Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Crafting Confidence in a Challenging World

On the eve of the Prime Minister sending the letter that invokes Article 50 to the Council of the European Union, I had the good fortune of spending time in the City of London with current students, alumni, and staff of the University of Nottingham for a networking event. Entitled ‘Nottingham in the City’ we welcomed over 100 guests to the magnificent offices of Berenberg for an evening of talks and mutually beneficial introductions.

My own role was to welcome our guests on behalf of the University and to deliver a short lecture on leadership and ‘knowing people’. I was delighted to revisit many of the themes that I have developed in the past on ‘crafting confidence’ in young people and using analytical frameworks developed at Glowinkowski International.

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I talked primarily about how all organisations are characterised by the complex interactions between people’s underlying predispositions, behaviours, and styles of leadership and engagement, which in turn relate to the climate of the organisation and ultimately its performance. These insights were illustrated through my own version of ‘cerebral prestidigitation’ (or mind magic) working with members of the audience. I predicted a choice of one guest simply by knowing her name (Darinka), her place of birth (Macedonia) and what she had for breakfast (an omelette). I then asked four volunteers to imagine in their minds the four different types of leadership engagement that we had been discussing and I divined their thoughts with 100% accuracy.

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But for me, the real exciting part of the evening was learning how these young people, full of enthusiasm, are embracing the change that they see all around them. I met graduates of law, economics, business, politics, psychology and sociology, all of whom valued not only the core content of what they studied, but the many soft skills that have made them adaptable to the challenging work environments in which they find themselves. Many had started out in one direction and then learned where their real interests were and changed course accordingly.

There evening also included an inspiring talk from business entrepreneur Claire Bicknell from Catena Business Networking, who presented a compelling vision of how company to company and person to person networking benefits all that engage in such interactions. She is growing her business from its base in Nottingham to the whole of the UK with an ever increasing network of companies, organisations, individuals and events.

The deep history of the City was with is last night (Berenberg dates from 1590), but it was combined with youthful and hopeful vigour, which I hope will carry us through the uncharted waters of BREXIT and that real opportunities will be seized in these turbulent times.

SUBVERSION: Politics, Magic and Jazz

 

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This week has seen a fascinating array of my own public engagement. My week began with my lecture on Race, Rights and Justice in the Age of Brexit for the national Being Human Fetsival. Held in the fabulous Galleries of Justice in Notttingham, I set out my thoughts and reflections on the many challenges during the age of what I have called BREXITRUMP. My remarks urged us all to remain mindful of our common humanity and the shared values of dignity, respect, non-discrimination, equality, and inclusion.

The current turn in politics is undermining years of struggle for rights and justice, the legal codification of these struggles, and the many advances that have been achieved in the popular understandings of identity and difference. The rhetoric of Farage and Trump shares many of the same features: a simplification and dichotomisation of society into ‘us’ and ‘them’ in ways that have proved highly divisive, hurtful, and regressive. It has also invited arguments online and offline that appear more vitriolic than ever before.

With these developments at the forefront of our minds, the staging this week of my show SUBVERSION seemed more fitting than first imagined when I conceived of it. The show celebrates the common thread that joins the disparate worlds of politics, magic and jazz; worlds that have been my world since the early 1970s. Each in their own way has moments that have challenged the status quo and moved history forward. I explore these connections through the medium of performance magic, mind reading, and mentalism. Our topics have covered the ideas and achievements of over 50 of my favourite ‘subversives’; our understanding of the notion of free will; Hobbesian thought as expressed in Leviathan; the philosophy and art of surrealism; Said’s notion of Orientalism; the ‘veil of ignorance’; the value of predictions; and my own blend of psychic perfect pitch.

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The show has been well received and well-reviewed, while the proceeds are being used for the Life Cycle Campaign to raise funds for research into the early detection of breast cancer, something that has touched my family and I am certain many other families here and abroad. The Djanogly Theatre at Lakeside Arts provided the perfect setting, while the sound and light crew could not be more professional and supportive.

In the middle of this performance schedule, I had the honour and pleasure of performing to a group of students from the University of Nottingham for a new film project on Academic Magic. They were from all over the world and studying degree courses in chemistry, maths, biology, business, law, finance, psychology, and medicine. After the filming they were full of questions and theories about how I managed to know what they had chosen, thought, or wrote down. It was a wonderful afternoon with the youth of today.

2016 has indeed been an extraordinary year with the death of so many icons of my youth, and significant political developments that will have huge and long lasting consequences. All eyes are on the election in France with the surge in support for Marine Le Pen, the election in Germany, as Angela Merkel seeks an historic 4th term as Chancellor, and in the UK, the Government’s plan for Brexit; the phasing, contours and consequences of which still remain shrouded in uncertainty.

