#COVID19Chronicles-81: July 4, 2020: Jamaica, the land of Rip van Winkle

It’s the day Americans want to let off fireworks and celebrate their Independence, fought for and won in 1776. Happy holiday, they wish each other, and I hope with the current pandemic can eventually knock some sense into most of that population—40 of 50 states now recording increasing COVID cases.

That said, a quick eye to my beloved Jamaica.

I am about to focus on a weekend of EPL games so wont take long.

Jamaica is so often like a fictional character, and in recent weeks, it can only be Rip van Winkle. He went to sleep and woke up 20 years later, and found he’d missed the War of Independence.

How, else can one explain the repeated instances of Jamaica being alerted to problems, doing nothing to address them, and years later the worsened effects start to make people itch like they’ve rolled in cow itch? The latest ‘woke’ moment is about the billing practices of the power company, JPS, and the root causes of some of the ‘excesses’ in pricing–stolen current.

The nation was warned about the untenable situation by a formed CEO of JPS–when losses amounted to US$73mn–now off to greener pastures, Kelly Tomlin, and citizens and worse, politicians, pressed to ‘give people a chance’.

Well, they got it, and kept raiding the current systems and now someone still has to pay, and it’s mainly the paying customer. People didn’t want to address the practice of ‘throwing up’ wires, so now we are collectively having to throw up. “How’d that happen, Mummy?”

The number of people who clearly don’t understand that businesses cannot survive is they keep piling losses on top of losses is mind boggling….unless you remember that most Jamaicans are numeracy challenged. If you don’t like the label or the implication, the power is in your hands to change and improve on an education system that keep churning out students that are not ‘proficient’.

People wave around metaphors about planting children in good soil. Metaphor away! Keep casting the seeds of the future on ground filled with rocks.

See you on the other side. 😦

#COVID19Chronicles-80: July 3, 2020: JPS disclose shocking facts-It’s you who pays for the stolen current!

Let’s says that Jamaicans have gotten hot under the collar during the COVID19 pandemic over something not new but just hitting them between their eyes: the cost of electricity. Now, the pandemic has forced many to address the simple, but clearly not obvious, fact that electricity bills usually go up if you use more current. Now, many people have enjoyed using current at their workplace or school, mainly, and having to stay home for weeks on end has resulted in many appliances being on all day and maybe night, or just for longer periods. Thus, higher bills. Well, from the time people started getting April bills, the sirens went off, and have been ringing since, with online petitions, rants, screaming at representatives, letters to the papers, including one that pointed to the problems of illegal connections:

Now, the billing is not straight forward, so usage alone doesn’t help explain swing in bills. One key component is the exchange rate movements. But,…wait for it…another obvious, but not clear to many, factor is that when people steal current someone else has to pay. That gets factored into the billing: it’s a standard business practice to cover losses from theft, and is common in retail businesses.

Jamaicans, often the last to twig the obvious, are now crying ‘Foul, ref!’. (Remember, fewer that 50% of high school students are proficient in maths and only 40% of students graduate with any qualifications. You beginning to understand the consequences?)

Now, our local electrify supplier, Jamaica Public Service (JPS), has many basic problems besides dealing with the ‘throw up’ lines and whole communities living high on the hog and getting electricity for free, often abetted by local politicians. JPS failed Communication 101 many times and has had to reset the paper, even stay back a year. When every Jamaican from Morant Bay to Negril was howling about their light bills after the first month of COVID19 lockdown, JPS went to the playbook and pulled out the explanations…but like what happens to fried dumplings if you forget the baking powder, all the blah about fuel surcharges and exchange rate was good but the simple point that tief a nyam unnu suppa was left out. Maybe, someone stole the crayons from the offices. So, Jamaicans spun around, naturally, with arguments that showed they had not consumed more, yet their bills had risen like Telstar into the stratosphere. All the while, now, the Office of Utilities Regulation was mounting investigations into complaints about rising bills. But, yet another remedial student in Communications 101, OUR didn’t think it a good idea to alert the public to this until some MPs jumped on the  wagon (it’s not just about football) and started to get their rumpus in a crumpus. That one of them was the Attorney General and another the Minister for Energy, should mean no one was surprised that the guns of Navarone came blazing from JPS and OUR letting the world know that “we’re on it”. Jeepers!

