Turning Jamaica into Heaven from Hell in terms of waste management: Montego Bay gives some lessons

In the recent past, I've been vocal about the terrible visual and environmental state of our so-called 'second city', Montego Bay: its eyesore of a city centre was the classic image of many of our urban towns, where litter and lack of care for the visual aesthetics seemed to be the standard operating procedure. That it should be as bad as it was in our tourist capital was, for me, a signature statement about how little people cared for, or understood, the importance of the significant part of our national economic livelihood that is foreign tourism. Therefore, I was more than a little thrilled to see someone post on Facebook pictures of a very different Montego Bay: clear, decorous, filled with bins to collect trash.

https://www.facebook.com/josef.forstmayr/posts/1434996086536595

Now, the immediate challenge is to not let the city centre fall back into its all-too-familiar bad old ways. What would be good would be for the municipality to share with us:

  • What they did?
  • How much it cost?
  • Who were the partners?
  • How much community leadership was involved?
  • Who will be responsible for the maintenance?

There are some other questions. But, in the spirit of sharing the good, so that it can outlast the bad, this simple set of questions ought to answered.

My own view is that we have become the home of many 'bad practices', in the absence of good and clear leadership on a range of issues, of which waste mangement is but one, from the absence of standard provisions of household waste containers, through hand-loading of garbage trucks, to the common practices of all things stacked into a pile, with little or no separation. Some of it is chicken and egg, but ultimately much comes down to a lack of education and understanding of what to do to better manage waste. In the same way that Jamaicas are far readier to burn refuse rather than recycle or reuse, we need to rethink our daily lives to rid ourselves of such ways, and leave behind us each day a better-looking, rather than a worse-looking place.

We have two major problems: waste management in public spaces (common problem of ‘defensible space’); education of people about how better to manage waste in personal spaces. Hardly any Jamaican lives in a dirty or garbage-ridden household. But, people struggle to know what to do with the (inevitable) waste they generate in daily life.

I'd like to see at least every public corporation (including educational establishments) to commit to a set of simple waste mangement practices that involve waster separation and recycling of those products for which we currently have 'markets', eg plastic bottles and paper. We can then build on the volumes they create to create incentives for private sector involvement in recycling and reusing. That would start to deal with a large amount of waste and would also start to re-educate people about how to re-order activities.

Let them eat Johnny cake: a trip around the Exumas

What do the people want? Fun, and sun, and sea, and food, and drink? Yes, all that! Some intimacy? Oh, maybe. Culture, too! Yes, that, too!

But, what is culture in the Caribbean context? We have precious little of historical interest, compared to the great civilizations of the world, like China, or India, or the Aztecs and Mayans of the Americas. Some of our territories have history that can be traced to before the arrival (by accident) of a Spanish sailor and the subsequent arrival of many other Europeans. Some territories mark their existence as being from 1492, and naturally annoy anyone who understands that the lands were there long before Senor Columbus. But, people latch on to all sorts of things when they are floating adrift. But, history there is. Now, I am not going to reconfigure the whole of Caribbean tourism, but am just reflecting on a few days on one of the exotic islands that we have in our hands–The Exuma archipelago.

History is iguanas, rare, and related to dinosaurs. History is pigs that swim. Do your pigs do that, or just crackle on a spit?

History is making the future that did not come naturally from the past, as in importing 1000 coconut palms to adorn a piece of coral that a man wants to develop as an exclusive resort. Are the environmentalists happy with this dramatic change in the eco-system? What can coconut palms create that wasn't' there before, including plant-borne diseases? How odd that these plants that love sandy solid and saltiness were never part of the landscape from much earlier. Island folk know a lot about their environments. What did they know about coconuts?

Now, I clearly do not look like a tourist, in the eyes of the regular Exuman: my family and I are 'natives', meaning we are of the darker tones and our hair is kinky. (Our transport provider was taken aback to see 'natives' waiting on him, though. Fortunately, while he was wriggling out of that little faux pas, we discovered that he was not in fact collecting the right people–we were 5 and he was looking for a party of 10. Now, you think he'd have figured out the mistake a bit more quickly, but, island time is island time, man. So, he turned back and took us to where he had collected us, and went in search of his 'party of 10'.)

Mistakenly, I thought a tourist was ANY visitor, but clearly, there are visitors and visitors. In passing, my money is as good as any many coming from North America or Europe. Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not offended at being called 'a native', so long as the service rendered to me is no less than if I were a 'real' tourist. So, far, that has been the case.

