The unfair weather knell of democratic politics

Water rain - The Myndset Brand StrategyWe are in changing times (once again) and I must say that the picture reminds me of the grey and rainy may day (ie. help!) we are having in London (au Secours #RadioLondres), on this Monday, May 7, 2012.

As of today, we now have:

  • Hollande in France, voted in by 51.7%
  • Samaris of the New Democracy party in Greece with 18.9% vote, introducing  a very new form of democracy
  • Putin of United Russia with 64% of the vote as the returning President in Russia, ushering back in an echo of Russian democracy
  • …not to mention the weekend’s local/regional elections in the UK, Germany and Italy, where the incumbents were regularly whipped or wiped out of office.

A major year for elections

These elections alone have been rather momentous.  And, ahead, there are many more parliamentary and presidential elections to which to look forward including Egypt in end of May, India (in July) and USA (in November)… [You can view the entire list of elections in the world in this Wikipedia entry.]

It was a busy week of voting for me, too.  I voted in the mayoral election in London as well as the Presidential election in France (via “procuration”).  I will also cast my vote in the US elections.

For what purpose?

But, with all these elections, it leads me to pose two questions:

  1. how much do people expect the world to change thanks to politicians?
  2. how much productivity is negatively impacted in a country during the year of elections?
On the first point, I have long been a proponent of the Ayn Rand determinist school of thought, so I would much rather take matters into my own hands, whenever possible.  If you are in business, then I think there is no better state of mind.  I am more likely to believe that democratically elected politicians can negatively impact business, rather than positively.
On the second question, if voters spent their time on constructive debate and pundits (and the media) provided more reasoned and well-researched arguments, perhaps an election would be grounds for real debate and progress.  But, between media airwaves that are spent on unsightly negative political (and personal) attacks, flaring emotions in bar rooms and pubs and vapid political debates, there seems to be too much wasted breath (and time) during political campaigns.

The political cycle

The problem with democratically elected officials is that, by definition, they must over promise to get elected.  Yet, with clockwork predictability, unexpected events occur and plans are derailed.  By mid term, the electorate systematically becomes impatient and sanctions their elected leader, making the last half of the term a lame duck.  The arc of democracy consists of high expectations and dashed hopes.  Would that we all got down to the business of taking responsibility for ourselves rather than waiting for Godot.

The Idiot Cycle by Emmanuelle Schick Garcia – a review

I had the good fortune to be invited to the premier screening of the documentary film,”The Idiot Cycle,” directed and produced by Emmanuelle Schick Garcia. Presented at a private viewing, and in the company of many journalists, the 96-minute film received a robust round of applause.  At its conclusion, we were allowed a lengthy and candid Q&A session with Ms Garcia.

Emmanuelle Schick Garcia is a Spanish-Canadian film director, with a most charming accent from the South of France (when speaking in French).   The idea of the film took root when Ms Garcia’s mother was struck down with cancer and she then found out that at least one of the parents of each her twenty closest friends had also come down with cancer.  Clearly, more than coincidence was at work.

The Idiot Cycle, which took 10 years to make, documents how the rise of cancer can be related to the work of a number of chemical companies, such as Monsanto, Dow Chemical, BASF, etc.  Among the core issues, the film puts the focus more on the cause rather than the cure.  One of the major revelations for me was the fact that, in some cases, the companies that produce the chemicals used in the fertilizers are also pharmaceutical companies, providing the medication to cure the cancers that the same chemicals are (alleged) to cause. According to the film’s site, AstraZeneca is a perfect example.  AstraZeneca is the result of a merger between Astra AG (Sweden) and Zeneca Group of the UK (second biggest maker of cancer drugs behind Bristol-Meyers Squibb).  “Zeneca is also maker of fungicides and herbicides (including the carcinogen acetochlor) and owns the third-largest source of cancer-causing pollution in the U.S. – a chemical plant in Perry, Ohio. In 1996 this facility emitted 53,000 pounds of recognized carcinogens into the air.”

