Dying of the (US) White

Not trying to make people feel uncomfortable here. But racial and gender transparency and white male privilege in the USA can no longer be taken for granted.  To wit:

Increasingly, the message in America is clear: If your organization or project is a myopic den of white homogeneity, or if your strategy for success includes trying to gin up fear around people who are different, you are destined for irrelevance, and nobody will care how rich you are, or who your daddy is, or at what ivy-draped liberal arts school you cut your perfect teeth. Those who haven't learned that lesson are mocked, shunned, or, worse, totally ignored. Either way, they don't win elections.

Cord Jefferson & Gawker.comDying of the White: Requiem for the 2012 Election.

So how does that translate for the Bahamas? Well, my advice to all politicians, past, current and future, would be not to take the status quo for granted. In the USA, the white rich male norm is being challenged. People are pointing out, rightly, that by the mid twenty-first century American whites will be a real minority. Wealthy white men are a minority now. Expect for something similar to affect the mainstream political class in the Bahamas, be it PLP or FNM, as time moves on. Expect it to happen to those who rely on cries of immigrant invasion, women as the property of men (think the marital rape exception), culture as peripheral, or the Christian nation fiction here at home.  This is not the time for business as usual. Usual is slipping into the past.

Afua Hirsch: Our parents left Africa – now we are coming home | World news | The Observer

Something else worth reading. Read the whole thing.

I remember the usual things that people comment on when visiting equatorial African nations for the first time – the assault of hot air when stepping off the plane, which I confused with engine heat, the smell of spice and smoked fish on the air, and – most significantly for me – the fact that everyone was black. It sounds obvious but I had never really seen officials in uniform – immigration authorities, police, customs officers – with black skin. I dont think I had realised that there was a world in which black people could be in charge.via Afua Hirsch: Our parents left Africa – now we are coming home | World news | The Observer.

Taking another look: unexpected gifts

Some things I get all excited about little things. I'm checking my blogs irregularly these days, for reasons one day I'll write about, and came across a comment in the spam filter that I thought I ought to keep. I followed the link that went with it, and I came to the blog dailyplanet.org.uk, and a very cool post which gives a very different, and very deeply considered, tourist view of The Bahamas.It's worth reading the whole thing, but here's some of what Matt Wootton has to say:

There are plenty of examples of the Bahamas not being an empowered nation in control of itself. The brain drain is one sad example. There is one tertiary education institution in the whole of the Bahamas, the College of the Bahamas. Only this year are they starting to offer a Masters program. Many politicians do not even believe that the college is needed at all. They are happy to see the most promising and cultured, intelligent young people go away to the USA, Canada or Europe for their education. Many will not return to their home, where intellectual enquiry is not encouraged or rewarded. Yet then politicians and the media complain of the “Brain Drain”, and criticise individuals for “abandoning” their country. Clearly, their country abandoned them first by failing to have a thorough educational infrastructure. There is still a clear pattern of ex-pats being given work that no Bahamian can be found to do, because no Bahamian has been given the training and opportunity to do it. I met a European who is a new senior civil servant; he has been imported directly into a top job because there is insufficient home-grown talent (a law preferences Bahamian applicants over foreign ones where possible). He told me how he is overseeing major works, carried out by a foreign contractor. Nearby, the Chinese are building a new sports stadium. One of the most important public works at the moment is to dredge the harbour so even bigger cruise ships can be accommodated.via dailyplanet.org.uk » The Bahamas – sun, sea, sand & slavery.

