CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON

Men used to walk around with rapiers and duel one another. Later, it was flintlock pistols. Then revolvers. Nowadays, all these weapons are banned. Nowadays, you can’t even walk around with a kitchen knife, or baseball bat, or machete without some officious person in a blue uniform wanting to stop you and arrest you under some section of some Act for breaking some law or other that says you can’t possess an ‘offensive weapon’.

I guess things had to come to this. After all, it’s just not nice to go around mashing people up with guns and knives and baseball bats and crash helmets etc… It seems, though, that today’s best weapon may be your car or your bike.

The way Bermuda’s Magistrates are building Bermuda’s case law, it seems that the best way to manage a confrontation with someone would be to run that person over – several times – with your bike. Or, kill her with your car.

Whatever you do though, don’t slap her face or hit her with your crash helmet.  That would be a SERIOUS crime!

 

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THE REAL ISSUE

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist” is how the Brits would say it. For Jamaican’s, it’s “Hol’ yuh cool.” However it’s said, the message is the same.

            Alpha Phi Alpha took umbrage at what I’d written. What did I write?  Alpha Phi Alpha is a ‘black’ fraternity…”

They are. Alpha Phi Alpha’s history says that seven black men – “jewels” – started the fraternity.  The fraternity adopted its first constitution in December 1907.  It opened its ranks to whites and others in 1945. In 2005, their own chapters describe themselves on their own websites. In 2005, Alpha Phi Alpha is ‘black’ in the same way that the AME church – certainly an international, interracial, and Christian organization – is still a ‘black’ church. Alpha Phi Alpha is still a ‘black’ fraternity.

            Did Alpha Phi Alpha invite all six senior schools to participate? Their follow-up complaint in the Royal Gazette says that they did.  The original “Bermuda Sun” story said Alpha Phi Alpha only asked five of the six schools to participate.

            If Alpha Phi Alpha were seeking to find as many young men as they could, I’d expect them to ask all six senior schools. Whether or not they asked five or six is entirely their own business. 

            If, however, they did leave out one school – which school was it? In the same free world that Alpha Phi Alpha lives in, I’m free to wonder why? I’m free to ask. I’m free to comment. I did.

From census and education statistics, at the senior school level, counting just one age-band of Bermudian boys, there are about 250 black male students in that one age-band. About 180 black male students would be in public education and 70 in private education.

Alpha Phi Alpha’s offer may have been to every student in that age-band in Bermuda. That was excellent. Alpha Phi Alpha’s response in the Royal Gazette obscured the fact that I’d said – quite clearly – that their offer was not fully taken up. That was no fault of Alpha Phi Alpha. The fault lay elsewhere.

Bermuda’s two ‘public schools’ contain the overwhelming majority of black male students. Neither of these two publicly funded schools ensured that at least two of their 180 eligible black male students completed Alpha Phi Alpha’s challenge. Three ‘private schools’ share 70 of these male students.

The real issue – the important issue – the fundamental issue – that really bothered me was this. Why did neither of the two publicly funded public schools complete the challenge? This was the critical issue.  

It bothered me. I thought it would bother everybody else. I hoped it would bother everybody else. That’s why I pointed it out.  That this excellent opportunity wasn’t fully subscribed still bothers me.

A large part of a very real problem, shown in this little spat and spread throughout much of our Bermudian life, is a Bermudian propensity for too many of us Bermudians – certainly individually and sometimes nationally – to focus on the smallest and least important fragment of a much bigger and far wider problem.

Far too many Bermudians work themselves up into a frenzy over one or two niggling points and completely miss the big red monster blob.

Come on people: “Hol’ yuh cool!” See the real problem!

 

GHOST TOWN

In town the other day, I got a feeling that there not many people were about. It seemed to me that a certain vibrancy was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was as if some of the throb had gone out of the town. It wasn’t a rainy day and Reid Street just didn’t seem as ‘busy’ as I seemed to remember it usually was.

            That set me recalling how dead Hamilton became – especially at night – when Bermuda General Theatres finally gave up and closed the Rosebank Theatre. For months thereafter, Hamilton, at night was a ghost town.  Hamilton didn’t come alive until the BIU opened the Liberty Theatre and Raymond White followed with the Little Theatre. These two businesses acted like a blood transfusion and colour and life flowed back into what was looking, increasingly, like a dying city. Pubs and bars got a new lease on life and night-time restaurant business went up.

