Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Me and Miss Ohio

When I think back to my travelling days in the ‘60s, I sometimes wonder where all the money came from. Not where it went. I know where it went, pretty much.

There must have been more in the kitty than I remember, when I boarded the boat in Brisbane. Bob and I got the cheapest cabin available (“down near the plug-hole”, in his words), sharing with two strangers. Right from the start, we all watched our pennies, saving everything for the big experience to come.

We both had good steady auditing jobs lined up in London; David from New Zealand had an introduction to a firm of Lloyd’s brokers, though in the end he chose to be a parking-lot attendant instead. We three planned to live in London the following winter (“We could share a flat.” “Sure, let’s keep in touch.”), and backpack our separate ways around Britain & Europe before and after.

Louie had been born on the ship taking his parents to Australia from Greece after The War, and was on his way “back home” to meet his relatives. It had been a Greek ship, so technically he had been born Greek. On his return he was immediately drafted into the Greek Army, and his relatives had to buy his way out. Just as well he had watched his pennies on the boat, really.

We three did share a flat in London, with three others, and lived the good life in Kangaroo Valley. Money was always tight. When my dad was dying, I had to borrow 200 pounds from David for the flight home. Yet, a few months later I was off in Hamburg buying a VW Beetle. How was that possible? I must have had a reserve fund in Oz, that I now transferred to England. My Grandma Hancock had left me some money, years before; maybe that was the reserve fund.

The Beetle was a retired Police car, black and white like all Hamburg City Police cars. I begged, but the yard wouldn’t let me keep the colours, and painted it all white (for free). David & I met up in Berlin, and took a week or two to wend our way back to London.

For the life of me I can’t recall how much the car cost. 300 pounds? 600? Whichever, there was enough cash remaining to tide me through the next twelve months of travel down to Shiraz and back, in Iran. Did Linda pay for half the petrol, etc? Maybe. Probably.

Back in London, I drove my Mum around Britain, at her expense – me in Youth Hostels, her in bed-and-breakfasts. The car – bashed and battered, left-hand drive – went for a song. Mum had to lend me the cost of an air ticket to Toronto, where Linda had found me a room for seven dollars a week. Not a great room, but we were watching our pennies again.

Then Linda gave up on me for a while and flew home, and I had to persuade her to come back and get married. “Put it in writing”, she said; “Oh, and send me the fare.” Sigh. What can you do?

We left Canada in 1967 with $3400 between us, headed for a job in Jamaica. Instead, we stopped in Nassau, and settled down to save some serious money for the first time in years. First, though, we spent $2600 on a brand-new TR-3 and drove around with the canvas top folded down. Me and Miss Ohio...!

There’s a gentle bluegrass song by Gillian Welch, that’s mildly mocking of a young woman showing off in a convertible –
Oh me oh my oh, would you look at Miss Ohio,
She's runnin' around with the rag-top down.  
She says I want to do right, but not right now. 

My son has inherited my casual attitude to money and “success”. We believe that everybody should at some point take time out to be running around with the rag-top down, literally or figuratively, before it’s too late.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cayman’s election candidates

 What a fiasco our election process is! 25 candidates are standing in George Town for its six LA seats out of 18, and we voters haven’t got a clue what any of the 25 might do if they get in. Not one of them has committed himself or herself to a single specific action. They’re all going to wait till they’re safely in the House and then decide. Good grief!

It’s what’s called a beauty pageant. “Vote for me because I’m a nice person. Look: here’s a photo of me smiling; here’s my cool slogan. What more could you ask for?” Well, a lot more, actually. Here are some sample questions all of us voters ought to be asking all of the candidates.

Will you continue to waste tens of millions of dollars on Cayman Airways, the Turtle Farm, the Economic Statistics office, and all those other government units whose work could be better done by the private sector? Will you increase taxes, to pay for all government’s loss-making enterprises, or will you force our Pension Funds to buy government bonds to finance the losses?

What – specifically – will you do to block the appointment of political cronies to government boards and committees? Who will you favour for appointments to those boards and committees? Will you reach out to immigrant communities and allow them to share in the governance of these Islands, or will you maintain the politics of exclusion, and keep all political power in the hands of bloodline Caymanians? One of the independents is a former Chairman of the Immigration Board, for goodness sake. Not a good sign...

