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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Monday, March 31, 2008

Working women working for women workers.

I have a theory (maybe only an opinion) about the complicated relationship between women who employ other women to do housework and help look after and raise their children. Part of the theory revolves around whether the employer harbours some sense of guilt about having another woman who is possibly also a mother/homemaker working to make the employer's life easier. I won't elaborate on my thoughts now but just offer a taster with some photographs. One of these women is the employer. The other is the employee. Can you tell who is who? There won't be any prizes for guessing correctly.

One piece of research on the topic that interests me is byLaurie Ousley, entitled "The Business of Housekeeping: The Mistress, the Domestic Worker, and the Construction of Class". However, to understand the complex relationship between women employers and women domestic employees, you need to go back in history, to "A Treatise on Domestic Economy", by Catharine Beecher (see reference), one of the most prominent of American domestic economists in the 19th century, and women "liberationists". Beecher aimed to codify domestic duties and emphasized the importance of women's labour (see reference).

I'm going to leave the subject there for the moment and wait for the guessed answers.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Functional intelligence

From everything that I can find a phrase that I use often, "functional intelligence", does not appear to exist with any definition. So, am I about to make history by trying to make clear at least what I mean by "functional intelligence"? As far as thinking goes, dictionaries are clear about what intelligence means. Webster's describes it as "the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations "; "the skilled use of reason"; "the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)". It goes on to define "functional" as related to function, which is about performance, and for me the important "contribute to the development or maintenance of a larger whole". You can see in the mind of Heath Robinson, that his cartoons are about thinking of how to do things. Nothing wrong with his depiction of a way of preparing tea--somewhat elaborate, it's true, but it could work and may be appropriate in its time and place.

When I think of functional intelligence I try to envisage how people should be able to work out what to do. It's not to be confused with the fashionable "emotional intelligence", which is about being able to "perceive, assess, and manage... one's own emotions". It's not just about being practical or pragmatic, like the Saturday gardener who devices contraptions to do his jobs and leave himself time and energy to do what he really enjoys, reading the sports pages.

Functional intelligence deals with, for example, figuring out how to make things work without having to read a manual because you have had experience with one device of the general type and can realise that most other devices work in basically the same way. So, mobile phones, have a limited range of ways in which they can make calls, store information, etc., and you really can move from one model to another without needing to be retaught many things. It also works with the limits of probabilities. Example. When my father taught me how to drive he told me to work out when to enter traffic by rmembering how many seconds it takes to make a turn (say 2 at most) and counting that time space between oncoming vehicles. That way when your gap arrives (with nothing else changing) you can enter without having to do too much judgement. A bit simplified, but you get the idea. In Barbados, people tend to think you need about a minute to make a turn and then want to be sure by waiting for a 90 second gap, and then checking again, so on average drivers need about two minutes between vehicles before they enter traffic. Exaggerating a little? Not so much, it seems, when you're behind someone nervously looking right and left, and their car staying immobile for minutes with no traffic passing the junction.

I try to explain to my children that most mechanical things work in only two dimensions: they have parts that move horizontally or they move vertically. You vary on that theme by trying to see if something will go in a circle (or if it is ball-like, roll). One of these movements will help you solve most problems when a mechanism or one of its parts does not work. So, pull-push, right-left, round and round. So, "Daddy! I can't open the door." gets a "Have you tried turning the handle?" kind of reply. Still, people stand in front of something like a closed door and look like deer staring into headlights wondering what they should do next.

Nowaday, many things that are essentially mechanical have been complicated by electronics, that make the mechanical parts work. So, a car now has a computer chip to operate a lever to open the door and when the door is stuck you still need to move the lever but it's controlled by the electronic part. In the world of Wallace and Gromit, every activity needs to have a gadget invented for it (see the perfectly practical trousers to help you clean the ceiling and those hard to reach places). Most of us in the Caribbean would have no idea what to do with a lobster fork. We just crack the claws enough to be able to eat what's inside and suck hard for the trickier places. So, we are not going to head to Crate and Barrel to stock up on a set of these for our next BBQ.

Some aspects of functional intelligence are related to environment. For instance, if you live in a country that has had little association with some things we now take for granted because of "development" you will be lost when presented with some forms of contemporary packaging. You were used to just biting the corner of a plactic bag to open it, and using Scotch tape to reseal, and have no idea that you should do anything different with a resealable plastic bag. Consequence? Food that gets put away for later still dries out because of the gaping hole created by the bite and the absence of Scotch tape. Or you have not kept up with developments. You had an early CD player but the multi-changer was not something you knew. So, you have a stack of CDs that you load one after the other finishes, rather than loading the machine up with 6 or more at a time. So much for bright ideas.

Some aspects are related to upbringing. We are taught to wait in line for "our turn" so can move away from that at a buffet, when all we want is the dessert at the end but we stand "dutifully" waiting for those people who pick each salad item one by one, then add peas and rice grain by grain and pea by pea, and so on. Smart or functionally intelligent people, side step and head straight for the bread pudding and rum sauce, and could even be back for seconds before the "rice police" have filled their plates.

Anyway, try to observe what goes on around you and see how much functional intelligence you witness.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Liming: More than a feeling.

When "Auntie" (aka "the lioness king") or "Uncle" (aka "judge not, lest you be judged") call me on a Thursday evening, a little before 6pm, to remind me that it is Thursday I know that I had better heed the message that I am expected somewhere shortly. "Haul you **** and come lime with we!" If I have visitors from wherever, bring them with me if they are willing: the more the merrier. Make sure I don't have other plans. If I do, at least make the effort to get the ball rolling with "we all".

Because I think I am educated and hang with similar folk, I know that they will expect some intellectual hook. So, after minutes of exhaustive research I found that the "concept of liming encompasses any leisure activity entailing the sharing of food and drink, the exchange of tall stories, jokes and anecdotes etc., provided the activity has no explicit purpose beyond itself." (See reference.) Now that last part is the nub. While the term might have its origins in Trinidad, the pass time (and don't tell me it should be pastime) is truly Caribbean.

If you are part of a liming party (and I think the two words together are not redundant) all of this may be obvious. The little group that I have become part of seems to need no provocation to meet regularly. I spend many random hours at the house that is the regular venue. The hosts spend many random hours where I live--it's their home too. We spend many random hours together finding excuses to spend more random hours together. But Thursdays are special.

I am relatively new to the group and it seems to willingly absorb new entrants who meet a certain minimum standard of humourousness. Money does not seem to be an important attribute: you don't have to pay to enter and no one has asked me for any dues...so far. Gift of the gab? Essential. Thick skin needed? You bet. Sartorial elegance a must? Each man or woman to their choice. When else can you be overdressed in shorts and a polo shirt?

What kind of people make for a good lime? Depends on the lime, I guess. This little band of "raggamuffins" has ranks filled with attorneys (yet it does not stop the spreading of what could be libelous comments if uttered in public). There are the odd fellows like myself, working at home, dealing with how to make an "honest dollar" any way I can. There are some others with training in economics and experience in banking and finance, and they are often charged with making sure there is a certain equilibrium in the presence of people. Some know how to make good bread. Some are related--at least there is one set of real sisters amongst the "sistas". Rihanna would love to be part of the lime but we already have our own "Ella, Ella", so no need to call us. If you do, you may go away with more than a little umbr[ell]age .

Much of the time is spent finding ways to imbibe (whether you mean to take in liquid, or to receive into the mind and retain).The perfect liming spot is the kitchen counter, where all the best real and intellectual nourishment is served. Whether it's samosas, or herring buljol, or salami bruschettas, or that appropriately hot pepper cheese, it all good.

You learn new jokes (sometimes about yourself) and new meanings to old phrases. Now I can never think of former President Clinton without remembering Psalm 23: "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Like "eats shoots and leaves" the punctuation is important (see also an unfortunate headline from a decade ago).

I learn too that your reputation is only as good as your presence to protect it. No one has much private business when amongst friends. No one has any business being private in such a group. They are people to whom I would gladly give the shirt off my back, and I may get chance to do that literally sooner than I realise, because a few people want to don my nice new African shirt.