I for one, will remain vigilant, continue to engage, and work hard to defend what I think are the many important principles and rights that have been secured through so many years of struggle.

The Brexit Dip and the Struggle for Certainty

In Democracy and the Market, Adam Przeworski argues that transitional countries experience a significant downturn in economic performance in the short term and then as democracy takes root, economic performance returns in ways that support the new democracy.

Watching events here in the UK since the EU referendum on 23 June, I couldn’t help feeling that the UK now looks very much like one of  Przeworski’s transitional countries and is experiencing precisely the same kind of economic downturn as a result of the vote to leave the EU.

The figure below represents this dynamic. The y-axis represents economic performance (E), which would have remained relatively constant over time (t) had there not been an EU referendum. On 23 June, however, there was a referendum, which saw an economic pick up in the run up to the vote (a signal from the markets that Remain was the likely outcome), and a subsequent slowdown once the result of Leave became official on the morning of the 24th.

Brexit DipWe now find ourselves in a significant ‘Brexit dip’ in economic performance (B). The pound against the dollar has dropped to levels not seen in thirty years (click HERE to track its value relative to other currencies), the FTSE 100 and, more importantly, the FTSE 250 have dropped precipitously, S & P dropped the UK from its AAA rating to an AA rating, while leaders of business surveyed by the Institute of Directors (IoD) are fairly pessimistic about the immediate future of the British economy. So much so, that many report a stall in investment, a freeze on hiring, and in some cases, redundancies.

In addition to the economic downturn, we have seen both main political parties in crisis, as the struggle for power ensues. The Prime Minister has resigned, the shadow cabinet and junior shadow ministers have resigned, and there are fresh calls for Jeremy Corbyn to step down as leader of the Labour Party. The Leave campaign leaders are scrambling around to clarify what they actually mean by Brexit, the Remain campaign leaders are looking at legal loopholes and procedures that might reverse the decision, or at least limit its most negative consequences, and the Scots are exploring their own independence given their overwhelming vote to Remain.

The figure also shows a number of dimensions and possible scenarios for what could happen next. The dark line labelled B1 denotes a Brexit dip and long term recovery, which may see the UK return to economic performance levels that are higher than those before the referendum. Line B2 is a less severe Brexit dip that could be achieved through continued assurances from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne.  B3 is a more severe Brexit dip if such overtures fail to calm market nerves and the UK economy slips further into recession. A Breixt dip is  inevitable as many experts before the referendum pointed out, and any recovery carries risk and uncertainty with an eventual landing point that could vary substantially.

Both the depth and breadth of the Brexit dip rest on the ability of the UK political system to produce new leadership, trigger an Article 50 withdrawal from the EU, and establish an orderly timeline for how and under what conditions the UK will continue to work with the EU without being in the EU. Boris Johnson, the favourite for being the next Prime Minister signalled today that he would want the UK to continue its close cooperation with the EU, but did not spell out exactly what that might look like.

If Brexit really is going to happen (something the Scots are contesting), then it is incumbent on the new leadership to act quickly and decisively to bring certainty and confidence back to the UK economy. In seeking to prevent further disintegration, EU leaders will negotiate hard with the UK in setting conditions for access to the common market (e.g. national payments to the EU and free movement of labour). In preventing a total backlash from the Leave supporters, the new leadership in the UK will seek to maximise benefit from cooperation with the EU without having to incur too many costs.

One possible outcome for the future is the irony of the UK having to pay as much as it pays now and to accept only a minor reduction in migration, while at the same time having to give up its place at the EU table. The Leave campaign made a meal out of the crumbling castle of the EU and lambasted the Remain campaign’s insistence that the UK would be stronger in Europe, and yet the outcome of any Article 50 negotiations may well see the UK maintaining payments, accepting migrants, and losing influence. Meanwhile, one of the main societal group who voted for Leave will be very unlikely to see any real benefit from their vote.

References:

Adam Przeworski (1991) Democracy and the Market, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Reflections at 50

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Today is a remarkable day. I am 50 and very pleased with it as well. I have my health, three beautiful children and my lovely wife. I live in a civilised country with a deep history, a well-tended countryside, a great sense of humour, and a health system that works most of the time.

I was only supposed to come here for a year back in 1993 … oh well…

Turning 50 is a moment to pause and take stock. Five decades. Born into the Cold War at a time when an LED calculator created intense joy and curiosity, and now writing this short blog on a laptop connected to the Internet through eduroam wifi. And as I get older, the simpler my tastes become: a comfortable place to sit, really good coffee, and the fastest broadband in the world.

