August 2005 Archives

I'm taking the rest of the month off from blogging, barring some unforseen event, and will resume posting in September.

Here's to summer.

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I've been thinking about this Bermuda Shorts thing all day.

After a little more thought, I'd agree that fewer people are wearing Bermuda Shorts to work, but the whole line about them representing colonialism seems like a bogus vanity argument from the "blame the UK crowd" to me.

The answer I think is much more simple; the workplace has become more casual and I'd imagine that when it swings back, as it inevitably will, the shorts and socks will stage a comeback.

I have however been ruminating a little on this quote:

"Increasingly, the national dress of this British colony is worn only by a diminishing circle of elderly white gentlemen and workers in the hospitality industry, who put them on solely for the paycheck."

I think that's just false, as well as the later characterization of Bermuda as "a haven for U.S. banking and insurance companies". Insurance yes. Banking no. Bermuda actively avoids banking due to the problems it can bring.

I spent a lot of time today at lunch during my walk into town observing knee caps, and the number of people wearing shorts and socks wasn't insignificant, nor was it just elderly white gentlemen or hospitality workers.

It makes me wonder what prompted the reporter to write the story. Surely it didn't just pop out of the air? Ms. Williams achieved a pretty impressive lineup of quotable and notable Bermudians.

I wonder.

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Mid Ocean News (12 Aug. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

It isn't just the books we need balanced, it is the exercise of power

EXECUTIVE accountability, Mr. Editor, is no easy thing to achieve. But it’s worth pursuing in my books, if not for ourselves, then for those who follow after us, not to mention those whom we seek to serve. I liked the way in which my colleague Wayne Furbert explained it when he sent up a kind of SOS during one of our many debates in the House on the Hill on one of those many damning reports of the Auditor General: what we need, he said, is a system to help save ourselves from ourselves.

A system, Mr. Editor, of checks and balances – and, no, I don’t mean those kinds of cheques. I mean a system of governance that helps keep a close check on the cheques our Government writes – and to whom, and for how much, and why - and it isn’t just the books we need balanced, it is the exercise of power.

We need two things to make this a reality, assuming there is the political will to move beyond the mere mouthing of the words of “transparency” and “accountability” and “the sunshine of public scrutiny”.

They are: (1) More opportunities in the House on the Hill to do the job, and (2) the election of people who will do the job.
Voters typically decide the latter. But continuing on from where I left off last week, Mr. Editor, I want to share some more of my ideas on the former.

In my view, we need to revise and refine our parliamentary procedures to ensure that there are sufficient, adequate mechanisms in place to enforce the accountability of the executive (read Cabinet) to Parliament. That is the way it is supposed to be – and last week I highlighted one of the long-standing committees of the House on the Hill, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC, man, for short), which was originally established to keep a close eye on Government spending. It requires no major overhaul. It just needs to be beefed up by:

* Increasing the number of members from five to seven;
* Opening meetings to press and public; and
* Giving PAC the power to summon witnesses, including Government Ministers.

Implement these changes and the committee, chaired by the Opposition spokesman for Finance, will soon command attention – and possibly action as well. Remember, Mr. Editor, this is the committee which is supposed to be stimulated into action by the annual and special reports which are made to the Legislature by the Auditor General – and there have been a truckload of the latter in recent times. They have included: Bermuda Housing Corporation (May 2002), Berkeley Institute Senior School Capital Project (October 2002), Stonington Beach Hotel Lease (April 2004), Accountant- General’s Department, Department of Immigration and Government Credit Cards (May 2005).

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Two good reads on education.

The first, is part 2 of 2 (click here for part 1), by the UBP's Shadow Education Minister Neville Darrell on the problems in and a way out of our public education mess.

The second is another find from Pondblog, which discusses some early signs of success for the KIPP Charter School initiative underway in some US states.

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Pondblog has picked up on an interesting story in the LA Times today, discussing the relative demise of the traditional Bermuda short (in Bermuda) as formal wear.

There's a whole range opinions from well-known locals on why they wear them, why they don't, why they like them, why they dislike them etc. etc.. Some are predictably political, others insightful.

An interesting read.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I rarely wear 'Bermuda' shorts with socks, jacket, tie anymore. No particular reason really, other than that I've always considered it formal wear, to be worn with jacket and tie. The two companies I've worked for for the past ten years have both been mostly casual, probably too casual in the hot summer months, so we rarely wear suits.

