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**

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Can Bajans Become Bounty Hunters?

Without making light of the efforts of the local police, people are asking how is it that reward money can be put up so quickly, and it seems effectively, to help solve an attack on a Canadian tourist. Some have pointed a finger that shelling out money to those who provide 'useful information' leading to an arrest did not seem to be forthcoming in the case of former Chief Immigration Officer Kenrick Hutson, who was shot dead while sitting on his patio on the night of December 28, 2007 (see David "Joey" Harper's comments in the Advocate on March 28, 2009). Mr. Harper wrote "I am concerned that this man – whose only crime was to sit in the comfort of his patio – that his life was not worth a twenty thousand dollar reward for the apprehension of his killer." My recollection, however, is that a reward was in fact offered by the Hutson family and police (B$ 5000) soon after the crime, but it seems that this did not tempt anyone with knowledge of the crime to share that for a bounty (see report). Is part of the explanation that economic times are harder now or the larger inducement (B$ 20,000) sufficient to get someone to come forward?

Judging by early reactions to the recent introduction of Crime Stoppers to Barbados, local people are very concerned that their anonymity will be compromised if they come forward to give tips about crimes.

However, bounty hunting is not working universally. Barbadians are now on the trail of other villains, but at a real snail's pace. Giant African snails have a price on their heads, albeit a mere 50 cents a pound. Last week, the Ministry of Agriculture began a one-off bounty programme in an effort to collect and burn the varmints. But, so far, according to Minsiter Haynesley Been, the take up has been limited and the bounty will be extended. In fact at an exercise mounted at the weekend, only Ministry of Agriculture officials crawled out of their shells to participate in a 'community snail hunt and burning'. The Minister is calling for better coordination. While it may be that few are interested in overcoming their fears and squeamishness about the snails and getting down to some sliming, one has to wonder if the price is right. People may grumble about the destruction caused by the chomping snails, but until real food is seen to be eaten by the snails, I suspect most people will remain typically 'all talk and little action'. Where have I heard that before?

But perhaps the crucial incentive is just around the comment. Already, I see a comment that "It is not good for the tourism industry because some snails are already on some hotel compounds". Please don't let it be that the snails are only a threat when tourists are at risk. But shouldn't the hotels be figuring out how to get them from the lawns onto the visitors' plates. "Escargots, monsieur?"

Meanwhile, locals keep doing what they were encouraged to and go snail baiting. But, bait is not the best way, because when they die this way adult snails can each eject up to 1200 eggs (see Advocate report). The empty shells left behind by poisoning could also then pose another problem as they collected rain water and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Will we ever win the fight against slime?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Economists Do Speak Out In Barbados...But They Are Often Foreigners

No sooner had I written the preceding post, than I received an update from Google about a presentation given in Barbados last week by noted Harvard economist Dani Rodrik (see his blog). I had heard about his presentation from an acquaintance last week, the day after it was given under the auspices of the American Embassy and UWI's SALISES (Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies).

I wont precis the presentation except to say that it covers financial globalisation and economic development.

Happy reading.

Afraid To Speak Your Mind?

I went to university to read law, and stayed at law school a whole day. I turned to economics instead. The first job I was offered after graduation was to work for a major UK bank (Lloyds) either in international banking or domestic branch banking. At that moment, when I visualised myself as a black branch manager, several years down the road, in some leafy suburb like Chalfont St. Giles, deciding on the financial fate of my largely white clients, I somehow did not see something congruous. I declined the offers politely and decided to think more, while doing some post-graduate work.

I have since seen lawyers and bankers as amongst the most reviled professions in the minds of many people; economists often rank up there amongst the largely irrelevant and confusing, or harbingers of gloom and doom and therefore not to be counted as friends.

Nevertheless, most economists, who are often mainly academics, often have a lot of self respect, have a lot to say, and take each other to task with glee. They do this in a manner that most of the world cannot fathom, dressing arguments in equations and language that defies understanding unless one has university level mathematics and a command of language that is close to that of a great scholar. As part of the genus, economist, those comments are not to inflate myself into something wonderful, though I may be for other reasons.

When economists savage each other it is a feast of data and proofs and rebuttals and counterarguments; not that different from attorneys battering each other in court. Most people, however, never get to see or hear such arguments. In recent times, many prominent economists have come to public notice because of their exaggerated and strident claims or their close association with a political party and its leanings. Ranking up their on my rancour scale are the Americans Jeffrey Sachs and Joe Stiglitz. Many of my former economist colleagues are now talking heads and I see them as officials at the Bank of England or IMF, or as top 'strategists' for major international banks and they are often revelling in differences of views.

Personal feelings aside, what is good about these disagreements is that they have moved from the pages of arcane and obscure economic journals. They now feature prominently in the media: printed pages and now online publications and TV and radio are riddled with economists' railings and unravelling of each other's arguments. Among the more prominent in this field are Nobel Laureate, Paul Krugman, who is having a vigorous public debate as a liberal arguing with the policies of his own liberal-leaning president. It's great reading his columns and blogs in the New York Times.

The public visceral dislike for bankers has been apparent over the past year, as real economic problems mixed with financial market problems have put dodgy banking practices full-square in people's eyesight. Bankers were not left to hold all the hot coals as other financial companies' activities also raised questions about the quality of risk-taking and risk assessment. The recent hate spree against AIG is really a natural culmination of those feelings. The planned demonstrations in London for the coming meetings of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors is also a natural extension of such feelings, though there is a lot of bare piggybacking going on as anarchists etc look for a good fight.

That said, several things strike me about discussions in Barbados on major financial issues. The first is that the general free and relatively vigorous debates that I have seen and heard in the US and UK media, particularly, have barely any parallels here, where I would almost have to conclude that most of the experts are mute. They have certainly made themselves moot. I have mentioned before this surprising lack of visible input on such issues by well-known local academic economists, and heard explanations that touch on fear of reprisals, small country, etc. I'd like to buy it but I wont. I have filled some of that space myself because I feel that I can stand up for my opinions and am not especially fearful of reprisals, which if they ever became personal would have to be dealt with in that context. As some UK bankers were warning this morning, many are/were good athletes and pugilist or at least are not fearful of getting into a dust up. Given that I played sport against a lot of bankers while I worked in The City, I can attest to the ability of many bankers to handle themselves well in a fight, on or off the pitch.

The second is that discussions quickly descend into personal attacks. That is something to which I am not accustomed, but I am growing aware of it. It's somewhat like fights between children, where there is a lot of baiting and name calling and the real basis for the argument is quickly forgotten.

So, it's interesting to read today some commentary by Mr. Harry Russell, a retired banker, writes a weekly column ("Wild Coot") in the Nation. Today he looked at "Banking on money' (see Nation report) and politely and clearly takes on his old industry. I've read it several times and find it odd that a former banker has to take issue with the way that local banks seem to have "neglected very profitable ways of boosting their income for reasons that are debatable". He cites practices that are not common enough here that I too have noticed by their absence and wondered why: widespread use of credit cards, online banking, debit transactions. Some of this absences fits in with the national tendency for risk aversion, but most people to whom I have spoken are just confused but also unwilling to press for some of these products. People seem to love lining up in banks, even with ATMs that are never crowded: I've heard fears expressed such as "How I gine know de money reach my account? I don' trus' no machine." People seem to love to pay in cash or check, rather than use their card to have the transactions debited. I heard a discussion the other day how (some) banks wont accept checks over a certain amount from private customers (the limit mentioned was B$1000), whereas they take them from businesses. As the moderator noted, what made a check for B$ 995 intrinsically different from one for B$ 1000? Businesses have financial problems too. Some practices are just arcane and bizarre.

Mr. Russell mentioned also the idea of reverse mortgages, which was a subject of some comments on the radio last week, and really could be an attractive product for pensioner-homeowners. The issue of repayment after the death of the mortgagor is simple to overcome as the loan can specify the repayment out of the estate/sale of the property or by whoever takes over the assets (house). Clearly, banks may want to avoid the risk of somehow getting stuck as holders of real estate.

I know that the lack of local commentary is not for want of expertise. I also know that there is a vociferous body of commentators, of mixed expertise, but loquacious nevertheless. I think of the adage 'never mind the quality, feel the width'.

