CategoriesInternational AffairsPoliticsThought of The Day

Trump and the Massacre in Goa

Oops: I should have applied sunscreen today. My face is red. Silly me.

 

I’m typing in a hotel bar, then sipping my first Venezuelan rum. Here in North Tenerife, it’s raining, as it has done for most of the day, but with a brief interlude – hence my mild sunburn. I haven’t stayed in such a basic hotel since I holidayed in Albania, ten years ago. It does the job, though. Just.

 

Over the last few days, I have spent my time with a British couple, who are selling their business. I’m interested, very interested indeed, in acquiring it. If nothing else, here in Tenerife the ambulances, hospitals and emergency call-handling, all function.

 

Back home in Broken Britain, good luck getting medical care today. “Don’t do anything remotely dangerous today” instructs Sunak’s Government – (such as allowing 50,000 excess deaths). In more sensible times, presiding over so many unnecessary deaths and a falling life expectancy would be grounds for a lengthy custodial sentence. But most of the public are distracted by Prince Harry.

 

But enough about that. Over the last few weeks, I have been chewing over an issue which vexes me.

 

………………………………………………………………………………

 

Let me tell you a story.

 

Twenty-one years ago, on 9/11, an hour or so before those awful events, my good friend – let’s call him “J” – collected our Iranian visas from the Iranian embassy in London. We were going to Iran!

 

Then, two planes later, our travels plans were changed, as was the world. Instead of travelling from Greece to Burma/Myanmar overland, given that travel insurance to most of the Muslim world was voided, we went to India instead.

 

By the third week in India, we found ourselves – as a backpacking cliche – in Goa. We hired scooters – of course we did – bumming around the beaches and bars, before retiring to our 50p per night hostel. Rinse and repeat, day after day.

 

Everything changed one fateful day when J ordered a chicken sandwich from a hut – a hut which didn’t have a refrigerator. We had been the first – and last – customers of that day. We both recall the look on the faces of the staff as J bit into that sandwich.

 

Delhi Belly beckoned: horrendous for him and vicariously for me, given that we were sharing a crummy room. As J’s condition deteriorated, I summoned a doctor: pills were prescribed, so was the strong recommendation that we checked into accommodation more salubrious.

 

Not far from our lodgings, I found better huts, with intermittent warm water in the shower. Unusually, these new digs had a swimming pool. At £5 per night, shared between us, it was comparably expensive. This attracted a different sort of backpacker.

 

As the days passed, J’s condition improved. Eventually, he was well enough to swim. In the pool, the could-have-done-with-some-filtration water was far too low, making it quite taxing to clamber out.

 

One sunny afternoon, J noticed that there were dozens of frogs drowning in the pool. They were, he thought, marooned, unable to get out. Ever the nature-lover, J swam around, carefully scooping the frogs out of the pool, depositing them safely on solid ground. Mission accomplished.

 

Listening to my Walkman, I watched with fascination, proud of my friend’s good work. Then, almost imperceptibly at first, the surrounding trees became increasingly lively with movement: birds – lots of them and goodness knows the species – began to assemble, like onlookers to a playground fight.

 

In sync, the birds dive-bombed towards the pool, scooping-up every last frog, before returning to the trees to devour lunch. It was a feeding frenzy. J was crestfallen. Every frog met its maker.

 

(Only later did we appreciate that the frogs were, in fact, cooling down, and could easily get out of the pool when they wanted.)

 

Loosely, tangentially, this incident reminded me of, one, Donald Trump.

 

Trump is vile, with every unpleasant description of him, justified. He’s the very worst example for children. But notwithstanding his awfulness, dispassionately, we should remember his many good deeds and sound predictions.

 

Trump crossed the DMZ between North and South Korea, which delivered a short-lived rapprochement between these two warring parties. For a time, “Little Rocket Man” stopped firing rockets. Now, under Biden, North Korea routinely fires its rockets over Japan.

