CategoriesHealthEnvironmentInternational AffairsTravelPolitics

The Sick Man of Europe

(Written during take-off from Tenerife South, Airport)

 

Travelling on a rickety bus in rural Thailand, back in 2000, I had my only epiphany. The vast distance from home – turbocharged by the cultural punch in the face that South-East Asia delivers with aplomb – afforded me 20:20 insight into how my life was going, and what the future might look like.

 

And it wasn’t a pretty picture.

 

For context, I had just finished my second year at university: a year I could barely recall due to too much booze, insufficient studying and little progress on the friend front. Frankly, I was a mess. As I realised, to continue on that trajectory would lead only to a 2:2 degree – or worse – with the resulting deleterious impact upon my career.

 

Encouraged by the bone-jangling bus – where only moronic backpackers sit at the back, being the most bone-jangly seats – I made myself a solemn promise. On return to the UK, I’d get my act together, and achieve a 2:1.

 

One year later, it was mission accomplished.

 

Travel does that, doesn’t it? It provides the gift of perspective. Perhaps perspective is the best reason to just go – and to go anywhere. And it’s from my literal vantage point, as I type, 30,000ft up, zooming away from Tenerife, that I feel confident to write the following.

 

The UK is poorly, not irreversibly sick, not yet on life-support, but we are in desperate need of a reset. Deep down, I think all Brits know this. Naturally, we have much to be proud about; the high net migration figures is sufficient proof that we live in an enviable land. But we are on the decline.

 

……

 

One week earlier, leaving the UK, from Leeds-Bradford airport (which is it: Leeds, or Bradford?), is a traumatising, harrowing experience. A national embarrassment. Twice now, in a matter of months, I have nearly missed my plane due to the unfathomably lengthy queues to get through security. And neither time was I travelling during peak season.

 

This time, with the knowledge that another horrible queue awaited me, I had ummed and ahhed about having special assistance at the airport, for I had been feeling somewhat unsteady on my feet those preceding days. I opted against help. I’d brave it, I thought.

 

Big mistake.

 

Feeling like something that you would scrape off your shoe, standing for 90 mins, with heavy hand luggage, it was tougher than a marathon. And I’ve run two. All around me, patient Brits – and all other nationalities – queued without grumble, for this is the national sport.

 

Conversely, at the far busier airports of The Canary Islands, security and passport control is so speedy that I do not recall the experience. Financially, the longer people wait in queues, the less that they can spend. Intellectually and economically, how can British airport operators justify such a delay? And why should we highlight our incompetence to the world by making travel to the UK so disagreeable?

 

Anyway, after a mad dash to the plane, setting-off over gorgeous, awakening and misty Yorkshire, several – just a few – relentless, small wind turbines, brought me joy. But within an hour, my joy had turned to despair, for we were flying over rural Ireland, which was carpeted by far larger, functioning glorious wind turbines. Why does Ireland get it, but we don’t? Growing up, Ireland was the butt of every joke. But who’s the fool now?

 

Never forget that David Cameron essentially banned onshore wind turbines, and no Tory leader since has changed the policy since (though Truss had covertly planned to do so). Future generations will be rightly furious. I’m enraged now.

 

To compound my misery, arriving in Tenerife, I was greeted by legions of massive turbines, standing proudly, purposefully, environmentally. See: Brits are the odd ones out! Onshore wind is a no-brainer.

 

What’s more, wind turbines and airports aside, in The Canaries I have repeatedly observed that the traffic flows; the hospitals function; ambulances arrive, with the utmost haste; pavements pose no danger; parking is easy and free; the people are warm and polite; the children are driven and respectful (I witnessed a language school in operation); there are public electric charging points, unlike in Harrogate; inflation is lower; life is slower; and the general costs are cheaper. Sure, not everything is better, but this isn’t the world’s 5th largest economy I was travelling in.

 

And what really hammered home the difference between the two countries was a sign outside of a lawyer’s office which stated that the firm closed at 2pm every day! Just imagine that, lawyers.

