Thursday 31 January 2008

Averting insanity

The need to talk

My write-up last Saturday about the need for a corporate counsellor in high-pressure environments or highly stressful jobs which require competences that tap resources of human virtue as mental strength, courage, boldness and calmness cannot have been too apt for its time.

Reading yesterday that a co-pilot broke down completely to a point that he had to be restrained and then committed to care makes for a disturbing development in the workplace.

Co-pilots are real pilots

The usefulness of a co-pilot cannot be overstressed as one can remember that the crash-landing with the survival of all passengers just two weeks ago at London Heathrow Airport was handled by a co-pilot.

It might be easy to dismiss this unfortunate person as crazed and hence an exception, but one must consider why people who seem to appear normal suddenly collapse into a heap of nerves or irrational behaviour requiring restraint.

There must be trigger factors which some sort of assessment or review should be able to detect or determine before things get out of hand.

The pressure they are under

That this happened to a commercial pilot whose responsibility includes the safe transport of souls and the expert management of an expensive conveyance vehicle in interesting.

Interesting because pilots are supposed to be tested every six months – psychologically and physically – these tests being conducted to arrest extreme situations as the one reported.

The typical flight time from Toronto, Canada (YYZ) to London Heathrow (LHR) is 6 hours 50 minutes (, which means for almost 6 hours the man was calmly doing what a pilot would do until he suddenly went bonkers.

Crew together or not at all

He was then restrained in an Economy Class seat as the captain requested a medical emergency landing at Shannon Airport (SNN) in Ireland, whilst donning a regulatory oxygen mask for the remainder of the flight.

Airline crews work as teams and since of the crew had taken ill, the same crew had to be grounded for alternative crew to take the aircraft and passengers to its original destination of London Heathrow some 8 hours behind schedule.

Meanwhile, I do hope the co-pilot recovers from his illness; it is unlikely that he would resume flying soon.

Needs must be addressed

There however has to be opportunities to address mental health concerns with sympathetic professionals without attracting the stigma of being mad or the sobriquet of being a loony.

Our work environments now require ample space to vent our spleens before we implode on our circumstances and self-destruct in minutes.

Monday 28 January 2008

Dickens Lives in New York

American Notes

I would suppose this should be an addendum to American Notes for General Circulation which detailed Charles Dickens' trip around North America between January and June 1842.

As it were, he visited prisons and mental institutions, so why not in 2008 include an orphanage? This story is littered with the works of Charles Dickens much as they reflect observations that seem to find true today.

Well, this is the cruel sign of the times as we record the way our sense of compassion and humanity is lost to bureaucracy and litigation.

An English family of three comprising the mother and her two daughters aged 15 and 13 took advantage of the appreciated pound over the dollar and decided to visit New York. [BBC News]

Unfortunately, the mother took ill with pneumonia that she had to be hospitalised but her daughters being minors could not stay in the hospital with her.

Lodgers of the workhouse

The doctors then arranged that they should be kept with foster parents for the period their mother was in hospital, this would have been the remit of the Administration for Children’s Services in New York (ACSNY).

To cut a long story short, in the whole of glorious New York, New York, they could not find a foster family so they placed the girls in an orphanage.

At the orphanage, they were stripped of their clothes, issued uniforms, given medical examinations and questioned about whether that had been abused.

Beyond that, they were made to shower in front of strangers and refused visiting rights to their mother. So we have perfectly normal children who being distressed because of their sick mother, frightened because of their separation, terrified because of treatment they have received are now traumatised by being interrogated and coerced to express grotesque, deplorable, despicable and reprehensible experiences they have never had. Children's Services?

When their mother heard that her daughters had been placed in an orphanage, she discharged herself and retrieved her kids from what Charles Dickens in his time would have called a workhouse.

Governess on leave

Obviously, in those times, people who could afford to visit America rather than the settlers would have travelled with a retinue of servants and definitely a governess.

Now, the mother has received a "standard" letter from the ACSNY informing her that she is being investigated.

I would suppose for falling terribly ill that she could not make adequate provision for the accommodation and safety of her daughters.

One would have thought there was an inkling of humanity and compassionate intuition in the ACSNY at least in the 21st Century to have been able to make adequate provision; but they have rolled back the years – the girls probably made an acquaintance with Oliver Twist asking for more and the Fagin directors of this disservice really thought they were doing their jobs.

Supposedly, every child is an abused child until proven otherwise – this is the most cynical outlook to life that can be expressed to any child.

A snapshot of the battle of life

This sad tale is just another snapshot of America where almost 47 million have no health insurance, where foreclosures are rising, where dishonesty has given rise to the credit crunch that has stifled the world’s economy and where they could not find a friendly caring foster family to care for two kids for a day or two.

That is The Battle of Life I suppose many Americans face, no doubt the family went to New York with Great Expectations, the experienced Hard Times in a Bleak House.

Dickens surely lives again in New York – it is definitely now off limits or where else would one learn to pick a pocket or two [YouTube (Oliver Twist Musical)].

Saturday 26 January 2008

The Chief Corporate Counsellor

A rogue’s gallery

As the plot continues to thicken regarding the rogue trader at Société Générale, I am beginning to wonder which of the two are really the rogue – The bank management or the person.

When the bank learnt of the activities of Jérôme Kerviel, they were not sure of how exposed he had made the bank; it would now appear the exposure exceeded the market capitalization of the bank by about $21 bn.