People who live in glass offices

So last night I was watching TV—a British show called Hustle which is a very well-made, complex-charactered, witty cousin of the TNT show LeverageHustle came first, and I can see no acknowledgement in the official record of the connection between the two, but come on now—and at one point (not for the first time) the characters disappear into an office somewhere. I turned to Philip and said: "What is it with these glass offices that you see on TV these days? When did people start working in fishbowls?" (I don't think fishbowls was actually what I said—in fact, I know it wasn't—but it was in my head, so I'll put it out there.) He turned back to me and asked: "Why are you obsessed with offices? This is the fifth time you've asked me that question."And you know, he's right. I am obsessed with offices. And I have asked the question often. I ask it every time I see a new TV show with a new set of offices.People in the USA in particular seem to have taken to working in, yes, fishbowls.OK. My husband might be perplexed by my "obsession", but savvy anthropologists will know just where I'm going with this. Or at least where I'm coming from. Other people may not be familiar with Edward T. Hall and his studies on the cultural use of space (otherwise known as proxemics), but Hall theorized that different cultures approach space in different ways. He illustrated by conducting a study of the organization of offices and office space in three cultures—Japan, Germany and the USA—and demonstrated that different office practices—office layouts, office conduct, office habits—obtained in each nation.This becomes relevant when we begin to realize that as Bahamians we are in the business of serving the world. From tourism to banking, we interact on a regular basis with people from all over, and without understanding that there are fundamental cultural differences which are often subconsciously/unconsciously held, we will judge one another based on cultural variations that a little understanding of basic things such as the use of space would eliminate.For instance. Five years ago when I started working in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, when my ship had finally come in and the government had finally actually hired me (16 months after the initial interview), I moved into a corner office at the new Ministry of Education Building on Thompson Boulevard. Mine was an unusual office. Because it was in the corner, it had windows on two sides, floor-to-ceiling panels set in the two outside walls. The interior partitions, though, were walls.I was privileged. I was, after all, a Director, which explained the privilege. In some ways, by my personal standards, I was even more privileged than administrative officers who were more senior than me—than the Finance Officer, the Deputy Permanent Secretaries, and one of the Under Secretaries. In that office, only Directors, the Permanent Secretary, and the Minister himself were honoured with offices that others couldn't see into.What was interesting was that the officers listed above—the Senior Officers in the Ministry, as determined by their salary grouping (not their salaries)—were given blinds for their offices. If they wanted to, they could create a barrier between themselves and the world beyond by closing their blinds and creating walls from the glass that was provided for them. The one Director who could not get a corner office (the building was clearly not designed for a Ministry with three of them, as it only provided two corner offices of the kind that could accommodate Directors (for those of you who are not following me, the Department of Public Personnel has a list of the sizes of offices that should be provided for senior officers, and I can tell you, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture posed a problem for the HR department in that regard)) was also equipped with blinds. Not one other technical officer was given such a luxury.So what follows next begins to explain my obsession, as Philip calls it, with the glass offices I see on TV today. As I recall it, a whole lot of my tenure at the Ministry in my new capacity was filled with meetings. Tuesday mornings at 11 AM was the time we held Senior Officers' Meetings, which was convened by the Permanent Secretary and which required the Ministry's senior officers—the two Under Secretaries, the two Deputy Permanent Secretaries (Under Secretary trumps DPS, in case you were wondering), the First Assistant Secretaries (right under DPSs), the Senior Assistant Secretaries (next step down from FASs), the Finance Officer, the Directors (of which there were several, and of various kinds), and the Directors' seconds-in-command (for Youth and Sports, the Deputy Directors, for Culture the two Assistant Directors). (pace Rick, I can feel you spinning in your non-grave!). Sixteen people most of the time, sometimes more, all squeezed into the second-best conference room (called, for reasons those of us in Youth and Culture didn't quite get, the Sports Conference Room). These were meetings in which the PS briefed the senior staff on matters pertinent to the running of the Ministry—on the status of papers to go to Cabinet for example, on programmes that the Minister wanted to see implemented, on programmes that were already under way, especially those that involved the whole Ministry (such as Junkanoo, or National Youth Month, or some such event), and where heads of different sections (Directors, mainly) gave updates on the progress of their programmes (like JA activities for Youth, national sporting events for Sports, and national cultural events for Culture). We might be updated on the progress of our installation in these new quarters; we might be briefed on general staff matters, like how we were expected to implement General orders; we might be advised what was left in the budget for the half-year, and how we were to (not) spend it; we might be asked to seek solutions for various issues that had hit the press, like an increase in gang violence, trouble in a sporting association, or the complaints of musicians about the lack of jobs in the marketplace for them.My first months in office dealt with the status of the move. We were a newly reconstituted Ministry, having been reinstated by the PLP in 2002 after the FNM had dissolved the previous Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture in its second term, and that in itself brought a number of issues. We were also a Ministry that had very recently moved into new quarters. And these quarters were significantly different from the old ones. We were occupying a building that had been purpose-built for government activity at the turn of the millennium, while previous offices had occupied the seventh floor of the Post Office Building, an office from the turn of the third quarter of the 20th century, and reflecting office culture of a previous era. The largest difference was the open floor plan of the office, and this was causing considerable consternation among the officers and staff. Three things were causing this. The first was the fact that the new Minister had ordered that all of the Divisions of the Ministry—and all of the staff—were to be relocated to the new office, which meant bringing them in from the various field offices—from the Sports Centre, from the Youth Centre, and from Morro Castle (Culture's field office). The second was that there were only enough offices for Senior Officers and up; the rest of the staff and officers were to be housed in the large open office that constituted most of the south-western wing of the Ministry. And the third was that those offices that did exist were fronted with glass. In other words, if you stood in the open office and looked around, you could see into every office, except those that (as I have said) were assigned to the Director of Culture and the Director of Sports.And the Ministry was beginning by refusing to buy us blinds.I can't say why that was the case. We were never given a good reason why; we were simply told it was not the Ministry's policy to provide blinds for non-senior officers. Needless to say, this caused much discussion; as I have already noted, no one liked the idea of working in a fishbowl. There were many good reasons put forward as to why. For our regular officers, the idea that they were being expected to do their work from desks in the open office plans, when they would be moving with files of potentially sensitive information, and perhaps, for Youth Officers, might be expected to counsel young people in the open, was scandalous. For the senior officers who qualified for offices, the idea of working from glassed-in offices was a major breach of trust.The long and the short of it was the Permanent Secretary was faced with a mini-revolution. Work was not going to get done until all the offices received their blinds. We were not alone in the problem; the Ministry of Education was going through the same difficulties. The solution? To order blinds for every glassed-in office. Today, if you walk around those Ministries, you will notice that every glass wall is opaque; there is not one office in which the inhabitants work with the blinds up or open at all.I knew that something cultural was at work there. I knew that the problem wasn't going to be simply solved. But it wasn't until I reread Hall's proxemics in full that it clicked. We'd come to a point where the importation of someone else's office culture was not going to work for us; the floor plan that was designed for an American office was not translating to The Bahamas. Because we don't practice anthropology here in any wide format, we often miss the point; we think that Bahamians are unproductive for all kinds of reasons (some of them quite valid), among them the idea that we are genetically ill-prepared to work. But perhaps we miss the complete point, because we don't imagine that The Bahamas is worth studying for itself. The place where we work best, the place where phenomenal work gets done, is the Junkanoo shack—a supremely private, secretive place. We work best in secret. I know myself I don't perform well if I think people are looking over my shoulder, and I don't think that the answer should lie in our trying to fit into someone else's mould.So yes, I am obsessed with offices. I am obsessed with the question of glass. I don't think it's a frivolous obsession. I think it's an opportunity. We need to know who we are before we can begin to function at our best.

