CategoriesThought of The Day

Diagnosis: Dysautonomia

(This is written primarily for my kids, and for me)

Dysautonomia is my diagnosis. I hadn’t heard of it, either. Essentially, it’s a syndrome – a collection of symptoms with a probable root cause – rather than a specific diagnosis. But this is what the specialist GP declared after yet another chunk of time off work. It’s a badge, a label, not one I want to wear and perhaps a blue badge will follow in due course. Only time will tell. Since that fateful appointment, I think about this word – all, the, time.

After years of crumby health, leading to acute prostatitis/sepsis in March 2018 with an admission to hospital and a drip to smash the infection, my health has never fully returned. Since that hospital stay, always after doing too much, I predictably crash, leading to a few weeks away from home-life and work-life. That infection destroyed my thyroid – for life! – and still my irksome prostate issues continue.

This time, my fall-off-a-cliff crash, following a hectic time in late April 2021, is different. The crash deeper; the recovery stuck.

Ten days ago, my GP, who specialises in chronic health concerns, definitively gave me this diagnosis. At first, I was grateful that I didn’t have ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Expertly, the GP gave me a number of websites and videos to watch about this syndrome, requesting that we meet again soon. Digesting the recommended materials, the penny dropped: this was a big deal.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS), which in my case is damaged, talks to all organs. This system controls the fight or flight response. Dysfunctional ANS is either primary or secondary. Primary is more impactful, permanent feature than the secondary type, which is triggered by something else. Fingers crossed that this autoimmune condition – where your faulty immune system attacks the body – is of the secondary version (as I think it is). Cure the cause of the autoimmune response and your symptoms are likely to improve, though never go away.

I shall spare my readers the intimate details of my symptoms, suffice to say that my heart, breathing, blood pressure and temperature regulation, are skew-whiff. Sudden, loud noises feel like a life-or-death attack: I flinch. Standing up causes my legs to fill up with blood, requiring a lie-down to achieve equilibrium. Sleep is disrupted and frequently narcolepsy-like. My mornings are worse, improving as the day progresses. At times, the tiredness is all-consuming and sleep non-restorative. At other times, I can walk quite far and perform some work. Other than the occasional unpredictable shooting pain, pain – mercifully – does not feature. Now that’s something to be grateful for!

As a result, I have quit wheat/gluten (following a blood test sent to the US), sport, alcohol, caffeine and most morning work. Daily, I must consume vast quantities of liquid in order to increase the blood supply. Fortunately, I’m instructed to add salt to all my meals, to retain liquid and therefore increase blood volume. Perhaps the wheat/gluten intolerance caused all my problems: I hope so.

What’s the prognosis? I don’t know. What I can say is: I’m not angered by this impediment. Several years of daily blasts of Stoic philosophy have prepared me for this. I am, though, profoundly sad for my family and my awesome work colleagues, as they all bear a greater burden. But my children will learn to appreciate their health and empathise with those who aren’t well: such a great lesson. My colleagues will thrive, stepping up, challenging themselves and continuing our mission.

“The obstacle is the way,” as Marcus Aurelius would say, whose advice I recommend to injured people in my Truth Legal Blog. I shall master this obstacle.

CategoriesPolitics

Goodbye to the Lib Dems

This week, I resigned from the Liberal Democrats as my membership expired. It’s hard to dislike a Lib Dem: they are good people. Usually ideology-free, the Lib Dems wants the best for their local. Localism is what defines them, which often leads to different political positions dependent upon the ward or constituency. This, in turn, irks the other parties, who fairly accuse the Libs of flip-flopping.

My criticism/observation of Libs is that their North Star – their guiding principle – is to disagree with the Conservative Party. Essentially, their identity is not to be the Tories. That was my view before I became a member and remains my view. In recent polling, they are marooned on 5%.

Sadly, most of the Lib Dems I know frown upon any prospect of an electoral pact with other parties, but this is their only route to electoral success, barring a Covid and/or Brexit seismic political event. Disappointingly, tribalism is alive and well in the Libs. Tribalism is of course a base, pathetic instinct from another era.

