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.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, February 29, 2008

Getting a bad break

A lot of people in Barbados might not be aware of an horrific incident in England last week. During a football match between Arsenal and Birmingham, Martin Taylor of Birmingham tackled Eduardo da Silva on the shin bone and broke his leg. The video and pictures below are not mine nor are the views in it, but the images made me wince. As a former player, I knew that I was always one tackle away from a bad injury, yet somehow I got away with nearly 35 years of high level play with no breaks, torn hamstrings, many ankle sprains, and one removed cartilege (worn out joints late in my career), and now knees that need a lot of care but still function quite well. My worse experience came from mild concussion after a goal keeper and I collided and I crashed head first into a goal post.

You can see from discussions in The Times that opinions in England are really divided about the "crime", the punishment, how to try to eliminate such occurrences, etc.

A lot happens on the field and the only authority that matters is the match referee (aided by his assistants). However, referees have enormous discretion, and their actions are really only governed by the administrative bodies--FIFA and The Premier League, for example. Action taken on the field often does not seem to fit the offence (yellow or red card to cover all offences, some relatively minor (entering field without permission) some major (spitting or hitting an opponent), but that is a weakness of how football has developed, and its unwillingness to break its traditions. It does not have graduated penalties (e.g., yardage losses (like in American Football) or time in a "sin bin" (as in ice hockey or rugby), or a host of officials to cover the playing area. It uses technology to a very limited extent to review plays during a match or afterwards to correct mistakes or confirm decisions. Calls for that to change have been met with somewhat lukewarm responses.

I also know that if you play at a high level in England coaching there involves learning how to tackle very hard, and how to tackle "at the limit" of legality--it's a fine line.

Having also been a long time spectator from my youth, then coaching youth and adult teams, plus and a qualified referee I have seen most things that the sport has to offer and can understand the spread of views. Football is perhaps the most emotional of games for players and spectators. I think it remains the only professional sport that has sparked wars, when El Salvador and Honduras went to war in 1969, after a football game was the final spark between two countries with very different political outlooks and a lot of tension between them.

No conclusions from on this incident, which sparked Arsenal's manager to call for a lifetime ban for Taylor, but then he backed away from that. The offending player got an immediate red card and will face a several game suspension. I feel for Eduardo, who will have to wait nine months to recover. He will miss playing for Croatia in the Euro Championships later this year, which was probably on his calendar as a high point. Now he can look forward to just watching on TV. That's a really tough break.

What leadership means: I'll do it my way

The Times review of leadership styles concludes by noting that many managers find their favourite style and stick with it, perhaps occasionally calling on another technique for variety, but rarely stray outside their comfort zone. This can lead to several problems, particularly if they favour the directive or pacesetting style, both of which have an overall negative effect on the working environment.

The research conducted for the reviews by Russell Hobby, an associate director at Hay Group, shows that no single style alone is perfect; the best leaders can call on whichever style most suits a given situation, much as professional golfers pick the right club for each shot they need to make. Choosing the right approach can make you a more effective leader. The most outstanding leaders usually have about four styles, while the majority of leaders have only one or two.

The first step is to get objective feedback so that you can assess your style accurately. Self analysis rarely works because most people think that they are using one style but are actually using something totally different. Once you know how others see you, start looking for one or two other styles to add to your portfolio. For example, people with a very results-focused style such as pacesetting, could consider adding the big picture by developing their visionary skills.

Managers who feel nervous about getting to grips with a new leadership style in the office should consider testing it outside work where mistakes will not affect their career, perhaps in a voluntary organisation or a sports club, for example. If you are feeling brave, you can tell your team what you are doing. But this is only a good idea if you already have the support of the team. An alternative could be to tell a few trusted colleagues and ask them to help. Either way, support – including honest feedback when you stray off your new path – will be invaluable.

It’s also important to understand that swapping between styles needs to be done flexibly not mechanistically.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Did the earth move for you, too?"

The UK had its strongest earthquake in nearly 25 years on Tuesday night. Reports indicate that it was felt over most of the country. The epicentre, which measured 5.2 on the Richter scale, was Market Rasen (or is that "Market Raising"?) in Lincolnshire. We had our own similar brush with Nature's power in Barbados just a few months ago (see previous post). Here is an "eyewitness" account from my daughter, who is living in Nottingham, England, this year


I felt last night's earthquake. When it happened, I was seated on my bed, discussing with my flat-mate P* the morality of cheating on one's boyfriend. Tremors strong enough to make the bed buck, accompanied by rumbles not unlike thunder, interrupted our conversation. We had just agreed that P* had the right, if not the duty, to pursue her own self-interest even if that meant the end of her long-term relationship in favor of what could be nothing more than a fling. As soon as the tremors stopped, P* looked at me and shrieked, "It's a sign from God!". We screamed like little girls and ran from our flat.

Outside, other people were gathering, including a group of drunk boys. These -ah - "lively lads" had had so much to drink, they had not noticed the earthquake. I'll admit, I was completely dumb-founded. Just how much do you have to drink to not feel an earthquake? Especially one that measured 4.8 on the Richter scale. Although no great natural disaster, this was more than a "hiccup". We were soon joined by another flat-mate, X*, and her boyfriend, T*. T* admitted to giving into temptation and asking the unbelievably corny question - "Did the earth move for you, too?".

Was the earthquake a sign from God? I don't know. I don't feel comfortable thinking of it in those terms, either - it presumes that I even can know (too close to tempting fate). It certainly served as a reminder of the larger world - of the people, things, and ideas outside of my current little bubble in the East Midlands of England. As earthquakes go, this was a fairly minor one. Everyone who felt it can count themselves lucky to have had a brush with Nature, with the added bonus of a new silly party story. It could have been much worse.

Eighteen hours and one massive chewing-out from Dad later, I've had time to imagine some nightmare scenarios. If nothing else, yesterday's tremors were a not so subtle reminder of the inescapable fact of life's uncertainty. The only thing that is certain is that life will end. A depressing thought, but important to remember. An earthquake in a very literal sense serves as a catalyst - it forcibly changes the physical landscape. As a reminder of life's fragility, it will serve as a metaphorical catalyst for me - reminding me to act and live life to its fullest for as long as I'm able to.

Post by Eleanor*


Licence for larceny: ETF2?

In Barbados many people at the official level recognize problems, but for some reason that I have not yet fathomed dealing with them takes ages. One example is the water flowing down the street from a broken pipe in a road opposite the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, that has been that way every day for the year that I have lived here. Another example that is hitting the press pages is the making of licence plates for cars. As I drive around my extended neighbourhood, the signposts I see often are for "daycare", "hair treatments", and "licence plates made here". Now, the latter is no real surprise as I live not too far from the Barbados Licensing Authority offices, but it seems that plate makers are as common as Fordes or Benns in Barbados, and here car owners provide their own plates (they are not government-issued items). No wonder then that just a few days ago, when police were trying to apprehend some robbers and were giving the number of the vehicle on the radio, the information kept on changing, perhaps as fast as the reports were made. So, there is the Chief Commissioner of Police pictured holding up bogus plates that he was able to get in a jiffy, but he says that "We have recognized for years that persons have been using cars [to commit] crimes...it seems that there needs to be greater regulation in the Ministry responsible". Last year (July 2007) we read reports of the police finding a stash of illegal plates. The year before (August 2006) there were reports of a government bill [Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, 2006] to the make the Barbados Licensing Authority responsible for the registration and regulation of the licence plate manufacturers. What happened? Seems, Mr. Commissioner? Complacent?

I have never lived anywhere, even in a so-called backward African country, where you can just get plates made, with no apparent government control on their authenticity, and where you can pick up a licence plate and a plate of fried flying fish in one stop. In the US, licence plates must come from the state vehicle licensing authority; they often have some form of embedded security marker and need to be related legally to the vehicle and its "vehicle identification number" (VIN) at the time of registration. In the UK, they are regulated by a government agency. This is good business for the state or national government and helps generate revenues through the sales and control of payment of road taxes. In both countries (but much easier in the state-run US system), you can buy "vanity" plates for an extra fee from these same licensing authorities to celebrate or commemorate a range of private or official events or special interest organizations (e.g. bicenntenary of independence or universities) or they offer "vanity" plates that spell something, such as "I82BL8" in the US or "THE1" in the UK.

