US AND THEM

Hawaii. Jamaica. Bermuda. Three tourist ‘destinations’. Each competes in the same global marketplace for a slice of the market. Each tries to sell something to the same people – more or less.

            In the ‘good old days’ days when Brits in white Panama hats and linen suits spent their British winters in Montego Bay, swimming at Doctor’s Cave Beach, and sipping imported Gin mixed with imported tonic; there was, as far as I can tell, little effort made to highlight all the natural colours of Jamaica.   

            Advertisers of that time, presented Jamaica as a land of flowers and verandahs and writers like Ian Fleming and Noel Coward. But no dark-skinned people. Dark-hued people were kind of not there.

            Now, Jamaica heavily advertises its people. Dark-skinned bare-chested dreadlocked men, are stuck up front in Jamaican tourism ads. So are cute little dark-skinned girls in pretty Sunday dresses or neat school uniforms. And still there’s the flora and fauna.

            The change was with the people. Jamaican people stepped out of the imposed invisibility onto stage centre. Jamaica now sells Jamaicans. For Jamaica, it works. But it also works for Hawaii, Seychelles, Kenya, South Africa, and you-name-it…

            All over the world, tourist destinations sell their flora, fauna, and temperatures [low in Alaska and high in Barbados]. Above all else though, all destinations – nowadays – recognize and emphasize their culture and their people.

            All, that is, except our Bermuda.

            Which leads to the question: “What is Bermudian? What makes us unique?”

            I’m clear on those things that define me as a Bermudian. The things that make me NOT an American, or Canadian, or Jamaican, or anything else. Just a Bermudian.

            But are you as certain of your Bermudian-ness as I am? Do you know, instinctively, what your Bermudian uniqueness is and where it lies? Do you?

            I’m irritated by Tourism ads for Bermuda that don’t feature Bermudians. I don’t like advertising audio that isn’t Bermudian. I like Ras Mykkal, Bootsie, EDC, David Lopes, Stuart Hayward, and Tom Vesey. I don’t always agree with these guys, but they’re my people. Mine.

            I like Jonathan Smith. I think some of the people who serve under him are pretty bloody useless, but I still like Jonathan. And Wayne Perinchief. And Grant Gibbons. I think Michael Dunkley – who, by the way represents my old Devonshire South constituency  – is a damn good politician. I revere the ‘Dame’ and am fully aware of all that I and other “people who look like me” owe to her.

            I start feeling closed in when I’m in a big country and can only ever see land and more land and more and more land and buildings and more and more buildings. There are moments when I need to see a clear horizon where a blue sky meets a blue sea. Where I can feel just me, the sky, and the sea.

            I’ve lived in the dead white stillness of a Nordic winter where no birds fly and trees don’t sway in the wind. But I revel in the ever-changing sea that surrounds me and my island home. As a boy, I used to hear the low rumble of the South Shore surf. On a quiet night, when the wind is right and with sound systems turned-off, I still can. Sometimes. 

            I accept the way us lot always personalize every issue. It infuriates me when the argument needs to be moved to the abstract. But I understand that because we’re such a small community of individuals, “who said it” is still so important simply because we’re still individuals.  So as furiously infuriating as it is, it’s actually what helps to make us unique.

            Worldwide, there are only about 48,000 of us real Bermudians. So there are more elephants, more hippopotamuses, but fewer humpback whales, than there are real Bermudians.

            Those animal species are considered endangered or protected.  So us 48,000 Bermudians, must also be an endangered species in need of protection. What’s more, there’s only about 12,000 white Bermudians. So they’re not just endangered, like us black Bermudians. They’re rare. So we must look out – even more – for our white ‘brothers and sisters’.

            All that is just a part of my Bermudian-ness.

            As we get more comfortable with ourselves, like those other ‘destinations’, we can invite people to visit us and enjoy our island home and special island community – as paying guests.

            We gotta’ treat ‘em right though. The way we used to.

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THE VILLAGE

The Royal Gazette’s front page picture, and the Bermuda Sun’s page three picture, described him as of “no fixed abode”. 

            At age sixteen?  In our Bermuda? Get right to the nub. Why is a child of sixteen without a home?  In our Bermuda?

            I keep hearing: “It takes a village to raise a child”.  But where is this village? Where? How is it that a sixteen year-old boy – not yet old enough to leave school – is “of no fixed abode”? How come?

