30 October 2008

Proud to be Bermudian

Trying to be more positive, here's a post listing some things that make me proud as a Bermudian. Please add your own list of what makes you proud to be Bermudian in the comments.

- Bermudians have made an impact in arts, science, engineering, and sports throughout the world that although small is still very disproportionate to our size -- and much more so than a small town in another country that matches our size.

- Bermudians are hard workers. You always hear about the stereotypical lazy Bermudian, and those people do exist, but many Bermudians get up early and work long hard days. I was surprised when I moved back to Bermuda at how early people get moving on this island. Another example of Bermudian industriousness is people building their own houses. True, this is far less frequent than it used to be, and for many Bermudians was a necessity (as they could not get mortgages), but they did the work. Finally, I feel that Bermuda is a nation of entrepreneurs, whether they be a one-man appliance-repair business, or interior decoration business run out of the home.

- Bermudians take great pride in their homes, it is something that our visitors always notice and comment on. Everyday I am still struck by the natural & man-made beauty in Bermuda. Even so-called 'bad' areas such as those around Camp Hill in Southampton are neighborhoods with well-tended gardens and proudly maintained houses.

- Despite all the racial talk and the real issues around race, many Bermudians have been able to cross the color line, whether in their friendships, professional relations, or in their romantic entanglements. Our youth are even more advanced in this area, although they do bring their own problems...

- I was proud to serve in the Regiment with other Bermudians, and I am proud of the almost 150 or so soldiers who are essentially volunteers: full-time staff and everyone who signs on for extra time. Those soldiers give a massive amount of their time and energy to serving the country and whatever issues the Regiment has, you cannot discount that dedication.

That's my 10 minutes of madness for now...

Gambling v2

I am not that shocked to hear that Gov't is now mooting allowing offshore on-line gambling to occur in Bermuda. Despite my previous post on gambling, I am not as clearly opposed to this concept.

BUT... it strikes me a bit as the Gov't trying to get a free lunch -- and you know there's no such thing. Although on-line gambling will avoid many of the problems I mentioned in my previous post, it does have the obvious downsides of straining relations with the U.S. So Bermuda will need to balance the impact on that relationship very carefully with the possible cash income from gambling.

I'm probably not as hard-line about this as Vexed, but I do doubt the magnitude of the economic benefits. E.g. the Royal Gazette cites Antigua as earning $35 million and gaining 3,000 jobs. I don't think that $35mm number will be very significant to the Bermuda Gov't budget, and I can't really understand where the jobs are coming from -- other than to speculate that Antigua did not already have very many white-collar workers. I don't buy that it will make jobs for Bermudians. I would envision jobs in IT, marketing, accounting, and legal: all areas where our island already has to import talent. Again, no jobs there for our bottom half...

I wish I had the answer for that problem at this time -- it's a very hard problem.

29 October 2008

Gambling Away Our Future

Recently the Government announced that it is sponsoring a study on gambling in Bermuda, that will, usefully, be carried out by a firm that makes its money advising people on how to successfully implement gambling. So no surprises how that will turn out.

Gambling in a Bermuda is a bad idea. It won't solve any of our important problems, but it will aggravate many of our existing problems and bring new ones.

Will gambling improve our educational system? NO

Will gambling reduce crime & usher in more cooperation between our people and the police? NO

Will gambling make our country more palatable for international business? NO

Will gambling reduce the frustration of under-educated Bermudians who watch the glittering world of international business and 'platinum' tourists glide by and wonder why they can't find a place to live and a job that will help them pay that rent? NO

Will gambling help our families rebuild themselves? NO

What will gambling do, you must be asking? It's simple, and the OPC has got most of it down. At the end of the day, the sole positive thing (and this has been debated through the ages) gambling will bring is more money to the island. It will bring more jobs, but not for Bermudians: the hospitality industry on this island is already stuffed to the gills with non-Bermudians. That industry cannot survive while paying Bermudians the salaries they need to live the life they can pay for doing something else.

Gambling will also highlight and increase the gap between rich & poor; increase the incentive for crime; and, very importantly, stress our natural and technological infrastructure.