I would make one observation about the acceptance of Bermuda shorts in the international business community: more non-Bermudians wear the traditional short with socks than locals it seems.

Maybe because we spent 12 or so years in them through our school years it does make us feel like we're back in school as Desmond Rickardson noted.

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After some feedback from readers, and my own sense that it's time for a change, I'm going to be updating the colour scheme of this site, not the layout just the colours.

A few people have commented on the font size and black background as making it difficult to read, particularly for those techno-geeks who like to read it on their Blackberries.

So I'll be changing it up in a few days, but not being an expert in style sheets, it might take me a few goes to do it just right.

Saying that, I ain't too proud to beg. So if there are any charitable web designers out there who want to donate a couple of hours to assist, I'll gladly accept.

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RG Opinion (10 Aug. 2005)

I’d always been under the impression that boycotting The Royal Gazette was a point of pride for PLP Cabinet Ministers. So it was indeed a surprise to see the Minister of Education himself responding to my column of July 26th entitled ‘The Abysmal State of Our Schools’, which called for a public inquiry into the continuing failure of public education in preparing our young people to participate in our prosperous economy.

Other than the unbecoming tone, Mr. Lister’s response was notable for its evasiveness on an issue of increasing concern island-wide: that with a 47% failure rate the public education system fails about as many students as it graduates, while Bermuda’s economy demands record numbers of highly educated workers.

It gets worse. Exacerbating this declining education rate is the Government-led expectations raising game around the right to a high-level high-paying job. The result? Surrounded by wealth, yet not equipped with the qualifications or skills to perform at the required level to share in it, too many of the inadequately educated turn to an alternative lifestyle.

It’s little surprise then that the ill-tempered Minister resorted to lashing out at those of us who have publicly expressed our concern, disappointment and justifiable outrage that a growing segment of Bermuda’s young people face economic marginalization by a failing education system.

I for one will not sit silently, or be silenced as the Minister attempts, while bureaucratic incompetence and a lack of political will produces declining standards and plumbs new depths of futility.

And I’m not alone. Approximately 40% of Bermuda’s children are already enrolled in private education, indicating that the community has rendered its verdict: there isn’t a crisis of confidence in public education, there’s simply no confidence in it. Mr. Lister seems blissfully unaware of this fact.

He rants that people like me who “make blanket statements that condemn a whole system” need to “step up to the plate” to offer assistance, suggesting that the Minister broke rank and subscribed to The Royal Gazette in March of 2005.

Why? Well, in February of this year I wrote consecutive columns on the problems in, and a potential solution for, public education. The first was published on Feb. 1st and the second on the 8th, entitled Education: The other "E" word and "Set Bermuda’s schools free" respectively.

It was then that I discussed the decline of public education and proposed replacing the bureaucracy with elected school boards to introduce competition and accountability and eliminate the counter-productive meddling of career bureaucrats and politicians.

Unfortunately the Minister wasn’t interested in responding to those columns. Of course he is entitled to disagree with my proposals, but he’s just plain wrong in suggesting that those worried about public education are insincere, partisan and unfair.

Mr. Lister in his letter went on the offensive, calling me ‘intellectually dishonest” for failing to acknowledge the variety of factors that impact on student success, something previously addressed in those February columns. But for the Minister’s benefit, and as he failed to name any factors himself, I’ll provide the relevant quote:

“And while there are many factors that have led to where we are today, the most significant must be a tolerance for low standards, poor discipline, an inadequate curriculum, social promotion and a bureaucracy that seems to answer to no-one.”

The Minister goes on to assert that those of us who condemn the 53% graduation rate as inadequate are insulting the teachers, students, parents, scholarship recipients and graduates of public schools, as if the rate itself isn’t insulting enough.

But again, and for his benefit, I’ll direct him to my column of Feb. 1st where I wrote:

“It’s also important not to condemn everything and everyone within the public school system. We can all point to success stories – incredibly dedicated and effective teachers, successful schools, or students who have succeeded in spite of the system – but somewhere, something is terribly broken. And when something is terribly broken the answer is not to play on the fringes as we’ve been content to do.”

Perhaps then, if the Minister cares to respond again, he’ll dispense with the all too familiar diversionary personal attacks and turn his attention to my challenge for a public inquiry into public education?

Petty insults and vilification aside, Mr. Lister’s 423 words were very educational; they provided indisputable empirical evidence of what is wrong with the administration of public education, leaving me doubly concerned about the prospects for a turnaround.