            The answer lies in the reality that Bermuda is no longer a “village” in which children are raised by the people of the “village”. Bermuda may be a conurbation. It may be a suburban state. It might even be a city state. But Bermuda ain’t no village.

            Sixteen years and nine months ago, that sixteen year-old boy was dangling in some man’s testicles. That man was – and still is – his father.  Sixteen years and three months ago, that sixteen year-old boy was curled up in some woman’s womb. That woman was – and still is – his mother.

            That sixteen year-old boy’s biological mother and biological father have their own – different – father and mother combinations. Thus that sixteen year-old boy has two sets of biological grandparents. That’s four people. Four people in at least two separate households. So that boy has a direct biological connection to at least six other people. Six people in at least three households. But given the social realities of our Bermuda, these six biological connections could actually be in as many as six different households.

            Yet this sixteen year-old boy is of “no fixed abode”.  And this in a land of over-employment where well-dressed well-paid well-housed people go around saying “it takes a village to raise a child.”

            There is something wrong. Horribly, terribly, wrong!

            What’s wrong is that we Bermudians are lying to ourselves and to our children. Maybe we Bermudians have been too long in the tourist business. Maybe, since tourism began, we have spent far too many Bermudian lifetimes telling the world that “Bermuda is another world” of special peace and love.  Maybe we’ve been saying it so long and so often that now we actually believe it.  But we sure don’t live it.

            I accept that the sixteen year-old boy who made it to the Royal Gazette’s front page and the Bermuda Sun’s page three, may have ‘issues’.  I accept that he may have behavioural problems of one kind or another.  But this boy’s ‘issues’ didn’t suddenly materialize at one minute past midnight on Saturday the 1st  February 2003. Nor did this boy’s ‘issues’ appear only when he was away from the care of the two adults whose momentary sexual union caused him to appear on this earth.

            That front paged sixteen year-old boy is the product of his environment. His values are the values that he has learned. Or that he was taught. Or that he acquired. His values were formed in the sixteen years between his popping out of some woman’s womb and his picture popping up on page one of the Royal Gazette and page three of the Bermuda Sun.

            That sixteen year-old boy is the result of the workings – or non-workings – of the whole community of Bermuda.  More particularly though, he and his values come out of that household – or households – in the Bermuda community into which he first appeared as a cute little wrapped-up babe-in-arms.  In that community, he then grew from infant to toddler to pre-schooler to primary school student to middle school student to senior school student to his present status as a ‘star’ on page one of the Royal Gazette – and page three of the Bermuda Sun.

            Was there a village for him? Is there really a village? Or is it all just a pretty eight word sentence?

            Ten months ago [*], in this newspaper, I commented:

            Young men who – either inadvertently, accidentally, or deliberately – arrive in their teens, ill-educated, undisciplined, and unprepared for taking their place in normal society are like hand grenades.  But hand grenades with the pin still in.            Expelling a young man from a system designed to prepare him for his place in society is like pulling the pin on a hand grenade.            Once thrown, dropped, or otherwise discarded, that grenade, unless defective, will go off and will seek to do what it is designed to do. It will kill or maim.            It seems to me that, recently, there’ve been a lot of grenades ‘going off’. All over the place. Have you been hearing them too?”

            I’ve certainly heard them. Several at the Ice Queen.  Many on Front Street. One at the Southampton Post Office.

            Haven’t you heard something? Or are you in the “village” but making sure that you keep yourself all closed up and closed off in your air-conditioned sealed-off pod?

            But whether you hear them or not, “…Grenades are designed – purpose designed – to deal out death and destruction.”

            As an ex-professional soldier, I am aware that one of the techniques taught in house-clearing operations [street fighting or urban operations] is first toss in a grenade, then enter the room – or should I say ‘pod’.  In an average room – or pod – that grenade will kill or maim everyone in that room and it’ll be easier and safer for a soldier to enter and take the next step – a few quick bursts with a submachine gun, or fast shots with a rifle…  It is the most efficient way to kill people…and clean out a pod. Any pod.

  

[*Bermuda Sun – Opinion column – Wednesday 3rd April 2002.]

