Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Blogging: The local press takes note

Today's Barbados Advocate makes an historic step: it has an editorial on "The Blogging Phenomenon". Here in Barbados some of the more politically oriented blogs such as Barbados Free Press (BFP) and Barbados Underground (BU) have been wondering--with a good amount of frustration--why the local printed media have gone to almost any lengths to ignore them, at least in written word. Now that has ended; both BFP and BU are cited in the editorial. Kudos are due to these blogs and others that I do not name for having tried to open up public discussion on a range of issues.

The Advocate editorial is interesting. It says that blogs are "not immediately to be compared to a newspaper, so far as the law is concerned", citing the ability to have greater anonymity. But it then concludes "we consider ... the blog is merely the online equivalent of a newspaper [and] should be subject to the same laws in respect of freedom of expression".

The leader column acknowledges that blogs are "here to stay", "democraticsed free speech", and "served to revolutionise the traditional balance between the individual interest in reputation and the right of freedom of expression". Importantly, it notes that "by all indications, the readership of these blogs is in excess of that of the two local daily newspapers". This editorial suggests that blogs have raised the level of debate.

Webster's dictionary defines newspaper (first cited in 1670) as "a paper that is printed and distributed usually daily or weekly and that contains news, articles of opinion, features, and advertising ". It defines a blog (first cited in 1999) as "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer". To me the important distinction is that a newspaper is essentially printed medium, while a blog is not, but is only available on the Internet; both give news, views, opinions, ect. I think it's worth remembering that newspapers represent "old" technology (nothing wrong with that), and blogs are very new (nothing necessarily good with that). Also, Webster's is behind the curve: blogs are not necessarily personal and many are in fact corporate in nature, having several contributors, or actually taking on a formal structure in making online commentary (see Slate magazine, for example, which was formed in 1996 and has developed enormously, now being owned by the Washington Post). In fact, many printed newspapers, not only have online editions of the paper, but also have blogs.

Blogs do not need to be anonymous; in fact many are very public. But anonymity tends to be sought in any environment where expression is not usually free and when one form of reaction to opposition expression is personal attacks. Clearly, some feel that Barbados has fallen into being that kind of country. After only living here one year I cannot personally be definitive about this. But it's a phenomenon I have seen in many countries, whether they are stated to be full democracies or if they are determinedly authoritiarian. Ironically, political commentator, Peter Wickham, has just laid that charge at the feet of the outgoing Barbados Labour Party (BLP) government (see Nation News article published on January 30). He says "Although I firmly believe that the BLP and Owen Arthur served this country well, I am also convinced that more recently they created a climate of oppression (as was the case in 1986) that made people ... uncomfortable." I will watch the reverberation of comments that come from that observation.

The lack of freedom of expression that encourages anonymity can also be created because of the position someone holds. This anonymity does not need to be limited to blogging; it could come from "off the record" briefing, leaked documents, or using some form of pseudonym.

So, in Barbados we find many blogs that seek to air political or controversial issues doing so mainly under cover of anonymity. But we also see bloggers do that for innocent subjects (each person has personal reasons and it's no crime). Whether bloggers need to be covered by the same law as newspapers may be a red herring. At issue is whether free expression exists. The printed media have been accused of self censorship (including by Peter Wickham in his latest article). If that is indeed the case, then therein lies a problem. Within the limits of the laws that apply the press should not be censoring itself: that is the job of an official censor if that organ exists, or public opinion (as expressed by letters or sales), or the law if there is an issue to be dealt with. The issue seems more to be is the printed press playing the role it should. I have read articles in the local papers during the past year that acknowlege that the written press has been under constraints to fully investigate stories. I find that troubling and it is a sharp contrast to what applies in some other countries in the region, such as Jamaica or Trinidad.

If the local press has been shackled has that been a reflection of a certain political regime? If so, will that be continued or changed with a new government? If they were shackled for other reasons, what allows that to continue and why do the laws permit this continuation? Should the local written press be agitating to have its full journalistic freedoms?

Blogs permit expression without limitation, and broadcasting those expressions with little difficulty. Barring or limiting Internet access is tried in some countries as a means of censorship, but it is very difficult and ultimately fails. Once an opinion is aired online it has the potential to be read instantaneously by an audience that is incredibly large--the world is its limit (and who knows if the Universe is not the limit). Blogs (and online versions of newspapers) beat print for immediacy and so are a major threat.

Bloggers come in many shapes and sizes, but essentially they have taken the form of Joe or Janet Citizen saying I can say what I want and the world can read it if it wishes to. Sometimes the views are well researched, sometimes they are not. The printed press is really no different. They control what they want readers to read. Many newspapers are known for their thorough investigative approaches (The Times or The Washington Post) but there are many newspapers who are known to be "economical with the truth" or making up stories, doing whatever is necessary to sell papers. So, I am not going along with false distinctions about content or quality.


I will leave these as my reflections on this subject for the moment.

What leadership means: Having a dream

I mentioned in a previous post, What leadership means, that the London Times was looking at six styles of leadership. The second report in The Times looks at "visionary leaders" (formerly called the authoritative style). We often see these leaders in fiction: novels, plays and films. What defines them is their ability to see the "big picture", and providing long-term direction and vision; being clear about what they want to do and getting people to buy into it. While directive leaders tell people what to do; visionary leaders win people over so that they want to do it. For many of us our obvious visionary leader is the person of our religious focus, whether Jesus, Mohamed, or Buddha, for example.

The Times cites the movie "Remember The Titans", when Denzil Washington plays Herman Boone, a black high school football coach, who explains why, in the American South in the early 1970s, uniting black and white players on one team is about much more than simply sport. His speech is dramatic (www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechrememberthetitans.html), given as it was at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania--famed battlefield of the American Civil War.

This leadership style is for when you need to show people the way; when you need to galvanise people and get them to see the "vision", and then, when you need to, remind them of it. It’s particularly useful when day-to-day tasks are difficult or unpopular. It is not a "Christmas only" or a once-a-year style that can be brought out for the AGM then put back in a draw. A tongue-in-cheek look at visionary leaders was Monty Python's "Life of Brian".Read the following extracts from that film:
******
  • Brian: I'm not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
  • Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
  • Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
  • Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
  • Brian: Now, @#$% off!
[silence]
  • Arthur: How shall we @#$% off, O Lord?
******
But this style does more harm than good when it is used in a crisis; also it would not be effective if the person articulating the vision did not have credibility. It probably wont be the best technique to use if you’ve just been promoted to lead a team of which you used to be a member.

Being a visionary leader can be a problem if the style is used excessively. When overused it can lead to confusion. People usually need support and guidance because they need to know if they are doing things right.

What are the no-nos when working for a visionary leader? Well don't try to give them a vision. It doesn’t work upwards: visionary leaders see big picture development as their job; they don’t want, or expect, their juniors to do the same thing.

So how do you impress a visionary leader? Use vanity, in a sense: reflect their vision back to them, talk about how you understand it and how you will articulate that vision to your own team in ways that they will understand.