Firstly, the Minister (and his Ministry) refuses to acknowledge that the system is broken, easily the most significant impediment to change. He even chides me for my inability to “acknowledge anything positive that comes out of this Government”. Is he serious? What was he expecting, a victory parade through town – complete with honking convertibles – to celebrate the 53% graduation rate achieved on his watch?

The Minister’s response also adopted the tried and true tactic of blaming others, having us believe that those who demand a better public education system are the problem. He argues that the parents of the 40% who have walked away from public schooling have no right to comment on the quality of public education as they have no “intention to associate themselves with the Bermuda Public School [sic], no matter how good it may ever become.” Because of course, hard working-Bermudians relish forking out tens of thousands of our hard-earned dollars annually to educate our children outside of a system we also fund through hefty taxes.

But did he really say “no matter how good it may ever become”? Wow. Maybe the Minister, unintentionally, did admit that the system is broken. That brief statement exemplifies the defeatist attitude prevalent among the administrators of public education. Evidently the Minister has little confidence that it will ever improve.

How’s about some bold confidence and optimism – backed up with proposals for comprehensive reform and measures to gauge their impact – that the public school system can and will be the first choice for every parent in Bermuda, as it should? How’s about some specifics to convince that 40% to entrust our children’s futures to the habitually failing Ministry of Education?

A few ideas from the Minister himself would have been welcome. Sadly they were glaringly absent. In their place was a call for everyone else to “step up to the plate and to offer tangible assistance in terms of their time to assist those who are in need.”

Which is yet another of the monumental problems holding back the public schools; those in charge at the highest levels are clueless. Not knowing where to start, they’ve resorted to chastising the community for not coming up with the answer; the ones that the professional educators and politicians lack. If this isn’t a sign that it’s past time to close the doors on the Ministry, nothing is.

But isn’t it precisely the Minister’s job to offer solutions? And Mr. Lister is the Minister right; or is he just a bad-tempered cheerleader for a failing system? Surely he was appointed to improve things? Was the Minister of Education really berating Bermudians for not offering solutions, when he himself offered not one in his rebuttal to my column?

If Mr. Lister really wants those of us who fault the system to get involved, then I’m confident that he will lend his whole-hearted support to a public inquiry. If he’s really so confident that things are going well in the Ministry then there’s nothing to fear is there?

Hell, we’ve thrown every taxpayer resource and 6 months at the Bermuda Independence Commission, an initiative that two thirds of Bermudians actually want to fail. Surely public education – something we all want to succeed – deserves the same treatment, or better. Or does it not warrant the same sense of urgency and high-priority that Independence does in the Cabinet Office?

So will you step up to the plate and appoint a Bermuda Education Commission, Mr. Lister? Will you send them off to investigate jurisdictions which have successfully reversed their educational decline? Will Cabinet bring in foreign experts to tell us where we need to go? Will the Minister invite public input at town hall meetings, with these experts in attendance? Will Cabinet release the BEC’s report, in full, at its conclusion?

Well, Mr. Minister. Will you?

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For a study in extremes, compare Terry Lister's recent rant in the Royal Gazette Letters to the Editor, with Friday's thoughful and specific Opinion (part 1 of 2) by the UBP's Shadow Education Minister Neville Darrell in the Bermuda Sun.

The contrast says it all.

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It's amazing what some politicians will say with a straight face.

Tonight's ZBM evening news gave substantial play to last night's public apologies from two Cup Match players over an apparently unbecoming incident during the game. (I was away on business so I must admit to not being clear on what occured.)

What piqued my interest in ZBM's segment was Deputy Premier Dr. Ewart Brown's comments. The reliably unapologetic Cabinet Minister was gushing about the apology by the two players, how it "nearly brought him to tears", how it displayed the "depth and richness of their character" and was the "epitomy of manhood". Right on cue, Dr. Brown's trusty sidekick Rolfe Commissiong followed up with more of the same. Coincidence? You decide.

Touching stuff. Or not.

I can only conclude then that by Dr. Brown's own assessment he would describe his character as shallow and poor, and lacking manhood.

Harsh words? Nope. Accurate.

Think about it. Dr. Brown has never apologised for anything:

- not for his leadership role in the infamous deception throughout the 2003 election to oust Jennifer Smith immediately after the vote. 'We misled you because we had to' was not an apology, it was was justification.