[See, also, the Royal Gazette’s headlines of Wednesday 3rd April and editorial comments by the Editor of the Royal Gazette on Thursday 4th April 2002. ]

THE NATURAL TEAM

I’m a father. That means that I have at least one child. Actually I have two. I’m also a parent. This suggests that I share the task of fathering with someone else. I do. I co-parent with my wife, the mother of those two children, and to whom I’ve been married for more than thirty years.

            Because I’m a parent I love our two children. But so do most normal parents. So I’m at least as normal as any other normal parent.

            However, because I’m a parent, and, I believe, only because I’m a parent, I have, at times thought certain thoughts, felt certain feelings, and have been impelled by certain impulses. In all of this I think, again, that I’m normal.

            There have been times – but only for split-seconds – when I seriously considered taking the life of one, or other, sometimes both, of my progeny.  And when, during those split-seconds, I also contemplated the consequences of my actions, I thought that the Chief Justice himself would step down from his seat of judgment, throw his arms about me, and congratulate me for my actions. For he, too, would have seen the wisdom of my deed. And if the twelve ‘good men’ of the jury were parents – they would have understood completely.

            There were other moments when I wondered if the Good Lord had sent these two as special punishments for some grievous sin I’d committed in some previous sojourn on this particular – or some other – cosmic ball.

            There were yet other times when, even though I was sure that they were the seed of my loins, I had cause to doubt that; believing – if only for nano-seconds – that they were the offspring of the One called Lucifer.

            But ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine-five percent of the time, I loved those two children. Especially when they were babies, and even when they were teenagers I loved them. I still do. I believe that my wife may have loved them even more than I and she may not have suffered those momentary lapses of which I speak. But then, she is a woman, and as a woman, she is biologically designed, specially built, and intellectually set up to care more than I – a mere man.

            So, as one half of a parent team, I think that I understand something about double parenting. But, never having been a single parent, I confess that I don’t know much about single parenting.           

            In my ignorance of single parenting, I wonder how single parents cope. I wonder who they turn to when those primeval urges well up. But, perhaps, these urges don’t happen with single parents. Perhaps single parents have different children who are always obedient, eternally thoughtful, and who always consider the results before they commit their childish actions. Perhaps single parents are singularly blessed with perfect children.

            But if their children are not perfect, how do they cope? And do single parents cope as well as the natural team of father and mother?

            Judging by the number of persons in Westgate who share a common denominator of mother present, father absent, single-parenthood; it may be that certain aspects of single parenthood may be indicators of future problems.

            Why then is single parenthood chosen more frequently today than before?

            I guess that one of the reasons may be that there’ve been lots of books written – by experts – and many theories expounded – by experts – on child-rearing. Many of these books give the impression that child-rearing is easy. I confess that I’ve read a few of these books. However, I must also confess that, with hindsight, I think I’d have gotten better use from these books – especially the thicker ones – if I’d used them as bludgeoning devices in my unrelenting battle to maintain an upper hand in the continual inter-generational warfare in my household.

            These books and theories so often suggest that there are simple rules, which, if followed will guarantee success in child-raising. However, the only simple rule that I found that always worked was: “Strike first!”  Punish! Then ask!

            This invariably provoked an inter-generational discussion of varying intensity. But because I had already seized the high ground, I discussed from a position of strength.       With the hindsight from two decades of child-raising as part of a natural team, I now know – not believe – KNOW that the natural team is the best team. That all other child-rearing arrangements are creaking substitutes.

            So why would someone – anyone – choose single-parenthood?

            I understand that single-parenthood can happen as a result of ignorance and inexperience, condom slippage, pill failure, wrong rhythm, or just plain trickery. I accept that when this happens, one is left with no real choice.  But I am puzzled by people who knowingly choose single-parenthood.

            By this I mean those persons who choose to rear a child when they know they are not part of a natural team. Marriage is one way to form a natural team. A steady long-term cohabitation can also make a good natural team. But where neither of these two adult relationships occurs, it’s unwise – stupid even – to attempt to successfully rear one child, or two, or three, or more.

            If my experience is anything to go by, those primeval urges will come, and if not properly handled, the children can be damaged. I believe that many children of single parents are damaged. My belief is supported by Bermuda’s national social statistics.  It is also supported by the statistics of many other countries whose people care enough to study these things.  And Bermuda does, after all, have the world’s seventh highest prison population. Which means that 193 other countries are doing better than us.

