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RIP Sportsmanship. An antiquated idea that has been abandoned.

I think we are all watching the death throes of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct on the Tour de France this year.

cancellara It has traditionally been the practice that, when one rider falls or has mechanical trouble, his competition will wait for him to get back on his bike and catch up before resuming racing.  We saw Fabian Cancellara marshalling the peloton in Belgium when the Schleck brothers fell.

However, by the time the race had progressed to the Pyrenees, we had seen Alberto Contador fail to wait for Andy Schleck when the latter’s chain came off, and consequently to take eight seconds off him in the classement général.  And Carlos Sastre, after another incident, issued a statement saying, “I didn’t wait.  Why should I? No-one waited for me.  Anyone who has any issue with my behaviour can talk to me directly.”

Road cycling in Europe is a sport in which the concertive power of peer expectations is very powerful, with all those French and Belgian riders.  They have no qualms about insulting foreigners who step out of line and they have a number of subtle French insults to deploy if they feel like it.  I’m not sure it is exactly gentlemanly conduct that they are up to.  But certainly respecting traditional codes of behaviour.  And it does seem to have broken down before our eyes over the last week.

I guess next week we will hear the results of the blood-tests.  If it is the same as last year then the top ten riders will all be disqualified…

walking I was actually surprised to see that this level of sportsmanship and consideration for one’s adversary is still being practiced in road cycling.  Most other sports abandoned it years ago.  I recall from the ‘70s that it was common in the game of cricket for a batsman to ‘walk.’  This is a practice where the batsman knows that he snicked the ball with bat or pad, but the umpire missed it.  Without saying a word the batsman would take off his gloves, tuck his bat under his arm and walk back to the pavillion.  In recent years I have never seen a batsman walk and in fact the official policy of the Australian cricket team is not to walk.  Cricketers give interviews saying, “I don’t believe in walking.  The umpire missed it.  Good for me.  The important thing is winning.”

In Rugby Union last year when Sterling Mortlock came back from shoulder reconstruction surgery I observed the Springbok forwards deliberately land on his shoulder in the tackle again and again in an effort to ‘pop it.’  In AFL that sort of behaviour is completely normal and a player coming back from a hamstring injury will be kicked accidentally in the hamstring.  A player known to have his ribs taped, will catch elbows all day long.  Even in the World Cup we saw Dutch strikers being stamped on by Uruguayan players.

Paris That’s it these days, I’m afraid.  Winning is everything.  Money talks.  The rest is naïveté and historical anachronism.  And if you watch children playing sport you will see them doing all the same things because they imitate what they see on television.  Makes me feel old and inconsequential.  All I can do is write blog posts observing the passing.

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On Becoming a Local

“Cross-cultural tales”

wheel1 I needed to get the hub of my front bicycle wheel looked at.  It was clicking.  I thought that I might have split a bearing.  There are two bike shops in my local suburb.

At the first shop. the young shopkeeper took one look and said, ‘You need a new wheel.  You see, the spokes are all rusty and we would break some of them taking the hub out and blah, blah, blah…’  He led me towards some carbon fibre wheels worth $250 each.

‘Cheap ones please,’ I protested.  ‘I’m not ready for the Tour de France yet.’

‘Yes, I know.  These are the cheapest wheels in our shop.’

‘Let me shop around, I might come back…’

wheel2 When I arrived at the second shop it was lunch-time and the shopkeeper was not there.  An old Malay man came from out the back, with bike grease all over his hands and arms.  I explained the problem and he said,

‘We don’t have any ball-races here, but let me take it apart and service it and have a look for you.  Ten dollars.  Come back in a couple of hours.’

I seemed to hesitate so he offered, ‘If I can’t fix it, then I won’t charge you.’  He also explained to me that wheels come in pairs these days; two for $180.  I shook his hand and thanked him heartily.

Coming back the next day, the old man was pleased to see me, greeted me cheerfully, and handed over the wheel.  He explained that it wasn’t the ball-race that was the problem, but that the cone was ‘Already not good.’  I tried to press money on him, but he said, ‘You pay out the front.’

Out the front, the shop assistant asked me if I wanted to wait a long time for my receipt.

Recognising this particular game from a long time ago, in another country, I said, ‘Yes I will wait for my receipt.’  At which, he produced it reasonably promptly and I scrutinised it closely in front of him, before saying ‘Thank You’, walking out, and throwing it in a bin.

wheel3 So, becoming a local.  It’s all about who you can trust and who you can’t.  When things start to go sideways, then why?  And what can you do about it?  Which odd things are common to everyone here?  And which odd things are simply because of the individual that you are dealing with.  To me that is the buzz of cross-cultural living.  It’s a great buzz and I am astounded by how many of the ex-pats here would just pay-and-pay, then feel aggrieved, then moan to their friends about being gouged.

