Saturday, September 23, 2017

If You've Got It, Play It


My post last week—drum roll—on the meaning of life, received such a robust welcome that I’m a bit lost as to where to go this week. Many wrote to me asking that I do something “like it” again.  Trust me, if I knew how to do it again I would.  Frankly, I didn’t even know I did it, when I did it.  I just did it.

Which got me to thinking.  Why do so many of us think that what comes easily to us, must come easily to everyone else? The natural corollary to that sort of thinking is that what comes so effortlessly cannot possibly be as meaningful as what does not.  For example, some know precisely what colors and patterns work well together, while others can’t even match black shoes with black socks.  Some can whistle a complex tune with perfect pitch, while others can barely blow their noses. Two unique skills, each too often taken for granted by its possessor.

Then there are writers who breeze through complex narrative portrayals, all the while dreading the eventual paragraphs of dialog to come.  And the artist genius with pen and ink that shrinks at the thought of touching oil to canvas. They, as well as those tortured by the opposite dilemmas, all thinking that what comes so easily to them is not as valued by society as that which does not.

I’m not meaning to suggest that one should not work hard toward mastering the more difficult aspects of one one’s chosen craft, but in seeking to master a skill set you find difficult, do not do so to the neglect of enhancing your natural gifts.  In other words, play to your strengths. 

Yes, we all admire and respect those who persevere and succeed in mastering the most challenging aspects of their work, but what of the many who lose patience in the struggle, become frustrated, and simply give up, sacrificing the potential of their natural gifts in the process.

Each of us has gifts meant for us to develop, nurture, and exploit.  If we pursue what we think is more valued by society, to the neglect of what we’re blessed with, we’re playing into the strengths of those who possess the very gifts we lack.  Our energies should be directed toward successfully competing through our strengths.

It’s like a five-foot-tall natural born jockey who, instead of racing, chooses to compete against seven-foot giants in basketball.  The outcome will assuredly be as unsatisfying for the jockey, as it would be for a seven-footer who decides charging for the finish line astride thoroughbreds is a better choice than heading for the hoop in a pair of Air Jordans.

Bottom Line: “Play the cards you’re dealt.”  But play them well.

That’s all for this week’s sermon…except to say, L’Shanah Tovah, y’all.


Friday, September 22, 2017

The Lochan Of The Lost Sword

6 am in the campsite at Tyndrum, just north of Loch Lomond and over a bit.

Just the tinkling of  the river, not a crocodile in sight,

A wee bridge...

                                                       A wee bit of water

A big bit of scenery, this is a few minutes later from the pic above and you can see how the mood has changed.

The slightly flat peak ( Is a plateau  at altitude called a platitude?) on the right might be Ben Lomond.
It's distinctive head and shoulders look different from the north.
The bare foreground was a result of a forest fire in the early 2000's. It will take a long time to recover.

Dewy spiders webs danced like jellyfish

This one was a stoater!

And this one had a we hairy spider in a Robert The Bruce kind of way,


Nicer and then we stumbled on....

So the story goes that Robert the Bruce and his pals were being chased by the English and to aid their getaway, the Scots threw their weapons into this Lochan as they went past. The weapons included Robert the Bruce's fabled sword - which was probably between five and nine feet in length. A mile further on, the English caught up with the Scots and a fight ensued. And the Scots won  that of course as we don't need weapons- we are dangerous by nature. 
The sword is still there, guarded by a lady of the loch.

Mist over the lochan.

Spooky- I'm putting a body in there!

The stone that names the lochan

So you know what a sword looks like.

signs to confuse....everybody!

A  wee broon dug is visible, leaping through the door to the oak leaf forest.

As you know, I have a thing about paths through woods...

wee broon dug in water.

Further down river, teams of young men were armpit deep in the river, panning for gold.

Caro Ramsay  22nd September 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action

Michael - Thursday

I’ve been thinking about this issue recently, partly in the context of a small company in South Africa with which I’m involved. And I freely admit that I have more questions than answers.

First of all, the case for black economic empowerment (BEE) in South Africa is unarguable. Starting with colonialism and followed by 50 years of apartheid (which institutionalized the racism which the previous government was implementing in practice), black people in this country were horrendously disadvantaged. That disadvantage is inherited by most black people in South Africa today, with the worst effected being the black African peoples who constitute around three quarters of the population.

When Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, his program included various ways of trying to alleviate that. These included restitution of land seized from people of one race to be transferred to members of another, the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) funded by an income tax surcharge, and an affirmative action program which would benefit black people and women on a value scale. Some of these were extremely successful – the RDP funded over a million houses.

BBBEE scorecard
So far so good. Companies in most industries needed to transfer certain minimum percentages of their equity to black ownership—not as gifts but at attractive prices. Generally this meant that the company needed to fund the purchase itself through dividend schemes and options, similar to staff share schemes. And that's where things started to diverge. A few went the route of so-called broad-based BEE and set up funds for large groups of people in communities in the area of the mines, mine workers, staff, and trusts that benefited large groups of black people. This was a difficult process involving much effort and negotiation and little payoff to the company beyond meeting its BEE targets. Most went the more obvious and lucrative route: find the key people in government or related to government, be they people who had fought apartheid and so had glowing ‘struggle credentials’ or relatives of senior government leaders or even well-connected canny black businessmen who were happy to play along, and award them the required 26% of the equity in exchange for patronage. A pretty good deal all round.

Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa
One of the qualifiers of the latter type of transaction was one of the current front runners in the ANC to succeed Jacob Zuma—Cyril Ramaphosa. I met him many years ago when he was elected to the governing body of the University of the Witwatersrand. In those days he led a confederation of miners’ unions and had fought relentlessly against the government from within South Africa as the leader of the United Democratic Front, not without personal cost. He immediately struck me as a very smart man indeed and one who understood how to make politics work. When he was passed over by the ANC in favor of Thabo Mbeki to succeed Nelson Mandela, he settled down to make money. He was enormously successful, using his remarkable talents and hard work in the new lucrative environment. He is now estimated to be worth around $500 million.

I'm not suggesting there was anything corrupt going on. No favors were traded—at least not in Cyril Ramaposa’s case—he was merely playing the game. The point is that many black entrepreneurs became extremely wealthy on the basis of these affirmative action transactions. But most of the ordinary people didn’t benefit at all.

Zapiro cartoon on the subject
Now, in a new phase, the mining companies are asked to meet new targets, this time around a broader base. Furthermore, those who didn’t ‘get it right’ the first time and saw their ‘empowerment’ partner sell out his stake for a huge fortune to foreign or local white investors are now judged to have failed with BEE altogether. Well, in a sense they have, but they played the game by the rules. The goodwill of Mandela’s days has been replaced by resentment, especially as most deals these days have the hands of a certain president, or those of his cronies, in or near the till. International companies are quietly heading for the exit.

I’m uncertain of even the questions, let alone the answers. Was the original process too naive, too hastily implemented and badly thought out? Was it up to the companies to find genuine long-term empowerment vehicles (bearing in mind that few well-organized black structures existed at that time for them to engage with)? Was it the partners themselves who were obliged to take more care of their people—the very people they had fought for and who had fought for them—and ensure a fairer division? Or was it all of these and many other less obvious issues? Looking forward, what can reasonably be expected and achieved if South Africa is to continue to develop its economy overall? Surely not Julius Malema's solution of nationalizing all the mines. That's been tried elsewhere.

Affirmative action is thorny however it's implemented. In most places it's designed to enhance the prospects of disadvantaged minorities. In South Africa it's practiced to enhance the prospects of the vast majority, surely a much harder proposition. Despite the good will of the nineties on all sides and despite a lot of hard work and commitment, twenty years on BEE has benefited a group of black business leaders and professionals enormously, but it's done almost nothing for the black man or woman in the street.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

On Mindfulness

Leye - Every other Wednesday

By Asia Society

On a recent flight from Montpelier, I was a few minutes into my abdominal breathing session when suddenly, the elderly gentleman next to me knocked over his full cup of hot tea unto my laps. And his. He looked about eighty. His wife, who had the window seat, looked about the same. A beautiful, elderly couple flying together, helping each other, being graceful together.

My reaction to the accident is what I find interesting, and what I credit to the mindfulness exercise I was doing at the time. Part of my daily routine and my continuous journey into self-awareness.

Where normally it would have been normal to jump out of the seat, urgently tend to the burning thigh and the English Breakfast tea soaked jeans, to panic, be upset, be infuriated even, I did not feel any of these or react in any of the ways afore mentioned feelings dictate.

My first thought was for the gentleman; how he must be feeling, having just caused an accident that affected someone else.

With a calmness and presence of mind that I would spend most of the rest of the flight reflecting upon, I checked that he was ok. I assuaged his concern for me by repeatedly letting him know I was fine. I fetched and gave him tissue I always carry in my pocket, and only when he stopped fretting over me did I let him know I was going to get more paper napkins from the back.

I returned to find him dabbing my seat. I gave him the bulk of the napkins I'd gotten from cabin crew in the back, and I used the remainder as a barrier between the soaked seat and my equally soaked jeans.

He continued to apologize. Smiling back, I assured him that I was fine. I threw in a joke about how they should make the cup indent on the pull-down tray into a proper hole to secure cups.

Now, while it's possible to put my actions down to my upbringing, and specifically to the fact that he was an elderly man and I was brought up to respect my elders, what I find must peculiar about the entire episode is that at no time did I have to calm myself or rescue my mind from the grasp of an emotional hijack.

Hot tea was poured onto my laps. Without warning. And I did not react with panic, or fear, or even a surge of anger however short-lived. Instead, I remained in control of my feelings. My thinking mind was never absent. I did not react. I chose how to act. I acted with empathy, with politeness, and with consideration. I acted with what you might call maturity.

As I’ve said, I put this down to the mindfulness exercise I was engaged in at the moment of the incident. I recommend this to President Donald Trump, particularly in light of his ongoing shenanigans with Rocket Man.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Crime at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Annamaria on Monday

After the demise, after twelve years, of my beloved
 espresso machine, I began Sunday with a coffee at my
favorite local coffee bar.

At the MWA-NY booth, My friend Ann Aptaker--the chapter's organiser--and
I arrived early to set things up.  Members were schedule to sign books throughout
the day.

The BBF is the largest such festival I know.  It extends for acres--with hundreds
of booths.

Our booth was very near the elegant, historic Brooklyn Courthouse

Traffic at our booth was steady and enthusiastic all day.

Just behind out space was the main stage, where hundreds listened
panels of writers

There were book buyers galore

These people are listening to poets talk about their work

Along with my friend Alex Segura, I took my turn at the
last slot in the afternoon and signed many books,  Best of
all, I had time with my tribe of warm, friendly, talented writers
on a splendid September day.