Nearly everyone that I have met in politics wants the best for their country, yet each side denigrates the motivations of the other. Party politics unnecessarily pits good people against each other. With the antiquated whipping system, good politicians vote for bad laws – like against Marcus Rashford’s free school meals plea – in order to survive, thrive and to climb the ladder.

The representative system is flawed. Constitutional reform is the order of the day, but how to achieve it when the incumbent system benefits those in power? E-democracy – like Polis from Taiwan – could shake things up.

CategoriesHarrogate

Return to the Office

Quite rightly, Covid has given us the chance to reconsider our lives. Nobody, it seems, wants to return to commuting. Environmentally, this is indisputably a good thing.

Home working – which my firm has been doing for years – has countless benefits. The negatives, however, have not enjoyed enough oxygen yet. A balance – a harmony – is usually optimal. For knowledge workers like me, it is our solemn duty to train the next generation. It’s a mistake to think that such training can happen remotely. It can’t.

I posted about to this issue on Linkedin. In response, one professional put it elegantly: “It’s difficult to replicate the on-the-job learning, snatched questions, observations and ‘ear-wigging’ of conversations etc. which all contribute to a lawyer’s development.” Indeed.

Although I have been back in the office for months, I appeared in this week’s Harrogate Advertiser, given that this is the week that Reckless Boris has pushed the return to the office. Here is my quote to the paper, though only a few words were used:

“The duty of any professional person is to train the next generation. Such training cannot all take place by Zoom, email or telephone. This training – often by osmosis – must take place in person. Too many employers are making the mistake – which isn’t easily fixed – of thinking that their junior staff can learn their profession adequately from their spare rooms (if they have them).

Pre-Covid, for most knowledge workers – particularly lawyers, for whom I can speak about – it was farcical that so many were forbidden to work from home. During and post-Covid, many businesses have gone too far. Harrogate businesses must find a middle-ground.

If all professionals are now home-workers, then the main factor which will determine for whom you work is pay. Many jobs will therefore be outsourced to cheaper countries. Though home-working, which crushes the curse of presenteeism, is perhaps more meritocratic, new people to an organisation will struggle to bed-in. Any existing cliques will continue. Through home-working, the culture of an organisation will slowly perish.

The pandemic reminds us all – should we need reminding – that we are all, from a health perspective, inextricably linked. What’s more, the pandemic has revealed that, economically, we are also inextricably connected: if some businesses collapse, then so will others. Harrogate is at precipice: we must act in unison to save it. Adhering to guidance, the businesses of Harrogate must return to the office, for our town needs our presence and our cash.”

Here is the story in the paper:

Harrogate Advertiser September 3 2020 A

Harrogate Advertiser September 3 2020 B

CategoriesPolitics

Perfect is the Enemy of Good: Part One

So said Voltaire, with similar versions from Shakespeare and Confucius.

Throughout lockdown, the lack of schooling for my kids – and to millions of other children less fortunate than mine – has incensed me.

Generally, private schools have moved their lessons online, doing so at pace. State schools, however, have largely failed their children, though there are outliers, by mostly shunning online lessons.

For the sake of posterity, and so that my children know that I tried to make a difference. I offered constructive help to my kids’ school, even offering to pay for an IT consultant to help – which remains unacknowledged. I explained that the Information Commissioner has stated that they will take a common sense (read: generous) approach to data protection regulation during the pandemic. Sadly, my generous, helpful letter was rebuffed.

Broadly, the response from the school was:

  • Teachers are forbidden to check on their pupils by telephone, unless they attend school to make the calls. Hogwash.
  • Given that not all children have devices, we will not offer any online tuition. But we will make no effort to pool resources from other parents.
  • We will send numerous emails with work to be completed, with parents and carers having to sit with them all day, even if they are working full-time and don’t know how to teach.
  • We haven’t sought feedback from parents as to what they want: we know best.
  • Teachers aren’t trained to give lessons online, so we won’t experiment.