- not his failure to declare the (overpriced) sale of his Flatts home to the BHC.

- not his disgusting 'Don't vote yourself back onto the plantation" comment of the 2003 election which he recently admitted he made for political gain, while directly refusing to apologise (only one month ago).

- not the 'Pay to Play' scandal

- not the recent misrepresentation of 2005's first half tourism statistics

- not the taxpayer funded boondoggle to Al Sharpton's Annual Banquet.

Nothing. Nada. No apology in sight. In fact, a direct refusal to do so in one of the worst cases:

"During his passionate speech, Dr. Brown also referred to a statement he made at the last General Election in 2003 – “Voting for the UBP would be the equivalent of voting yourself back onto the plantation”.

He admitted to making the statement for political gain, however, Dr. Brown also said he would not apologise for making the statement publicly."

After today's embarrassing spectacle, you can't blame the public for holding politicians in such low regard. I just wish the ZBM reporter would have challenged him, camera in his face, to heed his own words.

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Mid Ocean News (05 Aug. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Is anybody listening? Parliamentary reform in Bermuda is long overdue

THERE you have it, Mr. Editor, Parliament is down and out now that we have risen for the summer recess – and, yes, that’s right, we won’t be meeting again for another three months. That’s more than enough time to pause and reflect and take stock of the work which we perform in the House on the Hill, which means that it is time to get serious and take up a favourite topic of mine: parliamentary reform. In my books, and you have heard me go on about this before, it’s long overdue.

More next week, Mr. Editor, on what further changes can be made to not only provide for greater accountability and transparency, but for greater participation by both MPs and the people they represent.

I can see how that might be so: Parliament may well be viewed by those outside its chambers as a small, relatively exclusive club of 36 members, with its own language and practices, most of which seem designed to exclude rather than include voters between elections.

Mind you, Mr. Editor, there are a good number of people who follow the debates closely, and while some of them might eschew the clash that comes from confrontation on the Hill from week to week, the fact is they also enjoy the entertainment that political theatre can bring to the local scene. There are only so many shows in town and this one comes to you live on the radio.

Don’t get me wrong either. Debates are important to the political process: parties set out their respective positions and voters get the measure of their MPs from what they have to say (or don’t say) on the issues of the day.

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Brilliant, and topical.

The Onion does it again with their article entitled Report: Our High Schools May Not Adequately Prepare Dropouts For Unemployment:

Despite massive cuts in recent decades, some remnants of math and science instruction continue to plague many school districts. These courses, Chao argued, waste valuable time and money.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings defended the nation's public-school system.

"Educators do a lot to ensure that the most hopeless students slip through the cracks," Spellings said. "Arbitrary rules, irregularly enforced discipline, and pointless paperwork are just the first things that come to mind."

She added: "Easy grading encourages students to be sloppy and late handing in homework—a skill that makes future deadbeats very competitive in stonewalling landlords and bill collectors."

Hilarious. Minister of Education Terry Lister should take note.

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My my my. What an intemperate little diatribe from the Minister of Education Terry Lister in today's Royal Gazette Letters to the Editor.

My favourite quote was:

"To be fair, such chronic intellectual dishonesty is probably due to his refusal to take off his partisan blinkers and acknowledge anything positive that comes out of this Government."

Wow. He's so deluded that he was expecting a compliment for the 53% graduation rate! A glass half full man I guess.

Theoretically, the Education Minister was responding to my RG column of July 26th entitled 'The Abysmal State of Our Schools'. In reality it wasn't a response; failing to respond to either my call for a public inquiry into public education or address (or even feign the slightest bit of concern) about the 53% graduation rate.

That's too bad.

Mr. Lister's letter could be summed up most appropriately as "How dare he!". How dare I, what right do I have, people should be outraged, that Dunleavy (as he refers to me) is critical of a system which produces a 47% failure rate.

Which suggests a terribly bleak future for public education.

I will be responding in my column next Tuesday, but there is so much there to discuss that I won't be able to do it in my 700 word allotment. I won't however be replying in kind; that is with unproductive attacks on the messenger at the expense of the issue at hand - improving public education.

I would encourage anyone who is concearned about the state of public education to send your thoughts in as a Letter to the Editor and get a dialogue going.

The Minister has been engaged, albeit he wants to make this about me personally while ignoring the catastrophe he's presiding over, but he's engaged nonetheless.

I intend to draw him back onto the topic: fixing the broken public school system. The more voices the better.

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