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**

Monday, August 31, 2009

What more can Government do to help improve the economy and maintain jobs?

The following is the full version of an article I submitted to Barbados Business Authority (BBA), which was published by BBA (under the title "Govt has little wiggle room"), with a little editing on August 31.


Sustainable job creation needs growth, and available financing. The Government of Barbados has little of each at present. National growth prospects are closely tied to the fortunes of the world economy, given Barbados' heavy reliance on tourism from the UK, Canada, the USA, and the rest of the Caribbean.

Economists seldom agree. World recovery is not yet assured. Some believe we are headed for a V-shaped recovery, with a rapid return to growth. Others expect a weak U-shaped recovery. Some, including the infamous Nouriel Roubini, aka “Dr. Doom”, see a rising risk of a double-dip W-shaped recession. Some speculate that any recovery may be jobless, begging the question of what happened to those 4 million households affected in the US alone. Little may be clear before end 2010. A no-win situation is also looming over how to exit from the huge monetary and fiscal stimulus that industrial countries have made. One aspect: against their increasing debt, speculation that the US and UK may lose their AAA borrower ratings rocked international currency markets several months ago.

But, one major concern should be whether Barbados' economy remains firmly coupled to the rest of the world's. My belief is that the damage being done during this recession, e.g. restaurant closures, will not be undone simply by growth resuming.

Jobs can be created by short-term “make work” projects--verge cutting, landscaping, drain clearing, etc. But these will be hard to sustain. The current recession has put intense pressure on private firms and government to curb labour costs, and both have had to shed jobs. Some local commentators have argued that other options should have been tried, though they rarely know what processes had occurred before decisions were made. Some commentators argue for wage cuts or freezes to preserve jobs, and we hear of examples of that having been done. But, it is not necessarily a viable option for all firms.

For sustainable jobs, Barbados must tackle underlying structural problems to help secure a better basis for growth. How nimble is the economy? How much room does the private sector have to expand? How fast can the costs of doing business be reduced?

Government's debt burden is heavy, with a debt-to-GDP ratio expected to exceed 100% this year. The government has little fiscal 'space', i.e. it can provide little or no stimulus. Taxes overall are already high, though it could be argued that some could go higher.

Foreign exchange (FX) earnings suffer as tourism suffers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a huge gap exists between what earns FX and people's sense of their role in generating FX. This must change.

Productivity and efficiency must improve dramatically. Better commuting times, flexible works hours to reduce traffic at peak hours, and lower absenteeism (a significant cost to companies) could help enormously. Service quality is too uneven and reported work attitudes are not consistent with excellence.

Relations between employers and workers need improving and Barbados’ industrial relations might need reform. Poor job performers should not be protected, but employers should not sever workers simply because it is a relatively cheap option.

Should Barbados seek support/relief from the IMF, like some other Caribbean countries and many others mired in this economic crisis? PM Thompson was finance minister when Barbados last went to the Fund, and insisted in July that his government had no intention of “re-opening the wounds” of the 1990s, when Barbados was forced into an austere financial programme with the IMF. Many believe that programme, which left a bitter taste in the mouths of ordinary Barbadians, was responsible for his Democratic Labour Party’s defeat in the 1994 general elections. His party has only just ended a 14 year time in opposition. So, politics suggest “No”.

In addition, for Barbados, the currency peg remains sacrosanct. Barbadians view IMF programmes as only imposing “devaluation”. This view is wrong. While, the exchange rate may or may not be an issue (from some accounts it is not an issue), seeking to keep the current rate is not a sufficient basis to reject much needed financing, and in the era of a more friendly IMF, on very good terms.

There's A Riot Going On? Not A Hope In Hell That Carnival Wont Be Fun

For a Caribbean exile there are fewer happier places to be than in London for the August Bank Holiday--today. Kno' wha' I mean? It has to be lived to be understood. If you lived through it over several decades, you will understand it better. If you remember how important Notting Hill is to people from the Caribbean who live in England you will understand it better still. From scene of racist violence, with 'Teddy Boys' attacking them, to place of fun and jollity and harmony? Yes. Notting Hill has done that. Innit.

It's a long time since I lived in London, and longer still since I did the Carnival. I have never been to Carnival in the Caribbean. But to hear all of the region's musical sounds and see so much of its regional colour, and to smell and taste so much of its regional cooking, being in Notting Hill is like a Carnival island hop. Cor blimey!

I'm not going to repeat a history of living in London. But, it's really nice to get to go back and feel the place very now and again. I know a lot of the country from visiting and having friends from most parts. I love the regional differences that you can sample all the time, in things like beer and cheeses. Wickid or wot?

I hope that Notting Hill's significance is not lost on most people. I would love to take my youngest child there soon so that she can sample the flair of the Carnival and for me to be able to pass on a bit of history to her.It's important. If not, then her sister, who was born in London, will have to do it; I've passed on to her some of the history already. They need to remember that it was really from a struggle that something truly wonderful grew: riots and deaths; violent clashes with the police; respect and involvement from the English community; respect and involvement from foreigners in England and outside; respect for oneself from the Caribbean community. All of that is on the streets of Notting Hill...and more. Aint no joke.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Grant Me This, Please.

Grant's in Brittons Hill has become one of my haunts. In recent weeks, I've had the pleasure and privilege to celebrate with Mama Grant and her family a few major events. Her grand daughter got a sports scholarship and was headed off to the USA--time for a fete. Then Mama herself had her birthday in mid August--time for a fete. Then one of her daughters had a birthday the following week--another time for a fete. So, liming on the block corner has been good fun. Brittons Hill is not where people usually think foreigners will be found, but I guess I will continue to surprise.

I loved the little plug her restaurant and bar got on the radio earlier this week and I have been a bit slow to pay my own tribute. I was ready for more banana cou-cou and fried snapper this past week, but was caught up with some family/work business and the torrential rains did not help.

One of my Bajan buddies went and represented me, as I had asked him to do, and out of respect for the old lady, who is so sweet and kind. My bud met an old school friend from decades gone by so was full of fun well past lunchtime and told me that he did not leave Grant's till around 4pm. Another not-so-close English buddy was due to be initiated into things culinary and Bajan and we somehow messed up. So, will do it again later, I hope.

So, as a kind of hug, I include a video from the past week's liming.

I am finding out more about the spot each week as Bajan friends tell me of their associations and my jaw drops just as I dropped in. I'm starting to think that it's an institution and I have just come to it by good happen chance.

That's life and love it for that.

Can We Just Do As We Please? Freedom Of Expression Examined

The issue of freedom of expression has revolved inside and around my head for a few weeks. It was never far from the forefront of my mind because as I read each day I get hints of things having been censored; as I listen to the radio, I hear 'emptiness' as callers' comments are screened; on television I see and hear things that I wish my little child should not see or hear and I head for the mute button or the off button. I wont go into a treatise on the subject. That I will leave to a nice article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy', from which I borrow a few points:

  • The topic of free speech is one of the most contentious issues in liberal societies. If the liberty to express oneself is not highly valued, as has often been the case, there is no problem: freedom of expression is simply curtailed in favor of other values.
  • Free speech becomes a volatile issue when it is highly valued because only then do the limitations placed upon it become controversial.
  • Every society places some limits on the exercise of speech because speech always takes place within a context of competing values.
  • The task, therefore, is not to argue for an unlimited domain of free speech; such a concept cannot be defended. Instead, we need to decide how much value we place on speech in relation to the value we place on other important ideals.