Given the disastrous, Delphic way that schools are managed – a hodgepodge of Local Authorities, Academies, powerless governors, Ofsted policeman, Department for Education, trade union involvement, with omnipotent, overworked Heads – not one organisation or person is responsible for the mess: but of course, all failures rest with the Government. Gavin Williamson must be fired.

Because it’s tricky to offer a proper education in lockdown, many State schools have taken the view that because online education can’t be perfect, nor equitable, they won’t try. Of course, the losers won’t be the privileged kids, rather it will be children who are less fortunate. Educational attainment levels will further widen.

I predict (yes, another prediction) that Boris will shortly launch a war against the teaching unions, which will, because of the failure to provide online education, enjoy popular support in the country. You have to admire Boris’ Machiavellian approach: tarnish the unions, even though millions of children have been deprived of an education since March, in order to crush them, permanently.

CategoriesBusiness

The Mother of All Recoveries (The Sequel)

Fasten your seatbelts. Our cryogenically-frozen economy, though in tatters, will recover at a never before seen pace. As an SME-owner here in Yorkshire, let me explain.

Last week brought confirmation – as if it was needed – that the economy took a 20% fall in April. The only surprise was that it was only 20%. Of course, some businesses are booming, but the majority have been hit, just as my law firm has suffered. Large swathes of businesses are in stasis, never to be seen again, when (word of the year) furlough is ushered out.

With our economy heavily dependent on the pursuit of pleasure, our economy ought to be permanently poleaxed. A 1930s-style depression – not just a recession – ought to be a sure thing, right?

The Bank of England defines a recession as 6 months – i.e. two quarters – of concurrent negative economic growth. Q1 – January to March – saw a small Covid-caused contraction, which won’t be a patch on what awaits us in Q2, taking us to the end of June. But will the recession be a continuous feature as many argue?

Brexiteers should be quick to recall “Project Fear’s” warnings, some say led by Bank of England economists, that a guaranteed Brexit-induced recession would commence at 10pm on 23 June 2016 if the people dared to vote against “The Experts”.

Like many Remainer Economics grads, I was convinced that a recession was here to stay. As the economy tanked, “We told you so,” was going to be the refrain to every Brexiteer. Although post-Referendum the Pound took a pummelling, there was no recession.

Which leads me to the failure of economists. On the left, there are Marxist economists, and on the right, we have Thatcher’s and Reagan’s go-to economists at the Chicago School, with every shade in between. Science, medicine and law do not suffer such polars. Economists agree on little. Despite our fetishisation for the opinion of demi-god economists, we must remember that economics simply isn’t a science. And we now know that scientists aren’t always right!

In forecasting what economic fortune awaits, economists frequently miscalculate likely consumer behaviour. People rarely act as anticipated and our economy is powered by this unpredictable force. Economically, Brexit was like the Millennium Bug: we survived it and thrived. Post-Referendum, confidence – the currency of capitalism – was not dented. As the queues I saw outside Sports Direct in Harrogate attest, the confidence gained from the opening of shops will power us out of the carnage.

Whilst my colleagues trickle back to (socially distance) join me at work, Yorkshire’s economy awakens. Listening to my SME clients and witnessing all around my town, I can feel the most powerful economic positive multiplier spinning into action. As a result, Quarter 3 must be better than Quarter 2. If so, recession over, second wave or not.

Though for millions the economic misery will be devastating, unlike when a typical recession hits, such devastation will play out in a rising economy. Capitalism which got us into this mess, through its intrinsic creative and dynamic juices, will get us out of it. The AC – After Corona – economy won’t resemble the BC – Before Corona.

Like pulling back a giant elastic band for three months, either the band will snap, or fly. Fly it should. April’s collapse in GDP wasn’t caused by the economic cycle, which Gordon Brown told us he would conquer, rather it was a choice we had to make. Consumers will ignore the war-era debt mountain and the inevitable tax hikes, and buy that coffee.