Stranded Due to Volcanic Ash - Some info

For those of you who don't know, I'm one of the million or more "ash refugees" around the world. Having come to Belfast for a conference last week, I've been the victim of two flight cancellations because of the closure of UK airspace since last Thursday as the result of the erupting Icelandic volcano. (Don't ask me to spell or pronounce the name. At some point I may try and copy-paste the name but not now.)Of course, this has raised many questions. It's clear that this is not a frivolous move on the part of the UK. Safety appears to be first in all things -- never mind the millions and millions of pounds being lost by cancelled flights. In this, I'm rather pleased to be in the UK, who are notorious about not being bullied into making decisions -- at the moment the more airlines and other agencies squeal the more intransigent the UK authorities are likely to get.But are they being overly cautious? In some ways, I hope so! I'd hate to be in the air over the North Atlantic and have the jet plane lose engine power owing to volcanic ash. And what is the realistic chance of this? In seeking some answers, I came across this:

The decision not to fly any aircraft across Europe since last Thursday is based on the latest guidance from the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In turn, the UK's traffic control organisation, Nats, and the Civil Aviation Authority follow the guidance to the letter.The flight which sparked this system was BA 009 - a 747 from Kuala Lumpur to Perth where all four engines stopped at 37,000 feet in 1982. An international agreement followed - and the bottom line now is that volcanic ash means no flights.The agreement set up a number of volcanic ash warning centres around the world. VAAC London (actually based at the Met Office in Exeter) covers Iceland - which is why the UK has taken the lead on this volcano.

via Volcanic ash: how do you spot the next volcano to disrupt flights? Every one listed | News | guardian.co.uk.