Mi na seh no more.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Looking back in anger

A recent acquaintance--who oddly shares my family name--sent me a picture of her school, which she photographed in 1999 when the school (not the building) was 300 years old. The school, Burlington Danes, is in west London, England, and the picture shows the school on a grey, drab day, and she lamented that she never managed to get there on a sunny day! Some would say that in England that will never happen. I know better.

Nevertheless, she kept the picture and sent it to me, as a spur, in my quest to find someone who went to the school nearly 50 years ago, whom I knew as a 6 year old newly arrived in England. She told me that the school, as she had photographed it (shown alongside), most resembled the school in war-time when she attended. The school is really non-descript but the memories evoked by the picture are really vivid. She went on to say:

"My own memories of that time were how drab everything was - no one had time or money to spare on painting or cleaning - all our energies were devoted to 'the war effort' - it consumed everyone. My first real experience of colour and variety was a week in a Belgium seaside resort in 1947 and although I enjoyed it I was also rather angry that there was plenty of food in the shops, cream cakes in the cafes and even in Brussels one did not see any sign of bombing. Food rationing in England in the late 1940s was as tight as, if not tighter than, during the war and London was very grey and battered. Now I think the shortage of cream cakes is probably responsible for my life-long yearning for meringues."

I don't want to elaborate on the sentiments, and let them stand alone.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Zen Economics: Gross National Happiness

If I mention the country of Bhutan most people will look glazed and struggle to think where this place is in the world. Well, it's a landlocked nation in the Himalayas, sandwiched between India and China. Until earlier today it was famous as a kingdom with absolute monarchic rule for the past 100 years. It's just over 18,000 square miles with a population of some 675,000. Its official languages are Dzongkha (pronounced Jong-ka) and English. Its main releigion is Buddhism.

It made a major move toward modern democracy in 1998 when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowed for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. In 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, to become one of the last countries to introduce television. The King said that "television was a critical step to the modernisation of Bhutan as well as a major contributor to the country's Gross National Happiness"; Bhutan is the only country to measure happiness.

The King announced in December 2005 that he would abdicate the throne in his son's favour in 2008, but shocked the country by abdicating in December 2006. Bhutan entered a new era of democracy. Elections for the upper house (National Council) were held on December 31, 2007, while elections for the lower house, the 47-seat National Assembly, were held on March 24, 2008. Yesterday, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT, also known as the Bhutan Prosperity Party) won 44 of 47 seats in the National Assembly Candidates. DPT President Jigmi Thinley is expected to be the country's next prime minister, a post he has held twice before. But this time, he will lead the country as Bhutan's king ends a century of dynastic rule that has been largely peaceful.

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is an attempt to define "quality of life" in more holistic and psychological terms than Gross National Product (see more explanation). The term was coined by King Wangchuck in 1972 in response to criticism that Bhutan's economy was growing poorly. It signaled his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values.

When an analyst on Bloomberg discusses on TV how investors are being attracted to GNH it's time to take it seriously, I guess (see report). That's what happened this morning, in between another bought of selling on Wall Street. Whether it's the yak-butter tea that Bhutan "calculators" serve or it's the zen-like atmosphere in the country something has persuaded some 300 American and European bankers and businessmen to make the grueling journey to Bhutan (which is smaller than Switzerland, with 180 broadband subscribers, and only five elevators). Bhutan's Royal Securities Exchange (with only a handful of traded companies) has a trading bell that only rings on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11 am--not quite like the New York Stock Exchange.

My favourite economic institution, the IMF, reported on this in concept an August 2005 IMF Survey (see reference). But the term still gets little or no mention official public documents (see latest Public Information Notice). However, the IMF reports that its "sister institution", the World Bank (regarded as more "touchy feely" and "people friendly") "aligned its 2005 Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) for the FY06/09 period aligns with Bhutan’s distinctive vision of Gross National Happiness and the priorities and goals of the 9th Five-Year Plan (9FYP)/PRSP. The 10th Plan will be cast in the same GNH framework (see IMF report).

This discovery of GNH is a refreshing revelation for an economist especially when you hear of Wall Street types who subscribe to this idea saying that they sometimes cannot do a deal because they know it's wrong. Where were these people during the subprime mortgage build-up?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The "Happening". What is life's meaning?

When I started my "conversation" on Skype with my friend in Vietnam this morning, I saw that she had shared with me yesterday some thoughts that helped make sense of the deep meaning of the teachings of Ramesh (see website, where the adage is "Consciousness is all there is"), regarding the meaning "the happening". She had just got back from a long day of "social mobilization" meetings, trying to solve problems about health insurance for the poor in a rural part of the country. In the taxi back home she had some awkward thoughts: that she would never actually see the inside of her own body; that none of what she is physically is known to her; that her body is there totally beyond her willingness and control. She reeled with the overwhelming understanding, then the next question came "What is the purpose?".

When I saw her comments, I made a chance remark that unearthed a wealth of peculiar things that she has done. It all started simply enough with my throw away remark about trying to fly my kite yesterday. She let loose that she loved flying kites too. If I had asked her the question "What did you want to be when you were young?" I would have been surprised to learn that she wanted to be a jet pilot. She did not make that level but is a qualified hot air balloon pilot, she told me. So when she expanded on her aerial adventures, my kite flying exploits were soon deflated. So what has she done?

Flying under a "Cody" kite [invented by Samuel Franklin Cody, a former cowboy and gold prospector, who made the first powered flight in Great Britain in his British Army aeroplane and invented his "man lifting system" about 100 years ago]; climbing up their ropes and doing aerial acrobatics ... in the deserts of Egypt

Hang gliding ... in Albania

Motorbiking ... in the hills of Vietnam

Creating a distance record ... flying in a small balloon

Deepest balloon flight ... in a cave in Borneo

First and probably only hot air balloon flight ... over the city of Istanbul (training the first two Turkish balloon pilots, who were jet pilots of the army), and not getting her balloon burst by the minaret spikes. The plan had been to cross the Bosphorus river but the wind was wrong so the balloon landed on a strip of 3 meters of sand, with the basket in the sand and the entire balloon in the Marmara sea.


As I tell her often, we all have great stories to tell. While in retrospect she and her ballooning companions were "scared to death" as they soared above the sights of Turkey's old capital the memory and they lived on.

She has lived beyond the limits of most people's consciousness, having exhilerating experiences, which individually are spectacular enough, but collectively, soar beyond many wild dreams.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter celebrations

I will not delve too far into the religious significance of Easter for most Christians, or into liturgical colours during the Lenten and Easter periods, but will touch very briefly on some aspects about traditions. Many Easter traditions are not based on religion but centre on the arrival of the Spring Equinox.

During this season, we in the Caribbean used to make a big thing of flying kites (another Chinese invention from about 3000 years ago). The reasons for doing so at this time of year are obscure; some say that it alludes to the risen Christ. However, it reaches fever pitch in some places and is a national event in Guyana, where there are great breezes near the sea wall in Georgetown. In Jamaica and Barbados there is still kite flying, and Barbados has a national contest on Easter Monday, but the pastime seems a lot less popular now than when I was a boy, though someone nearby has had a kite hoisted for days and it's been humming day and night. I rediscovered kiting myself, after 40 odd years, a few Sundays ago. None of the neighboring countries in South America and the Caribbean have similar mass kite flying. Kite flying is popular in a lot of countries around spring time, when weather conditions are most favourable.

In Jamaica, Easter is associated with bun and cheese eating (see report in Jamaica Observer); though nowadays eating bun and cheese has become a daily possibility. The "Easter Bun" is loaf sized, sweet and spicy. Good Friday is also a day for eating fish, in many forms, and in the Caribbean going to the beach on Easter Monday is very popular.

