The Building Across the Road from the General Penitentiary

The Building Across the Road from the General Penitentiary
— Read on

When I graduated from University College London in the mid-1970s, after doing an M.Phil in Urban Planning, I tried to get a job with UDC. Let’s say that they did not see me as fitting what they needed. In the subsequent 40-odd years that I have been visiting Jamaica and now living here, again. I was struck by one singular fact. Whenever I look around Jamaica, especially downtown, I wonder at the immense lost growth potential from not having a wholesale renovation program. Jobs & development in abundance. The other loss comes first from the negative impression dereliction leaves vs the clear positives that come from seeing renovations spreading and second from the multiplier effects of such renovations that are economic, social and psychological.

I understand that much of the urban blight we see in Jamaica is NOT the natural result of economic decline, but the contrived result of hoarding of land and building as assets. I have never quite figured out the economic logic of that, because the premium always seemed to be greater by putting such assets back into operation.

I can see an underlying political dynamic that may explain it in part, but not in whole. I’m still thing.

Susan’s pictures may help prompt me to think again, to see what driving forces are at play.


Jamaica’s Body-Worn Cameras: A Comfort to a Fool?

Jamaica’s Body-Worn Cameras: A Comfort to a Fool?
— Read on

A few Jamaicans are comfortable asking awkward questions and forcing public and private officials to account for things they have committed to do and not done, or explaining what they have done in the name of citizens or customers that seem to run counter to the public good. Susan Goffe is one such Jamaican. Once again, she points us clearly in the direction of a set of seeming ‘false promises’ whose non-fulfillment leaves many of us at risk of misdeeds or malfeasance.

Many Jamaicans seem paradoxical. On the one hand, they are extremely suspicious of many if not all official explanations. Yet, the are amazingly accepting of many official explanations. They are not comfortable probing beyond a few superficial pieces of evidence and tend to have a short memory about matters that were raised in the past but not resolved and then seem to recur.

Here is one area, which together with the recent rolling out of CCTV by the security forces, that should make it easier for citizens to literally see and hear what is going on in the country, not least in the area of crimes being committed but of criminals being confronted. Yet, our hands and feet remain bound. Why?

I look forward to an official reaction to this set of findings by Susan.

Political games people play: living with anti-democratic cyber-bullies

Let’s accept that I have never been a card-carrying member of any political party. That does not mean that I do not have views that would fit well with the philosophy of a local political party. However, a range of circumstances working in the national or intenrational public service did not make it easy to be an identifiable official member of a political party.

When I lived in the UK, social media was non-existent. I voted, so could express my politcal views through the ballot box. When I lived in the USA and Guinea, my status did not allow me to have a vote, either locally or nationally, so the ballot box was not an open route. But, social media was coming into play. When I lived in Barbados and now in Jamaica, I could vote, at the very least as an eligible Commonwealth citizen. Social media was well to the fore.

I noticed the shrillness of partisan commentary in the UK, where Labour (left) and Conservative (right) views were often truly polarized; those were were not clearly aligned towards either end of that spectrum or were undecided or had a clear alliance with the views of another party had a good number of choices, either with the Liberals or one of the nationalist parties, such as Plaid Cymru-Party of Wales, or with a fringe party. You can get a good idea from the Wikipedia listing of poltiical parties in the UK.

In Guinea, where the philosophies of parties were less relevant for a long time under the dictatorial rule of President Conte, the voices were really those pro- on anti-president. Later, parties started to show their colours more and they were quite distinctly aligned to ethnic groups.

In the USA, the philosophical underpinnings of the Democrats and the Republicans were often clear, but the realities at the time of my arrival in the early 1990s seemed to be that they were both playing for a bigger share of ‘the middle’ and were not universally clear how far they would move to the left and right, respectively. That’s changed over the past two decades and the party are standing closer to their respective political poles.

Barbados and Jamaica are similar in that the two main parties dominate the thinking and actions of many people in ways that are clear, and their partisanship often defies reason, with many displays of blind faith for both the party line and against the line of the opposing party. What’s funny about that is someone like me, who has no affiliation can and did get labelled as a party ‘hack’ for taking views that were in line with those of one party or the other, even though the basis for the view was essentially what I took to be the sensibleness of the position, often driven by what I saw as the economic logic or lack of that in the positions. So, at any given time, I could have been labelled Dem or Labour in Barbados, or Labourite or Comrade in Jamaica.