It's an interesting piece, and well worth following up. Join me in the challenge.

More information, about the effects of the wind on the ash cloud:

Q: unclecharlie – "There seems to have been little discussion in the news surrounding how and when changes in the wind may blow the ash away from UK airspace. Is this because they are unlikely to have a major effect? Or is it because such changes are unlikely to happen in the near future (i.e within the next few days)?"A: DrGrantAllen – "In response to unclecharlie, the reason we can not accurately say when the plume will not be "blown our way" is because we have been subject to what we call a "blocking high", similar to the weather regime which brought the cold snap in early January. The eventual breakdown of blocking highs is hard to perdict accurately, perhaps only with 2-3 days notice. Currently, and thankfully, it would appear that there is a likelihood that this high pressure system will break down around Friday, which would mean a return to Westerly winds from the Atlantic, which would mean the ash would not be blown South as it has recently."via "Iceland Volcano - millions remain stranded" | guardian.co.uk

And finally, this one, which explains why (pace Rick) I am far happier to be grounded by the safety considerations being followed by the UK government and authorities than to be hurtling through the sky as part of the profit-loss calculations carried out by airlines and their accountants.

there's an innate rationality to the logic of allowing bad things to happen. After all, car manufacturers, like airlines, are in the business of risk management. It's part and parcel of their existence that they take calculated risks, some of which will affect the sanctity of life for a few, very unlucky individuals.


Ask the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and it will no doubt cite a plethora of reasons for why airlines keep losing money. But they all boil down to the fact that projecting human beings 35,000 feet into the sky without killing them is exceptionally difficult. That makes it expensive. Which makes an invisible risk factor, costing £130m a day, something many airlines would prefer to brush under the rug.


... European airlines have been quick to rubbish claims by air traffic controllers that passengers are at risk. BA, KLM and Air Berlin insist the modest number of test flights they ran over the weekend conclusively prove the threat is overblown. The IATA says Europe's reaction to the disaster has been an "embarrassment". Yesterday, Simon Jenkins suggested on Cif that our healthy and safety culture had caused aviation authorities to overreact.

You shouldn't listen to any of them. Even if it turns out the duration of the flight ban was excessive, hindsight is a wonderful thing and that conclusion will only have been reached after days of testing.

via Martin Rivers, "When it comes to the ash cloud and planes, trust the scientists" | guardian.co.uk.

I'm with Martin Rivers. So far, I'm stuck in Belfast now -- till Monday coming!

Happy springtime.

International Women's Day

International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900's, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.


IWD is now an official holiday in China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

About International Women's Day.

What did you do today?

On Stilton Cheese & Culture Change (a little anthropology for Christmas)

I want you to check this out.

The history of Stilton can be traced back to the early 18th century and although it is clear that the recipe used has changed quite dramatically over the years it remains one of the world's best known and much loved cheeses.Quintessentially English, Stilton has its own Certification Trade Mark and is an EU Protected Food Name.This means that:- it can only be produced in the three Counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire- it must be made from locally produced milk that has been pasteurised before use- it can only be made in a cylindrical shape- it must be allowed to form its own coat or crust- it must never be pressed and- it must have the magical blue veins radiating from the centre of the cheese

Stilton Cheese - Welcome to the home of Stilton Cheese - Britain's historic blue cheese and Britain's favourite blue cheese

Now you don't have to be a fan of Stilton cheese to get where I'm going with this. Stilton cheese is one of the things that the British use to mark their Britishness, and the way it's made is very carefully monitored. What this means is that

a) someone had to study how Stilton was made and decide what was unique about the process;

b) someone had to regulate that uniqueness;

c) someone had to enforce that regulation.

There are three steps to the process: research and analysis, standardization, and enforcement.