At they time they began to unwind the deals, the losses stood at about $2.4 bn and rising to about $7.4 bn after the bank had covered the exposure.

In the time between learning of this “fraud” and telling the authorities about it, the bank had indulged in some serious self-preservation activities that we might have to deem criminal in the long run.

Market meltdown

So, last Monday, they flooded the market with these suspect deals and sold off all these positions – buyers not being aware of why the market was engaged in such frenzy, it is possible that the bank might have tried to mask where the trades were coming from to avoid the suspicious of more savvy marketers.

Beyond that, many might say it is coincidental but is not contrived to suggest this selloff prompted the US Federal Reserve to knock off 75 basis points from the baseline interest rates to avert a market disaster.

The acts of the bank could be analogous to walking away from scene of an accident or moving the body and furniture around at a murder scene before calling the police – the former being criminal and the latter being highly suspicious as to suggest criminality.

But it meant the bank was saved because the collapse of the fifth largest bank in Europe would have sent the banking world and the markets to the middle of Armageddon. The ends have in some way justified the means, but the legality of it all must be investigated.

Mere mortals make businesses

Now, back to the person, flesh and blood, like you and me, and subject to the same kinds of passions experienced in our basic humanity.

This young man at 31 suffered both the death of his father and the breakdown of his marriage more or less at the same time, sometime last year.

So, he would have been suffering grief, sadness and a sense of failure, all these weighing down on his emotions as he tried to take his mind off the matters at home and bury himself in his work as we all seem to do.

I would also suspect that working in a banking atmosphere; everyone is sapped of every ounce of humanity to become achievement automatons, nobody cares if you have problems at home or need a break to recover – you are a lesser person for allowing yourself to be human.

This is the kind of work environment I hear is pervading the banking industry in Nigeria, everyone puts in the longest hours possible that they have no time for anything else but in the service of the bank because they are paid to give up their humanity for the accumulation of accolades and great profits for the bank. This is both cultish and a kind of slavery for the want of another description.

Was Société Générale not named the equity-derivatives house of the year 2007 by the Banker magazine, whilst all this was going on? [Economist]

Martingale instincts

The positions that the young man took in trying to recover his losses probably involved the popular 18th Century France Martingale betting system – it involves a gambler doubling his stake after every loss such that any consequent win would recover the loss and a profit equivalent to the original stake.

The probability and mathematical analysis of this system suggests the more one is able to afford to bet, the more likely the person is expected to lose – however, human instinct might dictate otherwise and luck might just smile on that person.

Now, I would suppose every man has a Martingale instinct if you gamble on something, it takes a special kind of gambler to set a limit on what he would gamble before he walks away – with his dignity intact and his shirt still on his back.

The need for a Chief Corporate Counsellor

The loss of elements of humanity in work environments allows for things to go wrong, it is unlike the man had a mentor or confidant in whom he could confide when things were going wrong.

The emphasis on success and driving ambition is good for growing a business but every business requires human beings who are somewhere between having everything perfect in their lives and most things in disarray.

Some people whose status depends on their achievements at work might well require additional support when things go wrong in their lives and this goes beyond just having a concerned manager or company shrink.

The need for a kind of corporate confessor or counsellor, dare I say “Agony Aunt” in workplaces that tax all the elements of our humanity cannot be overestimated.

This role should not be used to assess the mental state or fitness of an employee, nor should it be part of a performance review, but it should have ways by which people with difficulties either at work or outside work can unburden themselves and become more effective and productive at work.

If there was such a person whom employees could approach in confidence appreciating their issues and concerns would be dealt with sensitively and compassionately, it could be argued companies would not end up in so much trouble.

This kind of role is very much like the role the Counselor plays in StarTrek: The Next Generation – available, approachable, wise, non-judgemental and considerably useful to the total welfare of the Enterprise crew.

Message to Jérôme Kerviel

There are still many unanswered questions, but for the young man, I hope he can begin to see beyond the maelstrom that has engulfed him. Regardless of his reckless behaviour, I believe he was let down by his management, castigated by the bank and is probably the scapegoat for what should really be punished at the board level.

Be strong, you can live through this, and don’t do anything stupid.

Thursday 24 January 2008

Rogue Trader II - 4 times Bigger

4 times Barings Bank

There are many questions to ask because I still cannot believe that 12 years after the collapse of Barings Bank, checks and balances in banks cannot detect rouge trading.

What makes it all the more interesting is that this person was responsible for betting on the markets’ future performance at Société Générale in France.

Basically, beyond the sophisticated and varied techniques that bank employees might have at their disposal to capture the magic of the market or fall foul of the same; one can just say it is a gambler’s den.

I have got questions

  • How does a 31-year old on less than €100,000 including bonuses generate liabilities of over €4.9 bn ($7.1 bn)?
  • Who was supervising this chap that he was able to rake in these losses?
  • How does the bank monitor the possibilities of fraud from personnel who have moved between departments that give them the ability to work the system?
  • If the trader had bet right and made a killing of enormous profits for the bank, would it have been a fraud and exposed?
  • If it is possible for such a person with 7-years experience to command such market influence, what else is going on with more sophisticated dabblers?
  • How long has this been going on and would there be another revelation and this already with the losses incurred for the sub-prime exposures?
  • Can you really trust banks to monitor compliance, security and due process for financial transactions considering this is the 2nd largest bank in France?

