Showing posts from April, 2021

385. A warning or a honey trap?

I have a confession to make. I ran a little experiment on you a few weeks ago. I titled Twitteretter 357 ‘Warning. Sex, nudity and sexual violence’. Why am I telling you this? My Youtube statistics tell me that this has been, by a large margin, my most watched video in the last month. This is a bit embarrassing for my audience, I think. Clearly, the warning so widely used by Netflix and others seems to have the opposite effect to its purported purpose, attracting viewers as bees to honey, rather than keeping them away. This may to a point explain the profligacy with which these warnings are used by the media industry. There is no point, I guess, on acting shocked on this discovery, it is actually what we expected. I have observed, for as long as I have been around, that these subjects fascinate humans in a way in which more interesting subjects do not. Just imagine the effect of a message reading ‘Warning, discussions on philosophy, theology, socioeconomics and behavioural psychology’

384. The World at your fingertips

I grew up in a poor corner of Western Europe, especially then, the Santiago de Compostela of the 1970s. I remember, as a child, watching with wide eyed fascination Wimbledon, the Tour de France, the World Cup, the Olympics, the ATP Masters, the V Nations, the chess World Champs or Vienna’s New Year’s concert. Events I grew up in love with, which, from my provincial perspective, seemed out of reach, confined to the realm of distant television voyeurism. Today, half a life later, I have been, in person, to all of them, at locations all over the World, except the last. Some, several times. And I just bought the tickets for the New Year’s concert. This got me musing about how much smaller the World has become, certainly for me, throughout my life. What seemed impossible in the 70s is now real life. Completely unbeknown to me, of course, this was already reality then for Spanish elites, those of ‘high breeding’, who will, I guess, never experience quite the wonderment that 1970s child does

383. Dead man's shoes

I am considering moving house, within UK, and have started cursorily looking at properties. In some London suburbs, those you would like to live in, a four bedroom house with a bit of garden, relatively close to a tube station, even at the far end of the line, sells for around £2.5Mn. This is whilst the average UK salary remains stubbornly stuck at around £30,000. These houses are worth 80 times the average salary. This is difficult to comprehend, and one has to ask the question, who is buying these properties? It cannot be working people. Or maybe it can. I have been giving this considerable thought, as I am fascinated by the apparently unexplainable. I wonder whether this market is sustained by inheritance, the combined result of smaller families and of older parents owning now expensive property which was acquired cheaply and which, when passed down, is sold to fund upgrading. Living in a desirable property may be becoming a multigenerational project. Bad news if your family is poor

382. Zoom botox or tweaks

This is apparently a new phenomenon, caused by the increase in the use of web meeting tools, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. It appears that the plastic surgery and aesthetic enhancement industries have seen a rise in their activity as a result. The rationale (it is hard to use this word in this context, but I use it in its explanation, rather than rationality, meaning) of this phenomenon goes as follows: Many people are having regular web meetings, in which they spend a lot of time staring at their own faces on screen. And many are, apparently, unhappy with their looks, which is driving them to resort to interventions in an attempt, in many cases ill fated, to improve them. This is something fascinating about modern humans. We may have good reason to improve our body and mind, which we can do ourselves with a bit of effort and determination, but many choose to, instead, have someone try to improve their face, forgetting it is, according to St Jerome, the mirror of their sou

381. The garden waste conundrum

I hope you won’t think two articles on waste a waste. On entertainment value alone, they are nothing but. I’ve found myself the proud owner of a large amount of garden waste. I know this is disposed of in different colour bags, which I’ve not previously used. Sensible, I say, garden waste has characteristics which duly justify its separation from other, less environmental streams. So, armed with Quixotic optimism, with my laptop as my own, slim lined Sancho Panza, I set off exploring how this works in the UK. After a complex search, full of misadventures which truly justify the Cervantes analogy, I discovered that the green sacks are available for mail order purchase from the local council. Once received, you put your garden waste in them and place them for collection with the normal waste. They will be collected together, and landfilled together, the green bags serving the sole purpose of adding a bit of colour to the otherwise boringly black landfill sites. I cannot wait to try it ou

