I share a number of other things, such as a wish to see fair global distribution of wealth, equal opportunity for all and solidarity amongst fellow men. This would make us both communists which, nowadays, has become quite a pejorative term, imbued with negative connotations but which is really not that bad, or not bad at all. We also share a general lack of success in those hopes and limited efforts to improve their prospects. Chances are, of course, the International will long survive me and, in so doing, will get to see what we both wish for Le

316. The poverty trap

Poverty is not as easy to define as you may think prima face . For me, the best definition is probably not having enough financial resources to cover one’s basic needs, which, if we use Maxwell’s pyramid, are physiological and safety needs, the resources necessary to live with dignity and security, without constant worry of running out of funds. So understood, poverty can affect both people and businesses, and it is a trap, a situation in which you are pushed to make bad decisions, worsening your prospects by trying to stay afloat. You may take out short term, abusive lending, paying today’s bills but further undermining your precarious position. You may take on the wrong investor, if you are a business, or abandon an interesting course, if you are a person. Our system has perfected the poverty trap, with a range of benefits which prevent unsightly starvation but also financial recovery. Best way to avoid it? Don’t enter it in the first place, little consolation for those already in it

315. More's Law

You may think the title is misspelled, but it is not. We live in difficult times, when the pace of technological change is threatening the livelihood and place in the World of many, sending them adrift, victims of the system, devoid of agency. It is easy to feel that this is unprecedented, that humanity has never found itself at such a perilous and precarious crossroads. Andrew Keen, in his excellent and well researched ‘How to fix the future’, however, draws an interesting analogy with the early XVI century, when medieval man’s World was collapsing under the drive of Copernicus and Luther and their demolition of the belief system of the Middle Ages. At this other perilous time, Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, a must read, reminded humanity that we are the pilots of our destiny, that we can achieve almost anything, use circumstance to our benefit, when we choose to collectively steer, rather than drift. This More’s Law is crucial and relevant to understanding how to navigate our World today Le

314. America, the land of opportunity... for autocratic morons

Donald Trump has been acquitted, yet again, at his second impeachment trial. The Republican party has, with some honourable exceptions, chosen to appease the Trump voter base, to not alienate them. They have not exonerated Trump, but hidden behind a technicality, their opinion that an ex president cannot be impeached. They have, again, put party before country. In trying to avoid short term electoral damage, they have set a clear precedent for the next wannabe dictator. It is worth taking the risk of trying to destroy democracy, so long as your opposition does not have a two third majority in the Senate. Worst case, if your coup d’etat fails, you just have to decamp, for a while, to a golfing resort in Florida, letting matters cool down before possibly returning, for a second, perfected attack. The Republican party is hoping the courts will wash their soiled laundry, so they can keep their hands clean. Let the judges do what those making the laws will not. It is a dereliction of duty L

313. Am I missing Donald Trump?

This is a question I thought I would never find myself asking. Let me be clear, of course I am not. I’ve been looking forward to Trump going away for over four years. So, why the question? I’ve noticed that, with Trump gone, my interest in US politics has dwindled, against my best judgment. Trump’s presidency worked in the same way as horror movies, keeping its shocked audience glued to the screen, clutching the armchair, watching through their fingers, waiting for the next, imminent and predictable, but still compelling, horrible moment. I always succeeded at not getting drawn into horror, with the occasional high quality exception, Kubrick’s The Shining or Hitchcock’s Psycho. But, somehow, Trump grabbed my attention, kept me reluctantly watching, sunk in my virtual chair. In doing so, he sapped my appetite for US politics, leaving little for Biden. I will, I hope, recover it in due course, in the same way one returns to a light, well structured drama, days after a traumatic horror Le

312. Who are my people?

I was having a conversation about xenophobia and antiimmigration sentiment yesterday. My interlocutor was passionately stating that he cared about his people much more than about others, and that he objected to others, as he called them, taking benefits, rights or anything else from his people. For him, his people were his co-nationals. I got to thinking that, in this, he is probably no different to anyone else. For some, their people are their family, whose interest is above anyone else’s, regardless of justice or fairness. For others, their people are their tribe, nationality or race. For some of us, our people are all humans (I would in principle not exclude other sentient extra-terrestrial beings if we were to make contact with them at some point). So, in a way, we are all equally tribal, but different attitudes to issues such as immigration depend on how we define our tribe, and who we see as The Other, as opposed to We or Us (rather than the epistemological Hegel/Husserl concept)