The notion that speech and expression should be limited has been based on certain principles. First, the 'harm' principle, based on the philosopher, John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty:

'...the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others'.

One can explore what that means for many decades. But, some say the harm principle does not go far enough, and look to the 'offense principle', that can act as a guide to public censure: offending someone is less serious and easier to prove than harming someone.

But do arguments for limitation sit consistently with those of upholding freedom of expression as a basic human right, as enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)? The ICCPR recognizes the right to freedom of speech as "the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression". Furthermore, freedom of speech is recognized in European, inter-American and African regional human rights law. I believe that they do because, in practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on "hate speech".

Let's look at a few aspects of freedom of expression in Barbados. We know that the major local newspapers use censorship: the Advocate and Nation both edit material that they produce themselves as well as material submitted by others for publication. This is part of normal editorial policy, but by removing certain text they are watching for harm and offense with the spur of the sanction of legal complaints, and seeking to stay within bounds of public good taste. I have 'suffered' from this, in the nicest way, when my letters or articles to both papers appear in a form other than that which I submitted. Some of the change is driven by lack of space, and some by a desire to keep a certain tone. I always tell the papers that I will publish the full text as submitted on my blog so, they may edit, but I will say in full what I wanted to. However, I am not saying anything harmful and I try to not be offensive. My sense of humour and my message on economic issues may not be to everyone's liking.

We know that censorship exists in local radio and television broadcasts. The radio call-in programs can be the most evident when the airwaves go silent and are then filled with commentary without context, after a producer has decided (with the help of a delay) that something someone was saying breached some guidelines. Again, fear of legal complaint is high on the list of sanctions, and can extend to loss of broadcast licence. But preserving good taste is also important.

We also know that in 'culture' censorship exists: police remove artistes from stage; Calypsos are vetted by a committee before public performances; songs that are lewd or suggestive may not be played or played with some censoring.

In all of these instances, censorship is watching for possible harm and offence through defamation, racist remarks, libelous or slanderous remarks. But the watch is also regarding public good taste and things covered by other laws. Occasionally, something slips through. For me, the most glaring slip occurred soon after I arrived in Barbados, with the 'Lynch incident' in mid-2007 when a Cabinet Minster disliked a question aired about his source of income; he took umbrage and left the studio. He threatened to sue and the radio station settled out of court. I recall at the time thinking the walk out was farcical, because I genuinely believe that the question was legitimate. We need transparency in government and information on sources of income should be part of that.

I have wanted to ask the Minister about this ever since and wished that I had had the courage or effrontery to raise it with him when we met face-to-face for the first time some weeks ago. But, we were all enjoying the liming too much and I did not see the need to perhaps sour any one's mood.

We have the issue raising its head in many ways in the Internet age, where one real problem is how to stem the flow of material when publication can be exercised so freely. We also know that technology changes faster than does the law, so excesses may not fall into existing categories and can go unchecked.

In Barbados, the blogs perceived as being the more popular have seemingly quite different attitudes to freedom of expression. One blog has a comments policy that ways "As far as our Comments Policy goes we have none" (see Barbados Underground Comments Policy). In keeping with that, BU lets a lot of offensive (and possibly harmful) material flow over its space, including clear profanities. That may be problem in terms of whether it is consistent with the terms for running the blog as stated by the host, WordPress.com; I discussed this a few days ago. Ironically, or sadly, that blog says "We love comments on BU", but reality is that it appears to like only certain comments and those supportive of its positions. A recent case where a blogger's anonymity had to be exposed due to complaints about material posted on a blog, is leading to a reassessment by BU of its policies, but as yet no new 'comments policy' has been elaborated fully. An interesting corollary to the 'no policy' (and to me it is an evident contradiction) is the clear tendency for BU and it would appear some commentators on the blog, to try to limit comments to only those expressed by 'Barbadians'. More on this later. It does delete spam, however. Comments may be posted as 'Anonymous' and multiple handles can be used by a single commentator.

The other blog seems to limit strictly its tolerance for offending material by moderating comments--in part through some automatic filtering of so-called 'spam', which may mean that certain words trigger the filter as does the location of the sender (e.g. Russia is suspicious), but also through actual people vetting comments. The latter extends to a list of commentators on an 'always moderate' list--sort of known offensive offenders. BFP also has as policy of automatically rejecting comments posted as 'anonymous', for the simple reason that it's easier to follow discussions where commentators have a title-similar to my own policy. They also restrict commentary undr multiple handles, and can make this more effective (but not fool proof) by checking IP addresses. See Barbados Free Press Policies for more information.

I moderate every comment received on this blog, and spam filters also capture most of those annoyances well. One effect of that is the slower time it takes for comments to become public. I can moderate by mobile phone and often do. But, I am also not able to deal with comments at a moment's notice, having a life to lead and no staff to whom I can delegate. One day?

In the spirit of free-flowing discussion there is still place for censorship--unless one believes that effective sanctions do not exist. In other words, the can be no bounds because no one will hold those bound firmly. Again, within a country that could apply, but not internationally.

On 'Barbadians only need comment'. This is one of the strangest notions I have come across in the Internet age. I cannot fathom how you limit comments and input to a nationality except if you use something like a national identity number as an 'access key'. Therefore, if it were the USA one could envisage using the unique Social Security Number as an key. But how would one do that in Barbados? You cannot tell who is a Bajan by a name, and on the Internet, where names can be made up, this is even more evident. Why would 'Combermere Lad' be Bajan when it could really be a cover for a wayward foreigner to say off-colour things while seeming to be Bajan. Surely, a ploy like that is too obvious. Likewise, why believe that 'Trenchtown Posse' claiming to be a born and bred Jamaican has any grain of truth?

Why would one take text submitted in dialect as indicative of Bajan-ness or lack of it? Writing can be learned and there is no standard for dialect. Some friends and I have been reading the posts a bit carefully, and a linguist pointed out that it's hard to write in dialect because it's really oral so crafting the words takes effort. It's really something only quite intelligent people can do well as it's akin to being multilingual in a written sense. I can relate to that, having had to switch languages for work purposes and knowing the problems of constantly moving from say written English to written French.

Can Bajan-ness be the 'feel' of the comments? I really do not know but it seems totally senseless. Like looking down from a plane and trying to determine which of the cars seen from the air was being driven by a local or a foreigner. Overall, I conclude it's a crude way to keep dicsussion closed and the simpler thing to do would be to make the site 'members only', using whatever signing in protocols one chooses, and that could be as sophisticated as national ID numbers.