I know that there is a strand of thinking here that puts all critical commentary into the bag of subversion: eg., school teachers make rules (say banning drums at national school sports), those who criticise the rules publicly are labelled as inciting children to disobey or subverting the rule of law, without any discussion of whether the rule really makes sense as if rules once made take on the status of sensible decision (what if the teachers prescribed a dose of cyanide?), or will address the core problem (noise abatement, encouragement of fervant behavour, etc.?), or needs to be applied across a wider plane of social situations (eg., cricket matches, where they are flouted as part of national culture). The harsh part of me sees this as real dumbing down in the sense of creating unthinking, uncritical people, who cannot deal with different situations and therefore are fearful of change so want to ban it all.

A Bajan pediatrician discussed this with me over the weekend and lamented how she had seen the tendencies early whereby children were no encouraged to argue and discussed, then 5-10 years later you have children unable to reason critically and thus struggling with basic education. We did not get to discuss if this had changed over 20 or 50 years, but she had noticed it during her career of a decade or so. She called it the development of 'rum shop logic': noise and huff and puff replace substance; senseless remarks go unchallenged, etc. I have to share her lament. I will try to do my part to put forward critical ideas, knowing that if you do not ask questions and get good answers you will be doomed to suffering the decision of fools, no matter how well dressed they are in a little brief authority.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


EARTH HOUR began at 8.30pm. I turned off most of the lights in the house I rent. I continued to have a little light--the glow from the screen of my laptop as I worked from battery power. My phone was being recharged through the USB connection, not the wall socket. I watched live NCAA basketball on my laptop--Pitt-Villanova. It's not easy working in the dark.

Ironic that Barbados had a power outage last night that began at 8.45pm and went on for about 2 hours. Early or solidarity?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Being A Twit Is Not So Stupid

When my wife asked me if I wanted to join her twittering, I was taken aback as it was mid-morning, I was in my pyjamas, while she was in her office. As a proposition, I had to think whether this was the cue that her car was going to rustle up the driveway in a few minutes for something spontaneous. My ardour was quickly dampened when I saw the link to http://www.blogger.com/www.twitter.com.

I have to admit that I could not really see the need for another piece of social networking software. Facebook is great for staying in touch with most people I want to, and my love of photography now has a happy outcome as I can share gladly the images I take. Why did I need something that could "Send status notices through your cell phone, instant messenger, or via the Web, and notify friends and followers of the little things you're up to during the day"? But, as one who encourages people to "give it a try then tell me that you don't like it", I couldn't just turn away.

I played with Twitter for a few days. One of its 'selling points' is that you make your updates in 140 characters (including punctuation). Now, there are some people with limited attention spans or who feel that if something takes more than five words to say that somehow it's worthless. I worked in a central bank where documents sent to the Governor had to contain the essential arguments on one page. I then went to work for an international organization, whose management and review styles were such that no matter how short my original draft was, it always ended up considerably longer. "You've not said enough" I heard. "No one reads past the first page" I retorted. So, blossomed a happy marriage of minds not as one on the matter of writing styles. When I taught, the brief explanations were always met with "Can you elaborate or expand on that, please?" I never had the urge to say "It was all in the first sentence. Review your notes!" I know that both the brief and the lengthy statements have their place. Those who scorn the monosyllable, I tell you, the monster you fear is now your friend.

The word limit, though, takes time to deal with. Can one entry do it? Should the update be split over several entries? I guess each Twit has his/her preference. I started to use Twitter to make updates about financial market developments relevant to my trading--really notes to myself. I quickly found that it was a nice 'notepad' for what I was going on in the financial markets too, and as such a potentially useful thing to remind me of how I got to where I am. But you have to be cute, and use symbols and short words to live within the '140'; there is a counter to keep you to the limit, and the software wont post updates that are too long. I have not ventured much beyond the 'professional' updates, but am putting my toes into that water a little. Being a twit at work is alright, but not when I am at play.

But which twits are also using Twitter? The idea that the updates can be followed or that you can follow others is helpful, if you are not in too big a group. I found myself quickly in rarefied company. I began following a currency strategist who works with my trading company. Nice to know that he goes public with his trading ideas on Twitter, I thought. I then found David Gregory, the host of Meet the Press, who seems to be harnessing all the social networking stuff, with a Facebook page, a blog, web chat sessions, the whole wazoo. Then, there was the instigator herself, my wife. Well, she had never done anything twittish. Her picture was there, but it had no updates: her life was at a standstill. I told her that it was time to get a move on. Get 'a move' on not 'her move' on. You see, the choice of words has to be carefully done, and e-mail and short code practices can lead to confusion and misunderstanding.

But, I quickly found that like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I had a following of all sorts and some are rats. Some are clearly undesirables as far as I am concerned: those real twits into dodgy stuff, who are just looking for another way into enticing someone to 'be a friend and check out my sexy body'. Get a life, nuh! Then there are twits who want to tell you about every little software dink. Nah. It's all geek to me. Then there are bozo twits who seem to have to list everything: the fact that the parrot's cage needs cleaning; odd items they are trying to sell (nail clippings from Bono's hotel room?). Mrs Murgatroyd across the street just opened her curtains. Nah. So, I have blocked as many followers as I have accepted. My elder daughter was ready to reject an automated suggestion that she follow my twitterings: I know the twit already, she thought.

I do not feel the need to be a mobile twit, and have not put this thing on my phone: I keep my twit-like behaviour strictly at home. Facebook mobile is very useful. How else can I banter along with comments on my walls and photos and links and notes and now 'what's on your mind'? But, I don't need to be seen as a twit in public. So, I guess that I am a half twit. Not a half wit. Though a half twit could be just 'It'. Hmm. Better than 'That one'? Time for an early morning update, I feel.

In case you had not noticed, my twitterings are linked to my blog. What more can I say.

Asking For Quality In Journalism

The following letter, which I wrote, was published in today's Nation (see http://www.nationnews.com/story/Letter-Dennis-Jones-copy-for-web). It was prompted by the commentary offered on March 17 by Robert Best in his "Best On Tuesday" column in the context of the recent attack on Canadian tourists at Long Beach (see http://www.nationnews.com/Robert-Best-Tues-3-17-9-copy-for-web).

No excuse for errors

Published in the Nation on: 3/27/2009.

WHETHER AN ARTICLE is written by a former editor or not, it should not pass with blatant inaccuracies.

Robert Best's piece on The Bajan Experience states: "In Jamaica, for example, the crime rate is high, but it is only when visitors are the victims that greater concern than usual is expressed."

This is just bunkum, as a simple, cursory read of both major Jamaican papers online would show, as would a few minutes watching the evening news or listening to radio broadcasts from Jamaica.

In any event, if it were meant as a criticism, one could just substitute "Barbados" for Jamaica, with a flurry of activity to deal with problems at Long Beach after a savage attack on a Canadian visitor, when the crime problems there have been known for decades (not my observation, but that of people who have lived here for many years).

It does not further a cause to misrepresent its counterpart.



Thursday, March 26, 2009

Living The High Life

I do not mean to target the Minister of Tourism, who struck me as a perfectly decent fellow on the few occasions when we have met. However, he keeps launching into areas from which few men escape unscathed. His latest plunge is to suggest that 'urbanisation' and 'high-rise housing' are the way for Barbados to go. I think his rationale sits on the notion that the smallness of Barbados, with its 166 square miles (not yet expanded by offshore islands), does not give its population a lot of space on which to develop adequate housing. I personally do not believe this, but a major problem lies in the way that land use has been developed, and the thorny issue of whether some marginal agricultural land could be given over to housing.

The debate about the meaning of 'adequate' could be interesting, and it should go on. It is unfortunate that, given that obvious space limitation, one of the developments pushed as a product of the island to attract tourism and foreign investment was 'luxury' housing of the kind seen near the west coast. The mansions sit so awkwardly, cocking a snook at the ordinary Bajan housing.

A much harder debate will be about whether a country like Barbados can really adjust to having most of its population living in high-rise buildings. That is a far-off possibility, I think, but it may get a head of steam.

Now, for this country, I imagine and believe that high-rise housing will not be the type of towers one sees in Manhattan or London or Miami, where one may get vertigo just looking up at them. The indications are that two-to-four storey dwellings are envisaged, such as Country Park Towers, being developed by the National Housing Corporation. Yet, even that may be a challenge.

I hope that the Minister and the government of which he is a part study seriously the many examples of disastrous high-rise projects in developed countries, whether in the US, UK, France, etc. But also, where these have been tried in places like Brazil or Venezuela. Many studies have tried to discern why high-density housing complexes tend toward a new 'ghetto' and a breeding ground for crime. Part of the answer lies in how people are selected for such projects. Poor people cannot become rich just by changing their housing; their 'life chances' have to improve. That means schools, social amenities, leisure space, employment opportunities, etc. Where those remain bad, even with new and 'better' housing the cycle of poverty does not get broken.