Someone’s gonna get stung again

There are more questions, but it is mind-boggling that this is 4 times the amount that got Baring Bank sold to ING Bank for the nominal GBP 1.

Now this would not break Société Générale Bank because they already paid off this loss and they intend to raise €5.5 bn to offset these losses.

Some fool and his money would soon be parted to allow another smarter trader to do a Texas Hold ‘Em with the cash and melt into thin air.

Unlike the gambler in Kenny Rogers’ in the chorus of the song The Gambler, this one did not break even, but he knew when to walk away and he has definitely run – they don’t know where he is.

But like any sequel, Rogue Trader II is bigger, better and leaving many with sleepless nights already.

Dogged by Goth prejudice

Knowing nothing about Goths

We have at times found ourselves in the primitive state of allowing our prejudices to becloud our better judgement.

If we are then challenged about those prejudices, we attempt to defend the indefensible whilst successfully making fools of ourselves.

I am not entirely familiar with the Goth sub-culture but I know that they look threatening enough in their black robes, long hair and piercings in all sorts of places – that is their choice of appearance.

At liberty as adults

In fact, I remain a strong advocate of the thought that we should never be embarrassed for doing what we as adults decide to do within the law and with mutual consent of the parties involved.

Some of those activities, many might find reprehensible, but then we have the choice not to countenance the situation or try and think through the matter, just look away.

Some instances might be difficult like the case of a Goth couple, the male, Dani Graves, 25, and his mate (fiancée) Tasha Maltby, 19, had taken to appearing in public with a dog collar on a leash round the neck of the lady.

Unusual as this might seem to the public, there is no law against anyone willing to be restrained in that manner – the fundamentals being willingness and informed consent. The lady prefers to live a dogs life - her prerogative.

Live and let live

Now, being an advocate for personal freedom and the freedom from mental or obvious shackles, I am sorry that anyone would want to adopt such a submissive posture – but each one to his/her own.

I would then hope that people will and can restrain themselves from heaping opprobrium on either party no matter how strongly they feel about this depiction.

It so happens that this couple was ejected from one bus and not granted leave to board another bus both operated Arriva Yorkshire.

Their defence was there were fears for passenger safety especially if the bus were to brake suddenly.

Their advice was that they would only allow the lady to board their buses if she removed her dog lead.

Easy Questions for difficult answers

Two questions arise from this development.

Are dogs allowed on Arriva Yorkshire buses?

It would appear dogs are allowed to travel free of charge on Arriva North West and Wales buses which are part of the Arriva Group. There probably is a similar kind of deal in other regions and maybe the handlers have to pay a fee to travel with their dogs.

Who would be affected if the bus did brake suddenly?

I would suppose everyone would be affected, a real dog on a lead or a person on a dog lead along with every other occupant of the bus.

If this does give that much serious concern I would suggest that seat belts be mandatory to all occupants of a bus sitting down and dogs should be in restraining harnesses rather than mere leads to travel on buses.

In fact, it would be preferable to have no standing in buses; all buses should have all seating carriages.

Prejudice expressed apology extracted

That however is, the objective part of this discourse because the obvious prejudice was expressed in these words as the driver literally manhandled the couple – “We don't let freaks and dogs like you on”. That was in England in 2008.

I rest my case as an apology from Arriva Yorkshire wends its way to the seriously offended couple.

Some video about the issue.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Interest rates: Hammer hits nail (thumb)

Seaworthy in stormy seas

One has to wonder if Central banks are so beholden to the markets that other fundamentals are ignored to our peril.

In his speech yesterday to the Institute of Directors in Bristol, Lord Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England suggested that the policy framework of the Bank provides a seaworthy vessel to reach the calmer waters.

Indeed, I truly hope so, but it is one thing to have a seaworthy vessel and another to be able to weather the stormy seas – there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the seas are hosting Force-10 gales and some vessels are out at sea sending in distress calls.

Nowhere is the distress call so evident than in the United States where the hard-graft laws of economics and monetary policy are being defied by political expediency.

Inflation still matters

To a layman like myself, I have been made to understand that the central bank lever used to control inflation is usually the interest rates, with inflation running nominally at 2.1% in the UK, 4.1% in the States, 3.1% in the Euro area and 6.9% in China [Economist] – I do not think this is the time to throw money at consumers such that they have more spending power to raise inflation even more.

This means the Bush economy stimulus package, which is to boost the American economy by 1% of GDP (about $145 billion) may not have the money in the hands of the people and businesses for at least another quarter and is probably a little too late whilst it could get stunted through the legislative process.

No one can say that this move is the right one to take until we see the results at the end of the implementation - it is a gamble as good as the Iraqi surge and George W. Bush is one gambler if you ever saw one.

Interest rate panic

Since as it appears, the interest rate mechanism is very much the hammer by which every economic problem nail is hit; but which nail should be hit when inflation is soaring and markets are in free-fall turmoil?

Time will tell if the benchmark interest rate cut by 75 basis points by Ben Bernanke of the United States Federal Reserve yesterday morning before the markets opened was the right thing to do.

I am not convinced by that move and it looks like panic or as the Economist opines “Desperate Measures”, methinks the hammer has hit the nail dead-centre but that nail is on the thumb.

It is really bad out there

I cannot however ignore the opinion of the likes of George Soros who suggests that the current market crisis is probably the worst in 60 years that the question about recession or no recession is leading to a point that analyst denials would have us deep in recession before we realise we are drowning.