So, everyone aboard the JPS audit now. I almost expect to see the opening credits of Casey Jones:

Given the clear sensitivity of the issues, and the fact that even an astrophysicist couldn’t work out what the bill really meant, it didn’t seem to occur to JPS that the ‘elephant up the lightpole’ ought to have been made clearer and explicit a long time ago. This is not a new problem and JPS CEOs have battered their heads against walls lamenting the practices of electricity theft. In fact, late yesterday, JPS went a little roughish and started ‘calling out’ the thieves on Twitter:

Earlier this week, though, the new CEO thought it was a good idea to try to bridge the communications gap—‘We have heard you, we are taking immediate steps to improve and are committed to regaining your trust and confidence.’

So, belatedly, JPS has decided to take a leaf out of the government media play book and go live to the public on social media, tonight. Should be fun, so get nuff popcorn. It’ll be just before the government usually updates on COVID19, so the audience should be prepped for another fun #COVID19Life Friday night 🙂

I suspect many Jamaicans are miffed about their paying for current thefts for the simple reason that stealing would have made sense for them, too, instead of doing the right thing and having a proper account and behind over backwards to pay up each month. Nothing like missing a trick that could save money. Morals be damned!

Atop all that is the daily reality for many that JPS is not always current with current—#MaintenanceOutageAdvisory must be trending:

The theft business has frayed a lot of nerves and in trying to make the point, OUR has now gotten a lot of public blowback:

“The campaign serves to highlight the impact of infrastructure and other theft which has plagued the utility providers in the water, electricity and telecommunication sectors. The intent of the campaign is to highlight consumer responsibility and explain the impact of this larceny which not only impacts bills, but also causes service disruption and injuries…Comments on the post suggest that the OUR is unfair in allowing the JPS to pass on to its paying customers additional charges related to the loss/theft of electricity.”—-OUR

I’ll say this for Jamaicans, the nation is one of slow adaptors, but once they get a head of steam up for a tussle with power, stand clear. Now, those who say that Jamaicans are also a bag a mout’ are also right, but hey, let’s be positive. Let the acronyms fight it out and give the people what they really want—lower bills. Failing a speedy resolution, look out for a flurry of interest in getting homes in some less-fashionable areas. Garrison addresses could be a new wave of interest in post-COVID19 Jamaica.

#COVID19Chronicles-79: July 2, 2020: What does it take to be disqualified if you’re a Cabinet minister?

I think what frustrates the average person is how unfair life can seem to him/her when compared with that of a politician. Few of us know people who have survived in their jobs when allegations and evidence of misdeeds swirl around; it doesn’t really matter what they are. Whether it’s the adage that there’s no smoke without fire, or whatever, that’s usually enough for the door to shown and the street to be walked. Yet, for politicians, jokes about Teflon and how dirt doesn’t stick seem to be the norm and close to reality.

Now, in keeping with the democratic tradition of people being deemed innocent until proven guilty, I will not say too much about the adverse findings regarding certain principals (including some actual principals at a high school) cited in the two reports on PetroJam issued by the Director of Investigations at the Integrity Commission on Monday. Remember, this comes on the heels of a damning report by the Auditor General. However, when a Cabinet minister with portfolio responsibilities has terms like “less than truthful”, “dishonest in his representations concerning Ms Sophia Deer and whether he sought to mislead and did mislead the director of investigation” attached to himself, one really ought to sit up and take notice. In whatever sphere one is, these are not terms to bandy about idly. [Deer is the principal of Homestead Primary School, which is located in the St Catherine South Central constituency in which Dr. Wheatley is the MP. She also sat on several boards within the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology when Wheatley was minister. She is also the mother of his nephew.] When one also reads about the number of closely connected people who are involved in the business of PetroJam and that these close connections include with the minister. One’s sitting up needs to go on for a bit longer.