By the way, the Commissioner also reports that latest figures show that crime in the first eight weeks of 2008 is up 5 percent over the same period in 2007. In more detail: use of firearms + 9 percent (and often in public); robberies +13 percent; burglaries + 24 percent [though the Nation reports in the same article that burglaries were higher and lower]; crimes against visitors 47 reported against 23 in 2007. The Commissioner said there would be a range of "creastive and innovative approaches" in the fight against crime. Less talk, more action needed?

Finally, it seems that every story now needs a congratulatory reference to Rihanna no matter how unrelated (to raise circulation or get more hits on the Internet?). I will not be doing that.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Back to normal...

Just a few pointers that after a period when it seemed that the country was going to the dogs, things seems to be getting back to where they should be.

Sartorial elegance

The Nation got us back to focusing on political issues as it reported on the first day of business for the new members of the House of Assembly. From what I could see of the pictures (not available to post but see link), most members did not dare cross the line of appropriate attire or hairstyles. Most of the men were in typically somber suits (black, grey) and had on nice shiny shoes (all laced, I hope, and no casual loafers). The papers noted that "Prime Minister David Thompson, [was] wearing a traditional black suit" and that "Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur looked a vision of relaxation, dressed in a navy blue suit complemented by a turquoise tie". Turqouise? Tss. Kinda close for comfort that. But we have a nice mantra: "Blue is relaxing. Hhhmm." They made no comment on the dress (or not) of Opposition Leader Mia Mottley; the photograph in the paper shows her in what looked like a dark olive trouser suit, but without a shirt, collar or tie. I wish I could get upset and rail about how "inappropriate" her attire was for the august chambers. Maybe someone else will soon fill that critical void. [On that and hair issues, some learned minds have now entered the discussions in the printed press looking at the legality and constitutionality of recent remarks and actions to ban students from places of education.]

The sparring started early and questions and answers were traded on the PM's recent use of a private jet, and whether this was paid for or a "freebie". We will crawl over the expenditure figures later to check the answers about the transactions.

Months of fun ahead.

LIAT (Left in Antigua Terminal)

For real this time. The Nation also reports that a plane cancellation (LIAT 729) yesterday stranded passengers there, including Bajan dignatories such as former central bank governor Sir Courtney Blackman, cricket expert and commentator Tony Cozier, and former banker turned talk-show moderator Tony Marshall. Reasons? According to LIAT CEO Mark Darby: "aircraft maintenance challenges" and a "manpower shortage caused by illness and resignation". Challenges are one of the new age euphamisms for incompetence. I am not sure which use of resignation is meant, quitting or admitting that you are beaten. So an expected 4.30pm departure turned into "other travel arrangements" for some, or a night at the Royal Antigua hotel for others (though not arriving till near midnight). Ironically, Mr. Marshall was back in Barbados in time to do his show and get down to brass tacks for an "explanation" from Mr. Darby. How fitting.

Such is life in paradise.

What accountability looks like: Shedding light on politicians' crimes

I will not say more than I am pleased to see that the case against former minister Kern Spencer has reached a point that will truly test Jamaica's criminal, judicial and parliamentary systems. Reports from Jamaica indicate that charges have now been laid against the former minister in the "Cuban light bulb scandal" and he has been arrested along with several associates. The current Minister of Energy, Clive Mullins is reported to have said he is "not surprised" and called this a "dark day" for Jamaica; it was he who brought the issue to public attention with a statement to the House of Representatives last year.

Mr. Spencer, the former Minister of State for Energy, who had recently sought leave of absence from Parliament, is now facing three charges of conspiracy to defraud, one charge for breaching the Prevention of Corruption Act, and three charges for breaching the Money Laundering Act. Also charged are Rodney Chin and Coleen Wright. Mr. Chin is facing two counts of conspiracy to defraud and two counts of breaches of the Prevention of Corruption Act. He is the managing director of Universal Management and Development Limited and Caribbean Communications Media Network Limited. Ms. Wright, a supervisor at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica who also worked as Mr. Spencer's personal assistant, is charged with two counts of conspiracy to defraud, one for breaching the Prevention of Corruption Act, and four money-laundering offences.

Convictions for breaching the Prevention of Corruption Act carry a fine of up to J$1 million and or imprisonment of up to two years. A breach of the Money Laundering Act, which involves the transfer of property from Jamaica to overseas, of which Mr. Spencer is accused, could bring jail time of up to five years, and a fine of up to J$1 million.

More details will emerge as criminal proceedings move ahead, but in January, the auditor-general reported that about 176,380 of the four million bulbs, costing approximately J$92 million, could not be accounted for, while there was an absence of an effective system of budgetary control resulting in the making of payments and the incurring of unpaid obligations of J$185.3 million over the approved financial support of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica.

Mr. Spencer is not the first sitting member of Jamaica's parliament to face criminal charges, but they have been very few.

This latest case should shed light on what kind of government Bruce Golding is leading and what kind of democratic country Jamaica really is. It may also spark a heated and timely public discussion about what the two major parties represent on the corruption issue. Many blame the PNP's failure to shed more light and come clean on this: many will remember the series of scandals: the Netserve scandal; the Operation Pride scandal; the Solutrea scandal; the Trafigura. These and an apparent indifference to accusations of corruption were seen by some as a major factor behind their recent election defeat, and the issue had been raised from the start of the Simpson-Miller administration (see Gleaner report).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When your past catches up with you

Social networking sites such as Facebook have become big business. But they also are very much about what they are--connecting people. Over the past week my past caught up with me in a hurry when I got a message from a person whose name I knew, as a six year old new immigrant at primary school in England. He mentioned our school and a lot of names of boys and girls who were there at the same time, some also recently arrived from the Caribbean. We have exchanged a few messages and confirmed our recollection of more names and faces over the past week. He mentioned that he had been trying to relocate me, and others, over the past few years. Yesterday he sent me a photograph from those school days. I am not in the picture but he is. It must have been around late 1961, when I went to England.

For those from the Caribbean who have any direct experience of migrating to Britain, whether as travellers or those who were left behind by travellers, myexperience and the picture might evoke many thoughts. The wave of migration from this region to Britain from the late 1940s through 1960s, before most of the islands and countries gained independence, is to my mind one of the major social phenomena of the 20th century. Many of the effects will take a lot of analysis to really understand and the consequences for the exporting and importing countries have been and continue to be very significant. Some, such as old family friend, Dr, Fredrick Hickling, have done important work on one of the negative consequences, the mental health challenge for the Diaspora (people of African descent in Europe).

Everone will have a personal set of memories of for the first time being a black person in a world where almost everyone else was white. Dealing with ignorance ("Do you have a tail?" or "You speak English!"). A fairly normal sense of defending territory led many British residents to resist the influx of foreigners, whether they were from the Caribbean, Indian subcontinent or Ireland, by denying space through rentals or home sales, moving away, or fighting to keep them out (e.g, Nottning Hill's riots). Many black people felt racism and felt that their colour made them easy targets. The jobs that migrants (not just black ones) tended to fill often did not put them into the public eye as more than very ordinary: nurses, public transport workers, fitters in car factories, labourers, etc. After a short period of time in Britain black immigrants became almost synonymous with social problems, tending to concentrate in urban areas that were on the verge of decline (inner cities in London, Birmingham and Manchester), and then became depressed areas as industries closed and left behind people without jobs--not just the immigrants--and little income to maintain a decent life style. A familiar spiral of social ills became evident in these areas: crime, drugs, violence, dysfunctional families, etc.

Of course, there was always that group of very well-educated migrants who had been flowing to Britain to study or to take up diplomatic and representative posts, who also faced many racial challenges, but could often float around a world where they did not have to deal with some of the harsher social difficulties of migrants who were likely to become semi-permanent residents. Many of our prime ministers got their educational grounding in Britain. But they were not part of the common migrant experience.

