Trend-Setter: Thilo Sarrazin?

“Coolhunting for the World’s Thought Leaders” is an actual academic paper by actual academics (Peter Gloor at MIT; Karin Frick and Detlef Guertler at the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute in Switzerland). Its purpose: To create “a novel ‘Thought Leader Map’ [that] shows the select group of people with real influence who are setting the trends in the market.

from “Are These The Most Influential And Trend-Setting Thought Leaders?”

Today, inbetween the identification of operational risks and internal controls (my daily job nowadays), I came across this article about the biggest ‘thinkfluencers’ of 2012.

For my surprise, one of the trend setters happened to be this guy named Thilo Sarrazin, described as someone who wrote a “bestselling book arguing that genetically inferior Kurds and Turks were dumbing down Germany”.

I was surprised not because of the apparent popularity of such arguments in Europe but instead because of the lack of refinement, the rawness, of his discursive practice.

Sarrazin, a trend setter in 2012, is a good old-fashioned, no non-sense, straight shooter racist, using classic xenophobic language in public in ways that few germans have since the Holocaust.

That explains, in big part, his success: he’s breaking the taboo and trying to capitalize from being a frontrunner.

And that’s about it, mostly because his arguments are total shit.

Sarrazin defends two main stands of view: he’s “anti-euro” (“Europe Doesn’t Need the Euro”) and “anti-immigrant” (“Germany Does Itsfelf In”). His book “Germany Abolishes Itsfelf” sold over 1.3 million copies, proving that unconvincing books can convince quite a few readers (here in Portugal such books tend to be read by people who have yet to meet an immigrant).

He’s anti-euro because the southern economies of the euro zone are not ready and have culture and mentality issues that lead to lack of discipline. Because corruption, mismanagement, and indolence are endemic to southern European culture and Germany is being “black-mailed” to bail them out because it perpetrated the Holocaust.

Sarrazin defines himself as a man of numbers; but also as a man of poor sensibility. He believes that human life follows strict rules such as “hereditary factors”. Muslims and southern Europeans are hopeless because there are relevant genetic differences among ethnic groups working against them.

Some, like him, still (choose to) believe that some born smart and some born stupid. Traditionally, those belonging to the elite tend to think they born superior as a mean to justify their priviledges.

I don’t know if intelligence (or economic performance, for that matter) is hereditary.

I think one may have all the potential in the world but he’ll need the right conditions to make it grow. Inteligence (another arguable concept by itself) can be a difference maker in a world in which we all share equal opportunities; but it plays a minor role when we compare individuals in different contexts.

The real magic happens when people have the creativity and the ability to transcend the rules and prove reductionist theorists like Thilo Sarrazin wrong.

Let’s hope to get inspired by more open-minded, forward-thinking  trend-setters in the future. Let’s get inspired by those who approximate people, instead of separating them; by those who work to find solutions, not to agravate the problems (normally promoting their own personal agenda).

As for us Europeans, an isolated Germany serves no one.

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Can Bad Robot’s “Stranger” be the teaser for Rod Serling’s “The Stops Along The Way”?

The only sure thing about this new teaser by Bad Robot is that JJ Abrams and Michael Giacchino are up for no good.

All we know is that “Stranger” is a dramatic teaser for a new entertainment project and, as the web remains mostly clueless, there are already a few theories buzzing around.

Do you really want to you what “Stanger” is about?

Let me take a long shot here.

Stars. Dark, intense, retro photography. Haunting score. Cryptic, intricated action. Creepy narration. Sinister dude with sewn shut lips.

Can it be a ‘Lost’ spin-off? It could be, but doesn’t feel like it. It feels more sinister with that macabre, ghastly, twist at the end.

So here’s my bet: remember when, about two and a half months ago, word spread that JJ Abrams was developing an unproduced script by Twilight Zone legend Rod Serling as a miniseries for the 2013-14 television season?

This must be it. How awesome would it be?

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I’m Waiting Here

Second song in a row here (don’t get used to this, I’m not turning ‘The Weather Forecaster’ into a music blog).

This brand new track by the iconic David Lynch is absolutely spot on. It’s dreamy, hypnotic, bluesy though not noir, inducing the listener into a warm melancholic state.

The video blends beautifully with the song.

Yesterday I started to read the book ‘La société du spectacle’ by Guy Debord. The main topic is the transformation of life into a representation. For him, the decline of social life under advanced capitalism can be understood as ‘the decline of being into having, and of having into merely appearing‘.

Though I’m having a hard time (I confess) getting into it I can’t wait to keep on trying. I’d love to share some thoughts about it on the upcoming days.

Have a nice week.

