MUSIC

My wife and I usually make our Bermuda Festival selections early and book online. This year we did so. However, by the time that we booked, all the seats for all the Soweto Gospel Choir performances were gone. Fortunately, we were able to get tickets for the special performance put on for Sunday afternoon. So we did get to see and hear that superb choir.    

            I would have been unhappy if I’d missed them completely. However, I have been listening to their music for some time, having discovered them about two years ago.  Over the past five years, I’ve been awakening, generally, to the music of South Africa.  Hugh Masekela, West Nkosi, South African gospel choirs generally, and of course Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

            In 2002, I saw and thoroughly enjoyed the South African musical ‘Umoja’ during its London run. Before that, and long before Nelson Mandela’s release, at the Edinburgh Festival in 1986, I saw the South African play ‘District Six’.

            There is a special vibrancy in the music coming out of South Africa. As the country metamorphosed from apartheid into the ‘Rainbow Nation’, South African music also underwent a change.  The rough ‘penny whistle’ street music grew into bands and groups that stayed together and got better. Bob Marley’s reggae found its way back to Africa and was then bounced back to us in the West in the beautiful smooth sounds and powerful lyrics of Lucky Dube. Johnny Clegg burst the old banning barriers and sang songs praising Nelson Mandela. European compositions created by long dead white men, blended into ancient African styles that had been created by long dead black men and women.  In their beautiful sounds, the Soweto String Quartet brought those two deep classical streams together.

            I enjoyed the Soweto Gospel Choir. For me, the most intense moment in their program was when they asked the audience to stand while they sang ‘Nkosi Sikele’ – The Rainbow Nation’s National Anthem.

            For me, the intensity was deepened by several previous references to the tenth anniversary of the ‘Rainbow Nation’. I recalled that ‘Nkosi Sikele’, originally the ANC’s theme song or anthem, was once a ‘banned song’ and that there was a time when the mere singing of that song would be cause for punishment. At that performance, that Sunday afternoon, those voices singing that song showed just how freedom and change do come and do flow together until they provide a beautiful new mixture.

            I’d already heard that beautiful new mixture. On Sunday I saw that beautiful new mixture. I’m glad that I did.

     “CHANGE” 

Wayne Furbert’s shuffle of his Shadow Cabinet has removed a Gibbons from Bermuda’s political power centre. Now, in all of the whole mechanism of Bermuda’s elected politicians, there is only one old money, old family name left on stage centre. All the other prominent UBP players are new money or new people or black.

            My cousins, the Talbot Brothers, used to sing a calypso about “Mr Trimingham and Mr Trott”. Bermudians used to talk about the ‘Forty Thieves’ and ‘Front Street’. Families like the Cox’s and Spurling’s and Tucker’s and Astwood’s used to loom large on Bermuda’s political landscape. I think they’ve gone. Gone the way that Trimingham’s has already gone.

            South Africa has actually changed since 1994. All South Africans, black and white, acknowledge that change. Here in Bermuda with all the change that has happened, I still hear many voices shouting and several pens scratching that things haven’t changed. Yet when I look and listen around me, all I see and hear is change.

            In fact, while waiting in the queue to pick up my tickets for the Sunday performance of the Soweto Gospel Choir, I looked east and saw two signs. One said ‘Gosling Brothers’, the other, much higher up and farther back, said ‘Trimingham’s’. This time next year that high up Trimingham’s sign will have gone. Only the Gosling’s sign will remain.

            Still there are those amongst us who seem determined to refuse to acknowledge any change whatsoever. I reckon that these unchangers are people who have their heads stuck so far into the sands of ignorance or obstinacy that their normally lowest orifice has become their highest.

            If, in ten years South Africa can undergo radical change and then acknowledge that change, why can’t we in Bermuda?

 

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BERMUDA TRIANGLE

Most of us see the angry ones as the people who adorn the walls, or who hang on the street. To many people they’re identifiable because of the way they dress. A few of us identify with them because they’re members of our family. Some close. Some distant. But still family. To most of us, they’re young, black, and male.

            They’re not the only ones though.  I believe that there are two more angry groups. One group is smaller. The other group is probably – possibly – as large as or maybe even larger than the oft-mentioned group of ‘young black males’. This third group consists of both blacks and whites. Males and females.