I started delving into social media in Barbados, where I began my first blog, Living in Barbados. I tried to be objective but labels came flying at me. Funnily, enough people saw that I was trying to be impartial to warrant their asking for my views and commentary on radio and TV. But, that’s when I first experienced the vitriol of partisans.

The great thing about a blog is that one can deal with comments through the process of moderating them very simply by either ignoring them or never letting them see the light of day. It was often easy to spot partisans because reason was not at the base of their positions and ranting was. I was also delving into social media through Facebook (which seemed a great platform for casual contact with friends and family, through sharing of pictures) and Twitter (initially as a foreign exchange trader, where I was attracted to the community for the easy ability to find people with like interests with whom to have ‘conversations’ and share information). My initial experiences with both did not lead me to feel that these were fundamentally difficult places to interact. However, that has changed.

While I see that a lot of users of either platform are there to truly engage and discuss, there is a body of users who are there with a political agenda that is really about pushing positively in a sense the party positions, but distinctly pushing negative energy by trying offend and attack what they see as views not in line with those of their party (which may not necessarily be those of the opposing party, either). It’s one of many zero-sum games that are common in Jamaica and Barbados, and I have to think it relates to the size of the audience–relatively small–so those critical voices echo more loudly.

Sadly, technology has not made it easy to deal with this newer phenomenon. Much as automated trading made it hard for an small individual trader to do well in the FX market because computer-driven orders could be made faster and greater than humanly possible, so too with those who use the abilities of computers to stimulate and continue to generate negative commentary.

I still find it possible to deal with those who are ‘trolling’ on my terms, either by ignoring them–one’s never obliged to read them–or dealing with them quickly (if only so the historical record shows that a view was rejected). But, the pervasive anonymity of social media makes it hard to truly deal with a ‘body’ of criticism that may seem large but could in fact be small.

But, it’s important to try to understand what is really at play: it’s disrupting clear conversations, which seen a better than letting opposing ideas get currency. It’s fighting against free speech in forums that are built on the ability for people to engage in free speech. To the extent that this happens in the area of discussing ideas of policies and thus politics, it’s a form of political bullying. Because one cannot unmask each and every user, the distructiveness and anti-democratic nature of the practices are even more damaging and dangerous, because the real villians are often not known and can be ‘recreated’ easily.

Few like fighting against adversaries that they cannot really identify, and therein lies the basis of a winning strategy. Many get turned off to the extent that they withdraw totally or revert to ‘private’ status, for self-protection. Others try to strive to ‘not let the buggers win’. There’s no easy choice, but I’m a stubborn bugger 🙂

Barbican Square Roadworks: An Example of Government Disregard for People’s Safety

Susan Goofe has engaged in the tussle for public agencies to show that they care about how their action affect citizens. In this case, focusing on the safety concerns related to the extensive roadworks at Barbican. The theme of government disregard keeps coming up this year, but it doesn’t yet seem to have led to much of a public response from many of the arms of government.


Barbican Square Roadworks: An Example of Government Disregard for People’s Safety
— Read on

NewsTalk 93FM Fresh Start interview, March 6, 2018: Citizen power

My dear friend, Jean Lowrie-Chin wrote her usual Monday column in the Observer this week, which included some points on how taxpayers need to raise their voice against corruption. She kindly volunteered me to discuss the issues on the radio, with Marlon Morgan :). The audio recording is in the following link: 8 Fresh Start March 6, 2018.mp3

NewsTalk 93FM Fresh Start interview March 9, 2018 on Budget debate

For the 2nd time this week, I got a call to discuss topical issues on the radio, this time, Thursday’s Budget presentation by finance minister, Audley Shaw. The audio recording of the Friday discussion is in the following link: 6 Fresh Start March 9, 2018.mp3

International Women’s Day 2018

While the world has the luxury of celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, I have it every day 🙂 My house is dominated by females–yes, that word is different in meaning from women :)–but, I’m not complaining…well, not all the time. So, before I cannot resist the temptation to say something wholly inappropriate, I’ll hail all the women in my life, present and past. They made me into who I am in every literal way, and are not wholly to blame for the faults that I have as a mere man. They helped and still help to shape my thinking, as I am always having to step out of my masculine box, and even though they may sometimes think and say that I and my peers cannot do more than one thing at a time, I am happy to prove them wrong.

Funnily, my mother taught me to be never dependent on a woman for any basic things like food, clean clothes or ironing, and while some women don’t want their men to be dependent on them, they often bridle when the man goes totally independent. This would be a good cue to talk about equality, but I’m going to resist that tempting morsel, this morning. However, if there’s a word to say on the topic it would be ‘sharing’. Done!