Whatever standards politicians set for themselves, it’s often the case they give the impression they will ride out any and every storm and not leave positions unless kicking and screaming.

Now, I don’t expect political leaders to have a knee-jerk reaction to allegations regarding their Cabinet appointments which shows itself as “He’s fired!” I do, however, have some serious problems with the notion that all of the transgressions are redeemable and must await some judicial review before one can say “I don’t want people with this kind of reputation working for me and representing my administration”. So, with that optic, the PM’s standard position is interesting, as again reflected in a press briefing yesterday morning.

Politics is not sport, but what is often clear is that sports teams often set some clear objectives for themselves and their players and staff and if those are meant, you’re out on your ear, whatever has been your record. So, we are not surprised that ‘big’ clubs like Manchester United can fire a manager who’s not done worse in his early time that most of his illustrious predecessors; he did not get a team to play the ManU way. Same so, we’ve seen with Barcelona. You have to feel for Antonio Conte, as reported on the Premier League site:

‘Following Italy’s UEFA Euro 2016 quarter-final defeat by Germany, Conte joined up with Chelsea for their pre-season to lead the Blues into the 2016/17 Premier League campaign. He won the title at the first attempt, while also taking the Blues to the FA Cup final, where they lost to Arsenal. Conte made amends for that defeat by winning the trophy a year later in a 1-0 victory over Manchester United. Chelsea announced that they had parted company with Conte on 13 July 2018.‘

Unblemished record by any standard, yet, arrividerci! Barclays manger of the season!F6E8309C-C50E-4CD3-8952-6B1B953E40B6

Put simply, in many jobs you cannot survive even when you have been amazingly successful, yet in politics…

Anyone who wishes to discuss why this is so please feel free to contact me. Anyone who thinks its about what happens when one has to scrape the barrel will get extra time and consideration. 

We know most politicians survive scandal and an apology is often enough to keep them from facing the music the rest of us hear blaring out at 100 decibels. So, what probably hurts us more is that we didn’t see that getting into that game, rather than building a reputation for oneself and family and being upstanding and above reproach was the way to go. Who wants to have their live over? 

As we now know, even the seemingly unthinkable is no limit to the tolerance of politicians. Unless you were too young or not yet alive, you will recall in early 2016 a male presidential candidate saying “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,”.

Well, he’s now the president of the USA. His popularity insulated him them (60% rating he cited; he’s now closer to 40% after his handling of the COVID19 pandemic). But, it just goes to show.

The number of times I’ve seen children descend to tears after winning a swimming race by meters and being disqualified for touching the wall wrongly. You think the world is fair? 

Integrity Commission Petrojam Reports Tabled in Parliament

Fellow blogger, Susan Goffe, who ought to have a nickname like ‘Rotweiler’ 🙂 is again pushing for greater transparency by sharing this important report. It makes interesting reading, given that the main issue is about integrity (and by extension, the absence of any impression of impropriety). When you look at the interrelationships of players in the various saga, you have to ask yourself if people didn’t say to themselves at least once, “You know, people may think we are too close, personally, to one another, or our connections would make many wonder if we are in cahoots” or some cautionary expression of doubt about whether what was going on would seem ‘above board’ to the average person. If they did, they clearly came to the conclusion that “Nothing here could cast suspicion over any of our actions” or “Even if people are supicious, they can’t do anything, so let’s just carry on.” None of that is meant to cast asperions on any individual but is my way of teasing out the kind of mindset that public officials have in carrying out duties as public servants. Read on!