Coming to you from a place where market forces are tested on a daily basis, and the price of anything is what someone is prepared to pay for it.  I have started to notice that there are at least two economies operating here, possibly three.  I know some families that get by on around $1500/month.  An ex-pat would likely spend 10 times that amount in a month without really trying.  Even at the supermarket, if you check there are tins of beans with known Western labels on them for $5, and tins of beans with Chinese labels on them for $2.

Even odder, to me, is that some ex-pats make a virtue of paying through the nose all the time, because they are not prepared to come down-market.  They prefer to live a high-rolling, haemorrhaging–money lifestyle. And absolutely refuse to step outside the ex-pat laager.

Cross-culturalism is a fascinating pass-time for a straight-line thinker like me.  And it’s not just about what you can accept as different.  There are a whole bunch of new and fascinating experiences that you could not get back home, which we should throw ourselves into, and drink deeply thereof.  And have our lives enriched thereby.  As above, sometimes just getting your bike fixed can be a study in human nature and psychology.  Loving it!

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Asian nanny, caucasian child More of that

A common sight around here is to see Filipina maids with their Caucasian charges  To my eyes it always looks odd, I am not yet used to it. 

Servants are really cheap here.  You can get a live-in maid for around $200 per month.  The politically correct term is ‘helper.’  For that, someone will come and live in a 2m x 1m concrete room out the back with no air-conditioning or fan, and do all the cooking, cleaning and child-minding for you.

The place is alive during the day with gardeners, cleaners, maids, pool-boys, even dog-walkers.  I don’t have a photo of that yet, but to see a little Filipina woman walking a Rhodesian ridgeback or an Alsatian or some clearly western-style family pet also takes some adjustment.

 gardener CleanersPool boy

It’s against my principles to pay someone beans to do all the menial work while I lie on the couch with my laptop.  I don’t mind doing a bit of skivvying.  But then I don’t have young children, and I don’t have to go out to work.

The proponents of having servants would argue that by not employing these people, I am denying them a livelihood, denying them the opportunity to lift themselves and their families out of the kampong, and cursing them all to everlasting poverty.  I guess that also is true.  Some of them speak good English and even have degrees, but there just aren’t enough jobs in the Philippines.  It’s not always about education, it’s about jobs.

In Africa I refused to have cleaners and things because I didn’t want  to be a colonialist.  They laughed at me for this attitude, but it seemed to me that one always wound up arguing about the quality of the work or the amount of the pay or something, as soon as one entered into a boss-subordinate relationship with people who might otherwise be your friends.

The rich appear to be completely idle and bored.  It’s not a racial divide exactly, it’s a pleutocracy.  Rich Asians, rich Indians, rich Whites.  Poor Asians from the Phillipines, China and Mongolia, Poor Indians.

Indians talking Bored white woman, mid-morning Idle Eastern European Idle the leisured class of 3 races poor asian nanny of rich asian child rich Indian children

The only conclusion I can draw from the above pictures is that the workers appear to be a bloody sight happier.  People derive quite a lot of benefit out of working away at something.  I guess I would say that it is idleness that is wrong.  The old saying, “From those to whom much is given, much is expected,” has a lot to recommend it.  It must be terrible to realise that you are rich and useless.  Then I guess that you would start complaining about your servants to bolster your own self-image…

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The Tanzanian Ministry of Health

000013When I was younger, I was involved in a small way with the WHO Global Programme on AIDS and the WHO Health Learning Materials Programme in this country.  This  brought me into contact with senior bureaucrats in the Ministry.  I even partied with the then Principal Secretary on one occasion.


Tanzania was then a socialist one-party state.  There are other parties now but none has ever gotten into power.  CCM has ruled since independence.  Their ministries are centrally run.  There is a strong emphasis on manpower-planning and centralised planning.  At independence Tanzania had something like four nationals who were doctors.  So the need to train health personnel has always been ever-present.

Tanzania is a big country.  About the size of France and Germany together.  So the problem with centralised decision-making (and a corrupt bureaucracy) could easily be seen by walking out of the MoH, down the street, into a community clinic where the Medical Assistants there (not doctors), did not have basic things like surgical string or plaster-of-paris to treat the people who queued-up outside. 