Before I get into any analysis beyond the remit of my understanding, I would wait and see how the thumb goes black and blue after that almighty groan of excruciating pain and the mandatory dance-around.

Did I not say this thing has a long way to run? We are preparing for a long bear market and seriously rough seas. Whichever Bank Governor still has a nerve , please hold it.

Related Blogs

Dishonest lending clue to market tremors – August 2007

Baling out trust – September 2007

Local Situations in global straits - October 2007

Fixing Capitalist Errors with Socialist Favours – December 2007

Monday 21 January 2008

I have a nano-dream

Is America Ready?

As observers of the US Presidential Primaries from afar one hears the question time and again.

Is America ready for a black president?

Is America ready for a lady president?

Frankly, I am still not sure – there are still many White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) males clamouring from every chandelier that can bear their weight that they are the best to run the country – it would take the amazing force of democracy for all these people to defer to these imponderables.

The Grand Old Party still has not been able to produce anything radical, somehow between the strongman, the broker, the preacher, the actor and possibly the mayor, someone might emerge to reset America to its norm.

Little of the great dream

In the week that commemorates the birthday of Martin Luther King born January the 15th but which is celebrated as Martin Luther King Day, falling on the third Monday of January one has to wonder about the dream that the great man had.

So far, I see one amongst multitudes in every place, it is not like a floodlight over a whole area but a flickering flame way out in the dark.

In government, it is the lone Condoleezza Rice who is the only major African-American figure on the guest list attending the 2008 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland and she would be delivering the opening address.

In entertainment, Oprah Winfrey stands out a beacon of amazing success and an opinion leader because of the media platform she heads.

In business, Stan O’Neal was the lightning rod for the sub-prime crisis at Merrill Lynch and he left with a suitable golden parachute. Kenneth Chenault heads American Express and Richard Parsons heads Time Warner.

The noose is back

The list is hardly exhaustive, there are popular African-American personalities but very few that have an exceptional and outstanding profile – so recently, the top-most sportsman – Tiger Woods – through no fault of his apart from his success got associated with that symbol of American white supremacy – the noose.

It first made an appearance in 2007 with the Jena 6 when “three white students hung nooses from a tree at Jena High School, after a black student asked permission from a school administrator to sit under the tree”.

This act was dismissed as prank and it lead to the beating of a white student by other black kids, court cases, a seeming miscarriage of justice and protest marches reminiscent of 40 years before.

As a result of these protests a noose was found hanging from a door at Columbia’s Teachers College. The noose if may know was one of the means by which barbaric savages in white skin lynched African-Americans up until the 1960s.

According to the Tuskegee Institute, lynchings between 1880 to 1951 took 3,437 African-American victims and 1,293 white victims - such savagery.

Caught in a Noose

So, Kelly Tilghman in idle banter with Nick Faldo on the 4th of January on The Golf Channel and in response to his joke that younger players should gang up on Woods said, “Lynch him in a back alley”.

Somewhat inferring that Tiger Woods is unbeatable on the field of play but it stirred up a lot more that the flippant comment could have realised. She was suspended for two weeks, she also apologised for the comment.

However, a fuse had been lit as Golfweek magazine made a cover of the episode with the title “Caught in a Noose” and the picture of a noose. They are sorry.

Oh! Brother. Is the overwhelming success of any African-American in danger of being caught in a noose?

I fear that on Martin Luther King Day 2008, we remember that he had a dream and so far, the fulfilment is very much a nano-dream.

The realisation of that dream is still a long way off – as for the two questions I asked at the beginning of this blog – the answer is NO to both, but there is more at work than the few can control – We would definitely end up with either.

Drugs: Chavez is NOT the problem

The un-likeable Chavez

The desperate attempt to besmirch and denigrate President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela by the Unites States knows no bounds.

Now, I am no Chavez apologist, whilst in some cases he at least exemplifies a different kind of leader ploughing oil revenues into raising the standards of living of his people – which cannot be said of Nigeria – his populist rhetoric does not really augur well for democracy and democratic institutions in Venezuela.

The feisty mediator

Recently, Mr. Chavez cast himself as mediator between the militant FARC group in Colombia and the government of Colombia – some of his negotiations were thwarted by the government when it appeared he would succeed.

At one time Mr. Chavez threw the baby out with the bath water in anger, breaking ties with Colombia for being asked to stop mediating.

The FARC however established a rapport with Hugo Chavez and after several attempts; two important hostages out hundreds held were released.

This definitely did not please many detractors that included President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and the United States – it would appear in some instances political grandstanding was preferred to the humanity of negotiating the release of hostages that have been in captivity for years.

Rather major indifference

Now, the director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, Mr. John Walters has accused Hugo Chavez of being a major facilitator of the trade in cocaine.

This stems from the fact that the US has relationships in the region, especially Colombia, Peru and Bolivia where they controversially spray down drug crops – in what is known as coca eradication – in order to prevent the drugs entering the market which is largely the US.

Venezuela has however refused to allow this operation on their territory and they have concentrated on other social welfare programmes that affect Venezuelans rather than problems that affect the more affluent American citizens.

A wrong-headed war

The fact is the drug war that the US is waging is wrong-headed – there is a great demand problem in the US to feed lifestyles and addiction, market forces are working to fulfil that demand which is why the drugs find their way to the US.

I do not think enough is done to reduce the demand for the drugs in the US and to try and stifle supply by spraying fields of crops in some far away South-American country without a commensurate reduction in demand would just make the marketplace more desperate, dangerous and violent.