380. What on earth is going on with recycling in the UK?

The UK is richer than Spain, for now and whilst Brexit does not show its full effect, which will still take the best part of a generation. I live in two similar size cities, Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, and Hereford, in UK. Both provincial backwaters, far from the buzz of the capitals. They could, however, not be more different from the perspective of recycling. In Santiago, you can dispose of seven different waste streams at any time in the day, in your own street. In UK, you get one waste stream, which you can dispose off once every two weeks. If you want to separate more, or don’t want your house to be filled by a mountain of yet to be recycled waste, you can take it to the recycling centre yourself, appealing to Brits’ love of DIY. This is great fun, only by appointment, which you must secure online, with weekend slots typically filled well in advance. Will I have availability three weeks on Saturday, at 13.45, for such an exciting adventure? Can I maybe do it by MS Teams? Len

379. The cult of the CEO

Humans have shown, over millennia, a pervasive instinct to build deities. Initially, from natural phenomena. The Sun, the stars, wind, thunder. They were all deified. They were followed by others, more powerful and abstractly complex, as cultures evolved. Some, punishing and unforgiving, the God of the Old Testament or those idolised by Aztecs or Mayans. Others, caring and loving. All, omnipresent and omnipotent. At some point in the second half of the XX century, as we became more sophisticated, we seemed to, finally, abandon our reliance on a superior being and started to see ourselves as possessing the ultimate agency in our environment. But old habits die hard. I see, in my interactions with some corporations, a god like cult of their CEO, feared and revered in equal measure. His or her subjects, sorry, employees, thirsty for any measure of interaction, for that occasional revelation or instant of attention from their CEO, all powerful, master of all things. Will we ever grow up? L

378. Beware the right place, right time effect

I heard today from a friend who is directly involved in the US, or I should say the Californian, vaccination effort that herd immunity will be reached in the Sunny State by the end of May, with all over 16s now eligible to be vaccinated. This is an incredible turnaround from the position in the US only a few months ago, when the coronavirus battle was definitely being lost and the country was on its knees. It is tempting to put this down to Biden’s leadership, the order after the strident chaos. We must remember, however, that the global increase in vaccine availability is not down to Biden’s administration, but just to the completion of a gargantuan effort by the pharmaceutical industry, finally able to ramp production up after completing development. Politics are fickle and timing can be critical to outcomes. In this case, I am glad to see Biden rather than Trump benefit from this ‘right place, right time’ effect, but we must remember it can benefit the wrong leaders elsewhere Length

377. Do I like death this much?

Something pretty disturbing is happening with my Twitter feed and maybe with Twitter’s artificial intelligence altogether. Twitter recommends posts to its users, at least to me, but I like to think they did not introduce that feature just for my benefit. Lately, the majority of tweets which appear in my recommendation notifications are tweets of users sharing a bereavement in their family. People opening their heart to tell the wider World that their father, mother, brother, sister or child has died. These are random people I don’t know or follow. I am not going to write here about the wisdom of sharing such private news on an open media platform, but why does Twitter keep recommending this content to me? Did I, at some point, inadvertently click on a coffin advert? Do I have a fascination with death that I am unaware of but which Twitter’s AI, knowing me, by now, better than I do, is trying to satisfy? It’s not pleasant, but it’s indeed curious, and gives me something to write about L

376. The vaccine queue heart attack

I may have, with this headline, pulled the trick of compelling many to read this article. An unfortunate 81 year old died of a heart attack in Seville, Spain, whilst queueing to receive the Pfizer vaccine. It is always sad to hear of anyone’s death. In this case, however, I think we all, as a species, need to be grateful to the gentleman in question for his promptness. Just imagine the potential consequences, had he suffered his heart attack a few minutes later, just after receiving his vaccination. Global headlines, vaccine rollout pauses, Medical Agency investigations, new conspiracy theories, thriving antivax groups, collapsing stockmarkets… 81 year olds will of course occasionally die of heart attacks, in all kinds of circumstances, but given humans’ capacity to confuse coincidence with causality, this poor chap’s timeliness has saved us a huge amount of trouble, even if depriving news outlets of a much juicier news item and millions of the hankered for clicks. Requiescat in pace L