Where well-educated people, with stable jobs, and higher incomes choose to live in high-rise developments, they often become models for high quality living: look at the areas around New York's Central Park.

But the poor in high-density housing can easily provide the 'playground' for the drug barons and the crime organizers, who profit from the poverty but also the facelessness, and warren-like nature of some projects.

I was shocked when I visited little Tortola (22 square miles, 24,000 people), just over a year ago, and was taken to a housing complex by a friend. Many foreigners live on the island for its better jobs. Many of them live in such developments. Many tell-tale signs of urban decay were there: abandoned cars and household appliances; boarded up apartments. It was like a mini-ghetto in the US. Scary. The only difference was that the housing sat in the shadow of the mountains, and there were palm-treed roads just five minutes away.

No one likes rotten housing. It is at the root of many social ills, though it can be as much cause as effect. The downward spiral associated with poor housing and poor educational attainment, poor health, high crime, etc. is well-known worldwide.

People who admire what Lee-Kwon Yew did for Singapore point out that housing shortages, and a dearth of land and natural resources could have crippled the island-city-state. But one of his major drives was a public housing programme, along with measures to tackle high unemployment. He also had two other pillars: good education and health provision. With housing, education, and health care assured, President Lee said to the population "Now work to make this country great" (to paraphrase).

Tourists are often content to live in high-rise hotels for a few days but quickly tire of the confinements that style of accommodation affords. They can usually get included or pay for whatever diversion is needed to make things seem better. The same is not true for people who have to live in high-rises all the time.

Will Barbados' proposed housing developments be part of an economic and social package that is geared to give people a better standard of living?

A house with a garden, even small and humble-looking, is a world apart from an apartment with a balcony. I hope people realise that and don't think that they are equal substitutes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be Green?

Kermit the frog said it best: "It's not easy being green." So much information bombards us about ways to be kind to the environment. Then, so much information whips us telling how our previous efforts actually hurt the environment. It's very confusing.

I make my own little efforts, not relying on some mega-initiatives such as the Kyoto Treaty. If everyone does their part we should get somewhere better, right.

I stopped growing my hair a few years ago. In part, this was because the process of washing it was just too much, as I played a lot of sports. I also saw the way that my wife's hair clogged the shower drain. Every few weeks I would be down on my knees pulling out the clumps of hair from her head washing. I did not demand pay for this, nor mention it, just wondering if she knew how many locks she lost as she lathered. She threatened to leave me if I shaved my head, so I went ahead and did it. I remember seeing several years ago a program about how we wash our hair too much and drain natural oils from our scalps, which we then replace with creams etc. Now, I get away with using less shampoo and I think that my body is better off. Shaving means using some resources, but my razor uses only my energy, not that produced by the electricity company. So, I think I am easing global warming a little.

I did not watch TV much, and now I do it less. I discovered through my work that most of what I wanted to watch was actually available via my computer; that's increasingly so at an amazing rate. So, I interconnect through e-mail and other ways of sending messages electronically. I listen to radio stations online. I watch TV channels online. Being a guy, it cannot all be dull like the Shopping Channel, but enriching like CNN and Bloomberg TV. But, most enriching was the discovery that I could watch all the sports I loved, online, and for FREE. Rise up! When I discovered www.sportytube.net a few weeks ago it was because our way of doing things in the Caribbean are sort of senseless. I could not get to watch live on TV the cricket match that I could hear from my house; I could have watched it on TV if I flew to Trinidad or St. Lucia. But, a friend in England sent me a message as she was watching it live that I could too, from my laptop. What a way to wile away my Sunday afternoon. So, I have watched Gayle and his boys try to shame us again, while my fellows in Bim press their ears to what used to be called a transistor. Isn't progress cool.

Then I found that English Premier League games are shown, often several at a time...United, no, Chelsea, no, Liverpool... Now, that is multitasking. I could even watch ATP tennis. As I heard my wife criticising the ESPN commentators and screaming "Yes! What a shot, Rafa!" as she lolled in front of the electricity gobbler, I could hear the same commentary from my little energy saver as I gazed at the frangipani and sucked in sweet fresh air.

A friend lent me her 'reading device' the other day (a Kindle). It can hold the text from 1500 books in electronic form, in something about the size of a paper back. My wife loves to read and is supposedly trying to be green (her e-mail messages have a coda "Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail"). But, she has a veritable forest growing on her side of the bedroom. I guess by saving some trees from not printing e-mails means that you can net that off against the trees cut down for the books. Hmmm. My wife says she's a minimalist, so when the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said "Less is more" and went on to create the Bauhaus movement in Germany, he had people like her in mind. But, like all real things, it cannot be by design-only; it has to be minimalism-in-totality. I may have to strike a blow for the Brazilian rain forests and the pine forests of Scandinavia and take a hatchet to the book pile.

The way I see it, E. F. Schumacher had it right, "Small is beautiful", though he was focusing on how to link people, land, and community by building local economies. My little Suzuki Swift takes nearly a month to use up all the gasoline I can put into its tank. Now, while I used to love driving around aimlessly in the English or French countryside when on holiday, I loathe driving around aimlessly doing errands. So, I have happily fallen in with some mothers and their kids' programs so that we can car pool. It's really good all round, as they stop trying to be in lecture halls, at the hair dresser, in the food store, at the doctor's, in the gym, all at one time. Now, it's alright to forget to pick up the children every day, because it may need to be done only twice a week. Some Canadians visited last week and I took them back to the airport yesterday. The little five year-old girl paid my car the ultimate compliment: "It's so littly big inside. I thought I would be scrunched up, but I have lots of room." Maybe Suzuki can use that in an ad.

As I toured around Bim with with this child and her father the other day, trying to find companies that manufacture plastics, which he also makes and sells, and for which he develops colours, I saw how all of the little efforts get overtaken. We planned our journey to make his calls so that we did a rough circle. We used fresh air rather than run the AC--the poor people found the island so hot. We had bottles filled with tap water, not bought bottled water. We had carrot sticks for snacks not bags of chips.

As we waited in the car, I looked around the industrial complex at Lower Estates, with its huge chimney pumping out goodness knows what. I saw nasty-looking coloured liquids standing on the ground. Were they toxic? I saw all the building debris piling up on the roadside as new buildings were being constructed. Where will all of that debris go?

We drove to Roebuck Street, near the city centre, and parked outside the offices of another plastics company. I sat with my little guest, with the windows open, to let in the air. She actually, was getting used to the heat and asked that we not use the AC. I watched as people ate their purchases and threw the plastic wrappings on the ground. I saw the many cars with a single passenger, passing each other, and vastly outnumbering the one bus that passed by, with its eight passengers inside. I saw other cars parked, with their engines running to keep the AC working.

It's a complex web of efforts and I guess people will go with the flow. Often, people seem to have given little thought to what energy they might be using and what it takes to produce: let me keep the fridge open and look around for that pot of yogurt...five minutes later, the fridge door is closed. A lot of energy to cool it again. Let me turn on many lights even though I am in just one room: makes the house seem lived in, might tell intruders that there are lots of people around?

Often, people have no idea about the toxic stuff that they introduce into their lives and the lives of others. A painter was at my house last week, and I smelt something sweet and a little intoxicating. I went downstairs and checked his tin; it's main component was xylene, a derivative of benzene, which is used as a solvent in printing, rubber and leather industries. Xylene is a clear, colorless, sweet-smelling liquid that is very flammable. Like other solvents, xylene is also used as an inhalant drug for its intoxicating properties. Benzene is in a group of known carcinogens (causes cancer). Ironically, it is an organic chemical compound. My plastics man and I both stood with our eyes wide open. The painter put a rag across his face. Some help. I told him angrily to stop using the stuff, while he protested that he had been told to use it. "Then, go use some cyanide, too!" I said. I made him put on a big fan that blew the fumes out of the house. He went off in a sulk.

As Kermit said, "It's not easy being green."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tongue Twisiting

Many of us get tongue tied when we do public speaking. The call-in programmes sometimes serve up some gems. I am usually busy doing other things so don't note them except in my head. Today, I jotted down a few. Anyone who wants to check can contact Starcom and ask for a copy of the recording of today's Brass Tacks.

One caller served up the following when talking about the lamentable state of Bajan cricket:

"...things are bad when the team loses three matches in concession..." [in succession?]. The caller said it three times.

"...I was strucken..." [struck? stricken?]