 

In the Middle East, spearheaded by Trump, several Arab nations signed peace deals with Israel, under the Abraham Accords. More Arab countries will follow suit. On Trump’s watch, let’s not forget that the Taliban didn’t control Afghanistan and Russia didn’t invade Ukraine, nor did China routinely fly into Taiwanese airspace. Although Trump was addicted to tweeting childishly, the world was more peaceful on his watch. A prospective nuclear exchange was not, as it is now, a possibility.

 

And we should be fair to the Donald, for on multiple occasions Trump demanded that other NATO countries paid their fair share for their own defence, reasonably asking: why should US taxpayers pay a disproportionate sum to protect Europe from Russia? And most presciently, Trump repeatedly advised Germany not to rely upon Russian gas. If only Germany had listened, Russian might not have felt emboldened to attack Ukraine. He was a vile embarrassment, but on the international stage – and I cannot believe that I am writing this – the world was safer with him in the White House.

 

I won’t comment on Trump’s tenure from an internal US perspective, for I don’t feel suitably qualified to express a fair view. And, before any reader point it out, Trump was wrong on environmental issues.

 

I remain troubled that my friend – J – with the very best of hearts and with impeccable motivation, inadvertently killed dozens of frogs. Conversely, Trump – whom I detest on a personal level and was most probably erroneously motivated – performed acts worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize. Obama received a Nobel Prize for his vision and oratory, but deeds are infinitely more powerful than words. Internationally, do we need Trump again? Do you feel safe today? I don’t.

 

I am compelled to conclude that the world is even more complicated than I had thought. Good people can – by commission and by omission – cause mass suffering and, conversely, dreadful human beings can do so much good. My homework? To re-evaluate what I look for in a leader.

 

CategoriesLegalHealthThought of The Day

Ignore the Bedside Manner    

During my 18 years practicing law, I have worked with hundreds of lawyers. I have also hired, managed and fired quite a few lawyers, too. Through my work I have also trained a few hundred doctors, and sued over 100 medics for medical negligence. And with my never-ending – and very boring – chronic health dramas, I have been treated by dozens of medics. I’d like to think that I have sufficient authority to express a view about doctors and lawyers. But the principle upon which I will write applies to most realms of work.

My thesis is: that the bedside manner of a professional is usually misleading to their client or patient. Yet most patients and clients simply don’t get this. The best example of this is Dr Harold Shipman: his wonderful bedside manner masked his 250 murders. Even after news of his crimes came to light, many residents of Hyde, Manchester said that they would still have had him as their doctor, because he was so lovely.

And just because a lawyer answers the phone and replies to emails in a timely manner, it doesn’t follow that sound legal work has taken place. Sure, it is a good sign that correspondence is courteously and quickly dealt with, but it doesn’t indicate that the advice has been accurate. The legal advice is the key element, not how it was presented. And just because a doctor appears understanding and thorough it doesn’t follow that their advice has been appropriate. Professional regulators only ensure a minimum level of professional competence – that’s all. Professional indemnity insurers charge higher sums to incompetent professionals, but remember that Dr Shipman wasn’t priced out of the market!

Over the years, I have witnessed incompetent lawyers, who have prepared a case poorly, only to succeed in their case, to the joy of their client. Conversely, I know of excellent lawyers, well prepared in their case, who have lost, to the ferocious disappointment of their client. In the first example, praise is misplaced and, in the second, criticism is unwarranted. Even the outcome doesn’t tell the full story.

When training medics about clinical negligence law, my number one tip for avoiding a claim is to ensure that they are transparent and extremely helpful with the patient who had just been damaged through their negligence. The last thing that a patient wants to do is to sue their doctor, even if the wrong kidney had been erroneously removed. Evasive, unhelpful doctors are the ones who bear the most complaints.

Many people don’t know this, but lawyers have forever been duty-bound to report to their client errors which have damaged their client. Rightly, we fess-up when we have blundered. However, in medicine, astonishingly, it is only since 2014 that medics have been subjected to a duty of candour. Yet the public trusts medics more than lawyers. Another example of misplaced trust.