I had planned to mark today with an alphabet of things that Jamaican men do that women find offensive, but I’ve still not done reflecting on that, and I’d also like to check if my take on offence is indeed shared by any women of significance.

In the meantime, I’ll just put a place holder down that marks my thinking about one of the things that I perceive in Jamaica:

I admit to being sensitive to the topic of male harassment of women not least because all of my children are daughters, and I have seen upclose that even strong women of no mean status can get treated by men in Jamaica like chattels.

But, again, no temptation to expand on that just now. I may take the opportunity of being up-close with people in Latin America in coming weeks to check if my perception is based on a cultural bias that I cannot fully detect.

So, to all the women in my life, I raise my mug of tea. You all refresh me in ways too many to describe. 🙂

Bunting responds to critics about ‘Hayle vs Clarke’

Peter Bunting issued the following statement yesterday concerning reactions to the ‘Hayle vs Clarke’ video:

I find the surprise that the video would have resulted in an ‘orchestrated political response by the JLP’ surprising. What else was likely when raising issues about a candidate before an election? It’s politics!

I’m not persuaded by the explanation, not least because I think the whole intention in making the contrast was to pose a set of false dichotomies, as I noted on Twitter:

It would have made more sense to draw some distinctions that were real. So, much as the MP criticized the Gleaner for selecting only a few sentences–as newspapers usually do–one could criticize the video for its selections of false differences.

But, that’s my opinion. I’m convinced, however, that the ‘Black Royalty’ tag is going to stay for a while (not least behind the hoopla that is flying around because of Black Panther) as a badge of honour to be displayed by or pinned on Jamaicans who have done much to improve themselves. Again, my personal view is that the Opposition has royally messed up the few advantages it has had to do some meaningful opposing of the government and has come across again–unintentionally or not–as a group of grudgeful people, not really in keeping with its name.

Propaganda, Jamaica-style—how a few words, carefully tossed into the air can cast such dark shadows. A look at a ‘royal’ mess in the making

As far as I could see, a good number of people took umbrage at Peter Bunting’s comments about Nigel Clarke, just ahead of yesterday’s by-election in St, Andrew NW, which Mr. Clarke won. Like most, I first got wind of the comments in a report in The Gleaner, entitled ‘Nigel Clarke Leaves Colonial Taste In Bunting’s Mouth – Former Minister Says JLP Aspirant Mimics Aspirations Of Colonial Masters‘, but I was later pointed to the source, which is one of a series of ‘discursive’ videos entitled ‘Probe’ produced for/by Mr. Bunting and posted on his web site and other social media platforms on February 28. In those videos that I have seen, the MP is fed a series of thought-provoking questions by Reverend Garnett Roper, President of the Jamaica Theological Society, and PNP activist. The videos promise:

‘We probe beyond the headlines of current affairs affecting Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. We cover the uncovered stories and offer perspectives not given in the mainstream media.’

I suggest you watch the video yourself and listen carefully to what some would see as an ironic piece, with no shortage of double-think as it offers its perspectives. But, I’m just going to look first at something The Gleaner cited. It quotes Mr. Bunting (my stresses):

“In a sense, he reminds me of the black Englishman of colonial times who aspired to be sort of black royalty,...[Clarke has a] “great British education and sort of mimicking the values and the affectations of the former colonial masters“.

The Gleaner then notes that Mr. Bunting argued that Clarke’s personality contrasted with that of his People’s National Party (PNP) opponent Keisha Hayle, who he claimed has a “rural and down-to-earth ethos”.

Mr. Bunting, then argued (according to The Gleaner) ‘that the people of Jamaica have adopted an elitist mentality in deciding the profile of those who should seek representation’:

“The truth is, if we consider Parliament and politics as a vehicle through which the various interests and sectors in society are balanced, and you prevent, for example, a capitalist class and the free-market excesses from taking advantage of the average consumer in the market, if you are able to provide some affirmative action for those who are the very bottom, if you see politics and Parliament playing that role, then at the very least, we need a mix of persons from the technocrats with those who most organically understand the challenges of the working-class person in Jamaica,” he contended.

If you had never visited Jamaica and done any background on its politicians you would wonder who was talking about whom. Is not Mr. Bunting an epitome or product of that ‘elitist mentality’ of the people of Jamaica?