            With Trimingham’s closure, the overall effect is that of an anchor store in a big shopping mall pulling out. First, there’s a noticeable reduction in people flow. This sparks the pullout of just one more anchor shop. Then the mall implodes. There’s an exodus of smaller shops and the mall dies. It gets rejuvenated by becoming a place where low margin shops and offices can operate but it has lost its ability to pull in masses of people. It’s a shell of its former successful self.

            I have the sense that Hamilton – as it did all those years ago – is losing people again.

            Over and over, I’ve suggested that Hamilton’s City Fathers – the mayor and the ‘businessmen’ and that lot who’ve plunked themselves on the Corporation of Hamilton – should float a bond and borrow sufficient funds to turn Reid Street into a traffic-free shopping and entertainment and eating and recreational area. They would be able to pay off that bond from increased revenue from increased people flow and increased retail activity and an increase in service providers and an increase in entertainment activity.

            Such a move would pull people into Hamilton and, as on Harbour nights and Christmas shopping nights, people will come, people will hang, and people will spend. The businesses that the City fathers own will all have an excellent opportunity to pick up more custom from a greater volume of people traffic as more people come out to where the ‘action’ is.

            I now rescind that advice.

            Instead, I now recommend that the City Fathers get themselves a wide banner that will take six foot high letters. They should hang that banner from their City Hall. Before hanging their banner, they should have a sign writer write on it – in six foot high letters – and it isn’t a spelling error  – “FARTERS IN CHARGE.” 

            Then they should all shut up their shops and go home – forever.

 

FINITE OR FINESSE PART ll

Richard Galant of Newsday:  Now, though, Bermuda faces a storm of a different kind. Bermuda-related companies are caught in the web of a wide-ranging investigation by spitzer and the securities and exchange commission.” So, if everything seemed board-room, offshore, and not relevant, just consider these easy-to-see connected realities.

            Guilty pleas. So far, ten executives have entered guilty pleas. Four from AIG

, three from M&M, one from ACE. So 80% of the guilty pleas involve big insurance entities with a major presence in Bermuda.

            Marsh&McLennan, a major player in Bermuda’s insurance world, has already paid a penalty of $850m and cut its global staff. Jeffrey Greenberg [son of Maurice ‘Hank’ Greenberg] was required to ‘step down’ as M&M’s CEO. Insurance broker AON has paid a $190m penalty. That’s $1.04bn, so far, in penalties.

            AIG, the biggest player in Bermuda’s insurance world, is under investigation for questionable accounting practices that may go back fourteen years. AIG has admitted to ‘irregularities’. In its 30th April 10-K, AIG will admit to a new accounting loss of $1.77bn. To avoid harsh legal action, Maurice ‘Hank’ Greenberg [Jeffrey and Evan’s father] had to step down as CEO. Michael Murphy and four other Bermuda based AIG executives have made hasty departures.

            ACE, highly visible in Bermuda’s insurance world, has had 43 subpoenas – so far. ACE’s CEO is Evan Greenberg [Maurice’s son and Jeffrey’s brother]. In connection with Spitzer’s investigation, ACE has fired two top execs and, like AIG, remains under investigation.

            PwC [PricewaterhouseCoopers], the Bermuda-based global accounting and audit firm, profitably audited AIG’s books for thirty years. Accusations of accounting legerdemain, especially if they stick, have the potential to place PwC in the same embarrassing position as Arthur Andersen was with ENRON.

            Finite Risk Insurance. Bermuda leads in the development and sale of this new insurance specialty. However, this particular insurance product, as it is actually applied in the marketplace, is causing accounting headaches and difficulties and is upsetting some investors and oversight agencies.

            Investigations. USA state investigators, the SEC, and the Federal Justice Department, are investigating everything thing I’ve written about. They are now probing deeper and wider, and are questioning even more insurers, transactions, and accounting statements. ‘Hank’ Greenberg, under increasing pressure, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and was less cooperative than Warren Buffett.

            Ultimately, what does this mean to us – to you – here in our Bermuda?

            It means that pressure on AIG will continue. AIG and its subsidiaries may downsize as they ‘adjust’ and ‘restate’ dollar numbers in order to ‘correctly state’ true values. AIG could slide from its current position as the world’s biggest insurance entity.  The web of inter-connected companies that do huge slices of their business with AIG could all have reduced incomes, lower profitability, and lower levels of employment. Even if, because of the magnitude of difference, AIG remains as the world’s largest insurer, it is still likely to emerge a leaner entity. 

            With ‘finite risk insurance’ taking this major hit, Bermuda’s whole insurance industry could shrink. Bermuda could find that employment of both local and permit workers could fall.