            The smaller of the two groups is the ‘young white male’. He can be, and he often is, as shut out as the ‘young black male’. Though he may have been privately schooled for all of his Bermuda education, he might have just squeaked through this better and more efficient private education system. He might have failed to graduate from either system.  Educational failure isn’t discriminatory!

            He doesn’t always come from a new money or old money family. Often he comes from just an ordinary hard-working family – that just happens to be white; and, in all other aspects is not different from an ordinary hard-working family – that just happens to be black.

            He is not markedly different from his black male counterpart. Like his black male counterpart, he is not so numerate and literate that he can easily fit himself into Bermuda’s economy with its insistence on high-end intellectual skills and its huge demand for exotic but narrow skill-sets.  So, like his black counterpart, he too, finds it hard to compete successfully in Bermuda’s globalized job market.

            But he’s not that visible is he? I guess it’s his colour. With all that black around, he’s not so easy to see. But he’s there…he’s there.  Like a white ghost, he’s there. And he’s Bermudian and he matters.

            Though I see him and I’m worried about him, I’m even more concerned about this other group – this other race and gender integrated group. Like ‘hizbollah’ rockets, this lot are well-hidden.  They’re  buried deep.

            They’re the ones – black and white, male and female – who did go off to college or other school; who worked and paid for years of education or specialist training so that they could get a degree or a technical skill. Then they came back home to Bermuda to work and live. They did get jobs. They actually do turn up every day. They actually do a lot of good work. They get paid. They get paid good money.

            Then they get caught. They get caught in the Bermuda Triangle of ‘Not’s’. Not enough total income to buy a Bermuda house. Not enough disposable income to live the way they’d like to live because of high Bermuda prices. Not enough promotion or advancement prospects because of the relatively small and ‘flat’ corporations or entities that they work in. 

            The worst ‘not’ is the house ‘not’. A couple of college-educated professionals, each working in a ‘good’ job, each bringing home  $75,000 a year is caught in the ‘not’ triangle. Have kids? Not enough income for their children’s private sector education and a mortgage.  No kids now? Probably can afford a mortgage but must not have any children. Want to enjoy the fruits of their labours? Forget the house.

            But isn’t that why they spent four years and $60,000 [and often much more] on getting that college degree?  Didn’t they do all that so that they could have a better range of choices? Didn’t they forego ‘now pleasures’ for ‘tomorrow satisfactions’? And doesn’t it now look as if something has taken tomorrow and ripped it apart and trashed it? Made tomorrow disappear?

            Over time, I’ve received many emails expressing this kind of sentiment. I’ve seen the feeling set out in other people’s blogs. I’ve had telephone callers spill out their frustration. I’ve had professionals and semi-professionals tell me directly how angry they are. How cheated they feel.

            I wonder. Am I just hearing gripes from a few sour-grapers, a minority of inveterate grumblers? Or, am I hearing the cries of a sizeable, but not so easily visible group, that is very, very, angry?

            What am I hearing? What am I seeing?  Can someone tell me?

 

WHERE HAVE ALL THE YOUNG MEN GONE?

Where have all the young men gone?

            The recent series of full page ads advertising the public and private high school ‘graduates’ shows a solid national fact. The fact is non-controversial, and neither the ads nor I make any overt accusation against any racial group. The ads just show, and I simply see, a national fact.

            Look at the whole accumulation of all the faces on display. Count them. In particular, count the genders. Count the graduating boys. Count the graduating girls. Add them all up.

            You’ll see an unnatural disparity. What’s unnatural is that seventeen and eighteen years ago, as is entirely natural and predictable, the number of boys born roughly equaled the number of girls born. There was no great disparity then.

            Yet seventeen and eighteen years later, in the numbers advertised as graduating, there is a material preponderance of girls. So far more girls ‘graduate’ than boys. Girls are graduating out of proportion to their numbers in their birth-group or age cohort.

            So what happens to Bermuda’s non-graduating boys?

            Before graduation, do boys die in disproportionate numbers on our roads? Certainly they die, but not in such large numbers. So no, it’s not that!

            Before graduating, do they die or disappear fighting some war in some far-off dusty land? No!

            Pre-graduation, do they, in large numbers, waste away from some dreaded male only disease? No!