Shortly unimpeded by EU State Aid rules, given the need to shorten supply chains, manufacturing will return. With our lower cost base, Northern areas should benefit most. And assuming the Prime Minister survives, we will have a leader oven-ready for the good times. Like him or not, he will be better at getting the country going than in mastering Covid minutiae. My only hope is that in recovery austerity is confined to the ash-heap of history.

From Boris to Karl Marx, accurately bogeyman Marx, in a little-read passage, explained how crime had economic utility, arguing that crime caused better locks, and locksmiths, police, lawyers, judges, law books and law tutors etc. Already, Covid has been the midwife to numerous businesses. More will follow. Excitingly, some of the largest companies were founded in recessions.

In closing, in the US Fed Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan used to study male underpant sales. Why? The theory was that men – and their partners on their behalf – would only buy new underpants when they were feeling confident about the economy – i.e. the ultimate discretionary spend. I don’t know about you, but I’m off to M&S.

CategoriesThought of The Day

The Mother of All Recoveries?

Will the economy tank, as I have been predicting in my blogs? Or will it bounce-back? This issue is dominating my thoughts and conversations.

Last week brought us confirmation – as if it was needed – that the economy took a 20% fall in April. The only surprise was that it was only 20%. Of course, some businesses are booming, but the majority have been hit, just as my firm has been. Some sectors have been cryogenically frozen. With our economy heavily dependent on the pursuit of pleasure, with most service jobs furloughed, our economy ought to be permanently poleaxed. A depression – not just a recession – ought to a sure thing.

But then again, as the unfairly named “Project Fear” predicted in the run-up to the EU Referendum, if Brexit was voted through, a recession was bound to occur, so went the argument. I thought as much myself. And although post-Referendum the pound took a pummelling, there was no recession.

Which leads me to the failure of economists: the failure of those who tutored me at university. There are Marxist Economists and we have the Chicago School, with everything in between. Science and medicine do not have such polars. Economists agree on little. Economics simply isn’t a science. What happened historically isn’t often an accurate predictor of what will happen in the future. Economists are educated guesses, at best.

In predicting what should happen, what economists frequently misunderstand is behavioural analysis of the key economic actors: us consumers. People rarely behave as anticipated. The Brexit shock, so the theory went, should have led us to a recession, but that was more of Millennium Bug Moment: the world didn’t end, so let’s get on with our lives. Confidence – the currency of capitalism – was not dented.

Now I’m beginning to wonder whether the opening of non-essential shops yesterday (15 June 2020) – and there were the below queues outside Sports Direct today! – will trigger the most positive multiplier that we have ever seen, spinning us into prosperity.

sports direct harrogate

Perhaps people will think like this:

“We haven’t died! Let’s live for the moment. Let’s spend, spend, spend! We’ve taken one for the team. We’ve played our part. We’ve suffered. Thanks our to collective sacrifices deaths have finally reduced. We’ve won! Let’s party! We’ve got the measure of this beast and we are still here.”

And in so doing, we restart the economy, contrary to all predictions, including my own. Like pulling back a giant elastic band for three months, either the band will snap, or perhaps the recovery will soar. The collapse in GDP wasn’t caused by typical capitalist economic cycle, rather it was a choice we had to make. Perhaps the economic fundamentals are sound.

Of course, economic predictions are notoriously difficult due to the multiple and interconnected factors, but I’ll have another go: the UK economy will bounce back – no-deal Brexit or not – though we may not recover as to where we were in January 2020.

CategoriesPolitics

Return of the Lawyer Jokes

With Black Lives Matter rightly front and centre of debate, yesterday Keir Starmer commenced his PMQs by referring to the Lammy Report and the Windrush Report, highlighting what he said were recommendations contained therein which hadn’t been implemented by the Tories. Replying, Reckless Boris even muttered “Black Lives Matters”, and argued that recommendations contained in the reports – commissioned by the Tories – were in the process of being implemented. Watch this space.

Turning to the numbers of deaths, Starmer told the Commons that the “numbers haunt us” and that the death count is amongst the highest in the world. Challenging RB, Starmer asked whether there could be any pride in those numbers. RB deployed his usual refrain: it’s too early for international comparisons. Hogwash. We are a basket-case and everyone knows it.