 

Perhaps the Spanish mainland has the same sort of problems that we have in the UK; I cannot say. Possibly, until recently, the blank canvas provided by The Canaries – for they are volcanic islands – allows for more sensible policies, uncoupled to outdated ways. Perhaps what we need in the UK is a metaphorical volcanic eruption of our own; to let us start over, taking the best bits of the UK and scrapping the worst parts. Perhaps Brexit was that eruption. Only time will tell.

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 AffairsPolitics

Cuban Missile Crisis 2.0

We are living through a more dangerous period than the Cuban Missile Crisis, yet nobody is talking about it.

With Russian ground forces getting pulverised, with its air force still without air superiority, with its navy hiding and with 300,000 poor conscripts mobilsed, Russia is in a jam of its own making. Russia is losing: it is no longer a conventional war threat to NATO countries.

Last week – the same week as Putin road-tested his nuclear capabilities – Russia blamed the United Kingdom for the following:

  • Training the Ukrainians in how to create a dirty bomb.
  • Deploying personnel on the ground in Ukraine, which directed a number of successful drone attacks on the Russian Navy.
  • Blowing up Nord Stream 1.

In addition, in a speech, Putin highlighted Liz Truss’s nuclear sable-rattling during the Tory leadership contest. This is war talk.

In normal times, such allegations would be all that sensible people would be talking about. But we are in a de facto war against a nuclear nation and still people are not talking about how we have become, after Ukraine, target number 2 in the world. Not only are we supplying Ukrainians with weapons, but we are also training tens of thousands of their conscripts here in the UK. It seems to me that we are way beyond just waging a proxy war against Russia.

I am not arguing that our policies are wrong, rather, I am highlighting the fact that we are an increased risk of annhilation and yet this is not what people are talking about. During previous threats of nuclear catastophe, some people stockpiled food and built nuclear shelters.  But why not now?

Before the conflict, Dominic Cummings blogged about the possibility of a nuclear accident triggering a war. He wrote:

“The cumulative probability of disaster grows alarmingly even if you assume a small chance of disaster. For example, a 1% chance of wipeout per year means the probability of wipeout is about 20% within 20 years, about 50% within 70 years, and about two-thirds within a century. Given what we now know it’s reasonable to plan on the basis that the chance of a nuclear accident of some sort leading to mass destruction is at least 1% per year. A 1:30 chance per year means a ~97% chance of wipeout in a century…”

During peace times, we have become accustomed to living with the risk of a nuclear accident wiping out mankind. Oddly, in times of war, it seems that, for most people, the calculus has not altered. I’ll level with you: I am worried, particularly as a Brit living near a US spy base – Britain, island nation, severed from Europe both physically and politically.

With power cuts expected this winter, hospitals in dire straits and with Tory Austerity 2.0 en route, these are the most precarious of times. I can understand why people would want to leave. One perverse crumb of comfort is that, as Putin expects, the difficulties Europe will face in winter might tip the balance towards settlement. Secondly, though nobody noticed, read Sunak’s words about Ukraine as he stood outside Number 10 as Prime Minister:

“…after all the dislocation that caused in the midst of a terrible war that must be seen successfully to its conclusions …”

Now contrast those words with Lizz Truss’s leaving speech regarding Ukraine:

“We must be able to outcompete autocratic regimes, where power lies in the hands of a few. And now more than ever we must support Ukraine in their brave fight against Putin’s aggression. Ukraine must prevail.”

Barely, imperceptibly different, but different in emphasis. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but my estimation is that Sunak will be less hawkish on Russia and will likely prioritise the economy over Ukraine. If so, hopefully a negotiated settlement can be reached.

Whilst this plays out, I shall remain dismayed that my fellow countryman are disinterested in the risk to us, here in the UK. But As Twain puts it: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

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.

CategoriesLegalHealthQuakerismBusiness

Leaving my own law firm after a decade

(Due to poor health, three of my colleagues at Truth Legal are buying my shares in a Management Buy-Out. A few days ago, I gave a speech at our 10th birthday party in Hotel Du Vin, Harrogate. Below, is my speech, though, I have omitted all the personal comments that I made about my wonderful team, as well as removing the never-ending list of “thank-yous”. For posterity, I record here what I said that night. As with other speeches, I write down what I will say, just in case I get lost. Another time, when I have processed it, I will write more about this monumental decision.)