311. Form over substance, signs of our times

A few days ago I started a Youtube channel designed to offer Twitteretter to its thus far limited audience in a new format, video, cognisant of the fact that many do not read these days, and of the importance of trying to reach those, maybe even more than reading audiences. As I marketed the channel, something curious happened. Curious, but I think significant. I received many comments on the appearance and set up of the channel and suggestions as to how to enhance it, gadgets I should invest in to improve my lighting and delivery, additional elements I may consider for better visuals, etc. No comments, however, on the content which, in my mind, is what matters, maybe not in many other channels, but certainly on Twitteretter. This seems to be what we have come to, a society concerned only with the wrapping, not with the content, superficially surfing reality on a sensorial wave, without a rational rudder to keep us away from the rocks. I will focus on the content, to the horror of many

310. The strange case of Jeanne Pouchain

Jeanne Pouchain is a French woman declared dead by a Lyon court, despite being alive. Mrs. Pouchain’s unfortunate legal demise happened in 2017, the result of a judicial error. This, I guess, can happen. We all make mistakes. What is extraordinary in her case is that the courts, having made the mistake, are refusing to rectify it. They are not prepared to admit they could make such a big mistake. They are, like many people do nowadays, doubling down. Caught on a lie? No matter, double down, pile lie on top of lie, come out at the other end, UK Prime Minister, or US President. You brought about climate change by over contaminating? No matter, pretend climate change doesn’t exist, contaminate further. Come out at the other end a superpower in a dwindling World. Jeanne finds herself tied in a Gordian knot with Kafkian overtones. If you are dead, you are not even entitled to present proof that you are alive, as you need to be alive to do so. I will follow her case with utmost curiosity Len

309. What ubiquitous data means to education

I’ve read a lot over the years. I’m always reading at least a book, often several in parallel. As a result, I know a lot of facts and have been exposed to many opinions and thoughts. I speak several languages. I don’t rely on technology for arithmetic, as my body comes crowned, factory settings, by a computer for this purpose, which needs using to develop full powers. In the past, all these would have been significant advantages, in the workplace, in travelling, in conversation, in writing. But today, anyone equipped with the right technology can not only compete with my capabilities, but downright demolish them. These are the early days of technology enhanced humans. Does this mean my efforts and education are wasted? This remains to be seen, but I think not. I think abilities and capacities are still important, not so much in the result, replaceable nowadays, but in the process, which shapes the mind, giving you tools to take better advantage of the technology enhancements on offer L

308. The masters or mankind

It’s fascinating to return to Adam Smith, father of capitalism and of Economics’ attempt to become a science, and read about class war, a concept many believe developed by Marx, much later. Smith tells us of the mighty and powerful of his time, the elites, at war with the rest of society, pursuing their own interest to the detriment of all others. This, he predicts, will always be their behaviour, maximising their outcome beyond their needs, opposed by the rest of society, the aggrieved, Victor Hugo’s Miserables. Smith’s analysis of the sociopathy of the elites is prescient in its accuracy, but even he missed developments at the bottom of the social ladder, the poor giving up the fight, abetting their tormentors, no longer complaining, no longer uniting, no longer opposing the wealthy as they pillage and ransack, transferring wealth from all pockets to theirs at increasing pace. The rich have succeeded at making class war uncool, unfashionable for the losers and thus, just a fond memor

307. The brave new World of customs duties

We are over four weeks into the Brexit reality, as some choose to call it. It is full of surprises, at least for those who believed the propaganda of Vote Leave in the referendum, firstly, and of the current Conservative government, later. In four weeks, we have seen significant movement restrictions, the loss of Erasmus, long queues at Channel crossings, an incredibly fast, extensive erosion of food and environmental standards in the UK, the new phenomenon of vaccine nationalism, pitching the UK and the EU in an unedified battle for stocks and, as many consumers are now finding out, customs duties. Goods we used to receive from Europe without a second thought, now require us to engage with the transport companies to clear customs and to pay the duties, certainly significant. I guess, seen the pace of the deterioration of our standard of living in the UK, the only consolation is the thought that, surely, it must slow down. It is not possible to keep this breakneck pace up for long Leng