 

Three reports from the Integrity Commission were tabled in Parliament today, June 30 2020. Two are special reports of the Commissions investigations …

Integrity Commission Petrojam Reports Tabled in Parliament

#COVID19Chronicles-78: July 1, 2020: New words and meanings

Amongst the many things that have changed during 100+ days of being locked down, in some way or other, is the language of the COVID19 pandemic. People like me are clapping like seals as new vocabulary spins around us to be used, often with the air of the seasoned health expert 🙂

Those wordsmiths at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) came out with a new list for April 2020. It’s quite self explanatory, but let them have their say:

New words: entirely new headword entries appearing in OED for the first time
New sub-entries: compounds or phrases integrated in to the body of newly or recently updated entries
Updated sub-entries: sub-entries which have been amended and have been previously updated recently
Additions to unrevised entries: new senses, compounds, or phrases appended to the end of existing OED entries which have not yet been updated for the Third Edition

I’ve come across all of them, except ‘infodemic’, which I like, and ought to start using :). As this is a standard English dictionary, I don’t expect to see any Jamaican contributions such as ‘If a dirt, a dirt’ (Life is what it is). I also don’t see on the list ‘bubble’/‘bubble country(ies)’, or ‘air bridge’, or ‘resilient corridor’ (which is in use in Jamaica since June 1; I’ve submitted the term to the OED, so let’s see where that goes), which may start to get more noticeable as countries emerge from lock-downs and movement picks up again. 

In our regular political briefings on the pandemic, our officials have not given much space to ‘R numbers’ (in part, I suspect, because it’s not a good metric for small countries). 

Though not a new word, ‘curfew’ has come into national and international usage much more in recent months. Also, not new, but much newer is ‘geofencing’—virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area—which can now be thrown liberally into any conversation.

++++++++

New word entries

Covid-19, n.: “An acute respiratory illness in humans caused by a coronavirus, which is capable of producing severe symptoms and death, esp. in the elderly and…”

infodemic, n.: “A proliferation of diverse, often unsubstantiated information relating to a crisis, controversy, or event, which disseminates rapidly and…”

R0, n.: “The average number of cases of an infectious disease arising by transmission from a single infected individual, in a population that has not…”

self-isolate, v.: “intransitive and transitive (reflexive). To isolate oneself from others deliberately; (now) esp. to undertake self-imposed isolation for a period of…”

self-isolated, adj.: “Of a person or group: that has undertaken self-imposed isolation for a period of time, typically at home, in order to avoid catching or transmitting…”

self-isolating, adj.: “That adheres to or promotes self-isolation; (of a person, group, or population) undertaking self-imposed isolation for a period of time, now esp. in…”

self-isolation, n.: “The action, fact, or process of deliberately isolating oneself; an instance of this. Now esp.: self-imposed isolation undertaken in order to avoid…”

self-quarantine, n.: “Self-imposed isolation undertaken in order to avoid catching or transmitting an infectious disease, or as part of a community initiative to inhibit…”

self-quarantine, v.: “intransitive and transitive (reflexive). To undertake self-imposed isolation in order to avoid catching or transmitting an infectious disease, or as…”

self-quarantined, adj.: “Of a person or group: that has undertaken self-imposed isolation in order to avoid catching or transmitting an infectious disease, or as part of a…”

shelter in place, n.: “A public safety protocol invoked during an emergency in which there is an imminent threat to life or health, instructing people to find a place of…” plus one more sense…

shelter in place, v.: “intransitive. Originally during an emergency in which there is imminent threat to life: to find a place of safety in one’s present location or…”

social distancing, n.: “The action of practice of maintaining a specified physical distance from other people, or of limiting access to and contact between people (esp…” plus one more sense…

social isolation, n.: “The state of having little or no contact with other people; (now) esp. a condition in which an individual lacks social connections or has no access…”

New sub-entries

to flatten the curve (at CURVE n.):  “(Medicinespec.Epidemiology) : to take measures designed to reduce the rate at which infection spreads during an epidemic, with the aim of lowering the peak daily number of new cases and extending the period over which new cases occur.”

Updated sub-entries

PPE n. (at P n.): “personal protective (or protection) equipment: clothing and equipment designed to provide the wearer or user protection against hazardous substances or environments, or to prevent transmission of infectious diseases (see personal protective equipment n.).”

personal protective equipment n. (at PERSONAL adj., n., and adv.): “(also personal protection equipment) clothing and equipment designed to provide the wearer or user protection against hazardous substances or environments, or to prevent transmission of infectious diseases; abbreviated PPE (see PPE n.).”

social recession n. (at SOCIAL adj. and n.): “a period of widespread deterioration in quality of life among members of a community, especially due to reduced interactions and weakened social bonds.”