            Do young boys emigrate to other countries while young girls stay home? It seems not!

            So what causes this visible disproportion in boy/girl high school graduation rates?

            Is there something in our Bermuda water or food supply that only affects Bermuda males?  Are there facts and realities and ‘somethings’ in our family and social and educational structures that have a strong, negative, and particular impact on young Bermudian men?

            Certainly, a large number of young men are missing from this year’s crop of ‘graduating’ high school students. But in most of the media reports of crimes and illicit activity, young men predominate.

            From media reports, it appears that the gun-men involved in the recent ‘drive-by shooting’ were all male. It seems that the snatchers involved in the ‘ride-by’ bag snatching are all male. It looks as if the people involved in the flag-burning and violent attack fracas at the Docksider Pub were all male.  The shooter as well as the people shot in the Spinning Wheel shootings were reported to be male. There were no girls involved in the machete melee at Wellington Oval. So males are active. They exist.

            Of course there’s nothing to say that all the males I’ve just mentioned are recent high school non-graduates. I haven’t said that. But they do appear to be all male. Similarly, males greatly outnumber females – is it as high as eight to one? – in Bermuda’s national prison system.

            So there’s the national imbalance. There’s the gender imbalance.

            At the time of high school get-your-picture-in-the-paper graduation, males are a distinct minority. In crime and in the prison system, males are a distinct majority. Even allowing for the importation of guest workers, males are still the minority – but by a smaller margin – in Bermuda’s national workforce.

            Why? Why? Why?

            Part of the reason does lie in a national failure – first – to recognize, accept, and then vigorously address this gender and results issue with a clear plan to resolve it. The second lies in the reality that the continued increase of single parent absent father households is probably a factor that feeds the problem. The third reason lies with a national educating system that does not address, and that has not addressed, actual critical national issues in a timely and professional manner.

            Overall, the young male problem that currently exists in Bermuda is a problem that is larger today than it was when I first wrote – way back in July 1992 and then re-wrote five years later in July 1997 – of the existence of a ‘Hidden Army in our midst’.

            Back then, the ‘Hidden Army’ that I wrote of hadn’t yet taken to drive-by shooting. Nor had it indulged in ‘knee-cappings’. Now, it has, and the Hidden Army is still being added to. It’s still growing.

            Are we still denying it? Or are we now about to admit – as a first step in combating it – that it actually does exist?           

ROSY PAST’ERS

I was at the forum at St Paul’s Christian Education Centre on Saturday night [*]. I listened and heard and saw. The audience was mixed and majority white. All the speakers spoke well, and in the sum of  their presentations, they covered a variety of points and issues.

            On balance, and in later reflection, I thought that on Saturday night, I saw and heard the voices of some people who have lost the power they once had. I also heard the voices of people who are coming into power – and who know that they are the people who will wield power on the morrow.

            One slice of Bermuda’s people pie seems to long, still, for the old days when the UBP was in power and, according to them, everything ran properly.  Another slice wants more change and is prepared to get involved and help cause the change that they want. One more slice, different again, is unhappy with the current situation and wants its voice listened to and acted upon. There are more slices, but the voices of these slices were not heard at this forum.

            There seemed a broad unhappiness with Bermuda’s Westminster style two party system. There was a strong suggestion that while Westminster argument was good for the UK, and seemed to work well there, the system was not right for Bermuda. The Westminster style was considered too contentious and divisive. One man pointed out that Italy’s method of continual coalition would probably be even more unworkable in Bermuda than it was proving to be in Italy.

            I wondered if people thought – or think – that the US style where Democrats and Republicans [no ‘independents’ in the US system] barter and trade and cross their votes in a bewildering criss-crossing pattern was better. What about the new Russian style of parliament – they call theirs the ‘Duma’ – where, it seems, Vladimir Putin still makes all the major decisions, just like it happened in Stalin’s day? The only difference now is that Putin doesn’t pack people off to the ‘gulag’.           

            It was suggested that Bermuda would be far better served by a system of ‘joint select committees’ and by a removal of the party whip on most votes.

