The Grey Swan Guild News Wrap — The Week That Was, Friday 9 July 2021.
Grey Swan Guild News Wrap Edition: #25 of Vol. 1
Each week we bring you a series of stories and headlines we’re tracking in the Grey Swan Guild’s Global League of Sensemakers Newsroom. Here is The Great, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly & the Undecided of what we observed this week.
Lead Editor: Louise Mowbray
This week… if you’re environmentally conscious, you’ll appreciate the wisdom of Mayan architecture being used in a train station in Tulum, Mexico, the power of the world’s highest tides being harnessed in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy and the possibility of soon being able to eat zero-emission meat, produced in an Israeli bioreactor.
We explore the reported successes of the largest ever trial of a three-day weekend, or should I say, four-day workweek in Iceland — and in stark contrast, witness China’s youth rebelling against the exhausting ‘hustle’ culture of the 9–9–6 workweek, made famous by Jack Ma, by just lying down. Yes, it’s a thing.
Three (now all former) presidents caught our attention this week with a murder in Haiti, a jail sentence in South Africa and a social media lawsuit in the US, which, ironically, may well say something about each country. We mourn the loss of life for the first, celebrate the loss of freedom for the second and wearily observe the third.
The Delta coronavirus variant, which is 40–60% more contagious than the original Alpha variant is causing havoc the world over. It’s responsible for almost all new infections in the UK and 50% of those in the US. Japan is also having a tough time of it, with a state of emergency being declared just in time for the Olympic Games.
So too is Afghanistan, although for very different reasons with the US withdrawing troops and the Taliban once again gaining ground in this battle-weary country. We learn too about a new age of autonomous warfare as unmanned aerial weapons are reshaping the battlefield and starting to think for themselves. Should we be concerned? Absolutely.
We also touch on young bankers at Cantor Fitzgerald being told to find another career if long hours don’t suit them and Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft joining the $100 Billion Club. The great divide continues to widen. Aspirational or inequitable? You decide.
Meanwhile, let’s Wrap.
Why not join us on Sunday, July 11th at 8am (PST) | 11am (EST) | 4pm BST on Clubhouse to explore this wrap, have your say and engage with your favourite Grey Swan Guild Wrap Editors including Sylvia Gallusser, Sean Moffitt, Agustín Borrazás, Rob Tyrie, Ben Thurman, Louise Mowbray, and Antonia Nicols.
Also, check the Grey Swan Calendar for upcoming events including Atelier #4 — Tech Swans Applied on the 16th July.
The Great 😇
- Here’s looking at you, Tulum. On a 950-mile (1,525 km) Mexican railway line, a new station to service the Yucatán town of Tulum is being built using techniques right out of the ancient Maya playbook. The Mexican-English architecture studio Aidia, commissioned for the project, came up with a giant sloping eyeball-shaped train roof and a platform with a lattice-work ceiling that lets air in but keeps rain out. Inspired by Mayan building methods, the train station is designed to bring sustainability and a low-carbon footprint to the fold, so the lack of mechanized ventilation eliminates some emissions, while the surrounding area is cloaked in trees and foliage. A breath of fresh air.
- It’s in the motion of the ocean. Solar and wind are the stars of the show when it comes to renewable energy — and we’re now starting to see some exciting progress in turbines that harness the power of the planet’s tidal patterns. Looking to leverage all that motion in the ocean is UK startup Sustainable Marine, whose floating tidal turbine rotors just breezed through a testing regime that simulated 20 years of real-world conditions. Working with the highest tides in the world, Sustainable Marine says it will be able to generate up to 9 MW of tidal energy to feed into the local grid and power around 3,000 homes each year. The first phase of the project is expected to commence this year.
- How would you like your burger prepared — mincer or bioreactor? An Israeli company, Future Meat Technologies, has opened the world’s first facility to produce lab-grown meat at scale in Rehovot, a city south of Tel Aviv. While the company hasn’t released an estimate of per-burger cost, which until now has been prohibitive, it says the facility will be able to produce 500 kilograms of meat per day, which translates to about 5,000 burger patties. Future Meat aims to start offering its products in US restaurants by the end of next year pending approval from the FDA. Public opinion is another hurdle the company and its competitors will need to clear before they see widespread success; for every person who’s opposed to factory farming, there’s someone who’s squeamish about the idea of meat grown in a bioreactor.