Once we were all on a bus together, heading off to a boat to take us on a 125 mile/8 hour trip around the cays, we were all the same. Sharks bite anyone; wild pigs take bread from, and will kiss, anyone; iguanas take lettuce from anyone–animals tend to be equal opportunity creatures. That some spoke Italian and wrapped themselves in G-strings and 'native' shawls, should not make them different from those who spoke Patois and had crumbs from grouper fingers on their lips. 'We would all sink or swim, together', if our 'Captain Smiley' made any mistakes.

'Look, how blue is the water!' Water isn't blue; it's usually clear. But, depending on the clarity and the depth of the water, the white light has its red, yellow and orange absorbed better by water, leaving blue hues more dominant.

The 'real' tourists I met wanted 'authentic' island experiences. For them, that was food other than hamburgers, fried chicken and fries or another form of fast food they could find in their metropolitan homes. Grouper fingers, fried lobster, peas and rice, cooked by the lady owner: that hit the spot. Coconut tarts, baked by the mother in the home next door. Conch fritters, made by the sister. Does it tastes good? Of course! Everyone was carrying a coconut tart and we knew where they'd bought it. They were so good that the 50 mile round trip to get some extra supplies of tarts and banana bread to take back to the metropolis was more than worth it.

Real tourists like their leisure activities, so our 125 mile trip on the sea to tour the keys was 8 hours of total engagement. Well, the engagement was more bracing against the wind, as we sped over the waves, or putting on snorkels and flippers, or avoiding being dunked by 300 pound hog. I went off to play golf at what is reported to be the longest course in the Caribbean. I loved the front 9, which was friendly, with water everywhere, in the form of little lakes. The back 9 was on a narrow strip of land beside a luxury development, that had the full force of the ocean wind to keep you honest. I hit balls that went 50 yards further than I thought, with the wind, and shots that went half as far into the breeze. Win some, lose some. I was feted, with a cooler filled with light beer: that was a first on a golf course, for me. I and the other madmen out there in the afternoon twilight after 3pm had the best of the day.

But, I got the better of the conditions, compared to the pro golfers who had to tackle the course back in January:

https://youtu.be/Nw55awgVND0

After my round, I spoke with one of the golf course workers–a Jamaican. He explained how Butch Stewart wanted to do things the people want, especially with food: French food = French chefs; Sushi = Japanese chefs, etc. But, guests are encouraged to do something off the site every day, so that their spending can benefit a wider community.

That's the essence of the tourism business, if you want to be successful. If they ask for cake, and you only have bread, bring them cake. But, also give them a chance to touch as many people as possible in a short space of time.

Paradise lost: some reflections on the Bolt legacy–performance, integrity and playfulness

If you're Jamaican in any shape or form, you've probably come through the last 10 days with, at best, some sense of relief–that the IAAF World Championships are over. Whatever you feelings might have been when the events started on August 3, I guarantee that nowhere in your wildest dreams did you imagine half of what befell the Jamaican team, overall, or Usain Bolt, personally.

Let me get some personal business out of the way, first. I went on record last year saying that Dr. Usain Bolt should have gone out on the (unexpected, but welcome) high of double Olympic golds in the 100/200 in Rio. From my viewpoint as a former athlete, it was the best of all worlds to retain that amazing pair of titles for the third time. The legend was cemented. It had the appeal in my mind of then leaving the upcoming IAAF event as an opportunity to say farewell to London, which had treated him so well in 2012 and where good memories galore resided. Dr. Bolt could happily have been an IAAF ambassador, and I imagine ticket sales would have been even better had he been committed to be present at several sessions during the 10 days, even though he would not be gracing the track. He would be there to glad hand and wave and smile and be in many pictures. But, Dr. Bolt and the IAAF and agents and promoters, etc. had other fish to fry, and in my mind went where they did not need to go: the the place where the legacy could be tainted, for no real gain. Fast forward.

Dr. Bolt suffered a series of injuries after Rio and his form was again in question. Defending in London would be a tall order. Then, tragedy struck: Dr. Bolt's good friend, Germaine Mason died in a motorcycle accident on the Palisadoes Road, in mid-April, after leaving a party event with Dr. Bolt. Several weeks of funeral-related activities took precedence over training. I imagine the emotional toll of that tragedy would have been enough to persuade many a person to put off a lot of upcoming events. When training was derailed by some 3 weeks, this also put Dr. Bolt's title defence into a very dicey position. But, he's a man of commitments. He kept his word. Fast forward, again.