            Julian Hall reminded – and our Bermuda history confirms – that for almost three hundred and fifty years, from 1620 to 1963 – Bermuda had no political parties at all. For these hundreds of years, Bermuda had a Parliament made up of thirty-six ‘independent’ Members of Parliament. Our Bermuda history also confirms that much Parliamentary work was done by ‘joint select committees’.

            There was, for instance, a joint select committee that sat and deliberated on matters dealing with segregation. That joint select committee came back with a report. The ‘independent’ members of Parliament, with quite remarkable unanimity, accepted and supported the continuance of lawful segregation; and continued and supported the continuance of institutionalized discrimination against all black Bermudians.

            As a true democracy, with all persons having an almost equal say in the running of the country, Bermuda’s real experience with true and open democracy is less than a decade old. Bermuda is a democratic toddler just coming to adolescence.

            Some of us – and I am one – may be impatient with the relative slowness with which I see Bermudians grasping the new power that has been placed in their hands. Others amongst us seem to want to turn time back and recreate a mythical golden era when good and excellent governance was supposed to be the norm. 

            When looking back through the telescope of history, some people seem to look through the wide end of the telescope and see only a rosy past. Others peer through the small end and seem to see a troubled past.

            I thought that at that Saturday forum, there were a lot of ‘rosy past’ers’. But I also saw and heard democracy in action. I like the sounds of democracy in action.  I have no desire to go back to those ‘good old days’.

            I want to move forward and I want to be and, through this column, I am engaged in thinking and discussion and debate as we move forward.

            For me, the past was not ‘nice’.  The present is OK. I want a good future. I’m engaged for the future.

  

[*] Meeting organized by Khalid Wasi with Tom Vesey, Julian Hall, David Sullivan, Denis Pitcher, as speakers – Stuart Hayward as moderator.

 

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

There we were, Bermudians, entertaining guests from the Caribbean.  We’d invited some important people from the Caribbean to come and see and our National exhibition. They very nicely, very graciously, thanked us for the invitation and for our hospitality.

            Then the National Exhibition’s closing ceremony. The Bermuda Regiment band marched on; did a short musical display; and played – as is the military custom – a short evening hymn. Then the Band started the well-known, often heard, strains of “Sunset”.

            “Sunset” is played at the same point in every Retreat ceremony.  This happens in every Band display that ends with the lowering of Bermuda’s national flag.  If other national flags are flying, these flags are also lowered at the same time.

            If the Band performs at the American Consul’s celebration party for the American 4th July holiday; then the Band will still play an evening hymn and then play “Sunset”. Or, in deference to the Americans, the Band might choose to play ‘Taps’ – the American equivalent. At a Canadian, or Jamaican, or Barbadian, national celebration – in Bermuda – the Band would again play the evening hymn and then “Sunset”.

            Whatever happens, and for whatever country, “Sunset” would be the tune played as the national flag is, or flags, are, lowered. It’s an unvarying sequence.

            Watch Americans as ‘Taps’ is played as their ‘Old Glory’ is lowered. You will see that, almost to a man, woman, and child; they will stand and face their flag. Many will put their hand over their heart.

            Watch Canadians as their ‘Maple Leaf’ is lowered. They too, will stand and face their flag. Watch Jamaicans as their ‘Green, Black, and Gold’ is lowered. Watch ‘Trini’s’. Watch ‘Bajans’.  You’ll see the same sort of respect being paid.

            Watch Bermudians. You won’t see Bermudians stand and face the flag as their national flag is lowered. Bermudians certainly did not stand during the playing of “Sunset” at the National Exhibition’s closing ceremony on Saturday afternoon.

            Of course, apologists will leap up and say that it’s because Bermudians don’t have any national identity. They’ll likely expand on that by saying that until Bermuda becomes an independent nation with it’s own new and different flag, people will not identify with the existing national flag that has been carried – as Bermuda’s unique national flag – at every Olympics Games that Bermuda has ever entered; at every Commonwealth Games that Bermuda has ever entered; at every CARIFTA games that Bermuda has ever entered; that is flown at every RIMS conference that Bermuda takes part in; that flies at DAVOS when Bermuda is there; that gets taken as the national flag whenever or wherever any Bermudian wants to express his or her Bermudian-ness in someone else’s country.