In my experience, the only – though far from fool-proof – way to improve the odds of seeing the right lawyer, or medic, is to ask other professionals for their recommendations. And if you can get a few recommendations, from various professionals, then this will improve the odds that you are to see the right person for your issue. Ask the professional: if they had the [insert type of legal case or symptom] that you have, who would they want to see and why? And even if you see the very best professional, you won’t know if they are having an off-day.

All this assumes that the patient, or client, has ready access to other lawyers or doctors in their social circle, usually as part of their middle class advantage. Of course, online reviews and your own instinct have some place in judging the merits of various professionals, but know that, unless you are an expert in the field yourself, you simply don’t know whether your professional is any good.

 

So, good luck!

CategoriesTechThought of The Day

Mark My words: The World Has Just Changed Forever

Like many forty-something-year-olds, I spent the first 18 years of my life without the internet, or a mobile phone. In the last quarter century of online usage, like most people, I have had my mind blown by some of the online developments. Google Streetview remains most impressive.

 

But nothing has shocked me to my core as the artificial intelligence tool, Chat CPT. I beg all the readers of this blog to have a play with this free tool. I have barely scratched the surface of its capabilities.

 

Life on earth will never be the same again, as mainstream, free AI has just landed. Ask it anything. Try it!

 

Some examples below:

 

My question: Which jobs are most likely to not be made obsolete by AI in the next 20 years?

 

It is difficult to predict with certainty which jobs will not be made obsolete by AI in the next 20 years, as developments in AI and automation technology are constantly evolving. However, there are some jobs that are less likely to be automated, such as those that require creative or critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and social skills. These may include jobs in the arts, education, health care, and social services. Additionally, jobs that require a human touch, such as hairdressing or massage therapy, are also less likely to be automated. Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself against job automation is to continually develop your skills and knowledge and stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies in your field.

 

My question: Write a rhyming poem about Rosa Parks meeting William Shakespeare in space

 

Rosa Parks and Shakespeare meet in space, A moment so out of place, But as they converse, they both see, That in each other, they share history.

Rosa, the civil rights queen, Who took a stand, and made a scene, And Shakespeare, a master of words, Whose plays and sonnets are still heard.

Together they marvel at the stars, And all the planets that are far, They ponder the mysteries of the universe, And the paths that they both traversed.

Rosa speaks of the struggles she faced, And the courage it took to take her place, Shakespeare listens with great care, And offers words of wisdom and repair.

For in their conversation, they find, That they both have fought for what is right, And though they come from different times, Their hearts and minds are intertwined.

So they continue their chat in the night, Two trailblazers, shining bright, Rosa Parks and Shakespeare in space, A meeting that will never be erased

 

My daughter’s question: Write a poem about Andrew Gray and Truth Legal

 

Andrew Gray is a man of truth, A lawyer who knows the proof, He fights for justice every day, In a world that can sometimes be gray.

With words and laws as his tools, He fights for what is right and true, He stands up for the weak and oppressed, And never lets injustice go unrest.

For Andrew knows that truth will win, And that justice always finds a way in, He stands strong and never falters, For he knows that truth will always conquer.

So let us all learn from Andrew Gray, And never be afraid to speak our truth and say, That justice and truth must always prevail, And that with courage, we can never fail

…………………

 

I bet you are wondering about the weird image which accompanies this blogpost. Well, I used another AI tool which generates free images. Try: Stable Diffusion.

In this instance, I asked for an image of “3 Quaker lawyers eating food”. Not bad, heh?

CategoriesHealthThought of The Day

Cuando In Tenerife

It’s 8pm on Saturday night. I’m alone, in Puerto De La Cruz, Tenerife. Two guitarists serenade the busy restaurant. I have a table in the corner, squinting at the TV, watching Argentina V Mexico in the World Cup. The delightful smell of garlic wafts over. The night isn’t balmy; it’s quasi-balmy, if you know what I mean.