            What to do about it?

            Support the natural team! Join one or form one! Don’t go single!

 

NUMBERS. JUST NUMBERS

45k through radar? No problem! 65k? You’re ‘off the road’! Just numbers and the effects of numbers. That’s happened with some things in our Bermuda.

            Right now there are about 240 male Bermudians locked up in Bermuda’s prisons.

            Is 240 a big number? Not when you consider that England and Wales have about 63,000 male prisoners.  63,000 is a big number.  Much bigger than 240. So we could just say that they have more people locked up than Bermuda has.   

            There are about 52,000,000 people in England and Wales. But suppose they only had a population of 52,000. If that happened, and their prison numbers fell by the same ratio, then England and Wales would only have 63 male prisoners. That’s right. Sixty-three.

            So, making a comparison of us 49,000 Bermudians to a population pool of 52,000 people in England and Wales; Bermuda still has an actual count of 240 Bermudians in prison. Go the other way? We’d have 254,000 male prisoners if there were 52,000,000 of us Bermudians.

            Either way, it means that we have three times as many of our male nationals in our prison system as does England and Wales.  So we Bermudians have an incarceration rate that’s more than three times higher. And they have Europes’s second highest incarceration rate [Portugal is top].

            But does that really matter to us Bermudians? Is it important?

            Well, if you leave your house unlocked at night, don’t lock your car when you park it, aren’t bothered by gang fights and shootings and stabbings and daylight robberies by armed groups; then I guess it doesn’t matter – to you.

            But if you are bothered by the incidence of crime, then it does matter. So if you’ve wondered about crime and what can be done about it, you might need to consider this.

            In 1971, Bermuda’s whole prison population totaled 131 people. That’s right – 131 people. About 110 were Bermudian males. Thirty years later, in 2003, Bermuda’s whole Bermuda-born male and female prison population is about 300. About 240 are Bermudian males. So, since 1971, the number of ‘locked up’ Bermudian males has more than doubled.

            But from 1971 to now, the percentage of male Bermudians in the age groups that actually commit most serious crime went DOWN. That’s right. In 2003 there are relatively FEWER males aged 15 – 45 [the prime crime committing ages] than there were in 1971.

            What’s more, Bermuda’s total Bermudian population did not balloon. There were 42,000 of us Bermudians in 1971. Thirty years later, there are about 49,000 of us lot. So population-wise, we Bermudians only grew by about 16% over thirty years. That’s snail-like population growth.

            But over the same thirty years, our prison numbers ballooned by more than 200%. It more than doubled from 110 males locked-up then, to 240 males locked-up now.

            It seems as if we spent thirty-two years locking people up faster than they were being born. “Look!..  There’s another one!.. Quick!.. Lock him up!”

            So what really happened between 1971 and now? What caused our prison numbers to run up so fast so high? What?

            We both know the same facts.

            I know that people are not born ‘bad’. So do you. I know that over fifteen, twenty, and thirty years, societal factors cause a sweet new-born baby to become a dysfunctional member of society. So do you.

            So we both know that some values in our Bermuda society changed. We both know that one result of this shift in values was that from 1971 to now, we actually ‘locked up’ our own Bermudian people faster than they were being born. Now, with 240 Bermudian males locked-up, we have a problem.

            With recidivism as high as it is, what happens over five years? Well, over five years, more than 2,500 Bermudian men go in then out then in then out then in then out…of prison. It never stops. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In.

            Now you’ve seen numbers in absolute terms and in proportion. By itself, 240 is not big. In proportion, 240 is HUGE and is screaming evidence of a dysfunctional society. But a five year running total of over 2,500 Bermudian men cycling through our prison is worse. It’s earsplitting testimony to dysfunction.

            Dysfunction is still dysfunction even if it is concealed within pretty cottages behind oleander hedges edged by pink beaches.

            Something went horribly wrong! It’s still wrong! Whatever it is, it’s still affecting us.  All of us.

 

GRENADES! AGAIN!

A scant three months ago [*], I wrote of grenades “going off” and the damage that can be done by an exploding grenade.

            It seems it made interesting reading. Several people, including Members of Parliament, called me afterwards and I discussed the article and some of Bermuda’s social realities with them. Those discussions left me feeling that lots of people cared and were concerned.