Although many of the West Indian migrants tried to assimilate in Britain there were many reasons why that was difficult. We realized that the way we spoke English was often like a foreign language to the British; they way that the English spoke was equally hard to understand. A couple of examples:
  • Englishman: "C'mon, Sweep, time to take a break from the trouble and strife." [Hey friend, why don't you take a break from your wife? "Sweep" was a black and white puppet dog in a TV series famous from the late 1950s, the reference is a familiar form of English allusion to something black and/or white. It could also mean a chimney sweep ,whose face was often blackened by soot. "Trouble and strife" is Cockney rhyming slang, meaning "wife".]

  • Jamaican man: "Is wha' de rahtid you ask me?" [Damn it, man, what kind of question is that?]
Mutual comprehension? Zero or not far from it.

We had to adjust to a radically different climate, and experience living with real cold weather much of the year. Caribbean people are not bred for living in snow and ice and no amount of bobsled movies really changes that. It takes a certain exposure for black people to learn to enjoy skiing, which I do.

Some found that the work they could find was "not respectable" given the qualifications they had--gained in a British-based education system and believed, wrongly, to be equal to those in Britain. Many saw their children struggle for years in an education system that did not understand the cultural differences and shock that was part of the immigrants' base and too quickly labelled them as "difficult" or "unteachable".

Most of my personal memories of life in England are not bitter at all. When I arrived there at age six, I had already done three years of school and could read, write "copperplate", and do a lot of arithmetic. I seemed like a genius at infant school, and remember that I did not learn much in the first three years there. I do not recall ever feeling out of place, always being one of very few black people in a world of white people. My parents had never drawn attention to my colour as an issue before we left Jamaica, and never since they arrived in England. I could speak and understand standard English very well. I excelled at athletics but also academically. My parents had hoped that I would go to a "good school" in Kingston, even though they had had no success in getting me into one of the good prep schools there. In England, the education system was not something that was set to trip me up; I had had a good start. I moved through it relatively smoothly--there were some hiccups at school but I made many of them for myself; I did not learn how to study until after I took my O-levels, believing that good work during the term would take me through exams. Wrong! By the time I was studying for A-levels I had figured out that a different approach was needed and I took that to university and afterwards.

When I left universtity and went to work first in rural North Wales and later in The City of London at the central bank, much of the background for me was as it had always been: one or very few amongst many (a play on Jamaica's post-independence motto of "Out of many, one people" could easily have been for me "out of many people one person").

I remember vividly the experiences of overt prejudice that I faced or witnessed in Britain. I faced discrimination from black people (from the Caribbean) who objected that my wife was white and refused to rent to me. I remember also being in a committee meeting with one of The Bank's directors, and I was the committee secretary. The room shrank around me as he referred to something as "the nigger in the wood pile". With little thought, I reacted by saying "Excuse me, sir. Did I hear you correctly and do you want that recorded in the minutes?" He looked at me, rolled another cigarette in his Rizla machine. I honestly don't recall his next words. The phrase never went into the minutes and he never uttered a remark like that again while I was on the secretariat. To me the phrase was inappropriate. It was not a phrase used generally as a racial slur in Britain and I am sure the generation and class from which the director came probably made me "invisible" in the sense that there was no need to consider my reactions; he probably applied the same view to most others in the room. I remember the Bank's Governor walking into a room of mainly dark faces, with representatives from Commonwealth central banks who were having training, and asking me for which country I was central bank governor; he blushed when I told him that I was running The Bank's manager training course. (In his defence, he also made a similar mistake with a long-time (white) Advisor who was from Lancashire.)

I also remember being in a pub in Wales, where the (white) landlord steadfastly ignored a group of English (white) visitors, and continued to serve the rest of the locals (including black me--who spoke some albeit bad Welsh--and my white wife) as if the visitors had never entered the bar. In many parts of Wales the English are still detested.

I remember the "exclusion" I felt when I finished university in England and tried unsuccessfully to find a job in Jamaica in the late 1970s, at both the central bank (BSc. (Economics) should help) and at the Urban Development Corporation (M. Phil. (Urban Planning) should help). At least I got an interview at BoJ; I'm still waiting for UDC to reply. I felt bewildered that with all the flight of educated Jamaicans out of that country it still had no need for good university graduates. I did not realize how important it was to have a "backer" or to be "mi good, good frien'".

My parents (both trained nurses) had had to really work for their living, to make sense of their migration. My mother had led the move overseas after the system in Jamaica "failed her" (she needed a mark of over 90, but got just 90) and limited her scope for advancement. Britain needed nurses so off she went. My father had followed reluctantly, with me, leaving a very good position at Bellevue Mental Hospital. They promised me that in England I would still get the education that they wanted for me and they felt I deserved. When my father speaks nowadays he is often bitter about "mad Jamaican politicians talking about free education ... and not educating anybody". My father's Jamaican paper qualifications and previous experience were regarded as worthless in England and he was offered the opportunity to restart his studies; he declined. He worked as a bus conductor, then for the Post Office, doing mainly administrative work. Proud all the time, they worked hard. They both managed to move from one room flat in a basement (we lived five minutes walk from the primary school where I went) to becoming homeowners three times over, moving out of central London to the semi-detached suburbs.

On taking early retirement in their mid-50s they did the "middle class thing" and moved to the countryside, settling in Somerset, as English as it gets. Principally, this was to allow them the luxury of watching Viv Richards play cricket. But they settled into their new English country village and quickly became regular residents (and cards still come at Christmas from former neighbours), until they decided to up stakes and return to Jamaica in the mid-1980s. They had completed their "tour of duty" and the circle for them was almost closed. "Back home", though not in their parishes of origin; settling into a lovely part of that island--the parish of Manchester--where the climate is kind, and mostly cool, life is easier, and with a small cluster of "English people" (as some of the returning residents were called).

I read Andrea Levy's book "Small Island" about three years ago and remember how difficult it was to see anything other than my own experiences when I read about Hortense and her hopes, her disappointments, her adjustments to life in the "mother country".

My own circle has not yet closed. Here I am living in Barbados, back in the Caribbean but not quite "back home". A place referred to as "little England", which reminds me a bit of England, but only a bit and it's more to do with the amount of Cockney and scouse accents that I hear from tourists. Though the lay out of the countryside reminds me of some of the rolling hills of the south of England. But this place also has some irony in my life. Before I took a job in Washington I had come here in 1989 to interview for a job at the Caribbean Development Bank. But after being offered the post, the salary package was going to leave me losing money; not a good situation for a man with a wife and two year old. (Maybe I should have taken it and who knows by now I could have become super rich or a politician or....) I am now a trained economist who has left his career in Washington and would gladly class myself as an "island hopper". From one small island to a bigger small island to yet another smaller island.

I am not sure where my roundabout will stop turning but I am enjoying the way that it's turning.

Monday, February 25, 2008

World perspectives: Are Bajans oversensitive?

Just a provocative thought to start the week.

Much of Barbados was up in arms last Friday about how a DJ/MC (Kevin "KB Kleen" Hinds) at the concert to fete Rihanna the previous night might have disrespected the Prime Minister by calling him by his first name, David. The MC also made some remarks that were thought to be in poor taste by many who heard them. After a lot of public outrage, much of it on the radio call-in programme "Down to Brass Tacks", Mr. Hinds made a national public apology. From what I saw and have heard since the Prime Minister was not particularly shocked, offended or otherwise "unamused". But I was not there and I have not spoken to him personally on this matter.

Now some tables have been turned a little to show that rank (or is it rancour?) has its privileges. France's president was caught on video publicly and clearly insulting a bystander at an agricultural fair, who did not want the President to shake his hand; he said that the President made him feel dirty. President Sarkozy said “Casse-toi, pauvre con”, which for those of you who do not speak French can roughly be translated as “P*** off, stupid sod”, or “Get lost, silly b*****”. Not too nice that. The video, though a good short film, was not amongst last night's Oscar nominations.