375. Biden's drive for a global corporation tax

The Biden administration has started an effort to introduce a minimum corporation tax level globally, which they are aiming to set at 21%. The plan also contemplates ensuring tax is paid where profit is generated, precluding the escape to more benign tax climates. These are fantastic news, although we need to be wary of the many obstacles this initiative will still face, if it is ever to become a reality. As corporate profits increase and more people struggle as a result of inequality, fair corporate taxation and a degree of social redistribution of their profits is critical to maintain a precarious social balance. From my perch, the most important aspect of this development is the recognition that tax evasion and inequality are problems that can only be addressed globally, as corporations think and function globally. Once we perceive global problems in global rather than national terms, we may even have a chance to fix them! I am definitely on Team Biden on this one Length: 982 charac

374. Merkel's apology

T he German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has apologised for suggesting a full Easter coronavirus lockdown in Germany, and U-turned, relaxing the initially overly draconian plans. This is not news because a politician made a mistake, which is, in fact, a regular occurrence afflicting not only politicians, but other humans. Except you, of course. It’s not news because of the U-turn either. Politicians u-turn all the time, mostly surreptitiously. What is news is the apology. Apologies, admissions of error, have become a capital sin in politics. Erring is indeed extremely fashionable, done regularly and with gusto, as we have seen during the pandemic. But the usual reaction to errors is to pretend they did not happen and double down. Merkel’s apology will be targeted as a sign of weakness by her rivals but, alas, admitting mistakes, learning from them and apologising is a sign of strength and intelligence, both qualities which are being hounded out of our political class. Chapeau, Angela Len

373. Companies are not people

This is at first sight completely obvious, but I still feel worth writing about. Companies have started developing, through their presence in social media, a personality, and building a relationship with their stakeholders. At first, their posts were restricted to information, such as a new product launch, a promotion or an update on a known service issue. This seems a sensible use of the immediacy of social media for communication. However, some are personalising their social media presence, engaging in conversation, expressing opinions. Users are now interacting with them in the second person, tagging them in posts, expecting a response. This may be convenient, but it is important that we realise that we are not interacting with the company, but just with one of its employees, a real person, who, best case, will be trying to act as they think their company’s philosophy would merit. But wait, companies don’t have a philosophy, they don’t have a mind. I feel another Twitteretter coming

372. Are all our brains bipolar?

Since I started my Youtube channel, I have made an interesting observation. If you stop any of my videos, more or less at any point, my expression in the frozen frame is likely to look positively weird. However, when we interact with most people at real World speed, our brain sees normality. Our perception combines a very high number of extremely weird frames to build a completely normal movie. This is an interesting capacity of our brain, particularly if you think about the fact that this is the same brain capable of taking completely normal societal situations and concocting the weirdest conspiracy theories with them, as shown lately by the effect fake news are having on our democratic process. Our brain, therefore, behaves like a bipolar interpreter of reality. A bipolar interpreter is a great premise, in film, for a comedy or a tragedy, and the same, I think applies to reality. It remains to be seen what kind of movie our brains lead us into. Right now, it is hard to be optimistic

371. The language of geopolitics

I speak Spanish and English with equal dexterity, after half a life in Spain and half in UK. Only the other day I noticed something curious. I realised that, in English, we are used to hearing the word immigrant, but not at all the word emigrant. The UK and the US deal with immigration much more than they do with emigration. In Spain, at least in Galicia, when I was growing up, the opposite was true. Emigration was a widely used word, as our society lost its young people, who left in search of work and better economic opportunities. Inmigrante , I doubt I heard at all at that time. This has changed, and immigration has become an oft repeated term in Spain also, a sign of the huge prosperity increase Spain has experienced since it joined the EU, combined with the ugly antiimmigration global movement which uses the plight of those who have to leave their home to survive, or build a future, to stir fear and hate for political purposes. Interesting how your language betrays your society Le

370. The art of risk management

I have lately, through the vagaries of life, become regularly embroiled with corporate life, after a few years in the wild lands of early start up. Strikingly, corporations have become ridden, in my absence, with an extreme risk aversion culture. Dangers everywhere, every single action or interaction a risk of alienating shareholders, stakeholders or, if you push me, even cupholders, inert but I am sure easily upset. Risk management has thus occupied the centre of corporate thinking. How do we act amorally and maximise profit beyond equanimity without upsetting anybody? This is a tough trick to play. Most corporations view the World through the eyes of Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall in ‘As good as it gets’. As much effort is devoted to preventing risk, however unlikely, as to whatever it is that the corporation’s business is. I would love it if the question was: ‘How do we do good?’. But, unfortunately, it is: ‘How do we prevent being seen to be up to no good?’ A much tougher assignment