Usain Bolt did not run a great 100 meters race in final, though he had looked great in the semis. He came in 3rd, but gold went to… Justin Gatlin, who had strived and failed miserably to dethrone Dr. Bolt in Rio. Now, Gatlin's victory is momentous for one of several reasons that impinge on the Bolt legacy. It would have been that, despite having been found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs, Gatlin had not been able to beat Bolt, even when (again) he had come off an injury-plagued season to compete in Rio. The narrative of how Bolt stayed clean and beat a man labeled as a drugs cheat was firmly in place. Now, we have to deal with all the 'what-if' scenarios underlying a 'Gatlin defeats Bolt' outcome.

I have very strong views on drug-taking in sports. I am for life bans (or for practical purposes, let's say to age 50), not least to remove any question whatsoever that the performance-enhancements could ever be brought into play. I do not want some scientist to tell me in 1960 that these drugs only have a 5 year effect, then for a scientist in 1980 to tell me that the effect may last as long as 10 years, then for a scientist in 2018 to tell me that the effects could be there for 20 years. So, once someone has been caught and convicted of the drugs-taking 'crime', the 'time' they must serve should be 'forever' as an active athlete. That is the ultimate price for having gotten morals mixed up and felt that surreptitiously making the world uneven in your favour should leave you with no rewards. All of the records for the time when it is proved that drugs were being taken, should be expunged, and (though complicated), all the events adjusted to remove the offender's name from them; medals get redistributed etc. Now, while that may go some way towards redressing the balance, it may be that some people suffered permanent loss because they were defeated by cheats. For instance, the lucrative endorsements tend to go to winners, not those who tried had but came second or worse. Sports companies will not or cannot reverse contracts, or take away endorsements and give the money to others backward-looking. That, to me, is one of the graver injustices. So, we remove all of that problem by making it that cheats gain nothing, or near nothing.

But, that is a problem that sports administrations must address and correct; individual athletes cannot do that. In that vein, we can see across the range of professional sports, how varied are the attitudes towards so-called performance-enhancing drugs. Some sports, like golf, have poorly defined policies and poor testing, and end up chasing a player for suspected use of deer antler powder. Other sports, like swimming, are rigorous, yet have shortish time bans and get athletes having to face just-returned cheats and put in a bind about what to do. Some, like Katie Ledecky, make their feelings known publicly and in events; others whisper disapprovals; others say nothing or show approval. Countries like Russia show how massive the 'industry' can become and we know of the whole Eastern European/Soviet structures of sports 'medicine'.

But, the Bolt legacy had the cruelest twist (almost literally) to come. When, he was poised for the glorious end, in a relay, on the last leg, and having to chase men down to win. His body said 'No mas!' Pulled muscle. Crumpled to the ground. Fallen, like he'd been wounded. NOT THIS WAY!

I wont even go into the possible reasons, and if the longer than usual delay in the waiting area was part of the problem. It never had to be.

My enduring memory of Dr. Usain Bolt should not have been his body on the track and him being supported by his team mates. His glory deserved much better. Giving him a part of the track has a funny bitterness to it, don't you think?

Finally, what Bolt's legacy is about is the integrity of the athlete-hero.

We often think we have that locked down, then some serious flaw surfaces: Babe Ruth…Pete Rose…O. J. Simpson…Tiger Woods…Lance Armstrong…Paul Gascoine. We see others and hope and pray that the flaw doesn't surface: Wayne Gretzky…Jack Nicklaus…Arnold Palmer…Roger Federer…Mark Spitz…Virginia Wade…Mary Peters.

It's clear, from reports surfacing in recent days, that some of Bolt's Jamaican team mates lack that essential integrity that is needed to be an athlete-hero. If even one of the stories of seemingly petty infighting is true, it tells us much about what Dr. Bolt meant to Jamaican sport, and what so many have to learn, yet may not be able to absorb. Putting on your spikes, and putting on the uniform of a team is more than dressing up. Playing the part is not about acting, it's about the reality of strong and honest individual character. That an athlete who has been given the honour of representing a nation, let alone a club team or just performing solo in front of an audience, finds it in him- or herself to put him- or herself about that honour is a total disgrace. Like with drugs bans, one sanction should apply: Sayonara.

Dr. Bolt has gone, and his playful genius as a track man will be lost for the immediate future, but let's hope it inspires others to be more than a little natural and playful when pressure is weighing heavily.

Jamaica’s struggles for justice: Things that make you say ‘Hmmm’

I wasn’t sleeping well. Lots of things were going through my head; they all had something to do with crime in Jamaica. Not terrifying thoughts; but, disturbing thoughts that had surfaced from things I read or heard yesterday that involve the commission of crimes and how our institutions present us with answers to the problems crimes create for us.