But this incident lets me think for a few seconds about proper etiquette. I felt sorry for "Mr. Kleen", giving him the benefit of the doubt by thinking that he possibly did not know what was correct "in the circumstances"; apparently he has known the current prime minister since schooldays. I felt that those managing or advising Mr. Hinds should have either felt the vibes or given the man the word that he was on a slippery slope. He could be forgiven for a little confusion, though.

Beautiful Barbados, or "Little England" as some call it, who will you follow? In correct French, President Sarkozy should be called "Mr. President"; no name, thank you. In the United Kingdom, the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth the Second, is to be referred to as "Your majesty" at first then "Madam" or "Ma'am" afterwards, whether in public or private. Unless you're a citizen of the UK, don't curtsy or bow to the Queen. However, the Queen, like other British monarchs by tradition always signs by her first name, in her case "Elizabeth R" ("R" for "regina", Latin for queen; of if a king "rex", Latin for king). But don't use that as reason to say "Whassup, Liz?"

All of this is just to say that proper etiquette is a minefield and you can sample the Internet's offerings of dos, don'ts and horror stories. But at least Mr. Hinds now knows what Barbados expects.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What size are your feet? Caribbean countries need to get serious about how they use energy

News from the Cayman Islands this week shocked me: that small island (of 100 square miles and 45,000 people) was ranked 55 out of 207 countries for global carbon emissions per person, at 1.96 tonnes per person (based on 2004 data). The figures come from the United States Energy Department’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. The carbon footprint is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.

The main culprit in the Cayman Islands and most of the Caribbean is oil consumption, which is used to power almost every thing in the islands. Ironically, the ninth annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development (STC-9) took place in Grand Cayman from 21 to 24 May 2007. The Conference’s overall theme was, “Keeping the right balance: Health and Wellness – Communities, Environments and Economies,” and was hailed as a significant step toward developing the awareness, policies and practices for the sustainability of Cayman’s and the Caribbean tourism sector. But apart from talk I wonder if the region is getting serious about energy use and energy conservation.

For some context, the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, accounts for 21 percent of carbon emissions. It is followed by China, which emits 18 percent. Both countries are heavy users of coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Russia accounts for 6 percent of carbon emissions, just ahead of Japan, which produces 5 percent of the global total. Other major contributors to global carbon emissions are India, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Italy (see data).

Qatar, with 14 tonnes of carbon emitted per person, leads the world in per capita emissions. This is due in part to its booming natural gas industry and the distribution of free electricity to households. Per capita emissions in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates stand at 9 tonnes per person, followed by Kuwait at 7 tons. These countries have very small populations and thriving economies that contribute to high per capita emissions. The United States, Australia, and Canada each emit roughly 5 tonnes of carbon per person each year. This is five times the figure in China and 17 times that in India.

Much of the growth in carbon emissions over the next 25 years will come from developing countries. The world’s most industrialized countries currently account for 55 percent of all emissions. But developing and transitional economies led by China, Russia, and India are projected to be responsible for some 60 percent of global carbon emissions in 2030. A combination of rapid economic growth and heavy reliance on coal will drive this trend.

Though such projections are bleak, several promising examples can guide future action to reduce carbon emissions. Over the past 15 years, Germany reduced emissions by 10 percent, while the UK cut its emissions by some 3 percent. Each country simultaneously sustained moderate economic growth. These countries achieved reductions by lowering their reliance on coal, increasing taxes on fossil fuels, mandating energy efficiency targets, and funding renewable energy promotion. To help meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments, the European Union launched an Emissions Trading Scheme in January 2005, which limits carbon emissions and allows companies that reduce their emissions to profit by selling emissions permits to other companies.

In the US, plans exist to reduce carbon emissions at the state level. Seven northeastern states have committed to a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that mandates a 10 percent emissions reduction from 2009 levels by 2019. California, the world’s ninth largest economy, recently announced that it will reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This policy is expected to boost state income by $4 billion and create 83,000 new jobs.

Jamaica's central bank governor, Derick Latibeaudiare, just flagged some of the issues for that country (see today's Gleaner editorial). He focused on the country's oil bill and the budgetary implications. The oil import bill reached US$2.2 billion last year, and is likely to jump another US$500 million or approximately 23 per cent in 2008, about the same level as the previous year. Indeed, Jamaica, in US dollar terms, in 2007, paid nearly 50 per cent more for the oil it consumed than it did three years earlier. Jamaica's public-sector deficit will close the fiscal year at around 5.5 per cent of GDP; the oil bill is nearly 70 per cent of merchandise exports and nearly 30 per cent of GDP.

Jamaica and other countries in the region consume large amounts of oil, in Jamaica's case about 27 million barrels a year, which accounts for 96 per cent of energy needs. Volume has shifted little in recent years, and any movement tends to be up; with world oil price rising sharply in nominal terms and hovering at US$100 a barrel you can do the maths.

I just read in today's Advocate that, according to Ministry of Energy figures, in 2007 Barbados spent a total of about US$ 208 million on oil imports. This included about US$ 75 million to fuel the over 100,000 vehicles on the roads here. That was for just over 828,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline imported from Trinidad (+2 1/2 percent) at about US$ 91 a barrel; in 2006 the amounts were about US$ 68 million, 808,300 barrels, and about US$ 84.6 a barrel, respectively. The figures show a dramatic rise in diesel imports to 749.5 thousand barrels (+14 3/4 percent) from 653.1 thousand barrels in 2006, costing US$ 64 million in 2007 compared to US$ 78 million in 2006. In Barbados, diesel retails at B$ 1.46 a litre compared to B$ 2.15 a litre for unleaded gasoline. Fuel ("Bunker C") imported for electricity generation decreased dramatically to 1.338 million barrels in 2007 (-21 percent) from 1.691 million barrels in 2006, paring that bill from US$ 87.8 million in 2006 to US$ 68.2 million in 2007.

Barbados' new Minister of Stete for Finance and Energy, Darcy Boyce, has mentioned that the new government is looking to reduce the nation's energy bill, and two initiatives will include first a plan for renewable energy sources (solar, biomass), and second a campaign to encourage energy conservation. The government will be looking at the financial feasibility of ethanol production in Barbados. Beyond that he is asking Barbadians to "be conscious" of how they use energy at home and on the roads. Barbados experimented with "park and ride" schemes during Cricket World Cup and some are pleading that this becoming a permanent feature to help deal with traffic congestion.

In this region, the damage to the balance of payments and governments' fiscal programmes are obvious, and are hard to offset by increased foreign exchange inflows from tourism or financial capital, so foreign exchange reserves are going to be pressured.

Countries are talking about their needs for an energy policy, and this should be applauded. But part of this must include programmes that aggressively target energy efficiency, use of renewable energy (such as solar power as is prevalent for heating water in Barbados, and where there have been projects with solar vehicles), and to reorganise public transport. But petrol is a political topic. Still, some hard decisions to be taken, starting with policies to reduce consumption, which might include higher taxes at the pumps. In Jamaica, previous efforts at this in 1978 and 1999 led to (some would say politically inspired) riots.

Some highly publicized efforts could help, Prince Charles--that renowned environmentalist--and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, will be making a tour of several Caribbean islands from March 4, and reports indicate that this will involve 40 percent less carbon emissions than his previous Caribbean tour in 2000. They will use a luxury yacht, the Leander, instead of a plane to travel between the islands (Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Jamaica and Montserrat) and use scheduled flights rather than a private jet to fly to and from the Caribbean.

Many of the region's politicians are cynical and it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many when efforts in the area of energy conservation are seen by some political vultures and yet another opportunity to feather their nests, as with the current scandal in Jamaica about free energy-saving bulbs from Cuba (see latest report in yesterday's Gleaner concerning former government minister, Kern Spencer).

