Chikashi Miyamoto

philosopher by training, gentleman by accident, pervert by nature, glutton by choice

Category: Musings

Does Mrs Sturgeon Know What She Wants?

It’s one thing to know what one doesn’t want, but it can be a wee bit harder to know what one wants. The Scottish National Party do not want Scotland to remain part of Britain. They sound like they know what they want because they go on about wanting independence.

Mrs Sturgeon has been getting plenty of air time and column inches in the months following the Brexit referendum. She has had many opportunities to go beyond a few buzz words and explain what her plan actually is for Scotland if secession from Britain is accomplished. I don’t get the sense that she knows where she’s going once she’s out that door.

Even before the Brexit referendum, Mrs Sturgeon had articulated SNP’s desire to leave the UK and join the EU as a member state. I have always struggled with this concept of leaving a small union only to join a much larger union and have even less influence. (It’s tempting to use some fish metaphors here, but I will resist.) What is the point?

After the Brexit referendum, the case for wanting to join the EU acquired the heretofore lacking context. A lucky retrofit.

Still, there is deafening silence amongst SNP members on how Scotland would survive as a sovereign nation and become a member state of the European Union. It seems to me that they simply assume that Scotland will ascend to EU membership almost without delay after leaving the UK.

I do not understand why that would be the case.

The EU has a giant fiscal debacle called Greece. Greece is the reigning champ in terms of national deficit as a proportion of GDP. Greece makes Spain in second place look healthy.

Scotland makes Greece look like a booming economy.

It is politically and economically untenable for the EU to allow Scotland to become a member state unless and until Scotland sorts out her finances. Does Mrs Sturgeon have a realistic plan to accomplish this?

SNP supporters often refer to the Scottish oil reserve. It’s a funny thing to say repeatedly. If I were them, I would try not to mention it at all lest I cause awkwardness or even embarrassment.

The estimated cost of oil production in the North Sea, where the Scottish reserve is located, is $44 a barrel. It’s very high. It wouldn’t matter as long as the market price of crude is flying high. However, I wonder if Mrs Sturgeon has seen the prevailing price.

Or, the fact that OPEC and Russia are bracing for a price war. In a price war, the price tends to go down, not up.

One does not need a team of quants at Goldman Sachs to see if Scotland can live off their oil reserve if the handouts from England end without the EU stepping in to fill the void.

It does not seem like Mrs Sturgeon knows what she and her supporters want.

Curating a Wardrobe

What does that mean? (That is, assuming that it actually means something.)

 

A Spanish Habit

If your name is William and you get mentioned in a non-anglophone media channel, it is likely that they will refer to you as William. I realise this sounds so obvious that it is not even worth a thought. They might brutally murder the pronunciation, but it will still be written out as William or a phonetic transliteration, such as ウィリアム in Japanese.

Except in Spain.

I was flipping through some Spanish gossip magazines and kept seeing familiar faces being captioned with alien names.

His name is not Guillermo. It’s William.

Carlos? But that’s Charles.

Juan? Pedro?

I realised that they take the liberty of hispanicising foreigners’ names.

I’m sure this is not news to most people, but it was to me. I had to chortle.

I don’t think they can hispanicise mine, however.

All? Yes, All (Again)

I blogged this about 5 years ago, but given the rise in ‘love conquers all’ chatter during the Valentines season, I am reproducing it here:

I recently overheard a conversation that I have previously heard or overheard time and again.  It has confounded me for years.  Decades.  It is about two people in love who are faced with seemingly insurmountable hurdle of some sort, whether it is the great physical distance between the two, uncompromising objection from the parents, financial hardship, illness et cetera.  There is usually a flattering comment or two about the couple.  Then, out of nowhere, someone else says, ‘As they say, love conquers all, right?  They’ll overcome it eventually.’

The second ‘they’ clearly refers to the couple whose predicament is being discussed.  Apparently, it is also interchangeable with ‘love’.  The first ‘they’:  who are these people?

The question arises because, given the context of the conversation, it is clear that ‘all’ means ‘everything’.

There are many authors and poets, from Dante to Shakespeare, who paraphrased ‘Love conquers all’ throughout the centuries.  It is a recurring theme; it pops up in so many different countries, in so many books that it is virtually impossible to go through school without encountering at least one example.  Some of these books have been adapted on the big screen as well as the gogglebox, so even if one does not read any books, the theme is virtually unavoidable in most parts of the world.

By ‘all’, these writers invariably meant ‘everyone’, not ‘everything’.  Sooner or later, everyone falls in love.  So, how did ‘everything’ come into the picture?  Some of these authors are creative but not THAT creative.  Who introduced it?  And, what makes people subscribe to the ‘everything’ version?  It has a whiff of religious fundamentalism.  Whatever the answer, it is all rather romantic.  I suppose.