Now I'm going to argue here (as I've done before) that culture does not just happen. Well, it does, but when people who (like the British) are really mongrels, hybrid groups of people living in geographical spaces where the original cultures and inhabitants have been effectively destroyed and/or replaced, it needs a little help to keep reproducing itself. Culture changes, and can change really rapidly, in the blink of an eye -- like what is happening I write to the indigenous Junkanoo beat (which is being swallowed up by a hip-hop rhythm that is being played by too many drummers who have no real grounding or training in authentic Bahamian rhythms, owing in large part to the fact that we mistakenly believe that our culture is genetically encoded and will always reproduce itself). Europeans, who have been self-conscious for centuries, know this better than most people (the Chinese know it best), and so don't worry about the sort of nonsense that suggests that culture will take care of itself; they know quite well that it won't -- that Anglo-Saxon culture will be swallowed up by Norman culture and disappear before you now it, or that languages will die if they're not carefully watched and preserved.

So for all of those of you who believe, as too damn many of our government officials and politicians believe, that culture is a luxury that we don't need, that it is something that big people grow out of and that is really only good for keeping children from getting restless (of course we believe this, otherwise we wouldn't keep linking our cultural administration with Youth, Sports or Education), thanks very much. Because of you, because of your stubborn refusal to recognize what is important about us and define who we are, you can be sure that what plenty of what we believe to be "Bahamian" is very soon going to disappear, going to change beyond all recognition.

And no, not all change is evolution; and not all change is good. Sometimes change is colonization, assimilation, ethnocide.

Think about it when you're watching your Junkanoo this year and ask yourself whether there is anything in it that someone from 50 years ago will even recognize about our parades. Then go back and check out the definition of Stilton.


Here's to the MJ I knew

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF0o-W5uu8o&w=425&h=344]Off the Wall was one of my favourite albums. Of course Thriller and Bad were up there, and they have some of my favourite MJ songs ("Man in the Mirror" would probably win the sweeps if I had to choose), but if you wanted me to tell you which one gave me the most joy, it'd be Off the Wall. It was the last one which had Michael Jackson looking the way God intended him to look -- like a damn cute black boy.Of course, when "Billie Jean" hit the charts, and Michael moonwalked across the stage, like virtually every other woman of colour that I knew (and men too), I leaped out of my seat and squealed. When he released  the "Thriller" video and the world fell for this cute black boy, we moonwalked across our floors.The whiter Michael got the further he got from me and from my friends. The more he assimilated, for whatever reason, the closer he came to yesterday. By the time his hair caught on fire on the Pepsi shoot, we'd determined that Michael, the Michael Jackson we'd grown up with, the singer of "Ben" and "Got to Be There" and "She's Out of My Life", was dead. All that was left was the clone.But here's to Michael -- to all the Michaels that he ever was -- the greatest performer I've ever seen.And I don't do starstruck.http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/25560314001?isVid=1&publisherID=1348423968

Passer-By Pushes Potential Suicide Jumper From Bridge In China

Passer-By Pushes Potential Suicide Jumper From Bridge In ChinaBEIJING — Chen Fuchao, a man heavily in debt, had been contemplating suicide on a bridge in southern China for hours when a passer-by came up, shook his hand _ and pushed him off the ledge.Chen fell 26 feet 8 meters onto a partially inflated emergency air cushion laid out by authorities and survived, suffering spine and elbow injuries, the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.The passer-by, 66-year-old Lai Jiansheng, had been fed up with what he called Chens "selfish activity," Xinhua said. Traffic around the Haizhu bridge in the city of Guangzhou had been backed up for five hours and police had cordoned off the area."I pushed him off because jumpers like Chen are very selfish. Their action violates a lot of public interest," Lai was quoted as saying by Xinhua. "They do not really dare to kill themselves. Instead, they just want to raise the relevant government authorities attention to their appeals."