It wont happen today or tomorrow, but our lack of concern about the environment and energy use is sending a death knell for the livelihoods of the Caribbean islands. Many of the causes of climate change are not of our making, but we are reaping the "rewards". Declining fish stocks, polluted seas, rapidly dying coral, are affecting many islands and lessening their attraction to tourists, albeit very little for now perhaps. Our dependence on oil can only be sustained with higher production (only a reality for Trinidad) or by reductions in consumption. It's a bitter pill to swallow when people associate economic progress with a certain lifestyle that involves much higher energy consumption, but it's part of the new reality. We are unlikely to make much head way by taking individual national approaches, and we have to tackle that other nettle of trying to settle on good regional policies.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What leadership means: Help me, coach

The Times continues its series on leadership styles with a review of coaching leaders. "Coaching" is a very popular style and most leaders will say they use it, but the truth is often they do not. Many leaders are directive types or pacesetters who expect people to do what they’re told (or shown) to do; others are affiliative types who are quite happy having a friendly chat but aren’t nearly as good at offering firm guidance when problems need to be sorted out.

What defines the coaching style? Coaches work to understand the strengths and abilities of each member of the team and look for ways to help them to grow and develop over the long term. They talk a lot with the team members and the team as a whole, discussing hopes and expectations, then build and shape the work that they give them to meet those needs. They think carefully about who gets which assignment – it may not be who is best for the job but who it will stretch, who will grow with it.

An example from when I started as a soccer coach with under -9 girls was when I asked the girls initially what positions they played and then proceeded to put them where I thought they would do better and learn more. One girl told me she had always been a defender (she was very tall and strong for a nine year old); I put her as goal keeper because I saw that she had great courage and was ready to take risks. I could teach her how to catch but I could not teach her how to be brave; the combination would then be very effective. However, I discovered that that fearlessness started to dissolve (not so unnatural for a young child) when the other team scored and she felt that it was her fault, no matter how hard I and others said "there were 10 other players out there to stop the shot". I then put her as a striker, where her speed, courage, and risk taking soon transformed her into a phenomenal goal scorer and that is where she played most of the rest of her career through to high school varsity level (where she also became an excellent lacrosse player). This same process meant that players accepted the principle of learning to play all positions and developed in new positions as they changed physically and mentally, and sometimes during a match. The sweeper on my team was the smallest player by far, but amongst the most intelligent, eventually going to a school for gifted mathematicians and scientists.

People tend to like working for this type of leader but this doesn’t mean that they’re a soft touch--it's not about being nice. It has to do with facing challenges. The Times uses the example of Gordon Ramsay (the chef): he thinks about people’s vision for their restaurant and helps them to reach their goals; most of the time he does very little cooking himself.

Coaching can be "harmful" when used with a team that lacks confidence, drive or ambition. My girls soccer team became very hard to coach when they reached mid-adolescence (around the ages of 13-14) and their focus shifted to boys and getting to high school, but when some also wondered if they would quit the sport to do other activities.

If overused coaching can lead to the development of talented, capable staff whose ambitions and skills do not align with those of the company; it can also create a pleasant working environment that is supportive of individual development needs. In truth, it’s hard to overuse because it’s one of the most effective long-term styles, but it needs to be complemented by other elements.

When working for a coaching leader avoid not knowing how you want to develop your career in the organisation, and being unable to take feedback in a positive spirit. With that in mind, I tried to develop what I called an "incentive sandwich" to make feedback easier to stomach, so to speak. Better to say "What you did was alright, but it would be much better if..." [neutral plus positive], than "That's not right. You need to do this." [negative plus negative]. You need to remember that it's only in maths that two negatives make a positive.

You can impress a coaching leader by doing some self-analysis and being very clear about your strengths and weaknesses. "Do you understand what you were trying to do and do you understand why it did not work?" are two useful questions.

My favorite coach and coaching leader is Tony Dungy (head coach of the Indianapolis Colts since 2002). He became the first black head coach to win the Super Bowl in 2007. Prior to that, between 1996 and 2001, he was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has honed his style with a strong Christian religious base (see video clip). This helped him weather the tragic death by suicide of his teenage son, James, in 2005. One of his impressive remarks is "give someone the encouragement they needed", and he believes it's important to have an impact on one person at a time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hair we go again

On Thursday, the Nation reported that the deputy principal of Samuel Prescod Jackson Polytechnic (SJJP) had sent home five male students, who had their hair braided.Today's Advocate has an editorial saying that he was right, with a call to "Let discipline be cause to rally" (nicely juxtaposed with an article on Barbados as a land of litter louts). I applaud calls for discipline. However, if it's discipline we are discussing then let's deal with that consistently. Is this being done?

The deputy principal of SJJP, Merton Forde, was reported to have said that "if the students were willing to show they belonged to the Rastafarian sector, they would not be barred" and "We have regulations concerning the type of headdress considered to be unhealthy to students around them [my emphasis]. We expect students to conform to those regulations. The students were told that their dreadlocks would not have been a problem once they are part of the Rastafarian faith..." [Note that the picture of two of the students does not show them with dreadlocks.] According to the report, if the students obtained a letter from a Rastafari organization recognizing them as members then all would be resolved. So the rule is on health grounds, with a possible exception if you "prove" that you have a particular religious persuasion? The Director of the Commission of Pan-African Affairs, Ikael Tafari (pictured alongside), who is part of the Rastafari Movement kicked that ball away and described the SJPP regulation as "backward, discriminatory, ridciulous and a dangerous practice". The Minister of Education, Ronald Jones (no relative of mine), criticized the ban as discriminatory adding that "no child can be excluded from a school as a result of a hairstyle". Note that at least two of the banned students are in their early 20s so would be far from most people's definition of children, anyway.

I'm sorry, it is difficult to talk about discipline if what people are constructing as rules does not make much sense or is poorly thought out, and if it means one rule for some and another rule for others in the same place. It makes no sense to me to have a rule for an institution about hair styles for males on "hygiene grounds", and then to see females wearing the same or similar hair styles. That is confusing and inconsistent and it reflects a biased view about gender. Accepting that is accepting discrimination and there is no logic to it; it's an emotional set of arguments.

Following rules just because they are there is for people who cannot think for themselves. If someone just said "I don't like it" then there would be no problem for me because that is just an opinion; but don't treat us like fools and think that because you say something is a rule that like sheep we are all going to follow it. If as a black person you lived in or had to visit America's south or South Africa during a certain era not so long ago there were many rules that forced you to a very disadvantaged position for no reason other than your colour. When during Apartheid's time Caribbean officials or those from the Indian subcontinent were invited to South Africa and told that they could be "honary whites" so that they would not be bound by the rules of Apartheid, they knew what to think of the rules of that country. No matter how disciplined they were or were told to be they could see through this foolishness. Tell Rosa Parks to be disciplined and get herself to the back of the bus.

So, to turn the matter on its head so to speak, if a boy shaves his head and it's alright in an institutional setting, I would expect no complaints if a girl also shaved her head in the same situation. (There are good hygiene reasons for that, such as to reduce the spread of head lice, and if you have lived in an African country you ould have noticed how little hair children have on their heads.) Whether we like the bald headed look or not is a separate issue. If a boy I know wants to wear a skirt I would advise him against it because it is not the norm and he may be ridiculed for it. But depending on his character and other things, he may ignore my advice and wear it. (Society's stereotyping may mean that he gets shooed away from the men's bathrooms and his protests at being ushered into the ladies bathroom may seem crazed.) He may make a convincing case that he is Scottish and in keeping with tradition what he is wearing is a kilt. In the same way I would be neutral about a girl wearing trousers.

Discipline is just the tip of some iceberg of social norms and it is often invoked to cover a fear of change or the unknown. If you want to abstract from hair, look at what happens in the US because states have the right to have their own laws and regulations that do not adhere to a national code, and may make sense and be accepted in a limited context (the state) but not wider (e.g., the nation). Consider the US's maze of laws on marriages and divorce: think carefully where you are when you say "yes" and "enough already". Drawing from direct experience, a few yards can make a world of difference to financial solvency in or out of a marriage (with a lawyer's field day for prenuptial agreements or divorce settlements).