So who fits the bill? I think of visionaries but I am not sure that they led the way the portrayed their visions. Let me give them the benefit of the doubt. I feature Martin Luther King above: he surely had a dream and got many people to buy into his ideas. But I would also cite Colonel Qaddafi, whether you like his politics or not. He refers to himself as "The Guide", not President or Leader. And of course there is Mahatma Gandhi, who led India to independence on a wave built on his belief in "resistance to evil through active, non-violent resistance". Truth is there are not that many truly visionary leaders in ordinary life; some gravitate to politics, the others remain in a world of spiritual enlightenment and wonder about the rest of us miserable mortals.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Facing up to new realities

I am not the first parent to be intrigued by my teenagers' interest in Facebook. But I went a stage further and created a page for myself. My elder teenager told me that I was too old to have a page on Facebook. I ignored that piece of "advice" and explored to quickly find that at the International Monetary Fund there is a network so I joined that; only one person responded to my invitation to be a friend. That was nearly two years ago. I forget how many were in the IMF network in 2006 but now it's over 450. Since I joined Facebook it has remained an amusing piece of software that I never used. Then some unconnected friends said something over the past few days and that led me to revisit my page. Well, I spent most of my birthday getting a metaphorical full "facial" and really using Facebook.

Within a 24 hour period I have realised a lot of things about this social networking phenomenon. I love photography and have been chronicling family life in pictures for decades; with a digital camera sharing pictures has been much simpler. But doing so by e-mail has always been cumbersome. Facebook suddenly simplified this for me by allowing me to create online albums. Suddenly, I had motive to let all of my contacts know about this. Then whammo! I see that I have created an avalanche of new Facebook members. If this were a pyramid scheme, I would be shooting way up to the top. All of a sudden by the simple deed of seeking to share my pictures I have become a stealth recruiter. To share you have to join and so the spiral goes up. I know I have lots of friends but seeing them grow on Facebook is weird.

Then there is the "six degrees of separation" issue. You quickly see with Facebook that you have common acquaintances. I have not yet found amongst my new friends any connections that were not known to us, but this sharing is only a day old. I have encountered a lot of coincidences in my life so I am awaiting my share through Facebook.

In the Caribbean, attempts are being made to tap into the marketing potential of Facebook by developing applications that feature regional characteristics. A recent example is Jamaican Sayings (see report on Silicon Caribe), which helps people learn how to speak Jamaican: "Is Linguaphone me did use, man!" Natural enough, but there is no end to opportunities, not least creating other, regional, social networking sites.

When you look at how Facebook has grown, like topsy, from a few contacts at Ivy League universities to almost anyone who is at least in their early teens you again wonder what we were doing before it arrived. Waiting for friends to call?

In fact there seems to be no end to what you can do on Facebook. I can see that this could be a time gobbler if I am not careful. So as the cartoon above suggests I may need someone to tell me when I should go and do other things (if you like the cartoon see http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/). But for the moment I am going to enjoy discovering its potential.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm a STUD!

A female friend asked me recently "What does it feel like to be a stud?". Taken aback, I replied "Excuse me?". You know," she continued, "Spouse travelling under duress." The penny dropped. "Well, it's not bad." I finally replied. After all, I was the one who took us to Africa for three years and my wife had to leave her job behind in Washington. She used the time well doing research, consulting, volunteering, and enjoying being a mother of a baby again after 20 years off. I will try to use my time in Barbados as gainfully. I had never heard the term before, but the friend told me of at least one European group and I found a website for a STUD support group in Belgium (see link; click on picture to enlarge cartoon).

I have not done any serious research on this phenomenon that seems to be more noticeable in Barbados: men who have followed female partners to a foreign country and where it is the woman who is pursuing a career. One of the professors at the University of the West Indies (UWI) told me she had done some study of it: she has a STUD with her. In my case, I did not travel under duress and came willingly. I know there are a lot of men in my situation; I have met many here. Some have become the golf pro-wannabee that they had their hearts set on or indulge in some sporting activities. Some take on or continue their work but from a different location; as we are mostly foreigners here it may not be simple to just pick ourselves up and work. Some of us have become the "primary caregiver" (stay-at-home dads, "Mr. Mom"). Some of us get to do projects that have been put on hold. Some of us commute internationally and see our partners occasionally. We have taken on new work assignments that may or may not involve leaving the home. We take on the opportunity to pursue other things, some of which were put on hold or never started because of the demands of our former jobs. (One European STUD I met is learning to surf, but also doing work in his chosen field--archeology--that means he travels around the Caribbean and Africa. But now he just got a job back in Europe and will leave his family behind in Barbados to revisit them occasionally.) We often get to wear cool clothes all day long: no more jacket, shirt and tie, and shiny wing-tip brogues, but T-shirt and shorts and sandals, and casual shirt and pants if we are going out.

In my case, I have started to teach at UWI. I went to see if I could enroll in an Executive MBA course, but instead they asked me if I could "collaborate" and I am now a "facilitator" for the course. I have taught two sessions (one in Barbados one in Tortola): the pay is very good and UWI pay half of the money on the final day of a teaching assignment and the rest when marked projects have been submitted. I am now learning online how to teach online, and will be doing a course during the summer.

I also got some consultancy work with a UN agency, which "forced" me to go back to Guinea for two weeks to look at ways to deal with reducing poverty. It gave me the opportunity to go back and see what had changed after a year and a period of social upheaval. I also got to see that I had lots of friends and after my two weeks I was exhausted from all the socializing I had done. But it confirmed for me that in places like that, human relations count for much more than they do in the US (which I knew already). This is something I also appreciate about being in Barbados. By contrast with UWI, the UN system is a bit of a minefield as a bureaucracy and getting paid was a little drawn out. I travelled in mid-November for which I got my expenses paid in full after a couple of weeks, but my consultant's fee did not arrive until the last day of the year--nearly a month after my contract had ended. Fortunately, my wife can support me!

I am teaching myself to play the piano. As a boy, I went to lessons but also spent a lot of time playing football (soccer) or running track; I was very good at both so my parents never saw that as a waste of time. I also had a lot of study because I went to a "good school" and was expected to go to university. Somehow, all my attempts at tickling the ivories never amounted to anything that was worthy of being called music. I tried the violin; same result. That was frustrating because now I see that several boys who started at the same time as me are internationally famed musicians (one was Christoper Warren-Green, now a conductor). I tried the guitar: same result. I had good teachers, including an older English guy, who played jazz guitar like Wes Montgomery and I so wanted to be able to do that, but all of my efforts just led to callouses on my fingers, the ability to strum a few chords, a few rock tunes and several unused or under-used guitars. Again, the frustration of seeing some of my school friends now being famed musicians (such as guitar-flutist John Hackett, whose brother Steve was one of the founders of Genesis, and John was a great guitarist already at age 13) also fills me with an envy. My mother had also tried to get me to learn trumpet from one of our tenants, but my lips were not made for blowing the horn.

Ironically, my wife gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2006, and I started to play again; my little daughter had just started lessons. However, I was fortunate to find a piano in the house we rent in Barbados. Now, I have been practising for 8 months, using a book given by a neighbour who is herself a lapsed pianist, and I can play a decent array of tunes. When some of my wife's family visited us in November it was funny to play the piano with her niece and nephew; her mother also tried to play a few tunes (the first time in about 50 years!). My initial objective was to just get into the discipline of regular practice and to see how I could do. I then set my sights on playing some Christmas carols over the holidays. But when I went to The Bahamas my books were left behind in Barbados and my duet partner (my wife's young nephew) got cold feet on the day and preferred to hot foot the dance "Soldier boy" instead of playing with me (see the video and decide if he was right). But I was satisfied that I was ready to play at the family dinner (no nerves), and found a copy of my practice book and played for those who were watching an American football game after the meal: no one told me to close the piano and several people said "Oh! You really can play."