Maundy or Holy Thursday is special for its fulfillment of Christ's commandment at the Last Supper to love one another, before he washed the feet of his disciples, and foot washing services are an important part of the Easter season. Another tradition is that of the British monarch giving "Maundy money"--alms to a selected group of people. The tradition of the sovereign giving alms to "the poor" stretches back to at least the 12th Century. This year the Queen broke with tradition and attended an interdenominational service in Northern Ireland, giving "Maundy money" to selected community leaders. As reported by the Press Association, "Her gifts, in red and white purses with ribbons, were carried on a silver platter by the Queen's yeomen, who bore ceremonial swords and wore red uniforms, hats with ribbons and traditional oversized white collars."

The Times published an article by Joanna Sugden on March 20, entitled "Ten things you didn't know about Easter". For ease of access, I take the liberty of reprinting some of it below.

The origin of the word Easter: Eostre was a goddess associated with the Spring Equinox, her symbols were the hare and the egg. The modern word Easter developed from this and the Old English word Eastre meaning from the east.

Why the date of Easter changes every year: The date of Easter is a moveable feast because it follows the date of the Spring Equinox and the cycles of the moon. It was agreed by Egyptian astronomers in Alexandria in 235AD. They determined that Easter Day would always be the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. This is the way the Jewish people calculate the feast of Passover, during which the Crucifixion took place.

Why this Easter is particularly special: Easter Day this year is the earliest it has been since 1913 and will not fall as early for another 220 years. The earliest it can be is March 22.


Why not everyone celebrates Easter on the same date: The Eastern Orthodox Church have celebrated Easter on a different date from the rest of the Christian church since 1582 when the Gregorian calendar was introduced. The Orthodox Church, still following the Julian Calendar, will celebrate Easter on April 27 this year.

Why Good Friday is called 'good': Christians call the day Jesus was crucified "Good Friday" because they believe Christ's death saved them from being punished by God for their sins.

Why we have Easter Eggs: We eat 90 million of them every year but how did Easter Eggs come to be synonymous with Easter? The egg was a pagan symbol of fertility and new birth. When Christianity adopted theSpring Equinox celebration for the festival of Easter they also took on the egg as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. Some believe it also represents the stone rolled away from the tomb. The first Easter eggs were painted and decorated hen, duck or goose eggs. By the 17th century manufactured eggs were available to give as Easter presents. The eggs became more elaborate and by the 19th century Carl Faberge, French jeweller to the Tsar of Russia, had become the last word in Easter decadence. The first chocolate eggs were made in Germany and France in the early 1800s, a trend that quickly spread across Europe, first as solid chocolate then the modern hollow egg.

Why Hot Cross Buns are only eaten at Easter: A law in 16th-century England limited bakers to a certain number of occasions when they could make special doughs used in Hot Cross buns. Until recently they could only be bought on Good Friday. The rhyme “one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns” was based on the habit of selling them warm from baking.

The other symbols associated with Easter: The lily represents the resurrection of Jesus with the shell symbolizing the tomb and the flower the promise of life after death. Easter bonnets laden with flowers are worn to celebrate the end of a period of austerity during Lent.

Strange Easter traditions: In Medieval England the game of egg throwing was popular in churches at Easter. The choir would gather and the vicar would throw a hard- boiled egg among them. The egg was thrown around and the choirboy holding the egg when the church bell rang was the victor and got to keep the egg.

Modern Easter traditions - including modern day crucifixion: The Easter egg hunt on the south lawn of the White House began in 1878 by President Rutherford B. and Mrs. Hayes continues to this day. In the Philippines devout Catholics go to the extreme of re-enacting the Crucifixion, right down to the six inch nails used to nail Jesus to the cross. They flagellate themselves before some are raised on wooden crosses to show their penitence for their sins. In Britain more mundane activities have become a part of traditional Easter fare: We spend more on painting, decorating and garden equipment at Easter than at any other time of the year according to The Halifax.

I hope this helps you have a blessed and peaceful Easter weekend.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Telling it like it is. What smart looks like?

So, New York's new governor, David Paterson, has not been in office a full week yet, and already there are revelations about his private life. But, thankfully, I think, he is "coming clean" about extramarital affairs (see report), and not to be outdone his wife has similarly "confessed publicly" for having her bit on the side too during a very rocky period during their marriage. Now that is "standing by your man" I can understand (see New York Times report). Moreover, Mr. Paterson did his "thang" at a Days Inn (cheaper than The Mayflower, and very fiscally responsible--tick). One of the "several women" was a state employee at the time (not a good use of tax payers money--cross). Enough details for now.

My friend Brian and I had a long discussion the other evening about the newsworthiness of revelations about public figures. El Dorado had set the stage and then we were warding off dinner's post-parandial stupor, and this "match" was a draw in my books. He felt that the news could remain "unknown" if other major events were happening at the time. My view is that anything distasteful about, or showing in a bad light, a notable public figure will become big news sometime once it sees the light of day. It may not hit front pages and TV news immediately, but it will get there. In the extreme, after a lifetime of cover up, it may have to wait until the memoirs or biography, but when it comes out it will be a splash. The "damage" to the public figure may be less depending on when the news hits the public, but views of the person will always be changed afterwards. His descendants may have to shoulder the shame. "He seemed such a nice man. Who would have believed...?" comments may come out, of course. But you will go down as a fraud. Someone like Eliot Spitzer must get their comeuppance not least for having hogged the podium on the moral high ground. People can hardly wait to find out what a woman whose "services" cost $1,000 an hour did and for what the Governor paid to generate a $4,000 bill, and what else caused him to run up a tally near $80,000, if the figures are correct. We've seen the money, and we want the pictures, we want the tapes. Put them on YouTube!

I remain intrigued by how people in high office, especially those with seemingly hug intellects and great education, and surrounded by all the state can muster to find out information about citizens, seem to waltz around as if they don't inhabit the same world. Maybe that's it. They don't. They think they are untouchable because usually they are. But, people are fallible and cannot keep secrets for ever. Did the "love Gov" not consider blackmail? Did he not consider possible disasters, such as a fire in The Mayflower? Did he not think that there might be CCTV in the hotel? Did he have that sociopathic wish to be caught? Had he not heard about secret FBI wiretaps? Did he think he had no enemies who might want to expose him? For someone who made a political career on being ruthless against financial corruption what was he thinking? Mr. Spitzer had become increasingly public in blaming the Bush administration for the current financial and economic disaster in the US. If you go public with remarks about the President being the "predator lenders' partner in crime" don't you feel that you should be standing with your halo safely tucked into your top pocket? Was he thinking or being a "typical man" incapable of doing two things at the same time? Curiouser and curiouser. Time to take another glance at the looking glass.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The heights of stupidity?

A long time has passed since I first learned of FIFA's decision (June 2007) to "ban" high-altitude international matches. At a meeting in Zurich last Friday, soccer's governing body ratified a rule requiring players to acclimate for at least a week before international games above 2,750 metres (9,000 feet), and two weeks for matches higher than 3,000 metres (9,800 feet). While not a ban as such, the usual scheduling of international matches often means that the rule virtually bans games at those altitudes. FIFA said it was concerned about "negative health effects" on players unaccustomed to thin air. The issue affects particularly Bolivia (see picture of La Paz, nestling in the Andes),
and to highlight their plight, one-time Argentine star, Diego Maradona, played this weekend in a charity match (also to raise funds for victims of major flooding in Bolivia) against a team including Bolivia's President Evo Morales (see report, and picture of him playing in the mountains). Andean countries, particularly Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, will suffer from this decision.

While there is no doubt that playing sports at high altitude is a major challenge, I am no expert to say whether it really is a major health issue. I would think that health is also negatively affected by the way that Brazilians run rings around most other nations. Ban them practising their skills on the beaches? How about the toughness of European players? Ban nations from training and playing in harsh climatic conditions (Moscow in winter; England anytime; anywhere where temperatures are over 100 degrees fahrenheit)? Will the international tennis authorities find reason to reschedule the Australian Open because of the regular heatwaves? What about the way that those Scottish golfers who grew up in the bristling winds of Carnoustie can drive and putt better (really) than those patsies who grew up on the splendid calm of US courses in California? My money is still on Tiger Woods over Colin Montomery. Somehow, I feel that professional sportsmen and women know they have to adjust to climatic differences and do their best; in soccer moreso as you too get home advantage. Let's not even get into how much they are paid for doing so.