"...It's the pinnacle around which [the team] is built..." [a pinnacle is a high point, so the metaphor is odd; "pillar of which"?]

During the weekend, a very learned friend served up some from his memory, the best of which was: "My son has not had a spontaneous [substantial] amount of education."

Does Anyone Have A Clue Where Barbados' Tourism Is Heading? REDUX

In fairness to the Minister of Tourism, he had announced on coming to office in January 2008, that Barbados would have a master plan for tourism, for the first time. I read last month that B$10 million would go from the consolidated fund to the tourism sector (see Nation report).
Now, I honestly think that 12 months is far too long a time for the plan to not have come to light.The Minster gave an update in last week's debate on the 2009 Estimates, indicating that he had set up the unit that will produce the plan (see Advocate report).

A few days before that, we heard about the reorganization of the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA). But, it seems hard to understand what that reorganization means when the master plan is still on the drawing board; this is like the horse before the cart.

We are also waiting for progress on the mandate given last July to the regions' ministers of tourism by the Caricom heads of government to come up with a regional marketing campaign for tourism.

Caribbean time is known to be slow and even elastic. Is that what we are having to deal with? I used to enjoy watching jello set as a boy. I could be back to doing that while the plan comes forth.

Who Is Keeping Score?

My father is officially 80 years old today, March 24. Many people could, however, celebrate his birthday on April 13. In Jamaica, being precise about dates of birth did not used to be that important. His grandmother mixed up the birth registration for her two daughters' infants and for most of my life I thought that my father's birthday was in April. He never told me the right day until he was much older, retired, and past caring whether he was born in March or April.

He has had more than his three score years and ten, and now he has gone for four score. Amazing!

When he had a stroke in late 2006, I was sure that he would be at death's door if things worked the way they usually do in rural Jamaica. Like in many poorer countries, we have limited medical facilities to treat even routine ailments, and people die for loss of time more than lack of treatment. Luck and some contacts mustered up an ambulance and he got to the main hospital in Kingston--a two hours drive--where a cousin is a neurosurgeon, and he was at least saved some of the worst ravages of the stroke trauma.

Having lost most of his freedom of movement, he seems to compensate with freedom of thought. Many contentious issues he has seen and experienced over the past 60 years now get a full diatribe.

He has taken on the "lying and thieving politicians": his bitterness was highest when he talked about the myth of free education, that meant that women like his mother never went far in school because her parents were not connected.

He never had time for gangsters and criminals and now even less, given the way that they have taken over so many parts of downtown Kingston that he knew and loved through the 1950s and 1960s. They have turned them into 'political garrisons' and crime 'war zones'.

He loves to remember the Kingston of those years: walking around Parade, going to the theatre, and going dancing. He loved his work, at the mental hospital, proud that a 'small boy with a good brain' could do good work to help other people.

When he returned to Jamaica, after some 30 years in England, he quickly returned to the land, even though he had not had to farm for four decades. He planted oranges, which grow superbly in the hills of Mandeville. He planted cassava, yams, corn, sweet potatoes, gungo peas, and callalloo; he reaped enough to feed him and my mother, and have enough to share. In return, as life had it, he got avocados, mangoes from those who could grow them, ackees (Jamaican!), sugar cane, coconuts. Whatever, someone had to share; or nothing in return but good neighbourliness. He built a fowl coop, and bought himself some chicks; he became a chicken farmer.

A hurricane destroyed most of the country's chicken industry, but his fowl coop stood strong. He was not in the business of making business, so changed nothing: he sold to those who had always been his customers, and barely raised prices except to cover the higher cost of feed.

He got into the local Anglican church. He started taking exercise regularly, joining an aerobics and yoga class: he was the only man in a sea of middle-aged women. Bliss! He walked regularly to town to the gym, becoming as well-known crossing the golf course as any of the people actually playing a few holes.

I remember how he started to be the barber in his street, where several other returning families had moved. He encouraged some of the 'wayward youths' to get a haircut and look decent, telling them that they could then walk up to someone and ask for work. He had a string of young men, coming for a trim. His shears clipped and the young men were sent off neater, free of charge. Some of those who had the early trims are still in my father's life, as a gardener for him and neighbours, as a driver, or as a frequent visitor, when time from steady work allows.

Fast forward. His life was never one of great travel, after the great journey from Jamaica to England in 1961. For that reason, I treasure the efforts he (and my mother) made to visit me and my family several times in the USA. I really stand amazed that he visited me in west Africa, not once but twice, a few years ago; even learning a few phrases in French and some local languages during his stays. He loved having to drive through barricades of burning tyres and rocks being hurled at our vehicle after we came from a long road trip to find that the capital of Guinea was under siege by its youths. By contrast, his trip to Barbados in 2008 would seem like a breeze, but of course it is not when you can hardly walk.

These are mere snippets, and things that pass through my memory easily. After a long life such as his, I would be joking to try to capture it in a few sentences.

But, the day should not pass by unnoticed by me and my off springs, who are also his off springs. I hope that all the fruit fall close to the tree.

I have to give God thanks for carrying him this far.

Monday, March 23, 2009


People have a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior. That is the definition of recidivism. Most people mistakenly think that the definition only applies to a relapse into criminal or deviant social behaviour (such as drug abuse and alcoholism).

Over dinner with friends during the weekend, one very learned friend told a story of how an accused who was being cross examined and asked about his previous convictions, yelled out "You don' remember, Your Worship? You represented me 14 years ago, when I chop up my father!"

But the relapses cover all sorts of behaviour. The most noted case doing the rounds is that of Rihanna and Chris Brown, dancing under the umbrella of domestic abuse. The story goes that he hit her savagely (provoked or not, we will not discuss). She fled from him for a short while, but was soon back in his 'clutches'. Many express concern that he will repeat his acts; they cite the many cases of
beaten women who seem to return to get more beatings. But, we have the 'star' drug and alcohol abusers or participants in dodgy stuff who seem damned to do their thing even when money and fame are theirs for the asking: Whitney Houston, James Brown, Michael Vick, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Jackson, O. J. Simpson .... Repeated crimes. Repeated behaviour. "Psychopaths", we call them.

You have it too with lovers or couples and people who have 'emotional bonds' (as distinct to blood ties). They each go their separate ways after things don't work out, but they keep 'running into' each other, by 'accident' or design.
Ironically, a reverse, man-beaten-by-woman story appears in today's Jamaica Gleaner (see report and picture), which reports how one woman kept on going back to her man and giving him more licks!

Before people run to tear up their stock of illicit correspondence or wipe their hard disks and phone records, you need to realise that the same behaviour exists with people who are bonded by work and play. Band members are a common group (no pun intended) and the revival is famous. You see it too with staff members returning to an old employer. Both of these instances seem to not last long and end up where they were, that is broken. You see it too with sports teams, but here it is really interesting to see the many players who return to 'where it all started' after being journeymen and play out their careers in the 'cradle'.

Psychologists may look at the repeated behaviour as a kind of 'security blanket' people need. But, it's incredible to think that people are really afraid of abandoning things that seem so clearly bad for them. Hard then for kettles to call pots black.

For criminals, recidivism rates in the UK and US are somewhere around 50-60 percent; for certain crimes the rates are higher. Some US Department of Justice data indicate that thieves have a particular problem:
  • Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70%), burglars (74%), larcenists (75%), motor vehicle thieves (79%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70%).
For other types of criminals, the rates are much smaller:
  • Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide. These are the lowest rates of re-arrest for the same category of crime.
A study showed that 272,111 offenders discharged in 1994 had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release.

Sociologists suggest that the increasing computerization and accessibility of criminal records is having a negative impact on recidivism rates as technology advances. Prior to the computer revolution, persons with criminal records were often able to relocate and start their lives over with clean slates in new communities. Former criminals rose to become some of America's greatest leaders in law, industry, and politics by obscuring their records. This possibility seems to be narrowing as criminal records become electronically stored and accessible.

I have not found data on social relationship recidivism. Maybe, I should do an anecdotal study amongst my friends and acquaintance. I'm sure I could get a grant from some agency to fund it.

Ironically, the computer age may limit certain forms of social 'recidivism' as people's computer usage and electronic records get used to confront them with their relapses. Facebook has been used to nab some sexual offenders. People's e-mail and telephone records have been represented as evidence in separation and corruption cases or other instances of indiscretion. Computer programmers and tech nerds may yet become the world's unwitting sleuths as there are very few effective ways of erasing electronic information from a computer short of destroying the whole machine (and that may actually need to be some huge server in a silo in Siberia). People don't need to resort to surveillance program to check their partners because like with criminals, careless behaviour, sets its own traps.