In the US I last lived in Maryland, not far from the borders with the state of Virginia and the District of Columbia (DC). The traffic rules in each jurisdiction were different. Near my home, as I approached the border between Maryland and DC, the speed limit shifted from 35 miles per hour (mph) to 25 mph so within a short space (about 400 yards) I could be quickly in violation of the speed limit. The DC police lived off this fact and placed a speed trap just inside their border and naturally caught many people speeding, made easier because the stretch of road was downhill heading into DC. Second example. In Virginia (remembering that they drive on the left in the US), it is legal to turn left on a red light from a one way street into another one way street; but this is illegal in Maryland and DC. Consequence? Just after a bridge marking the border between Virginia and DC, near the White House, traffic moves into a one way system. Drivers entering from Virginia routinely try to turn left on red into a one way street and routinely get traffic tickets!

To my mind, the kind of "supportive" arguments I am reading in the newspapers about the hair issue (and some other topics) are not far from accepting a range of discriminatory practices in the name of discipline. Perhaps the fact that I have visited and lived in many parts of the world leads me to feel less threatened by things that do not fit a certain norm in a given place. During my travels I have experienced what may seem unbelieveable. For example, a black man in rural China draws less attention than a white woman with red hair; the black man has black hair and his skin is dark, which is the norm in parts of China, but red hair and pale skin are rarely seen. The world and history go around. Long hair (especially in hot climates); earrings (fashions change); beards and moustaches (universal, but almost obligatory in some places stretching from south central Europe through the Middle East); flowing robes (much of Africa, Middle East), kissing each other on the cheek (Africa, France, Italy, Spain), holding hands (Europe, Africa, Middle East) are all part of long standing and still current male traditions in many parts of the world.

Maybe in keeping with its push up the ladder of economic and social development Barbados will be graced by more international visitors than just those mainly from the UK, Canada and the US, or Bajans will get to see much more of the world. This may help people here see how the country and they stand on a very narrow strand of social behaviour.

Just reward

If you have read Lynne Truss' book, "Eats, shoots and leaves" you will understand that the title of this post has several interpretations, depending on where you lay the stress. Like English, what you emphasize is what people tend to focus on as important.

I think that what the government of Barbados did this week in honoring (20 year old--birthday on February 20) Robyn Rihanna Fenty with a "national day" (February 21) and giving her a piece of the rock (at prestigious Apes Hill, no less) to always call home is a tremendous sign of recognition. However, I have reservations about this kind of gesture for people who have become "celebrities", and these are often popular music artistes, simply because I do not see the same desire to honour other and all great national or international achievements. Also does Rihanna need handouts? Her networth is soaring and she has just warranted the "Rihanna stock index" to cover the public companies with which she has dealings, which is reported by Stockpickr. What did the government do for Shane Brathwaite after the 17 year old produced a new personal best record in the decathlon at the World Youth Games in 2007, and became not only Barbados’ first World Youth champion but his country’s first ever athletics gold medal winner in a global competition at any level (see previous post)? What will be done for the Barbados national cricket team if they win the Stanford 20-20 cricket tournament (they will play archrivals Trinidad in the semifinals)? People who have done well in the eyes of the nation deserve recognition, but let's do it for all the worthy.

The gesture for Rihanna sets up an expectation that I do not believe will be met, and then it can and will be followed by resentment, or cries of "special treatment". "How dey can gi' somhin to she and we ge' nuttin?" It also sends a perverse message to those who are not in the limelight but do things that are important to the lives of many: nurses and doctors are always in this category, yet they often struggle to even get good salaries. It does not meet my sense of fairness

I begrudge Rihanna nothing. I wont make any assertion that there is political capital to be made from close association with her international successes. If I were a Barbadian national and recognized to be the best in my field what would I be thinking

If criticisms come showering down on me today because of this post, I will be taking shelter under my umbrella, 'ella, 'ella, eh, eh.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guest Post--Writer’s Steps: "Timmy Turtle and the Litterbugs"

A newly-acquired friend, Susan Haynes-Elcock, has offered the following post, which gives some insight into how she has moved ahead as an author. Susan visited Barbados recently and came to see my wife a few Sundays ago; they know each other from Nassau. I was there to offer sustenance in the form of a really good chilli and corn bread that I had prepared to keep me going through the Super Bowl later that evening. Susan became a "taster" and gave the dish the thumbs up. So much so that I was left with corn bread crumbs for the big game.

We discussed the time the newish residents has spent so far in Barbados, including our new appreciation of Bajan pudding and souse, especially when used at a little spot in St. John, the Village Bar, Lemon Arbour. We also reminisced a little about things Nassovian and time living in England. The following weekend, I met Susan and a Bajan lady friend of hers at this said place in St. John, who were having a meal there for the first time ever. Glad to make both of their acquaintances.

Writer's Steps: "Timmy Turtle and the Litterbugs"

As far back as I can remember I have always loved reading and books. Punishment and I became great personal friends, as I was so desperate to have a never-ending supply of books that I would sneak over to my friends, every chance I got to raid their collection of books; mine being long exhausted. (Funny, how parents always knew that you were where you weren’t supposed to be.) Even stranger was that parents wanted you to read (though not when you had chores to perform), and failed to appreciate how enterprising you were at sourcing a constant supply of books. I mean, let’s think about the dangers you faced at 10 years old: braving the traffic, or taking a shortcut through the immensely, overgrown path; or hopping over a 5 foot chain link fence – not to mention facing bad dogs one had to outsmart, and when that failed, outrun them.

I survived licks (not from dogs) and all manner of punishment; escapes from the jaws of dogs et al; grew up, became an adult, and eventually had children of my own. I encouraged the same love of books and reading in them, but was challenged to find literature representing ‘other’ and hence made the decision to one day write for children.

When the 'WRITE' day finally arrived, it didn’t just gently slip into place. It happened with something of a rush - not a huge tumultuous, earthshaking, volcanic bang, but more like a gale force 10 wind, maybe even gale force 12 (hurricane), kinda shock. Yep, victim to 'redundant restructuring' (my term). Just like that! A month’s salary and a new career – 'be careful what you wish for'.

To date, I have published "A Cry For Summer", which introduces the topic of HIV/AIDS to children, and adults. This project was done in coordination with the Barbados National Terminal Co. Ltd and the National Cultural Foundation. The most recent publication is the book and computer animated CD - "Timmy Turtle and the Litterbugs".This was a joint project between the Solid Waste Project Unit, Ministry of Health, Shell Western Supply and Trading Company and Caribbean Kids, and had a nice book launch.

Timmy Turtle, himself one of the endangered species of animals, introduces primary aged children to what happens if the environment is made sick. Work has commenced on the next publication which consists of a series of readers entitled "Rubbish Rebel". Also on the agenda are books on cancer and obesity.

I write for children mainly on social and environmental issues which can impact their lives, but my main desire is to push them out into the magic world of reading.

Post prepared by Susan Haynes-Elcock


Susan gave my four year old daughter a signed copy of her book and that will be treasured.


I have had the pleasure in recent weeks to laugh out loud when I open one of the newspapers. That's what howlers should make you do. Now I wonder if they are just going into intensive training for some competition, such as an April Fool contest.

So what do I get on today's front page of The Barbados Advocate? "More women are being encouraged to explore political opportunities...". Yes! I should have stopped there. I read on. This encouragement came at a panel discussion at ... the... Dinning Club.... My eyes rolled back to the sentence. The what? I found a definition in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, which derives from "din" and is related to making a loud noise. The other reference, was to mis-spelling of "dining" that I found in the Urban Dictionary.

I could have let "wimmen" slide if that had appeared as that misspelling of "women" has gained some currency, albeit in mocking or self-mocking form in song and literature (see an example with Wimmen's comix magazine). But "dinning"? That I cannot swallow easily.

How am I supposed to pronounce it anyway? It is said like "din-ing" or is it really "dinn-ing" as if I am ringing or dinging a dinner bell? Time for din-dins!