Huge amounts of donor money poured in at the top, but seemed not to have very much effect on the ground, out in the field.  Infrastructure also was disastrous so getting supplies out to the regions was also difficult but not impossible.  We managed quite successfully using a system of tea-chests and inter-city busses.

This chap pictured here was a colleague.  Dr. Amos Mwakilasa.  He was Vice Principal at the Centre for Educational Development in Health, Arusha (CEDHA).  He went on to become the Assistant Director of the Ministry of Health.  Sort-of the ‘Sir Humphrey’ of the MoH there.

In the last few years the MoH has been going through a strategic planning exercise.  The conclusion of which has been to ”get the Ministry out of the provision of health-care nationally!”  Astounding.  But I can sort-of see the logic.  I can’t find a reference to this in English, there are references in a couple of other languages.  Here is one in French if you can read that.  Amos has been making this argument around the country, in neighbouring countries and to international donors.

The logic goes that they have resource-constraints in all areas.  Doctors are fed up with the Ministry and are leaving the country to go and practice in Malawi or somewhere else where they can get on-going in-service training to keep their qualifications current.  And to work within a system where the basic necessities of health delivery are available. 

Citizens often prefer to visit a traditional healer than go near the hospitals, which they regard as death traps.

amos2 AIDS is a national epidemic in the West of the country.  In the NorthWest they are overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of refugees from the strife in Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, Congo over the last 20 years.

So, it seems to me this is a national confession that “We have failed.”  Almost fifty years of Ujamaa (African socialism), centralised planning, manpower development, hasn’t worked. 

It is brave to admit such a thing.

The new approach will be to privatise the delivery of health care in the country, in a ‘public-private partnership,’ as the buzzword is.  The ministry bureaucrats will no-longer be responsible for healthcare delivery, just ‘governance.’  Liaison, co-ordination, influence peddling…

amos3 There is now a bit of a gold-rush as drug companies, health-insurance companies, etc, attempt to stake their claim in this huge country which has a crying need for health services.  You can see that there will be huge profits to be made off of all these sick people!  A number of Ministry officials may well get quite rich from the process of letting these contracts to suppliers.

A presidential commission headed by Judge Joseph Warioba, has attempted to determine the extent of corruption in the administration and produced a report which placed the Ministry of Health in fourth position in the scale of the most corrupt institutions of Tanzania.

I just feel sorry for all the children who die before the age of five.  All the farmers who break their arms and can’t get them set.  All the polio and trachoma.  All the people in the villages who keel over from undiagnosed bilharzia when the worms drill their livers full of holes.  They still have the bubonic plague there in some regions.  The people don’t exactly have spare money for healthcare.  I guess expensive-but-good services is better than no services.  At least the rich will have access now.

amos4Verily, as they say in that country, "Matembo wanaoshindana, manyasi yakunjwe."  This means that when elephants contend with one-another, it is the grass that gets trampled.  In this context it means that when there are huge changes in ideology and government policy, it is the little people who will end up bearing the brunt of it.

 I might be going there next month.  I will try and make contact with some people in the know, and see if it is better or worse.  Then I will post an update here. 

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They’re Drinking Our Beer Here

Well not exactly drinking our beer, but certainly making use of my beer-fridge.


CIMG1017 The beer-fridge was surplus-to-requirements in our flat, and taking up space in the spare room.  Through my involvement with the Breadline Group I managed to find a needy family on the other side of the city that had never had a fridge!  So we took it over there and plugged it in for them.  The father of the house had a Persian name, so I rather doubt that he will be using it to store beer in..

CIMG1018 Anyhow, it was a chance for me to check out how Singapore’s poor live, and I have to say that I am very impressed.  Singapore (or I guess more correctly I should say the People’s Action Party (PAP) ), is socialist in housing, though clearly not in a number of other arenas.  Ninety percent of Singaporeans live in an HDB.  HDB stands for Housing Development Board.  That would be around 3.6 million people.  The government owns all the land, builds all the buildings, and leases or rents them to the population for a reasonable, subsidised, amount.  I would happily live in an HDB, and if I was a citizen of Singapore then I would qualify for the subsidised rent.  Unfortunately I am not a citizen.

I have been in a few HDBs now.  They are spacious, they all have tiled floors, and they have these wide windows that you can slide all the way across so that the wind blows through and keeps things cool without the need for air-conditioning. 

According to history books, before PAP started it’s building programme in the ‘50s, the entire island was one huge Asian slum, without water reticulation, power, sewage, or street-lighting.  You can still find these places on the outskirts of Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, but you won’t find anything like that in Singapore!