Additions to unrevised entries

elbow bump n. (at ELBOW n.): “(a) a blow with or to the elbow; an injury resulting from this; (b) a gesture (usually of greeting or farewell) in which two people lightly tap their elbows together as an alternative to a handshake or embrace, esp. in order to reduce the risk of spreading or catching an infectious disease.”

WFH n. (at W n.): “working (or work) from home, either as a regular or permanent alternative to office work or on an occasional or temporary basis.”

WFH v (at W n.): “to work from home, either as a regular or permanent alternative to office work or on an occasional or temporary basis.”

#COVID19Chronicles-77: June 30, 2020: Taking a short #COVID19Life staycation

We love Portland, so a wife tired of weeks of Zoom or Teams videoconferencing and a daughter glad to have ended weeks of online schooling wanted to go there for a few days. Road trip! Add in some teen friends and a ‘household’ was ready to go. We headed east, through St. Thomas.

St. Thomas is getting new roads

All we had to do was follow the coast but my wife couldn’t resist a few turns to head inland. But, no mind; we headed on in convoy with Boston jerk as our first target. A few adventures like that keep the journey interesting and hunger at bay, so we were glad to reach Boston Beach, home of jerk cooking. We saw quickly that ‘new normal’ was in effect, and the vendor had no problems when my wife said “We’re not getting out of the car,” by replying “See how I’m keeping my social distance.” Within minutes of our ordering, two bags of chicken, pork and sausages were in our grasp, with some festival and roast breadfruit. One more missed turn, er ‘detour’ a few hundred metres from our destination and we arrived. Tired and stiff, but safe. A quick greeting to the house staff and unpacking and table was ready to eat and lounging to begin.

New normal tourism: food at a distance and health protocols

But, wait! We had to go through the ‘new normal’ health protocols on arrival, as all staff were armed with temperature testers. The house had a wall-mounted hand sanitizer at the entrance; bottles of sanitizer were all over the place. All of the staff wore masks; they never took them off until they were ready to leave. Comfort levels on taking the virus spread was, therefore, high. It’s a tricky business, and it’s clear that the tourist sector has much to lose from lax approaches, not least in creating fear amongts visitors, especailly foreigners, already edgy going to another country whose health facilities may give them cause for concern.

The contrast is that, locally, we’re slipping in our health practices, and that needs to be addressed fast.

So, chillaxing can begin. After our late lunch/early dinner at about 4.30p, we were all ready for that. My daughter was quick to test the sea, if only to get on a paddle board to head off a few metres to a dock. We stayed out, with her and her mother playing backgammon, to teach the others how, but the game went on a few hours, after which our kid had a Zoom session with a US college. We enjoyed the setting sun and marine life at night.

We had a surprise visit from the local MP, whom we know, and appreciated her taking time for us in her usual action-filled schedule. That’s a nice welcome on your own island. 🙂

It was great to spend the night with doors wide open. We love Portland!

#COVID19Chronicles-76: June 29, 2020: The price of poor judgement—some clarity on political cost of Holywell lease deal

This is really for my own personal peace of mind, but worth sharing. When I was writing yesterday about political missteps the government/Cabinet may be making, I was unaware of a piece of confirming evidence about part of the recent Cabinet reshuffling, namely the reason for removing the land and environment portfolio from Daryl Vaz. However, the PM made clear in a radio interview (perhaps lost in the PR puff of him doing pushups).

In a discussion last Friday on Hotline with Emily Shields, Mr. Holness said (my emphases): “That [his attempt to lease lands in the Holywell area of the Blue Mountains] would have been one consideration. There were other considerations. Remember there was no minister, minister without portfolio or even a junior minister who would have had direct oversight over the water and housing portfolio for a little while after Pearnel Charles Jr took up representational politics. So that was a consideration, Holywell situation was a consideration, but the most important thing in my mind is the economic recovery.” The Prime Minister said Mr. Vaz recognises the need for the shift and has agreed that the issue concerning the Holywell lands was “poor judgement”. According to Mr. Holness,”he understands and acknowledged that maybe it is best that he’s refocused and he is very happy to go to water.”