We have seen the social recidivists in high office: Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, perhaps Rod Blagojevich, Lord Mandelson, repeat offenders all, clear patterns of dodgy behaviour. All caught by electronic records (with the help of people's tendency to keep mementos). But, there is a string of lower officials, who get caught in webs of deceit as they keep reverting to type.

I wish I had studied psychology, like my father, and could do also a study on obsessive compulsive behaviour as it appears across the range of human behaviour. Neatnicks in the home and office tend to be orderly across their activities, so when they are not cleaning draws and cupboards and their social behaviour is 'off track', it bears the same repeated behaviour traits: schedulers at home and work and play.

Funny to think that the line between those whom some would condemn as criminals is so thinly separating they themselves from the same class.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Will Heads Roll? REDUX: No One With The Guts To Resign?

West Indies coach, John Dyson has done what most expected and was unavoidable: he took responsibility for the horrible miscalculation he made that cost the team a match that could have been won without resort to rules and mathematics (see CBC report). But, if I read his words carefully, he has not taken full responsibility. He said: "It's my responsibility, I accept responsibility. I've apologised to the team, that's all I can do. It's a bad mistake." Why does he not resign? That would demonstrate full and clear responsibility and an acknowledgement that he is not up to the job he holds. Coming from Australia, with Japan so close, he should know about hari-kari (or sepuku), and fall onto his sword for our collective honour.

Another comment coming from the upper ranks of the team, Captain Chris Gayle, from the report I saw, says a lot: "I think it was the fall of the wicket that confused [the issue] ... in the end it's just one of those things." Duckworth-Lewis factors in the fall of wickets, that's part of its essence. If it's one of those things, then don't bother swinging any bats or bowling any balls and pretending that representing West Indies means something. Those who say that the current generation of players do not know what playing for the team means, have all the ammunition they need. It's only one of those things because the team, from its head, where the fish rots first, did not show any willingness to play the game until it had won or lost clearly, leaving matters to technicalities.

Don't insult us, so!

Buying BNB is not the solution to CLICO Barbados situation

My friend, Avi, a pretty good economist and Bajan of long heritage, has been following and analysing financial markets for some time, and has a well-earned reputation. He has put his mind to the matters facing the Barbadian financial sector, in particular, ways through the problems that may face a major player in the investment sector. His points were published as a letter yesterday (see Advocate, March 20, 2009), and he allowed me to reissue it here.

An important aspect he highlights is the higher risks that would be entailed if an insurance company's assets were sold to a bank.

Buying BNB is not the solution to CLICO Barbados situation

I HAVE found the attention placed on repurchasing BNB at this time a little odd. I have been involved in a few financial rescues and in my experience it is always best to start with what is the problem we are trying to solve.

What is the problem that would be solved by a repurchase of BNB or an encouragement of local interests to buy BNB? The whole issue of “local interests” is a hornets’ nest. Is Sagicor local?

It has a large degree of foreign owners of its shares. It is headquartered in Barbados, but then again so is BS&T. Is that local? Moreover, it seems to me that if the private sector has cash burning a hole in its pockets it should put it aside to stop job losses. Let’s not see a return to the early 1990s. The critical test that any repurchase needs to pass is can we do something better with the money. Today, saving jobs seems a better use of the money to me.

In terms of Clico, the problem the Government has to solve is well summarised by the Governor of Trinidad & Tobago’s description of the company as exhibiting a high degree of transactions between companies in the group, a risky investment strategy and a high-debt strategy – three things that insurance companies should not do. This means in the Barbados case that the asset values of the insurance company have fallen below prudential levels in circumstances, different than before, where the Barbados subsidiary can no longer rely on support from the Trinidadian parent or from quick sales of local real-estate assets.

What is the solution to this problem? Below are a list of solutions to this problem with the least cost to tax payers at the top and the highest cost at the bottom:

1. The Government can request that the central bank accept as collateral for liquidity loans, a wider class of assets, including prime real-estate from a wider class of institutions such as insurance companies. (The central bank would have to quickly acquire some expertise in real-estate assets, which it may second from the private sector.) Lending money without security would be irresponsible.

2. The Government could take “conservatorship” of the company over the short-term to guarantee policy holders and make those adjustments required to ready the company for a future private sale or initial public offering. This is a form of “Chapter 11”. I suspect those adjustments would include a more conservative investment and management style.

3. The Government could take control of the insurance company to guarantee all policy holders and to run-off the insurance company. Tax payers would take a hit were the assets to prove insufficient as they are likely to.

4. The Government could cajole the private sector to purchase assets, at a high-price on the basis that there will be a government guarantee if the assets were subsequently sold below this price after, say, five years. In essence the buyer would be paying for the government guarantee and the company would receive the proceeds from that guarantee. How do you ensure that those proceeds go to back Barbadian claims?

5. The Government could offer to buy some of the prime real-estate assets at a long-term price, with the proceeds ear-marked to the satisfaction of Barbadian policy-holders. This price would have to be estimated using a long-term economic valuation and not an historic accounting valuation. This would gift the company cash but again, you would have to ensure that this cash was only available to back Barbadian claims or it would be used indirectly to fund Trinidad’s $10bn statutory deficit.

Ideally these steps should have been done quickly. Following the recent injunction in Trinidad, all of these steps now require some international negotiation.

Repurchasing BNB by national interests is only a solution to the problem if we want BNB to buy Clico assets at a price BNB could not recover themselves and so would not do otherwise and therefore, it would mean a transfer of losses from an insurance company to a bank. That would be highly dangerous as banks are systemically more exposed than insurance companies.

Professor Avinash D. Persaud,
Emeritus Professor of Gresham College and Member of the UN High Level Task Force on International Financial Reform.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Will Heads Roll Now?

Accumulated failures and major mistakes are usually what is required to cost people their jobs. Unless that is you are associated with West Indies cricket. We had the Antigua pitch debacle. What could be worse than that?


Now, let's watch the dance of "It wasn't me" or "It ain't my fault" as the team's cricket coach explains why he took the team off the field for bad light, thinking that under a complex mathematical formula (Duckworth-Lewis) his team had won. But, oh my gosh, Windies had lost...by one run (see BBC report).

West Indies needed 27 runs from 22 balls with three wickets remaining. Doable for sure, and all could argue that the team had won or lost in whatever playing conditions existed. But, no. Playing to the end? What does that mean, when you can nickle and dime with rules?

Coach John Dyson (pronounced "Die son") could rue the day his parents gave him that name. Who will flush Dyson down the john?


Holding My Breath

Several things are making me gasp and hoping that I can hold on to the air. This is a pot-pourri in no particular order.
  • The number of adults in Barbados driving in the front of cars with their seat belts firmly attached, while their children do not wear belts in the rear. In some cases, you see the children hanging onto the door half out of an open window. As I said to a couple yesterday as they drove from the school car park, "When the car hits something, what do you expect is going to save the child?" They looked at me with such blank lack of understanding that I have to conclude they are morons.
  • Amazement that the Barbados national secondary schools' championships were not televised by the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporations. Reports indicate that 'negotiations' are still going on. The championships started on Monday and finish today. Finger pointing by CBC indicates that they had not received permission from the organizers to broadcast the event live and that it will be shown next Tuesday. If Barbados wants to figure out why it does not excel at athletics, think about this farce as reflecting one element.
  • Caribbean black men really are scared of physical contact with each other. So, go figure what is going through their minds when they see their beloved cricket team doing well.
  • Caribbean women need to back off criticizing men of being on the down low. That's low down and lame and save you thinking seriously. Women cavort around hugging and kissing each other and freak out when they see two men showing close friendship. Figure out who has a problem and show some respect.
  • Bewilderment at Madoff and his decades' long robbery of friends.
  • Bewilderment at a father who would imprison his daughter for years and father seven children with her.
  • My daughter's school principal lamented publicly last year how some parents are showing a tendency to 'disable their children' by doing everything for them. If you learn to do nothing when you are young how will you do anything when you grow up?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Crime Stopping REDUX: Canadian Visitor Dies After Attack

I just got a message from Canada that Ms. Terry Schwarzfeld has died.

She had been in a coma after being attacked on Long Beach, on February 28, 2009, where she and her daughter-in-law were attacked, beaten and left unconscious. Ms. Schwarzfeld had suffered severe brain damage from the attack. She was recently named president of the Canadian chapter of Hadassah-WIZO, a charitable Jewish women's organization.