369. Here we go, the charisma nonsense has started

It has started, people. This morning I read an article about Sir Keir Starmer’s charisma, or lack of it. The charisma nonsense is the process by which a politician is targeted by the opposing faction of the media, which, irrespective of the actual charisma the politician might have, start writing about his lacking it. Since most voters do not actually meet politicians in person, the media is the way in which they evaluate their charisma and thus the media decide who is charismatic, and hence electable, and who isn’t. Other, in my mind more important qualities, such as honesty, integrity, morality, determination and intellectual acumen seem unimportant by comparison. Don’t panic, Sir Keir. Mess up your hair, awkwardly ride a bicycle, tie your tie too long, lie through your teeth, become corrupt, cheat on your wife and your voters and speak like someone pulled out from the Victorian era. You might, if you do, still win the charisma battle and become acceptable as a Prime Minister Length:

368. Irrational households

I come from a rational household. In fact, when I was growing up, I had no idea this was a thing. I assumed, as you would expect, since we all tend to project our own normality unto others, that all households were rational. What I mean by that is that they were places in which decisions were taken on the basis of rational thought built on the available information, also knowing that this information may be incomplete. I have since, as I have moved through life and met others, discovered that this is not the case, and that there are also irrational households, places where decisions are taken on a wishful understanding of reality, on impulse or so called intuition, without regard for facts or available information. Of course, these households will have much worse outcomes, as their failure to interpret reality will impair the decision making, perfectly fitted to a World that does not exist. Rationality must be the best resource a family has to plot a successful course for its members L

367. The right to vote

We have a saying in Spain, ‘no hay dos sin tres’. Something like ‘all things come in threes’. I had to write previously about the rights to unionise and demonstrate. Sadly, the attack on fundamental democratic rights we are experiencing seems to also come in threes, as illustrated by Republican Party efforts in Georgia to restrict the right to vote, in a reaction to inexistent voting fraud the Republicans themselves invented. The challenge with democracy is that it is the only political system that tolerates the use of its institutions by those aiming to destroy it. That is both its unique strength and value, that total inclusiveness, and its biggest weakness, which makes it reliant on protection by its citizens to survive. It is no coincidence all these things are happening simultaneously and perpetrated by the international conservative movement. The attack on our democracy is much more orchestrated and organised than we may think, and it won’t do for us to sleepwalk into its demise

366. The right to demonstrate

In Twitteretter 362, I covered the right to unionise, under attack in some Western democracies. Today, I have to address the right to demonstrate. It seems our society made significant advances in the XIX and XX centuries in the rights of its citizens to represent their own interest, in the public arena and in the workplace, whilst the XXI century is a period where we are taking backward steps. In the UK, the Tory government is currently passing a bill that will significantly restrict, with coronavirus as the excuse, but with permanent effect, the right of citizens to peacefully demonstrate. This right is fundamental to citizens’ action in a democracy, and cannot be restricted except to ensure basic safety. The government is reopening pubs, restaurants, stadia and theatres, at the same time as outlawing open air demonstrations. Yet again, even their disguise is lazy. If the UK accepts this bill, it will have lost something fundamental, achieved only after hundreds of years of struggles

365. Freedom of expression

Since starting Twitteretter I’ve realised that my freedom of expression, a fundamental human right, is restricted. As, in my real job, I run businesses, before I publish every Twitteretter I have to consider whether its content may be detrimental to the prospects of my companies or my position in them, should it be disliked by my audience or, in fact, by anyone who happens to come across the content. Will my opinion upset my customers or shareholders? If so, better keep it to myself. I’ve published a number of Twitteretters which I knew would have just that effect, although moderated or toned down to minimise it. This is a sad reflection of a society in which many have difficulty accepting opinions and world views which don’t agree with their own and where condemnation of different ideas, well beyond moderate disagreement, is prevalent. As one of my companies approaches an IPO, I realise that I either lead it, post IPO, or continue Twitteretter, but probably cannot do both. Easy choice