Party on a Floating Cake

Gorgeous track by japanese multi-instrumental singer-songwritter Takako Minekawa and chinese/american guitarist Dustin Wong.

The song develops with Wong (ab)using the delay on his guitar to produce those quick repetitions to go along with Minekawa’s delicate ethereal chants and steady drones.

Wong’s looping technique allows him to overlap all those different guitar elements like a cotton-candy machine (or an architect, for that matter), gradually combining different contrasting rhythms into intricated melodies.

That transition at 1:32 (from where Minekawa takes over) when he cuts the velocity of the delay off a bit is super cool.

Minekawa, on the other side, quietly builds her momentum to take over the song with extreme sensitivity.

Is this sensitivity that, combined with Wong’s geometric guitar, brings the piece to life in a very visual way, like some sort of wind in a painting.

You can find it on their brand new album ‘Toropical Circle’.

It made my day (musically speaking).

Angola and Portugal, a common struggle?

We are often confronted about the huge amounts of money some Angolan citizens spend in Portugal. We often read about their investments as well. We often tend to think it is a good thing.

As you may know, the Portuguese economy is frozen. We don’t have much money to neither invest nor to consume so any extra help will do.

There’s also the fact that Angola is a sovereign country. If there is money leaving the country against the best interest of the people, it is in first place their problem.

Now imagine there’s this guy who steals gold for living. He robs people on the streets, he robs from houses, whatever. He’s a total thieve. Let’s say he even took a necklace from my grandmother on her way to the supermarket, hurting her knees along the way.

The fact is that there are plenty of places buying gold without any consideration regarding the origin. So this inglorious thieve has the incentive to keep on robbing as he knows there will always be a buyer.

And what do you expect the owner of the place to do? Do you really expect him to say something about it and end up ruinning his beautiful business? With this economy? No way, a man’s gotta eat. I’m sorry for the old lady though, she should start carrying a gun or something.

My point is that laxity is dangerous: when you decide to take the dirty money you are actively incentivating corruption and deviant behaviour. There will always be excuses for doing it though, that’s why it is so dangerous to accept it the first time.

But back to our topic: all this investment from Angola, where does the money come from? Are those personal investments or is the money coming from the government budget? Is there even a difference?

Is it thievery? Or is it good business?

It is common knowledge that bags and bags full of money arrive ‘undercover’ from Luanda to the Lisbon airport. However, nobody (at least nobody with power to do anything) seems to find it weird.

Isabel dos Santos, the daugther of the President Eduardo dos Santos, is according to the Forbes magazine the most powerful woman in Africa. Her first business was Unitel, the biggest mobile operator in Angola, in partnership with Portugal Telecom and the state-owned Sonangol.

With Sonae, Isabel dos Santos took Continente retail stores to Angola.

In Portugal, Isabel dos Santos owns relevant shares on companies such as banks BPI and BIC, Galp Energia and Zon Multimedia, who is expected to acquire Optimus from Sonae.

There are rumours connecting such prodigious daughter to everything from traffic of diamonds to political bias, inside trading and lobbying. Without surprise, it looks like Portuguese elites are all over these schemes.

As companies and economic agents in Portugal try to make a profit out of the situation, they are enduring a regime of oppression in one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 148th on 2013 HDI rankings, behind countries like Pakistan or Bangladesh.

So there is a common struggle after all: responsability.

Getting things going for Benfica

We’re going completely out of topic today.

Back in 1900 there was a sort of football field in Belém, southwest Lisbon, in a place known at the time as “Terras do Desembargador”. When a ball was lost to outside the field the chances were that you would probably never recover it due to the open spaces. Moreover, the Portuguese Army used it as an exercise field as well so it would be often complety destroyed.

One day, in 1904, a group of friends, headed by the very great Cosme Damião, decided to create a football club to play regularly there. In a pharmacy called “Laboratório Franco” in Rua de Belém (same street as “Pastéis de Belém), they decided to call it “Sport Lisboa” and to wear red and white as main colors as well as an eagle for the symbol.

The first games? 4 victories, against Clube Internacional de Futebol (2 times), Estephania and Campo de Ourique.

Despite the good results (Cosme Damião, for instance, was one of the first great Portuguese football players), the club faced very poor operating conditions and that can explain why a set of players left Benfica in 1907 to join the more prosperous newborn Sporting in Campo Grande, in the other side of town.

In 1908 Sport Lisboa e Benfica was formed, as Sport Lisboa acquired Grupo Sport Benfica and moved from Belém to Benfica. Despite the merger, Grupo Sport Benfica maintained the ownership of the football field known as “Campo da Feiteira”. A bicycle wheel was added to the emblem of Sport Lisboa to represent cycling, the most important sport of Grupo Sport Benfica.