If there is such a place as the "Dinning" Club in Barbados I will gladly eat my words without any whining (or is it wining?). I will admit that I bit off more than I could chew and never make the mistake again of thinking that someone cannot spell. I could find "Dining Club" in the phone directory, that other source on which I would lean heavily

So, I will pass a part of today with more than a slight smile on my face waiting to hear if this causes a little din in the island affectionately referred to as Bim.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Barack Obama is the real thing

No doubt about it. Barack Obama (and I will refer to him as "Obama" or "Barack" because it sounds good and is not meant as disrespect) is a real presidential contender. That much is clear from the performance he has put up so far in the Democratic Primaries and Caucuses. He continues to win against Hillary Rodham Clinton and by sizeable margins. His message of "change" seems to be listened to intently. He has just won his 10th consecutive statewide competition, fittingly with the victory in his home state of Hawaii; he also won Wisconsin, by 58 percent to 41 percent. However, there are bureaucratic hurdles that need to be overcome in the form of the complicated formula the Democrats have of pledged delegates (those assigned as a results of votes in the primaries and caucuses) and "super delegates" (who represent party good and great and are not obligated to support any particular candidate). One hopes that the Democrats will not trip themselves up with this attempt to be democratic.

We knew that Obama became a serious contender when he started to win the state contests, but had to take him seriously when opponents started to try to find negatives to pin on him; but that's part of politics and it will affect every real contender. His ability to make rousing speeches is now being put as all he has--words and no solutions--by both those opposing him as a Democrat and his Republican opponents. But give me a politician whose words have passion and whose delivery can match that. Actions will take more than words and it will require good advisors and help to make tough decisions. But a president should be made in office not before.

For Americans, Obama is defying many stereotypes that people would like to pin on him, including racial ones, but I am not going down any of the racial roads now. (Sir Ronald Saunders made some interesting points in part one of a column in last week's Barbados Advocate, with which I agree in part.) I refuse to refer to Obama as "African American", except as an accuarate reflection of his mixed parentage (Kenyan father and American mother). I will say, however, that I believe that Obama's mixed racial heritage is a factor in his acceptability to a significant strand of white voters. Although in the eyes and minds of most people and in America in particular he is "black", and nothing will make him "white" in American eyes, he is not so black as to pose a threat for many. This is a part of the cultural and social racial antagonism in the USA. If he were in the Caribbean there would be some debate about what is his color, but this racial aspect would not be much of an issue for us in current times.

For him to win the nomination he needs to do what he has been able to do more recently: gain the votes of white women, working class voters, older voters, and Hispanics. Increasingly, it seems that Democrat supporters see Obama as more likely to beat the probable Republican contender, John McCain. That can give tremendous momentum. Obama is not unstoppable but he is running ahead fast. His momentum may be what takes him to victories in the upcoming big and important states of Ohio and Texas.

A few things could derail Obama's train. There are some not well hidden skeletons in the closet concerning his associates in Chicago, namely Antoin "Tony" Rezko, billed as a "shady Chicago property developer". Questionable associates also linger in the Clinton closets though, many related to the possible "first man" and former president known affectionately as "Bill". But some of the things in the closet fit Mrs. Clinton or the couple (including association with the same Mr. Rezko in the 1990s). Obama may have to weather that possibly withering criticism of American politicians as being "left wing" or even "socialist", including his relationship with William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois and former member of the "Weather Underground", a leftwing terrorist group that planted bombs in the Capitol and the Pentagon in the 1970s.Will Obama be a "tax and spend" liberal? It's hard to say. He has the endorsement of some free market-leaning heavyweights around him, such as former US Federal Reserve President, Paul Volcker, and his chief economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee (see picture) is a Univeristy of Chicago professor, a free marketeer.

Michelle Obama has added the occasional banana skin for her husband to slip on, most recently with her remarks about "feeling [really] proud of...my country". But she is trying to do a good support job and will have to think a little faster on her feet. I like the look of the potential first family, though.

I am not amazed by what Obama is achieving. America has draped itself in a flag of racial intolerance for so long that it is hard to spring from that and see that it is not the issue. Sure, it's a very new phase for Americans to deal with, but not so new when one considers that black politicians have risen toward the top of elective politics in recent decades, as senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, and not just where the majority population is black; they have also gained high office through their abilities (as is the case with Colin Powell and Condaleeza Rice as Secretaries of State). I am glad that in some senses Americans now have a good chance to grab this nettle at the highest level. My personal feeling is that Colin Powell (who has Jamaican roots) would have had a similarly good run as a potential presidential candidate had he chosen to run, so I think Americans have been ready for this possibility for a while.

And if Obama wins, what then? I have heard a lot of black people express the fear that he will be assassinated. My take on that has been to say that if this were to happen it would not be a surprise. The USA has a long history of assassinating or trying to assassinate its presidents (see website), and mostly since 1900; I believe it leads the world in this uneviable statistic (even if we include other heads of state such as monarchs and prime ministers). Four US Presidents have been assassinated: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. Attempts have been made on six others: Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Ford, and Reagan. All were white males, so somewhat facetiously we should not be surprised if at the very least someone will want to take the record for killing the first black president. But we cannot get into the minds of mad people. There is the fascinating sidenote to presidential assassinations (and deaths in office) of Tecumseh's Curse, whereby presidents starting with William Henry Harrison who were elected in a year ending with a zero were assassinated or died while in office. The curse ended with Ronald Reagan, but it could be in Obama's favor. So I am not focusing on this threat.

Unless the Caribbean freezes I cannot see the possible "dream team" of an Obama-Clinton pairing being put in front of the electorate. But I do hope that the Democrats do not resort to beating each other up and take their eye off the real political opponents in the Republican party. The contest is exciting and I look forward to a few more months of hope and speculation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm innocent. Why don't you believe me?

Have you ever tried having a discussion with a really stubborn person? This process of beating one's head against a brick wall is not good for your health, in constrast to claims in Douglas Adams' "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", which would have you believe that two brain cells are created for every one that dies, therefore the fast way to a high IQ is to smack your cranium against the side of a Victorian redbrick.

A Jamaican friend and I were talking at the weekend. Now, he loves an argument, so we went around the houses for ages, but at the end we heard each other's arguments and came to an agreement about many elements. I am not sure if the bottle of "El Dorado" rum that we shared made us mellower in our opinions, but we sounded coherent all the time (at least to ourselves), so I think not. But sometimes no amount of argument can get a person to shift a position, even with overwhelming facts or counterarguments, and the dead horse is left lying there after being flogged fully. When this is a debating exercise such as in moot court, this can seem like fun. One side tries to pummel another with an unwavering barrage of accusations, while on the other side a person tries to make as many statements of innocence as possible or amass as much "evidence" to support that claim. But as my Jamaican friend said in another conversation during the week (and he is a qualified barrister),"It is very hard to disprove a negative".

This same friend and I discovered that we have lived through some similar situations. For example, we both lived in England for many years through the late 1960s/early 1970s and remember well the "suss" (short for suspect) laws, which basically profiled young black males as criminals and was used by the British police to take people into custody simply on suspicion. I recall being stopped on "suss" several times when I was at university in the mid-1970s. On each occasion the stop did not last long: my manner of speaking (very close to the Queen's English), my intelligence (including a little knowledge of the law--one day at law school counts), and to some degree my demeanour, usually convinced the constable that this was not someone to continue to harass. Nevertheless, I had to go through this process of trying to prove I was innocent. If suss cases went to court, often because some other charge was later brought, the phrase often used in court was, I understand, "He looked suspicious, m'lud, so I picked him up." The English courts did a lot to validate this practice by not following the presumption of innocence principle back to the original event. However, when I once challenged a policeman about his suspicion, he told me that I "fit the profile", which he described as "tall, light complexion, brown hair, and weighing about 210 pounds". I pointed out that I was at most medium height, very brown (some would say black), had black hair, and weighed no more than 175 pounds (I was playing football for the university three times a week then). He still remarked that "You looked like you were up to something". I knew then that I was on that familiar old road again. The "something" I was up to was walking home, albeit late at night: I was sober, smoke-free, tired from football training, and ladened with books, but with no buses running had little choice but to walk the five miles from Ealing to Southall.