In the strange landscape of Jamaican politics, this is not a trivial acknowledgement; it’s more in keeping with fine words about accountability and transparency. It’s better, in my mind, than the PM being mum and leaving things open to speculation. It can give the PM the right to say things like ‘I have dealt with…’. That said, it still leaves open, in a general ‘good governance’ sense, the question ‘What are the limits for ‘poor judgement’ and what line has to be crossed for that to cost a minister his position?’.

As I’ve written often, with regard to (political) integrity, the personal responsibility that’s needed shouldn’t be set with a bar that’s so high that no one sees they’ve crossed it.

#COVID19Chronicles-75: June 28, 2020: Election smoke signals seen over the hills, but feet keep getting put in mouths

This is just a brief skip across the fields, like a lamb on a Spring day.

Jamaica must hold its next general elections by early-2021; our system gives the choice of date to the government of the day. Whatever the perceived pros and cons of fixed election dates, I’m sure that in COVID19-ridden life the choice of when to put your political neck on the block is one that many would prefer to be their choice than for it to be fixed. (I’m sure that many with fixed-date systems will be combing through the rules to see if they can wiggle out of holding elections while people are locked down and infections and deaths may still be spiralling. With that said, it’s fascinating to see what’s going on the USA with primary election voting—see primary and caucuses map.

One would be naive to not sense more election arithmetic coming into play in recent weeks. Most recently, Cabinet shuffling makes little sense in any other optic, even with the wrinkly events this week of an MP being elevated to the Cabinet in a clear move to ‘punish’ a current Cabinet member who was in charge of land and environment who didn’t see anything wrong with trying to lease land adjacent to protected areas in the Blue Mountains. (To recap: Daryl Vaz tried to obtain a 25-year lease that would have allowed him to construct a private cabin on protected lands within the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, a World Heritage Site. The cabin was earmarked for use in the lucrative Airbnb sector. The cost of the lease was $120,000 per annum.) While some have called for stronger action for this seeming lack of judgement, at least, it’s well understood that Mr. Vaz, now just handling the housing and water portfolios, is a major fund raiser and whose further alienation would be another shot in a bleeding foot.

This new Cabinet member a few days later then announced that he wont be seeking re-election. As my wife would say, “Who does that?” The man is in one of the ‘battleground’ seats, NE St Catherine, where the winning margin was a mere 122 votes. To my little pea brain, it’s not really obvious how all of that helps solidify the JLP position in a seat with one of the flimsiest majorities. A nice piece today in The Sunday Gleaner by Colin Campbell illustrates this and other such seats held by both sides, where they won by fewer than 700 votes.

Source: The Sunday Gleaner

The elevation in the preceding week of two of the oldest members of the ruling party from ‘ministers without portfolio’ to full Cabinet ministers in charge of ministries only makes real sense with an eye on elections (Karl Samuda-78; Mike Henry-85). These are seasoned politicians in safe seats, who are still capable of running ministries, and are backed by much younger deputies, but you’d have to call me crazy if these were put forward as moves with eyes to a longer future than at best a few months.

Now, I’m not in the election date forecasting business, and those who see August in the frame are basing that bet on the fact that the states of public emergency (SOE) will expire on July 25, and the PM has said he’d not hold elections while SOEs were still in place.

However, I am keeping an eye on the actions of politicians with a certain keenness. 

So, here is some musing in a Twitter thread this morning:

It’s easier to read the thread here:

As I often stress, not a political analyst, just a keen observer of human behaviour. If I was leader of a government heading into a general election, I’d be stressing certain things to my team, esp my Cabinet. 1. Do not make mistakes that will alienate large groups of people.

Behaviour that casts suspicion on our concerns 4ordinary people must be avoided, so no shady land or property deals, no comments that will upset women & show that we/men don’t care. 2. Give off warm concern for the plight of ordinary Jamaicans. 3. Realise COVID lock down strains.

