Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sporting Terminology

One frequently hears English expressions derived from sporting terminology. This is true even if one is in a professional setting or amongst "polite company". The aim of this blogpost is to guide the reader through some of the more frequent sporting colloquialisms that one encounters on a daily basis.

I figured this would be of great help to those of you who aren't too sporty or who encounter these expressions on a daily basis and can't quite comprehend what's being said. Bear in mind, these phrases are not only from American English, but also from British and Canadian English, as well as the English spoken on the Indian sub-continent. Here they are:

3rd and long -- an American football term: an attempt to do something with only a slight chance of success.

Hail Mary pass -- an American football term: your last "give it all you got" attempt at something with little or no chance of success. Much longer odds than "3rd and long".

A ballpark figure -- a baseball term: a roundabout figure.

From left field -- a baseball term: unexpected, out-of-the-blue, far-out; somewhat inconceivable.

Follow the puck -- an ice-hockey term: follow the action; go where the action is; go where the opportunities are.

On the front foot -- a cricket term: to be on the offensive.

On the back foot -- a cricket term: to be on the defensive.

Plays with a straight bat -- a cricket term: "plays fair", or to engage in fair play.

On a sticky wicket --  a cricket term: a difficult environment; a difficult circumstance.

It's not cricket! -- a cricket term: not fair! not played according to the rules; a lot of cheating involved.

On the ropes -- a boxing term: in a difficult situation; despondent after a series of losses; about to experience a crushing blow.

Time out -- a basketball term: to (literally) call for time; to ask for a temporary reprieve,  a temporary respite.

A slam dunk -- a basketball term: something that's a near-given as a success. A can't-miss opportunity (to succeed at whatever you're doing).

Kicked into touch -- a rugby term: similar to basketball's "taking a time out"; putting the issue(s) being dealt with aside for a more opportune time.

A scrum -- a rugby term: literally a free-for-all.

A hospital pass -- a rugby term: a given opportunity that (in hindsight) should've been passed away. On the rugby-field this is the kind of pass that puts the receiver (literally) in hospital after being clobbered by the opposing team. Many an opportunity for advancement are best declined.

There are many more of course but I hope the few that I gave you will come in handy.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Zimbabwe: Open Up The Airwaves

My mother still reminisces about her teen years in the 60s and how she and her friends used to listen to Radio Lourenco Marques, blasting into Rhodesia all the way from Portuguese-run Mozambique. When I was a teen in the late 80s I liked nothing better than to tune into Radio Bop on shortwave-radio and listen to all the latest mbaqanga tunes being blasted, all the way from the South African Bantustan of Bophuthatswana. Later on in the early 90s, whilst living in London, I was hooked on pirate-radio stations. Some of those pirate-radio stations popped up on the radio for only a few hours at a time, but boy did they have some heavy tunes on rotation!

The point I'm trying to make here is that people (especially youths) will find a way of listening to whatever they want, whenever they want, in whatever format they want. The 60s era policy -- much beloved by many African Govts -- of fencing off their populations to outside radio influences is now redundant. The reasons for this are mostly technological:

--it's always been easy to transmit a radio signal from a neighboring country. The more powerful the transmitters, the more powerful the signal. This works even moreso if you have unfriendly neighbours on your doorstep (read Botswana for Zimbabwe).

-- the ever-falling price of bandwidth and the increasing availability of high-speed internet. Falling prices will make it much easier for even the urban poor to listen to any radio-station via the internet (either through their mobile phones or via digital-radio receivers).

--the technology now exists for a radio signal to be sent thousands of miles away (over the oceans), unscrambled by a relay transmitter and then "broadcast" over a local spectrum via an analog signal. In effect this technological advance renders moot any Govt's attempt at "controlling its airwaves" within its own borders.

As I've shown you in just the three examples above, increased competition, falling prices, and (most importantly) technological improvements, will drastically open up the airwaves within the next five to ten years. The Zimbabwe Govt needs to recognise this new reality and open up the airwaves, much like their continental counterparts. Uganda now has 125 radio-stations and Kenya has 116, but in my beloved Zimbabwe only two commercial radio-stations have been licensed since 2012. This puts us in dubious company with Continental laggards like Eritrea (where all the media space is tightly controlled by the Govt).