So, where does that leave us? I like to feel that Barbados' government espousing principles consistent with democratic traditions mean what is said. We will see soon enough. Some recent incidents point to more than a little tension between the rights of the media to express itself freely, within the bounds set out before, and the desire of certain high-ranking persons to direct those expression. The harm and offence principles may see their day in full light soon and the outcome will be long lasting.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One Needs To Avoid The Minefield

We do indeed live in interesting times. Last weekend, we had the front page story in the Sunday Sun/Nation that the PM's senior political advisor, Mr. Hartley Henry, had allegedly threatened an Editor of the newspaper (see We Live In Interesting Times: Threats To The Media). My view at the time was "There is either naivete, foolhardiness, or worse at play. Surely, everyone knows that the media usually tape record calls?... But, I wont speculate more." Well, we got a little clarity later in the week. Mr. Henry has a weekly column in The Advocate, entitled 'Under The Microscope'. This week he went to his own story with Under the Microscope: No threat to press freedom, it is all about the ‘connection’. Well, it's always good to hear both sides of a story, especially one that the police are due to investigate. The following extracts show my stresses (in bold). Mr. Henry sets the record straight with:

"There was no threat to anyone! There was an appeal for fairness and professionalism. There was the assurance that if such was absent on this particular occasion, the world would be sensitized to a chronology of events that point to the ‘connection’ being the source and the cause of unprofessionalism.

The exact words were “the whole of Barbados will come to understand how it is that”, a particular individual “can have unfettered access to” a known publication."

Now, I am no lawyer so I interpret with care. It seems that in seeking fairness and professionalism Mr. Hartley was holding above the Editor a sword of Damocles--a constant fear was now in place. He made clear that it would be let known (I use the passive voice because his words did not indicate who would do the letting know) that a connection was giving someone unfettered access to the Nation newspapers (that is a presumption from the words used, but it seems the right one). That reads like a threat to me: 'You do this or something not nice would happen to you' is what he writes he did, but using other words.

He goes on "This writer is not a madman." The article's main thrust is that the paper is being biased and that is unfair: "You cannot be biased and at the same time plead innocence and objectivity." However, last time I looked most if not all papers and media showed bias by definition: they select what they report and how they report it. It is not possible to report everything. The bias is often systematic. We can argue about the degree and direction of bias, but not about its existence. What readers, listeners, and viewers need to do is take the bias and view the reporting in that context. Critics can point to the bias and question it. If you wish the slant to be different it is usually good practice to ask politely that this be modified, or seek to point another way with counter reporting, including the submission of letters--but the bias may not help you; but also using other organs at one's disposal. But to call the Editor and issue a threat--veiled or open--does not seem correct.

But, now the plot has gotten thicker. One of the local blogs, Barbados Underground (BU), has come to Mr. Henry's aid or maybe it is better to say 'side'. He publishes routinely and almost simultaneously the same story seen in The Advocate on that blog. But, this week, the version published was marked with inserts that purport to show how the newspaper version was heavily edited ('butchered', BU wrote); see Under the Microscope: No threat to press freedom, it is all about the 'connection'.

From here on, I tread very carefully. We do not have the word of The Advocate concerning what original text they worked from and if that was the same as now published on the blog.

The highlighting (bold on the blog) points clearly to the 'connection' as involving a personal relationship between the Editor and at least one other person supposedly of senior ranking in a company, and one other person (name, gender, race, age, marital status unstated for the persons other than the Editor who got the call). The relatioship allegedly involved violence and abuse. No other names given, but names are already flying around, as are allusions to sexual practices. That is dangerous, so I take caution as my watch word and mention no one else but the author of a piece. I suggest you read the words yourself. I have real concerns about where this may go legally so will not repeat certain words here either.

Mr. Henry writes "There is nothing personal about this intervention. But I detest hypocrisy and self righteousness." But it must be personal if he is himself protesting hypocrisy and self righteousness. He did not point to issues and then say 'People go and do what you need to do'. He took action himself. I just apply simple logic. Emboldened, Mr. Henry concludes "The National Enquirer would love the details. Call the police! Lay the charges! Let’s all go on the witness stand and be cross examined about character, integrity, professionalism and ‘the connection’. I dare you!!"

The other prominent news-oriented Barbadian blog, Barbados Free Press (BFP), which has a sort of feud running with BU--which it views as a racist blog, broke a long-standing policy and linked directly to the BU story. Senior Advisor To Prime Minister David Thompson Follows Through With Threats Against Barbados Journalist. They write "Friends, when one of the the(sic) most powerful and connected men in Barbados threatens to destroy a journalist’s reputation, that is a threat not only to the victim: it is a threat to the very heart of our democracy." and for good effect, 'Hartley Henry Sets Off an Atomic Bomb at Barbados Underground Blog'. BFP goes on to claim that BU must have high level support:

"Since the Democratic Labour Party abandoned its own blog after winning the January 2008 election, Barbados Underground Blog has become the defacto DLP government blog frequented by DLP supporters and government insiders alike."...

"Hartley Henry would not have published his reputation-ruining article at Barbados Underground unless two conditions were assured: 1/ Prime Minister Thompson had knowledge of this article and agreed to the strategy, and 2/ Barbados Underground was safe and secure in the knowledge that the DLP government would protect them from any repercussions of publishing Henry’s hit piece."

BFP goes on to speculate about whether the PM could be seen as complicit, if he had pre-knowledge. If he was in the dark then who is in control of his advisor?

That's their view and clearly expressed.

It is hard to see where the good will come from with this whole episode.

If we were in the US or UK, for sure other journalists would be waving the reports around and seeking 'comments' from Mr. Henry. He is now fair game for clarification. He is likely to refuse to say more as the matter is under police investigation. At the very least, however, the media would be asking more questions and probing. Will that happen here, or will it slip away? I follow the UK news quite closely: having lived there 30 years, there's a lot to interest me.

This spring a major story broke about how attempts by Gordon Brown's senior advisor Damian McBride to smear David Cameron and other Tories over their personal lives (see Guardian report). In a flurry of news reports lasting days, Mr. McBride was forced to quit (see Huffington Post). For the Labour Party government, it was yet another misstep that had it looking like it would topple. The parallels are clear to me. But are they clear to Mr. Henry? I suspect not. He wrote his regular piece a few weeks after the Labour Party incidents, and I took him to task for not seeming at all in touch with what was obviously happening in the UK (see Losing The Plot?). I wrote about Mr. Hartley's observations that seem to have not observed much:

'Then, two weeks ago, after a visit to the UK, he wrote an article that bothered me on a different level (see Barbados Advocate, May 7). ... But what bothered me by seeking to draw parallels with PM Brown and the UK, was whether there was thoroughness underlying the arguments. Certainly, the piece displayed some discomforting ignorance, and was just downright misleading. He wrote:

"[PM Gordon Brown], from all reports, has failed to inspire voters. Indeed, he has failed to inspire members of his own British Labour Party...No one can point to any major commission or omission on his part, but yet the arrows of anger and vengeance are pointed in his direction."

Now, I no longer live in the UK but visit occasionally and keep abreast of developments via the BBC and newspapers and journals online. It has been no secret that Gordon Brown has been mired in unpopularity ever since he took over from Tony Blair as PM in June 2007. He and his party have weathered accusations about improper party donations; they both saw a dramatic fall in poll approval ratings. The weight of the economic downturn made his government unpopular and it suffered heavy defeats in by-elections. His unpopularity was only stemmed briefly by some high profile suggestions on how to deal with the current world financial crisis. Now PM Brown and his colleagues are mired in a scandal about bogus expenses claims (see Times report for the latest saga).