I await la comida sin gluten. Wish me luck. My Spanish – though improving – lets me down, repeatedly. Perhaps I will be served a plate of gluten. Yummy.

I booked this trip on Thursday, for the Friday. Solo. I simply had to do something to arrest the deterioration in my darn (yawn) health.

As I type, a lady, twice my age, with pink hair, takes the mic and begins to sing in Spanish. She’s good. The audience – all Spanish – of a certain age, begin to clap in tune.

The steak is chewy, just about dead. In a first for me, here’s a photo, true Instagram-style. My new theory is that the health of the modern human is damaged if we depart too much from what our ancestors did. I doubt that we are meant to spend our working day on a chair, tapping away on a keyboard. I doubt that our brains are able to cope with the constant bombardment of emails, WhatsApps and tweets  I doubt that we should eat three square meals per day.

It’s still 0-0.

All day, I have been thinking about how long I have felt so rough. For the last two years, if not longer, for every waking minute, I haven’t felt quite right. Sometimes, I’m at 90% health and nobody could know anything was wrong. At other times, I’m down at 20%. That’s quite the thing, isn’t it?

I don’t know whether to treat this illness as a battle, a marathon. Or, I wonder, perhaps I should make peace with it. Certainly, many parts of my life have been better for me and my family since I couldn’t work as I once did. Certainly, many aspects of life are worse. I don’t feel sorry for myself. But I would like to run again.

The Stoic in me knows that I shouldn’t expend any energy contemplating matters outside of my control, but elements of this illness appear to be within my control. Surely there’s a cure? So I should keep fighting, right?

Then I realise – again – that there’s no medic who has my back. Nobody is trying to make me well. It’s all on me. Chronic illness is unsexy; and ones caused by big pharma aren’t being fixed by big pharma, because there’s no money in it. Oh, and it’s better for them that’s there’s no admission of blame  

The guitarist duo start to play the Spanish classic “Cuando, Cuando, Cuando”. When, indeed.

Messi scores.

CategoriesHealthHarrogateThought of The Day

Pooper-Scooping

It’s 11pm, in the Autumn. On the Stray, it’s raining hard. As ever, the wind is unforgiving. The streetlights are off. Underfoot, mushed-up leaves. I’m soaking, particularly my feet.

 

Despite multiple commands to “do a poo-poo”, the dog looks at me, bemused, his orange flashing collar makes me nauseous.

 

Then, at last, we have action! Thankfully, mission accomplished, over a pile of leaves: which always makes for easier scooping.

 

With the handy torch, on my phone, precariously balancing between my knees, successfully I scoop-up my prize, depositing it in the nearby bin. Good dog: he usually does it close to a bin. “Yes, you can have plenty of biscuits. Let’s go home.”

 

Although I hated every nappy I changed, and although, until recently, I hated pooper-scooping, today I’m loving it.

 

These little, irrelevant everyday things – tasks which I hitherto despised – have now taken on a whole new joy, because I can now do them, after so many months of uselessness on my part.

 

After 42 years of living mainly in my head – living in the past and, more often, living in various futures – I’m learning to live in the moment, as Alan Watts repeatedly advised us to do. Life is now! Revel in it. Life isn’t in the future! Forget the past. Delight in the now. And pick up the poop.

 

CategoriesInternational AffairsPoliticsThought of The DayBusiness

Seven Recent Observations 

  1. On the Budget from Dumb and Dumber

As I highlighted in my penultimate blog, Truss is an ideologue. She doesn’t hide it. Her recent budget was a piece of work: never has a new Prime Minister committed political suicide so quickly. I will, though, defend Truss to some extent.

During the unfathomably and unforgivable leadership campaign, during which we had no functioning Government, despite being mired in crisis, and with Reckless Boris taking two holidays – holidays he could have taken following his jettisoning from office – few people would have noticed that Truss said in an interview that the ideological, swingeing cuts to the State between 2010-2015 carried out by – until this week – the worst Chancellor in British history – George Osbourne – went too far. That is an understatement, but she was right. Those cuts triggered a double-dip recession, a rarity in post-war Britain, because they damaged confidence in the economy (as well as diminishing the State’s massive spending power). I shall award half marks to Truss for understanding half of the lesson from that period and having the guts to say so.