The Good 😀
- If all else fails, just lie down. Chinese 20-somethings are rejecting the rat race and ‘lying flat’ after watching their friends and family literally work themselves to death. The idea of lying flat (or tang ping) is widely acknowledged as a mass societal response to neijuan, a term commonly used to describe the hyper-competitive lifestyle in China, where life is likened to a zero-sum game. Neijuan goes hand in hand with China’s 9–9–6 ‘hustle’ culture, where people work 12 hours a day from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. The 9–9–6 workweek was strongly championed by Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, who once in 2019 called the 72-hour workweek a “blessing.” Blessings, it seems, are contextual and China’s youth clearly disagrees.
- All good things come in three’s. Not least, weekends. The world’s largest-ever trial of a four-day working week and reduced working time in Iceland was an “overwhelming success” according to researchers. More than 1% of Iceland’s working population took part in a pilot programme from 2015–2021, which cut the working week to 35–36 hours with no reduction in overall pay. Joint analysis by think tanks in Iceland and the UK found the trials, which involved more than 2,500 people, boosted productivity and wellbeing. Today, 86% of Iceland’s entire working population now either have reduced hours or the flexibility to reduce hours. A number of other trials are now being run across the world, including in Spain and by Unilever in New Zealand. Perhaps Microsoft Japan will reconsider its trial in August 2019, which reportedly increased productivity by 40%?
- You can’t put the lid back on this one. South Africans breathed a collective sigh of relief when former President Zuma, architect of one of the most economically debilitating examples of State Capture, was arrested in the early hours of Thursday morning. If you’re following this saga, you may be interested to hear that Interpol is considering raising red notices for the Gupta’s, his partners in crime. Zuma was arrested for being in contempt of court as he tried to evade accountability over the deluge of corruption allegations he faced during his presidency and the outstanding 47 criminal charges against him. It is an ignominious end to Zuma’s political career and a proud moment for South Africa’s democracy and Nelson Mandela’s legacy. It shows that no one is above the law — not even a former president.
The Bad 😬
- Alpha; Beta; Gamma; Delta; Epsilon? The Delta coronavirus variant originally discovered in India last December has now spread to at least 98 countries and has become the most worrisome strain of the coronavirus. “It is faster, it is fitter and it will pick off the more vulnerable more efficiently than previous variants,” warned Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program. Research suggests it may be 40–60% more contagious than the original Alpha variant. Delta contributed to the massive wave of cases that has inundated India in recent months, makes up virtually all new cases in the UK and more than half of new coronavirus infections in the US, according to new CDC estimates. To add to this, it may be more likely to infect people who are only partially vaccinated than other strains and may also come with a higher risk of hospitalisation. Take care people.
- It’s time to go big or go home. Junior bankers complaining about long hours and bosses’ stressful demands should rethink their career choice, said Cantor Fitzgerald LP Chief Executive Officer Howard Lutnick. “Young bankers who decide they’re working too hard — choose another living is my view,” Lutnick said Thursday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “These are hard jobs.” Lutnick’s unapologetic comments follow similarly less-guarded remarks by some of Wall Street’s other veteran chiefs. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called working from home an “aberration”, while Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman has said workers prepared to visit New York City restaurants should also be able to go into the office. The battle over hybrid working continues…
- Tokyo, Japan and not a fan in sight. The Olympic Games in Japan will be held without spectators at venues in and around the capital after a spike in coronavirus infections. Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa made the announcement after talks between the organising committee, the government and the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach on Thursday. Tokyo announced a state of emergency, which will run throughout the Games scheduled to take place in the Japanese capital between 23 July and 8 August. The Paralympic Games are between 24 August and 5 September. Entry to Japan by foreigners from 159 countries including the UK is currently banned. Not quite the Olympics we would all have hoped for.
The Ugly 😱
- Cogito, ergo sum — I think therefore I am. Unmanned aerial weapons are reshaping the battlefield — and starting to think for themselves. The U.S. says humans will always be in control of AI weapons but the age of autonomous war is already here. The Pentagon says a ban on AI weapons isn’t necessary but missiles, guns and drones that think for themselves are already killing people in combat — and have been for years. Today, efforts to enact a total ban on lethal autonomous weapons, long demanded by human rights activists, are now being supported by 30 countries. The facts on the ground show that technological advancements, coupled with complex conflicts like the Syrian and Libyan civil wars, have created a reality where weapons that make their own decisions are already killing people.