Patrick Powell, better, or more infamously, knownfor his role as the suspect in the so-called ‘X6 murder’the shooting death of Kingston College student Khajeel Mais. After failing (repeatedly) to surrender his licensed firearm and ammunition, was sentenced to 9 months hard labour. Powell had repeatedly refused to hand over the weapon since it was first requested in connection with the police investigation of the shooting in 2011, a fact the judge called “aggravating”.

  • The judge (Vaughn Smith) also said: “The court is not of the view that a fine would be a sufficient deterrent to other licensed firearm holders not to do what Mr Powell has done,”
  • Powell’s lawyer (Deborah Martin) said: “The weapon is not in his possession. He has given an account of the weapon but that would amount to hearsay.”

The Attorney General, Marlene Malahoo-Forte, on her Twitter account, makes oblique references to possible divisions of Cabinet views on how to deal with crime.

Suffice to say, that some, including seasoned political analyst, Mark Wignall, found this statement more than a little puzzling:

What and where are the ‘safe havens’ and who is providing them, would be an obvious set of questions. Is it merely those in the surrounding communities that are such providers?

More questions than answers.

Police High Command released, at long last, its ‘administrative review’ of operations (in Tivoli Gardens) in 2010. Amongst other things, it exonerates five officers whom the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry argued should not be involved in internal security plans and implementation. The review also criticized the integrity of the Commission, suggesting it was ‘confused’ and ‘biased’. The Public Defender is offended by the actions of the JCF and requests that they withdraw the report. She argues that the review committee has no legal authority to act as an appellate body over a commission of enquiry. The Public Defender has also dismissed as contemptuous some the claims of the committee members that commissioners were confused, biased and convenient in arriving at their conclusion. I must admit that the JCF review sounds like when Orkin have come in to check for termites and tell you that the house timbers need to be replaced, then you call your ‘Uncle George’ to have a look at the timbers and he says ‘Termites? What termites?”.

Some thoughts on crime in Jamaica, and the role of money

I'm not sure how many times one has to say it, but crime (especially, violent crime) in Jamaica won't suddenly cease, because people feel outraged. It will only change when those people who seek and do gain from crime find that to no longer be the case. Like a child wishing to suckle, but having no nipple, the child will tend towards some action that gives satisfaction. That may be a finger or thumb, but it could also be something else, such as a lip–and not necessarily, its own lip. I know! When my first-born was about 3 months old, and pining for hunger, and no breast milk was available, I offered her my bottom lip. She sucked it hard till she sent to sleep. I then dislodged her, and put her into her cot, and when her mother came back and could express more milk, I was glad to know that the episode was likely to be a one-off. But, that episode was one of the clearest example of what a certain sense of hunger needs.

Now, the level of crime in Jamaica cannot be explained in any convincing was as the result of our state of absolute poverty. But, it's clear that some of the crime must stem from a sort of relative poverty, where people feel they are behind relative to others, and want to get that gap closed quickly. Robbery is often the fastest way to close that gap: working a steady job and saving are going to be too slow, no matter how wholesome it may be. At the extreme end of this desire to steal to catch up, is the possibility of eliminating whoever may stand in the way of making those gains anything more than temporary. That leads to the sort of behaviour that we may attribute to gangs, where they lay claim to large physical areas to be able to plunder on a consistent basis. What I have found odd about what goes in in Jamaica, in that regard, is on whom the gangs appear to prey. They focus on their 'own' communities and on adjacent areas where they can put pressure on other businesses to give them goods and services (including financial payments)–that's the nature of extortion.

So, much of the crime comes from a clear attempt to exert power over people, and area, and its activities. It's a form of terrorism. Why people have not risen up against it, is hard to understand, at least in terms of simple numbers of people on the criminal side versus those on the 'community' side. Of course, if the criminals are heavily armed and threaten to be ruthless in any retribution that will be enough to keep most people in place. That's where we have to ask questions about our security forces and their ability to perform the basic function entrusted to them. My conclusion is that they (notably, the police alone) cannot do that. So, the next question must be to what extent do they need other help, and should that other help be temporary or a permanent feature. While, I don't like the implications of this argument, it seems that Jamaica's police are no match for the opposition.