I try to practice every day, at least 10 minutes. A friend had told me several months ago that learning to play an instrument is not about the volume of practice, but the regularity and quality; so even if I only have a few minutes I touch the keys in a meaningful way every day if I have a piano nearby (even in restaurant or hotel). My objective now is to be able to help Rhian whenever she starts to learn an instrument. She often comes and "plays" along with me on the piano, or strums her guitar, or uses her Guinea djembe drum or all of the above; she often just dances as I play or sings one of the tunes. That's satisfaction enough.

I do not miss going to an office every day, especially as the organization is going through a lot of angst at the prospect of a major cut back in staff. When I went to work as a resident representative in Guinea I made the transition out of my small office in a large building and feeling very much like a cog at best, or a spare part at worst. There I spent three years as my own boss with a group of staff and a budget I tried to control; with a large office that was both elegantly decorated (with help from my assistant, who arranged for her cousin to make curtains) and functionally stylish (I bought local art work--statues and paintings--to add warmth; I found a great desk and work chair and fabulous sofas). I felt that what I was doing was very relevant even though it was in a country full of uncertainty and dirt poor.

As I am at home most of the time I have also created a "work" environment there; I have an "office" in the basement, which is actually at ground level. I now accept that it is a good location for work, though I had initially preferred working upstairs where I could look out across the garden and see the flourishing frangipani trees listen to the parrots, occasionally marvel at monkeys running along the wall, and constantly shoo away birds that wanted to invade the kitchen.

I started trading online in late September and it is a good activity for someone who has time and a computer. So my office is now a "trading room". I discovered Bloomberg TV a few weeks ago and now I have that on all day; very informative for me. I am learning a lot about economics and financial markets that I never understood, and I am more knowledgeable about the goings on in these markets than I ever was. I wont get rich from this anytime soon but I think I can do well enough to cover some of my bills. If I tell you that a lot of market behaviour is helping to understand human behaviour you may think I have had my head turned. But trust me, when you watch how prices changes occur (the push to new levels) study the charts you see many patterns that are all about human activity.

I get to listen to radio call-in programs occasionally (mainly "Down to brass tacks", though I listen much less these days); it's a way of hearing what some people have on their minds. I wait for people to arrive to fix plumbing, check wiring, install something, repair the TV antenna, clean the pool, do the garden, occasionally try to convert me to another religion.

I get to write. My blog started in March 2007 and even though at one stage recently I decided to not try to write except occasionally, I found the writing very useful for getting ideas and issues out of my head. For me, it gets me clarity. I enjoy it and now write blog posts much more often, even several posts a day. I have noticed that the visitor traffic is rising and that suggests a widening group of people are sympathetic to what I am writing.

I get to see a lot of my youngest daughter, who came along when I thought that active child rearing was over. Our other girls were just heading toward university. But the latest addition is a treasure and surely one of God's blessings. Here, I do the school pick up every afternoon, except Fridays (when my wife has started an odd "tradition" of taking Rhian to Chefette to play and sometimes to eat). That's my "afternoon off". I also play second fiddle most of the weekend when I give my wife ample opportunity to bond with her daughter, who pines for her a lot during the week. They go off and do "girly" things like having their nails done, but I let them go their own ways.

I get to know my neighbours--though I was shocked at how few people in the street where we live came to welcome us; perhaps it's not the tradition though some came to ask for money to support a school project. I know who lives in every house. My landlords live a few doors down and they help me fill in some gaps about the neighbours.

I get to take visitors on tours of the island. That helps me get to know the place physically but also to see the people differences. We get a lot more visitors in Barbados than we did in Guinea. It's an easier place to fly to and as it fits many people's idea of paradise I guess those friends and relations who live in those colder places in North America or Europe are going to want to descend on us often. They are welcome.

I manage to travel to Jamaica about every two months to see my dad, who had a stroke about 16 months ago. I get to travel with my daughter to accompany my wife/mother on business trips to other islands: we get to spend a few days together and see somewhere different.

A lot of people comment that they wish they could do what I did. To which I say why don't you?

Today is my birthday and my daughter has taken great shots of me posing in my pyjamas and a party hat. We sang happy birthday in English and French while she was having her breakfast. I am going to enjoy my special day by staying at home and doing very little. I will see if I can keep my party hat on till my wife comes back from her office in the evening and takes me out for a dinner somewhere swish by the sea.

My wife drew a line in the sand sometime ago saying that I would have to leave if I had my ears pierced and wore an earring. Now I never understood why this practice was alright for her and our daughters but not for me. What does gender equality mean? I don't want a navel or tongue ring, or have a pin in my nose as does one of the older girls. A post on that subject is begging. And what about all those pirates and buccaneers who marauded in the Caribbean Sea? and what about all those African warriors from whom we may be descended? I am not getting into all the sexual labelling that comes with men wearing earrings (right ear (gay?), left (straight?), both ears (bisexual?). I shaved my head a few years ago and an earring seems like a good accessory. Maybe now is the time to say "I'm a STUD so I can wear a stud in my ear."

Happy birthday to me!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Serbian crowned

Novak Djokovic (number 3 seed) became the first Serbian player to win a tennis grand slam crown by beating unseeded Jo-Wilfired Tsonga in a riveting 4 sets in Melbourne. After Tsonga's stunning knock out of Rafael Nadal in the semis, he continued to show that he has the goods and took a tight first set. But with errors increasing and Djokovic getting back on stride quickly the game gradually slipped from Tsonga's grasp and from it was 1-1 the balance seemed to favour the Serb. He served better and rallied relentlessly, defending like a possessed man at times and that undid Tsonga. Overall, the match was close and the numbers show that. Djokovic had 46 winners and 35 errors; Tsonga had 44 and 41, respectively; though Djokovic won 136 points to Tsonga's 122. Both players should be proud. Tsonga was ranked number 211 about this time last year and after the final will be in the top 20. Djokovic is heading toward being number 1. Nice to see a new champion who is not named Federer or Nadal, the first time since 2004.

With Federer knocked out of the semis by Djokovic I was free to root for Tsonga, though I was happy that if he lost it would be with a good fight. He showed a maturity that was refreshing amongst young players, but is evident in a lot of the rising tennis stars. His parents had flown from France to watch the match, and his Congolese father showed the fervour of his days as a handball player, not that of a chemistry professor; his mother rooted energetically as well. Djokovic's parents led a horde of Serbian fans with their cheers and cries of "Nole" (Novak's nickname), and at the end his mother was understandbly tearful to see her son win his first Grand Slam.

Djokovic has some characteristics that irritate, especially the number of times he bounces the ball before serving, which can easily go into the 20s, and it seemed to rattle Tsonga at times. The umpires are just starting to call time violations on this, but like with Nadal and the time he takes to play, they have been too gentle so far. But I love it that he shows his normal side, such as when he did his impersonations of Nadal and Sharapova after the US Open final, and can be called correctly the "Djoker".

Tsonga
has shown that he can master his emotions and his conditioning and looks set to be a great player. He can be high drama and a one-man highlight film with his volleying and fist pumping when he is on a roll. I'm proud to see another black athlete rolling well ahead in one of the less fashionable mass sports (think of how Lewis Hamilton took Formula 1 racing by storm last year). Interestingly, he resembles Yannick Noah in some of his ways--the last French man to win a Grand Slam.