Despite my birth year, I was not a child of the 60s, but a child of the 70s. Long hair, bell-bottom jeans, blue suede Puma sneakers, a silk shirt with horses on it, a jean coat, and a beat up trombone. I loved our family home in Hemlock Hollow and when not outside running through the woods or swimming in the pond, I was in my room learning and practicing magic; a life-long pursuit that continues to fascinate and enchant me.

The Nixon resignation and our extraction from the Vietnam War were my earliest memories of a decade that saw some of the best rock music ever recorded (although I did not quite appreciate that at the time).

We huddled in my brother’s bedroom listening to Queen (an imported vinyl LP my dad brought back from Amsterdam), Bachman Turner Overdrive, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, the Doobie Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

All that changed in the late 1970s when I discovered punk and New Wave music from the UK. Gone were the self-indulgent dirges; replaced by quick tempo tunes with cockney accents, the ‘nutty’ sound, and political lyrics that spoke of a rebellious generation taking on the establishment.

My brother’s bedroom was replaced by my friend’s back room den with 100s of imported LPs from bands like the Angelic Upstarts, the Cure, U2, the Specials, Madness, the Selector, the Sex Pistols, Joe Jackson, and the Stranglers, which were complemented by surf punk from California like the Dead Kennedys, Agent Orange, and so many others. We learned to slam dance and survive the mosh pit. We wore vintage clothes, pointy shoes, and pork pie hats.

Throughout these years, I was also seduced by jazz, from traditional to hard bop, to jazz rock fusion. The house was full of great music from Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Modern Jazz Quartet and countless others. I had a long battle learning to play the trombone and a continuing passion to learn how to play jazz, as well as many stints with many different bands: concert band, big band, pit orchestras, marching band, blues bands, and small jazz combos.

The 1980s were a time of deep learning and reacting against Reagan’s America. High School (studies, band, and swimming) in Central Pennsylvania gave way to University life at Penn in the middle of the end of the Cold War. I read the New York Times daily and followed all the foreign policy stories from the Iran-Contra scandal to democratic transitions in Latin America, to the Falklands/Malvinas, to anti-apartheid protests around the world. I wrote my final year dissertation on US Foreign Policy in Chile during the Allende period, abandoned my plans to go to law school, and followed my dream to study Latin America.

Three years in the late 80s in Georgetown included intense study of Latin America, exposure to liberation theology, time in Brazil to hone my Portuguese and follow the first democratic presidential election since 1961, and a short stint at the World Bank before setting off west to pursue a PhD in political science.

The 1990s saw me for a short spell in Boulder, Colorado, where the long hair made a brief return and where I met an English Professor, who, over a glass of single malt invited me to come to the UK. With visions of ivy-covered halls and greens full of students debating philosophy, I landed at the University of Essex (cough); itself an intellectually stimulating place with a radical past. One project turned into another until I found myself traveling the world to over 39 countries working on human rights projects, teaching students from places that were forbidden in my youth like Tajikistan to people who were part of Reagan’s Evil Empire. The Cold War was over, but new forms of tyranny, oppression and conflict were upon us.

Y2K never happened, but 9/11 did, which like the Kennedy Assassination for the generation before me, has been etched on my mind since that fateful day. En route to an appointment in town, I heard an early news report about the attack, while later in the day I found myself standing very still in front of a TV in a clothing store In Colchester UK watching the towers come down; towers I visited as kid on a special trip to New York with my father to pick up my Dutch grandfather who had arrived at JFK airport.

The ‘noughties’ were spent teaching, writing, traveling, playing jazz and performing magic. My three real passions in life remain politics, magic and jazz. In their own way, these passions all share a subversive streak, where big disruptions come from those who foment new ideas (we can change history), question orthodoxy (why not flatten the fifth note in a diatonic scale?), and unsettle our sense of reality (is it deduction, deception, or something more?).

50 seemed a long way away as a kid, where I often yearned to be older, but as Ferris says, life moves pretty fast. I agree, but it also moves slow enough to savour the journey, and this journey thus far has been fantastic.

So, as I savour this particular day, happy birthday to me, and many thanks to all my friends and family who have made the journey thus far unforgettable.

In honour of this day, I share with you a new poem that I call The Pond. I hope you like it.

The Pond

Duckweed. 
Kelp carpet of the hollow’s waters.
Warm, spongy soft, pungent.
A fecund sprawl, a natural feast.
But not for us, at least.
 