None of this was easy to ignore or be ignorant of; even through a quick search on the Internet. So, how could the columnist erect the straw man with "No one can point to..." when almost ANYONE can point to? What is the real beef? Is it a pre-emptive defence that says something like, the current government, if its popularity is waning, is suffering for reasons that no one can understand?'

To us in Barbados this story looms large and we think it does in the world too. But even if it has gone viral by being plastered on the Internet will anyone take much note? Part depends on belief of spread and influence of blogs. Sure, the story has taken on new legs that will walk where it will. But with news of homicide concerning Michael Jackson and the death of Senator Edward Kennedy where will this story lie. Wherever it does, I would recommend reading Rudyard Kipling's 'If...'. Its opening lines are:

"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs..."

They have often been quoted, they have also been amended, and my favourite has been amusingly amended to 'Perhaps you have misunderstood the problem'.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Inclusion, In Reverse, Or Any Way. A Pukka Idea.

I have been surprised since the Crop Over finals with the number of people who have told me that they thought Colin Spencer's song, Inclusion in Reverse, was the best song. I loved it the first time I heard it, driving along the ABC Highway one Sunday morning. But, as an RPB fan-cum-one-time-MP told me recently, the people did not want to hear about any issues; they wanted happy songs. So, the winner was RPB. But, more and more, I think that there needs to be a recount, or at least a decision to put Spencer's 10th place as meaning best and dealing with how to agree on the other placings.

The song starts off like a radio call-in program hosted by Peter Wickham, and implies that his time at VOB being 'suddenly' ended after the change of government, and his moving to CBC, showed that his true party colours are DLP. That seems to point to a way of dealing with issues that is about only hearing the 'converted'. If you listen carefully, you will hear the 'sound' sound advice being offered, eg, getting some Indians and Syrians to help look into business policy, and some Chinese to help sort out housing issues. Such ideas are suggestive of a need to bring in persons who are now being cast as 'outsiders' and possibly irrelevant to national interests.

The more I listen to the song, the more I realise that it was too close to the truth for some people, in that being open to different and diverse ideas is not a given.
When I listened to the radio on the Internet this morning, I heard a report that C.O. Williams was touting polo as key to Barbados' future investment and foreign exchange earning potential. He is developing a high-end estate at Apes Hill. His argument is that the polo-playing crowd represent hign net worth investors who will also bring in substantial revenues. As an assertion, this may well have elements of truth. But, I wonder what it is really saying. One interpretation is that Barbados' fortunes are tied to its being perceived as rich boys' playground. I will let that idea percolate a little. Something in my gut makes me uneasy when I hear this idea.

COW was reminding Barbados last week that he picks 'winners', meaning that he aligns himself with proven successes. In that sense, what he and his polo team have achieved is consistent with that notion. But, I balk because he has now aligned himself to the new World Champion for 110 hurdles--Barbados's Ryan Brathwaite (pronounced 'Braffit'). COW is now up to the task to help RB, and search though I have, I could not find any prior desire to help the fella. But, now that he has shown how well he can cross the hurdles and has brought much pride and pleasure to Barbados, up steps a man to pucker up to him and offer some pukka support. I have never seen or played polo, but I always associate it with Prince Charles. It is not about ordinary Barbadians, whereas the track and field success is. Does this mark a new drive to position the country as not driven by local talent but by the fortunes of the fortunes of the fortunate? My mind is not yet made up.

Ants And Sugar

You should be familiar with the fact that ants like to find sugar. When they do, they take the little grains back to their nests to do ant-like stuff. This week, I fell onto the wrong side of two little children (a boy and a girl), aged around 8, whom I had only met the week before. But, let's call it a 'fatal attraction'. I really like the kids, both of whom are of Jamaican parentage: the girl lives there, the boy has lived in a variety of places including Barbados and the USA. Each is quite different, but similar, nevertheless. It started badly when I first met them and the boy asked me a set of "Why are you here?" questions. I explained, I thought politely and gently, that I was there to see his mother and that it really was not for him to ask me the question more than once. I got his girl cousin to explain to him, as my attitude is 'typically Jamaican'. She did and I thought all was cool. But, back he came again. I tried to give the message again. The two kids went away to the pool, but were hovering around me again in minutes. I can understand the curiosity that comes from a first meeting.

But, then, things took a bad turn. The boy's mother returned and he said in a flash "He's been mean to me." I took a breath and told him to hold on. I asked him to tell his mother what had happened and for his cousin to back up or correct his story. He told his side. I then told the mother my side, and said that I thought the boy should be very careful when making the kind of statement he had. All seemed cool, again. But I heard that the mother had to spend some 30 minutes calming her son who was now very upset. Fast forward.

I met the children again and we did a few fun things together. I went along to the house they were in to help lower stress with the arrival of a moving van and its contents. I was really doing that and trying to do my usual business, but in company rather than alone. After the first moving day, I passed by the next day, when the movers were due to assemble some large items and the mother needed to leave the house. When I met the children, they quickly reverted to "We're bored." I remembered that I had a wad of cash that needed counting and asked if they could do that for me. They agreed. I gave the girl a smaller wad and the boy more bills--it was just how the money had been, and I had no clear idea of how much was in each bundle. I just asked that they take care and not let the bills fly away. They sat nearby and started to count.

The girl 'finished' first--they say girls mature faster, so no surprise, I thought. She told me "57 dollars," and handed me the bills. I looked puzzled. I saw a 100 dollar bill in the pile. I asked, "Is 50 less than or more than 100?" She got it right in a flash. "How then can this be 57, when there is a 100 in the bundle? Have another go," I told her. In another flash, she said "166." I did not take the bundle. I asked if she was sure and she nodded. I then asked "What is the difference between 166 and 157?" She paused then gave the answer 10; then 12; then a series of other numbers. I then asked about the differences between 17, 27, 37, 47, 57, 67, etc. She got most of them wrong! We did a bit of elementary arithmetic and she seemed fixed. So, I asked her to tell me the difference between 167 and 157, and she was right with 10. I asked then for the difference between 167 and 166. Again, 10. Wrong! We did more maths and used more fingers and got to 1, eventually. I had by then had the housekeeper come to witness and she had tried to help by going over the fact that difference is subtraction. The child knew the process but just could not apply it.

Then, to the boy. He had been riveted by his cousin's task and had made no progress. So, I asked him to start and let me know his total. After a few minutes he got up and left and did not get back for about 10 minutes. I asked him if he had finished. He said he had not and started to count again. But then went off again, and he and his cousin came back with 'noodles' to play with in the pool. I looked at my money, lying on the chair, but said nothing. After some splashing, Noodle and Doodle came back. I went to the matter not-in-hand. My money had blown around and was lightly strewn. I picked it up and counted the bills. "1015 dollars, US" I said and wrote it down on a newspaper. "Let your mother know what happened when she comes back," I said. Then, I made a terrible error. I added "And please don't go crying to her about what happened." I realised that I needed to get off and try to write an article and that my mind was not going well with the elves.

The mother and I did not talk until way into the afternoon and she told me that she was very unhappy with how I had treated her son. I let her eat my head and apologized. My saying that there was no way that I would let her son fall into being a possible victim at school in a foreign country because he was known to run and tell and cry sounded good to me, but was not going to sway a mother. I would try my best to not let it happen again. She wanted me to show the boy that I had a good view of him too and I told her that I had done that, though not when she was nearby. I saw the boy again the next day and gave him nothing but lerv. He was pucker and chipper and full of fun with his cousin and another boy his age, all three curled on a sofa with some American cartoon playing. I think we are cool. But I have a task on my hands, of a sort.