Hard Choices and a New Age

Text - Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address - NYTimes.comWhat the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control —and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

The world has changed. Of course, it changed some time ago. Our communications systems changed, and the internet transformed society in ways we could not have imagined, and did not imagine, it would have. It made prophets out of people whose theories were both controversial and visionary — Marshall McLuhan comes to mind.This is why I don't accept arguments about "society" or "economy" or "the world" that don't recognize that the ground has shifted under our feet, that draw upon theories that were influential in the twentieth century, some of whose roots were in the nineteenth century, that ignores the contributions made by all sorts of thinkers of all ideological stripes.That the 44th President of the USA is African-American is important, revolutionary, seminal, historic. Yes. But that he is also the first president born after 1960 — the date accepted as the end of imperialism — after the change that began to change the world, after empires died and the formerly oppressed — we must not forget — were able once more to forge their own destinies for better or for worse, is equally significant. That he is the first president whose administration really appears to understand the change that has come in the world is something that is liable to change the world perhaps as profoundly as the skin he wears will do. It's possible to argue, and I'm going to, that the election of Barack Obama as an African-American marks the end of a change that began with Gandhi, continued through the struggle for self-determination and national independence throughout the European empires between 1919 and 1960, and came home to the English-language Americas with Martin Luther King. But what Obama's election also signifies is the beginning of another change — a change in society that has to do with changes in technology. The old ideas that were forced upon us by governments whose philosophies were the residue of 19th century industrialism are passing away, and a new world is beginning.But back to the speech:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.


The Cuban Revolution, Fifty Years On

It's not fashionable these days for a writer to support Castro's Cuba. Communism, after all, is supposed to be dead, a failed experiment that was roundly defeated, when the Soviet Union disintegrated 17-odd years ago, by the oh-so-superior capitalism and its apparent corollary, democracy.Let me say right now that I am sceptical, and deeply so, of those who denigrate Castro's Cuba, especially those of us in The Bahamas who do so. In most cases the arguments offered to display the inferiority of the Cuban revolution are not arguments at all, but knee-jerk condemnations that ignore the success of the revolution. They usually refer to material goods, or else they assume that the only possible way that Castro should have retained power for half a century is through the total subjugation of the Cuban people.The truth, however, is far more complex. It usually is. Cuba's revolution was, its critics notwithstanding, very much a popular one, as Russia's was in the beginning. If its popularity has faded within and without, that fact has as much to do with the reaction of the capitalist world around Cuba, which is hostile to it, as it does within Cuba. I'm not saying that the revolution is perfect. I am saying, though, that it isn't, as some would suggest, the worst thing that could ever have happened to the Cuban people in Cuba (though it may well have been the worst thing that happened to the exiles who still survive). Castro and his supporters overthrew a dictator who was in every way as bad as Castro's detractors claim he was, or more; but that fact is rarely shared.  It's convenient for people who are comfortable, or who (perhaps uncomfortably, if they think about it, for them) benefit from the suffering of others to resist revolution; it keeps them feeling safe, it keeps them from changing too much, it keeps them from questioning the corrosion that comes with greed. In many ways the Cuban revolution parallels Haiti's, which succeeded 155 years earlier, and the success of each revolution depended as much in many ways on the reactions of the countries beyond as it did on the will of the people within the nation. Haiti's revolution ended in abject poverty and long-term chaos for that nation -- not because of some inherent flaw in the idea of freedom for slaves and descendants of Africa, but because of the intolerable demands placed on the nation by the slave-owning countries around it. Cuba's is sliding into poverty, but despite the best efforts of the Cuban exiles in Miami, and despite the fondest wishes of those who believe Communism is an unworkable system, chaos has not yet begun.But on New Year's Day, the Cuban revolution turned 50. The future of the revolution looks bleak. I doubt very seriously that Raul Castro will be able to stem the tide of global capitalism that has already affected his country, and which is changing even Communist China from within. But before we celebrate, before we extol the fundamental glories of "democracy" and capitalism, let us remember that there are riches that go beyond the material. It's not surprising that we don't remember; our nation is particularly hollow in that regard. But success cannot be measured only in material goods, or in the protection or the advancement only of the privileged and the rich.All that said. I want to salute the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, and refer you to this article from Caribbean Beat. Viva Cuba Libre, for however long it has left.

It was to be a New Year’s Eve party with a difference. Fulgencio Batista, dictator of Cuba, traditionally invited his most trusted generals and political allies to his Havana home, near the military base of Camp Columbia, each December 31. There, among drinks, canapés and cigars, he would shake their hands, offer a small gift, and ensure that his circle of confidants and cronies remained loyal. He had been running Cuba since 1933, sometimes as army chief, sometimes as “elected” president, and he knew how to spot a potential usurper.The gathering on New Year’s Eve 1959 was smaller and more subdued than usual. Batista’s power was visibly ebbing away, as guerrilla groups closed in on Havana and other major cities. Batista boasted that the Cuban army had routed the guerrilla forces at Santa Clara, but few believed him.And, crucially, the US Ambassador had visited Batista on December 11 and told him that the Eisenhower administration could no longer prop him up. It was perhaps only a matter of time before the forces of Fidel Castro, after three long years of fighting, would be at the gates of the capital itself.