            Then, just a couple of Saturdays ago, another grenade blew up outside a club in Dockyard.  As usual, someone got badly hurt, and a few days later there was a sad funeral.

            But grenades are designed to kill and maim. So none of us should be terribly concerned when grenades blow up and someone gets hurt or killed. That’s what grenades are supposed to do. So when grenades blow up and kill, they’re doing what they’re designed to.

            The problem, though, isn’t the grenade. The problem is the grenade factory.

            Once we’ve created a grenade – and we Bermudians do create them – the best that we can hope for is that the grenade’s pin never gets intentionally pulled or never accidentally falls out. Because once that pin comes out, the grenade will do exactly what it’s designed to do. It will explode and someone will get hurt or killed.

            When a grenade does go off, we should not react with surprise and shock.  Instead, we should simply grab the nearest body-bag or medical trauma kit. Or call the undertaker and the florist, or the hospital and the police forensic people. But we shouldn’t be shocked and surprised.

            Granted, the spilled blood that often results from an exploding grenade might upset our stomachs and spoil our still-digesting Four Star pizza; but we’ll get over that. After all, we know that grenades are designed to kill and maim. So we really ought to expect some blood. Somewhere.

            Our Bermuda problem is the grenade factory. As long as we Bermudians go on manufacturing grenades, we’ll have grenades going off.

            All the grenades that have recently gone off were manufactured in traditional and well-known ways. First, two people of opposite sex got connected and had some fun. Then, nine months later, a little trophy emerged. For a while, this trophy got shown around and admired. Then the trophy grew into a person.  Usually a male. Often, most often, a black male.

            This male – once grown past trophy-hood – was turned loose for the ‘village’ to raise. Only there was no village. The village had gone! Long gone!

            Well – that’s not quite true. The village was still there. At least all the village houses were. But the village people who lived in the houses now enclosed themselves inside their air-conditioned homes in front of big-screen TV’s or were away on ‘trips’ or were taking other trips with ‘wacky tobaccy’ or with little lines of white powder. The people in the village had changed, but the pretty village houses were still there. So it looked as if the village still existed.

            Overall, the failure of the sound family systems that should have nurtured him combining with the failure of the educating systems that should have educated him, produced a sixteen year-old predominantly black school-leaver who impressed only because of his inabilities. He was a school-leaver who was functionally illiterate and functionally unemployable in a unique high-end service economy that requires the supply of intelligent and flexible knowledge and vocational skill workers.

            Over the past twenty years, hundreds of males – mostly black – have been tossed from trophy-hood onto the national sidelines where, unlike leaf-dwelling caterpillars turning into beautiful butterflies, these once-upon-a-time trophies turned, instead, into grenades.

            Fortunately, grenades with their retaining pins still in. But, ominously, also with their detonators of ignorance and mal-adjustment inserted and ready to blow.

            It’s the combination of our Bermuda lifestyles; our Bermuda life and family values – as really lived and not as publicly talked about; and our dysfunctional educating system; that creates and powers our national grenade factory.

            Over three decades, these three national assembly lines, combining and working with remarkable efficiency, have churned out so many grenades that all of Bermuda now continuously prattles about “youth violence” and “it’s not safe to go out anymore” and “it’s getting out of hand”.

            Really, we Bermudians ought not complain. We‘re actually quite efficient. We should be congratulating our national selves.

            So, if you won’t, I will!

            Hey, Bermuda! We make some damn good grenades! Hear ‘em?

   [*] Bermuda Sun: “COMMENT” – February 19th, 2003 and “OPINION’ – April 3rd, 2002.

ACCOUNTING 101

Writing-off” is one of those expressions that accountants use. However, it seems that Arthur Andersen’s Enron auditors didn’t do a lot of ‘writing-off’. They did the opposite. They ‘wrote-up’.

            For an accountant, ‘writing- off’ means that the objects or accounts are declared to have no value. If the account or item in question had been shown as having a value of $1,000,000; an accounting write-off would mean that the account would now have a new value – Zero! That $1,000,000 account would have disappeared. Pouf!

            Of course, if Arthur’s boys had been at it, that $1,000,000 account would have been ‘written-up’ and might have become $2,000,000 – or more. Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Presto!

            It’s the fun of accounting, this turning solid of numbers into ethereal concepts like profits and assets. It’s magic worked on paper.