There is no evidence that altitude alone has determined the outcome of matches in favour of the home sides. South American soccer powerhouses, Argentina and Brazil, have made lots of noise about the "unfairness" of playing in places like La Paz (Bolivia) or Quito (Ecuador) or Cusco (Peru) in their regional tournaments. They want to win every time? In south and central America, Colombia (Bogota) and Mexico (Mexico City, Guadlajara, Toluca) have locations where they have played international matches that will be affected, too.

On the rarified air of discussion about altitude, other places where I have played soccer are not as high as FIFA's new limit but surely can cause problems. Most glaring are Addis Ababa (at 2,400 metres/8,000 feet); Mexico City (2,250metres/7,400 feet--just below the FIFA limit and having the added stress of one of the highest rates of pollution, where the sky is often yellow with sulphur); Denver (America's "mile high" city at 1,600 metres/5,280 feet); Lilongwe (1,000 metres/3,200 feet high, capital of Malawi in east Africa). The voices of these countires also have a little peep in FIFA. All I remember was that, with only a few days' preparation, the start of my match in Lilongwe was a personal hell as I gasped for air and tried to deal with the speed with which the ball flew through the air. We lost, but it was due to lack of skill; we had a similar result when on lower ground in Blantyre.

But the "negative health impact" of many local conditions could be considered. National teams have used many kinds of local advantage, thinking or knowing that the health of the visitors would be "negatively impacted" and so play poorly. Did the US not schedule a World Cup qualifying game against Jamaica outdoors in its far north in the height of winter? Does the US not schedule games in Denver (altitude and cold) and Detroit (very cold) in the height of winter? Foul! If you follow American football and NFL games, could you imagine the teams from Florida, California or Louisiana thinking that the Commissioner will take games away from Buffalo, Green Bay, New England. Cleveland? And these teams don't play in domes. Give me a break! The NFL have even decided that it's possible to use heating equipment (such as warmed benches). America's other sports love affair, baseball, always pits teams from the west (say California) against those from the east (say Pittsburg), and key World Series games are in September-October. What, the LA Dodgers are not going to play in Pittsburg? Put on your cleats; add an undershirt; slide on the gloves; put a hand warmer in your pocket. Get on with it! Not quite the same as altitude, but you get my point?

Imagine if you are from almost any but the largest Caribbean island and you are scheduled to play in the Maracana stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, which has a normal capacity of 205,000, of whom 155,000 can be seated. You're there in front of more people than live in your country, by a large margin. You think you can play? Let me tell you, when I played in front of 15,000 I trembled for the first 15 minutes, and I grew up in England and was used to seeing crowds as large as 100,000 at Wembley. Bad for my health? Sure.

Fortunately, other sports bodies seem saner and have not gone this same route, yet. We know there was a hulla-balloo about the Olympics in Mexico City, but given the way that the thin air also enhances speed and jumping performances none of the results and records are erased from the record books.

I must declare that I have little respect for FIFA as an administrative body for the sport. They have tolerated so many things that have destroyed the ability of players to play--for too long tolerating cynical foul play--and supported match officials who are good at imposing technicalities (imposing sanctions against "excessive celebrations"). They seem to have supported soccer's "big boys" for so long and the minnows have had to grope for recognition, such as the way they allocated slots for Africa for a long time. Now, Africa is recognized as the source of some of the best talent. OK. South Africa has the next World Cup, but really.

It's just over 20 years ago (1986) that the World Cup was played in Mexico, with the finals played in Mexico City's (high altitude) Azteca stadium. Maybe thinking on sport and health issues have evolved, but so too has player conditioning. I don't recall any matches played in that stadium during that tournament, including the final, where the altitude appeared to pose any health problems. The main problems were posed by Maradona and Argentina, and dare I say it by the match officials (individually and collectively) who helped create one of the most contentious on-pitch moments in World Cup history. They could not see that Maradona (165 cm/5 feet 5 inches) clearly punched the ball over England's goalkeeper, Shilton (185 cm/6 feet 1 inches)--to score the "hand of God" goal that gave Argentina the lead (see report), and helped them seal their win in the quaterfinal and then head to the final match. To this day, despite all the films and admissions by Maradona, I think FIFA has remained stuck in silence with very little criticism or complaint made against Tunisian referee (Ali Bin Nasser) or the Bulgarian linesman, Bogdan Dochev.

I guess that countries will have to abide by this piece of foolishness, but let's hope that Sepp Blatter and the rest of FIFA deal with the sport with a good dose of common sense, honesty and realism. I can hope?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Mistaken identity?

Since arriving in Barbados a year or so ago several people have come up to me and hailed me as a friend. Never one to willingly offend, I acknowledged the hail but quickly said that as I was newly arrived I thought that I was being mistaken for someone else. Well, that was all well and good as people said "You look just like X from St. John", or "You sure you not the twin brother of Y?"

Now things have taken a more serious turn. A man previously seen at one of my favourite Saturday hangouts, but unknown to me, whose name I will not mention--but will say only that he loves the "walkie talkie" parts of the pig in his souse, or a "balanced diet" of lean meat with some of the skin on, but not the snout and ears--told me something that shocked me to my own walkie talkies. He said that he had thought I was Police Commissioner Darwin Dottin! Why he changed his mind is not for this blog.

Now, those of you who say you are my friends will have to run to my defence. If this is true then I really need to tread more carefully on this little rock. This enforer of the law looks far better attired than I ever do in my "uniform" of polo shirt and shorts. But I must admit that there is a certain "gravitas" about the face of the Commissioner that I would like to feel that I have too.

So, all you criminals out there who have a grudge against the Commish, or those looking to show that they have no fear of lawmen, please ask for ID before you start beating either him or me over the head. My Dad used to be a police reservist in Jamaica, and I had his belt and whistle once, but no longer, so I cannot summon "back up" quickly. The little "Scandisk" chip in my mobile phone is the only source of back-up I have on my person usually. My head is tough from years of heading footballs but I feel could not withstand a blow from a 2-by-2. I drive a Suzuki sometimes but not one of those swish "Vitaras"; I have a more modest, if fast, model. But if you do feel the need to attack me, remember that I do not forget a face, so come masked.

I have never heard Commissioner Dottin speak but imagine--really hope--that he does not have either my impeccable English accent, or my occasional Jamaican patois. If I feel that this business is really a concern I will be looking for a T-shirt sporting "I am NOT Commissioner Dottin".

My informant is, I hope, the first and last person to make this mistake of identity.

Helping those "in need".

A good and trusted friend of mine is also a judge. I mentioned the other day that part of what he does is to correct other's parental mistakes. So I was not surprised to read in the Sunday Nation that he called this week for us all (civil society) to save "our young people" by "adopting those who need help." [The picture comes with a similar story in the Advocate.] 

Worthy words and asking for worthy deeds. It would have been a good challenge to start during Lent. I endorse the plea, but would add that those "who need help" are not just those young people who look or sound disadvantaged; they are a bigger group and it may be harder because of that to hear all the pleas. I have coached sports for a long time and been around those who do the same; one task that we often have thrust on us is "surrogate" parenting. In the solidly middle class part of the US where I lived, none of these children needed help in a financial sense, but they came with moral and other social needs that I thought I could address. I see similar needs around the tennis courts in Barbados. I see them in the parking lot of the "stoosh" [rich] private schools here. 

Many of us who are parents work hard to hone those simple actions and attitudes in our children that we feel will keep that out of trouble and make them good citizens: truthfulness, honesty, politeness, respect, kindness, gentleness, diligence, willingness, etc. Many parents--rich or poor, young or old,  single or couple--don't know these things themselves so cannot pass them on.