Unfortunately, rather than Americans owning up to the fact that they do have a serious hard drugs problem and enable the necessary social engineering and welfare support systems to get help to people who are hooked, they are busy polluting far away lands and doubtless providing no alternative income stream for farmers of those crops.

The market demand is so high that there is so much money to be made from the trade in the illegal drugs that the cartels formed constitute the dark parallel universe of globalisation. That is exactly where the problem is.

The demand issue

If Americans stopped taking these drugs, the market would most definitely collapse for the excess meeting a diminished demand, leading to some businesses moving out of the trade. This law of economics is universal for drugs, coffee or gold.

Mr. Chavez like I said earlier is a busy man with serious work to do concerning the citizens of his country and I do not think the consumption of cocaine by Venezuelans is of any import or the use of Venezuela as a conduit to the US features in his priority list.

Relations between the US government and Mr. Chavez have never been friendly for a while so there is no reason for him to want to help or allocate resources to a war that is not of his own making.

If you want Mr. Chavez to help, this kind of talk would do nothing to facilitate what is really a phoney drug war – I am not impressed with this new US tactic – if you have enemies and need their help, berate them – unlikely to work at all.

Additional reading

Arguments for and against drug prohibition – Wikipedia

The United States Drug Problem

Drug War Facts – in 2007 only 0.5% of deaths in the US were caused by illicit drugs.

Common Sense for Drug Policy

Widespread Gusset Anxiety

The question again

One can only sympathise with Jeremy Paxman as his indefatigable penchant to obtaining an answer to a question that he does not mind asking as many as 12 times, he gives focus to another area of serious concern for men – their underwear.

Clearly, the importance of the right support with ones undergarments cannot be over-emphasized.

When I was in secondary school, you had to tuck your manhood underneath which meant your underwear had to be flexible, comfortable and fitting enough to keep it there, else everyone accused you of “rough parking”, as a car wrongly parked in a parking bay.

M&S Underwear

It would appear Jeremy Paxman shops for underwear at the Altar of the Patron Saint of Undergarments in the temple buildings of Marks and Spencer (M&S).

Now, I have never shopped there for my underwear despite the reputable it has in the United Kingdom, my only experience of the service one can get on those matters was when a new check-out till was opened for the lengthening queue – the tiller lady had a name-tag with Bra Advisor as her job title.

I doubt if there is a Briefs or Boxers Advisor on the staff of Marks and Spencer but Mr. Paxman wants answers to certain questions and in particular, the one about why his trusted underwear bought at an M&S store does not offer the customary support.

He has written the newly ennobled chief executive Sir Stuart Rose about what he politely referred to as a “widespread gusset anxiety”.

Boxers are horrible

Evidently, those who asked the question if Mr. Paxman is a briefs or boxers man should have deduced that boxers provide no support; they, boxers are horrible to say the least.

Now, I can say I have never acquired a rag of Calvin Klein’s or any of those things that young men wear and have to show off by walking the streets with their trousers round their ankles as a fashion statement.

I am a Sloggi’s man, with the choice of tanga, maxi, mini, midi and shorts, only the maxi and shorts give me the support I require. They are getting rarer in the stores but every opportunity I get to find them; I take them off the shelf.

Meanwhile, I hope Sir Stuart Rose has some good answers for Jeremy Paxman, else he would really have his knickers in twist and hopefully he would wince with pain in response to a kick to the goolies. We need support.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Cloning: Vitually indistinguishable shit

Not alone about the clone

Whilst the science of cloning might be fascinating and amazing the reality of the same does leave one rather concerned about the consequences.

Just imagine my angst when I arrived in Europe to notice that the can of plum tomatoes could be kept in my larder for another 3 years.

Coming from Nigeria then, where the slightest discolouration on a fresh tomato consigned it to the gutter without sympathy for the seller.

I thought, if we were all being pumped full of E numbers there would be nothing natural left of us - after a while, our blood metabolises to contain formaldehyde properties – someone took my thinking to a conclusion and released the film – Death Becomes Her.

It starred Meryl, Goldie and Bruce, you should know them – the ladies chanced upon this elixir of life (for example, cloned food?) that kept them immortal as their bodies disintegrated, Bruce as plastic surgeon patched them up.

Virtually indistinguishable?

Before I digress, what worries me more is the conclusion of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States that cloned foods are virtually indistinguishable from conventional sources.

Despite the concerns that people still have about the possible long-term effects of ingesting cloned foods, the FDA after a 5-year study has also decided that foods do not need to be labelled, disallowing customers from discriminating between the sources of food.

If I were to view this decision from a very fundamental perspective I could say just because I have identical twins or even identical quadruplets, I would give them the same name since they are virtually indistinguishable.

Obviously, when it comes to food, the analysis goes deeper than visual inspection, it does not however mean the ability to choose between cloned and conventional foods be removed from the opportunity of the general populace.

I must join in the hysteria about cloning because our democratic right to choose has been taken away and our economic right to pay what we deem the cost of produce based on full-disclosure of what we are purchasing has been curtailed.

Clone taken out labels

I would expect that certain food manufacturers who do not subscribe to the cloning ideal might just go for counter-labelling, indicating that their foods do not contain cloned sources, then charge us more.