I look forward to the top of tennis having a true set of competitors for the top spots. Federer is still the best but on the day he knows that there are several more who can do more than give him a hard game. I'm glad that the albatross of his streak of consecutive Grand Slam finals (10) has gone. He and others can focus more on what the competitive situation is more broadly. I look forward to the coming ATP Masters series where I hope and expect Tsonga to get to at least a semi and perhaps a final to cement the progress he has made. Of course, the next Grand Slam is in France, Roland Garros, home for Tsonga. So, let's get into shape for that. I'm going to run and play tennis right after this post. Allez!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Spitting Images

Amongst the most distasteful practices I have ever witnessed, spitting on someone is perhaps the worst. There are worse things that come to my mind, but thankfully I have never seen anyone do them. Almost any words could come from some one's mouth and not dampen my attitude as much as the touch of phlegm on my face. My own experiences with this habit have been limited to the football field, where I was once spat on by an Italian player when I was playing in an international tournament in England. I saw team mates spat upon by Italian and Argentine players when I played soccer in the US. Needless to say that the games ended in fights and had to be abandoned. (Many Argentines have Italian roots and I have been known to say that you should cover your face when near either nationality in a heated moment.)

I remember the 1966 World Cup, being played in England, and the Argentine player Rattin (a Boca Juniors midfielder) spitting at the referee after he was ejected from a game against England, which prompted the English manager of the time (Alf Ramsay) to label the team "animals" and "scum". Is it just coincidence that one of Argentina's premier clubs, Boca Juniors, for whom Diego Maradona played, is in the heart of a working class neighbourhood in Buenos Aires' dockland; is in the heart of the city's huge Italian community and most of its residents are one or two generations removed from Sicily, Calabria or Naples in Italy's south? Maradona was very at home when he went to play in Naples, Italy. Recently, Boca's coach was fired for spitting at a Mexican player. Rattin, by then a Boca "senior", became a Congressman in 2001, the first footballer to do so.

Just today I read about the extraordinary scenes in the Italian Senate, where PM Prodi was in the process of losing a close no-confidence vote (see Times report). As the report adds: "In extraordinary scenes, Nuccio Cusumano was spat on and insulted and had to be taken out of the chamber on a stretcher. He later returned, but his vote was not enough to save Mr Prodi." Yuk! Tasteless, if I may say so. Without a stutter, the spitter spattered over his political opponent. The spitter could do well to take advantage of an offer to send his spit to have it analyzed for genetic flaws (see another Times report). There is still concern about getting HIV from other people's saliva. Is there some link between the characteristics of footballers and politicians?

I would like to know what motivates such actions, which in the Caribbean is regarded as disgusting. But it is not uncommon as a form of expression of insult in other cultures.

The only spit that leaves a nice warm feeling is perhaps in "Spitting Images" (supposedly a corruption of spirit and image, meaning close likeness), the British puppet show of the 1980s-90s whose biting satirical stance was sometimes savage enough to make one spit. But it is hard to imagine Ronald Reagan or any of the notables who were parodied resorting to a gobful of slime at the producers because their feelings were hurt.

Snakes, especially some cobras, spit venom to neutralize an adversary. I'd surely stop in my tracks if someone else's drool hit my lips. In some parts of the world, such as the Philippines, the habit is formally condoned when in religious ceremonies marking Jesus' passage with the cross citizens spit on the penitent, re-enacting how a Roman soldier (the Italian connection again) had treated Jesus. In other parts of Asia and in the American south spitting in public is common and sometimes has to be regulated with signs indicating clearly that there is to be no mouth watering in public. I have heard of melon and cherry seed spitting contests but that would seem like harmless fun.

Some unfortunate things have befallen spitters. Just two years ago a young man fell from a balcony to his death while participating in a spitting distance contest with some friends (see report).

Should we think of appropriate punishment for those who spit on others? Not so long ago, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, Terrell Owens, was fined US$35,000 by the NFL for spitting at an opponent, and some called for his suspension. My preference would be to use the "live by the sword, die by the sword" adage. It's shameful behaviour and the spitter deserves to be shamed. Imposing a fine would not satisfy me. I would not want to spit back. Perhaps I could find someone to do that for me! Beyond that I will let the imagination take over. I remember reading about medieval punishments, like the public stock. Someone may propose that if you spit at someone perhaps someone should put you on a spit. Some would like to and that you have flames underneath. Would I be that cruel? Would you be any less or more cruel?

Africa United

What can unite Africa? The African Union cannot do it. The United Nations cannot do it. The International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and African Development Bank cannot do it. Poverty cannot do it. Wars cannot do it. So what can bring this huge continent to seem that it is at one? Football!

I wont go into the statistics on the African Nations Cup, which is held every two years--this time in Accra, Ghana (fitting having celebrated 50 years of independence). The official web site contains a lot of such information. What I know is that the continent is often broadly at peace during this period. In Guinea, unions were due to launch another unlimited national strike but it was suspended so that people could focus on watching the games; they have been rewarded because the national team has put itself in position to qualify for the next round.

When you look at the teams playing this time round you see something amazing about football: it seems to transcend economic, social, and political woes. How else do you explain that Sudan qualified from the same group as Tunisia (albeit with the presence of weak rivals such as the Seychelles and Mauritius)? That war-torn country takes its place nobly with the likes of North African football powerhouses (Egypt [most final appearances and most championships], Morocco, Tunisia). It sits proudly with the west African dancing stars (Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal). It eats from the same plate as the once officially racially divided (South Africa). It sits lowly but no less deservingly with the countries rising from or still mired in economic and political woes (Benin, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Zambia). Its desert poverty does not compare with the diamond richness (Namibia).

For the period of the matches most eyes on the continent will be focused on one thing only: men chasing after a ball with the hope of kicking it into a net. Ironically, if teams do well people go crazy; but when they lose they go crazy too. Governments do not mess with the teams' arrangements. Budgets that were empty for schools and medicines suddenly find cash to help teams travel or to pay for television rights so that the people can watch. From my experience in Guinea there wont be a shortage of electricity during he times when games are televised. People wont be watching in huge plazas with Jumbotron screens. They will be huddled around small screens, ears glued to radios, even listening to coverage by cellphones. People will gather mainly in shack bars and little hut restaurants. Those settings don't matter.

If the national team is playing the reactions are stronger. They get strongest when the team plays neighbouring rivals: Nigeria-Ghana; Guinea-Senegal. People will take to the streets to celebrate the wins. But they will find reason to celebrate losses too. I remember during the last championship when Guinea had been eliminated. Many people had expected qualification and planned parties. Within hours of losing the key game, rumours circulated that the team had qualified on a technicality. The people went wild and even though within a short time the news came that no such change had happened, they partied like crazy anyway.

The African Nations Cup has taken on more importance in recent years because it has now become a showcase for the continent's talent. I came across it foot-to-foot when I played in Malawi during a tour; then in my late twenties players were shocked that I had not retired. They saw the pace and trickery of their style of play as too much for someone over 25. The high quality and special style of African players had been long known and exploited in some western European countries (France and Belgium, especially), which had used colonial contacts to make a good link with this "talent factory". With African teams qualifying for recent World Cups and doing very well the world's eyes were opened wide. National teams now get invitations to play friendlies with the major international soccer powers like Brazil, Germany, Argentina, England and Italy. Many players have taken up offers to play in the English Premier League where they are more than just household names but a strong part of the backbone of many teams (Chelsea being perhaps the best example). Now their need to leave to play in their continental tournament each two years puts their clubs under pressure.