So, why is the Government pushing this? The answer to this is also simple: they are thinking only about how to get more money to spend. They see spending money as an exercise of power & ambition, and because they aren't very good leaders in the true sense of the word, it's the only way they know how to lead and influence people. And, of course, they get their cut too...

Like so much else in this world, all you need to do is follow the money...

This post brought to you by ten minutes of madness.

28 October 2008

Parliamentary Salaries

10 M-O-M, go!

For the short version of this post, check out The Devil Island.

Parliament will soon be voting on whether or not to increase the salaries of many of the MPs. I believe that part of the reason is to rationalize the salaries so that there are not as many big gaps between e.g. full and part-time ministers, back-benchers, senators, and the Speaker.

Nevertheless, it is clear that on both moral and practical grounds all MPs should vote against the increases. First of all, the Government has just said it will cut expenses by 10% across the board, and has just closed offices and laid off workers in New York. MPs should set the tone and act as leaders for the rest of the Government by refusing to increase their own salaries.

Second, in these current uncertain economic times, many Bermudians will be suffering economically: at the pump, at the supermarket checkout, and when they pay the rent. Also, the downturn will reduce profits of most of the international businesses currently on the island. Government's social services will be increasingly in demand while its tax receipts will be way down, and although the MPs' salary raise would not be a massive proportion of the Government budget, it will be a meaningful amount that can be reallocated to more important purposes.

Some MPs will say that they deserve the increases, that a large fraction of their time is consumed with parliamentary duties, that their job is not paying them for the time they spend politicking. That may all be true, but is no surprise for these MPs: they knew what they were getting into when they signed up for it, and if the financial situation made sense then, it should still make sense now, even without the increases.

27 October 2008

Blogs are for people who think

10 minutes. Ready, set, go!

I have had it up to here with the junk that the PLP blogs are spewing. They are immature, childish, and full of either half-truths or falsehoods. Somehow, the PLP writers seem to think that repetition, alliteration, tiresome adverbs, and ad-hominem attacks help them make their point. I suggest they go read some Hemingway (I know, a white male) to learn how to actually say something with their writing.

The progressive minds blog is particularly childish. I am all for people being able to say what they want, and link to blogs even if I disagree with their point of view. But, I have finally decided that I am not comfortable giving any link to that particular pit of iniquity, and have removed them from my blog-roll. Gasp! Horror of Horrors! They must be reeling from the forceful slap in the face that I have to delivered to them by the momentous act of... removing them from my blogroll!

The regular PLP blog is only one notch up, parroting the most ridiculous spin. I do hope for the sake of his future career that Glenn Jones is not the one behind that drivel. Take for example, the recent PLP blog entry about the by-election in #31, Southampton West. They write that "Charlie Swan is part of the problem with the United Bermuda Party", and then go on to spin about Marc Bean.

The reality is that Charlie Swan is an asset for the UBP. He is a successful businessman in his own right who has been around serving his community for a long time, and who is well known and well respected. Marc Bean is one of Ewart Brown's lackeys: he serves in all of his positions at the pleasure of Brown, and would no doubt be right in Brown's back pocket if by some strange stroke of fate he was to be elected in #31.

As a constituent of #31, to me the choice is clear. A mature, accomplished man who has earned his position, versus yet another henchman to assist Brown in running this country into the ground? My vote is for Charlie.

(13 minutes...)

More Good Rhythms: Clinark

This is the second in a continuing series of Ten minutes of madness.

I recently picked up Clinark's new album from the Music Box. It's called Journey to Foreign, and I recommend that you buy it. If you like good classic reggae beats, you'll like this album. I've had it on repeat all week -- to me it's the music of summer: the game, the beach, the raft-up. Go buy it.

OK, as far as ten minutes of madness goes, this entry was cheating. But we're just starting...

This blog is not dead...