How will the independents rid government’s overloaded payroll of its wastrels and time-servers? What specific cuts will they make (or try to make) in Public Expenditure? If they haven’t decided yet, will they be equally indecisive in the House? I wrote a blog-post called “How to balance a budget” a couple of weeks ago; do they read that sort of thing? Who would they vote into Cabinet, and who would they not vote in? Why won’t they tell us?

The reason why so many people despise the three political parties is that we can’t trust them to do what’s right. Since they have no formal policies, all elected MLAS from the UDP will support its leader for a Cabinet post, and will take his advice on everything. All elected members of the PPM will support its leader for Cabinet and will do whatever he says; all in Julianna’s team will do her bidding.

That’s reason enough for us to vote for independents and to urge others to do the same. BUT would the independents be any better? Why should we put our signatures at the bottom of a blank page? Roy and Jude (for instance) are reckoned to be shoo-ins; they’re very nice fellows, and would bring some accounting expertise to the job. But must we gamble on them? Why won’t they tell us what they intend to do to get Cayman out of the current fiscal mess?

In the last election, expat voters and their Caymanian friends and families swung the result against the PPM because of its members’ anti-expat rhetoric, and towards the UDP because of McKeeva’s 3000 Status grants. From what I hear on the street, the same twin factors will be in play this time. Contempt and gratitude are powerful sentiments, not to be ignored.

Imagine an Assembly with six UDP, six PPM, two Juliannas and four independents including Ezzard and Arden. Wow. What a prospect! How long would Cayman survive before the first coup attempt? How long before our Offshore clients are driven away by the sight of such a dog’s breakfast?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Terrorists and patriots

When half of Britain’s North American colonies rebelled against the Empire in the 18th Century, the king and his minions classified the rebels as terrorists; those in each colony who did not rebel were called patriots and loyalists. The rebels themselves had things the other way round.

The same thing happened in Ireland in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Those who fought against imperial rule were terrorists in the Empire’s books, and patriots among themselves. To the British king of the day, those who did not rebel were patriots and loyalists; to the rebels, the occupiers were terrorists and scum.

Sigh. It’s the same today in the Middle East. Most Western governments support the US in its imperial role and adopt the Empire’s labels. There is the same divided perception as there is in all military conflicts. “We” are always the good guys: “they” are always the bad.

 Guantanamo and Bagram contain what the Empire calls “the worst of the worst” – so blatantly bad and ugly that their abductors don’t see any need to gather evidence against them. Yet from the perspective of the prisoners’ home communities, it is the prison guards who are the worst of the worst – dehumanised brutes who torture for the fun of it.

We who speak English don’t usually know what the words for terrorism, patriotism or imperialism are, in foreign languages. But we presume they use words that are culturally equivalent to ours. Invaders who kill villagers from the air will always be terrorists in the language of the victims. Members of the local resistance will always be patriots and war heroes. The French Resistance in World War II thought of themselves as patriots and war heroes; the German occupiers classed them as terrorists.

“My country, right or wrong” is no more or less powerful a message for us in the West than it is for the primitive tribal villages our militaries destroy.

A predictable side-effect of blind patriotism is that it damages the integrity of our language. Weasel-words corrupt it. “Enhanced interrogation” (torture), “collateral damage” (civilian victims), and even “defence” (protecting military aggression) – all of those corrupt the English language.

Even everyday terms are dangerous. “He was in Iraq serving his country”... But how was he serving it, exactly? Was he raping and murdering women and children in their homes, or standing by watching, and lying to investigators? Or was he living a blameless life working in the regimental kitchen? Service can mean so many things, in the killing fields.

In Orwell’s “1984”, the Ministry of Peace was responsible for maintaining a permanent state of war. In the book, war was peace, in that it kept the populace from rebelling. By that measure, invasions and occupations are defence, in that they keep the populace united against the created enemy.

“1984” also had a Ministry of Love, that required the citizenry to accept its enslavement. If necessary, individuals would be tortured until they were convinced that loving Big Brother was good for society. Our Big Brother is not yet as fully developed as Orwell’s, but they’re working on it. So far, the torture camps are only for Moslems and foreigners. However, domestic dissidents are next in line. They aren’t called dissidents, of course; the public isn’t ready for that yet. Instead they’re called “domestic terrorists”.

Evil, filthy, nasty, savage, treacherous, anti-social, domestic terrorists! So evil, we can’t tell you how evil! No, really, we can’t tell you, so don’t ask. Whose side are you on, anyway? Frown.