When I retold the story to some people they said that I had intimidated the children and that they clearly could not function as a result. I begged to differ. They had said they could do the task--and I take children at their word. The first set of arithmetic mistakes made no real sense except that the child would not apply what she had learned. She even used her fingers yet found 10 fitted some many wrong situations. The boy was another story. He had been forgetful and that happens. But having forgotten he had done nothing else once reminded of what he had agreed to do. I do not see reminding him of that is intimidation. However, if one does then therein lies some interesting days ahead with children and people. There is history here, however.

The people who had seen my actions as intimidation were also the people who had not seen fit to correct a child's behaviour that they had found offensive, arguing that it was not their job to do that. I had extended that discussion to say that the uncorrected child would then find a very angry adult one day and get the chewing out that was avoidable. They also saw it as 'taking the law into your own hands' to do something to make another driver stop at a red light. I had told of how at a four-way traffic light, with all lights flashing red, I had arrived first, stopped, then moved my car into the junction and paused. My argument was that the oncoming bus, racing down the hill was obliged to stop first before it proceeded and I should not have been in danger. In fact, the real situation could have been that my car had stalled. Routinely, vehicles do not stop for flashing red lights in Barbados. People understand static red, but think that flashing red means roll on. I told of one instance where the bus had rolled on and a motorcycle cop on the other side had just roll in the opposite direction with nary a glance back. They had asked what if the bus had faulty brakes. I had replied that was no issue as the forensics would show the truth, and also ask any survivors from the bus if it had stopped anywhere along its route. It would be amazing if the bus had gone from depot to town with no stops. I had concluded by saying that the situation you live with is the situation you allow to exist.

I am not going to lambast any one in particular, but I will state my view. If you tolerate what you deem intolerable, please explain to me what you think you are doing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cobblers Cove: Pudding And Souse Is Served

When British tourists arrive in Barbados I bet you that the last thing on their minds would be eating pudding and souse on a Saturday afternoon. Not so if you live here.

I had warned the managers at Cobblers Cove that if they invited locals to partake of their luxury, then this would mean major changes in how the hotel dealt with guests. For example, we know what is expected at the weekend. So, before we arrived I had set up that the chef prepare P&S for us. My wife, ever the largess spreader, had decided to invite some of her staff to join us: a funny white guy from South Carolina, who talked to me about bawled peenuts, and our lovely host for the Dominican rabbit festivities.

When we set ourselves up by the pool side a few things were clear. First, no one was giving us too much attention, though as usual we were getting a bit boisterous. Second, we were...Then the gear arrived.It was nicely laid out in cordon bleu fashion, which may seem excessive for the walking and talking parts of the pig. But, if you do it, do it well. This was almost French, pudding et souse avec des herbes provencales. Well, our Bajan cohort looked impressed. "Well done, the man. Thought you were joking." I took a metaphorical bow. The meat was mainly lean, but with enough features to please. The pudding was dark and based on beetroot, and a little spicy. The pickled breadfruit was just right. That is, for all except the Skipper.

"I larke poyrke but I doesn't eat with all that sturff," he drawled. "I'm gone take me somn else." No amount of goading would change his mind. I felt like getting him a jar of boiled peanut and watermelon rinds.

The staff were pleased as we put a Bajan lick on the day. We were so pleased that this simple piece of local life had not been abandoned. I had arranged breadfruit, ackee and saltfish for Sunday breakfast.

Good Fren Betta Than Pocket Money

Jamaicans have this expression, meaning a good friend is far better than wealth. I always like it when the people you call friends, old or new, rally around you when you have their need. Friends don't ask many questions when you call for help. They do and may ask later for a why. We have the trust that has come from not betraying each other. People with whom you associate regularly are not necessarily friends. Many of my friends I do not see except once a year or two, but we can pick up without pause.

My friends have come to my aid and I really appreciate that. I know that I do not have to think about repayment of friendship. True friendship, like love, is UNCONDITIONAL.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

77 Sunset: Teddy's Dead

Most of what I could write, is what others have written already and better, so read instead:
Boston Globe

New York Times
The Washington Post

Obligations Of Blogs And Bloggers And Contributors--IMPORTANT

The topic of this post could be addressed in two parts. Part 1 would be about the obligations of those who use blogs. Part 2 would be about some practices related to Part 1. However, it is good to see both parts together. I have, though put in a separator where I think a natural break occurs. At that point, you can go for tea and parkin.
Other blogs have interesting material. That is a given. On one of the local blogs there is now a raging debate about the matter of liability of the blog and blogger and contributors. It is worth reading if you want to see how opinions are forming.

The terms for using the platform chosen by BFP and BU, WordPress, are listed here, http://en.wordpress.com/tos/. They should be read in case you ever read or contribute on the other blogs. I reproduce here (verbatim) the main obligations:
  1. Your WordPress.com Account and Site. If you create a blog on the Website, you are responsible for maintaining the security of your account and blog, and you are fully responsible for all activities that occur under the account and any other actions taken in connection with the blog. You must not describe or assign keywords to your blog in a misleading or unlawful manner, including in a manner intended to trade on the name or reputation of others, and Automattic may change or remove any description or keyword that it considers inappropriate or unlawful, or otherwise likely to cause Automattic liability. You must immediately notify Automattic of any unauthorized uses of your blog, your account or any other breaches of security. Automattic will not be liable for any acts or omissions by You, including any damages of any kind incurred as a result of such acts or omissions.
  2. Responsibility of Contributors. If you operate a blog, comment on a blog, post material to the Website, post links on the Website, or otherwise make (or allow any third party to make) material available by means of the Website (any such material, “Content”), You are entirely responsible for the content of, and any harm resulting from, that Content. That is the case regardless of whether the Content in question constitutes text, graphics, an audio file, or computer software.
The responsibilities are clear. I also have a blog hosted by WordPress, Caribbean Comment. I do my utmost best to follow the terms. I also know fully what information is available to the blogger/administrator. These include the IP address of persons submitting comments, and the e-mail addresses of any person who wishes to subscribe to a posted item. It is therefore always interesting to read the comments section of a WP hosted blog when contributors--not the administrator--notice posts suspected to have been made under multiple handles. They could be making educated guesses, but they could also be privy to the details. The latter cannot be proven, of course, but it is a reasonable supposition, especially if it is 'noticed' very quickly. WordPress also has a spam filter for comments and to remove from spam the comment must be released by the administrator. Spam comments are not always easy to spot, but when one sees the IP addresses and 'e-mail addresses' it is more apparent. (Those interested in pink plastic duck swizzle sticks can have all of the spam on that that I have found.)

The Living in Barbados blog is hosted by Blogger.com (related to Google) and its terms or service are listed here, http://www.blogger.com/terms.g. For ease of comparison, I reproduce the main terms below:

2. Proper Use. You agree that you are responsible for your own use of the Service, for any posts you make, and for any consequences thereof. You agree that you will use the Service in compliance with all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations, including any laws regarding the transmission of technical data exported from your country of residence and all United States export control laws.