            This writing-off process involves processes and machinery.  But it always involves an arcane term – depreciation. And just what does depreciation mean?

            Well, generally, it means that as time passes, the value of something – a building, say – reduces. Thus a building, built at a cost of $250 a square foot, and then depreciated over fifty years, will, after fifty years, be worth $0 a square foot and will thus have no value whatsoever. Which, translated, means that the office building next to you is losing its value every year and in time will be worth nothing.

            Ergo, to get rich all you have to do is find a fully depreciated building, buy it for $1 – which is greater than its fully depreciated value – and sell it at whatever price somebody else is willing to pay you – and then you can retire for life…

            Of course, you know that’s not the way it really works. You know that it’s all in the magic of accounting.

            Accountants certainly do write-off buildings and machines. But accountants don’t write-off people. Government’s, communities, and societies do write-off people.

            But where accountants do their write-offs publicly and openly in the thousands of pages of their publicly published Annual Reports; governments, communities, and societies tend to do their people write-offs less publicly. More insidiously. Often very well-hidden.

            So how does a community write-off people – either its own or others?  How?

            The most common write-off method is to marginalize. This means to treat some people as if they have very little value. Little value as workers – pay them chicken feed wages. Little value as people – give them poor or inadequate education and social and health care. Little value as human beings – give them no housing or very poor housing and don’t allow them any political power.

            Most importantly though, set up policing agencies [physical control], prison agencies [warehouse and storage], and law systems [rules for containment] so that the lives and actions of these people of little value don’t impinge on the lives of the people of higher value.

            One way or another, all societies write people off. Most will write-off people who are different from the majority of the dominant society. But sometimes a minority community writes-off a majority community.

            But whichever way it goes, this writing-off of a fellow human being is wrong. It’s as wrong as Arthur Andersen’s writing-up of Enron’s assets.

            Here in our tiny Bermuda, we Bermudians have been writing-off people for quite some time. We’ve been writing-off all those young men and women who come out of Bermuda’s under-performing public education. People who’ve been coming out for the past twenty years with insufficient academic grounding to be able to find some regular niche somewhere in our small but demanding Bermuda service market.

            Each year – at least according to this and past Censuses – about 400 male Bermudians are born…which means that seventeen years later, about 400 male Bermudians are supposed to be graduating from Bermuda’s school system…which means that 400 male Bermudians are either going straight into the job market or are going on to tertiary education causing a delayed entry into the job market.

            If, as it turns out, we’re putting only 55% of this 400 – that’ll be 220 males – through the final stages of the public education system; and if we’re under-educating this 220, it means that we’re close to writing-off 220 males a year – every year.

            Of course, some of these under-educated males will succeed despite the odds. But some won’t. And it’s this last group, the under-educated non-succeeders, who become the write-off kids.

            Perhaps only 30% of the 220 seventeen year-old boys who – every year – come out of the public education system are write-off kids. But that’s still 66 living breathing human beings who then enter our Bermuda society and who enter that market very badly equipped for survival in our unique service market.   

            Over ten years that’s 660 young men, and over twenty years it’s 1,320. These men range in age from young men of 17 [who left the system in 2002] to old men of 37 [who left the system in 1982].

            With jails that have been full to overfull for the past twenty years [and remember that Westgate Correctional Facility was an expansion]; with the appearance of an underclass of Bermudians [first specifically identified ten years ago in 1992]; with an acknowledged increase in levels of violence [fighting and killing as spectator sports]; and with the clear decline in educational standards [look at the ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, year history of scholarship awards]; it’s clear that this community – this whole Bermuda community – has been writing-off its own Bermudian men [ and some women, too] for a lo-o-o-ng time.

            But, unlike Arthur Andersen’s boys who at least published their black magic accounting, us Bermudians have been doing our writing-off in deepest secrecy.

            What we Bermudians need to do is to re-value – or write-up as accountants would say it – our own Bermudian people and place the same value – no differences whatsoever – on each of our 46,000 Bermudian people. We need to make available the same high quality of education – and therefore life opportunity – to all Bermudians.

            Specifically? The public education system which spends at least as much as, and maybe even more per pupil than does the private system, must return at least the same value for dollar that the private educating system does today, and has done consistently over the past twenty years. That’s the going forward solution.