The other revelation was the fact that the Canadian government was not interested in participating in the film.  Any politicians that were interviewed for the film were edited out because of a tongue-tied lack of pertinency.  The fact that the cited chemical companies chose not to participate is more understandable.  However, the government’s role is to protect its people.  Seemingly, the film underscores how economics are the driving force.

If The Idiot Cycle still has not found any broad distribution (yet), due to its sensitive nature, it is certainly a film worth seeing.  The film can be rented for 4.99 euros here at Japanese Pop Songs.  In a new twist on community film watching, you can also rent the film for up to five friends in one single transaction.

Here is a trailer of the film via YouTube:



If the embedded link to the trailer disappears (which seems to be the case), you can go directly view the trailer on YouTube here.

N.B. Emmanuelle Schick is prepared to provide viewings of the film on school/university campuses for free.

The Greying of the World – Enough to make you go grey!

Not that it is supposed to be ironic, but below is a grey newspaper clipping with dark grey text, shaded columns and a light grey contour on a white background… Lots of nuances in those greys! Take a look at the graphic below, which is taken from the Herald Tribune of October 16, 2010 (source is the UN Population Division, assuming medium fertility in each of the countries).  It is perhaps a concept with which we are all familiar; but, a picture can tell a thousand words, literally. Continue reading

Cricket Twenty20 : Afghanistan versus United States in 2010 WCQ

Cricket Team USA on front of WCQ Brochure

Cricket Team USA on front of WCQ Brochure

Cricket: Afghanistan versus United States in 2010” Who would have ever thought that these words could be strung together? I was alerted to this potentially potent sporting event coming up next week via an article in the London Times, entitled, “Afghanistan get ready to take on US and insist that it’s ‘just another match’ (from the TIMES on Friday February 5 2010).

Over time, many people have written about the diplomatic, assuaging qualities of a dignified cricket match between rival nations. All you need to do is google “cricket diplomacy” and you will 26K+ hits.

So, in the fine heritage of cricket diplomacy, Afghanistan will confront the US cricket team in the 2010 World Twenty20 qualifying tournament in Dubai on Thursday, Feburary 11.

Nowroz Mangal, the Afghani captain said about the game with the US that “this is just another game.” But, I would think this might be a good game to consider as encompassing a bigger cause. “Every sport should be about peace” said Kabir Khan, Afghanistan’s head coach and a Pakistani born former Test cricketer. For Afghanistan, it is an opportunity for the country to get back some national pride on a playing field. It should be noted that all sports had been banned in Afghanistan by the Taliban up until 2000 when cricket was allowed “because it had intervals for prayer breaks,” Kabir said.

Obama's drive a little hesitant!

Obama's drive a little hesitant!

There are 8 teams in all in the WCQ 2010 tournament. Two teams will graduate from this qualifier to the bigger World Cup tournament. Afghanistan (#6), USA (#8), Ireland (#1) and Scotland (#3) are pooled together in Group A. Here is the official USA cricket team site, announcing their arrival in the UAE.

The US team, which lies third in World Cricket League Division 5 (down in the basement basically speaking) is managed by Imran Khan, not to be mistaken as the mega cricket personality; it is Saratoga resident, Imran Khan Suddahazai. After having gone through many rough patches, the US currently has 2 million registered cricket players, a national stadium in Florida and developing structure. You can find out something about the history of cricket in the US here on their own site or on wikipedia, where you can see how important Philadelphia has been for sustaining cricket in the States.

Predictions for the outcome of the tournament? Predictions for the match between Afghanistan and USA? I’d rather not see a draw, but who knows, that might also be the closest equivalent to a peaceful resolution!

Craig Tracy Body Painting : How the leopard got its body?

Craig Tracy Watercolour body painting

If you like the Rudyard Kipling story about how the leopard got its spots, you might like to take a closer look at this painting, and try to spot the human body.

I came across this picture and story in London’s METRO newspaper (Nov 2, 2009). The artist in question, Craig Tracy, from New Orleans, specialises in painting and merging the human body into a background. Tracy opened a studio in 2005 in his hometown and accepts volunteers who travel from all over world to be incorporated per se into one of his painting.

Have you spotted the body yet?

