Monthly Archives: April 2020

Hit Me with Music !

With everything thing – big and small – we’ve lost during these days of confinement and that we will lose in the days to follow, I have constantly turned to music: to make domestic choirs and exercise bearable; to sneak in moments of joy with housemates and neighbors; to mute the fear and despair that invade my thoughts.

I keep thinking about Bob Marley’s greatest and most profound lyric:

One good thing about music: when it hits you feel no pain, so hit me with music!

Where would we be without music?

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Filed under Digressions, The Quarantined Life

Spanish Leadership, Casa de Papel and Covid-19

This is my twentieth year living in Spain, and during this time I have learned to appreciate Spaniards for their modesty, compassion, intelligence, tolerance, family values, kindness and generosity. Spaniards are as forgiving as Americans are vindictive. They are great colleagues and great neighbors. Spain has an incredibly competent workforce with a high level of expertise and excellent professionals, including doctors and scientists. In many ways, the government works surprisingly efficiently with many processes like paying taxes almost fully digitalized.

But where Spaniards lack is in leadership. Culturally — with high value placed on consensus, modesty and conformity — it is very difficult for a Spaniard to raise her voice. Standing out in a crowd and being noticed is vulgar. Where Americans all dream of being the guy who gets to take the penalty kick or the last second shot to win the game, Spaniards never want to be the trigger man. Prior to the generation of Pau Gasol, Iker Casillas, and Rafa Nadal, Spaniards were losers. Not because they were worse athletes, less skilled or didn’t work as hard, they lost because they were afraid to succeed.

This inability to lead and to make the hard decisions also translates into a management culture of passiveness and indecision, where a crisis is not met with urgency but with paralysis like a dear in the headlights. The bosses are more worried about getting it wrong than focused on getting it right.

The Spanish TV series Casa de Papel (The Money Heist in English) — a story about a hostage crisis at the Spanish national minta — is the perfect microcosm of this culture. The show is excellent. The writing, acting and production are world class. The chief investigator in charge of managing an unprecedented crisis of national security, intense political pressure and non-stop press coverage nonetheless find the time to leave the war room to:

  • Take numerous coffee breaks during the day
  • Go to the bar to grab a beer and unwind
  • Go home for dinner every night
  • Fall in love with a stranger

There is a national crisis, yet the chief investigator does not interrupt the daily essentials of Spanish life: her coffee, her caña, her family obligations, and her personal life. There is no urgency. There is no concept of prioritization. The wealth of competence is interrupted by other earthly distractions causing an inability to focus.

Yes, like Hollywood, the show takes lots of liberties to make the story more entertaining. I get it, but this is in fact exactly what Spanish management culture is like. It is exactly how the Spanish government is managing the Covid-19 crisis.  Again, Spain is a country full of scientific experts, competent doctors, hard-working health care workers dedicated to putting their own lives at risk to save others, police and citizens ready to lend a hand. It is an amazingly praiseworthy society. These are people I admire. Nevertheless, the leaders are simply incapable of leading.

I don’t blame this particular government. I’ve lived here long enough to know that any of the other political alternatives would have failed in exactly the same ways. I also get that the politicians and experts are overwhelmed, exhausted and facing a once in a century crisis. I do not question their earnestness. But while the U.S. leadership is made up of sociopaths who make decisions out of malice or for self-gain, the Spanish government is simply paralyzed by its inability to act.

There is no plan. Just lockdown. After 40 days of confinement there is no end in sight. Just indecision and improv.

So where is the urgency? Where are the leaders? Where are the Gasols, Casillas, and Nadals convinced of their ability to win carrying them to victor? Just as they represented a landmark cultural shift in Spanish sports, we desperately need a change in Spanish leadership culture. It is a matter of life or death!

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Filed under Living la vida española, The Quarantined Life

Either Trump is an Idiot or He is Convinced You Are

Trump announced yesterday that the U.S. will close its borders to immigrants. That was news to be me because I would have thought that in Trump’s infinite wisdom this was already the case. Most countries in Europe, for example, took those steps in March and have strictly limited not only the entrance into the country but even domestic travel.

Come on! What impact would this announcement have. Hasn’t almost all travel been halted?

But another thing confuses me. We keep hearing from Fox News and the president himself that we should immediately open up the economy and remove restrictions. They say things aren’t so bad after all. So we should open up, then why do we need to keep the borders closed?

Oh, there’s the jobs arguments. If we don’t let in foreigners, then they won’t take the jobs of unemployed Americans. But who is going to work the fields? Who is going to take the jobs that Americans don’t want or aren’t qualified to do? How can you get your economy back on track if your food supply chain is severely hindered by not having field workers or if your companies cannot compete with the best workers? Didn’t Republicans tell us for years that regulating the labor market was bad?

Maybe Covid-19 has finally lifted the veil of the American lie and has George Packer writes, “We Are Living in a Failed State”:

When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

Jared – the expert – has become the poster-boy for the final nail in the American-greatness coffin:

So when his father-in-law became president, Kushner quickly gained power in an administration that raised amateurism, nepotism, and corruption to governing principles. As long as he busied himself with Middle East peace, his feckless meddling didn’t matter to most Americans. But since he became an influential adviser to Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, the result has been mass death.