Justice Worrell, you have handed us a really hot stick. Thank you!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Getting to know yourself and losing fear of your own shadow.

Though I have tried hard, Barbados' "hair debate" keeps getting into my head. To me the discussion has nothing to do with culture, or ethnic roots. It has more to do with ability to think through issues and argue about things to see what is form and what is substance. Such a debate also highlights where some people are mentally and where they feel they want to go. Clearly in Barbados there are some who think that a man with cornrows looks outrageous, and to see such a man in a setting where the norm is different has made some very uneasy. There are others, who feel no such unease, or may even see the thing as a positive statement about substance over form. But the debate is really about where the limits of the society sit.

I thought about some speculation I read on another blog recently, about the Governor General sporting dreadlocks; the implication being that this would somehow be bad. I then thought about a range of high level international dignatories and how they presented themselves, and how their countries and the world responded. One of the aspects of the discussion in Barbados that I have enjoyed is how people put up an extreme or point further than the one we we began with and make that the point of comparison. The debate began about braided/plaited hair, but was quickly compared by the original author with women politicians baring their breasts in Parliament (extreme at the very least, in a society where women don't do this much anywhere). How on the mental map do you get those two connected? Braids and dreadlocks are not the same, but muddy the waters nicely. Moving on.

On that speculation about the GG, my mind quickly turned to Japan's recent primie minister, Junchiro Koizumi [pictured in his familiar zany sunglasses],
who was elected to that office in 2001 (aged 59, so no "young rebel"), and stayed till 2006, to become Japan's longest serving PM for 20 years. True, men with long straight hair for those whose hair is usually short and straight do not usually evoke the same sort of sense of outrage as braids or dreadlocks on men with usually tight curly hair. Though I also think that for a range of social and cultural reasons, black people outside of Africa see their hair as more of a social, cultural and political issue.

The BBC wrote about Mr. Koizumi in 2005:"With his flowing hair and striking looks, he was a far more colourful politician than the grey suits Japan's electorate was used to. [T]he public appeared to love Mr Koizumi's dashing maverick image. And the prime minister made the most of it, releasing a CD of his favourite Elvis songs and crooning with US movie idol Tom Cruise." In a nutshell, Japan, known for its very conservative tastes, and with its thousands of years of culture and history, took this "maverick" to heart, and he remained popular. A country humiliated in defeat in the Second World War, rose from the ground and became much stronger in many ways. Japan is still very traditional, now sits high on the list of economic and political powers, and has not fallen into the pit of outcasts after its dance with the "maverick". So what does that say?

Truth is many people who "make it" in public (political and corporate) life around the world take safe paths. Rocking the boat, knowingly or unwittingly is sometimes seen as a way to derail success--if you allow me to mix my metaphors; look at damage limitation in the current US presidential campaigns. A few others move along without too much concern about being anything but themselves, and the substance of what they do is all that matters. Look at Jesse Ventura, the bald-headed, former wrestler and actor, who became Governor of Minnesota, who was unexpectedly elected in 1998--beating Norm Coleman, who as you see standing by the US flag, was very much the norm. But Mr. Ventura went on to gain the highest approval rating of any governor in Minnesota history, with some polls ranking his public approval as high as 73 percent in 1999, and is remembered for his political ups and downs not just his acting and body slamming.

The debate is also a good platform for exposing notions about gender stereotypes: braids for girls alright, braids on boys are not. There is no absolute right or wrong but societies have their furrows (or cornrows) and when there is a movement out of them it's interesting to see who feels stressed and why. Notions of masculinity and feminity are deeply set in a lot of societies and when they are challenged it leads to interesting discussion. I was stunned this week when I was at my daughter's school, looking for a book, and was asked by the sales lady, did I want a "girl's" or "boy's" book. I asked what was the difference. She showed me one with cranes and tractors, for boys, and another with flowers, for girls. I think I lost consciousness then. Wonder why your country does not produce female engineers?

Being wedded to any set of notions makes it hard to move on and see alternatives. What some people love about societies that seem dynamic (and they need not be democracies) is their ability to generate and assimilate change. Japan and China were long criticized for their insularity and social rigidities, and have needed to move out of those ruts to make it in the modern world. The Soviet Union sought to stiffle certains kinds of political change, but after nearly 50 years found it could not hold the limits, and the walls (literally in Berlin) came tumbling down. The USA and many western European countries are often admired for their apparent readiness to accept innovation, and with that goes a certain wider range of tolerance. The Muslim world is now under a barrage of criticism for its seeming narrow-mindeness on a range of social issues and lack of tolerance of other religions. And so on.

To move ahead you have to think the unthinkable and start to do the previously undoable. "To boldly go where no one has gone before", to use that well-known clip from Star Trek. A catholic as president of the USA? A black man as president of the USA? A woman as president of the USA? An openly homosexual man as one of the most powerful politicians in the USA [Barney Franks]? The end to the slave trade? A colony given independence to run itself? And so on. Look around the world and you will see many examples and the countries concerned have not sunk into some pit of international outrage. (Mind you, many Britons argue that their power has waned since the let go of the Empire.)

Women have risen to the top in politics where the norms were very much against such a thing (India, Pakistan), and few would think the countries were kicked off the world map, or thought ridiculous, for that. Once disadvantaged people have become those with advantages (e.g., offsprings of former black slaves being CEOs of major "white"/international corporations). Some of America's internationally-renowned corporations continue to do well and even better under black leadership. Merrill Lynch did alright under its CEO, Stan O'Neal, who departed in late 2007 (pictured, clean shaven). American Express-Time Warner went from strength to strength under the leadership of its black Chairman/CEO, Richard Parsons (pictured here, with beard). Many countries and organizations have moved the position of the acceptable, and included those who were for so long the excluded and done very well, thank you.

People in some small countries, such as Barbados, seem to worry a lot about what the rest of the world might think of them but often seem to forget that they are so small that most people neither know or care. If you are going to make a mark in the world it won't be from staying the same or not standing out in the crowd--why do you think that Rihanna has made a success? By being just like the next singer? If you are frightened to be seen as different you won't change yourself or much of anything. In that sense it's important to know yourself and to not keep being frightened by your own shadow.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What's Eliot Spitzer going to do for us?

It's not just comedians such as David Letterman, Jay Leno and Chris Rock who will make someone new the butt of their jokes as they get a batch of fresh material coming from the rapid fall from pub[l]ic office of New York Governor, Eliot Spitzer, who resigned yesterday in the midst of allegations that he was involved in a prostitution ring. A fall that may be heavier and further because of the moral high ground that he had staked out attacking corruption and all kinds of malfeasance. He has put new meaning to the phrase "cut and thrust of politics".

So, as the bottom falls out of the ex-Governor's world, the fallout now unveils a new star, who says she wanted to make music her career: a young lady named "Kristen" (a.k.a. Ashley Alexandre Dupre). Her details (and I am sure those of her other "clients") will quickly find their way from the bedspread to the newpapers' centrefold sheets and course their way to the Internet (see link). She was the singer in a band named Amie [French for female friend, if you are not aware] Street at Bed Supperclub (no kidding), in Bangkok, Thailand (how did that city get that name?).

Some upstrokes. New York now has its first black Governor, David Paterson, and the US has its first blind Governor (see Times report). Sorry Obama, your historic place is still there but ...

The downstrokes may include money laundering charges awaiting Mr. Spitzer. He had ambitions of making it to the big house, you know the White one. Chances now? Nil? A legal big wig chirped to me yesterday that at least Bill Clinton waited until he became president.

Does this have any impact on the US presidential elections? Former (1994) Democratic vice presidential nominee, Ms. Geraldine Ferraro, tried clerverly to deflect attention with her "racially divisive" remarks about Mr. Obama and then smartly stepping down from her position on Hillary Clinton's finance committee (see report). I noted yesterday to a friend that the Spitzer affair could pose questions about Mrs. Clinton's endorsements--Mr. Spitzer was a supporter of Mrs. Clinton and a super delegate. Lo and behold one English paper has latched onto part of that (see Times report). Mr. Spitzer had said that the would-be-president was someone who had "proven herself time and again".