            But our Bermuda community still has an accounting decision to make. Our community still has to decide what it will do with the more than 1,000 men – and some women, too – that it has actually been writing-off all these years. Our community has to deal with this past – a past that is impacting heavily on our present.

            Maybe we could start by simply acknowledging that we have actually written-off some of our own Bermudian people.  After that we can change some of the values in our public education system.

            How many times have you heard that cliché: “It takes a village to raise a child.”? Well, we need to move on from that.  Our Bermuda “village” needs to raise the value that it places on its own children.

A SWAN SONG

Sir John W Swan spoke of the problems surrounding Bermuda’s young men. He was right when he first said it. He’s even more right, eight years later, in 2003 when everyone else is saying it – too!

            In June’s UMUM magazine article, Violence and Bermuda’s Youth, Kara Smith writes: “…Bermuda’s young people have tainted their promising image with a slew of violent and fatal outbreaks…”. She goes on: “The situation is not easily explained because…the roots of the problem run so deep…”.

            Like Kara, I agree that the situation isn’t easy to explain. However, I believe that it’s explainable in simple terms. Kara offers part of the explanation: “Surely…a child does not come from the womb with an acute knowledge of offensive language and physical abuse.” As life begins. That’s where the explanation begins.

            The un-named bundle of genes that pops into the world may come with a genetic disposition created by drugs and chemicals – legal or illegal – that its mother may have used during gestation. But if the bundle’s mother took reasonable care – as 98% of mothers do – then that bundle will be a genetic thing without any pre-disposition to do anything.

            If that bundle is then adopted by an Australian couple, it will grow up surfing and ‘matilda-waltzing’. If a Jamaican couple adopts, it’ll grow up wearing dreads and singing reggae. A Brit couple? It’ll grow up stopping every afternoon for tea at 4:00pm and going to Saturday football matches.

            In the absence of birth defects, a genetic bundle will become whatever its nurturing community shapes it into being. The eighteen year-old lager lout, the eighteen year-old footballer, the eighteen year-old college student, are all created by some set of nurturing and shaping values. These values are those that predominated in the communities that sheltered, fed, educated, and trained them.

              Put another way, the values that reside in the soul of an eighteen year-old are the values that are quietly, but absolutely, passed on to him in the 6,570 days from the day he popped into the world and the day he turns eighteen.

            Early in those 6,570 days he learned a language.  He learned to use either ‘offensive language’ or ‘socially acceptable’ language. One or the other. As Kara reminds us, a new genetic bundle has to be taught everything.

            Ultimately, the values that reside in the deepest soul of any eighteen year-old anywhere in the world, are the values passed on to him by his immediate community [his family], and his wider community [his religion and his clan or tribe or race], and his widest community [his country].

            But look at what these three communities have done to Bermuda’s eighteen year-olds. Not at what they say they’ve done. Look, honestly, at what they’ve actually done.

            These three Bermuda and Bermudian communities, perhaps not acting with great deliberation, but still acting deliberately, have under-educated, under-trained, and then allowed and encouraged the economic and social displacement of a large part of its annual crop of eighteen year-olds. These Bermudian communities have been doing this – deliberately but not with deliberation – for more than twenty-five years.

            After twenty-five years of discarding a small number of similar items, in the same place, you’ll get a noticeable pile of something. If it’s beer bottles, you’ll get an unsightly green mound. If it’s old cars, you’ll still get an unsightly mound – just different.

            With discarded people, you get – at first – a hardly noticeable number of people who don’t seem to fit in. Then you get a larger number who are clearly not fitting in to ordinary society. Then, in the final stage, this group of unfitted-in people reach and pass the critical mass where they form their own society. A society complete with its own set of values, standards, styles, customs, and traditions.

            Bermuda’s discarded “young males” probably entered the first stage some time in the early eighties. By the mid nineties – when Sir John noticed them – they’d reached the second stage. Now? In 2003. They’re probably in the final stage and they could already be a strong group about to enter the ultimate stage of self-perpetuation.

            Special problem? On this 13,000 acre plot with its delicately balanced social and economic life, numerically small but socially negative groups have a bigger than usual ability to wreck Bermuda’s very delicate, highly vulnerable, balance.

            By the way – if you think that Bermuda’s “young male problem” is exclusively black – you need to wipe that colour blot from your mind. It isn’t a colour problem.