306. Modern inequality

Our modern World is redefining inequality. This used to be bad enough, the haves enjoying luxurious standards of living whilst the have nots, the majority, lived hand to mouth, struggling to survive from one day to the next. With the industrial revolution, and especially in the XX century, the general increase in wealth delivered meaningful improvements in the standard of living for most. These were the halcyon days of capitalism. But, at some point, in the 80s, with Reaganism, Thatcherism and neoliberalism, we lost our compass. Inequality is now escalating to unprecedented levels, even in the First World. Young people are staring at a future where automation will have taken many jobs, where assets are so expensive they are completely unaffordable and, to compound it all, where even the environment, nature, that one asset we all used to enjoy for free, regardless of individual resources, is being depleted, exhausted, to a point where we will be leaving nothing to those who come after u

305. Have small investors joined the working class?

In socioeconomic terms, one of the salient developments of the XIX Century was the inception of the International Workingmen’s Association, founded in London in 1864 to organise workers globally for the class war against the abuses of capital, under the slogan ‘Workers of the World unite!’, borrowed from ‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Marx and Engels. A movement of such global reach was a huge undertaking with the communications of the day. Today, workers no longer unite, uninterested in class war, aspiring to individual success, to abandon the working class, rather than lift it into comfort, prosperity and freedom as a group. A shame, as our societies have now reached the level of wealth that would allow general prosperity if distribution were right. The events around Gamestop and Robin Hood last week, however, showed a new kind of social revolt, that of small investors against hedge funds. Seems like even small investors have joined the proletariat, the many, against the ever fewer few

304. The sheriff of Nottingham strikes back

In Twitteretter 300 I took advantage of the name Robin Hood, used by the stock trading platform, to try to draw a connection between investment and classical literature. Now the SEC has decided to join the party, by allowing the analogy to continue. It seems that regulations need to be strengthened, to avoid this kind of action, a group of small investors playing havoc with the shorting strategies of the big hedge funds, bringing volatility into the market. The SEC is assuming the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, determined to keep the status quo steady, to protect the mechanism that, slowly and without volatility, transfers wealth from the poor small investors to the wealthy funds. It seems that the system was so much about that at the time of the Crusades as it is today. I cannot wait to find out which person or organisation takes on the role of Maid Marian, although it must be noted that in Howard Pile’s original her role was much more peripheral than in later movie adaptations Le

303. The old days when we knew we lived with nuclear holocaust

Reading Noam Chomsky, one thing that really caught my mind was his references to what he sees as the clear and present danger of nuclear holocaust befalling our planet. According to his research, there have been 75 near misses in the last forty years, including several in which the only thing that prevented nuclear disaster was a middle rank officer refusing to follow protocol to give the World another chance, showing that a single human can be rational when huge, carefully designed decision making systems, full of failsafes, can be the opposite. This got me thinking about nuclear drills in the 60s and 70s, exercises run at schools, at least in the US, to ensure that, in case of a nuclear attack, children would know to get under their desks, clearly more about instigating a hate of the Soviet in the population than about imparting life saving skills. At least, nowadays, even though the risk has not diminished, we are spared the theatrics and awareness. And, after all, ignorance is blis

302. Can training and skills go too far?

It has lately come to my attention that some corporate organisations are training their employees to help them identify internet scams. Phishing and the like. This is sensible, and these skills are eminently necessary to safely navigate treacherous internet waters. However, some are complementing this training with paying organisations to send their employees phishing emails, to keep their skills sharp. A kind of perverse ‘practice makes perfect’. I probably draw the line at this point. Most working people are already busy enough, and have to contend with enough phishing, spam and everything else. Now, you can add the low level anxiety of what might happen if you mistakenly click on a phishing link from your employer to the low level anxiety caused by what may happen if you click on a phishing link from a bona fide hacker. And, by the way, bona fide and hacker are two expressions I did not expect to ever use in the same sentence so, for this rare paradox opportunity, I am grateful Leng

301. Millennial journalism

A few days ago I found myself in the unfortunate position of reading an interview I gave to a regional newspaper. Misfortune, not because my interviews are necessarily boring or uninteresting. Rather, because its execution reflected with fidelity the most salient characteristic of the journalist that interviewed me. His millennialism. Sentences were literally abandoned halfway, the chore of writing them disturbed by more interesting stimuli arriving through my reporter’s smart phone. The effort required to keep the piece coherent, the grammar honest and the reporting accurate soon overwhelmed him to the point of surrender and the abandon that follows it. I can only surmise that the editor was either non-existent, a result of a cost saving effort by the paper, or also a millennial who found equal difficulty in reading a piece stretching to several paragraphs as the reporter found in writing it. Not that it matters. The mediocrity thus produced fits snuggly with the rest of the journal L