My sincere sympathies go out to her family and may her soul be blessed.

Does Anyone Have A Clue Where Barbados' Tourism Is Heading?

You cannot solve problems correctly if you do not ask the right questions, and also along the way check that the answers are making sense.

I have lived in Barbados for two years now. I knew before my arrival that tourism is supposed to be its life blood. But, I have been and remain at a real loss to figure out where tourism is headed in this country. My main concern is that I have no idea what 'product' is on offer.

Much of the year Barbados comes alive with tourists from the UK mainly, and from Canada and the US in lesser numbers. Caribbean countries also provide important numbers of visitors. The tourists from outside the region are coming mainly for the things they lack at home, especially sun and sea. The regional visitors are often here to enjoy 'cultural' events such as Crop Over and the jazz festival. Returning to visit families and friends is also an important element. Both the UK and regional neighbours can provide important numbers when Test cricket is played in the island. Horse racing events can also be a similar attraction.

When Test cricket is on, Barbados becomes an international cricket venue. What is odd is that people react as if the wave of visitors is a real surprise and that somehow their arrival is a boon for tourism. But, they are sports fans and they follow their sport; it would be a real coup if they came to visit when there is no cricket. It's not really Barbados that attracts them. Given the dinosaur-like performance during the last Test match between West Indies and England and the fiasco over the ticket sales, it would be good to look at money spent on attracting tourists and ask if that may not be better spent reorganizing ticket sales for all major events so that it is a modern and well-distributed arrangement that uses available technology and does not presume that everyone has time and inclination to spend hours lolly gagging in the sun. The same general scheme can cover many events, much like 'Ticketmaster' outlets do, and one just shows up, specifies the event and gets on with buying tickets.

Cruise ships come to the island, but there is really very little that one can honestly point to that would warrant the cruise passenger staying on land for any length of time. The shopping area offers some paltry choices, compared with other destinations that can attract cruises: I am personally familiar with Nassau, where the array of duty free goods is excellent and tourists flood the stores and part with lots of foreign exchange. Broad Street is hardly attractive in a general sense and the curious tourist may remain curious wondering why he/she has been abandoned in a kind of wilderness. There are few good and attractive places to eat near the cruise port, and the bus station and fish market are not tourist attractions. Taxi drivers and some bus operations may manage to eke out some business by ferrying a few passengers around to sights such as St. John's Church, but there is a sort of haphazardness that means that maybe visitors see sights and spend money, but maybe not.

Yesterday, the Minister of Tourism publicized what may be a major change for the sector. He disbanded the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA). Its Board was reduced by seven persons (to 11 members), and he created separate 'tourism marketing' and 'product development' companies. The former directors were offered new roles; first indications are that some declined the offers. The former BTA is to be amalgamated into the marketing company. Policy remains to be made by the Ministry.

Honestly, I hear a lot of froth about 'taking tourism to the next level', without saying what tourism will look like when it reaches that level.
  • Is that a level determined by numbers of visitors, and is the mix of long-stay and cruise visitors something that will, or need to, change?
  • Is that a level determined by an amount of revenue?
  • Is that a level determined by a range of activities and facilities offered to visitors?
  • Is that level a country ready for foreign influxes all year round, with high quality service?
  • Is the idea to build a cruise 'entrepot'?
  • Is the intention to offer a sun, sea and sex paradise?
  • Will it be a health and wellness destination?
  • Is it meant to be a second-home destination? I don't know.
It does not have to be only one or only a few of these, but the image needs to be clear. People need to understand what the country is driving for, and work. Those who are in the specific business of hospitality can then gear up to do that well. Others play supporting roles, which though indirect are very important.

If the policy on where to get visitors has been articulated, then it is not a message that has resonated near my ears.
  • Is the idea to build new sources of visitors, say China?
  • Is the idea to get more from the old sources (especially the UK, Canada and the USA)?
How is the sector supposed to move over the near-term, given that most developed countries are going to see low or negative growth and what is called 'discretionary spending' will probably decline? People will be less inclined to spend money on travel and less money on travel abroad.

What is the policy to build a sector that is sustainable for the next 25 years?

What is the policy to integrate local food production into the hospitality industry?

Is there a policy to be competitive when Cuba is back in play as a major tourism destination?

The kind of things that bother me about a vision for tourism are in the Minister's reported remarks yesterday about the Hyatt in Trinidad, when discussing a project to complete the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. This is supposed to recapture lost conference, convention, and meeting business; plans for an auditorium have been shelved in favour of more office space. The Minister reportedly said "The truth is that we were caught sleeping on the job because there is no way that the Hyatt Trinidad should have come along and robbed our lunch like that...but these things happen." Sorry, Mr. Minister. You got it right at the beginning: "sleeping on the job". Why were people 'sleeping'? Don't they know their competition? It is not an accident. It is either indifference, a lack of focus, an unclear set of objectives, or looking at the wrong things. How could you be surprised that your major neighbour, with its swelling oil revenues pouring out of its ears, would be doing anything other than building itself into an attractive location for business visitors? Standing on the road side selling candy and hoping that people will pass by some may work, but if you are on the wrong road with the wrong sweets, you will go home with empty pockets and your lunch was not 'robbed' but 'given away'.

Apart from sugar and its by-products and financial services there is no other major foreign exchange earner than tourism. One impression that is strong is that the sector is not moving together. That may reflect the absence of a clear message about what is tourism and how it can be improved. My own take is that the whole of this economy is a part of the tourism sector. However, many people do not see that.

So, you have the recent nonsense of the cricket ticket sales, and the official reaction that does not understand the damage done for future events because of this debacle. We wont go into the still inadequate state of facilities at Kensington Oval more than a year after Cricket World Cup finished. Why do the washrooms still not have locks that work properly and necessitate doors being knocked down to release people trapped inside? I remember vividly the seats that were covered in builders' concrete dust. Usage should have cleaned them by now?

You have the nonsense of taxi drivers gouging visitors from the airport.

You have the attitude that "That's now it is" works with a foreign visitor. No. A visitor wants to be treated as special. Anyone can be treated like a dog at home for free. Imagine telling a guest at the Hilton that breakfast is closing and shooing him away, rather than seating the guest and taking the order, but explaining that the breakfast area will close soon. The first denies the customer the chance to eat, period, and says "Go away and find food elsewhere. We don't care that you are a guest. We don't want to be bothered with you." The second says, "Come in, eat at your convenience, albeit rapidly, perhaps. Your comfort and satisfaction are important for us." They give very different images of how customers are valued.

The rudeness that locals comment about on a constant basis is not lost of visitors. I read a letter in today's Nation headlined "Police must show respect to citizens" (see letter), written by someone claiming to be a Barbadian now living abroad. Key points to me were:

"... their attitude from the onset is vile"

"... no salutation offered, no badge numbers given and when they are responded to in the very manner they approach they get offended"

"... the law is put in place to protect citizens and it starts with law enforcement officers respecting the citizens of Barbados"

"... it seems that as long as you wear a police uniform you are unapproachable ... I am in authority attitude"

"... Overseas when you are stopped by a police officer you are greeted, given a name and told what the problem is and, if need be, you are also given a chance to explain. Here I have observed that from the time the officer approaches he is angry and seems, for want of a better expression, 'ready to fight'"

"... Barbadians need to be trained in basic service attitudes and only then can we demand respect from the outside world"

The letter speaks volumes. Even if it is one person's impression, it is very unflattering. But the problem is that it is a well-known and often observed set of behaviours. I have had the dubious pleasure of seeing and experiencing it often, to the extent that I was compelled to compliment a policeman at the airport for his civility and willingness to help me at the airport a few weeks ago.

Many countries give their police forces special training to deal with visitors. Here there is a need for training to deal with people. When you get this within a few minutes of arriving in country you should not have to think hard about what message is sent to the visitor. It may be one reason why many crimes against visitors go unreported.

Visitors are not really valued or understood here. Why is it not apparent that people in a hired car need more than "You can' park here"? They need to know where they can park. They don't need "Move ya car. It blockin' my grill" They too need to know what they can do to find parking? In St. Lawrence Gap, with its limited parking I have yet to see anyone guiding motorists to parking spaces and sites, whether they are paying or free. Go deal with it yourself. But come back soon and spend your money. In many places that have lots of foreign visitors 'guides' or 'mentors' of one sort or another are common place. They help foreigners and deal with local behaviour that may deter foreigners. It's sensitivity training in action.