The path had been laid by amazing players such as Liberia's George Weah (whose talents found their way to AC Milan, where he scored an all-time great goal by running almost the length of the field and beating almost every player to score--watch the video). Cameroon's amazing performance in 1982 in qualifying for the World Cup, and how they thrilled in Spain, laid another platform. Cameroon showed that they were no "one hit wonder" when they qualified for the 1990 World Cup, where they beat holders Argentina and then Romania before qualifying for the next round as the only team to ever do so with negative goal difference. In that round they nearly beat England, and had playing their veteran player and inspirational "lion", Roger Milla, who was 40 but played like a teenager. The world now knows Drogba and Eto'o, Adeybayor and Jay Jay Okocha thanks to the long uneven road travelled by their precedessors, who had to endure limited opportunities given by FIFA for them to shine on the biggest world stage.

African players can now earn unbelievable salaries and are commonly seen as superstars. Those who rise to those heights have left behind many who now hope to rise from abject poverty to see the glitz and bling of England, France, Spain and Italy. Some have ensured that their riches go back to not just families but to wider communities. Some have used their popularity to venture into politics, as did George Weah, who ran in the last Liberian presidential elections. African footballers can teach the world a lot. The stars come from an enormous well of local talent that often plays in disorganized leagues and in playing conditions that we would think laughable, but it produces talent. Many countries have used foreign coaches for their national teams, but many have also developed good organizations at the national level to sustain the move upwards (such as Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali). This is a sign of the maturity of these countries, who are leaving less to chance and talent alone. Their success has also allowed the world to see that amongst these players are many intelligent, articulate men, who do much to change the image of Africa. It also helps remind people that the continent is like a player or like a team. It has a good head (say the northern nations Morocco and Egypt). It has a strong midfield (say the two Congos). It has good right wingers (Eritrea, Sudan). It plays skillfully on the left (say Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria). It has good feet (say Zimbabwe and South Africa).

Unfortunately for me I wont be able to watch any of the games unless I find myself in Europe. I will follow the fortunes of Guinea and hope that they at least go to the next round. Our nanny got back from there yesterday and her face was beaming that the team was doing well and that the population had forgotten about striking for pay but focused on striking for goal. It's not a bad way to build hope.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dealing with it all

My wife said the other day that I should write less about foreign exchange-related topics because people don't find that interesting. I begged to differ. However, I did not write a post based around that topic for over a week, partly because I was tired from foreign exchange dealing (which has been going well), but also because I was in the midst of dealing with Grand Slam tennis.

I have grown to like tennis very much after learning to play while I was in Guinea. The Australian Open tennis is underway and with the time difference the action starts in our evening and closes in our morning. So I have not had a lot of sleep. Most of the games have been at best mediocre and the ESPN coverage limited (so I could have slept and not missed much). Roger Federer is my favourite player of the moment and he has livened things up by dancing with defeat and then playing like the superb champion he has been for the past few years.

As for reader interest, I know a lot of people read the foreign exchange-related posts, and the statistics for visitors to the blog show that the top posts in recent times have been those dealing with foreign exchange and Jamaica's alternative investment schemes. I even got a phone call this week from someone I met in Barbados who works for a UN agency; he had found my blog, and wanted to talk to me. He was very interested to read about these topics because he was also dealing online himself. So, with the liberty of the author, I write on a range of topics and readers will find what they want or not.

It's been an historic week in financial markets. The US Federal Reserve shocked and surprised most people by holding an emergency policy making meeting and then reducing key interest rates by about 3/4% early on Tuesday morning (January 22, see report). The last such emergency meeting was after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I wont lie: I was unprepared for that; but so were many others. Although the market expectation was for a cut of between 1/2% to 3/4%, with the scheduled meeting due on January 30, it seemed very unlikely that a decision would be made ahead of that. Now there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty in the markets about what will happen next week, but also what will happen in coming months. Because equity markets have seen the worst decline at the start of any year it is easy to get panicky. Will the Fed's move do much to help the ailing US economy (too little, too late?). What else can be done to ward off recession? A package of budgetary measures has been announced and the US politicians will approve the details of that very quickly. Europe does not face the same economic problems so policy makers there seem unlikely to follow the US action. Financial markets are now very nervous, and so are very volatile. That's good and bad for traders, though, and many are reported to be pulling to the side waiting for the dust to settle.

I was caught out because the market was moving in a certain direction and I was with it. But moreover, I was caught out because thinking that there was nothing dramatic due to happen I was away from my "trading desk" doing some chores for a few minutes and returned to see a world of numbers that made no sense. I have paid attention to certain times during the trading day, when markets tend to make most of their moves, and that has been a big contributor to doing better with trading. So doing other things in these "quiet times" is normally alright. Dramatic news and important economic data make prices move by large amounts. At first I thought there was some glitch. Fortunately, Bloomberg TV commentary got me up to speed very quickly.

In my case, a very nice winning position was suddenly turned into a big loser: I was selling US dollar against the euro, hoping the dollar fall would continue and the news helped the dollar rise amazingly during the day and turned the market around. That reminded me of several lessons, not least the one about planning the trade and trading the plan. I was doing that but let's say that my plans were laid to rest very quickly by the unexpected. Ironically, that day I got a call from my foreign exchange specialist for a one-to-one consultation, from which I learned about other tools I can use to help my analysis. But the best thing was the reminder about planning and to hear another voice that was calm after the storm.

Anyway, I dusted myself down, got back onto my horse and started to make back some of my losses. Happily, the next two days were good, and yesterday was my best day ever for dealing in terms of how I closed the day, making over US$1,100. (Now, all I have to do is keep that up!) That outcome was due to the help of some very good technical analysis by the company whose trading platform I use and also some instinctive moves. The day could have been better because the trends continued much further than most expected and has not yet turned back. But you should not look back at done deals and say "I could have" or "I should have". New opportunities come along all the time.

I have a limited objective of making one percent a day: that adds up and it is working nicely. I do make about 5% on many days. What was satisfying about the day was making as much as 10% and to get a result the hard way, so to speak, on the back of Tuesday's shock. Most deals can be concluded within a few hours at most because prices move a lot and the profit/loss possibilities arise from the rise and fall of prices. Holding onto a position for a long time increases the risk of loss, but it can bring the reward of much larger gains, when the market moves by more than 100 points (that amounts to US$100 gained for each $10,000 invested) in one direction. Well, not only did I hold onto the positions a long time (from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning), but I also watched the situation unfold overnight (seeing potentially big gains temporarily transform into large potential losses as the prices move up and down). I took my profits after the prices had moved about 150 points on both deals. For such deals to work you need to risk more than one lot (US$10,000) and have to stomach seeing some large negative movements, but also long periods of almost no movement (which give you lots of time to reflect on the wisdom of what you are doing).

I was able to monitor the markets because I was indulging my passion! The tennis semi finals were on. The women's matches were interesting but for wildly different reasons. Russia's Sharapova beat Serbia's Jankovic easily because the latter was injured. Serbia's Ivanovic came back from a 0-6 drubbing by Slovakia's Hantchakova in the first set to win in 3 sets, with the end of the final set being full of drama. That set the plate for an amazing men's semi final where Spain's Rafael Nadal (number 2 in the world and knocking to be higher) was absolutely crushed by France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (ranked 38; Congolese father and French mother) in 3 sets.The nature of the result would have made more sense if the rankings had been reversed. It was something worthy of the word "bashment", and the pictures tell the story of the power Tsonga unleashed and the hurt that he put on Nadal. Tsonga looks like Mohamed Ali and knocked out Nadal with the tennis equivalent of a lot of body blows and some knockout punches right on the chin. Whoever meets him in the final will find a new kind of "warrior" on the other side of the net.