You agree to abide by the Blogger Content Policy (http://www.blogger.com/content.g) and the rules and restrictions therein. Although we may attempt to notify you when major changes are made to the Blogger Content Policy, you should periodically review the most up-to-date version. Google may, in its sole discretion, modify or revise the Blogger Content Policy at any time, and you agree to be bound by such modifications or revisions.

Violation of any of the foregoing, including the Blogger Content Policy (http://www.blogger.com/content.g), may result in immediate termination of this Agreement, and may subject you to state and federal penalties and other legal consequences. Google reserves the right, but shall have no obligation, to investigate your use of the Service in order to (a) determine whether a violation of the Agreement has occurred or (b) comply with any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request.

Much of the content of Blogger.com and Blogspot.com -- including the contents of specific postings -- is provided by and is the responsibility of the person or people who made such postings. Google does not monitor the content of Blogger.com and Blogspot.com, and takes no responsibility for such content. Instead, Google merely provides access to such content as a service to you.

By their very nature, Blogger.com and Blogspot.com may carry offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate material, or in some cases, postings that have been mislabeled or are otherwise deceptive. We expect that you will use caution and common sense and exercise proper judgment when using Blogger.com and Blogspot.com.

Google does not endorse, support, represent or guarantee the truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of any communications posted via the Service or endorse any opinions expressed via the Service. You acknowledge that any reliance on material posted via the Service will be at your own risk.

3. Privacy. As a condition of using the Service, you agree to the terms of the Google Privacy Policy (http://www.google.com/privacy.html), which may be updated from time to time, as expressed in the most recent version that exists at the time of your use. You agree that Google may access or disclose your personal information, including the content of your communications, if Google is required to do so in order to comply with any valid legal process or governmental request (such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, or court order), or as otherwise provided in these Terms of Service and the general Google Privacy Policy. Personal information collected by Google may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which Google Inc. or its agents maintain facilities. By using the Service, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of your country.

The terms are different from those of WordPress.

The information available to the blogger regarding contributors is also different. I cannot see either the IP address of a contributor or any e-mail address when a comment is made. I do, however, know the e-mail addresses of anyone who subscribes to the blog by e-mail (and conversely, who unsubscribes). A subscriber to this blog does not, however, give a name to be associated with his/her e-mail address. A comment can be made under no name (anonymous), a registered name (requiring log-in, as is the case with the administrator/me), or an assumed name (chosen at will and changeable at will). If any reader wishes to check this it is simple if you start a blog. I would prefer that readers assured themselves rather than take my word. If any reader finds the points made in this paragraph incorrect, I would be grateful for them to be corrected.

Therefore, the privacy of a commentator on a Blogger.com or Blogspot.com blog is VERY different. I would say that a commentator is more exposed on WordPress.

That is said to try to give assurances to readers of this blog. I also do not wish to be liable legally for things that I could control. I think the administrator's role is serious and that playing fast and loose is dangerous.

There is no obligation for any commentator to use a name. I have a comments policy that asks for a name--merely to make following threads easier. It seems to have worked well; I have violated that aspect occasionally to accept a very good comment. I do not receive many comments on my posts, but that is not a problem. That can be interpreted in many ways, positive and negative. I have said repeatedly why I write and the audience determines itself. Each reader can read and move on without comment, or comment occasionally, or comment incessantly. It's a matter of personal choice. I will pat myself and say maybe I have got it about right and no comment is needed.

A blog is not a chat forum necessarily but can generate a lot of 'dialogue'--this is evident on BFP and BU. See some major blogs in the US as examples of NOT chat forums. Managing comments is time consuming, and more comments must mean more time spent managing them. I moderate actively all comments, which means I should read them to ensure they are not profane, and then post (a minor edit to remove a profanity but retain great substance is the most I will change, and I indicate that, so that the commentator can see). Other blogs have virtually instantaneously publication of comments (an option available in WordPress). But sometimes one sees 'awaiting moderation'. (Some commentators are quick to flag that regarding their own comments, and that may reflect their 'bad' status on the blog.)

I have 4 comments pending that I have not published, two of them are anonymous (both posted on 12/08/09); these two read "Dull. As Always. Thanks for the effort." I would like to know if these are genuine or robot-generated (if anyone claims them, please resubmit as intended and assign your self a name). One comment is from a relative and we have discussed that the point is incorrect (relating to the water industry in the region), but I have not deleted it, for posterity sake. Another comment is from a local businessman (Scott Ames, posted on 25/03/09), whose company I criticized after a Holder's event. His comment set me straight. We spoke on the telephone and agreed to delete the offending post. But I keep the comment as a reminder to myself about the power of an error and its possible damaging effect.

I have received from time to time e-mail messages from commentators on other local blogs indicating that they have made a comment but it has not been published and is still 'awaiting moderation'. In all cases the comments contained NO PROFANITY. I indicate in such cases that the comment be resubmitted and that the commentator remark about non-publication of the previous submitted comment, and see what reaction follows. I am looking at one such instance now, where the text of the comment has yet to appear a day or so after its original submission. I have discussed this practice with staff at VOB, who have a policy of 'cutting off' callers who may utter things that could pose legal or other problems for the radio station. I have also commented on it by e-mail to the administrator in the specific case of the local blog concerned. I have not had a reply. It is ironic when practices abhorred when done by the print media--e.g. selective publication of letters, say--appear to be practised by the person claiming the behaviour is abhorrent.

Management of comments is interesting in terms of what it may say about managing of messages. A commentator on another blog mentioned 'astroturfing'. The commentator indicated that the Wikipedia definition is good enough to use, so here it is (astroturfing). Taking the definition given:

Astroturfing is a word in English describing formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous "grassroots" behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass, AstroTurf.

The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt ("outreach", "awareness", etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by an individual pushing a personal agenda or highly organized professional groups with financial backing from large corporations, non-profits, or activist organizations. Very often the efforts are conducted by political consultants who also specialize in opposition research.

If and where it exists one can merely guess at motives, but it is good to take a careful look at commentaries to see if in some senses they are padded. I have written about this recently (see Totally Blogged Down In The Mud), stating, "...they are building pyramids that appear to be large but are really held up by a lot of online hot air. Another aspect is what the traffic volumes are really representing." I think my initial reasoning is wrong, and some protestations may be valid in terms of this being done for revenue purposes. But the reason is yet to be made clear.

What does make some commentaries interesting is when the contributor/commentator makes remarks that one would expect of an administrator--then, one needs to look again at whether information is being shared.
For example, why on Earth would a commentator be interested in the traffic and volume of the blog where his/her comment appears? To ensure that the word spreads far and wide? Maybe. But why?

Similar questions arise when one sees 'proprietary' behaviour on blogs that is not challenged by the administrator.
Again, it may be incidental and the administrator may really take the view that stances such as self-appointment as umpire of a 'discussion' are ludicrous and should be seen as such without warranting comment. I personally would nip it in the bud, but that may be because soccer has strict penalties for dissent--it undermines the authority of the officials. In most sports questioning the appointed official's authority is heavily penalised (in baseball, arguing 'balls' and 'strikes' is a no-no). So, my mind set may be wrong.