Measuring Quality of Life – A review between France and USA

Quality of LifeAs part of my Franco-American profile, I am naturally drawn to reading about comparisons and competition between France and the US. I came across this May 2009 article, France Beats America, which describes France’s epicurean passion for “living it up” in terms of eating, sleeping and holidaying. On the eating front, as much as obesity and over-eating might be America’s bête noire, the French make more time for eating. According to this article, “[t]he French spend more than 2 hours a day eating, twice the rate in the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)…” The French spend 135 minutes per day eating versus 74 minutes for the Americans and 66 mins for Mexicans (69 mins for the Canadians). The Turks (#1) actually out-eat the French (#2) by an half hour each day! According to the OECD report, the French top the list for average number of hours slept at 8h50/day… marginally ahead of the equally surprising 8h38/day for Americans. Koreans and Japanese sleep the least among OECD countries, and an hour less per day (7h50) than the French (the OECD average is indicated as 503 minutes or 8h20/day). And, if you are thinking that not sleeping enough is bad for your health, the Japanese lifespan expectancy (86F.79M) outlasts France (85F.77M) and far outstrips the US (80F.75M) which is below the OECD average (82F.76M).

Finally, when you add that the French take on average 7.0 weeks of holidayThe Good Life - Man and Girl bouncing on Beds per year versus 3.8 weeks for the Americans, it does add up to a lot more “living it up.” I would tend to argue that the pendulum should swing back for the French, to work just a bit harder … not just any how, but by adding more pleasure, humour and emotion in the work space. And in the US, I would argue that the focus should be on eating better (not necessarily longer).

Meanwhile, among the countries included in the survey, it was reported that men have more leisure time than women. “This gender gap is largest in Italy, where men top women by 80 minutes per day. The gap is just under 40 minutes in the United States, and smallest (less than 5 minutes) in Norway.” France’s gender gap on the criteria of leisure time is 34 minutes (in line with the OECD average of 35 minutes). Is there any real correlation between a reduced gender gap on leisure time with equality of the sexes? That is far from certain. However, to the extent that women are generally at work and have the lion’s share of the responsibility for taking care of the family, clearly women will continue to suffer in terms of having their own leisure time if the burden at home is not appropriately shared. Below is the OECD report (data from 2006, published in April 2009) regarding the leisure time gender gap.

OECD Leisure Time Gender Gap 2009

While life is about good food, good company (including on holidays) and a good night’s sleep (& good health), the issue is about creating a sustainable model, i.e. (a) making the 45-49 weeks at work more agreeable and liberating; and (b) finding ways to allow women to have as much leisure as men. Quality of life should, considering how many hours are put into work, include the quality of life at work and we all need each other to be in “top” shape!

Your thoughts please!

MEDEF 2009: Ethical Capitalism – A call for transparency?

MEDEF UNIVERSITE D’ETE PLENARY SESSION – 3 September, 2009

“Will capitalism become ethical or not?”
Plenary Session animated by Jean-Pierre Elkabach

Below I will highlight a few points that I took away from the two hour plenary session, brilliantly managed by JP Elkabach, on Ethical Capitalism at the MEDEF Summer University 2009.

As with the other subjects discussed in all the sessions at the Medef UE 2009, the US clearly remains a nevralgic centre for business leaders in France. To be sure, I was not the only American in the audience to be fingered. The newly assigned US Ambassador to France, Charles Rivkin, was on hand to hear a number of rather broad criticisms of the US in the current crisis. Not too surprisingly, a large part of the ‘debate’ was focused on America, the originator of today’s world crisis.

With a few broad strokes, Pierre Bellon, President of Sodexho, ranted (since he feels he has earned the right), “the fault [of the current crisis] lies with bankers…credit agencies…and politicians…” As if that were not enough, he also felt the need to state that “the citizen and the small companies cannot be held responsible.” Mr Bellon called for, among other things, greater transparency, the cleaning up of conflicting interests, and the end of the eternal optimisation of corporate profits… What irked me about his tirade was the feeling that there was little accountability in his words There were no corresponding concessions understood in the propositions and there was no ripost from the stage or floor…

Laurent Fabius, former PM of France, explained that the US will have to rebalance its budget. ‘It is an enormous “black cloud” that looms over the world’ said Fabius about the US budget deficit. Regarding France and the system of ‘privileges‘ (defined as that which is “read in private“), Fabius suggested that the MEDEF should review that which should be allowed to be transparent as he believes that the trend toward total transparency is dangerous. Fabius grandly called for a Social and Ecological Economy, whatever that means.