After the all-night tennis and the dealing were done I was planning to just chill because people were due to come to clean the house. However, they needed to reschedule, but I still decided to just take a breather. So I spent a lot of the day absorbing news of the day's and week's economic and political events, thinking, doing my online course work, taking my daughter and her friend to gymnastics, and sort of resting. Ironically, my wife was spending the day at Naniki--a restaurant in the hills of St. Joseph--at a retreat she had organized for her staff. Now I could have enjoyed myself being there and just looking out over the horizon.When you are on the sidelines, however, the world does not stop moving and it's good to watch it move. In my little financial world I was shocked to hear that a rogue trader had made losses of 4.9 billion euros (about US$ 7.2 billion--that is bigger than Barbados' GDP, which is about US$ 4 billion, according to IMF statistics) at a French bank (Societe Generale) and apparently not for personal gain. Now we have to wonder what he or she was really doing. Things are rarely as crazy as they first seem to be.

So there was no tennis coverage for us last night so I went to bed early and got a good night sleep and am now writing in the early morning ready to watch Federer play his semi final game. I dont plan to deal much today not least because the cleaners will be here, but also because after all the drama a breather is a good idea. I will look forward to watching the tennis finals over the weekend and wonder whether I will see history being made with a Tsonga victory.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Going potty

My cat, Skitter, has really started to feel at home with me, my mummy and my daddy. He comes into the house when he likes and has some favourite places that he likes to sleep. He sleeps in cupboards, in my bathroom, and on the soft chairs. On Sunday, he came to watch TV with me, mummy, daddy, and my big sister Bronwyn, who was visiting us for the weekend from New York. Skitter could not decide which lap to sleep in and was spoiled for choice.

He is getting very brave and tries to jump up to the kitchen counter when I am eating my breakfast; or he comes to sneak a piece of my snack. The other day he nibbled my ham and I cried. But he is really loving and I am remembering to check that he has food every day.

Daddy says that Skitter is often mewing during the day. I think that is because he misses me when I am school. Today, when I came home I combed his hair to make him look pretty.

Daddy told me that he found Skitter taking a nap in a flower pot today and took some pictures that we can share with you.

It's not easy being green

I have often argued, though not with a lot of statistics at hand, that many activities that are supposed to be environmentally friendly have environmental costs that may make them perhaps neutral at best, and perhaps even environmentally more damaging than what they seek to correct. The Times reports on a new contribution to this discussion. A European Union report argues that greenhouse gas emissions increase and climate change worsens with the higher use of biofuels (see link). This report comes just ahead of the EU's decision to announce its plans for a Renewables Directive.

Another Times article in a similar vein reports that an environmental campaigner, Chris Goodall (who is a UK Green Party parliamentary candidate), has calculated that walking to the shops causes more environmental damage than driving there by car (see link). The argument is the following:

"Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes. Provided, of course, they remembered to switch off the TV rather than leaving it on standby."

Like all real issues, we will find arguments on both sides and the trick is to know what is really right. Most issues are not black and white and dealing with the grey area, which can be very large, can be complicated. However, the current set of environmental debates have "feel good" elements that are being shown to be less good feeling.

Economists are supposed to help people make decisions by being able to weigh the costs and benefits. However, it's not just economists who can do this and I am glad to see that the debate on the environment is beginning to put the arguments down more clearly for the various options.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What recycling looks like: calling all cellphone owners

If you have ever owned a piece of electronic equipment you should start to think about what that has done to the world's environment. However, if you have owned a cellphone it will be heartening to know that it contributes less to world waste than most other electronic gadgets.

A superb article in last week's New York Times magazine entitled "The Afterlife of Cellphones" vividly shows how this particular piece of must-have technology has created a whole subsector of international economic activity that really shows what globalization is all about. In brief, unwanted cellphones in the USA find themselves going through an array of second-hand dealers, many finding their way to eastern Europe and developing countries, especially in Africa (where cellphones are now 75 percent of all phones). Their contents, including any precious metals, can also find themselves recycled into making other phones or as inputs for other products. This latter business, called "e-waste" thrives on the fact that Americans threw away 3 million tons of household electronics in 2006, and is the fastest element of municipal waste. But it includes hazardous materials and precious metals such as copper, gold, platinum, and silver. A Belgian company, Umicore, reclaims those materials from televisions, computers, cellphones and more. Amazingly, by weight, only 1/2 a percent of e-waste Umicore takes cannot be sent back into the world in usable form.

Back to the phones. Americans chuck away their phones on average every 12 months [and I lose my own with the same regularity], and 4 of 5 Americans own cellphones [but this hides the fact that many own more than one phone]. Another company, named Collective Good, founded in 2000 by a young MBA graduate named Seth Heine, is in the business of recycling cellphones and a portion of every phone's resale or scrap value goes to one of over 500 causes selected by phone donors. The founder has gone a stage further and formed an online venture, GreenPhone.com, which pays donors directly for their phones, and then plants a tree for every check it writes. What is interesting about these ventures is that they stop old cellphones ending up in landfills, which is in marked contrast to old computers.

Why the rapid change? Fashion. The love of fashion means that nearly 60 percent of phones are replaced because people get tired of the design. About 470 different models of phones are on sale in the USA and about 16 new ones come out every month, many slight variations of existing models. Crazy!

While the US is big meat in this story so far, the Chinese are going be an important part of this story in the long run, as they currently dispose of 200-300 million phones a year. (I don't have figures for India but they may be even more significant.) That disposal volume is huge compared to estimated world sales of 1.2 billion phones a year, of which nearly 60 percent were replacements.

So, for once we should maybe follow the US lead. At the least we should search for our discarded cellphones and get them to a recycler: we could help a good cause and of course clear our conscience. (Several organizations recycle cellphones to causes such as battered mothers.) Note, however, that Americans turn in less than 1 percent of phones for recycling; instead, most go into drawers (hoarding an estimated US$ 300 million of precious metals). So, get searching in your drawers at home and at work and see what you can find.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cabinet doors open doors, but who can come in?

Last night Barbados' new PM named the members of his Cabinet, and Barbados will see its new government sworn in this afternoon at a special ecumenical ceremony at Kensington Oval.

The list below of Cabinet members will mark the beginning of a set of debates about who is not among them. The most noticeable missing person is St. Lucy MP, Dennis Kellman, second only to Mr. Thompson in terms of parliamentary experience among the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) MPs and viewed by a number of people interviewed in opinion polls ahead of the election as best suited for the No. 2 position. Those who know the local political landscape better than me will perhaps see much manoeuvring in this, not least possible positioning of a successor to David Thompson to lead the DLP. Mr. Kellman has been very vocal on the local radio and also in writing in the newspapers during the year that I have been in Barbados, taking the outgoing BLP government to task, especially on economic issues. He terms his views Kellmanomics, which is a piece of self-aggrandisement, and he is temperamentally a gadfly buzzing around irritatingly. I do not share many of his views on economic issues but I will be very interested to hear and read his views, if he continues to express them publicly. His exclusion will cause controversy, I'm sure.