Bulawayo alone could easily support three commercial radio-stations, and multiple community radio-stations dealing with issues such as religion, sports and culture. Every single one of Zimbabwe's districts should have its own community radio-station dealing with issues that affect its environs. The opening up of the airwaves should not be seen as a threat to the ruling party, Zanu-PF. In fact allowing people a greater voice to air their views will win ZPF kudos from its base support in the rural areas.

Thank You/Ndatenda

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Quick Notes On Air Zimbabwe

We all played with toy-planes as children, but the tragedy for many Africans is that our politicians continue to have this plane fetish as adults. This fetish, a deep desire to have a national airline, comes at a great cost to our societies and upends our development priorities. A mantra from the 60s states that having a national airline is one of the key markers of sovereignty. But the airline business is cruel and heartless; it's a capital-intensive business with narrow margins, that leaves many of its players gasping for breath. The once-vaunted SAA has only been kept alive in recent years by massive injections of state-subsidies; the national airlines of Nigeria and Ghana went bust in the 90s; the Belgian state carrier SABENA went bankrupt in 2001; and it too was quickly followed into oblivion by the Swiss state carrier SWISSAIR in 2002. As you can see, the business model of the aviation-industry has no space for emotional ties to dearly-held mantras, or even any notions of national strategic interest. 

The aviation business is capital intensive and merciless in its modus operandi: a single Boeing-767 costs $160M and must constantly fill 70% of its seats in order to break even (cost wise); the price of oil has been hovering at about $90/barrel for the past five years, and aviation fuel is at its highest price in a decade. The only airline companies that are prospering in this merciless environment are the airlines of the Gulf Arab States (which are backed by a bottomless pool of petro-dollars), and highly efficient flag-carriers like Singapore Airlines. 

Having stated the above, any rational mind would probably inquire as to why a desperately-poor, developing country would waste scarce resources on a national airline. With all of our pressing needs, be it in health or education, why splash $160M on a brand-spanking new Boeing 767? It just doesn't make any economic and moral sense. Not only that, but African airlines (especially) have a very shoddy reputation in the aviation business, and AirZimbabwe (even more so) has an even shoddier reputation than most. Below, I have posted a short list of some AirZimbabwe's woes in the past decade (not in chronological order).

-- It was recently reported that for two months in 2009, the airline had flown without insurance (that's akin to driving a car without any brakes). Apparently it had defaulted on payments to an insurer.

-- It was recently reported that two of AirZimbabwe's A320 Airbuses were grounded at Joburg's OR Tambo Airport due to the unserviceability of the planes.

-- the airline also has in its possession three Chinese-made MA60 planes which remain grounded due to the fact that no-one (not the Zim Govt officials, the Zim public, or even the Chinese themselves) will get into such rickety contraptions.

-- In 2010, at the height of its woes, AirZimbabwe had four planes (of which only one was operational) and yet was still (almost comically) overstaffed with 48 pilots and 268 technicians!

-- In 2005 AirZimbabwe gave new meaning to the term "flying solo" when it flew a return flight from Dubai to Harare with just a single passenger. It would then break its own dubious record in 2012 when it flew a regional route to Joburg with no passengers!

The solutions to AirZimbabwe's woes are simple. First of all we need to pitch ourselves as the cheapest business-market in the Southern African aviation-market. This we must do by slashing the cost of airport landing-fees and taxes, and reducing or (removing) any flyover fees for flying over our air-space. Then the Zim Govt must sell off a majority-stake in the airline to a "strategic-partner", i.e a well-endowed purchaser. Ideally the present AirZimbabwe would cease to exist in its present form and be re-branded as a smaller offshoot of a major airline. Ideally, the well-endowed strategic partner would inject much-needed capital into the new AirZimbabwe as well as taking over its onerous $200M debt ($160M to creditors & $40M to its staff).

All long haul flights must be ceded to the better-run airlines from the Gulf Arab states, and the better-run African airlines like Ethiopian Airlines and Kenyan Airlines. The only long-haul route that should be maintained is the popular Harare-London routeIdeally, this new AirZimbabwe  should focus on servicing regional routes (to Gaborone, Maputo, Lusaka etc) as well as flying to all the popular domestic routes (to Vic Falls, Kariba, Bulawayo etc).

The regional and domestic routes can be serviced by the much-smaller Embraer and Bombardier jets, which carry around fifty passengers and (more importantly) don't come with heavy price tags. And finally, the massive head-count at headquarters must be culled dramatically. The present AirZimbabwe is filled to the rafters with political appointees and useless dead-weights; they must be given their marching orders and shown the door!

Thank You/Ndatenda