Then to school re-openings, Starmer asked whether RB would work with him to determine the best way to get children back. Again, RB retorted that he had telephoned Starmer – same response as last week – to discuss this. Replying, Starmer essentially accused RB of lying – that RB hadn’t spoken to him about the re-opening of schools, instructing RB “to please drop that”.

This running sore is yet to be picked up by the parliamentary sketch-writers: Starmer is accusing RB of lying. As a lawyer myself, nothing riles us more than when your opponent plays fast and loose with the truth. Drilled into lawyers is the notion that we shouldn’t accuse anyone of deceit unless a high threshold is passed.

“I understand how the legal profession works” retorted Reckless Boris – yes, adhering to our code of ethics; never lying; upholding the rule of law; acting in our client’s best interests – all the traits which any public servant should hold dear.

Guaranteed: more lawyer jibes from RB.

Possible: more predictable questions from Starmer.

Unknown: how will a QC cope with an opponent whom he believes – with justification – has a penchant for falsehoods.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Your true colours

During these frightening times, my recent experience of business, politics, family and friendships instructs me that people’s true colours shine more clearly now than they have ever done. 

 

In business, regardless of sector, caring and talented leaders are making caring and skilful decisions. Dedicated employees are now more dedicated. Lazier staff are now doubly lazy. 

 

Of late, I’ve seen some truly outstanding businessmanship and equally some pretty sharp practices too. Business saints pre-Covid haven’t become sinners, rather just more saintly. 

 

In politics, those with spine, with something to say, say it now unimpeded. And they’re cutting through to the public. Incompetence is now – particularly in government – amplified a thousandfold. Small mistakes are having catastrophic consequences.

 

Have you ever wanted to know about your character? If so, appraise yourself now. Are you happy with what you see?

 

CategoriesPolitics

Double Praise for Boris Johnson

Parking Covid for a moment, frequently people on ‘the left’ chastise Reckless Boris (RB) – as I like to call him but not for the rest of this blog – for his countless misdemeanours. It’s a good sport, with plenty to go at. For my part, I’ll certainly highlight incidences of his numerous errors, most of which stem from his character flaws. Levelled at our Prime Minister by many is the accusation that he is racist.

Undeniably, as a provocative journalist he has written some truly ugly words, so ugly that I won’t repeat them here. I can’t and I won’t forget the words and descriptions he has deployed over the years. But it’s a non sequitur to conclude that journalists who use such terms are, ipso facto, racists. There is a strong correlation, of course, and I won’t defend the practice.

No doubt Boris will say almost anything to anyone in order to get what he wants, but what can we learn about his actions rather than his words. I’ll give you a recent example, one which he didn’t get enough credit for; one that I wholeheartedly support.

Plugged-in followers of international affairs will be aware of the on-going unrest in Hong Kong, triggered by China’s attempts to dominate the populous, scrapping the one country, two systems principle which has governed the quasi-state since independence.

With Brexit proper just months away, with the world orientating towards Beijing – as the US self-destructs – Boris has just done the unthinkable – unthinkable if you paint him as a racist – and offered nearly 3 million inhabitants of Hong Kong a path to British citizenship should China enact the Hong Kong-grabbing legislation. Not only is this brave, bold leadership at a time when we are de-coupling from the EU and the laughingstock of the world for our Covid horror show, but this policy squashes the notion that Boris is racist.

Boris’ essay appeared in the South China Morning Post and The Times under the heading “For Hongkongers fearing for their way of life, Britain will provide an alternative.” Here’s the key Boris offer:

“Today, about 350,000 of the territory’s people hold British National Overseas passports and another 2.5 million would be eligible to apply for them. At present, these passports allow visa-free access to the United Kingdom for up to six months.

If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change our immigration rules and allow any holder of these passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship.

This would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history. If it proves necessary, the British government will take this step and take it willingly.”