In the meantime, the more literary romantics amongst us have other questions to ponder.  Keats is an anagram for steak.  Given that he was not a very confident fellow, could it be possible that he was a vegetarian or a vegan?

‘No kidney pie for me, Fanny.’
‘I spent hours making it, you silly tw*t!’

Reputation Management in a Click

white pride world wide

 

Recent events and certain political campaign rhetorics reminded me of something by which I was bemused a couple of years ago. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me.

Earlier that year, I engaged a public relations consultant to give a couple of my non-marketing colleagues some media training. Whilst he was previously the regional head of a global, generalist PR agency, his private practice focusses on issues and reputation management. As he and I both cycle, when an intellectual property spat between a small Canadian bicycle retailer and a large American bicycle brand erupted, I sent him a link to an online article about it because I thought it would be interesting to see how the Americans will handle the situation. Legally, it was a fairly clear-cut case. Actually, it wasn’t even worth discussing. However, on the public relations front, the case called for a comfortable chair and a large tub of popcorns as it unfolded in the court of public opinion. It was a textbook case of both sides doing everything wrong: the ignorant, naïve, self-righteous shopkeeper and the big, bad, arrogant corporation. What made the case more interesting is the fact that a bike brand that is very adept at marketing was cocking it up like amateurs. Over the years, the purveyors of bikes mass produced in Taiwan have managed to develop and nurture, with the use of a very clever tag line, a very loyal clientele by making them feel like a rare breed of cyclists despite, in reality, rendering each customer merely One Of Countless Many. And here they were, making a mess out of a situation that could have been avoided in the first place.

In reply, the consultant told me about a case that a large British general merchandiser had experienced about 4 years prior when just about every business was feeling the impact of the Great Recession. They are known for value-for-money product assortment and have long enjoyed a reputation for supplying quality underwear at reasonable prices. They tweaked the pricing structure of women’s undergarments (big booby surcharge on DD cup and larger), and the members of public were outraged by that move, with the media egging them on whilst rivals gained market share. Under pressure, the retailer retracted the change. In doing so, they made a brilliant move in launching an advertising campaign to apologise for the offending move. The advert featured a model with her E cup assets encased in a pair of their previously premium category bras. The public was so taken by the model (and presumably the campaign message as well) that everyone forgot about the retailer’s offence and took their custom back to the retailer.

I knew about the outrage but didn’t know about the apology campaign since I didn’t follow the saga back then. Because he didn’t tell me who the model was (and obviously, I wanted to know), so I asked him who she was. What happened next had me perplexed.

He sent me a link to a thread in a well known internet forum founded and managed by a former Ku Klax Klan Grand Wizard, for white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The forum has sub-fora in various languages for members around the globe. In the thread, UK-based forum members were chatting about the model, and some members had posted a photo or two of her. Her photos explained why the campaign was a hit, but I simultaneously entered Bemusement Park quite unexpectedly.

Bemusement 1: These forum members were saying positive things in a polite manner about a British subject of Sudanese extraction. To say that the thread content was incongruent with the forum profile is perhaps an understatement. I wonder if the reputation of the thread participants amongst their peers suffered as a result.

Bemusement 2 (more important): Of all the places on the internet where photos of her can be found, the consultant sent me a link to a thread in that forum. If you do a web search on her name, the thread is unlikely to come up in the first few pages, not least because certain search engines in certain countries have excluded the forum’s URL from their index. In other words, you don’t come across the thread by accident if you enter her name in a search engine. You have to be in the forum first in order to find that thread, that is, unless someone sends you a direct link to it. So, is he a forum member?

I never asked albeit I still wonder whether it’s something that might hurt his reputation.

The Euro, the Misguided Adventure

Despite the successive UK governments in the last 20 odd years seeming a bit farcical, one thing that they, along with Denmark, did get right is to opt out, and stay out, of the euro.

I tend not to discuss matters of politics for a variety of reasons, but the subject of the euro and the Frankenstein called the European Union is proving to be too strong a temptation.

image via Swedish Canary

The European Monetary Union reminds me of collateralised debt obligations with collaterals of mortgage backed securities. Mix a few good apples with a bunch of rotten ones, shake it around a bit, and voilà, you have a large, good looking basket of apples with multiplying worms.

I don’t see how a monetary union can be workable without a political union. I think that a free trade zone is a good thing, but to actually have a fully fledged common market requires a political union. I appreciate that there are plenty of politicians, bureaucrats and academics who believe that having a monetary union will eventually force a political union given its necessity. Money talks, as the theory goes.

Except the logic seems to ignore a critical factor or two: human beings and regional history.