Obdurate people (those "unmoved by persuasion, pity, or tender feelings; stubborn; unyielding" as the dictionary defines them) give you a lot of good practice at "head banging" but without the joy of any music you like. They are good at using "suss" and also love the general principle of "presumption of guilt", even with the "elephant and mouse" type fallacy of association of ideas or guilt by association: the car is gone; I left it where you are standing now; therefore you took it. Most modern democracies (and it is enshrined in English law)--and I would say true democrats--follow the opposite doctrine--"presumption of innocence": as put in criminal law, the prosecution must both produce evidence of guilt and persuade the fact-finder "beyond a reasonable doubt". The obdurate person tends to take the opposite position: guilty until proven innocent. It can be worse still in the Caribbean if your "guilt" is "confirmed" by some other well-known and forensically proven characteristics of hardened criminals (such as being a man, having squinty eyes, eyebrows too close together, long nose, curled lip, etc.). Remember how hard it is to disprove a negative?

It's interesting if one consults Wikipedia's explanation on these practices. It notes that in contrast to practices in many modern nations, "in many authoritarian regimes the prosecution case is, in practice, believed by default unless the accused can prove they are innocent, a practice called presumption of guilt. Many people believe that presumption of guilt is unfair and even immoral because it allows the strategic targeting of any individual, since it's often difficult to establish firm proof of innocence (for example, it's often impossible to establish an alibi if the person is home alone at the time of the crime)."

When free people (with or without the comfort of a latte or a glass of wine) think about and discuss injustices and the kinds of torture treatment meted out to prisoners at Guantanemo Bay or Abu Garaib, it's useful to remember that these forms of behaviour at the state level have their origins and parallels right there at the individual level of the human chain.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Give: The phenomenon of acts of benevolence and random acts of kindness

I knew that I should write a post of my latest experience with what I have termed "The Give". For many years, I have enjoyed the results of seemingly random acts of benevolence. I don't mean the kind of act like I have described in my post on "Brawta", but something that is much more substantial in its physical representation and therefore much more astounding in terms of its emotional significance. Some would see this as a take on the Good Samaritan story in The Bible. This phenomena is not isolated as you can see from a website dealing with "act of random kindness". My family has often witnessed or heard of similar experiences of mine. I will recount the latest example. However, I will try to retell this incident in a way that does not expose exactly who and what is involved, but the persons concerned and some close friends know more precisely what happened.

Last Thursday, an expensive piece of equipment, which I had bought three weeks ago, suffered a terrible fate: it got douced with water (let's say that it fell into the toilet), and as I joked soon aftger my device from RIM was now RIP. I took it back to the retailer, with little hope, and explained what had happened. "Sorry, sir. There's no warranty cover for water damage to this. You will have to buy a new one." was the clear and gently delivered message I received. I inhaled and asked how much the new one would be. "Well, you could get a 15 percent discount." Now this device retails at a very high price. After checking, however, we discovered that the model I had bought was out of stock on the island but a shipment was due in during the next week. So, I said that I would try to find a temporary solution, hoping that a friend could lend me a replacement. That happened and at least for a day I could function as I wanted.

The next day, Friday morning, I got a call from a manager at the store asking if her staff had found a solution for me. I said that I had been offered a loaner that was not able to do all that I needed and had decided to wait for a new shipment to come in before deciding how to proceed. "Well," she said, "I have a close substitute that I can give you." I paused and asked if the word "give" meant what I thought it meant. "Yes," she said. "Just come to the store today." I did that later in the morning, and lo and behold, we found that there was in fact an near perfect substitute that I could have. We went through some paper work to allow me to make an exchange for the damaged item, et voila, I walked out into the street a very happy customer. But again I was wondering how and why I had enjoyed such benevolence.

The manager concerned is someone whom I met in that same store in early January, who had shown me the face of customer service not seen enough in Barbados, and spent two hours resolving a problem created by her company, which had resulted in my being disconnected from the normal service. (At the same time she had resolved a problem for another customer, who had downloaded software which had stopped his two week old device from working. He was angry, but she dealt with him calmly, and eventually got him to understand that he had caused the problem. At which point an exchange of equipment was arranged.) She confimed that this concern with resolving customer problems was not just some flash in the pan, when a few weeks ago she helped resolve some different problems for newly arrived Jamaican friends of mine. They not only got the service that they they had been told would be available to them in Barbados but also saw for themselves this extraordinary level of customer care.

On the same Thursday I mentioned above, I had the opportunity to meet at the retail store senior managers of the company concerned, who were visiting from Britain, and I used that to praise this lady and her team. I commented on how she never stopped training her staff on how to give each customer the care and attention that he/she sought. I told the senior managers that if they were not careful, this lady would "brand" herself and go off into the sunset as one of the most gifted sales representatives on this island. Did that sway her in dealing with me? I doubt it. She was not there at the time, having had to leave due to a bout of gastric problems. I should say that I had offered her the solution of ginger and cerassee. Could that have swayed her? I doubt it and it would seem disproportionate.

What I have learned about this phenomenon is never to ask the question "Why?" but accept and in a sense move on.

Metaphors are very important to me. My Friday had started with the cancellation of tennis coaching due to rain in the early morning. The weather cleared later, but rain started again just as the sports day at my little girl's school was due to start, so that event was also cancelled, after all the children and parents had installed themselves by the sports field. I had managed to get my father and his wheel chair to the event without him getting too wet, but he got douced getting from the car to the sports field. However, brilliant sunshine bathed Bridgetown for most of the rest of the morning, and I breezed around doing my errands lamenting that my child had not had "her day in the sun". But then there was another heavy downpour of rain just as I was finishing my transactions described above and heading back to my car. I waited in the store for the rain to clear, but my benefactor left to collect her son, whose sports day was just going to be cancelled due to the sudden change of weather. The day had begun with dark clouds and heavy rain, then became bright again, and rain and sun had played with us all morning. Literally and metaphorically, I was hit by several heavy doses of rain, but finished off enjoying wonderful sunshine till the end of the day. A day of mixed weather? A day of mixed fortunes?

A newish Jamaican friend asked if I could sell her some of what I had or somehow let it wash off on her. I told her that it's not that simple otherwise I would have packaged this thing and "gone clear" a long time ago.

I have spent a lot of the past two weeks preaching an old message of mine: every apparent setback is really an opportunity.

My father (78) suffered a stroke 16 months ago and lost most of his movement on his left side. This is a man who had spent most of the past 20 years walking a lot every day and going to market, doing aerobics classes with a "bunch of old pretty gals" and practicing yoga. He started walking again several months after his attack but making progress is slow. He left Jamaica and came to spend a month with me here in Barbados. I'm trying to give him back a lot of his independence of movement and putting him through a kind of boot camp, where he's pushed to do as much as he can for himself. He complains bitterly, but has managed to get himself in and out of the car more easily and the walk around the outside of the house is less of a chore and more of an event now.

Jamaicans (not uniquely) are shaped a lot by how their state of "suffering" can be put into the lyrics of songs (this is a part of our slave heritage as often seen in chain gang songs). That way you can chant your way out of oppression and into enchantment. As I wrote this morning I recalled the words of the late Desmond Dekker in his song "The Israelites" (which is really saying that no matter what the adversity you see at the start of a day, there will be better times). The recollection was possibly prompted by a discussion at a party last night about his film "The Harder They Come". Who knows? The songs goes:

Get up in the morning slaving for bread, sir
So that every mouth can be fed
Oooh, oooh mi Israelites.

Mi wife an ma kids them a pack up an a leave me
Darling, she said, I was yours to be seen
Oooh, oooh mi Israelites

Who am I workin' for?

Cho! Shirt dem a tear-up trousers a go
I dont wan to end up like Bonny and Clyde
Oooh, oooh mi Israelites

After a storm there must be a calm
You catch me in your farm, you sound your alarm
Oooh, oooh mi Israelites

When I recount the incident of last Friday, I quickly recall (as I often do) "The Celestine Prophecy", which is a work of fiction that deals with some interesting spiritual phenomena. Some will regard this book and its theme as cooky. I don't but as always I will let you judge for yourself. I firmly believe that there are some spiritual and psychological connections between people that get sparked and lead to some extraordinary contacts between them, especially when there seems to be an adversity to deal with. A problem shared is a problem halved? Am I quietly praying inside and is someone really listening? I really have no way of explaining "The Give" but I know that it's "out there" and alive and kicking.