            So – I confess that I don’t understand the argument – any argument – that condones or excuses any Bermudian who sits or lolls or walks away; or, in any way, ignores the short occasion and the few seconds that it takes to formally lower Bermuda’s national flag at a public celebration.

            You may think that I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about something that’s pretty unimportant. Think again!

            On Saturday, at the National Exhibition, proudly flying from the flagpoles, I saw the flags of Kenya, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados,…and many, many, other countries. When the Band played “Sunset”, all these flags were lowered.

            If Bermudians find it unacceptable to stand for their own – existing – national flag, do they intend to be so rude and so ignorant that they will not be courteous enough to stand for the flags of other countries?  Especially when we’ve gone to the trouble – and expense – of inviting people from those countries to come visit us – and we are their hosts?  Did we really intend to insult them?

            Not standing for your own national flag displays national ignorance. A few people seek to disguise or explain this behaviour by employing some fuzzy political rhetoric about colonialism and independence. Not standing for someone else’s national flag, though, displays a crass national ignorance. An ignorance that cannot be hidden by any kind of rhetoric whatsoever. This is just plain ‘dumbness’ – and rudeness to others.

            Can – will – ‘national pride’ and good national manners suddenly materialize at one minute past midnight on some future Bermudian ‘Independence day’?

            No. It’s ‘iggrance’ about Bermuda. It’s rudeness to other nationals. It was Bermudian ‘iggrance’ and rudeness that I saw on display during the playing of “Sunset” at the National Exhibition on Saturday afternoon, 23rd April 2006.

BUY? RENT?

Not unusually, several people called me, and others stopped me and spoke to me about that end-of-the-year article about Bermuda house prices and wages [30 Dec 05]. The gist of the comments was that the situation was ‘scary’ because it meant that so many people would be shut out of owning a house. Two interesting points arose. One came from within my mind. The other came from a caller.

            First, the caller’s point. He referred to someone with whom he’d spoken and said that this person was a hardworking tradesman. He said that this tradesman had told him that he was working steadily and was handling all the work that came his way. He didn’t need more work.

            After paying for his weekly expenses, he said that he was able to ‘bank’ $1,000 a week. Every week. I thought about that and I reckoned that if it was true, this tradesman was actually saving $50,000 a year – or over $4,000 a month. I put that in the context of buying a Bermuda house.

            At $4,000 a month, he could carry a 30 year mortgage of about $440,000. Assuming he was paying market rent for wherever he was living [say $1,800 a month] he could add his current rent to his mortgage capability. That meant that he would be able to carry another $200,000 of a 30 year mortgage. So, altogether he could afford a mortgage of around $640,000.

            Not bad, huh?

            So if he saves up for four years and puts $200,000 down and takes up a mortgage of $640,000 he can buy a house for $840,000.

            If he can find one at that price. No house? That’s OK. Get a condo instead. Condos are being advertised for as low as $685,000. At that price, our tradesman only needs one year’s savings and then he can carry a 30 year $640,000 mortgage.

            So as difficult as it seems, house-buying is possible. Not much choice though, and you’d need a very high personal income like our tradesman who, if his story is true – must be taking home something in the region of $96,000 a year – which means that he has to be grossing around $110,000 a year. Now that income seems very high, and according to all the Census Reports on incomes in Bermuda, it’s not an annual income that is common or frequent for individual Bermudians.

            So back to the question – is house-buying a practical proposition for a married couple taking home a net $97,000 from an annual household income of $115,000? It’s the same this week as it was last year. NO! It is not.

            That makes Bermuda the land of the ‘wealthy poor’.

            The other thought that I had? Why buy a house anyhow? Why not rent all your life and invest the money that you’d pay out in a mortgage?

            Sound idea. It would work actually very well in an economy where rising house prices did not rocket past rising wages.

            That’s not what happened in Bermuda.

            In Bermuda, from 1972 to 2005, dollar wages went up 833%. That means that the starting out $14,000 household income I’d spoken of last time would only have the spending power of about $115,000 now – before taxes and contributions.

            But what happened to house prices?  You would still actually need to work more than twice as long to get to build up to a ‘house price’.  House prices, if they’d stayed level with wages, would now be around $500,000 for a small cottage or condo. But house prices are almost twice that. – with only the odd condo appearing for $685,000 – and cottages at $960,000 and up and up…

            What about rents? Rents for long-term Bermudian households seem to have stayed more level with wages.  A two bedroom unit that would have rented for $200 a month in 1972 is still available at a rent between $1,600 and $2,500 a month now. Hard-to-find I know, but actually still there for good tenants.