Christine Lagarde, France’s Minister of Economic Affairs, also did not like too much transparency either. However, in a play on words, if not shadows, she prefers to shed “light”… shone on the shadier, darker areas, including the Swiss banking traditions (2/3 of the world’s transactions occur in the ignorance of, or outside the realm of the world’s governing agencies). However, unfortunately, she did not have the opportunity to elaborate on which transparency she did not want to have…

What struck me about the intervention of the three people I cite above was the recurring issue of transparency. To be transparent or not to be… and about what? This was certainly a topic that came up again and again in the various sessions. In certain regards, on an emotional level, total transparency is an unlikely objective, even dangerous. In any event, is there such a thing as total truth? Unlikely. The issue of total transparency is that one may risk removing all the mystery of life (as one might appreciate in surprises, love and luxury … ). Secondly, there are certainly some things better left unsaid in terms of avoiding unnecessary heartache…e.g. white lies. Whether personal or political, some secrets are better kept that way. But, how and when to know to stop the transparency tap? Aside from state secrets, there is the case of some ‘sensitive’ subjects being put into the wrong hands (notably the media), and these do indeed need to be treated with great care. But, shrouding facts behind the veil of secrecy is a tricky business. And, for the cynical, if everything is transparent, there is no more wiggle room for propaganda?

Nonetheless, notwithstanding the philosophical nature of total disclosure (cf Rousseau’s Confessions), I truly believe that, in the field of business, there is a need for much greater transparency and I would be worried to believe that Mme Lagarde would not agree. Transparency is, in this case, an issue of strategic communication. This does not mean that one need be saying everything about every subject; too much information is one of today’s major curses. Yet, there is much to gain in terms of employee ‘buy-in’ by being transparent about a corporation’s its financials, challenges and ambitions. Such transparency helps galvanize what is sometimes termed as ‘psychic ownership‘ whereby, without needing recourse to stock options, an employee comes to ‘own’ the vision and the problems and, along the way, becomes part of the solutions, too. Even in the case of brands and their relationship with the customer, transparency is more desirable. The myth of “mystique = value added” has worn thin. The brands need to regain the [lost] trust of the customer which is why there is so much being attention paid to authenticity and transparency. Surely, it is not too strong a leap to suggest ethical capitalism should include transparent values and justifiable value? Would be glad to have your feedback on this topic!

I finish with what, for me, was one of the more poignant phrases of the conference. Philippe Lemoine, President of LaSer said, “[t]he French need to have confidence in themselves…” He encouraged the MEDEF business leaders: “You need to listen better…” and you will find your way better.

#MEDEFUE09

The Green Revolution(s) – Gre(at)en Article by Thomas L Friedman

Green Revolution Iran

I particularly enjoyed Thomas Friedman’s editorial in the New York Times (or International Herald Tribune) of June 25, 2009, entitled “The Green Revolution(s)”. For those of you are still not inclined to believe in the need to reduce man-made pollution and join the ecological bandwagon, here is a well written exposé on why we should at least reduce our consumption of petrol in the Western World: reduce the demand of (and the dependence on) oil and prices will tumble. Friedman cites The First Law of Petro-Politics “…which stipulates that the price of oil and the pace of freedom in petrolist states – states totally dependent on oil exports to run their economies – operate in an inverse correlation.” So, regardless of any potential benefit for General Motors and Chrysler and their “Greener” cars, the geopolitics of the world would be a much better place if the “easy money” derived from oil exports was exposed for “bad money” and the auto-aggrandisement and self confidence == that comes from being financially secure — were deflated as speedily as oil prices decreased. Friedman cites Yegor Gaidar, a deputy prime minister in Russia in the early 1990s, as saying that “the collapse of the Soviet Union could be traced to Sept 13, 1985…” date on which Saudi Arabia officially changed its oil policy, unleashed its production and brought oil prices tumbling down and, consequently, the Soviet Union to its knees.