However, I cannot but recall that a nursery rhyme (Hey Diddle Diddle) might just paint a picture of the dangers of cloning and what the reaction of normally inanimate objects might be – I never thought any of this might become true, but with cloning – the reality would be beyond expanse of delirium.

Here goes the nursery rhyme:

Hey diddle diddle,

The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon

The little dog laughed to see such fun,

And the dish ran away with spoon.

Go figure! Cats playing fiddles, cows in astronomical dressage, dogs laughing and the terrified plates and cutlery refusing to take the food – that is the nightmare of cloning – I had better boil my eggs before I crack them open and find mangoes.

Coward, the Courageous Pilot

Coward the Courageous Man

To break away from the madness of the world contained in the seriousness and incredulity of the news I sometimes switch to the make-belief world of cartoons.

One such cartoon is titled Courage the Cowardly Dog – one could not have thought that in real life we would experience nouns and adverbs switch places in what normally ends up in harrowing tragedy. Air crashes.

The irony could not have been lost on anyone who heard of the plane crash at the London Heathrow Airport on Thursday, that everyone walked away alive because of the dogged determination, the consummate professionalism and the courage of co-pilot John Coward, 41.

Effective investigations

For now, we do not know why the plane failed to give thrust when demanded by the auto-pilot and manually by the co-pilot.

The Boeing 777-200ER airliner supposedly has an excellent safety record, but the investigators would still have to determine what went wrong and why – I am pleased that these investigations have excellent follow-through in lessons learnt and effective action to be taken by the airline industry.

Within the joy of survival for which many would be thankful is the cack-handedness of British Airways that left the survivors who did not need hospital treatment without succour and refreshments for hours and they received improper assistance considering their baggage and personal effects which would have been left on the plane.

It would appear the ground staff did not exercise an equivalent level of care and concern as exemplified by the airline crew in bring the plane down “safely” and evacuating the plane with calm efficiency.

Meanwhile, Many Thanks to John Coward, the Courageous Man.

Saturday 19 January 2008

The child shall be called - Bingo

Chatterbox moi

Did I just spend 171 minutes on the phone to London chatting to one of my favourite cousins?

Well, basically, it is a meeting of minds and ideas, there is never a short call and the amazing thing is whoever gets to the phone first makes the other jealous – speaking to her or her husband who endearingly refers to me as his out-law, time just passes by as the other itches to get on the phone.

We got to one part of our talk that made me laugh and obviously should serve as a salutary warning to those who give their kids foreign names and fail to get it right.

Those strange names

I remember writing sometime ago about the fact that both my grandmothers’ Christian names were obscure Judeo-Christian names dug out of the Old Testament and pasted on their identities by priests who could not mouth the more meaningful traditional Yoruba names.

My parents also have similar names but with my generation, more parents used our traditional Yoruba names as given names for baptism.

My Christian name is Akinola and except where an angel appears to your parents and dictates through prophecy, vision or dream that the child shall be called Bingo (Bingo is commonly given to dogs in Nigeria), you must be at will to give your children names that are meaningful to you, your circumstances and beliefs.

Deb You Are Feel This

So, she talked of a girl in her class who remonstrated angrily and aggressively that her name Deborah should be pronounced Day-Bo-Rah as opposed to the correct Debra.

One cannot really blame the girl for not realising that her Judeo-Christian English name had been given by silly parents who definitely were clueless about the import and pronunciation of the name.

In the end, they allowed the girl to make a big fool out of herself by not knowing how to say her name. In fact, we once had a house-girl with that name; I was the only one to pronounce her name correctly.

Then there was a boss at work in Nigeria whose first name was Felix that should be pronounced Fee-licks but in Nigeria, a majority would say Fair-Licks. At least, he knew how to pronounce his name.

Now, that is not to say my name Akin is that easy to pronounce for non-Yorubas because the N is nasalised – the one time I heard it pronounced correctly by an English lady, I learnt she was born in Ibadan and she had an accent considerably thicker than mine.

There are many more English names that get mis-pronounced but the top prize has to go to Dennis who in Ijebu-land found everyone calling him Day-eh-nee.

Keep off those foreign names if you don’t want to lose your identity and make a fool of yourself.

Friday 18 January 2008

Nigeria: An Exposé on influence peddling

The requirements for alimony

It is no doubt a personal tragedy for Gbenga and Moji Obasanjo with the explosive counter-arguments that have emerged regarding their divorce.

Worse still, is the damaging effect this might have on the children who have become pawns in the acrimonious and vitriolic squabbling that is being played out by their parents and grandfathers.

In the end it appears the husband is looking for the dissolution of the marriage whilst exacting a kind of vindictive punishment on his wife, the wife however is doing everything to maintain the status and style to which she is accustomed and has seriously lofty ambitions for the children.

Secondary school in Switzerland and University in America for kids who are hardly 8 years old, very few parents can make that kind of commitment even in the West – The privilege of being the grand-children of an African ex-President must be one to aspire to.

Assets, claims and qualifications

Beyond this squabble, the matter of alimony requires that a clear indication of assets and living circumstances be known for the court to set a fair and just settlement.

With that has come, claims and counter-claims between husband and wife. The husband holds academic degrees (MBBS, PhD, MPH) in medicine and public health, all his business dealings but one appears to be in oil-trading, construction and commissions-based influence peddling.

The one involving HIV/AIDS where in his alumnus profile he declared, “Understanding the complex effects of HIV on the African society and vice versa must take into consideration a very wide range of cultural, economic, environmental and biological factors”, he appears to be helping to negotiate something with a mobile phone company.