- Who will fill the power vacuum in Haiti? Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated earlier this week by a group of 28 foreign mercenaries, including retired Colombian soldiers and Americans, police say. In the early hours of Wednesday, a group of gunmen broke into the president’s home in the capital Port-au-Prince and shot him and his wife, Martine. Mr Moïse died at the scene, whilst Mrs Moïse was seriously injured and is said to be in a stable condition. Most of the assassins were detained after a gun battle at a house in the capital Port-au-Prince where they were holed up. Bloodied and bruised, suspects were paraded in front of media on Thursday, along with a slew of seized weapons. Eight more suspects are still on the run and three others were shot dead by police officers. Police say they are still searching for the masterminds behind the attack.
- Yet another groundhog day for Afghanistan? In April, President Joe Biden pledged to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by 11th September ending America’s longest war, which has claimed the lives of around 2,300 US. troops since 2001. From 2001 to 2018, around 58,000 Afghan military and police were killed in the violence according to a study by Brown University. But the withdrawal comes amid fears it could set the country on a path to a civil war according to Austin Miller, the US’s top general in Afghanistan. The Taliban have shown off containers full of weapons and military hardware seized from the Afghan military as American forces withdraw from the country and the militant's march across the country. A surge of violence, including attacks on intellectuals, journalists and prominent women has heightened anxiety about what the future holds for the battle-scarred country.
The Undecided 🤔
- Just in case you’re undecided: 99.2% of US Covid deaths in June were unvaccinated, according to Dr Anthony Fauci — a statistic that health officials say is especially concerning given the prevalence of vaccine hesitancy in some regions and the rise of the Delta variant. Fauci, the country’s top public health official, has said that in June, 99.2% of Covid deaths in the US could be attributed to those who are unvaccinated. CDC data shows that about 67% of American adults aged 18 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 58% are fully vaccinated. To put things into perspective, 24.9% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and only 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
- The great divide widens. The $100 Billion Club just got a new member, with a second aspirant knocking on the door. Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft Corp., has a net worth of more than $100 billion, making him the ninth person in the world to reach that lofty plateau. Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison fell just short of making it an even 10, ending Wednesday with a fortune of $98.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Together, the nine members of the club — along with Ellison — have added about $245 billion to their fortunes since the start of the year and are now collectively worth $1.36 trillion. While tech stock rallies have boosted the fortunes of the world’s richest, it’s also renewed scrutiny of wealth inequality and taxes.
- You’ll be forgiven if this makes you feel a touch ‘groundhoggy’. Former US President Donald Trump has filed a lawsuit against tech giants Google, Twitter and Facebook, claiming that he is the victim of censorship. The class-action lawsuit also targets the three companies’ CEOs. Mr Trump was suspended from his social accounts in January over public safety concerns in the wake of the Capitol riots, led by his supporters. On Wednesday, Mr Trump called the lawsuit “a very beautiful development for our freedom of speech”. None of the tech companies named has yet responded to the lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in Florida.
Meme of the Week
Chart of the Week
Back to normal? Not by a long stretch. The Economist has devised a normalcy index to track how behaviour has changed, and continues to change due to the pandemic and is updated once a week. The index comprises eight indicators, split into three domains. The first grouping is transport and travel, the second looks at recreation and entertainment and the third is retailing and work.
The index covers 50 of the world’s largest economies that together account for 90% of global GDP and 76% of the world’s population. The aggregate measure is the population-weighted average of each country’s score. The pre-pandemic level of activity is set at 100 for ease of comparison.
Term of the Week
Cheugy, pronounced “chew-gee,” got its own write-up in the New York Times. The Gen-Z term, which gained popularity on TikTok, describes anything that’s considered uncool, untrendy, or people who deliberately stick to ‘older’ trends. A few things that are considered cheugy by the originators? Anything emblazoned with the word “girlboss;” wooden signs with inspirational quotes; Friends or The Office merch or UGG boots. Clearly, not something we need to be concerned with at the Grey Swan Guild. Although, between you and me, I still love my UGG’s.
Photo of the Week
Video of the Week
This gigantic 3D cat is the latest crowd stopper at a busy intersection in Tokyo. The billboard was organized by local businesses to create a mascot and cheer people up amid the pandemic and Tokyo’s current state of emergency.
That’s the Wrap! Your thoughts?
Why not join us on Sunday, 11 July 2021 at 8:00am (PST) | 11am (EST) | 4pm (BST) on Clubhouse to engage with your favourite Grey Swan Guild Wrap Editors, including Sylvia Gallusser, Sean Moffitt, Agustín Borrazás, Rob Tyrie, Ben Thurman, Louise Mowbray and Antonia Nicols.
See you next week for Edition #26 where we will ponder and ruminate on the week that was, what it means for the future and Wrap it for you.
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