4. Realise that many Jamaicans are financially under the cosh, more so as remittance flows stalled & not every one can get CARE support. 5. Feel for those with children; home schooling ahead of key exams like PEP put many families near emotional breaking points.

6. Resolve some outstanding potential embarrassments (eg PetroJam, CMU). 7. Keep close eyes on problems ordinary people face with utilities (JPS billing & frequent outages, Flow/Digicel service quality, NWC general supply problems). 8. Tout success of road programme.

9. Understand that most Jamaicans rely on taxis & buses so anything that puts access to those at risk will be problems. 10. Accept that few will think a great job been done curtailing major & violent crimes & it’s an Achilles heel.

It’s with that perspective that I want to touch on what happened in recent days with the minister of justice, Delroy Chuck. After, the ‘Holywell debacle’ why would another experienced Cabinet foot be put into the mouth?

His demeanour and comments about sexual harassment were embarrassing to many; Jamaicans see this as almost solely a matter that affects women, but it’s a problem of different magnitude for men and children.

If you don’t understand that latter point, read this report in today’s papers.

His disrespect for the #MeToo movement is the sort of thing that sends shivers down the spine of many females and those who have females close to them, like parents. I’m not going to parse his final apology, which came after a couple of less than well-worded attempts:

However, joviality does mean lack of empathy; that’s the essence of humour—it’s at someone’s expense.

The damage was already done. In a series of somewhat muddled apologies for initially supporting the minister (apparently because she thought criticisms of him related to something that had happened to her due to an appearance earlier in the week on ‘TVJ All Angles’, the Attorney General made her view known that the minister’s approach was “unfortunate and wrong”:

2EB0C7FF-EFEB-464C-9794-FDCA429CAB2E

That’s not a trivial condemnation, coming from his fellow Cabinet colleague who is the government’s legal advisor. What we have yet to hear is whether the PM wants to dissociate himself and his government from the minister’s position.

I do not think a ‘reasonable’ time is what should be the focus in trying to address how any person deals with personal trauma: it’s a dangerous simplification to think that everyone’s timeline for dealing with personal distress can be neatly carved. As the report on rapes of minors should also makes clear, we have a significant body of victims who cannot reasonably be expected to address such distress in a short period of time (imagine a child of 2 years old who can barely speak in sentences being a victim and being given to his/her 3rd birthday to be able to articulate the wrong). 

PNP showed in 2016 that it’s quite easy to throw away a winning electoral hand by misplaying cards and not focusing on the main elements of the game (the story should have been about the economic turn around, but instead it became a story about Mr. Holness’s house). So, because nothing is certain, it’s quite possible for JLP to squander what looks like a winning position in similar fashion because politicians are just careless and carefree in their disregard for who the electorate really are—ordinary people looking to live a decent life and see a better future for themselves and their families. 

#COVID19Chronicles-74: June 27, 2020: ‘Community surveillance’ in two communities show high risk of re-opening borders

I find it odd that in a week where a significant new development occurs during the COVID19 pandemic the PM and minster of health and wellness don’t see the imperative of providing a briefing update.

‘Community surveillance’ has begun in two communities at opposite ends of the island, West Kingston (most notable for Tivoli Gardens and its community of densely-populated high rise apartments) and Norwood, St. James (northwest coast).

These intensified measures were announced at the end of the work week.

My concern is two-fold. First, since the border restrictions were lifted on June 1, we have seen a dramatic but inevitable rise in positive COVID19 cases that are imported. Second, it has been clear for some weeks that locals have slackened off in their attitude to health protocols. That’s been most notable in a dropping off in mask wearing, but also in the willingness and extent to which people are not practising much social distancing. That added to the natural desire to reconnect to returning/arriving nationals is a powder keg for a quick re-escalation of cases and possibly the quick return to tighter restrictions. We have seen this happen in several countries already, most notably, New Zealand declaring itself COVID-free for 24 consecutive days only to find two cases amongst arrivals from abroad and revert to restrictions after they were mistakenly released from quarantine early. The arrivals were from the UK; one had mild symptoms, the other was symptom-free.