Caribbean Beat: Current Issue

Nah, ya see ...

It isn't a frivolous thing to protest against the way in which people expect to view Africa (and the rest of the third world for that matter, where skins are dark and palm trees feather the skyline).  I know Hurricane Ike was a bastard, and ripped up the southern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos and slammed Cuba and is now going to hammer Texas.  I know this, and so do you.But is there any excuse for the kind of coverage provided below?BBC NEWS | Americas | Paradise flattened in storm's wakeHere are other ways in which the BBC has reported on the storm:Images of Ike (almost all of Cuba, which racks up the heartstring points)And here is how the local media covered it:Images of Ike damage in Inagua, including millions of dollars' damage at Morton SaltMy conclusion:  our lens sees damage.  The lens of the BBC seeks human distress.All the better to underline, once again, and subtly (or not-so-subtly) the wonders of being civilized.I wrong?***(15/09/08) Edit: So maybe a little wrong, and certainly a lot biased.  Here are some other links to consider before weighing in on the discussion:New York Times on Ike (May require a password to view)LA Times on IkeHuffington Post on Ike

Hosting Carifesta X : Stabroek News

...we have every right – and every reason – to continue to believe that an event like Carifesta can help to fashion the economic integration that we have talked about for so many decades and which, it appears, is even now, being contemplated with renewed interest by sheer force of circumstances.

...One of the things that Carifesta X can and should do is to remind the entire region of our collective economic potential. Those who come here from across the Caribbean will, we hope, get an opportunity to come to a more refined understanding of Guyana’s economic potential, in areas like agriculture, agro-processing, mining, and jewellery production – and hopefully, those experiences will not only create a greater appreciation of the value of intra-regional    trade but will also generate ideas that will lead to an acceleration of intra-regional investment including investment in the growth and preservation of the region’s culture.

Hosting Carifesta X : Stabroek News

The whole article's worth a read.

J. K. Rowling's Speech at Harvard Commencement

On the benefits of failure and imagination.On failure:

personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone's total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

On imagination:

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places.Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathize.And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

Worth contemplating, no matter what one thinks about the suitability of Rowling as a choice for a commencement speaker at Harvard:

Rowling was chosen by Harvard's alumni. University President Drew Gilpin Faust applauded her selection, saying, "No one in our time has done more to inspire young people to … read."Rowling follows a long line of heavies who've spoken at Harvard's commencement. In 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall used the platform to detail his "Marshall Plan" to rebuild Europe after World War II.Since then, speakers have included such luminaries as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, other heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, and scholars."It's definitely the 'A' list, and I wouldn't ever associate J.K. Rowling with the people on that list," says senior Andy Vaz. "From the moment we walk through the gates of Harvard Yard, they constantly emphasize that we are the leaders of tomorrow. They should have picked a leader to speak at commencement. Not a children's writer. What does that say to the class of 2008? Are we the joke class?"

Courtesy of NPR.


The Bahamas' budget debate is taking place now.  As a civil servant, I am not free to comment as I would like.  So I'll just ask questions instead.I am listening to the debate, and the rhetoric is impressive.  But what is the reality?  Is this budget really preparing us for the 21st century?  Do we even understand what the 21st century will require of us?Here's the link to our budget.You can download bits and pieces or the whole thing in .pdf format.  I encourage you to do so.Here are some links to important global developments that will impact our economy in short order.World Trade Organization (WTO)UNESCO Cultural Industries Overview

CARICOM Cultural Industries (pdf)