. . .

To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing. It turns out that scientific experts and other civil servants are not traitorous members of a “deep state”—they’re essential workers, and marginalizing them in favor of ideologues and sycophants is a threat to the nation’s health. It turns out that “nimble” companies can’t prepare for a catastrophe or distribute lifesaving goods—only a competent federal government can do that. It turns out that everything has a cost, and years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflict a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation. Then came the virus and this strange defeat.

You almost wonder whether the president is an idiot. Or maybe he just thinks you are the idiot who is going to buy one of his steaks or a degree from his university.

We need to being screaming “the Emperor is naked” at the top of our lungs or we’ll never survive !

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Filed under The Quarantined Life, Trump 45, We The People

How Quickly Everything Changes

One month ago

Easter weekend is coming up. We were supposed to be in Florida on vacation, but now we’re quarantined here in Madrid until further notice. My children have literally not left the house in 26 days. I leave my apartment building only to take out the trash, grab the nerf ball when it goes over the balcony, or to go grocery shopping which I aim to do only once per week (but it usually turns out to be once every 5 days).

Today

Today we are out of milk and bread. We have very little fruit or vegetables left, so I have no choice but to make a mask out of whatever I can find in the house, put on gloves and venture out.

I go shopping at the grocery store in Palacio de Hielo next to where we live. As mentioned previously, the ice-skating rink (which is located on top of the grocery store) has been converted into a morgue. Exactly one month ago, just days before schools were closed, my son was at a birthday at the ice-skating rink.

Every aspect of our lives and the world around us have changed. All very quickly.

 

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Filed under Living la vida española, The Quarantined Life

What’s the Plan, Jerry?

 

Jared F-ing-Krushner, folks. Jared Krushner has addressed the nation. Jared did a bunch of research and, despite his lack of a scientific background or any academic training in how to conduct research, Jared Krushner has pulled it off again. He is now qualified to address the American people on undoubtedly the biggest humanitarian and national security crisis in American history since World War II.

I did a little experiment. I posted a few lines on facebook to see if my two or three (out of 1000) openly Trump supporting friends would bite, knowing full well that it would take a huge leap of intellectual dishonesty and hours of Fox News to come up with a rationalization for (i) why Jared even has a position in the White House, and (ii) more importantly, why Trump’s son-in-law is more qualified than any of the other +300 million Americans to address the nation in a health crisis where hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk, as well as Pax Americana.

Here is what I posted:

Sorry for the political nature of this, but at the time of the biggest crisis facing the world since WWII, why is Jared Kushner addressing the nation? Who the hell is Jared? Besides what he is saying makes absolutely no sense, He clearly has never taken a civics course. We mind as well ask Hunter Biden give press conferences! Please can we let the adults do their jobs and leave the children at home!!

I also recognized that in this press conference, Jared sounded just like I do whenever I have to speak publicly about something I don’t really understand. No beating around the bush: Jared doesn’t understand the science, and he doesn’t understand civics. He seemed to believe there was some Federal territory where the Trump family lived where stuff belonged to them, and then the states where everyone else resided where people had to make do. It was surreal. Maybe in a small family-run business you can get away with play-acting, but this is not Reality TV.

My personal favorite defense of Jared (which I alluded to above) was but Jared did all of this research. Again, I don’t care how much research he has done. Jared has no training in how to do scientific research of this nature. You don’t agree? Then let me ask you a question: if your life was in danger and you needed an urgent medical procedure, would you allow Jared Kushner to perform the operation because he done a lot of research? Why not call Hunter? Maybe he’s free.

Then, of course, there is the fact that absolutely everything the Trump administration has said about Covid-19 since the first reported case has been absolutely wrong. They have had to walk back every statement from soon there will be zero infections to there will be a miracle to it will be over by Easter Sunday. We now know that the US will be one of the worst hit countries hit in the world. Meanwhile, South Korea which reported its first infection at the same time as the US has been incredibly successful at controlling the virus. We have not.

Many leaders around the world have made mistakes, so I am prepared to forgive some of these fatal missteps assuming that our leaders have a plan. So as Jake Tapper just raised “Mr. President, what is your plan?” Shit, I’d like to know.

Or should we wait for Jared-when you meet him you’re going to love him … only the best people-Kushner for the answer? Forget about his inability to fill out a security clearance form or his billion dollar real estate losses. But for his father-in-law being the president, would anyone ever ask Jared for his opinion on anything let alone on how to save hundreds of thousands of live?

Sure, Jared’s no microbiologist or doctor, but he’s read up a lot. He’s not an expert and therefore technically does not have an expert opinion. But as the president’s official son-in-law, we’d like him to address the nation. Can we really trust anyone else?

So Jerry, what’s the plan?

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Filed under The Quarantined Life, Trump 45, We The People