            So should people give up on trying to buy a house and just rent instead – and spend the difference on expensive clothes and shoes and cars and trips?   

            In many cases, in Bermuda, is that what’s actually happening now?

 

PLEASE HELP!

I’ve always described Bermuda’s economy as a unique economy.  Even so, things here still follow the general laws of economics. For instance, the relationship between supply and demand is not different here; nor is there any difference in the relationship between the supply of money and the desire for choice.

            It’s clear that Bermuda residents pay, not just for goods, but also for the ability to have a choice of goods. That’s one of the main reasons why Bermudians shop abroad and over the Internet. Their action is driven by choice and is not, in the main, limited by price; though price is a factor.

            In this general aspect, Bermuda is similar to a wealthy American town like Danbury, Connecticut, or a wealthy area like ‘Park Avenue’ New York. There, local shops carry the kind of goods that their customers want. No ‘Dollar Stores’ on Park Avenue. Tiffany’s not Zales. 

            Bermuda certainly has that top end reality. Bermuda also has a bottom end reality.

Bermuda has an economy in which both politicians and statistician’s talk of a ‘poverty line’ of $30,000 per annum. This Bermuda poverty line is a reality accepted and agreed by the warm-blooded PLP and UBP, and the cold-blooded statisticians.

            Bermuda has a national ‘median’ household income of $70,777 per year. At least that was what the 2000 Census reported. Since that was six years ago, it would be even higher now, in 2006.

            In 2006, we talk of ‘average’ house prices of $960,000 – and for that we expect to get a two bedroom cottage. A cheap two-bedroom condo comes on the market at $645,000.  At the other end, there are houses for sale from $5,000,000 to $45,000,000.

            Mixed up in all this is a peculiar little thing that I simply do not understand. I need help in understanding this, and I am asking, genuinely asking, for help.

            It’s reported and agreed that Bermuda has about 38,000 active working workers. It’s reported and agreed that there are only about 27,000 Bermudian workers, and that the remaining 11,000 workers are non-Bermudians who are in Bermuda working on Work Permits.

            Given that it is unlawful for any non-Bermudian to ‘seek work’ in the way that a Bermudian can seek work, it must follow that there are no ‘un-employed’ non-Bermudians – in Bermuda – who are seeking work – in Bermuda. That must mean, therefore, that only Bermudians can be defined as, or said to be, un-employed and seeking work.

            Simply, very simply – the only un-employed people in Bermuda have to be Bermudians. There cannot be any un-employed non-Bermudians because they are supposed to get on a plane or boat or raft and vamoose as soon as their ‘work permit job’ ends or their work permit expires.

            If, then, every Bermudian has a job choice amongst 38,000 jobs; if 27,000 Bermudians then choose jobs and start working; if 11,000 non-Bermudians then have to be imported to fill the remaining 11,000 jobs – how can any Bermudian be described as unemployed?

            Surely in an economy that imports actuaries, beauticians, cooks…gardeners, hairdressers, insurance specialists…potwashers, radiographers, teachers….; there must be a job – somewhere – that one more Bermudian can do. With 11,000 jobs to pick from, there must be at least one suitable choice for one more Bermudian.

            To my mind, Bermuda – from a purely national Bermuda aspect – has 40% over-employment. To my mind, the arithmetic says that 29% of the total 38,000 jobs that exist in Bermuda can disappear before Bermudians start becoming unemployed. To my mind, there cannot be national unemployment in a national economy that imports such a huge chunk of extra people to do ordinary national work. There cannot be.

            I put it arithematically. 27,000 Bermudians = 100% employed.  11,000 non-Bermudians = 40% additional employed.  Overall employment [relative to available Bermudians] = 140%. 

            How can Bermuda have 3% – 2% – even 1% – ‘unemployed’ Bermudians?

            Please, people, please, unlimber those BSc’s, MSc’s, BA’s, MA’s, and PhD’s; please turn on the plain old common-sense; and enlighten this poor befuddled Bermudian. Please?