For me, campaigning against those wicked cuts in or around 2010 remains something that I am proud of (though I might have gone too far by making our baby deliver leaflets in the winter).

andrew gray cuts

To her credit, Truss understands that economics – and I studied it – is no science. Truss knows that modern economies, particularly ones built on the service sector and the housing market, react to psychological factors, more than anything else. Hence her misjudged budget of boosterism on steroids.

This was not the time for financial imprudence, as Sunak kept telling the Tory members, but they didn’t listen. Cuts to taxes, particularly to stamp duty, with the hope that this will stimulate our economy, would always be counterproductive if the independent Bank of England had to rapidly increase interest rates to stave-off a run on the pound. This last week has wreaked havoc to the nation’s economic psychology and guarantees an end to Tory rule, with Labour enjoying a massive poll lead, even though they have nothing to say.

Although flawed and damaged goods, at least it was Truss who had to handle the Queen’s passing. My guess is that Reckless Boris’s tenure embarrassed the Queen. It remains fascinating and more than coincidental that she died so quickly after the ejection of Reckless Boris. Classy to the end.

  1. On Dealing With Putins

Having litigated for 17 years, I have learned a thing or two about disputes, particularly about the psychology of a dispute. One memorable and nasty piece of litigation I was involved with, reminds me of the situation facing Ukraine today.

In my case, the Defendant had all the appearances of a smart, sophisticated and logical opponent, but they then made decisions which dumfounded my colleagues and me. As a litigator, we are taught to put ourselves in the position of our opponents, in order to second-guess what moves they will make. In this case, our opponent made illogical and self-defeating moves. Rather than emboldening us, we were left – and still remain – bamboozled. Settlement followed due to the erratic nature of our opponent, despite the weakness of their position. The litigation was hellish but as Robert Louis Stephenson once said: “Compromise is the best and cheapest lawyer.”

Litigation is a form of war – war in a legal context, and with some rules, which are zealously enforced. War, on the contrary, is not really bound by any enforceable law. My view is that the situation for Ukraine is, sadly, unwinnable. The threat of nuclear escalation is real: what might deter a tactical nuclear strike is the prevailing wind. Of course, Russia isn’t going away any time soon and any successor to Putin might be more competent as well as being equally determined to seize Ukrainian land. In international affairs, bullies with nuclear weapons succeed – that is realpolitik.

Absent any new world policeman – which of course is prevented due to the Russian veto on the Security Council – a rapid settlement is urgently needed. Although I have seen not one single report of recent settlement talks, the only signal of a possible settlement is the Truss-Kwarteng budget. If peace is declared, the real – and psychological – world-wide boost, will promote financial growth internationally. In that case, the Truss-Kwartang budget was clever, but premature. (For clarification, absent an immediate ceasefire, the budget was lunacy.)

  1. On Doing Business Deals

From my experience as a lawyer and an entrepreneur, I can tell you that exchanges of emails, or letters, is the worst way of negotiating business deals. If you can, do it in person, when everyone has eaten and had enough sleep. The written word can be poison. The same word spoken always lands more gently and is therefore more conducive to finding agreement.

  1. Thoughts on the Queen

By far the most interesting analysis I have seen on the passing of the Queen was from Professor of Psychology, Jordan Peterson, here. Peterson was delivering a live Q & A when the news of the Queen’s death landed, so he had to think on his feet. To cut a 14-minute monologue short, Peterson’s key point is that the alternative to a constitutional monarchy is an elected Head of State. Peterson said that most people cannot handle the fame of being Head of State, pointing to Donald Trump, who acted like a Tzar. To have one family, albeit a financially hyper-privileged family, carrying the burden of fame and constitutional power, solves many of a nation’s difficulties. I don’t like the idea of a monarchy, but perhaps the alternative is worse.