CIMG1019 It was difficult to tell that I was in a poor part of town.  Everyone was smartly dressed, and the housing and amenities are the same everywhere in the country.  No litter. No graffiti.  No drugs.  No violence.  No crime.  A safe environment.  The only clues were a few more old people, a few more unemployed people wandering around, and a bit of street-hawker activity.  Apart from that everything was orderly and peaceful and smart.  So I was pretty impressed really.  If that’s as bad as it gets, then I would happily live there.

Even in the pleuty suburb of Albert Park, Melbourne, my local shop-keeper was out once a month painting the graffiti off his shop walls, and there were a couple of smash-and-grab raids for cigarettes every year.  In Remuera when I lived there (the top suburb in NZ), the local TAB was knocked over in an armed stick-up, and women in Mt. Eden said they wouldn’t wander around by themselves.  Singapore is so safe that none of those things are much of a consideration here.  I still find it a bit odd to see a gaggle of schoolgirls in their uniforms wander through Clarke Quay after dark, past all the restaurants and bars.  But my guess is that there is absolutely no danger.  It is just such a safe city, and that is a fantastic thing!

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PPE: Politics, Philosophy and Economics

PPE is a course taught at Oxford.  It aims to give the student a quick run-through of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics all in one course.  The Rationale is that, “the answers to economic questions are often political, and the answers to political questions are often philosophical.”  An interesting course, you might  think, until you find out that the first assignment is to read  John Locke in the original.  Anyhow, this is the course that they send the Rhodes Scholars to.

I figure that, to the extent that I have them, my blog should feature big thoughts.  They are the more interesting and lend themselves naturally to a blog I think.

Now that I live in Asia I have a bit of a different filter on my perceptions of the world news and this has led me towards a great big overarching question.

It started with an article on the rise of Asian fascism, and the various ways that some governments have of dealing to opposition parties, their members, and their families.

Then we watched the BBC Doha Debates.  The most recent topic being, “Is Dubai a bad idea?”  There was an exiled Emirati woman there, banging on about Human Rights for all she was worth.  I sort-of thought that the right answer might have been for some of the Sheiks to say, “Look, we are not interested in Human Rights, we are an Arab Sheikdom, we aren’t a democracy, we don’t concede these Western liberal pre-occupations, you bunch of bankrupt hand-wringers.  We are a neo-capitalist fascist state and we think that we are doing alright, thank you very much.  So stop lecturing us about what our values should be!”  Of course they didn’t say that.  But that might have been the truth.

Social Darwinism is a belief that the people at the top are there because they are better people than the people at the bottom.  You often find it espoused in the leafy suburbs.  And it seems to me to fit in with self-interest, authoritarianism and a corporate mode of operation.  In unfettered settings the most ferociously self-interested usually manage to scramble their way up the ladder, red of tooth and claw, and then make a virtue of it by saying that they must have been better, more ethical and harder-working to have gotten there.  No-one believes that. 

The logical conclusion comes when the government tries to encourage the weak and disenfranchised to leave their society by one way or another.

Over a long-enough period of time, in an open society without too much regulation, the clever people will wind up being hundreds of times richer than the dumb people, and that’s why we need governments.  If you just let capitalism rip then you will wind up with a philosophy as famously espoused by Margaret Thatcher when she said, “There is no such thing as society, there are only consumers.”

If everybody is self-interested, greedy and doing anything for power then there is no such thing as society alright, that is for sure.

The trouble is that too much concern for those less well-off than ourselves is very expensive and, with one thing and another, the nations that espouse these Western Liberal values are pretty much bankrupt now.   In the 21st Century the rich and powerful rising nations don’t seem to me to be too much interested in Human rights, Freedom of Speech, equality of opportunity, etc, etc.  People are pretty much worried about making as much money as they can, as fast as they can.  And in a poor country the more so than in a rich one, no-matter what the stated political persuasion is.

I did some research on what the core values of Fascism are, different political systems, different forms of Capitalism, Capitalism and Democracy, and the difference between a Republic and a Democracy (in a democracy the people make the decisions, in a Republic the people elect representatives to make the decisions for them).

Anyhow, I won’t bore you with all of that and people more knowledgeable than me may well take issue with the detail.  So the picture above is my own private little PPE for the start of the 21st Century.  Blue for political systems, green for countries, purple for values.  You get the idea.  I probably won’t live to see the brave new world.  But I can see it coming, and quite fast now.  Comments?

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