An investigator’s Aladdin’s cave

There are so many dimensions to this story, the humanity aspect concerning the children is the most disturbing but we also need to see how the determination for alimony has exposed networks of contracts, liaisons, companies and influence.

If the EFCC needed an insight into how the few control a lot in Nigeria, they probably should be looking no further than the families and relations of people who have held political power and monetary leverage.

It must be an Aladdin’s cave of information that could never have been exposed but for circumstances like this where an acrimonious divorce leads the parties to break ranks and expose an underbelly of the entrenched corruption, that has become a moral standard in Nigeria.

Opportunity to probe it all

Each and every one of these asset inventories exposed by husband and wife should suffer scrutiny on the following terms

  • Can any of the parties provide a fully audited account of all their means of wealth?
  • Were the businesses put under pressure to engage in corrupt practices through influence-peddling and patronage to engage these persons when other competent parties might have arranged the deals better?
  • Where the contracts are with government agencies, did they commercial vehicles go through the due process of competitive tendering and win on merit?
  • Where the persons involved have obtained commissions for contracts awarded, how did they get appointed as negotiators and I mean, is there any professional or business expertise that confers on them this status?
  • Who are the directors of the companies that these people represent and are there any indication of a conflict of interest or insider-dealing that allows these companies to gain pecuniary advantage?
  • Are these companies duly registered with the appropriate authorities, declaring the accounts competently and paying their taxes?

Companies involved

  • Bowen and Brown Ltd (Quite a neat website) – Provides consultancy training and project management services to the NNPC (The premier National oil company), it also owns several oil contracts. How does a trainer or project manager get to handle oil contracts?
  • Royal Properties Limited – executed contracts for the Ogun State Government having obtained concessions. Does concession mean this is a preferred business on the grounds of …?
  • Co-ownership of a Bitumen factory in Ogun State with an ex-intelligence chief and has massive concessions granted by the Ogun State Government. An intelligence chief on the board, you have got the goods on anyone you engage and “blackmail” them to do your bidding.
  • Linetrale Oil Supply & Trading Company Ltd – imports, sells, supplies and markets petroleum products, it owns oil blocks and is one of the largest importers of gasoline for NNPC, this probably rubbishes the denials that Gbenga Obasanjo got oil allocations. The amazing reach of a medical degree.
  • Health Aids Support Services – HIV consultancy and working on transactions with MTN (A mobile communications company). Well, he is probably an expert in one of these fields. There seems to be a partnership of HIV/AIDS helplines and Q&A handbooks. This might well be above board.
  • Glo Oil Limited & Hyster Investments Limited – Business activities not listed but probably vehicles for trading oil and other businesses.


Somehow, through these named companies and probably other clandestine vehicles they have obtained concessions – read pecuniary advantage through influence-peddling – to do the following

  • The husband earns NGN 500 million ($4.3m) per annum as alleged by the wife.
  • Obtain commission for the allocation of a NGN 11 billion ($95 million) construction contract, even just 1% commission is almost a $1 million. Looks like this is Mr. FixIt.
  • Collect oil allocations from the NNPC as well as substantial investments in oil blocks. Someone has been allocating Nigerian oil to people as if it is theirs to use and abuse.
  • Broker deals on behalf of foreign companies. Were they using the fact that he was the President’s son to gain access for which commissions have been earned? I smell the stench of corruption.
  • Receive commissions for the supply of 800 vehicles to Ogun State. Remember the ex-President is from Ogun State. But I do not think any of the companies had any automobile industry connections.

Living a charmed life in Nigeria

Other assets include lands and houses one of which is disputed, land in Maitama, Abuja, land in Banana Island, Ikoyi, land in Lekki Phase 1, land in Abeokuta, house at No. 8 Ladipo Bateye Street, GRA Ikeja (Disputed), property in London and house at 14411 Andrea Way Lane, Houston, TX 77083 in the United States.

Cars include a BMW 3 Series, a Toyota Highlander SUV, a Peugeot 607, a Toyota Land Cruiser Jeep 2006 model and a Kia Opirus. For a family of four in Nigeria? These people must be living in a completely different Nigeria.

Consider the case of the World Bank saying 126 million Nigerians (90%) are living on less than $2 a day, in this number more than 70% are living on less that $1 a day and this is in a country of 140 million, indicating only 10% enjoy above-poverty livelihoods.

I am sure a lot can be read into all this, but like Jeremy of NaijaBlog said, what more is needed but for a decent investigative journalist to dig into all this morass and obtain the truth about how the Nigerian elite and their families have plundered Nigerian resources and opportunities to their own ends.

One of the brood

This just pertains to one son of the many (brood ) of the ex-President Obasanjo and there is also the issue of the contracts signed with a false identity by a daughter of the ex-President Dr. Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, an ex-Commissioner in Ogun State and now a Senator in National Assembly, she is being investigated by the EFCC.

There seems to be no limit exerted in the corrupt activities of this family, the investigation of this one family might just reveal the extent to which other influential but corrupt Nigerians have wrecked the country.

It must be a worthwhile activity to any professional journalist and now is the time to give oxygen to the quality of our press and uphold the mantle of democracy or the little of it we have in Nigeria.