For Sport Lisboa e Benfica finding a playing field was always a struggle, due, more than anything, to the high rents on the club’s rented fields. Following the merger, the football club moved to “Campo da Feiteira” (1907) at “Quinta da Feiteira”, Estrada de Benfica, and then to “Campo de Sete Rios” (1913), “Campo de Benfica” (1917), “Estádio das Amoreiras” (1925-1940) and in 1941 to “Estádio do Campo Grande”, former Sporting Clube de Portugal playing field (Sporting had just moved to “Estádio do Lumiar”).

From these, only “Estádio das Amoreiras” belonged to the club but it was demolished to give way to a freeway connecting Lisboa to Jamor. After the expropriation, the club dealt with government officials for a piece of land between Carnide and Benfica. At the time the feeling was that, in the words of Duarte Pacheco himself, “Benfica must return to Benfica”.

And there was born the “Estádio da Luz”, also known, in the beginning, as “Estádio de Carnide”.

This is when things get really interesting. For the construction of the new stadium, the associates coped with an increased fee for supporting the building costs, offered very large donations and some (not very few) went as far as to work themselves on the building yard on holidays or weekends. And did it pay dividends.

The first match in “Estádio da Luz” was a loss 1-3 against FC Porto but overall Benfica won 854 out of the 1092 home games played there, winning 23 national championships, 17 Portuguese cups and 2 European Champions League cups (to go along with the 5 finals played).

Next year (2014) the new “Estádio da Luz” will host the European Champions League final game. I hope we continue on writting history today against Chelsea FC just to get things going in advance.

Anarchism in Portugal

Anarchism has very deep intelectual roots in Portugal even though some believe (and are probably right) that the anarchist heritage is not much of an evidence in our present society.

Júlio Henriques, for instance, makes the interesting point that the anarchist failure is observable in the common prevalence of verticalized forms of treatment (such as ‘você’ – equivalent to the french ‘vous’) among people.

The great José Cardoso Pires described Portugal in the 60s the ‘country of doctors’, in satirization of the Portuguese ‘titlecracy’ and our fascination for titles such as ‘sua excelência’, ‘senhor doutor’, ‘senhor engenheiro’ and so on.

Presently, decades after the Revolution of 1974, more horizontal forms of relationship such as ‘citizenship’ are still to fully develop, exemplifying the stratification of the contemporary Portuguese society and the maintenance of a set of values and institutions from more salazarist times.

Even inside the libertarian movement, and mostly since 1930, the very hierarchized communist organizations (with a little help from their Russian friends) have gained the edge over the traditionally more horizontal anarcho-syndicalist organizations that had characterized the movement from 1910 to 1926.

So what remains to be seen from the anarchist movements in Portugal?

The academic movement of the ‘geração de 70′ (also known as the Coimbra’s ‘gold Generation’) was deeply influenced by Proudhon‘s ‘Mutualism’. Eça de Queiroz, Antero de Quentral (notably on ‘Odes Mordernas’) and Oliveira Martins, among others, incoporated its core ideas into their work in a variety of ways.

However, after failing to change the country with their writting and revolutionary ideas, like they had promised to, such generation became known (along with other personalities such as Ramalho Ortigão) as the ‘vencidos da vida’ (‘the losers of life’).

Time would prove them wrong, as Portuguese cultural production (literature, film, music and so on) still has to find ways to depart from the Queirosian rupture/paradigm.

Portuguese anarchist movements were not able to transmit their legacy because many of them were dizimated in the final battles before the implementation of the Military Dictaroship (1926) in Portugal but also in the Spanish Civil War, fighting, guns on their hands, against Franco.

The ones who survived and didn’t ran way from the country were among the first victims of the Dictatorship, being quickly persecuted, arrested and deported to Timor or Tarrafal.

Their legacy is one of struggle towards auto-determination and emancipation.

Other, less direct, influences can be drawn from such movement. Proudhon has always favored local institutions, such as workers associations, cooperatives and cooperative credit unions for workers.

Some investors have since then reformulated Proudhon’s idea (he argued that no interests should be charged in such credit schemes) in order to construct strong businesses like Rabobank, Crédit Agricole and, of course, Crédito Agrícola here in Portugal, networks of local implemented mutualist banks.

Personally, the core idea I like to retain from the anarchist heritage is one that combines the right for individual emancipation of all human beings, the need for direct political action and the responsible practice of active citizenship.

From the ‘geração de 70′, more generally, we can learn the critical importance of conquering cultural spaces, outside the formal political scope, for political struggle.