The PM's speech highlighted many things about his sense of inclusion that people will hold onto initially as markers of where he wants to go, for instance:
  • "to ensure that there is an injection of expertise" in the running of the country
  • "I do not in any way want to belittle the many gifts we have available among the elected representatives"
  • "to complement the talents already in place by introducing a number of ministers with skills in implementation and an understanding of some key technocratic issues to strengthen critical ministries", which he did with his nomination of Senators to ministerial posts
  • drawing on "the best brains available in Barbados to overcome the challenges that we shall face in the near future" (What does that say of his view of Mr. Kellman? Was he offered a post that he declined and got no other offers? What does this say for women? See below.)
Mr. Thompson drew heavily on the coincidence of Martin Luther King's Day in the USA and Errol Barrow Day being celebrated together tomorrow (January 21), and mentioned "I have a dream" several times. In doing so, he also reaffirmed his government's commitment to honour the pledges set out in the Pathways To Progress manifesto. However, he began preparing people for possible hard economic times and acknowledged that the prediction was that 2008 would be a time of serious international economic depression and that this could work negatively on a small economy like that of Barbados. I alluded to this difficult international economic background in my post a few days ago (see previous post).

Being a relatively new observer of developments in Barbados I can rightly be accused of knowing nothing or at best very little about what is going on here. Having little direct experience of how the country has developed I can misunderstand what is really behind many decisions, or what local Bajans believe is behind decisions. Nevertheless, along with local Bajans I will try to fathom his reasoning. What I know is that leaders do not make decisions for no reason. What I also know is that economic fortunes dictate the fate of governments in democratic societies more than other issues.

Mr. Thompson has many albatrosses on his shoulders. First, the never-ending expectations that come from having succeeded Errol Barrow as MP for St. John. Second, I imagine Mr. Thompson is haunted by the memories of what for Bajans was the bottom of the economic pit, when in the early 1990s, under a DLP government of which he was a prominent member, the country had to get financial support from the IMF. Bajans will remember that he was Minister of State with responsibility for finance in 1992-1993 and then Minister of Finance. (He became DLP leader in 1994 when PM Sir Lloyd Sandiford lost a no confidence motion.) Third, he and most Bajans will remember that he led the DLP to election defeats in 1994 and 1999. (He resigned as leader in 2001 and came back in 2005 to replace Clyde Mascoll after the latter switched party allegiance.)

The last DLP government was booted out for economic failure. This result followed a recession in 1990-92, which was associated with very high unemployment (20-25%), declining real wages, and a low level of international reserves. A slow economic recovery began in 1993. But that was too late to save the DLP government of that time. That bitter experience helped catapult the BLP into power and they were at the helm when Barbados saw real GDP growth average 3.5 percent a year during 1994-95, and over 4 percent in 1996. Barbados has enjoyed a stronger economic performance during most of the subsequent 10 years through 2007 (see IMF Public Information Notice). It has moved up to become the highest ranked developing country on the UN's human development index, and has many economic characteristics of a developed country including one of the highest per capita income levels in the region.

I have no doubt that perceptions of economic management will be key to how successful this new government will be. The clamour for more transparency and accountability is rightly loud, but will seem like a whisper compared to the groans if Barbados' economic fortunes begin to falter.

Turning to the issue of inclusion. The elections saw very few women candidates nominated by either party, and only a handful won office (one DLP woman candidate was even wasted by being pitted against another woman, Mia Mottley, who was a lock to win her seat). The PM could have done something to redress that balance by naming some more women in his Cabinet, assuming that the talented individuals are there and willing to serve. If many women are not in the Cabinet, then he may need to do something very visible to show that women have an important decision making role in his government. No modern government should exclude women for reasons other than competence and my belief is that most modern governments will quickly fall if they ignore women in their decision making processes and in the focus of their policies. When Bajans complain about the cost of living I believe that women's voices are the loudest, because like it or not they still manage most households. Remember, the pre-election opinion polls showed consistently that for over 50% of those questioned the cost of living was the most important concern, far ahead of any other issue.

Ironically, in the English-speaking Caribbean we have a long history that highlights the importance of women in holding our societies together; we are essentially matriarchal. Women have grown in prominence and leadership in business, yet we have been slow to promote women, or perhaps women have been slow to promote themselves, in politics. This must change. We have had some great women lead countries in the region and been instrumental in the forming of political parties. Among the modern leaders we can name Janet Jagan (PM and President of Guyana, 1997-1999); Dame Eugenia Charles (PM of Dominica from 1980 to 1995); and Jamaica's recent PM, Portia Simpson-Miller. (In the wider region we can also name Maria Liberia-Peters, PM of the Netherlands Antilles from 1984-1986 and 1988-1994.). Going further back I will name "Queen" Nanny of the Maroons, who led Jamaica's Maroons in the early 18th century.

So, I hope the tone of inclusion that was in PM Thompson's speech stretches further to action to get women more overtly involved in governing this country and the region.
********
The Cabinet


* Hon. David Thompson
– Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Economic Affairs and Development, Labour, Civil Service and Energy

* Hon. Freundel Stuart – Attorney-General and Minister
of Home Affairs

* Hon. Christopher Sinckler – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Business

* Hon. Donville Inniss – Minister of State in the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, and International Business

* Hon. Dr. David Estwick – Minister of Health, National Insurance and Social Security

* Hon. Ronald Jones – Minister of Education and Human
Resource Development

* Hon. Dr. Denis Lowe – Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Urban Development

* Hon. Patrick Todd – Minister of State in the Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Urban Development

* Hon. Richard Sealy – Minister of Tourism

* Mr. Haynesley Benn will be appointed a Senator – Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

* Hon. George Hutson – Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce

* Hon. Michael Lashley – Minister of Housing and Lands

* Hon. Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo – Minister of Family, Youth Affairs, Sports and the Environment

* Hon. Steve Blackett – Minister of Community Development
and Culture

* Hon. John Boyce – Minister of Transport, Works and
International Business

* Ms. Maxine McClean to the Senate as Leader of Government Business and as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

* Mr. Darcy Boyce will be appointed to the Senate and will serve as Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office with special responsibility for Finance and Energy.

* Mr. Arni Walters will be appointed to the Senate and will serve
as Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office with special responsibility for Employment, Labour Relations and the
Social Partnership.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Barbadian newspaper accused of lacking "integrity"

An interesting short article in today's Saturday Sun. Former Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, Clyde Mascoll, has declined to be interviewed by the Nation newspaper, saying that "no reporter had talked to him during the election campaign" and charged the paper with lacking integrity.

Now I find both the lack of reporter contact and the charge fascinating, but perhaps indicative of what some see as the parlous state of print journalism in Barbados. I have certainly seen very little by way of true investigative reporting in the year that I have lived here. But during an election campaign I would have expected that every candidate, especially a minister in what was known to be a key battle for a seat, to have been interviewed. I have seen reports in the press that they are limited and harassed if they "go after stories", and this has often been reported with a sense of acceptance. Some of the fellow bloggers in Barbados have made much sport out accusing the Nation of just being a mouthpiece of the outgoing BLP government (see Barbados Free Press blog post). The comment from and treatment of Mr. Mascoll may be difficult to interpret in the near term, given his ambiguous past a DLP-to-BLP cross-over.

I will be interested to see if this develops into at least a battle of words.

Friday, January 18, 2008

War of words

Just for fun.

The London Times (see article) reports that the makers of Scrabble (Hasbro and Mattel) are pleading with Facebook to remove an online application called "Scrabulous" from the social networking site, arguing that it infringes copyright, and may have a bearing on the viability of the actual Scrabble game. I don't know what this may mean for other online versions of Scrabble.

Reportedly, 600,000 users play this online version of the game every day; four times the number registered for it. This has promoted the board game and sales may rise. Long-time Scrabble fans, including the Association of British Scrabble Players, think that this is a good development: anything that gets young people playing the game and developing language is a good thing. The UK just had its Open championships.

