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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Toastmasters



I have attended a Divisional Contest between most of the Toastmaster's clubs in Spain. Firstly I should say that Toastmaster clubs are groups of people who are dedicated to developing and refining our communication skills, between each other and in front of a larger audience. To do this we practise delivering speeches for the public.

The people who participated in the contest had worked their way to the top. Presentations were contested in Spanish, which I got the gist of but I can't say that I completely understood what was said. That can be generally said about my experience of living in Spain. I get the point through the gist of what is being said.

The most helpful thing that we do is to listen carefully to a person's speech, and then we point out the things we think that person did well, and then we focus on how we think, in our own opinion the speech could be made even better. That we call doing an evaluation. When a speech is really good it is extremely difficult to accomplish this.

A speech was given in Spanish and four people evaluated that, and one was given in English and four people evaluated it.

Then speeches were given by individuals on any topic the person wished. Seven contestants competed in both languages, so a lot of talking throughout the day. I took a keen interest in the English contests, of course, and I was very relieved not to be a judge because the speeches were so good.

One woman spoke about making a difference through small actions, and one of those actions taken by her saved a man's life.

Another woman spoke about celebrating our differences of personality and the importance of reaffirming the worth to yourself of the person you have chosen to spend your life with. It's just too easy to complain about the things that our partners do that irritate us.

A young woman focused on the achievements of her friends and weighed those things against the fact that her own claim to fame was that she had collected all 150 Pok√©mon characters. What should she do now?  She developed this question brilliantly with the theme song from Cabaret.

A young man, speaking in a similar genre posed the question: "What is your song?" He articulated his own development and led us to a place where we finally understood what his song was, but never actually sang a note.

The most touching story of the day was told by a young man originally from Brazil who began with the words, "when I opened my eyes the muzzle of the burglar's gun was touching my forehead." He then told how his dog saved his life, and he went on to share with us the story of his life experience with his dog. Eventually he had to put the dog to sleep and now he is trying to cope with super grief.

There were no dry eyes in the room.

I know it's difficult to appreciate my summary if you weren't there, but I'm so pumped up I just can't think of anything else I would rather write about at the moment.

Copyright (c) 2016
Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Those Panama Papers



There are any number of perfectly good and legitimate reasons for doing business with law firms in Panama, so to even suggest that everybody with an account with such law firms are up to no good is just simply wrong. For the media to have released the names of clients of a private firm is totally irresponsible, in my view, and I imagine that there will follow some lawsuits as a result. And so there should be so!

However, just to say that a list of clients of one company encompasses politicians, government leaders, wealthy businessmen, oil sheiks, and so on from around the world suggests that these are the one percenters with a lot of something that might be worth holding in Panama away from the prying eyes of spouses and the tax man, among others.

I have been studying Panama as a place to live as a retired person. I was expecting two particular problems: the fact that there is not a national health program, and I was told that I will have to come with impeccable references in order to open a bank account. Once living there I would not be taxed by Panama on my foreign earned income, which is a real draw for me. That and the fact that it is always warm.

In fact, Panama is especially inviting to foreigners from America and Canada to retire to the country. We are made very welcome and the pace and style of life sounds ideal. Nowhere in the information about Panama is it suggested that the legal community there can remedy the problems of the rich and famous.

The thing I think most people suspect is that account holders are primarily concerned about is the evasion of taxes. Why do people seek to evade paying their lawful taxes to the government? One reason is greed. They earn money from this or that venture, including those people who actually steal money and they secret it away by either using outright evasive tactics such as arriving at the bank with a couple of suitcases, or by paying clever lawyers and accountants to find ways and means to evade the payment of taxes. T
he other principal reason is to hide assets from a spouse so that when the divorce takes place she, it's usually the she, will not be able to get her hands on half of it. You would have to hide it from both the taxman and the wife.

The irony of it all is that when you die, and you will die sooner or later, if you have hidden your assets well they will remain hidden until someone figures out a way to simply walk off with the bundle for their own benefit. Also, accountants and lawyers don't come cheaply so it was probably just as well to have paid the taxes in the first place and to have had peace of mind, except there's always the wife, but you could have avoided that by simply not having married in the first place.

Another reason that people hate paying taxes to governments is because they see corruption, incompetence, wastage of tax payers money, and in some cases, just plain theft by politicians. However, when lawful taxes aren't paid the government is denied the funds that are necessary to solve the many and ongoing social problems of the community. When those funds are made available to the government and they are wasted or stolen, both the government and the person who didn't pay his taxes have committed offenses against society.