This blog is not dead... it's just been on hiatus. It takes a surprisingly long time to get something out on the blog, and the activation energy can sometimes hold me back from getting started. To get things lively again, I am going to try 'Ten minutes of madness', which I first learned about from the busblog. The idea is simple: write a blog entry in no more then ten minutes. Try and keep it interesting too, OK? Let's see how we do, I think I've gone over already...

06 October 2008

Secret Po-Po: Go Buy It!

I just bought the debut eponymous album by Secret Po-Po, one of Bermuda's latest home-grown acts. It's mostly reggae, with a bit of rock thrown in, and I can highly recommend it. You can get it at Rock Island Coffee.

If you can suggest any other good Bermudian artists, feel free to contact me or list them in the comments. I have a few in mind, so might blog on them in the future.

05 October 2008

Racism Without Racists / White Privilege

This recent NYTimes op-ed does a great job of explaining "racism without racists". I've been meaning for a while to post on this topic, and the related one of white privilege, but this article says it much more succintly and clearly:

Research suggests that whites are particularly likely to discriminate against blacks when choices are not clear-cut and competing arguments are flying about — in other words, in ambiguous circumstances rather like an electoral campaign.

For example, when the black job candidate is highly qualified, there is no discrimination. Yet in a more muddled gray area where reasonable people could disagree, unconscious discrimination plays a major role.

White participants recommend hiring a white applicant with borderline qualifications 76 percent of the time, while recommending an identically qualified black applicant only 45 percent of the time.

That is, blacks are sometimes discriminated against even though the person doing the discriminating is doing it unconsciously -- even though the person is not what we would call "a racist".

To my thinking, racism without racists, and white privilege are two sides of the same coin. Racism without racists explains white privilege in the here and now: why whites may be more likely to get certain jobs, not get stopped by police, etc. White privilege as a whole, though, includes more than just what's going on today: it includes history. That is, how did I get here? Was I advantaged relative to my fellow black Bermudians because of the color of my skin (and that of my parents and their parents and so on...)?

I personally believe in both of these concepts, and believe that they affect us in Bermuda today. At the same time, I don't advocate the kind of approach that some (especially white) activists take, which is to beat themselves and those around them over the head with white privilege. I believe the thinking is that whites need to confront their terrible history in order to move past it. That may be so, but making people feel miserable is never a good way to get them to buy into your cause. And, there is no doubt that lots of white Bermudians worked their tails off to get where they are today, even in the face of much opposition from the infamous Front Street families. So those hard workers are obviously not very interested in being told that they got to where they are today solely on the color of their skin.

To me, it makes more sense to approach these whites (that you hope to convince about the reality of white privilege/racism without racists) using concrete examples like that I quoted above. Because the reality is that most people (black and white) are concerned about being truly fair. And if you can show to them examples of unfairness & how it can be promulgated by even well-meaning people such as themselves, I think it will start them reflecting upon and truly examining their day-to-day interactions. And they can do it at their own pace without being bullied.

My last point is that although I believe in these concepts, I don't buy into the "racism as power" orthodoxy that comes from North America, which holds that blacks cannot be racist. There is not doubt that racism as practiced in the U.S. was significantly about power. But our reality here and today in Bermuda is different: there are many blacks with power, especially in Government, who by virtue of their position have the ability to act in racist and xenophobic ways that negatively affect other people in Bermuda.

By the way, check out this post earlier this year from politics.bm.

Psychology Research on Whites in Bermuda

Carol Simmons is doing a psychology research project on "how personality traits and patterns of social interaction influence interracial attitudes among whites in Bermuda" (link). If you are white, over 18, and live in Bermuda, I encourage you to participate in her survey. See here original blog post & link to the survey here.

02 October 2008

XL Layoffs: Canary in a Coal Mine?

For a while now I've been thinking about the XL layoffs, and what it means for Bermuda and Bermudians thinking about their careers. I have thought about the most constructive way of expressing my opinion, and I believe it is this:

Bermudians who go to work in the (re-)insurance sector and who desire long-term success and stability need to evaluate their opportunities very carefully, and be willing to go above and beyond their employers' expectations.