What is so peculiar about this ‘critique’ is that here we have a focus on three people seeking to make headway as politicians; one is already an MP and two are trying to become one. Each has benefited from the Jamaican education system through high school. One (Ms. Hayle) has done university eduction in Jamaica. One (Mr. Clarke) did university education in Jamaica and the UK (Rhodes Scholar, Oxford–I guess this is the ‘great British education’). One (Mr. Bunting) did university education in Canada (McGill) and USA (Florida)–no mention of the great Jamaican education at that premier high school, Campion College, or the ‘great’ foreign education at what is sometimes called ‘the Harvard of Canada’. Both men benefited significantly from scholarships that reflected their academic prowess. Ms. Hayle went on to work in a primary school. The two men forged successful careers for themselves in finance (investment banking) and business.

Whatever their social origins, by virtue of their successfully completing university education they have surpassed the challenges of working-class people in Jamaica; they are now part of the country’s elite.

Why this side-swipe at technocrats, as if he were not one–in fact, one many times over? What part of investment banking was geared at preventing ‘a capitalist class and the free-market excesses from taking advantage of the average consumer in the market’? What was the affirmative action that was implicit or explicit in the substantial successes of the Bunting-owned financial ventures? (Maybe, there are some charitable foundations I’m not aware of.)

What is so odd about the video is how two men whom Jamaicans would call ‘brown’ (for a sense of what that means in Jamaica, read Kei Miller’s essay posted yesterday on ‘Mr. Brown‘) take on the mantle of defining what they describe as the challenges of ‘the black Jamaican‘ and the ‘dark child‘ in Jamaica (so challenging in Ms. Hayle’s case that Mr. Bunting felt he could call her ‘a rough diamond’, defined by Merriam-Webster as ‘a person who has talent or other good qualities but who is not polite, educated, socially skilled, etc.’ (my stress). Maybe, he was being loose with his terms, but how on Earth did he get to that conclusion?

By positing that Mr. Clarke (also a ‘dark child’) was ‘Britisheque’, implying in some sense a level of refinement or status that is not defined (other than his being the son of a judge and a teacher) and also putting him ‘on-side’ with the former colonial rulers, even though there is no evidence that this where he might have thought or currently thinks himself to be? All made a little more distasteful for Jamaicans by alluding to ‘black Englishman’ and ‘aspirations and affectations of the former colonial masters’ (whatever those are)? Does he want to reinstate slavery? Does he want the British to come back and rule again? Does he want British fish and chips shops replacing Jamaican jerk stands? Nothing stated, but much to dislike implied, including ‘he may look like most of us, but he’s not really one of us’ (and we saw how that played out, recently, for another candidate).

The great thing about smear campaigns is that nothing is as effective and something nasty or suggestive that is tossed and sticks like glue, and then has to be wiped off. Damned if you leave it there. Damned if you try to remove it.

Shaken and stirred: the Earth moved for me

Earthquakes, like many major natural phenomena, often occur unpredicted, and cause much damage because they catch people unawares. So, it was yesterday, without the disasters, that at about 1.55pm in St, Andrew, Jamaica, I heard the sound of rumbling (like a truck barreling into my yard) and felt two distinct shakes, lasting a total of about five seconds. By the time that had registered in my mind as an earthquake it was over. I got up from my sofa, where I’d been resting after an early start to my sporting day, and went to the voices I heard by my garage. My housekeeper and that of a neighbour were standing in the front talking to a security guard. She was talking fast:

“Did you feel that?…I didn’t know what it was.”

Well, she should know as it was the third that we had experienced together, but I think each time was a bit different, so the mind doesn’t store the right information.

None of us really had time to drop, cover and hold on. People usually stand or sit in awe.

This time I saw no furniture rolling around on the tiled floors, or a wobbling car in the garage (as I had done in Barbados) but the shake was distinct.

Soon afterwards, ODPEM confirmed it was a 4.0 magnitude shake–minor in official terms on the Richter scale:

It later sought as much geographical details as possible. I got a message from an aunt in St. Mary that she had felt it while talking to a friend. A friend in Montego Bay area reported he felt nothing.

My wife and daughter arrived at the house about five minutes later and reported they had felt nothing, while driving in the car from the National Stadium. This was the second time my wife had been driving during an earthquake and had felt nothing; the last time was in Washington DC. She felt cheated, so much so that she wanted to stay home the rest of the afternoon in case another tremor came and she could experience it. 🙂

Later, when my daughter and I went back to the stadium to resume the swim meet, the first topic of conversation was “Did you feel it?”

On our way home, we saw what might have been a sign of damage–a toppled light pole leaning against the outer wall of a complex and the JPS trucks working to get it back erect. However, so far, I’ve seen no official reports of damage. Watching this space.