It’s tempting to buy into the idea that ‘Europe’ must be equipped to compete with large economies like the US or China and that the way to remain competitive is to have a common market. However, buying into it requires that one starts with the fallacious premise that is held by many Americans: ‘Europe’ is essentially one entity inhabited by one cultural and ethnic group called ‘Europeans’ who live ‘European lives’, that just because these people inhabit the same continent somehow makes them culturally homogeneous or that they share enough characteristics to form one big nation called United States of Europe or whatever. Just because a famous crook like Kissinger once wondered out loud about whom to call when he wants to speak to Europe doesn’t give rise to a singular entity called Europe rather than just a designation for a geographic region. The popularity of conflating and confusing discrete elements does not transform a fallacy into a cogent inference.

It’s hard to imagine a viable monetary union without the platform for, at minimum, a common fiscal and monetary policies. I cannot see that platform being anything other than political union.

During the dot com craze at the turn of the millenium, there was no shortage of pundits extolling the inevitability and strategic imperative of convergence: media channels, content, distribution, etc. all coming together. Anyone remember the Time Warner – AOL tragicomedy? It was not the first or the last time that some people got all excited about convergence whilst history has proven many times that diversification or replacement, not convergence, is the likely outcome as new innovations enter the market. Convergence foretell a theoretically simplified world, so I can appreciate how sexy it sounds. However, it tends to betray one’s ignorance of history, if nothing else. Some of it isn’t even in the past; it is in the present.

I live in a tiny country with disproportionate problems related to unification, harmonisation and trust. Despite covering just 30500 sq km with only 11 million residents, Belgium has 3 officially recognised languages. The crown prince, now the sovereign, even has had for many years a foundation whose mission is to promote harmony amongst the 3 linguistic communities in the country. It sounds like a bad joke, but it’s anything but: the problem the foundation wants to address is real. Not a few in Flanders desire secession. Politically, it’s a mess partly because the Flemish politicians are not accountable to Walloon voters and vice versa, and the Brussels region exists in its own bubble.

Belgians are keen to refer to their nation as the capital of Europe given that many EU institutions are based in Belgium, namely, in Brussels. They are right in more ways than they perhaps intend. It is a tidy little illustration of why a Europe-wide political union is a pipe dream.

Belgium is not unique in having a segment of population who desire secession. Some Basques in Spain, northerners in Italy, Scottish and Catholics in the UK, just to name a few. All these people wanting to go their separate ways, and some well-meaning but unenlightened geeks want to force a larger union. Then, there are some deep-seated distrust of neighbouring countries based on history, preconceived notions and prejudices.

The lack of a common language is not to be underestimated. French has been designated as the final word in all official EU / EC documents mainly because the French language apparently is the most precise and the least vulnerable to diverging interpretations. Does that provide comfort to the Irish? I think not.

In theory, none of the above is insurmountable over time. I am more than happy to be proven wrong, but I think it is more unlikely than not. Regardless, implementing monetary union before achieving political union puts the cart squarely in front of the horse.

More recently, with the migrant issue hitting the headlines, there have been talks of re-introducing passport controls for movements between the Schengen Area member states. The irony.

Having a common currency is very convenient when travelling from one country to another. Trading with counterparties in other euro zone countries is easy and free of forex risks. I think that convenience should be available not for free but at a cost, whether direct or indirect. However, the cost of this particular convenience seems too high for the privilege. It seems evident that a collective of sovereign member states driving in different gears and in different directions cannot be expected to manage a single currency properly.

As far as I can see, the euro is a failed experiment, collapsing under layers of delusions and pretences. One cannot be half pregnant. It would be better for all concerned to cut the losses and revert to national currencies and the ECU. The cost savings from dismantling the enormous EU / EC machinery in Brussels might be sufficient to pay for the cost of discarding the euro. The euro can be revisted when political union is within reach, but I am not holding my breath.

So Busted, Again


I don’t usually wear prescription glasses unless I’m driving at night. If you walk by several metres away from me, for example, across the road, and I do not greet you, it’s because I don’t recognise your face in a blur, not because I am ignoring you.

When I put on eyewear and am not driving, it’s usually a pair of non-prescription sunglasses. Therefore, I automatically assume that whenever there is something resting on my nose, my eyes are masked by a pair of coloured lenses, enabling me to observe others with some level of discretion.

So, I forget that, on the rare occasion that I’m wearing colourless lenses, other people can see exactly what my eyeballs are doing.

Like staring straight at them.

Only to realise that I’m not wearing sunglasses because they are staring right back at me.

Oh, feck. I’m so busted…

Of course, whenever I’m wearing proper glasses, I see more of the world, more details with depth of field, so I notice more things… More things that tempt me to stare. So I get busted again.

And again.

Somehow, I never learn.

%d bloggers like this: