29 January 2012

Presidential Politics, St. Barths Style




As in the United States, St. Barths will elect a President this year.  And the race is wide open because the incumbent, Bruno Magras, has this week announced that he will retire from public service after decades of what is generally considered exemplary leadership of this island’s governmental affairs.

While the election here is just two months off, there are not yet any declared candidates, though two experienced members of the Legislative Council are expected to toss their sun-visors into the ring.

Debates? I doubt it.  There is no local television, the only bumper stickers I have seen on the island are the 2008 OBAMA! stickers on the London family Jeep and the Diahatsu Terios. And you will never see a pol rolling up his sleeves, loosening his tie, and walking on the beach shaking hands.  First of all, NOBODY here owns a shirt with sleeves, and second, NOBODY owns a necktie.  Finally, most of the people on the beach are Romney supporters. You can tell by Speedos worn by the men, and the topless bikinis worn by their nieces.

Potential campaign issues?

Ugh……well, none have arisen yet, as far as I know, and as I look into my crystal ball, it’s difficult to tease any out: 

The Gingrich “open marriage” issue will likely not arise here, because, how shall I put this delicately, the French don’t necessarily have the same views of marriage as do our Evangelical voters.  And if a local candidate were charged with some sort of marital infidelity, I guess he could always handle it the same way Newt did: “Hey, I said I was sorry!  Besides, I did it for my country.''

Santorum’s anti-choice, anti-contraception positions would never be countenanced for a moment here.  The electorate would almost unanimously say, en Francais, “ Excuse me, but how is this YOUR business? Fuck off.” Or something like that. 

Mitt’s income tax problems? Hey, nobody here pays income tax.  Nobody. Never happen. Non-issue.

Ron Paul?  You want to take away "socialized medicine" --a/k/a what has been described as the best health care system in world? You want to take away the St. Barths municipal hospital? Are you kidding me? Hah!  And no candidate here would run on a platform of withdrawing our military from overseas, cause we ain’t got no military, no less military overseas.

The only U.S. candidate a local might channel is Stephen Colbert.  After all, he did drop the pronunciation of the final “t”, which is big in these parts.  I wonder if the “Not coordinated with Stephen Colbert Super PAC”, managed by (but not coordinated with) Jon Stewart is allowed to make a contribution to the St. Barths campaign. Or maybe Stephen would even consider running here. He cannot do much worse here than the 1% of vote he got South Carolina. I would ask him to get involved in the race here if somebody would send me his email address.

Issues?  Well, there is always the economy.  Big in the U.S.  THE issue there.  Here?  Not so much. Why?

Let’s see:  No income inequality because there is no income tax, (or if there is for some, nobody pays it),  no real estate tax, no sales tax, not vat, no unemployment, an annual budget surplus.  Hmmm.  What’s the island S&P rating?  It is not triple A. Indeed, the Island government, unlike parent France, lacks a rating altogether.  Why? Because the rating is supposed to advise the borrowers.  No debt= no borrowers= no rating.

Must be an issue somewhere here.  Growth? Eh, everyone is against it, except for a little. Not much to discuss.

Let's see:  The beaches did incur a great seaweed influx this Fall.  Nearby hurricanes. For weeks in October and November, huge patches of the stuff littered the beaches.  An issue?  Well, I am told both prospective candidates have come out firmly AGAINST seaweed on the beaches.  What's to discuss?

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that Stephen Colbert could do well here.  Stephen, are you listening?  Your constituency is calling!

Okay, let’s be serious for a moment.

What can our U.S. politicians  learn from the St. Barths experience?

Answer:  We CAN reduce the size our government, we can balance our budget!  

How? 

First, and most important:  the press must STOP asking Newt Gingrich (and any other politician) questions that he does not like to answer. Very Unamerican. Don't they realize the First Amendment has language requiring the press to refrain from inquiring into hypocrisy on the part of our would-be National Leaders? Don't they realize that Peter Zenger went to jail for that sort of conduct?  Don't they realize the same Amendment (which, for those of you non-lawyers, also provides for religious freedom) says very clearly (well, in its penumbra, anyway) that once a pol says "I have asked God for forgiveness," it is simply unconstitutional to inquire further?   Where is the ACLU when we need em?

Second:  The U.S. needs to get France to pay for our military, our health care, our social security, police, fire, and schools. Then we can impose a 5% tax on imports and tourists, automobiles, gasoline, and electricity usage, and then go shopping for the day. What could be simpler?

I suggest that if the United States Congress cannot accomplish this, we ought to fire them.  Every last one of them.  I suggest we give em from now til November.  If they do not get the job done, outskey!

Well, it has stopped raining, the sun is blazing hot. Gotta get outside! I figure we have at least a half hour to radiate the mildew growing on our bodies before it rains again.

A bientot.

18 January 2012

Pressure!


Pressure         

So there is Eli Manning, after a five-step dropback, looking down field for an open receiver.  Score tied, 58 seconds on the clock, third and eight on his own 40, if only Cruz could shake loose from that cornerback with an illegal grip on Cruz’s jersey. Uh oh, out of the corner of his eye, Eli spots the defensive right end spin away from the Giant’s offensive left tackle and make straight for him.  What now? Step up into the pocket? Into the arms of the blitzing middle linebacker? Take the sack and leave the field to the punt squad? Scramble right with 515 pounds of beef chasing him?  Dump the ball off to the blocking back and let him run for his life?  Decision time. Pressure unbearable must nevertheless be borne. All on him.  Hey, that’s why he gets the big bucks.

Pressure.

Whoa.  Is London demented?  Hung over?  Brain rot from heat, rain, Tanqueray and Red Stripe, (did I mention rain?), followed by the shock of the Giants beating the unbeatable Green Bay Packers? Nothing like this occurred in that game. Not even close.  Giants led all the way, despite the best efforts of the cheese-head officials.
 
Ok, it is all my imagination.  It is I who feels the pressure.  After my escape from Islamabad airport, I need to write another blog about St. Barths to maintain my standing.  After all, I do have an audience to feed.  So far, not fickle, but I know some who would pounce like a blind-side defensive end if I do not communicate in a timely fashion, i.e., like today.
Okay, let’s see:  talk about St. Barths?  You already know the Russians are here, it is still raining, and there is still no parking permitted on the roadway adjacent to St. Jean beach.  Nothing new there.

We did eat at a new restaurant the other night.  Who cares? No big deal.  Just excellent service by friendly waiters, great food prepared by an accomplished chef, while we sat at a harbor-side table, and spent two hours drinking red wine with friends without any effort by the wait-staff to turn the table over. (Just like NYC, right?  Ever eat at Quatorze B in the east seventies? Two minutes after you sit down, the waiter demands your main course order.  Not ready? Not to worry: he’ll be back every three minutes until you submit to his whining. If you are not out of there within 65 minutes of your arrival, the waiter all but removes the table cloth and sits the new patrons in your lap.  Food is good, but the hospitality is decidedly unfrench.) And when was the last time you ate in a New York City restaurant and could actually hear anything said at your table?

Other news?  You already know about the decline of the Euro.  Good news? I  dunno. Our cost of living has declined, but so have real estate values—or not. Too complicated for me, so I just focus on the short-term items, like the cost of gin and light bulbs.

I think I will punt. So instead of talking about St. Barths, a few words about this Blog.  Yeah, that’s it:  A Blog about a Blog. Then we’ll go the beach. It is noon, the sun is shining , no clouds in the sky, which probably means it will not rain for another 90 minutes.  Gotta hurry.

Pressure.

I send  blog-reminder emails to friends and family members, most of whom live in the metropolitan New York area, with a few sprinkled about the United States.  Google hosts my Blog at no cost to me. Hard to figure out what's in it for them. Maybe there’s some profit for hosting Blogspot when a Blog has thousands of viewers.  Google does have an advertising program available for bloggers, but I  can not imagine having to pay my accountant another thousand bucks to add 18 cents a year of new income to my tax  returns.

I discovered recently that Blogspot supplies statistics on one's blogees. Hmm.  You thought I did not know who was looking at the blog, that I  could not track who looked, and when? Hah.  Well, actually, you are correct, I don’t know who you are, but Google does tell me how many of you there are.  

This project began with stay-in-touch emails when Pinks and I came down here for the winter six years ago.  (I am not even sure Facebook existed then, but that’s irrelevant because I am not a Facebook person and know few who are.)  After the sending the first few communiques to about 40 friends and family members, I became self-conscious that I might be cluttering inboxes with unwanted material, so I switched to the Blog mechanism, which gives the reader the option to click on the site or not,  if and when he or she chooses.  The number of blogees (I take credit for inventing the word) on my email-reminder list has grown substantially. While it is hardly “viral”, my tiny blog audience continues to expand.  While my email-reminder list is now at 230 (the greater part of the growth the result of  word-of-mouth request) so far this month there were 300 hits to the page. Not exactly IPO material, (Ariana Huffington can relax) but satisfying nevertheless.

But to me, the total number is not the only interesting statistic. Google’s Blogspot also tells me stuff about my readers. For example, 30% of my readers view the blog on a Mac, iPad or iPhone, the rest on Windows, except for three hardy souls who connect via Blackberry.  (And I can guess where  they work!)

But the most interesting data are these:  I get to learn where the hits come from.   The facts are beyond my ability to rationalize.  Here are geographic locales of this month’s page hits:

U.S.: 237
Russia: 22
France: 18
Germany 5
China: 4
Israel: 4
Netherlands: 3
Thailand: 3
UK: 2
Qatar: 2

Don’t ask me. I haven’t a clue.

The important thing is that I have now escaped my pursuers—at least for this week.  I feel  better.

Qatar???

Go Big Blue.

A bientot.

11 January 2012

Panic!

Date: 8 Jan 2012

Place: Benazir Bhutto International Airport, lsamabad.

“ Panic”:  A physical and mental condition marked by a loss of control, a fear of what is coming next because thought-processes have reached the ineluctable conclusion that whatever happens next will make matters much worse.  Panic is an individual state of mind.  An individual conclusion.  But nevertheless contagious.  And when shared by large numbers of people, potentially catastrophic.

Word has been out for 24 hours:  The government is collapsing, the Taliban fighters are pouring  through the mountain passes separating Pakistan from Afghanistan, while the Jihadi  elements of the shattered Pakistani military establishment  turn a blind eye to the incursions.  And several high officials of what was once the government of Pakistan are said to have  boarded private jets bound for Bahrain, which has offered them, for a “customs entry fee” of 100,000 Euros per family member (gold certificates accepted) a two-year “official Visit” visa.  Fundamentalist  factions are rumored to have already gained control of the a major part of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and  have vowed to settle accounts with their hated Hindu neighbors to the south, while the Indian government has declared a state of emergency and put its nuclear and conventional weaponry elements on Alert Status 5, the highest category.

The 5% of Islamabad’s population that enjoys substantial wealth and have the means to flee their homeland are in the process of  making every effort to do just that.  Suitcases are packed to the bursting point, infants are swaddled, the two-year olds in folding strollers, older children clutching the hands of their younger siblings while parents manage luggage carts piled to the utmost reach of the tallest family member.
 
The locale is predictable.  Even before the panic set in, Benazir Bhutto International Airport, serving the greater Islamabad area, was deemed inadequate, and a new, larger facility was under construction with an opening date set to 2013. While the civil airport authority shared the airport with the Pakistani military, there were only civilian Pakistani National Airlines planes operating that morning.  It was becoming evident that most of the would-be travelers would not get out of Pakistan that day.  Aside from the overwhelming numbers, half of the  crowd was in the wrong terminal because signs outside had misled international travelers to the domestic terminal, which was now so crowded that the revolving doors could no longer turn because of the pressure of people inside and outside.

All the senses were offended.  The decibel level inside the terminal increased with each frustrating hour. Smells of spoiling food, body odors, dirty diapers, filthy bathrooms, uncaring airline personnel, crying children, shouting  adults, pushing, shoving—in short, universal panic. Chaos.

“Wait, wait”, you say?  How would the Londons know about that?  Were they in Benazir Bhutto  International Airport earlier this week?  Well, as my grandchildren would say when asked if they did their homework last night, “Well, not exactly.”

But we were in Terminal Three of Liberty International Airport in Newark this past Sunday morning.  Virtually the same scene, but I have engaged in a bit of  blog-license to change the locale.  Okay, the people we encountered were not fleeing Islamabad; they were trying to  get out of New Jersey.  But the description of everything else is almost fair.

How did we get there?  Well, we made a few small mistakes in coming home: i)traveling on Sunday, ii)traveling  from EWR, and iii) traveling on Continental Airlines.

It will take a lot of Paradise, a lot of beach, sun, warm seas, and  Tanqueray  to erase the strains of our most recent trip to SBH.

Just a few travel notes:

Ahh, the benefits of airline consolidation.  So Continental has merged with United.  The corporate lawyers have done their bit, but the people who operate the airlines, not so much.  For example: our advance-check-in boarding passes said we were to depart from Terminal Three, but the airport signs directed us to Terminal Two.  Arriving at Terminal Two, we had the good sense to check with a curbside baggage guy before unloading our cab.  “Oh, no, you gotta go to Terminal Three.”  We did. But were again misled.  There are two levels to Terminal Three, and while the sign at the threshold of the ramp told us to go to the upper level, when we got there we found a sign telling us to go to the lower level.  Something about a United flight in one place and a Continental flight in another place, both going to the same destination an hour apart.  Of course, this meant a third circumnavigation of the airport ring road serving all the terminals at Liberty.
 
When we finally got to the correct departure terminal, see above: Bedlam, chaos, confusion, lots of pissed off shouting people—and that’s just the airline employees.

We had selected Continental because they have a baggage agreement with Winair, so one can check the luggage all the way through to St. Barths.  This has significant advantages for transfer passengers at Princess Juliana airport  in St. Maarten. But first one must check the  baggage at Newark.  Reaching, at long last, the agent behind the counter charged with the responsibility of accepting and tagging customers’ luggage, the following dialogue ensues:

She:   “We don’t have a baggage carriage agreement with Winair,  so I can tag your luggage only as far as SXM.” 

Me: “You do have  such an agreement, I have it here in an email, and you can ticket the luggage all the way through.”

She: “Well, I don’t care about  your email, if it is not on my computer, we don’t have such an agreement.”
 
Me: “Did  you check your computer?”
 
She:  “My computer is down.”

You get the picture. Ultimately, the computers came up, they tagged our two suitcases to SBH ($25 each—remember the day when airlines gave a crap about what customers thought of them?)  and we actually  recovered one of our pieces of luggage here in St. Barths the same day!

Enough of that.  Some news from Paradise:

The island has had a lot of rain so far this season, and is very green. Lush.  There is expanded parking at the airport, and the really big news is a new parking lot across the road from St. Jean Beach.  This is huge: there are no longer parked cars on the roadway, and the two- lane beach-side road now actually has two lanes devoted to moving vehicles.  Drivers no longer need close their eyes when passing opposing traffic, west bound cars no longer terrify pedestrians by driving on the sidewalk, and the sale of replacement  side-view mirrors has dramatically declined.

One more observation, and I am off to Saline Beach to  commence my recuperation.

There are lots of  give-away glossy magazines in a rack at the  SBH airport, and elsewhere on the island.  They are, as you might expect, long on advertising and short on textual material. Almost all the ads are for wristwatches and feature either George Clooney or naked women. But, with some of these publications, there is actually some editorial  material, which is traditionally presented in English, and then repeated in French.  This is, after all, France.  Well, maybe, but this year the articles appear first in English, then are repeated in Russian, then  “threepeated” in French.   Hmmm.  This is not a case of “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming.” Ils sont arrivee.

A bientot.