Friedman believes that by reducing the Western World’s dependence on oil, the Green Revolution (the reformers) in Iran will be able to take hold, allow greater freedom for its population and bring down the Islamic dictatorship. Along the way, perhaps the collateral benefits might also be applied to other oil-rich despotic regimes, such as in Nigeria, Venezuela and even the rigid Russia. As Friedman exhorts: “An American Green Revolution to end our oil addiction – to parallel Iran’s Green Revolution to end its theocracy – helps us, help them…”

So, this is just one more reason to take the greener roads, for surely the grass is greener on the other side of this hill.

A beautiful day for numerologists

Tomorrow will be a beautiful day…especially if you live in the United States (i.e. you write the date MM/DD/YY).  At five minutes and six seconds after 4 AM in the morning (of 8th of July), the time and date will read:

04:05:06 07/08/09

It’s a beautiful thing.  This exact reading will not happen again for another 1,000 years (although, don’t worry, we will have plenty of other “magic” all along the way).

Of course, if you are living in Europe or the rest of the world, you should focus on five minutes and six seconds after 4 AM on the 7th of August, 2009…

Facts About Lightning – Be Wary on 4th July

Lightning strikes every second

I think it is safe to say that virtually all of us have at one time or another marvelled at the awesome vision of a lightning storm. Our psyche is wooed by a combination of a giant magician’s show and the force of nature. It is estimated that, every second around the world, there are between 50 and 100 lightning strikes.

Lighting Bolt & Tornado

From a few more or less credible sources, I thought I would provide some interesting facts on lightning. According to a National Geographic article in 2004, “[t]he odds of becoming a lightning victim in the U.S. in any one year is 1 in 700,000. The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000.” And, for 10% of those struck by lightning, the impact is fatal. For 70%, the impact causes serious long term damage. So, the question is how to avoid it, especially in the summer months when the number of lightning deaths peaks (because people are outdoors)? In fact, the 4th July holiday in the US is a particularly vulnerable date as far as lightning accidents is concerned.

Granny’s Tales

Wearing rubber soled shoes won’t help protect you. Standing under a tree is the worst idea you can have. Followed closely after by swimming in a pool: water is a great conductor of electricity and your head becomes the lightning rod. And, once you are inside, get off the phone at home during lightning storms. As the Nat Geo articles writes, “[p]hone use is the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries in the United States.” Unfortunately, typing on the computer is not advised either as, regardless of any surge protector, you are better off unplugging and turning off electronic equipment.

From Stormwise, I pulled this statement: ” Most lightning strikes average 2 to 3 miles long and carry a current of 10,000 Amps at 100 million Volts.”

I have extracted another couple of “facts” that I found of note from the post carrying this photo:

  • “…lightning is capable of generating a temperature of twenty seven thousand degrees Fahrenheit and travel twenty thousand miles per second.”
  • “The most powerful lightning strike ever recorded in the United States struck the Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh on July 31, 1947. The bolt discharged approximately three hundred forty five thousand (345,000) amps. This was enough current to light six hundred thousand (600,000) 60W light bulbs for the duration of the flash which is only thirty five millionths of a second.” Of course, that is not a very long time.

Red LightningAnd, to finish, the most spectacular lightning storm I ever saw was during a rainless thunder storm in barren and arid land on the road going from Antalya to Isparta (Turkey). The lightning was an extremely vivid red. There is apparently a form of “red” lightning called “Red Sprite lightning” which, according to stormwise, “is a newly-discovered type of lightning that zaps between the 40 mile span between the tops of severe storm clouds to the lower ionosphere “D” layer. Red Sprite Lightning looks like a giant “blood-red”colored jellyfish having light-blue tentacles. Red Sprite Lightning creates extremely powerful radio emissions from 1000 Hz through VHF.” If that is what we saw in Turkey, then it was awfully impressive. P.S. The lightning was fully red (the photo here is not mine, nor is it truly red lightning).