Though, not absolutely clear from the daily reports, it seems that tourists in Jamaica have not been as notable in the new imported cases, judging by the citing of addresses that are spread over parishes not part of the (north coast) ‘resilient corridor’.

So, in west Kingston five cases are contacts of a confirmed case that recently returned to the island from the USA. So, now some 100 health staff—nurses, public health inspectors, public health nurses and community health aides—will conduct house-to-house visits and assess the residents for respiratory symptoms. It noted that residents with symptoms and those who the health team deem are at high risk will be tested for COVID19 and quarantine orders served.

In Paradise Norwood, 12 positive cases of COVID19 infected people are said to be contacts of a confirmed case that also recently returned to the island from the USA.

The stark reminder is that these 17 cases stem from contact with only 2 confirmed cases.

While the minister of health and wellness recently backtracked on his concerns that changes since June 1 could see an exponential increase in cases, we have clear signs of how that view may soon have to be revised. 

The clear risk every country faces in reopening its borders or relaxing restrictions is that person-to-person contacts increase and with that so does the risk of spread of the virus and the need to return to limiting movements. You only find out if you relax too early when it’s too late.

#COVID19Chronicles-73: June 26, 2020: Mask politics—crazies on the loose

Our local problems with mask wearing seem simple compared to the brewing volcano of protests in the USA.

In Jamaica, people seem to be either hitting ‘protocol fatigue’ regarding certain personal health, of which wearing masks in public is the most visible. That’s not so surprising: people aren’t usually asked to follow extraordinary practices for months at a time. Many people seem to have taken the view that, once restrictions started to be removed, that meant the worst of the pandemic was over. It’s also clear to me that the ‘messengers’ have garbled the messages and people can reasonably say these are shown to be option, even when described as mandatory. In principle, that’s easy to fix, but I fear the horse might have long bolted from the stable. So, in Jamaica, ‘new normal’ means reverting to old normal, maybe, with social distancing applied sometimes. So, mask wearing in public is far less. Some locals, however, wear with a flair: 🙂

The argument around this can swirl, still, because I for one see no need or value in wearing a mask when social distancing is well practised, eg on a bike ride, or run, or playing golf, and one is well over 2 metres from another person–distancing is believed to be the best safe health practice.

However, many local establishments now insist on visitors wearing masks. We insist on it for visitors to our home: we have had workmen here for nearly a month and they have been good about wearing their masks, even in sometimes searing heat; they understand the imperative. We make sure we have masks when we venture out in the car or for a stroll, in case there’s a close meeting, planned or accidental.

The international picture seems to be that most countries are imploring citizens to wear masks and imposing that in some cases. A Ghanaian friend raled at me this week because of the law where he lives that makes it an offence to not wear a mask when driving alone’.

In the USA, however, mask wearing has taken on political importance. A group of people in Florida were recorded making a range of truly bizarre claims to an audience at a commission, mainly based around their religious belief that the mask-wearing demands suggests “they want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door”, or the Clintons, or ‘paeodophiles’. I guess these people have a problem with masks for nurses and doctors and those who work with dangerous chemicals and their fumes. Or, maybe, they don’t.

I could simply dismiss these as the rants of crazy people, and I probably will. The trouble is these crazy people tend to also find their way out from under their rocks and into my habitat. Now, I know one can’t brand all people as the same, but there’s an air of insanity that seems to be breathed inside the USA that is dangerous, plain and simple, and borderline insane at worse.

https://twitter.com/aravosis/status/1275449685495300099?s=21

Well, conspiracy theory is now an compulsory course it seems for many in the USA.

I think those Jamaicans who worry about the prevalence of mask-wearing because of the known problems we have with criminals have a more valid set of concerns than those people in Palm Springs. But, what do I know?

To add to the political admixture in the USA, the president is not in favour of masks and now even seems to think their being worn as part of a plot against him. His approach, which has left many in West Wing infected seems to speak for itself.

His opponent in the coming presidential election, Joe Biden, is going in the opposite direction:

https://twitter.com/sambowne/status/1276512939692838914?s=21