A Post about America

Now.Let me say that, unlike many of my countrymen, I'm not addicted to the American election. Put very simply, I am not American. The Obama/Hilary competition is more important to my mind for its symbolic value than for anything that it means to me as a Bahamian.For one thing, I don't think for one moment that a Barak Obama presidency is going to mean to us what it will mean to Americans. Not in practical terms. In fact, Obama's worldview is quite likely to do us in The Bahamas less good than we might think -- he's accepted the realities of the 21st century global economy, and we still have no idea what those are. We're not even engaging in the discussion -- we're still talking in ways that are fundamentally obsolete. Our leaders (political, religious, what-have-you) have not demonstrated the consciousness that will enable them to meet Obama on his terms. Strangely enough, if Obama becomes President, our best route to the Americans will be through the much-despised Caribbean.But that's by the way.The race for the Democratic nomination is symbolic because from the beginning it ensured that the next Democratic contender for the American presidency will not be a white man.Tonight is symbolic because the black man won.In America.Let us all take off our hats and stand in awe.But it's also symbolic because the election was a truly democratic one. Forget the spin and the punditry and the experts; nobody has a real clue which way this election is going to go, because nobody has figured out how to translate the discussions that are going on in cyberspace -- and that have driven Obama to his victory -- into votes. The people, for the first time in what seems forever, are driving the candidates and the spinners and not the other way round.What saddens me, though, is that we Bahamians have yet to invest our hearts and minds and interests in our own political campaigns and drive those people who imagine they have the right to lead us. While I admire Obama and know I am watching history unfold, I am still angry that the quality of the discussion,  analysis,  thought, of simple plain sense that we Bahamians are demonstrating in our support of Barak Obama was nowhere in evidence last year this time, when we were voting for the people who would actually make the difference in our lives. And it's still nowhere in evidence as we move forward, negotiating waters of free trade and trading blocs (can we truly remain isolated in a "free-trade" world? I wonder). Every viewpoint I hear expressed is dated.Come on, fellow Bahamians. Let's the minds we've honed this past year watching Obama become the Democratic presidential nominee and turn them on ourselves.Please.

Our Heterogeneous World

... and if you don't know what that long word up there means, go look it up.I was reading Shashwati's Blog this morning.  It's been a long time since I've checked her stuff out, which doesn't mean that I don't value what she says, but rather that I really have not had the kind of time to do the kind of blogging I would like to do.  But this post resonated with me, because I think we suffer from the same malaise.  She talks about an experience she had (as an East Indian woman, in Caribbean parlance) with a Taiwanese masseur who, having heard her voice, questioned her about her colour.  As Shashwati says:

[He (the masseur)] realized my English was better than my Chinese and asked me where I was coming from. I replied, “United States of America.” He turned to a seeing woman next to him and asked her what I looked like. Specifically what the color of my skin was (I could comprehend that much despite my poor language skills), then he turned to me and said, “Are you White?” what reply was he expecting me to give? Yes that I was White, so should be treated better. But he already knew the answer, so was he testing the “truthiness” of a non-White person? I told him no, I was browner than the brownest Taiwanese, and that the US had many people of different races and colors, and America should not be equated with being White, it was a big diverse country. I was suddenly in possession of language skills that normally elude me.

By that I mean that, just like the Taiwanese she writes about, we Bahamians appear to imagine that the world is monocultural.  More specifically, we tend to associate specific nations with specific "races".  We don't question this tendency, and we imagine that it is somehow natural.  But the world is a multicultural world, and, colonial mythology aside, it is not divided into clumps of people who fit specific moulds.We should question it.  Our history has determined how we see -- the world, our nation, ourselves.  We should not accept that way of seeing without interrogation.  We need to carve out our own existence, make our own reality.  We cannot allow past oppression to stretch into, and shape, our futures. 

He was the Greatest of Us All

R.I.P., Aimé Césaire.Cesaire's best known works included the essay "Negro I am, Negro I Will Remain" and the poem "Notes From a Return to the Native Land."His works also resonated in Africa. Former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf said Cesaire led a noble fight against hate."I salute the memory of a man who dedicated his life to multiple wars waged on all battlefields for the political and cultural destiny of his racial brothers," Diouf said.Born June 26, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique, Cesaire moved to France for high school and university. He returned to Martinique during World War II and served as mayor from 1945 to 2001, except in 1983-84.Cesaire helped Martinique shed its colonial status in 1946 to become an overseas department. As the years passed, he remained firm in his views.

--from the Miami Herald

Edit: Geoffrey Philp has an excellent article, here.