Had I moved my application for residence in Panama further ahead it's quite possible that I might have become a client of that particular law firm and the world might now be looking at me askance as though I was trying to hide something.

How would that have made me feel?

Copyright (c) 2016
Eugene Carmichael

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Some people do the strangest things



A husband and wife set off on a luxury cruise that didn't go well for them. They argued and fought every day, especially on the last day ashore before the ship was due to return. The wife declared, "if that's how you feel leave me alone!" With that she walked off on her own leaving her husband with no idea where she was.

He returned to the ship and assumed that she had come on board and was somewhere within the ship sulking on her own. She wasn't. She was sitting on the beach thinking what a terrible man he was and feeling sorry for herself. As she sat there she noticed a huge cruise ship leaving the island and realised, to her horror that it was the ship she was supposed to be on. What she did next comes under the heading: "Some people do the strangest things!"

There was no-one else on the beach, they were all on the ship. So, she started shouting wait for me, and waving her arms, which people on the ship took to be very friendly gestures, so they waved back. The ship continued on and eventually sailed out of her sight. By this time she was desperate. She was yelling to her "awful" husband to come back. Don't leave me! Then, she jumped into the water while holding on to her handbag.

She swan after the ship and was in the water for four hours as the sun was going down. Two fishermen, returning from a fruitless day at sea happened to be travelling directly for where she was and almost ran her over. She was exhausted by then, but in one last desperate effort to be heard yelled at the top of her lungs, Help! The captain had to throw the engine in reverse as there was not space and time to avoid running over her.

WTF!

"Lady, what are you doing out here? Did you fall off the cruise ship? You say you were swimming to try and catch it. Ah, I see."

Among that fishing fraternity this counts as the very strangest catch in history. In the annals of that island community there is nothing that tops that story when it comes to strange behaviour.

The only thing that saved her life was her handbag that acted as an improvised life preserver as it filled with air to keep her afloat.

Presumably husband and wife were reunited at some point, although for how long is anybody's guess.

Copyright (c) 2016
Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Well, How about That?



There's no real significance to this story. It's simply one of those "How About That" stories.

The social history of Bermuda is in many ways just as awful as that of The United States of America, our giant neighbour to the West. Their treatment of black people has been as shameful as our own. It seems that our white tribe felt that they should show solidarity with American practises. Therefore, black people were considered as part of the barnyard group. Our country practised apartheid as much as South Africa did. Foreigners would come to my country and be told that here blacks know their place.

As a young black man growing up under this nasty umbrella of white privilege, discrimination and prejudice I was definitely not amused. I was very limited in what I could do and say. I could work in hotels and fine restaurants, but I was not allowed to take my own leisure in those places. In particular, there were two golf clubs which were for whites only. I could work there in some support position, such as a caddie. This I did and I earned good money. By taking careful note of the clubs that golfers used for each hole I grew to be able to advise my clients, and I got a good feel for my own game, except that I couldn't play on that course.

The problem with apartheid in a small living space was that the two racial groups would be brought into confrontation on a daily basis in all sorts of situations. Young black men took on a growing resentment against white supremacy, and once we started to fight, even only  with words, we had to fight every day. As a white person who insisted that you were superior you were a superior fool for trusting what you put in your mouth.

The RBG&CC was the principal golf course that I caddied at. It enjoyed  a long waiting list for new members and they charged extortionate fees to be one of the select. They were not embarrassed to lord it over us lowly blacks, especially when they held their gala dinners and other grand events with blacks in attendance as servants. That just served to fire us up and to drive us on to the day of revolt.

Well, that day came and was handled peacefully enough. We were fed up and we were simply not going to take it anymore.

On the surface, everything changed. Apartheid died and all of society was opened up leading me to be able to finally play the RBG&CC course.  I played that course about a dozen times until one day I came to the conclusion that golf is a stupid game where you hit a little ball and then go find it, and you hit it again.

Between then and now the old membership have died off, foreign workers left the island in droves due to the economic crisis and consequently were no longer club members, and young people just don't want to know. That beautiful property that once stood as a bastion of privilege has now gone into bankruptcy. We have come full circle.

It would make a fabulous site for a first class hotel. This is a good bet for a hotel chain, as the golf course is renown and up and functioning.  The property itself is a gold mine. I have no doubt that it will continue, but I do have mixed feelings for the place as it was the venue that served for so much of my pain.

I just have to remember that as a property it has no responsibility for what I was put through.

Copyright (c) 2016
Eugene Carmichael