Boris has made me proud. He has done the right thing. Those who will be most troubled by this are people for whom Brexit was all about curtailing immigration. To them I say, “Ha, ha”. Boris isn’t a xenophobe, he’s one of the most cosmopolitan Prime Ministers we have had. Xenophobes don’t become London Mayor.

_________________________

Inspired by the famous Blair v Christopher Hitchens debate, some years ago I ran Harrogate Debate – an Oxford Union-style debating chamber here in Harrogate. Assisted by others, I hosted debates such as: Is Religion a Force For Good In the World? This House Would Ban Faith Schools; Assisted Dying; and of course, our most attended debate: Brexit.

Each time, the format was that the audience would vote on the motion upon entry to the chamber and then again after hearing the debate. The winner was the debater who persuaded the most people to switch to their position.

Today I watched the debate: Ancient Greece v Ancient Rome, which used the same debating format. Debated in London in 2015, chaired by Andrew Marr, Boris Johnson – who read Classics – argued that Ancient Greece was more impressive, more influential than Rome, with Cambridge Don, Beard, arguing the counter. On entry, the audience were broadly even, with some “don’t knows”. In the end, Beard won. (If I had attended, I would have voted for Ancient Greece on entry and at the end).

Hardly was it a fair fight. Boris read his degree in the mid-1980s and was London Mayor at that time of the debate – i.e. he had other things to do than prepare for a charity debate. Mary Beard was a current professor of classics. Watch it. For the first ten minutes Boris meanders without purpose, occasionally impressing the audience with his smattering of ancient Greek, before then springing into life, cogently arguing his case, predicated on two simple points.

First, Greece was the midwife to Rome: without Ancient Greece, there could be no Ancient Rome. Second, Rome was far crueller than Greece – no crucifixions nor gladiatorial shows. When Beard takes her turn, she eviscerates Boris for being – you guessed it – casual with the truth.

After their position statements are over, when they spar, Boris displays his quick-wittedness and deep understanding of his subject, recounting the years that this or that ancient event occurred. Regardless of who won, regardless of whether Boris accurately portrayed Ancient Greece, we – perhaps begrudgingly, depending on your position – must accept that we are governed by a very capable person.

CategoriesPolitics

Liar-In-Chief

To accuse anyone of lying one must be sure of the facts, even if that person is Donald Trump. Of course, no thinking person could conclude that the President is a “nice guy”, but is he a liar? Well, that’s another thing.

Though examples of his chicanery are numerous, I want to focus on a recent Trump tweet which I instantaneously knew was a falsehood.

Let’s consider the recent episode with James Mattis, a Four-Star US General, who made his name in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. Famously, Mattis made some pretty brutal comments about the conduct of war. No doubt based on his uncompromising approach, Trump appointed Mattis to be Secretary of Defence, even though he was within the 7-year period which prevented former military personnel from serving in office. His appointment required the approval of the Senate and Congress, passing with ease. Mattis assumed office in 2017.

In 2019, Mattis resigned because of Trump’s foaming-at-the-mouth mad policy towards Syria and NATO. Until recently, he has kept his mouth shut, as is the norm for retired generals.

Why write about Mattis today? Because of the below tweet from Trump:

tweet

In it, Trump declared that he nicknamed Mattis “Mad Dog”. But Mattis has endured – because he doesn’t like it – this nickname since at least 2004, if not before. This 2013 article – 6 years before Trump approached him – refers to “Mad Dog Mattis”. And this clipping from the Los Angeles Times dated 2004 – a mere twelve years before Trump selected him – also refers to the “Mad Dog” nickname. Trump’s tweet – like many of them – is a provable lie.

But proving that Trump lies is like shooting fish in a barrel. What’s more interesting is why Trump has a penchant for untruths. In this particular case, no votes could be won in declaiming that he came up with the nickname. Lying about a Four-Star General will not go down with his base, most of whom will have heard of Mad Dog Mattis before he became Secretary of Defence. Frightening, dangerous behaviour by anyone, let alone someone in the highest of office. He has no concept of truth. Perilous times are ahead.