Peterson’s second point is that there is wisdom baked into our monarchical system. He said that the Queen was able to intimidate the 14 Prime Ministers who served under her – and listening to former PMs talk about her, it seems that Peterson was onto something.

Would I want to live with a President Johnson? No. Would I like to live in a country with an elected President in addition to a Prime Minister? Probably not. Who is the President of Germany? Exactly. On the countless times that this nation was embarrassed internationally by Reckless Boris and now by Truss, at least these two were not our only figureheads.

But would I bow to a Queen or a King? Never. Would you? I should add that I pity the royal family: just imagine having your relative’s funeral televised for billions to see. No thank you very much.

  1. Magic Mushrooms and Philosophy

Someone recently told me of the psychedelic effects of eating the “right” type of mushrooms – mushrooms which grow throughout Yorkshire. For clarity, I don’t support, nor recommend, such actions: it seems dangerous to me, as well as being illegal. The description of the mind-altering “qualities” reminded me of my recent experience of Nietzsche’s key findings (I know this sounds pretentious.)

But I challenge any reader not to be thrown by Nietzsche’s ideas, particularly that of nihilism. Nothing clears my mind better than a batch of Nietzsche – the YouTube videos do a superb job of summarising his work, as his writings are, for me, mostly impenetrable. This quotes sums up his work for me:

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Meditate on that if you will: imagine that there is no right way – no right way, of anything, of being, of thinking! All value structures fall away: now that is mind-altering!

  1. On Onshore Wind

Over the last few months, I have become increasingly interested in onshore wind. With the country facing an energy crisis (years in the making), we must remember that it was Cameron’s Government which made onshore wind virtually impossible, due to their draconian planning regs. This point was hammered home by opposition MPs during the recent House of Commons fracking debate.

But what was most interesting about the debate on fracking is that – not once – did Jacob Rees Mogg let on that anything would change in relation to onshore wind, despite the barracking he was taking. Then, the next morning, without fanfare, his department declared that they would permit onshore wind. You couldn’t make it up. At last, commonsense has prevailed.

  1. On Inflation and Crypto

Where has all this inflation come from, people are asking. Simple: although I have seen wildly different figures, between 40-80% of all dollars in circulation in the world – remembering that dollars are the world’s reserve currency – were printed since Covid. Digest that fact.

This printing of money, deployed by most countries in the world, is the main factor behind inflation. High inflation is no surprise. If there is an iron law in economics, then is it that the printing of money will eventually lead to inflation. And when there is inflation, coupled with low interest rates, there is no point putting money in a bank account, hence why people buy assets, which then inflate prices. High inflation post-Covid was obvious.

As an owner – and an advocate – of crypto currencies, my view is that crypto or other digital currencies soon to be deployed by governments, stand to gain significantly from global high inflation. So far, this hasn’t occurred. On the contrary, crypto is down this last 6 months, due to the strength of the dollar, because, in tough times, people buy dollars. But give crypto time.

If inflation remains a global issue, which I suspect that it will, particularly if Ukraine and Russia settle, my ignorant recommendation is to have a portfolio of crypto assets, if only £10 here and there, just to get a feel for how it works.

CategoriesPoliticsThought of The Day

Babysitting: In Liz we Trust?

Today, Truss took on Starmer at PMQs. Across both sides of the aisle, the atmosphere was flat. Evidently, Truss lacks the support of the majority of her MPs. Public speaking is not her forte.

Nerdy, seasoned PMQ-watchers, like me, enjoyed the Blair v Major, Blair v Hague and Starmer v Johnson, for it was often rip-roaring stuff. With Starmer v Johnson it was war, with both men despising the other. (Reportedly, Reckless Boris loathed Starmer because Carrie had been the victim of the Black Cab Rapist and, supposedly, Starmer’s CPS performed a poor job of the rapist’s prosecution).