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

10th party truth legal

Welcome, everybody, welcome to the Truth Legal 10th birthday celebration!

 

Somehow, we made it!

 

Wow, I’m honored that you all came here today to celebrate with us. Thank you.

 

I hope that you all have an excellent and useful evening, and that you drink the bar dry.

 

For those who don’t know me, I’m Andrew Gray. I’m the founder of TL and its my job this evening to explain how we got here and to say a gazillion heartfelt thank yous.

 

How did we get here?

I’m going to explain how we did it, and I’m going to introduce you all to our team, most of whom are here today. After all, a law firm is really just a collection of people.

 

When I left my last law firm, Thompsons, where I used to work with Navya, Sarah, Catherine, David and Julie, Hardev, Shabana, Joel and Sarah, I was either going to be at stay at home dad, or was going to set up a law firm.

 

Crazily, I was only four years qualified and my wife and I had two kids under 2, the youngest of whom just didn’t sleep. And still doesn’t sleep. It must have been the option to sleep in an office which made me set up.

 

I shall let you into a secret: as you would imagine, I calculated the costs of setting up a law firm and working out how far we could last on our meagre saving and on Julia’s maternity pay. I then added up all family outgoings. Although it would be a scrape, as Personal Injury law firms aren’t paid for a few years, I thought we’d get by. So, I handed in my notice.

 

A few weeks later, I realized that I had forgotten to take into account our mortgage payments.

 

So, TL only came into being because I can’t budget or count.

 

Why Truth Legal?

 

Because I am a Quaker. If you don’t know Quakers, think of Rowntree, Llloyds, Barclays, Cadburys and Waterhouse, Judi Dench. Essentially, we believe in equality, sustainability, peace, simplicity and Truth – hence Truth Legal.

 

For me, a law firm had to be about something more than just making money. I wanted a law firm that would take a stand. Be unpopular, if needed. Do the right thing.

 

And I believed it then and still today, that there’s no point in living in a democracy if you can’t use the laws enacted by our representatives, because you can’t afford a lawyer.  Access to law should be akin to access to the NHS.

 

(Here came lengthy thank yous to all the staff individually and to our friends, clients and suppliers)

 

Finally, before we talk about what happens next, let me tell you about our MD, Georgina Parkin. When she was a trainee solicitor, she took a new phone enquiry. She said that the caller was a “Secretary” and that the secretary was making the call with “a member”. When I pushed her, she said that the Secretary was a typist who does a variety of rolls in an office. The caller was a “General Secretary” of a Trade Union!!

 

Despite that blip, Georgina has been the safest pair of hands. She qualified quickly; became a director; then perhaps the youngest Law Society President; became our MD; became a mum; and then an equity partner. That’s a meteoric rise and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Georgina.

 

The Future

Initiated by me, because I am not able to work as I once did and I don’t want people generating profit for me, I am pleased to tell you all that we have agreed a Management Buy Out. Georgina, Louis and Navya will be buying my shares and I will become a consultant of the firm.

 

My wife asked me to not to quote Boris Johnson who finished with “Hasta La Vista Baby”.

 

So, I’ll finish with:

 

“In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here”

 

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.

 

 

CategoriesLegalBusiness

Here Comes The Immigration Lawyers Organisation       

Eighteen months after I first concocted the idea of the Immigration Lawyers Organisation (ILO), the new website is finally live here. What do you think? (But for my ropey health, I would have launched this project eons ago).

The purpose of ILO is to become the international quasi-regulator of immigration lawyers. A bold ambition, if ever there was one. Naturally, regulatory powers are normally bequeathed by governments. Here, I am using online reviews coupled with my own investigatory prowess to perform the semi-regulatory function.

Although I am no immigration lawyer, over the years I have sued some dreadful immigration lawyers for their negligent advice, and I remain appalled by what my clients experienced. Lawyers frequently makes errors, and thankfully only some of those errors cause “damage” for our clients. When errors occur, a lawyer is obligated to explain their mistakes to their client and to recommend that their client seeks alternative independent legal advice, which is code for: sue me, for I have done you wrong.