            In the global elephant fight, the Irish are happily knocking back extra Guinnesses as they contemplate a possible flight of ‘insurance’ capital from reputationally damaged Bermuda to ‘cleaner’ Ireland.           

            Already, some Irish websites are touting that Ireland has no term limits on work permits, is “a couple of times cheaper” than Bermuda, has more affordable housing, a good family environment, and more parking. Ireland does admit though, that it doesn’t have Bermuda’s warm and sunny climate.

            Lastly, regulatory agencies in the EU are planning to apply a new set of insurance regulations for all insurers and insurance transactions in the EU. The New York Times reports: “A European Union directive currently under discussion and scheduled to take effect next year [2006] will establish a regulatory framework spanning the 25-country union.”

            As a dependent territory of the UK – now the seventh state in the EU – it’s possible that under our current constitutional arrangement, these regulations can be made to apply to us in Bermuda. If there is any kind of dispute in this matter, then, under current constitutional arrangements, resolution may well lie within the EU’s supranational judicial system, and not within our own island system.

            On 19 November 2004, I wrote: “The stronger of Bermuda’s two national pillars is now under attack and the assaulting forces are still forming-up and massing their resources. The main assault is yet to come.”

            Four and a half months later, the main assault has begun.

 

LET US BE THANKFUL

Fellow columnist Stuart Hayward commented [20 Apr 05] that he did not like the wastage of talent and the discord that seems to be a concomitant of our Westminster style Parliamentary system.

            I agree that the system does seem to occasion wastage of talent. However, I disagree with his view that the adversarial style is unnecessary and avoidable. 

            I believe that rule by the majority can be decidedly unhealthy; and is always unhealthy when majority rule is accompanied by a quiescent opposition; or an accommodating, accepting, population.

            To the simple minded, majority rule always conjures up the vision of the majority of people being in agreement with the ruling power or, at least, accepting the ruling power’s edicts. However, this view must be tempered by the reality that ruling powers have POWER.  This power – the vital differentiator – gives them the ability to stifle, quash, and even punish dissent. It also allows the power to be unfair and to use or even abuse its legislative authority to sustain that unfairness.

            Rule by polite consensus carries the same potential for abuse. From Emancipation to 1959, Bermuda was ruled by a system whose hallmark was a polite and unchallenged consensus. From 1959, voices of dissent were heard, then more insistently, then more stridently.  Now those voices are heard vociferously.

            . Consensus – both global and national – kept Apartheid alive in South Africa. Consensus shores up Robert Mugabe’s power in Zimbabwe. Consensus took the USA into Iraq. Consensus maintained Jim Crow in the USA. Consensus maintained segregation in Bermuda.

            Disagreement – expressed in Parliament, in the voting booth, in the media, in ‘town hall meetings’ – is the hallmark of a true democracy.  Democratic disagreement usually results in some degree of non-cooperation. Balanced structured non-cooperation is the hallmark of the Westminster system.

            With all of its wastage of talent, I still prefer today’s noisy and inefficient Westminster system. I do not yearn for any return to consensus. I love the clash of opinion. It’s my only guarantee that differences do exist and that differences can be voiced.  Never again the genteel politeness of that old Bermuda when the ‘Forty’ ran it out of the RBYC.   

            I do wish though, that the quality of public debate would rise and deliver repartee that is more intellectually pleasing. Perhaps comments like “Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them, the rest of us could not succeed.” [Mark Twain – a frequent visitor to these Isles.]

 

LITTLE THINGS

Something’s not working. It shows up again in the picky detail of an ad about Bermuda’s First Mathematics Olympiad.

            The Olympiad is a Mathematics competition set by a Canadian team. It seems that every child in Bermuda, publicly educated, privately educated, or home school educated, was eligible to enter. It appears that the age-range for participants was 10 – 17. That’s eight age cohorts.

            Bermuda has about 6,500 youngsters in that age band. Of these, roughly 35% – that’s about 2,300 – are in some kind of private or home schooling. The remainder, about 4,200 are in the public system.

            The public system has fifteen primary schools, five Middle schools, and two High schools. The private education system has the statistical equivalent of three primary schools, two middle schools, and one High school.

            Why, then, did private schools have such a huge proportion of the named ‘winners’?

            Outnumbered and outspent, why did the private schools a [40%] minority have such a huge [74%] majority of the thirty-eight named ‘winners’?

            Saltus Grammar School – ten.

            Warwick Academy – eight.

            Cedarbridge – seven.

            Somersfield Academy – four.

            Bermuda High School – two.

            Sandys Secondary Middle School – two.

            Downe House School, UK – not a Bermuda school – two.