After Johnson’s approach to PMQs of bluster and deceit, today’s sparring was a welcome relief. Opening, Starmer welcomed Truss to the position. In turn, Truss thanked Starmer for his support on Ukraine: it seemed genuine. A far more decent human being is now in power, for Johnson would have gone on the offensive, attacking Starmer for working under Corbyn. Starmer seemed surprised at her civility.

Starmer’s questions were short and sharp, focusing on one theme: why will the Government not levy a windfall tax on the energy companies, leaving working people to pick up the energy price freeze? Because Tories don’t believe in walloping corporations, replied Truss candidly.

Each Starmer question was met with a straight-forward and ideological response. As a result, PMQs was dull, but instructive. Mendacity and ego has been replaced by an ideologue.

Of course, I refused to watch any of the Tory leadership debates and avoided reports of the various spats, for the entire process lays bare our broken constitution, which clever Johnson frequently exploited. Even Putin today commented on our democratic deficit. With Truss’s break with Johnson’s policies on National Insurance and on Corporation Tax, the fact that 99.5% of the British people had no say in her elevation, any competent Leader of the Opposition would have proposed a new constitutional settlement: but Starmer has nothing of note to offer.

Truss has crystal clear Tory orthodoxy as her North Star. Starmer’s North Star – that of not being Reckless Boris – has left him directionless, hamstrung, lost. He needs some ideas.

In his autobiography Tony Blair wrote about his “country test” to see if a country was any good: if people are fleeing a country, then that is a bad country; if people want to come to a country, then the target country is a good one.

For Prime Ministers, I propose the babysitting test, which admittedly is a rather low bar: would you leave your children for the night with [insert name of possible Prime Minister]? For me, it is a resounding “yes” for both Starmer and Truss as babysitters. No sensible parent would have left their kids with Boris – not for any sinister reasons – but because he couldn’t be trusted to ensure that the children would be in the house by the end of the night. Although Reckless Boris had some positive policy positions, I am relieved that the most morally unfit MP no longer occupies Number Ten.

 

CategoriesInternational AffairsTravelThought of The DayBusiness

Duolingo and the Future of Geopolitics 

For those who don’t know, Duolingo is an awesome app which helps you to learn a language. Each day, for the last 112 days (as Duolingo tells me), I have studied Spanish on this app. Averaging 20 minutes per day on this app – bolstered by weekly online Spanish lessons with a real tutor – I now comprehend quite a lot of Spanish. At school, I despised language learning.

Duolingo gamifies language learning and uses the latest research to enhance the tutee’s time on the platform. Me encanta Duolingo! When I look at the apps assembled on my phone, there are only a few which bring me joy; most are there for functional reasons. Duolingo is good for me. Opening the snazzy app each morning brings me great pleasure.

Duolingo’s methodology of cajoling tutees to stay engaged ought to be copied by all learning establishments, because it works. Over 1.5m people have used the app each day for over one year. Using Duolingo’s simple user interface is a pleasure. I recommend that everyone has a play with this app: 97% of users don’t pay to use it. With half a billion users, Duolingo has improved the planet and made a massive profit.

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast interview with the co-founder of Duolingo, Luis von Ahn. Nice guy. For me, there were two important takeaways from the wide-ranging conversation. First, Duolingo’s mission to – for free – educate hundreds of millions of people motors most of the platform’s staff to keep improving the tech in order to educate more people. The platform’s commitment to its mission is the reason for its success. It is a potent example that the best businesses have a mission over and above profit-making. In fact, without their missionary zeal, their wild profits would not have materialised. My own experience is that colleagues working in a mission-driven business go above and beyond.

The second key learning point for me is a cultural one, which I believe will shape geopolitics for decades to come. The co-founder explained that, broadly speaking, of the half a billion users, there are two distinct groups of learners, roughly in two equal camps. Half of users are people learning English language because they need to for financial reasons: to get on at work; to get into a better university etc. The other half are, like me, learning for fun, and usually opt for languages such as Spanish and French.