America's political culture is puritan, and sex sins are rarely forgiven and never forgotten. David Letterman tried to make it easier by saying "I thought Bill Clinton legalised this years ago." Some other commentators are comparing pictures of Mr. Spitzer's wife (indeed a sad-looking woman) standing by her man with those of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton in similar circumstances-- presumably one of those moments when she proved herself "time and again". Provokingly, the Times notes that Mr. Spitzer refused to campaign for Mrs. Clinton in Ohio last week because he was too busy. Doing what, exactly? the newspaper chips. Speculating that he was playing hooky or was it hooker? Naughty, Times. Funny peculiar, though is that US politicians are rarely drummed out of office for sexual misconduct, but on some other charge that comes associated with that. In the Caribbean for sure, we tend to leave the sexual conduct of politicians as their private business, even looking askance if the man is not involved with at least one outside relationship and set of children.

I have never gone deeply into politics but am always astonished that those men on the top keep getting caught literally with their pants down by a machinery and equipment that they should understand fully. Wire taps? Closed circuit videos. When this happens in Liberia, with its totally invisible infrastructure, you can understand, but in the US? Are all the politicians really inane if they are not supported by their good briefs? How does a former state attorney general and now governor or president not know that they are surrounded by or followed by a raft of sophisticated surveillance? They get into such simple problems and do such crass things. Playing shell games with money. Trysts in hotel rooms. Consorting in public toilets. What the ****. Did Mr. Spitzer really sneak away from his security detail in Washington DC's Mayflower Hotel on the night of February 13 to meet his calling? Duh! I said to a legal friend yesterday that the minute more than two people are involved in something illegal or undesirable then that's the moment from when one of them is doomed.

The number 9 has many supposed properties, mathematical and spiritual, though not as significant as 3, 6, or 7. It will be interesting to see who wants to emulate Mr. Spitzer. The number 9 shirt used to be the one worn by the main scorer in a soccer team. Will Ronaldo or Eto'o ask for their numbers to be changed this weekend? The American professional baseball season is about to start and the numbers on players's shirts are not so restricted as in soccer. But I noted that the Yankees active roster does not have the number 9 allocated, nor do they allocate the number 69 (see link). Will the street traders in New York City have a field day selling jerseys with 9 and/or 69 and the name Spitzer on them? Quick! Go print up some shirts. Billy Crystal, reported by the Yankees website as a "hardcore Yankees fan" (I'd ask for that to be explained), is due to make a celebrity appearance for "The Pinstripes". Oh, oh. The fun is only just starting.

Comments on this post will only be accepted if they are in the same vein.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fire...Redux

You read in the preceding post what the mother was going through when the bush fire seemed ready to engulf her house at the weekend. We often forget that children don't always scream when they have fear but become foetal. Read how the "Big Pickney" saw and responded to the events, in a letter she wrote last night to a friend in Jamaica. It is as it was dictated, no editing.

******

Dear L,

There was a fire at my house today! We were all very scared. It started way out in the bush and it worked its way up to our garden. I think I was scared the most! Mom made us go to the neighbours house, just Eva and I. The fire truck took forever to come! Mum and Dad and everyone in the neighborhood called and called the firemen. They said that the truck was here, but turns out they were fighting the fire on the other side, in a cane field, far away. We couldn't even see it! That's how big the fire was! Meanwhile, I was holding myself, rocking back and forth and I could hear my heart beating loudly! I pushed little bits of furniture deeper into the house so that the fire could not get them. The path it left was black, black as soot. Well it is soot. Mum said that the ashes were fertilizer for the plants. I was thinking, "What plants?" I thought we were all going to die. But it turns out I was wrong. I wanted to jump into the pool but Mum said no, because the smoke would probably kill me before the fire!

Other than that I am having a great time in Barbados. I am making more new friends everyday. We went to a place called Ocean Park. We got to go there because my little sister got 18 out of 18 on her spelling test! Ocean Park has lots of neat marine animals like sharks, sting rays, star fish, little silver fish that swim in schools, horse shoe crabs, clown fish, the fish that Dory was and the great barracuda! I heard Mum ate a barracuda once, when it was poisonous of course. She thought it was a kingfish! But she was wrong and so was the lady who was selling it. The lady said " me give it to me dawg and it dropp dead! My Mum had to be taken to the hospital! Let this be a lesson to you all! Never eat kingfish or barracuda, that's what I say.

See you next time we write. Bye.


Love E

******

Fire! Fire! Pour on water.

A dear Jamaican friend, S, had a close enough encounter with nature this weekend. After a few days she was able to collect her thoughts and recollect her experience.

******

I want my typical Sunday morning, with usual lazy beginning. The house is quiet, nestled on its little hill with a view of the south coast. Everyone is sleeping an extra two hours. Then the start. A big Jamaican breakfast, full of cholesterol, fried fish an'. Cho' No bammi here. This is Bim, so not so typical Sunday morning.

Already the focus is on other things. I have a book to read for my club this week and I must finish it quickly. Ah. Some peace. Husband wanders past the bedroom window. "Lawd!" he shrieks. I blink. He's not usually the one to remind us it's time for church. "Look! The bush is on fire! Girls, girls come look ah dis, it's a bush fire!" Where is the camera when you need it?

But children, focused on Tweetie and Sylvester, can muster only "Hey, neat Dad". Back to zombie training for them.

A full 20 minutes later the fire is still raging. Husband is sharp--many degrees. "Ah, Honey, this maybe serious. Come take a look." Yessirreee, the fire was spreading, the wind was high and it was coming our way. I called the
fire brigade, and Husband pulled on some long pants and sneakers and rushed out to get a better feel for what's going on.

The very nice gentleman at the fire station assures me that there is already an "appliance" at the scene. What is that? A dish washer? A twin tub washing machine? Something full of water? I look and I can't see anything and I certainly don't hear anything but the crackling of fire. I look through the window again and see Husband doing more exercise than he has tried for years: he's running toward the house. I'm not panicking. BUT THIS MAY BE MAJOR. I call the nice people at the fire station again. I get that Bajan response that I don't understand, "Yes, please" and more of the same ... appliance there already. My reaction is the same as before. WHERE IS THE FIRE ENGINE?

What to do next? We're new here. Perhaps the procedures are different. Maybe my friends over by Pine Gardens will know what to do. I call "The Blogger". Voice message. What's he doing? He always has his phone. I call his wife. Nothing. Blast! She must be at church. "Please pray for me" I beg in my mind. The fire is getting closer and the crackling sound of burning bushes is louder. Is it getting hotter or is it the sound that makes it feels hotter? If I can only get someone on the phone, I am sure they will hear the sound of the fire and know that this is really happening.

I finally pull on some proper clothes. Why didn't I listen to what my mother told me and "sleep in decent clothes, because fire might bruk out inna de night an you haffe run outta de house"?

Downstairs the smoke is billowing and it and soot are coming though the windows and doors. I called to the helper "Come up here now, please". Polite but urgent. She gets it. Something is not right. Kids and helper come running. Calm disappears as the helper yelps "Lawd Jesas Chryse! Ah wha dis pan mi inna Bahbadas? Me neva see dis yet, lawd Jesas."

I am Ice Baby now. "Okay, M. Calm down and help me get the furniture off the patio and into the house."

Big pickney: "Mommy should we jump into the pool?"
Ice Baby: "No E. Not now."
Big pickney: "When Mom? The fire's close!"

Confusion is rising and we hurriedly pull sofas, tables, and lamps too, into the house, the kids are like red ants running around our feet and getting in the way.

"Where is mi husban'?" I scream in my head. Depsperately, I call friends in St. James, far away, but so what. Can't get them. Church again. I try "The Blogger" and his wife again. Nothing but that very annoying American lady telling me to leave a message.