A real need exists for tourism to have a clearer image and for it to be a beacon that pulls many parts of the economy along. Ideas for offshore islands may be good, but only if the add to an excellent experience. In The Bahamas, many visitors go to the Atlantis complex on Paradise Island and never leave because their time there is so good they do not feel the need to see the rest of Nassau. Everything is there and better than everywhere else. Tourists have to pay dearly for that, but will do so if it seems like value for money. Tourists need to be made 'hungry' to visit the country and sample all that it offers and be excited to tell their friends so that they too can get on the good feeling bus. They should not have a patchwork of poor and regrettable experiences. They should not have to do with people sleeping on the job.

Get the sector to the next level? No. Get the sector to the top of all that there is around. Then you can look down and say, "Not done a bad job at all".

Monday, March 16, 2009

Making My Blood Boil

Every now and again something happens that makes my blood boil fast and long. Over the weekend, I had one of those visceral moments when I read about US insurance giant, AIG's, plans to pay out bonuses of US$ 165 million (some figures cite US$ 450 million) to the same group of executives that had nearly taken the company into the oblivion of financial ruin. I heard, but really did not read in detail, arguments about their having contracts. Where, I asked myself was their moral compass pointing? Clearly, the extent to which any of those involved in the decision and due to receive the money realise what most of the world's and the US economy is suffering as a result of a range of missteps by financial companies is limited. They should be shouting from the roof tops "We don't want the money. We don't deserve it. Give it to a fund for unemployed people and towns that are losing jobs or those who are facing foreclosures" or something similar. Add to this the difficulty that Congress had had in getting details of to whom AIG was paying bail out money. It's not AIG's money, it belongs to the tax paper, so it's about time to fess up. The list of bonus recipients will be released, I am sure, openly or slyly and then I fear for those whose names are on it.

I read this morning, a comment from the Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke. Now he comes from simple enough roots as the son of a South Carolina pharmacist. He is trying hard to show that he understands that Wall Street and Main Street, if not joined at the hip, have to move hand-in-hand. Everyone is in this mess together, and solutions that seem to favour those whom most view as the bastions of greed and unscrupulous behaviour can only fuel a fire of anger that could rage relentlessly. The problem is that Wall Street 'types' are often so divorced from those who have to deal with Main Street, or even mainstream issues, that they really just keep on not getting it.

The odium does not need to be limited to principals in the US because we have heard of the pension plan negotiated by Royal Bank of Scotland to get rid of their failure of a leader, which turned the man into a millionaire overnight. Give back the money, weasel! I was so glad to see that some in the UK are gearing up for a ding-dong battle over this, as British pension funds are to sue Sir Fred Goodwin and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in the American courts for hundreds of millions of pounds (see Times report). Part of their argument is that Goodwin “falsely reassured” investors that the bank was in good health when it was “effectively insolvent” because of bad loans. The class action lawsuit is open to all European and US investors in RBS to join. Their legal champion will be none other than Cherie Blair (as Ms. Booth, QC), wife of former PM Tony B. She has a sharp social conscience and I suspect will be glad to dig her legal nails into the eyes of the financial sector raptor.

It is easy to foresee that many people will become similarly angry. I actually understand a little about finance and can rationalise a lot of what seems like nonsense and gobbledygook. But those who cannot, and they are the vast majority, will see millions and billions going to the 'undeserving', the 'makers of our misery', and they will make little distinction between whether they are the downright crooks of the Bernie Madoff ilk or someone who was driven by an incentive package to take bad risks. The justifiable question will be "Why are ordinary people paying several times over for these people's mistakes?"

I read this morning that the Obama Administration is concerned that there will be a public backlash (see NY Times report): they fear a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, and worry that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House. They all deserve a piece of public anger, but I sympathise with the new president who is having to live with 'another fine mess' left behind after a wild party of lack of regulation and oversight. Hearing former Vice President Dick Cheney say on Fox TV that "stuff happens", makes me say "Yes, it does, and in dark alleys."

Larry Summers, director of the President Obama’s National Economic Council called the AIG bonuses “outrageous” on ABC TV yesterday. I personally heed the words of Robert Reich “Never underestimate the capacity of angry populism in times of economic stress,” a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and labor secretary under President Clinton. I don't think I need to add to those comments. Maybe Jon Stewart will bring some of these characters onto his show: the stampede for tickets could be nasty.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bigging Up The Little Ones

My little daughter has a great sense of who she is. She has some very clear moods. She can be blue--meaning sad. She can be red--meaning she is mad or angry. She is yellow--when she is happy, and full of light like the sun. She can be grey--when she feels alone. When she is pink, she is very, very happy. She thinks that she is prettier than her class mate because she has a better singing voice; she displayed this to me early this morning. I think her facial beauty is much more than that displayed by her voice, though.

Confidence and self-respect are attributes that comes from regular reinforcement. Even while being upbraided for spilling juice and tea and cake crumbs all over my office desk, she needs to be left with her confidence in tact. So, she gets her lesson in tidiness, but gets praise for the quality of the clean up she does. She felt so good about that, that I later saw her going around with a large broom sweeping up a floor.

Insults are not part of the building blocks for making confident people. Parents who curse their children are just like Bobby Knight--the renowned basketball coach at Indiana University, famed for his foul-mouthed diatribes against players. They may produce people who perform at a certain high level, but at the cost of a lot of psychological damage, that may not appear until much later. Many adults lack patience when it comes to children, and are more likely to want to stop what they see as 'foolishness' rather than figure out that a 3 year old has only a limited way of expressing itself. Children's logic is different, and need not be nonsense.

Self-confident children are often ready to take on a task because they have not been forced to live with punishment for failure or less-than-perfect results. They see mistakes as natural and part of learning how to be better. Parents' focusing on the missed 3 points out of a 100 rather than the 97 gained is the stuff of much despair for children. They also understand well that not having something is part of life, whether you give away or lose something you like or never have something at all.

We are watching Barney and a story about Franklin (the tortoise), who was supposed to be digging potatoes for his mother, but got distracted playing with a spinning top. His mother reminds him of his chore, and he goes off to find a spade and fork. He digs for the potatoes for dinner and comes across a fossil, a trilobite. His father encourages him to build a little museum. He goes off with his friend to play but meets Mr. Mole, who is an expert on fossils. What should they do? Give him their newly found fossil? Mr. Mole solves the problem and tells Franklin to keep the fossil and learn about the history that is in that hardened object; how it used to live in the sea and more. He decides to charge 2 cookies for entrance. Some of his friends think that is too much to see rusty nails, and pictures of grandma, or even a really old fossil. They collect a boxful of cookies, but get a bunch of upset friends who really don't care about the fossil. So, they give the fossil to Mr. Mole, who really can appreciate it...

Another day of building and learning ahead.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Crime Stopping

If the Police Commissioner is correct, the increase over the past year in burglaries and 'property crime', which is now the bulk of crime reported in Barbados, is as much to do with the victims as it is about the criminals. His research indicated that most of these crimes are not planned but committed because 'the opportunities were presented' (see today's Advocate report, page 3). I think I know what he means, but you have to have a criminal mentality to see things that are not yours and then take them, so I am not sure whether it really matters that the thefts are not planned in detail. Someone, is planning to be a thief.

It is interesting that over dinner last night with a group of expatriate professionals from Canada and the USA, much of their conversation about concerns in Barbados related to property crime. One man told about the practice of 'fishing', whereby someone would use a fishing rod and hook to grab items that could be seen through an open grill, left that way to take advantage of the cooling breezes. The residents were meanwhile chilling elsewhere in the property. Another couple told of how security guards sleep on the job or are not aware of the cunning of robbers, some of whom are now using roof ladders to get access into condominiums and other kinds of property.

The Commissioner's claim that Barbados is amongst the safest places in the world, including for tourists, is not something I would contest, and the figure of 242 incidents reported amongst the 1.2 million tourists visiting the island in 2008 is astonishingly low. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that many crimes are not reported, either because the losses are small, or the person has been given the 'bum's rush' by the local police. One local person on a radio call-in this week indicated that he had tried to get the police to come to take his statement about a stolen iPod; they basically gave him the run around and had him go to the station fruitlessly four times. That police indifference and even disregard for citizen's complaints is something to which I can personally attest. A respondent to the caller's comments indicated that the value of the item seemed too low to warrant all that aggravation from a less-than-willing set of professional crime fighters.