I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I know that people like to get their way. When scrutiny starts and commentators express sentiments about moving from 'here' to 'other forums' to 'take over'. I know that my antenna starts to vibrate, so too does that of many people I know. When I have shown people such comments their conclusions are as mine. But the heat of the kitchen is not for everyone. We all know that it is easy to be overseen, yet some people seem to think that anonymity is more than a thin veil.

As I have said before, none of this is rocket science, but more about following a logic and a trail where it leads.

Working for the IMF makes one into a certain type of macroeconomist. The main framework for designing assistance to countries is called financial programming. It builds a picture of the economy by looking at four aspects: fiscal (government operations), monetary (banking system operations), external (balance of payment, activities between domestic and foreign), and real (production, prices, and wages). The picture must fit together as there are known interconnections between the aspects and they are usually captured in financial flows. But, one of the key points is that the information for each aspect is collected separately; and as a corollary the Fund usually assigns separate economists to study each sector in a country. That way, by bringing the information collected and compiled separately we can better find inconsistencies.

The government does not have the banking system's accounts. So, we can check government records of banking transactions against banking sector records of its transactions with government. They should show the same things, but often they do not, so off we go to ask the questions and stories do not match--there is a limit to collusion. The external sector is often really important in such exercises: national governments cannot control information provided by foreigners. So, while we take a national report on trade and services transactions, we also take foreign reports of such transactions with the country concerned. They should match, but often do not. Off we go again. This usually reveals some massaging of national data and we look at things like 'unidentified' and any calculation that comes as a residual. And so on. The massaging may not have bad intent, but has consequences nevertheless. The Fund now penalises this if it involves a country getting money under 'false pretences' and 'misreporting' now has a public 'name and shame' process--check the IMF website to see a few culprits. For the Fund, there is no need to show intent.

You can apply this kind of logic regarding consistency to most aspects of life. If you are a parent you know how to fish for what your kids have been doing. If you do not sit down to have meals with your children you are missing the greatest bean-spilling session of all.

I often make remarks on this blog that pin me to a situation, so that if you check my account against that of others you should get the same story. Some see that as 'arrogant' and 'big headed'. As they say in French, "Ah bon?" (Really? You think so?). I say it is about credibility. If I say I met a former PM, there are only very few of those around and it is very easy to check whether the meeting took place and also what was discussed. But, people often do not check and run happily into walls and get bloody noses for being lazy. I often do not need to name a name, but the descriptions are clear. People say that in small places nothing is secret but many things can go unnoticed. So, there is a lot of calibration that can be done that fixes me where I say I was doing what I said I was doing. I have little wiggle room.When I do this with my wife it makes her furious--I tell her what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG was important in developing wordprocessing). I repeat stories for the same reason. The more people who know, the better. But I need not say to whom I have told the stories. It gives more people the chance to verify. So, when people condemn out of hand, what should one conclude? They neither know nor care?

I make certain deliberate mistakes with a limited group for similar reasons to see whether the misinformation comes back from somewhere else. It was sent to only a few yet more know it. How can that be? Institutions do this all the time to see if they have sound and secure systems. Banks force people to take vacation to expose collusion and fraud: seven to 10 days is usually enough for the fraud to unwind. Some IMF mission chiefs 'double up' by giving team assignments that overlap but do not make that clear. I must say that I have always resented this when I was aware of it. It seemed like so much make work. But, you then get information on something from two sources and it is better verification. Some cunning people at the Fund. I now bow my hat to those mission chiefs whom I maligned for this.

I only realised recently that Facebook and Twitter can serve similar purposes. If more people know where you are and what you do, then there is the 'neighbourhood watch' in effect. That does not mean that you want uninvited persons trying to sneak in and filch a few canapes and sip a flute of your champagne just because you are having a big fete.

When we hear or read persons claiming to uphold freedom of expression and at the same time they take steps to stop expression, waht is that? We can all be economical with the truth, but suppressing it is what? When false hoods remain uncorrected what does that say about those who say they are seeking truth? It has to fit together to make sense. It is does not, it is nonsense.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Moving Moments.

This is a family story told by everyone affected. The events I witnessed, but I am only the writer now. The two children and a housekeeper will tell what they saw. The head of household will finish the tale. Moving countries can be traumatic, especially for children. They often slide along but that is not to be presumed. If things start well, they usually end well. Now, the story.

The men came to Sandy Lane and they started to unload a big truck with a lot of cargo.

When the men started to unload they brought in pictures, chairs, and a television.

These were elderly men ,who worked slowly and inefficiently. We asked them why no young men were in their crew/team. They said "They are sitting on the block." They also said that the boys had taken on 'our' culture: we are Jamaicans. The man meant that the boys were becoming Rastafarian. We got angry and told him that Rastas are not all of Jamaica and that he should not talk about another culture if he does not really understand what he is talking about.

The men also brought in kitchen items and bookshelves.

They brought in paddle boards. One is red and yellow, the other is green and blue. They are made from plastic, and have a warning sign that tells me that they are not life saving devices. Do not leave child unattended while in use.

The crew worked for seven hours, and took breaks for water and lunch (30 minutes). As the day wore on, the men seemed tired and looked haggard.

One of the children became restless and asked her 'uncle' (the author) if they could go for a drive. We went to a hotel to say a quick hello to some of 'uncle's' friends and we also went to a restaurant to have lunch. I ate chicken nuggets with fries and BROCCOLI and CAULIFLOWER and CARROTS. But I did not eat them. My 'uncle' tried to force me to eat the vegetables but it did not work. But he made me take them home for later. My face was not happy.

After lunch, the two children went into the pool for a swim. They did cannonballs. They did underwater handstands. When the boy came out of the pool, he cut his foot on a piece of metal. His foot bled and he trailed blood all over the patio. His 'uncle' cleaned up the wound.

As the team worked, we noticed one member who never went upstairs. He would unload from the truck and just climb two stairs with his box and wait for one of the others to take boxes from him.

It was now late afternoon and they continued to move things at their own pace. There was a new face: he started to help; he did not look as old as the others. With him, worked speeded up a little, and they finally finished the job after seven hours.

"You coming back tomorrow?" Asked the renter. "God willing," said one of the men. They are due to come to assemble beds.

Proving My Identity, Again.

I went to the Licensing Authority to get a driver's permit. I wanted one for 12 months. I offered my US driver's licence. OK. I offered to pay by check. The lady hesitated. "Do you have a Barbados ID card?" I told her I had the card issued to me by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I started to explain further, she cut her eye. I stopped and started again. She cut her eye again and interrupted me. I told her "Do not interrupt me. I'm explaining something and if you misunderstand it will be a problem." She cut her eye again. Third strike. She went to talk to a supervisor and then came back. I filled in the check and added the number from the card, as she had told me to. I asked to speak to her supervisor. I retold the recent events. The young lady cut her eye again. I said to the lady "Did I misrepresent?" She said I had. I asked how. She said nothing. I asked again. Again nothing. I looked at the supervisor. The supervisor looked at her staff. The lady said that we had each interrupted the other. I immediately apologized for my interruption. She folded her arms. I mentioned the Minister's name. She sat up straight. I said that should not have been necessary. Perhaps, I should give the lady credit for knowing the name of her Minister. I am a customer. "You are here to provide a service and help me, not to give me cut eye." I left. Maybe she thought that Americans do not know cut eye. But, I'm not American.