The sources are the sworn affidavits submitted as petitions by the husband and wife to the court concerning the dissolution of the marriage and the alimony requirements of the spouses. As published by Thisday Online and

Thursday 17 January 2008

Handling Internet Intimidation

Networks of similar interests

Belonging to a number of networking sites, some social, others professional, one leaves a footprint almost irremovable from the Internet.

Where the networking sites are of special interest lifestyles there is opportunity to be more particular about your interests and the kind of people you want to interact with.

One would hope that the more detail provided, the more discerning people seeking similar companionship and interests would be and maybe one can naively assume that all that is through informed consent, personal prerogative and genuine awareness of what engagement one is undertaking.

Indeed, we have heard that certain social networking sites have become havens for bullies and harassment – cyberbullying is the new word for that – these matters are becoming an area of crime investigation that is receiving the scrutiny of social protection agencies and law enforcement - the playground bully has moved to cyberspace.

There are sites that cater for adults and hopefully the membership is made up of law-abiding ones who should not be embarrassed for doing what as adults they choose to do within the law.

Informed and mutual consent

The operative phrase being mutual consent; this is however not a fixed quantity, what some people mutually consent to do having informed each other of their intentions and desires might as well be morally reprehensible to others and excite passionate negative emotions.

One cannot refuse those who find these things abhorrent their right to have those emotions, convictions or feelings – it is part of our humanity.

If one has racist, xenophobic or homophobic sympathies, they have their issues but hopefully they are abstract; to take those sympathies and target them at an object, personality or group for vitriolic abuse, threats of denigration or bodily harm has that person crossing the boundaries of civility to criminality, which can be prosecuted.

Handling abuse

I have tolerated a lot of abuse on the Internet and in social networking sites I have helped some people keep within the bounds of the law by not responding and hence not aggravating the situation.

Where the site has clear guidelines about abuse, I have matched the clauses in their documents against the claims I make of abuse and given administrators of those sites the opportunity to address these matters – in two cases the sources of abuse were bumped off the site.

In other cases, I have used the blocking facilities to prevent those people from contacting me and in one case I completely removed myself from the site to avoid harassment.

I would NOT be intimidated

But I would not be intimidated on the Internet by faceless, anonymous cretins who can pen unspeakable abuse and hatred but are too cowardly to leave a calling card which bears a name and a proper reply slip.

What they forget is that every action taken on the Internet leaves footprints and the tenacious would find those tracks and trace them back to the originator, nobody is really anonymous on the Internet.

In two instances, I engaged the service of private detectives, employed computer & Internet forensics in which I have professional qualifications, gathered all the evidence, got the police involved and obtained with the force of the law, records of transactions on a social networking site to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law in court, death threats on the Internet – I secured convictions for what the perpetrator thought was his right to menace and harass with impunity – they chose the wrong guy.

Your rights - my rights

Recently, I have been menaced by someone who by rights has a right to feel abhorrence about me if he deems fit, but we live in a free society where everyone has a personal responsibility when engaging in any liaisons with informed consent; that responsibility should and must not be passed on to others once one has come of age as an adult.

One studied situation deals with sexual conduct when people expect others to watch out for them when they should be alert and aware of what they personally engage in – this includes the moderate use of alcohol and drugs so that they are not taken advantage of and cajoled into acts they would not engage in when sober and of clear mind.

Informed consent must be the prime mover in any liaison, it is the responsibility of each person engaged in that liaison to exercise that prerogative and hopefully where either cannot exercise that prerogative the more alert party would desist and refrain.

Arguing with the fool

This sounds like a reasonable argument that any sane person can appreciate and understand, it is however difficult to engage a menace in such reasoning – a saying infers arguing with a fool would make both of you fools.

In fact, these Internet bullies if one were to confer any status of their cowardice are snipers, assassins, assailants – no better than terrorists – even hecklers in their anti-social garb are recognisable; they, the terrorists, have a time of menace but each attack creates a pattern, a patchwork and a developing case towards nabbing them with compelling evidence.

One saying this menace would very well understand is this – Everyday is for the thief and one day is for the catcher.

You have already crossed the line between personal expression through abuse which can be tolerated to criminal conduct through threatening my physical well-being which would be investigated – think about the consequences before your reprehension grows beyond your ability to control the events around you.

Monday 14 January 2008

I hate being a pawn

An unwilling pawn

I did not see this coming, I thought I was an important piece on a chess-board only to find out that I am being played like a pawn about to be taken off the board en passant.

I had been looking forward to my new role which we were about to flesh out in the month of January before it starts on the first working day of February.

The promise or what I thought it offered was an opportunity to move out from under the project management that had stifled my objectives with inertia, lack of vision, incompetence, self-preservation and cack-handedness.

I was to lead this group until I had a meeting on Thursday with the project manager who probably does not know that he is the main reason why I refused to take up a permanent contract in July and put in my notice in October.


Somehow, as we were realigning the focus and developing aims for the new team, I should have sensed that the interest and involvement of the project manager was a manoeuvre for new relevance at my expense.

The director I thought I would be reporting to had offered the leadership of the team to the project manager whilst I was on holiday and I was to assume a consultancy role.

Errr! I do not think that is what I had in mind at all, it would not work because I do not expect a Damascene conversion to dynamism to help me achieve what I hoped to achieve.

My marketing literature is really now on the market, it would appear, January the thirty-first is my last day here after 17 months.

I hate being a pawn and if I should be a pawn I should a significant one on the board, ready to capture a helpless principal piece or be promoted to a principal piece. I am off this chess board, I need to be in another game.