Our neighbour is banging on the door. First time. She comes in. No introductions. Hurries past me with a "Are you guys alright?" and out to the patio and starts pulling in furniture. Thank God for a worker bee. Maybe she can organize this crowd, I think. "You should pull in the carpets too, those will ignite the fastest" she advised, helpfully. Big pickney starts coughing; neighbour offers to take her and her little sister to her house across the road.

I see Husband now, outside. He has the garden hose pointed at the roof, but the trickle coming out of it is something I have seen somewhere before, can't remember where, but I'm sure it is from an animated classic.

At last the fire truck comes past the house. I wish I could say "raced by" but nope. I go out to speak with them. I meet Mr. Trotman. He is the surveyor. He says he was summoned from church and they had been fighting the fire across the way in a cane field since 9 o'clock. It's now around 11. He assures us this is not serious and gives us some gardening tips for keeping the fire away next time around. In mid sentence he excuses himself and hastens towards the firetruck and the firemen. "Riley, be careful, there is cowitch over there!" Riley walks back towards Trotman."Cowitch? Which direction?" I get the sense this whole operation is at risk. Anyway the fire behind our house has been extinguished. It probably took out most of the cowitch too, so that's a good thing.

Husband summarizes with cold intellectual clarity, "Good thing this happened so early in the dry season, now there's not much to fuel future fires." Thank you, dear.

"The Blogger" finally calls back. I'm not in Hell.


******

Monday, March 10, 2008

What kind of mad person sprays a child with a car wash power hose?

Many people will have seen the video of a mother "disciplining" her three year old daughter by turning a car wash power hose on the child. [I won't put the video on the blog but click on the link to see it.] The mother is now due to be charged with child abuse.

I love my children, but I know that they will do things that at best are frustrating to adults and at worst will make an adult angry. But it has to be the rule that you exercise restraint with a child.

Here I am with my computer at home. Three days ago I was trying to install software I had just received. I slotted the CD into the CD drive. "Grrrnnnnnkkkkk.....dggggnnnnkkk." That is not a good sound. I tried to eject the CD, and thankfully out it came. I tried again with the second CD of the set. "Grrrnnnnnkkkkk.....dggggnnnnkkk. Gnnkaakkxxxkkkk" I got the second time. Hmm. This sounds serious. So, I try to eject again, and again it works, but I get a bonus. My PC has been moonlighting in Las Vegas and out popped small winnings in the form of a Bajan 10 cent coin. I now understood the "tummy ache" little iMac was having. One more try with the CD. Again that grating sound. I think that there are more winnings to come.

Ever the one to let a person have their day in court I asked my daughter if she had put anything into the computer. "No, Daddy" she said. Always believe your child. But I asked again. "Do you know anyone who might have put something in the computer?" She paused. "Yes. Skitter." I tried to hold the smile that was as big as the Cheshire cat's grin. "Oh, really? He's a clever cat if he can use his paws that way" I eventually said. So, I let the matter (and the pennies) drop.

The next day, after court had had a good recess I went back to cross-examination. "Listen, Chippy. Nothing will happen if you tell me it was you who put something in the computer. I just need to know what it is and how much is in the machine." I sensed that the prospects of years of hard labour eating licorice ice cream that had terrified my daughter were dissolving and her fears were gone. "It was me, but it was just one coin" she assured me.

Fast forward to today. I called Apple and discussed the problem with a technician and then tried to re-insert a CD while we were still in conversation. The CD just went half way in. Not good, I thought. A little push, not too hard. No joy. "Listen," I said to him, "I think there's something else in the drive." We agreed I would find a local repairer and see if we could get the object out.

But as I say often, every problem is a challenge. So, I turned the machine on its side {iMacs are cool as they are one piece--screen and hard drive all in one], and in a jiffy out rolled the rest of the Las Vegas "posse", this time 25 cents. I tried to insert the CD again, and within seconds the program started to install, and during the writing of this post the installation was complete. I just ejected the CD, smoothly. No need for computer Bisodol.

So, what should I do to teach my child a good lesson? I will not be getting a hose and pinning her to the wall with it. I will give her a hug, show her what I found and tell her that she has to just be honest and deal with the conseuences. For her, what was the problem? Daddy puts a round object into the slot and we see movies and play games on the computer. So, if I put a smaller round object in, one that is child sized, what will I see? Certain not Daddy in a rage.

The Life of Brian and another first for Barbados.

I have been making a plea to a friend, whom I shall call "Brian", so far in vain, that he should not add another car to Barbados' roads. Now I have more information that will perhaps convince him of the right thing to do.

Yes, Barbados gained the highest mark (29th) in the Caribbean and Latin America in the World Economic Forum's 2008 annual assessment of Travel and Tourism. Mauritius was 41st and our nearest regional rival, Costa Rica, was 44th. Switzerland, Austria and Germany were, respectively, 1st through 3rd; all are very rich countries with well-developed infrastructure to support travel (roads, trains, buses, trams) and have well-developed travel businesses based around winter sports but also general visitor arrivals for historical, social, business, and cultural events. These countries offer more than sun, sea and sex.

However, the Nation reports that an Economist Intelligence Unit study shows Barbados with another regional first. [In passing, if you search the newspaper's archives with the actual title of the story you get no result! I had to find it on Google.] The country ranks in the top 10 for accident victims per head of population, at 763 victims for every 100,000 people. Barbados is 8th, ahead of the US, Japan, Canada and several other major industrial countries; in the region, Costa Rica was above Barbados. Barbados is reported to have about 305 cars per 1,000 habitants--that's 33rd in the world. The list is led by New Zealand (619 cars/1,000 people), with Ethiopia laast (1 car/1,000). The US was 11th (468 cars/1,000). Buses, vans and trucks are not included. Barbados is also reported amongst the places with the densest road networks, ranked 6th in the world, with nearly 63 vehicles/kilometer of roads.

Those of us living in small rock of an island sense this high density and it's good to now have some figures that support the feeling. Here, I come to "The life of (my friend) Brian". My friend has been living on the island just two months. He lives 2 minutes from his office by car, and 25 minutes away if walking (which is downhill to the office, but of course, uphill going home). He has pleaded and convinced himself that he needs a car to be "independent"; he has scouted out a small vehicle and is close to settling on a deal. His wife has a car to take the children around during the day and to run those errands that help the family stay well-fed and healthy. He currently gets a ride to work occasionally. Sometimes he walks, but complains that with the heat in Barbados, he can't do this every day. (He's a Caribbean man but one blessed with a life in well-conditioned air.)

I suggested that he use a bicycle. To this he has responded: "You may not know how bad people smell when they arrive at work all sweaty from walking [running, biking, skateboarding] to work and not taking a shower." I take his point. I know how my home office starts to smell soon after I have come back from tennis in the mornings, and try to get maximum breeze through there all day. So, Brian, I "feel your pain" on that aspect. He admits readily that the walking or biking would be good exercise, and he presently does nothing active, except to strength his arms as we share El Dorado.

He's lived in England like me. So I said, "Look, when I lived in London I walked to and from the train station from/to my house every day (15 minutes each way) and from/to the station to/from the bank (15-20 minutes each way)." [Look at a UK campaign to expand this.] He paused then replied "But in England it never gets hot like here and not for very long." Ah, that old chestnut. But, my friend, you know all too well that in England, it rains a lot and snows occasionally and when it is hot it is often humid and sticky. Well, he then mentioned the need for walking shoes. Again, mon ami, the women walkers in the US have made a sport of walking shoes (sneakers) for the journey to/from work and the swish work shoes in the office. I could mention that in the UK there are earthquakes, tornados, floods; terrorists; other impediments to walking or biking.

He thinks he has made a number of compromises already; he has relaxed his "suit and tie" uniform. "I sometimes wear 'Dockers'" he said proudly. Hey! The man is radical! I even offered to "lease" my car to him (though I never mentioned payment--he could handle the running costs); I need it mainly to do afternoon school pick up and a few other errands during the day. I could manage to coordinate with other parents on school pick up and by coordination with my wife most of the other errands could get done using her car. But I have to accept that he wants to have his car.