What do I mean by this? The insurance industry has been touted as a gateway to success for many Bermudians, with promises of training and pathways to advancement within the industry. One of the premises is that you can start at the bottom and work your way up, even if you have no special insurance skills.

For example, you can start by working in IT, accounting, claims processing, or other jobs that support the industry but aren't at its core. And in fact, I would speculate that the vast majority of Bermudians are in these areas, and at a relatively low-level (since corporations are generally hierarchical).

And that's to be expected: you have to start somewhere, right? But the irony is that by definition, those jobs that are most accessible to Joe and Jamahl Bermudian without any experience are in fact the first jobs to be outsourced. Because they rely the least on deep experience and connections within the industry, they are the most accessible to Bermudians, and also the easiest with which to get someone in India or Halifax up to speed.

What does this mean for you, the average entry-level Bermudian Insurance Worker?

I don't claim many special skills in my advice-giving, and will probably come across as santimonious here, but I would suggest something along these lines (and I hope readers will chip in). But the general idea is to differentiate yourself and become the kind of person that is, literally, irreplaceable:
  • Find out everything you can about getting training from work.
  • Make sure you know your career path. I know that not everyone is the ambitious corporate type, but if you're not going forward, you're going backwards or will be left behind.
  • If your boss promises you advancement, make sure you get objective criteria for obtaining that advancement, and keep track of how you stack up against that criteria.
  • Don't be an a role-player, be the protagonist. That is, don't just do your job by fulfilling all the basic requirements & checking the boxes. Instead, think about your business, come up with ideas, suggest things to your boss, and generally be proactive.
  • Become an expert at something in your firm. Then find someone else to do it, and become an expert at the next thing...
  • If you are in a bad work situation, address it, it may mean moving companies.

01 October 2008

Role of the Opposition

I see that I haven't posted a new entry in my blog for almost two weeks! Must have been slacking... have no fear though, I have a whole slew of fascinating topics lined up to post on for you.

Today's juicy article is on the role of the opposition in the parliamentary system. I found these papers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) that outline some ways to think about the opposition. You can find even more materials and papers if you Google for "CPA Role of the Opposition".

The CPA is an organization for Parliamentarians around the world to exchange ideas about how to be better governments within a parliamentary system.

Here are some key points from the CPA materials:

  • Society and the Government have to agree that there is an important role for the Opposition.
  • The Opposition needs resources to do its job (e.g. access to research).
  • There should be a "culture of accountability" [think, e.g. of Government responses or lack thereof to Parliamentary Questions].
  • The opposition has to be seen as a credible alternate Government -- i.e. has to be seen as able to develop policies and govern successfully.
  • Government and the Opposition should be able to work together behind the scenes, e.g. in producing good legislation.
  • The opposition needs to remain in contact & communication with society.
  • "...although MPs are increasingly concerned with constituency business the work of making, amending and repealing laws is central to their task and that, while the initiator of legislation is usually the governing party, the Opposition can have an important role".

I have a strong opinion about that last point. Too many MPs in opposition, and especially our current Government, seems to think and act as if their main job is to get re-elected. In fact, that is not their jawb at all! Their jawb is to make Bermuda a better place: put in policies to lift up those at the bottom of society, make sure we are all well educated, make sure we all have access to economic success, if we choose to work for it, etc.

Sometimes that means making hard decisions which may require long-term thinking to see payoffs. Or, eating humble pie and engaging in the political art of compromise and discussion to get things done.

Let me list a few concrete examples where the current PLP Government has failed to do this, preferring instead to spin their way from crisis to crisis:

  • Education: 18 months later, and what's happening? Teachers not getting paid and the Bermuda Union of Teachers still shut out of the reform process.
  • Crime: Run an election campaign that calls your opponent too tough on crime, and then turn around and start talking about SWAT teams. And, still don't bother to negotiate a contract with the Police, your front-line against crime.
  • Housing: promise homes in lotteries, but don't bother building them for 4 years.
  • Tourism: Crow that air arrivals are flat rather than down, even though tourist arrivals are down 9%.

I'd continue but it's shooting fish in a barrel.