Surprisingly, given that the top echelons of society are forcing their children to learn Mandarin, only around 1% of the tutees are choosing to learn Mandarin. In fact, possibly more people are learning Korean than Chinese, because of the brilliance of South Korean movies. People are voting with their fingers and eschewing Mandarin. Before hearing these stats, I would have guessed that around one-third of tutees would have been learning Mandarin.

With the meteoric rise of China as an economic and military force there is much talk that this century will be China’s. This is what I assumed would happen, but given that hundreds of millions of people are still choosing to learn English, my interpretation of these stats is that there is significant and worldwide hostility to Chinese influence. And with hundreds of millions of people voluntarily choosing to learn English it seems to me, that culturally at least, the West – primarily the English-speaking West – will remain dominant, even if economically its superiority has been neutered. English remains the lingua franca.

Certainly, part of the reason why people don’t learn Mandarin is due to its inherent complexity, but having travelled in China – albeit twenty-ish years ago – it is not a country that I am eager to return to. When I reflect on my time in China, I do not do so with any warmth. Seemingly, hundreds of millions of people have a similar antipathy towards China. My estimation is that the vast “soft power” provided by the English language and, to a lesser degree, its culture, ought to mean that although Chinese economic and military power will continue to rise, Chinese cultural dominance will not occur this century.

 

 

CategoriesThought of The Day

On BBC World Service today!

After one lengthy, in-person interview, dozens of phone calls and countless emails – to’ing and fro’ing – finally the BBC World Service programme featuring my work promoting Polis in Harrogate went live this morning.

I still haven’t plucked up the courage to listen to it!

As I said to the wonderful, fact-checking journalist today when she called, her finicky and details-demanding approach restored some of my faith in journalism. Always professional and friendly, the BBC journalist ensured that the full facts were known. No stone left unturned. No nasty surprises for the BBC post-release.

I’m indebted to the BBC for helping to spread this good news story of tech playing a positive role in our democracy. Taiwan and Harrogate in the same show – I bet nobody saw that one coming

Here it is! 

CategoriesThought of The Day

Can you help the BBC World Service?

Over the last few months I have had the great pleasure of liaising with an outstanding journalist who works for the BBC World Service. The journalist works on the People Fixing the World series. Exciting news: the program is coming to Harrogate this weekend to interview me about my work with the political tech tool – Polis.

In particular, the BBC is interested in this Polis conversation which I have been running on The Harrogate District Consensus website about whether Rotary Wood (planted by children twenty years ago) should be bulldozed in order to expand the Harrogate Spring Water plant. In return, the plant – now owned by Danone PLC – pledge to plant far more trees than they destroy. They say that at least 30 jobs will be created.

This Polis conversation has attracted over 14,000 votes from 467 people. Not bad. It is too early to say whether there is consensus. I do wonder whether the consensus will be that the people of Harrogate will consent to the demolition if the company plants 100 trees for each one removed.

So far, on the platform we have facilitated over 100,000 votes on circa 25 questions. In addition – and quite innovatively (if I may say so myself) – we profiled every candidate in May’s local elections, asking the candidates their positions on one of our conversations about a possible default 20mph in Harrogate. This is our attempt to connect people to power.

We have only closed two conversations – one on The Station Gateway and the other about a possible default 20mph zone in Harrogate – releasing the data to the world. The remaining conversations are still open – so still time to vote, folks! Or you can even suggest a conversation for us to run.

The BBC have asked me to promote the below. If readers of this blog have adapted their positions because of Polis technology, can you get in touch with them?

“Hello, People Fixing the World, which broadcasts on BBC World Service radio is exploring the use of the Polis platform and how it can be used to find voices and opinions on all sides of a debate, eventually throwing up areas of common understanding. If you’ve found Polis useful for seeing different opinions in any debate and/or made changes to your starting point to come to a form of consensus, please get in touch with shiroma.silva@bbc.co.uk or call on 07879 626887 as soon as possible. Ideally, we’d like to hear from you by Friday 1st July.”