I know that the dysfunction is rife. My wife, myself, all her foreign-appointed staff, a raft of other people here working for international organizations, have a special ID card issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is supposed to act as our national ID card. It never does, without some problems. I usually use my US driver's licence or one of my passports (but carrying those around all the time is not to my liking).

Being a full scale diplomat is clear in most cases, especially if you have an ambassador level red UN passport. Being a regular private citizen is also usually clear. But being a sort of quasi-diplomat is really weird. I used to have a car with "head of mission" plates: road blocks? Sorry, stop? I don't think so. I had a regular licence plate: road block? Yes, officer. In Barbados, some institutions have special diplomatic plates, but I have never seen "head of mission" plates; there is a one-brand CD plate. I carry three passports: 2 national (Jamaican [only honorary consular facility], British [full-fledged High Commission support]; one for the UN (laissez passer; UN umbrella coverage). The UN document is supposed to be used to get past most awkward border controls and especially if it means having a stamp in the a national passport that may cause future problems, like from Libya or Israel. When you do international travel for a living these things matter. International organizations try to anticipate and protect.

I've gone through the ID hoop so many times now I could play both sides. Clearly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sees no need to inform other agencies of the arrangements they have made. They are domestic. Fortunately, I have met some really nice and helpful Bajans who know a dumb thing when they see it. So, I have not had problems getting my phones and all other things where foreigners are supposed to pay a deposit before proceeding. I guess nationals don't disappear. Cha! You should see how the planes are full of Bajans heading to New York City.

So, I have to make a plea to our overseeing representative from the UN. Please get things strengthened out. Patience is a virtue and I have lots of it. But, everyone has a breaking point.

The Power Of Boycotting

I know that by refusing to give my custom to an entity I can bring it to its knees. If I can get my foreign friends to do likewise, the knees will stay buckled. If my foreign friends persuade their foreign friends to do likewise, then the legs will drop off. If the foreign friends' foreign friends persuade some Barbadians to do it that would be a miracle. I have the proof. Look at what has happened to the restaurant business since I started my boycott nearly two years ago (see Boycotting restaurants). The weekend Sunday Sun showed the trail of restaurant closures, some with stellar reputations and ratings in the Zagat guide (see Crisis eats into restaurants). Restaurants in Barbados have learnt the hard way what economists mean by 'income effect' and 'substitution effect'. I am not sure if I started it, but I was a part. So, I have to take responsibility for the job losses that have occurred as a result. But, they were ripping money from me. They also had things wrong with how they did things. I had to get back and I will take care of myself. Eat me? I will eat you!

Now, voices are being raised to boycott The Nation, and to boot, maybe The Advocate too. Many reports indicate that circulation of the national dailies is dwindling; their online offerings are neither timely nor very interesting--some are barely in existence. Somehow, with a bevvy of staff they manage to produce not much at all. I alone am churning out articles as if I were Rumpelstiltskin at his spinning wheel.

Black Americans mounted effective boycotts to help speed racial integration, most famously in Montgomery, Alabama. Going my way? No way.

One of the longest-running boycotts is of Nestlé products. During the 1970s, consumer groups working in developing countries became concerned about the lack of breast-feeding and rising infant mortality. They concluded that 1.5 million infant deaths annually were due to unsafe (unsanitary) bottle feeding. These groups targeted Nestlé, the largest seller of infant formula in the developing world. The boycott is still on. Now, there is no membership card so we do not know who has stopped naturally, or who has newly joined, etc. I know that Nestlé felt the pain: one of our good friends in Guinea was their managing director in the country, and he explained. boycotts of fast food have also occurred, though I wonder where is the sacrifice in not eating what some call "artery clogging" cardboard.

But to boycott effectively you have to have self-sacrifice.You cannot say even with your deepest voice, "I'm going to boycott just as soon as I have a last...." No, it must be immediate and it must be sustained. The call regarding the papers means what, though? For those who read the papers online but like to feel the inky print, they will still get their fix of news from those 'despicable' sources. Phaw! For those who then upload and send around links, they are still promoting what some call 'diabolically biased' organs of national downfall.

Is the fuss really well focused? Screams were heard as far as in Sascatoon, Canada, that The Nation is biased. Well, hello. Newspapers express opinions. Duh. Oh, I get it. I must hear how much yu lerv me? I want to hear you whisper in my ear "Come here, Sugga." You need to understand the right answer to "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" You look me deep in the eye and say (no coughing or spluttering, or looking away now). "You, oh, heart felt sweet dumpling one." No, you may not leave and go to the bathroom. Say it again!

With my youngest child I say "Do not start a story with 'He was mean to me'. Tell me what you did first." So, she backs up and stiffens her back and starts. "I pushed Matthew, and then he was mean to me." Sometimes she gets it and says "...mean to me back." So, we may need to look a little deeper, deeper.

How did this all start? Who hurt you, sweetie? Tell us the names. He forced you to do what? He made you tell what stories? What did you do, honey? You just did as you were told? Then you must feel really terrible about that. So, what do you want to do now? Lash out at anyone who looks and sounds like him? I understand, baby. But, you know. that wont make things better; it just spreads the pain. Not all people that look like him are like him. Understand? You need to be a little more trusting. I know, baby. Life IS short. Anyway, you're both hurting, that's clear. He's gone and says he wont miss you. You say you don't care. All the best to you both, then.

An international perspective always helps and you can read from the World Press Freedom Committee site. I was also fascinated by the reports of how things were under the previous government in Barbados, and skimmed passages of a few books online. Not pretty reading at times.

The proposed local newspaper boycott is rather odd as one of its main proponents purports to uphold freedom of expression and wanting freedom of information and looking to avoid muzzling of its rights to write what it wants. It is extremely biased. But, I guess if you are biased you do get crinkly when others are also showing bias. Maybe it's the mirror. Maybe it's the 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' situation.

It may be worth rereading what I had to say about this 18 months ago (see What do people think of the press?). Also worth a read is Freedom of the press 2007: a global survey of media independence, By Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Eleanor Marchant.

I am not clear why you need to bother what one private newspaper writes when you own the national TV channel and have major broadcast rights through three government-owned radio stations (out of 11). The other private newspaper is normally very favourable to you, including running weekly articles from the main government advisor. I am not sure either why one would bother when one has the Internet and one's own blog. The means to deal with any bias from others are firmly there in your hands. Why bother? It draws attention, sure, but normally not favourable. International opinion will at the least register on the negative side. Domestic opinion will be mixed at best, maybe net negative at worst if one has misjudged the people's sentiments. It's also interesting to see what international company one keeps with certain actions.

Whether one likes it or not, US political opinion is important. I recall the US government's 2008 Human Rights Report: Barbados. Its general message was:

Although the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, problems included excessive use of force by police, poor prison conditions, and societal violence against women and children.

On the pertinent area discussed here, Freedom of Speech and Press, it reported:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

There were occasional incidents involving police altercations with the press. On December 19, police arrested two journalists who were attempting to cover the arraignment of a police officer charged with drug possession and trafficking charges.

The government restricted the receipt and importation of foreign publications deemed to be pornographic.

The 2009 report will no doubt make interesting reading.