Snappers float, the surface barely broken.
Eyeing prey with patient contemplation.
Noses out, dangling legs, tails but a token.
Hard rake at the ready.
Just in case we get too close.
Jaws clenched, set and steady.
 
The drain runs warm and constant.
Mesh snags unwanted detritus.
Muskrats poke their way,
like miners in a vein.
But once, up my arm,
a scurrying one came.
 
Foam floats made pink by the sun,
like crabs in a Chesapeake bucket.
Boards bolted on, rope and brick,
an anchor for our dock.
Jumping, splashing, flying.
Hours disappear, no need for a clock.
 
Sunfish caught with simple grass.
Tadpoles dance with excitement.
Fires in winter, while we skate.
Making the figure eight.
Puck, crack, chair, slide.
A bauble hat, mittens with fur inside. 
Warmth, security, a father’s embrace.
 
Plunge in summer. 
His arms hold tight; we struggle.
Spluttering, flailing, panicking.
Face down, bubbles out.
Sink or swim, you decide.
I swam.
 © 2016 Todd Landman all rights reserved.

Then and Now: A Magical Celebration of Essex University at 50!

 

 

Then and NowThe University of Essex is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. The year launches on our Alumni Weekend 12-14 September 2014.

As part of the celebrations I have been honoured to develop a magical celebration of our history in a dedicated stage show with music, visual images, and a wide range of uncanny demonstrations of coincidence, synchronicity, precognition, predictions, and direct mind reading.

The show explores topics such as politics, math, history, and philosophy which are wrapped in a magic carpet ride of highly interactive fun. The show runs from 4pm to 5pm (public show) and again from 6pm to 7pm (for alumni). It will also be staged again in December.

The University’s Lakeside Theatre is the perfect venue for the show as it allows raked seating, a huge performance area, and state of the art audio visual equipment.

This potted history of such a special University is serious fun with an academic twist and enjoyable for all. Tickets are FREE and can be booked by clicking HERE.

Memorialising atrocity – Marcelo Brodsky

1er año, 6ta división, 1967 (1996) - Marcelo Brodsky

1er año, 6ta división, 1967 (1996) – Marcelo Brodsky

Many times the strongest messages come from the power of an everyday object. This piece is an incidental photograph that could have been taken in any high school in the world. Well-aligned and smartly dressed students sit together, smiling, and wearing expressions that are full of hope for the future. The context and reason for this piece from Marcelo Brodsky, however, stands in stark contrast to the ebullient feeling communicated through the young faces in this simple photograph.

Of the 32 students in the picture, two were dead and one was ‘disappeared’ as a result of the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina between 1976 and 1982. Four of the students suffered prolonged trauma from this period, while others had moved away from Buenos Aires to other parts of Argentina; from Argentina to other parts of Latin America; or from Latin America to countries further afield. While the cohesion of high school classes is always beset with changes and possible tragedies, the scale of the impact of authoritarian rule on the young people of Argentina has been immeasurable.

My father was engaged in business for DuPont in Argentina during this same period. His slide collection shows a bucolic Buenos Aires with tree-lined boulevards, cafes, and bright sunny days without a soldier or a victim in sight. Because of his Latin American experiences, I have spent my whole academic career researching the politics of authoritarian rule, transitions to democracy and the patterns of human rights violations that emerge during these periods of profound political transformation. Like the photograph, the case of Argentina (and I would argue other cases of post-authoritarian politics) is one of deep issues that remain unresolved and the absence of closure. Public acknowledgement of past wrongs have been made, attempts at justice partially achieved, and the scars from the period are a visible reminder of the repressive policies that destroyed the social fabric of the country, the privatised violence to the point that families and friends stopped talking about politics, and the profound dislocations of human lives that have ruptured any sense of national identity.

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Marcelo Brodsky and hosting him for an afternoon discussion of his work in London. After two hours of stories about the period from Marcelo and audience members, an Argentine woman who left her country for Madrid in 1978 claimed that this occasion was the first time she had ever heard of any of the atrocities committed by the regime. At that time, we were shocked at her revelation, but over the years I have learned that like this photograph, the real story is not evident to all observers. Indeed, as the case of Argentina shows, that which is immediately observable can hide a much darker truth.

The image is held by ESCALA at the University of Essex and will be on display in the Forum in Southend as part of the University’s 50th Anniversary.

 

2013: An Intense Year

kiev-2Last year in December I was in Kiev working with a citizen group wishing to improve the quality of democracy in Ukraine. The members of the group were very motivated, energetic, and excited about the prospects of making a difference in the future of their country, as well as the prospects of Ukraine making closer ties with the European Union. This December, the Government of Ukraine has turned its back on Europe, which has provoked popular outcry and unrest from pro-European groups. Many see any gains from the Orange Revolution as being finally extinguished.