Crime Stoppers have now set up their operations in Barbados and it will be worth seeing how this is used (see web site, http://www.crimestoppersbarbados.com/). As in many places, citizens are less willing to help solve crimes than they should be, often because of fear of reprisals, but also because of a natural dislike of being ignored by the police, and by the justice system being slow to resolve cases. Much of the commentary relating to the operation in Barbados has been about maintaining the anonymity of those who offer information. The sense that being an 'informer' is deemed to be less noble than keeping quiet is disturbing, but there is no point pretending that it does not exist. Several persons wanted to know how the B$1000 reward offered for useful information could be paid and anonymity maintained. A crime stopper explained that all informants gets a number and that is all that need ever be used, so that reward money could be collected from the designated banks by simply citing the number without showing evidence of identity. That means anyone with the number can collect the money, irrespective of how the number is obtained; so the warning was to take care that it does not fall into the wrong hands. We hope that those who operate the system are not tempted to be corrupt, here.

As Barbados tries to put on a serious face with regard to the recent assault of a Canadian woman tourist at Long Beach, and most hope that her condition of a deep coma does not lead to her death, it is full time for crime stopping to be taken seriously here. A B$10,000 reward has now been offered by an 'interested stakeholder' and that may wheedle out information to find the assailant. VOB radio's 'Market Vendor' made clear this week that the Long Beach problems were decades old but never dealt with, whether it was assaults or perverted behaviour, or harassment. Enough is enough. The Minister of Tourism did some good photo ops. there yesterday and we may see more police interest in the area, but what about 3 months from now?
I'm sorry to say that like a lot of things here, there's much talk and less action.

But cheap talk costs lives. Canada Foreign Affairs Department has already sounded warnings to its citizens about crime risks in Barbados and the need for greater vigilance. Canadians have also quickly started to report cases of assaults and robberies that occurred during their visits but were either not reported, or ignored, but happened nevertheless, and will be shared as warnings to others in their home country. It is easy to descend quickly in the eyes of foreigners because of crime risks, and with the importance of tourism so clear, that risk needs to be curbed.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Get A Culture? Ghetto Culture?

The English-speaking Caribbean is not alone in having public discussions about the relationship between public entertainment and public behaviour and morals. In recent years, these discussions have been intense in Jamaica because of stated concerns about the level of murders and other violent crimes, their connection with drug trading and gangs, and a tendency in certain styles of music ('dub' and 'dance hall') toward lyrics with commonly accepted offensive words or hateful sentiments-often against women and homosexuals. Sexual suggestiveness in songs and dances has also come in for comment, though this is an aspect of Jamaican music that has been there for decades; many of my generation can recall easily Max Romeo's controversial song 'Wet Dream'. The discussions often take on a socio-economic flavour because many see the popular music as having its roots in Jamaica's 'ghettos', and therefore criticisms can sometimes be seen as attacks on 'ghetto culture'.

Trinidad too, has had similar public discussions as some of its soca music has taken on a more sexually suggestive tone in lyrics and dance styles.

Barbados has gotten into such a conversation largely because much of the music popular with the young here is Jamaica's dub/dance hall output. Tag that with the tendency of the public minibuses ('ZRs') to lay such music, often at high volume, and for some a perceived downturn in social behaviour has its clear cause and effect.

General public sentiment about popular music has rarely been complimentary, wherever one looks. Much of the past 60 years is an interesting study in how popular music crazes in the USA and Europe were first reviled, then accepted, then lauded. A common criticism in places like the USA and England was that this was the 'devil's music' or 'jungle music', taking a hammer to often thinly disguised roots in black music that were not given their due credit, initially. We only need to look at the careers of white rock-and-roll stars such as Elvis Presley, through The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, punk bands, and many more. Within black music itself, the accusations were also many and criticisms harsh. Whether the target was Bo Diddley, James Brown, Funkadelic, The Last Poets, Prince, Ice Cube and many of the modern wave of hip-hop artistes.

Similarly, other forms of popular entertainment have had to deal with much public opposition or criticism or lack of acclaim. Look back a few hundred years into the history of English literature, for example. William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's preeminent dramatist, writing in the 16th century, was never revered in his lifetime. Geoffrey Chaucer (the 'father of English literature'), writing 'The Canterbury Tales' in the 1380s, regaled England with sex and bawdiness, and portrayed women as sexually insatiable, lecherous or shrewish--as was common in those days often with the backing of the churches. Yet, now these and others are regarded at the pinnacle of the English language and literature 'culture'.

Looking at films, the list of offending items is really too long. In the days of heavy censorship in the UK, it was interesting to see how opposition moved from political themes to those depicting sex and violence. The British Board of Film Censors received strong criticism for an over-zealous attitude in censoring film prior to the 1960s. The censoring found that those who wanted to could always get access to what was banned or distributed with cuts.

One of the problems with having these public discussions is that society does not share one view on what is acceptable. This is often most obvious with the generation gap between parents and children. Many of toady's parents liked music as teenagers that their parents thought inappropriate. Similarly, today's teenagers like music that many current parents find odious.

As a society tries to build or retain a culture, the role and position of its various elements are complex. Music's roots and attitudes to musical output are very complex. Taking a slice of social development. Those whom I know who grew up in a social setting of going to dances, or clubs, or parties, tend to have a certain view (positive) about much popular music. Those who grew up differently, not surprisingly, could be expected to have different (negative) views.

Music has many effects, without doubt. Often the beat is what drives people's reactions and its popularity, and lyrics can often become secondary. I recall someone saying to me that they could not understand how people enjoyed jazz, which only seemed to serve to put people to sleep. The soothing tones of jazz are what some love.

I have used dance music a lot when coaching soccer. It is wonderful for developing rhythm and balance. People laud Brazil for playing the game to the rhythm of samba. I even had a Ghanaian friend, who is a dance teacher, work with my team of young girls to get them to learn how to move to various forms of modern popular music. I know professional soccer coaches who have incorporated ballet music and steps into their routines to develop a certain grace and pace.

I grew up in the UK at a time when funk was popular (late 1960s)--which mixed jazz and R&B-- and also when 'house' music was very popular (which originated in Chicago in the late 1970s and early 1980s), and mixed soul, funk, and disco. As a result, I love music that has a strong beat and a fast rhythm. I also grew up during the era of psychedelic heavy metal music. I like them too. Many of the major artists were known to be inspired by drugs and drug-taking, with lyrics that made that clear. I did not like that, but my love for their music did not turn me into a drug fiend.

During all of my sporting career I had that music playing in my ears or around me when I trained and before I raced or played a soccer match. We often see today athletes with their iPods tuning in to their music before they compete.

I did not grow up in Jamaica, but love the heavy bass rhythm of reggae. I understand most of the lyrics so can relate to them at many levels, with or without music. Whether it's the complex social commentary of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Mutabaruka, or Linton Kwesi Johnson. Whether it is the lyrics on the hard-driving Buju Banton style. I know that much of reggae music is inspired by and through the use of marijuana. I do not see that loving that music makes me a supporter of a drug culture.

What I have heard in discussions recently suggests that when people do not understand something they tend to fear it; highly educated people are little different in that regard though talk better around the same fear. I even heard this attitude with regard to much popular music: "I don't like it. I don't understand it and I don't see that I need to," I overheard in a conversation the other day. Those who like and understand it can deal with it at many different levels. I self-censor offensive lyrics if they come in any song; once I know the song, when it is due to be played I take care to censor it for the benefit of children if they are nearby. I certainly have no time for arguments that laud the music of Chopin or another European classical composer as being great while labelling dub music as being base or even worthless. Likewise, country ballads have their place in the hearts of a certain group of people, but not in mine. But I should not imagine that listening to country music will turn me into a 'redneck'.

Much of the recent outrage has to do with the featuring of certain explicit sexual or violent references in music. Little of the discussion has focused on whether music is the problem or the listeners are the problem. Any thing innocent and harmless can be made dangerous in the hands of a fool or someone careless. Likewise, dangerous things can be dealt by those who know how to handle them.

Music and other forms of entertainment have their place in a social and economic context and trying to discuss their worth and influence without knowing or studying or understanding that context is limited. Talking about music's influence without saying how it is it will harm some and not harm all leaves out an important element about how people behave. I have not heard much discussion of the context or the roots of behaviour when I hear condemnation of certain music styles, so I have to conclude that a real conversation is yet to happen. I also wonder about the focus on music when there are horrid images of violence and drug use and trafficking in many of the films distributed for public viewing. Sordid sexual images are in many advertisements. Has anyone gone around and checked the content of books sold freely in the stores? Is the concern really about bad influences or is just about one noticeable possible element?