            Bermuda Institute and another – overseas – UK school – one each.

            Clearwater Middle School – one.

            In the 15 – 17 age group, Berkeley Institute did not place at all. In the 13 – 14 age group, Dellwood Middle, Spice Valley Middle, and Whitney Institute Middle – all public schools – did not place at all.  In the 10 – 12 age group, there were no names – at all – from any of the fifteen public primary schools.  Mount St Agnes Academy, with pupils in all three age-bands, is not mentioned.

            Cedarbridge’s seven shows what can be done.

            Where are the rest? What didn’t happen?

 [By the way… the ad said:  Top 13 winners. Ages 10 -12.   But only 12 names.] 

FEAR

In the past year, there has been an outpouring of feelings. Ira Phillip’s history of the BIU; Rosemary Jone’s “Bermuda Five Centuries”; ex-MP Bill Cox’s Bermuda Sun columns; many letters to the editor. Then there is that petition asking for a referendum.

            Bit by bit, word by word, piece by piece, this literature, in all its forms, is re-fashionong the fabric of our Bermuda society. It’s a slow process. It’s also a necessary process.

            Rosemary Jone’s 2004 history book closes the gaping hole in Terry Tucker’s 1983 history book:  “Bermuda, Today and Yesterday”.  Here’s how Terry Tucker deals with the 1959 Theatre Boycott: “…it was a year that saw Bermuda at its best and its worst. Amid the almost continuous celebrations, there had been the first labour troubles of any note: tensions, strikes, boycotts, and an unprecedented wave of violent crime…. That same year saw the voluntary end to segregation for dining and dancing in the island’s major hotels….”

            Contrast Terry Tucker’s literal dismissal of a seminal event with Jones’ description of the 1959 Theatre Boycott.  Jones starts on page 208 and finishes on page 211.  These two descriptions show the gulf that separates and the information that joins.

            Black and white Bermudians can and do have different perspectives on their social, economic, and political histories. Unsealed archives in London, Ira Phillip’s history of the BIU, Randolf Williams’ biographies of Dame Lois, “Jack” Tucker, and “E.T. Richards”, all combine to give us small sips of the waters of the deeper rivers of emotion that run so steadily, so deeply, but so invisibly, through all levels of society in this tight little community. 

            Since 1998, there has been a sea change in the social values extant in this community. The aging members and younger descendants of the old ruling minority are learning to deal with a new layer of previously suppressed feelings. These feelings had gone unexpressed mainly out of a fear of retribution.

            As black Bermudians push their historic perspectives to the front, and as white Bermudians learn more about the current feelings of the black Bermudians who surround them, some white Bermudians seem to have become newly uncomfortable. As these feelings unfold, I sometimes sense a discomfort – or is it fear? – coming from the likes of ex-MP Bill Cox, letter writer Phil Cracknell, Gazette columnist Christian Dunleavy, and others.

            For me, the post-1998 society that we now live in is a freer society. That’s how the overwhelming majority of black Bermudians view it.

            If, though, significant numbers of white Bermudians now feel newly intimidated or freshly fearful, then our Bermuda society may simply have flipped. If so, it’s not good and it should be fixed.

            But why would there have been a flip? Why would an old black fear be replaced by a new white fear – of exactly the same kind?

            Granted, there are some loud, crude, and insensitive blacks who have favourite rants. But blacks got used to living with loud, crude, and insensitive whites who had their favourite rants. The ultimate black response was to engage and discuss – not withdraw and sulk. That’s what must happen with whites. As blacks learned, the process of engagement can be painful and unpleasant, but the prize is worth the effort.

            The prize? A free and completely open society where ideas stand and fall on their own merit. Where individuals are free to express themselves knowing that there will be no retribution of any kind.

            Bermuda’s first completely free and open public discussion on any matter was over the issue of ‘Long term Residents’. That issue uncapped a gusher of emotions. Each of the meetings saw some loud heated arguments and some below-the-belt interchanges between people speaking from the floor. These exchanges displayed all the raw roughness of new grass roots democracy.  These exchanges were different from the genteel and over-controlled exchanges that prevailed under the old oligarchy.

            The handling of that first issue really showed Bermuda’s new democracy at work. It seemed to work well, though roughly and noisily.

            Now, in 2005, in this post-1998 freer society, we should all feel completely free to openly and freely discuss or tackle any issue. If some of us feel less free, then we have a problem.

            Am I right? Do some Bermudians feel less free now, in 2005, than before? Is this new fear a significant factor in the Independence and other public debates?

            If so, why?  What fears, threats, or retribution loom so large? What? Where?