The trip to Kiev was part of my work as the Director of the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex, which I maintained until 1 August when I became the new Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. The new role has meant an expanded set of responsibilities, deeper engagement with campus life across all aspects of the academic endeavour: education, research, finance and people. I work with superb team in the Faculty and other colleagues who make the job exciting, engaging and rewarding.

The higher education sector is going through profound and unprecedented change at the moment here in the UK. The government rolled out a liberalization process that has culminated in expanding the student market during this recruitment cycle by 30,000 and then by opening up the market completely from 2015.

fss-1My work involves creating the kind of value proposition for our students that is attractive, competitive and meaningful. Our strategies are geared toward achieving excellence in education (‘a transformational educational experience’) and excellence in research (maximise our performance in the research excellence framework 2014 and beyond). The Faculty of Social Sciences features top social science departments in the United Kingdom with a critical mass of academic staff carrying out cutting edge research that is data rich, methodologically rigorous, and practically applicable across many different policy sectors.

The early part of the year involved work on The Westminster Consortium for Strengthening Parliaments and Democracy, and other projects associated with the IDCR, including the wonderful joint project with the Mackman Group, Thomson Reuters Foundation, The Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO-Mexico), Human Rights Centre and ESRC: The Human Rights Atlas. The Atlas work involved a wonderful visit to FLACSO-Mexico for a workshop on measuring human rights, as well as a visit to the Circle of Mexican Magicians!

After Mexico, I found myself in Brussels for a series of meetings with the EU’s External Action Service with some of my colleagues from Kiev. I also had the opportunity of a lifetime to finally go visit Christian Chelman, one of the world’s most foremost bizarre magicians at his famous Surnateum.

 

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In April I went to San Francisco for the annual meeting of the International Studies Association and spent a great day with Christian Cagigal, a bay area bizarre magician who showed me the Mission area and the Castro. I saw my friend and colleague Edzia Carvalho marry Sam Mansell in Sheffield. I also had the honour of lecturing to the MA in Sustainable Leadership at the University of Cambridge.

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In May I got the new job and started with the preparations almost immediately. I also made my annual sojourn to Whitby for the Doomsday bizarre magic convention where I had the honour of performing in the Gala show and running a workshop on the final day. June and July were spent getting up to speed on all matters in the faculty.

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After a lovely visit from my amazing mother, I had the pleasure of presenting a full day workshop on democracy for staff at the EU’s External Action Service in Brussels, where we looked at stylised facts, concepts and definitions, theories and explanations, and implications for EU policies in the area of democracy building.

On 22 July, I was delighted to host an evening of mentalism at the prestigious Magic Circle in London, which featured many of the talented members of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers. We had mind reading, memory stunts, tests of suggestibility, and a packed house with over 70 people.

In September I was delighted to publish my new book Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals with Bloomsbury. The book charts developments in democracy and human rights over the last 60 years, and reflects on my last 20 years working with democracy assessment, human rights measurement, and capacity building around the world.

The month also saw the roll out of an experiment run in our Essex Lab, which tested over 150 respondents on their attitudes to transitional justice through direct reference to the trial of Rios Montt in Guatemala. The results are promising and will be written up in 2014, and preliminary results presented in a talk at the University of Dundee in February.

This year saw the debut of my new stage show ‘Lifting Veil of Ignorance’, which is a show inspired by John Rawls and includes an exploration of deep philosophical questions through the medium of mind reading. I did parts of the show in Whitby in May, and then the whole show in Bath in September, Wivenhoe House and University of Huddersfield in October, and Southend in December.

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At the November Tabula Mentis meeting of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers I was presented with the Chancellor of Mystery award by the membership for service to organisation as one of its founders and the main organiser for 14 Tabula Mentae meetings since 2007.

In research terms, I was awarded two new grants, one from the Economic and Social Research Council for the extension of our Human Rights Atlas project and one from the Technology Strategy Board for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Glowinkowski International.

As an exciting year closes out, I am really looking forward to 2014. My academic work continues at Essex with the Faculty and with new research endeavours on authoritarianism and human rights, while in the magical world, I am pleased to announce the forthcoming book The Magiculum, which will be published by EyeCorner Press. The book is a wonderful collection of essays from lifelong magicians reflecting on the different ways in which magic has been part of their lives.

Finally, I wish to thank my lovely family Melissa, Sophia, Oliver, Briony, and all our furry friends for making home life so wonderful, full of love, and never short of surprises. This is where the true magic lies.