Some argue that applications such as Scrabulous is one of the reasons for the popularity of Facebook, with its 39 million members worldwide. The originators of the online game (Rajat and Jayant Agarawalla) are not complaining and are reportedly making US$25,000 a month from advertising on the application.

Once again, we see how the Internet has been a spawning pool for further lucrative innovations. I don't know what other development in the past 50 years has been as instrumental in leading to such a wide range of new industries and activities, whether useful or useless.

The French version of the game has just been highlighted as a possible boost to the west African country of Senegal, which will host the World Francophone Scrabble Championship in July (see another report in The Times). The Sports Minister has declared the event a national priority and the president has "demanded" a victory. Senegalese players won three titles at an international event in Quebec, Canada, last year. A ten-day training camp is planned to enable the champions to sharpen their concentration and foster a team spirit. (I can imagine them doing finger push ups). Ironically, it was someone who plies my trade, Ndongo Samba Sylla, a 29-year-old economist, who was Senegal’s first international Scrabble champion. Certainly, if Senegal does well and the tournament is well organized that will do much to help dispel stereotypes about sub-Saharan Africa.

Scrabble is hugely popular in my household and my wife thought the perfect birthday present for a niece and nephew of hers was to get them a Scrabble dictionary! Games have ended in dispute over whether words exist or not, and certain styles of play that block double and triple word or letter scores, what I call "beggar thy neighbour" plays, can lead to steely glares or upturned wine glasses. We enjoy the game but have never gone as far as the couple pictured here.There are few other games other than cards and dominoes that can be played almost anywhere, anytime.

All of this leaves me scrabbling for words to describe what I think. I would just say to Hasbro-Mattel to ease up.

What leadership means

I overheard a snippet of a discussion on Voice of Barbados (VOB) radio last night when a caller said something along the lines that the job of PM was easy. His reasoning was that the PM does not have to do much; has a bevvy of staff to help; and the fact that the PM has to bear responsibility for all forms of decisions was overplayed as a source of stress. I did not hear the rest of the discussion but it set my mind working. The moderator indicated that it is very burdensome on a leader who has to choose between options, no matter who has done the work to develop them, because ultimately those decisions will be laid to rest on the shoulders of the decider, or leader. The caller then said that because Barbados was small decision making was easy.

My first reaction was to ask myself if this caller had ever had to make decisions that many people feel are important. Also, I do not know if he has ever had to make decisions where those who are affected are likely to know him or be known to him. Leading big organizations or large countries can often seem easier because more decisions made at the top are impersonal and there is less likelihood of meeting someone who will say "You were the one who...[add some negative fact]...and now I am suffering". Of course, when praise is involved that personal aspect is a wonderful feeling. All I know is that during my working life decision making has been very similar irrespective of the physical size of the country I have had to consider; I have worked on countries as large as Russia and as small as Guyana in terms of population size and economic importance. The actual resources that I had to help me were often less when the country was small but the issues were really not that different. When I made what was perceived as a bad decision I was always relieved when I was distant from the actual place or people affected. With that model in my head I would understand it if someone said that Barbados' PM has a tougher job than the PM of the UK. But I think the comparison is false. Decision making is tough, and would humbly suggest that those who think otherwise have not done enough of it.

I then saw this morning an article in The Times (of London) entitled "Six styles of leadership" (see link), the first of which is about "directiveness" (or "coerciveness" as it was once termed). Briefly, this style tells people what to do then expect them to do it; people are then criticized for doing things wrong rather than praised for getting things right. It is a "task-oriented" rather than "big picture" focus. I have seen this style up close, not least in the organization for whom I work. The issue of the burden of leadership is also about style, and I will follow this series in the UK paper.

This morning's Barbados newspapers have a few articles about leadership and it will be useful to read what people expect of their new PM and to reflect on what style he will adopt. It could have an important bearing on how the country performs during his government's time in office.

Today is a holiday to mark the elections, and Monday will be Errol Barrow day (a holiday that I understand owes its existence to a motion tabled by the current PM). There will be events to mark the swearing in of the new government, including a major one at Kensington Oval. Let's all get some rest from the hectic pace of the past month's election campaign and take a breath ahead of seeing the government in office.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Prime Minister sworn in: Some issues to consider

Barbados' new PM, David Thompson, was sworn in on January 16, and gets ready to lead a (Democratic Labour Party) DLP government for the first time in about 15 years. He has not yet named his Cabinet.

Yesterday's events were clearly filled with pride for Mr. Thompson and his family. (Pictures courtesy of the Nation.)

The country is moving onto a new political era. The electorate's desire for a change of government is reflects many things, personal to voters and philosophical for the nation. The sense I have from living here for nearly a year is that a new government will be expected to deal with a number of important and sensitive issues.

First is the broad issue of accountability and governance. I will not go into the details of what legislation is needed but Barbados needs to impose on its elected officials a "code of conduct" that shows clearly that public life is not about personal gain. As part of the process of maturity the time has come to ensure that information about the source and size of politicians' personal wealth should not be taboo; and it is arrogant of any politician to think that this is not for the public domain. In the conduct of government business the public also needs greater assurances that government financial and physical resources are properly used and for general public purposes. A public accounts commission needs to be effective and take ministers and public officials to task for the misuse of government goods and services. I have no information that any politician is corrupt, but my personal belief is that no politician should even be associated with that suspicion.

Second is the issue of mature discussion and decisions about the country's economic future. The DLP were voted out in the mid-1990 after the country went through a calamitous set of economic problem and had to seek financial support from the International Monetary Fund a period that stands as a dark cloud over this island's proud history. However, this is a terrible time to come to power, especially leading a small nation that has few means of making its own way in the world.
  • A global recession may be near; and certain financial crises have the potential to make it more difficult for individuals to find resources for luxuries (and that may affect tourism--see below). The USA, that major economic neighbour to whose currency Barbados has fixed its own, has seen the value of its dollar plummet over several years. Barbados has been obliged to adjust to that with very few options. It has brought certain benefits, not least in making it cheaper for British and Canadian tourists to visit and have a jolly time on the island. But it means that the Barbadian dollar buys much less and with the bulk of goods being imported has been one of the reasons behind higher living costs, a subject that ranked highest by far (over 50%) among public concerns a shown in polls ahead of the elections.
  • Oil, upon which the country spends the bulk of its foreign exchange, has seen a wild rise in its nominal price over the past few years and flirted with the magic number of US$100 a barrel just a few days ago. Barbados can hope that oil exploration generates a big find, but even so it would be years before it comes on stream.
  • Tourism, on which the country depends for most of its foreign exchange, is a very fickle industry, and one that has become very competitive. It's not clear to me that Barbados has really developed a product that is competitive and I feel that the industry will face some stiff tests if the dollar regains some strength and if the world economy's growth slows. As mentioned above, it may also be adversely affected in the near term by the impact of financial problems in developed countries that are likely to greatly reduce or limit households' freely disposable income.
  • Finally, the country will have to deal with the legacy of Cricket World Cup. My view is that this was not a stellar success in any sense for the region. Barbados might have done better than most countries out of the event, but it has a huge potential millstone around its neck with the costs and possibly few really good uses for the new stadium. I would have been impressed had I seen or heard about a clear set of plans for Kensington Oval after the cricket, but it seems that there is just scratching of heads to come up with ideas. That is not how you get the best out of an investment.
Other issues will raise their heads including how the country can deal with its sense of being overrun or taken over by "foreigners" and whether the population is at one over the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. It will be a tough time to have the mandate of national leader, but I wish the new PM and his government all the very best. You have what you wanted so now do well with it.