364. I refuse to read that pamphlet

  I quote someone I was talking to, in Spain, referring to El Pais, one of the two main Spanish newspapers. El Pais is a mainstream publication, politically positioned on the centre left (they may not like my saying it, but more centre than left). My interlocutor finds the content of El Pais offensive, to the point of refusing to read it or even touch it. This visceral reaction might be understandable, even if exaggerated, if relating to an extreme, radical publication, but what does it tell us when even moderate, centrist papers elicit this kind of feeling? Carrollian polarisation rabbit holes are clearly going strong. The counterpart to El Pais is El Mundo, a moderate, by contemporary standards, centre right publication which I regularly read. I may not agree with many opinions in it, but their take and interpretation of the same news offer a contrasting viewpoint which helps inform my position. I approach it with a bias, but I approach it, and this is key to keeping the bias at bay

363. Panem et circenses

This is a latin expression, attributed to a I Century Roman poet, Juvenal, referring to how easily the crowds were appeased by ensuring that they had enough to eat and could go to the circus. Marx made the same observation about religion, another means of appeasement, when he coined the phrase, ‘Religion, the opium of the people’. Today, these have been replaced by sports and social media, still fulfilling the same purpose. Can you imagine the power our citizens would have to improve society if they deployed the same passion to say, fixing climate change, or homelessness, than they do to a Real Madrid – Barcelona or a Liverpool – Man United derby? Or if great social reformers like Rutger Bregman, Noam Chomsky or Freada Kapor Klein had the same number of followers on Instagram as Cristiano Ronaldo, Ariana Grande or The Rock? Alas, we are still more passionate about entertainment and distraction than about improving our lot, and I am afraid our lot will not improve whilst this is the cas

362. The right to unionise

This is a general issue, although the specific events that elicit this post today are the attempt by Amazon workers in Alabama to unionise, strongly resisted by the company, which has even, in a departure from typical corporate behaviour, started to attack politicians such as Sanders and Warren on social media. This argument should not even be happening, but it is, a result of the successful crashing of the Unions by Thatcherism and Reaganism in the 80s. We are coming to the point, as a society, where we have to ask ourselves the question: Do companies exist to serve people, or do people exist to serve companies? The answer is urgent, unbelievable as this may sound. It is high time we return businesses to their place, the service of society at large and of its individual citizens. Otherwise, we risk seeing companies become proxies for arrogant, autocratic CEOs to wield their power on their fellow human beings, well beyond their remit of delivering books or connecting friends Length: 98

361. Like what you are or be what you like

In Twitteretter 340 I split humanity into those who ensure they are happy doing what they have to do, and those who spend their time wishing they could do something else. The same applies to self image. You are a certain way, combination of your genetics, upbringing and habits. You can choose to be happy, or unhappy, with it, be it physique or intellect. It is, again, a simple matter of personal choice. And don’t get me wrong, however happy you manage to be with what you are currently like, this is no reason not to make improvements. It is critical to understand that your being is not a destination, but a journey. Whether you depart from Happy or Unhappy Port, your life will be most productive, and you will be happiest at the end of it, if you sail in a general improvement direction, towards the land of Your Ideal and, when arriving, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde when writing about Utopia, setting off again, to the land of Your Next Ideal. Progress is the realisation of Utopias’ (or ideals

360. Is social media the tobacco of the XXI century?

Those of you who know their family history will have heard stories of how our parents and grandparents, as post war children, were targeted by unregulated tobacco companies, as new consumers easy to get addicted to their products. This targeting, as we saw later on, had catastrophic consequences on public health. Tobacco corporations resisted, for years, attempts to regulate them, offering to self-regulate and casting doubt on the reported danger of their products, until they were eventually brought in line by society through extensive regulation. Today’s children are being targeted by social media companies, with ever more sophisticated Artificial Intelligence algorithms to compete for their attention at a time when they have not developed the tools to defend themselves. We are already starting to see the consequences, but they will only be fully clear, as happened with tobacco, years ahead. It is not your purse or your life, but rather your lungs or your time, but it is still crimina