I think I may lose this fish, but I am still trying to hook him. We have been brought up for a long time during the latter part of the 20th century to expect the private car to be there, and it is many things, including a very significant status symbol. We work our money and one of the things on which we like to spend is a vehicle. Need is rarely that strong a justification.

My view of Brian's life in Barbados is that he will add to the nation's statistics: he has already had his accident (though it was very recent and not in the statistics reported above, I imagine). He will probably add to the cars per 1,000 people figure.

We in the Caribbean region, and worldwide, have a challenge in weaning ourselves off the private car. We have worked hard to develop our economies and societies and one of the accepted modern rewards of wealth is the car. (It used to be a good horse, then a carriage, so we are moving along a well-established curve.) I mentioned once to someone here how the Dutch (for years) and the French (more recently with self-service bikes) have worked hard to promote use of bicycles; priority lanes, etc. The recently introduced bike-sharing programs that have worked well in Paris are reported to be headed to the US and to London. "Man, people in Barbados don' wan' hear 'bout dat. Dey wan' deh car" was the response I got when I suggested that thought be given to such ideas. I can understand the fears of cycling on narrow roads, especially with drivers who have very little experience with cyclists.

I can understand the "cry for freedom" that is customarily satisfied by having a car: sometimes long waits at bus stops and train stations, and or/cancellations have been a part of my life in different large cities. But I also know that most New Yorkers do not own or drive a car. For the longest time most Europeans who could afford a car never saw the need for two. Good public transport is a great help, plus the other supports for those who want to walk or ride a two-wheeled machine. Yet, believe we need to learn to do more with less. It's a sacrifice, for sure. There is a lot of logical sense in not wanting to be the first to sacrifice. But we need to do some serious thinking about the consequences of "life as usual".

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Dignity

People who associate with me know or get a good sense that certain things rankle me. One of those things is when people start to become disparaging about other individuals [to depreciate by indirect means (as invidious comparison); speak slightingly about], usually when they are not present. which to me starts to diminish the person(s) being discussed, and ultimately takes away some of their dignity. Maybe I'm the only one that sees it this way.

Dignity is defined as "the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed"; it also refers to high rank, office or position. I'm not so concerned about that because that is something given. I'll give some examples from personal experience about the first definition, and I'll note upfront that it may be easy to offend in terms of taking away dignity, and I will admit that I may be guilty too.

My father, who suffered a stroke, previously fit and able and active, now has to deal with not being able to walk easily, can't do much exercise himself, and needs help with a lot of personal functions such as going to the bathroom. He never complains about being limited but he loses some dignity in the eyes of people because someone has to help him urinate and manage his bowel movements. (This is a family blog, so I try to be careful with expressions.) Therapists and I have tried to work with him over the past year or so to give him back some of his independence and that should help him regain some of his dignity. For the time being, he can't walk for miles (a tour around the house is like a marathon) or just jump up and dig yams or pick oranges. His appetite is good, though, and he can be proud that he is able to feed himself and, bit by bit, is getting himself mobile again. His brain functions very well and he can still express himself as clearly as almost anyone.

Disabled people (or "challenged" as now seems politically correct) often suffer indignities that may not be apparent; the blind person being helped to cross the road may not appreciate the help if unsolicited. I remember once in Germany taking the hand of a blind lady when the traffic lights changed [when it's safe to walk there is a high pitched signal]. She hit out at me with her cane and said "Listen, whoever you are! I don't need your help. Once I hear the signal I know I can cross, and I know where I'm going." Ouch! I thought I was being helpful, but she did not need to feel "pitied" or whatever was offending her. Being helped was undignified.

Black people being given jobs because of quotas instead of on clear merit may feel undignified because there will always be speculation about whether they deserved what they got. If you got your job normally but are the only black person in an organization, questions about "How did you get to work here?" can sting when you know you were at, or near, the top of your class. Or, because of our different physical characteristics, we may be mocked. Again, once in Germany, I sat on a park bench with my then brother-in-law, who is white, and lived and worked there. Two elderly ladies started to eye me. Then chattered in German (which I spoke badly then and even worse now). My bro' started to giggle madly. Then one of the women reached out toward me and before the panic could hit me, touched my hair. I recoiled. "Entschuldigung" [meaning "Sorry"], she said and then proceeded to explain that she had never touched a black man's hair wanted to know how it felt. Was I offended? No. Confused, yes. Did I feel undignified? No? Did I feel dignified? Yes, in part. (She felt that I was noteworthy rather than to be shunned for my colour or for being a foreigner.) I always ponder what would have happened if she had said to herself, "I've never had sex with a black man...".

My little daughter often puts on a face that shows she's offended. When I ask her what's the matter, after a little pouting she says "The children at school say that I'm [fat, ugly, black, have bad braids, suck my thumb, can't spell]." I pause and look her in the eye, then reply "But you know that those things are not true or [that you really are beautiful]." She sniffs. "I know, but they still hurt my feelings." So, damage done, and someone has to repair that. Teacher may not be aware. She has not run around crying in front of the class. But she did not feel good and this was no simple tummy ache which medicine could ease. How long will the child go on feeling bad about herself? That depends. We as parents have to do all we can to bolster her self-image not least to ward against the negative images that others will try to paint on her. Oh, and as she will grow into a black woman we know that the world out there could be very uncomfortable for her.

A work associate has his or her personal foible [a minor flaw or shortcoming in character or behavior] discussed by other colleagues, none of whom have asked the person being discussed anything about this foible. The conversation suggests that the colleagues "see" or "find" some problem with this foible, and may even start to make judgements and assertions about other aspects of the person's character. To me, this is not innocent banter. The conversation is not neutral; some prejudice is "at work" (or "in play"). Something bothers the people having the discussion, but they have not "done the dignified thing" of getting the matter out in the open with the person concerned. They may even say "Well, he (she) might be offended by the question." I would say people, if you think that then surely you have to figure out what will cause the offence, and pose the question as delicately as you can. Talking about the person "behind their back" in non-complimentary manner or making negative speculation about that person diminishes their dignity. If one of the people in the discussion is the manager does this make this speculation worse?

Going beyond personal experiences, look at recent events. One interesting, and perhaps complicated, instance is (black male) American presidential candidate Barack Obama's (white female) Irish aide, Samantha Power, calling (white female) American opposing presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham-Clinton "a monster" in an off-the-record newspaper interview (see Washington Post report). Ms. Power said her remarks were "inexcusable" and resigned almost as soon as they were published. She is also reported to have said "We f***** up in Ohio," [I presume the "f*****" is that well-known expletive deleted, but that's how it's reported. It could be "fouled" I guess, but probably not as it was deleted.] "Monster was inexcusable? But "f*****" is excusable? Ok. Ms. Power said several undignified things. She acted with dignity by resigning immediately. Ms. Rodham-Clinton's dignity was tarnished. Mr. Obama's dignity? Perhaps enhanced by not condemning Ms. Power and by not condoning her remarks. The journalist who quoted the off-the-record remarks? Undignified in my book: off-the-record should mean protecting the source. (But see a New York Times journalist's (Ms. Maureen Dowd) take on the Obama-Clinton oppostion getting heated up.) Is there dignity in politics?

Dignity is a two-way street and, I think, part of a virtuous spiral (say "feeling good") or part of a downward spiral ("feeling bad"). If we behave with dignity, we are dignified, we can feel good ourselves and the other person(s) should feel good too.

If we behave in an undignified manner we will be undignified; we diminish someone else and we should feel worse about ourselves. Look at three images of that great basketball player, Dennis Rodman, pictured here in some public off-court charity activity to promote rights for short people, doing his "thang" on the basketball court, and in some comfortable off-court leisure wear, and ask yourself some questions about his acting with dignity or if he is treating others with dignity. Your call. Don't duck it and hope for a jump ball.







We don't have to go to the extremes of abuse in our words or actions to become undignified or make someone else undignified. I don't know if it balances out. It can obviously ebb and flow. If you have taken it away can you get it back?