In the immigration legal field, the impact of negligent legal advice could lead to the deportation of someone and, possibly, a death sentence. And once deported, a client, from afar, will struggle to bring a claim against their negligent law firm. Therefore, many errors in the immigration field go unpunished.

The negligent advice experienced by my clients, with the dreadful ramifications for those individuals, lead me to found the ILO. At the ILO, we have created a charter, which the law firms and lawyers must adhere to before they can become verified members. Verified members can show their certification to their clients. My secondary ambition – though allied to my first goal – is that I can drive quality enquiries to the very best immigration lawyers, so that their practices thrive. Through negative online reviews on the platform, the worst lawyers will rightfully be penalised.

When choosing an immigration lawyer, a client is usually in a vulnerable position and could even be choosing their lawyer from their home country, with no personal recommendations upon which to base their decisions. Bringing online reviews – so common in the UK, but less in other countries – to the world at large, should ensure quality.

And it would be remiss of me not to point out that, as with some personal injury law, immigration law can have its dark side. I have done my best to run an ethical personal injury department. ILO is my attempt at improving the quality immigration legal advice.

Currently, we have around 1,000 unverified lawyers on the platform, in 150 countries. My hope is that, over time, the platform becomes the go-to place for people looking for the very best immigration lawyers. Perhaps, in time, clients will be able to instruct quality immigration lawyers via the platform…..

Will this platform make the world a better place? I hope so!

If you know any immigration lawyers who want to engage with the platform, please send them my details.

CategoriesHealth

Good Pills, Bad Pills

(Warning: another boring health post, recorded here in the hope that it might be of use to others)

 

Of all the numerous and weird symptoms that I have endured these last few years, none has had a greater impact on my quality of life than the chronic fatigue. When doctors ask me which one symptom that I would prioritise them curing, then fatigue would be it.

 

The neurologist who diagnosed my poisoning by strong antibiotics – the fluoroquinolone antibiotics – explained to me that the fluoroquinolones permanently damaged the mitochondria in each cell.

 

Simply put, the mitochondria is the “powerhouse of each cell” in the body. You certainly don’t want that damaging. What befuddles me is that there seems to be very little research on the mitochondria despite its central role throughout the body. Why is this? So much remains unknown about the body. My guess is that over the next decade the mitochondria will become follow the gut as the area of medicine that the everyday person will become far more aware of. I may stand to benefit from this likely zeitgesit.

 

Fortunately for me, I have been working with an excellent nutritional therapist, Jessica Barfield of Enjoy Nutrition. After extensive research, Jessica recommended that I try some new (and very expensive) supplements aimed at enhancing the damaged element of the mitochondria. The pills are https://www.researchednutritionals.com/product/atp-fuel-optimized-energy-for-serious-mitochondrial-needs-gmo-free/.

 

Frankly, as with all other supplements I have taken – and there’s been dozens – I didn’t expect any improvement. However, within a week the fatigue was reduced by 80%. Of course, I wonder if this is simply the placebo effect in operation, or perhaps just coincidence. I’ll never know, but I will keep taking them. Good pills!

 

And as is all too common to chronic illness sufferers, the ups are usually followed by a down. And so it was for me again.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

Recently, with another delightful but low-level infection rumbling away, on advice from the consultant, the GP prescribed me with light-touch antibiotics for 6 weeks – trimethoprim. I’ve had lots of this antibiotic before without any dramas.

 

With no expectation of side-effects, I commenced the course. Within one day – so after only two tablets – my family noticed that I developed three round, red blotches on my face. Immediately, I stopped taking them, and reported the impact to the GP. I then filed a Yellow Card – which is a report about the side effects of a given medication. Another set of bad pills?

 

(Incidentally, the nobody-can-believe-she-made-the-Cabinet, Nadine-Dorries, answered a question about Yellow Card reports in relation to fluoroquinolone antibiotics here.)

 

What this means is that there’s even fewer antibiotics I can turn to when – as will inevitably happen – another infection strikes. And with so few antibiotics to turn to, there must be the risk that I develop resistance to these. Such is life.