One aspect of violent crime that is puzzling is the sexual and violently sexual nature of some of the crimes. It's puzzling only because, while it is a common feature in war zones, it's not usually common in areas so-called at peace. I go back to the idea that Jamaica is in a form of 'civil war', and in that context some of the sexual violence makes more 'sense' as another element in the display of power. It's bestial; it's tribal; it's been common in many places for centuries. However, it takes a lot of unlearning for it to stop, because, in part, it's easier to continue because some of the 'victims' have actually been 'offered' as prizes.

Let's not pretend that we know parents who offer their children for sex (especially, in an environment where getting goods or services on little or no income is a real struggle–we have poor social support nets). Giving people a 'living wage' wont change a mind set, but it is part of what needs to happen, to unlock some people from a toxic relationship.

Let's also not pretend that children offer themselves for sex, for a range of reasons, including to get experience, to get influence over their peers (a sort of bullying, if you think about what it may 'encourage' others to do, to keep up), to be 'in' with those who are clearly amongst the better and most consistent 'providers' in a society.

What an economist can do is to 'follow the money'. That's what's making crime go around, and in whatever forms it's being made and shared, it has to be curbed.

Crime wouldn't stop on a dime if Jamaica became a cashless society tomorrow. But, it would change many things. One of the best friends of crime is anonymity. Once people start to find that their finances are more in public view a lot of behaviour must change (at least, if the society really imposes penalties or severe consequences for transgressions–a big IF, in Jamaica).

A quick read about 'why cash is king' for criminals should give a clear lesson; cash is often called the 'oxygen' of crime: 'Paper currency is both the motive of many crimes and a facilitator of illegal activity.'

One of the features of any significant amount of time spent outside Jamaica (or other cash-based societies) is the degree to which financial transactions get captured, even if it's the basic transfer of one currency for another–that leaves a clear trace, as even the simplest of cambios has to keep records. (Now, I've been in places where one can exchange currency on the streets, but up the line, the records have to get kept by someone, unless truckloads of money are being transported across borders–which can happen, but rarely.)

I don't think that Jamaica is ready for us to see all over the place 'No cash accepted', but our willingness to stay largely cash-based is something that we need to understand plays into the hands of many criminal activities. Many who are complicit have spending power or gains they cannot explain, which lay largely invisible if in the form of cash.

Solving our crime problem is not a one-dimensional exercise, and the levels and nature of re-education we must go through could take a generation, if not longer. But, in my mind, we have steps available that can help in a push back. Nothing comes without some inconvenience, and moving away from cash in a society that has a heavy distrust for banks will not be easy. So, we are faced with yet another set of dilemmas–as is the way in much of life. So, which of the evils do we want to have to live with?

Why is Norway the happiest country in the world?

Since I returned from holiday earlier this week, I've been wracking my brain about whether I would ponder more the news that Norway is now classed number 1 on the Happiness Index for 2016. I wanted to wait until I got back home before thinking more on it, because, after spending about 10 days in Norway, with friends, I wanted to let the air and flavour of Jamaica wash over me a while, first. The rankings look at the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. The focus is on the social foundations of happiness. The report notes:

'Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it. By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies. To do this successfully requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance, all factors that help to keep Norway and other top countries where they are in the happiness rankings.'

More generally, the report notes:

'Unemployment causes a major fall in happiness, and even for those in work the quality of work can cause major variations in happiness.'

Africa is struggling to find happiness, and income, health and governance, must bear heavily on the continent. The USA has fallen dramatically, from 3rd in 2007 to now 19th, largely due to 'declining social support and increased corruption'.

Now, for me, it could all be trite, and come down to the fact that I had a great time catching up with people I have known for the better part of 30 years, and with whom I have shared many happy memories both in Norway and outside, and with them as Norwegians. But, it's not just a love of Aquavit, or brown cheese, or waffles, sour cream and strawberry jam.

Norwegians have always stood out politically for their neutrality in many issues, and the stance that has led them to take on matters to do with the European Union: they are part of the free-trade area, but not part of the monetary union.

Norway has the world's highest income per head of population; that goes a long way to keeping people happy, even though the cost of living is often at levels that make many cry.

I've never spoken to a Norwegian politician or any of its royal family, but my visits to the country and time with local people tell me one thing: few countries have people who seem ready to accept others. Now, that's not at the level of how refugees have joined Norway and become parts of its nation quickly, Norwegian is not an easy language, I think, but when you see and hear people of Vietnamese or Somalian heritage speaking Norwegian between each other you understand what 'integration' can mean.

But, Norway isn't a place free of social friction. In 2011, it suffered an horrific mass-murder attack and it was ironic that my visit coincided with the anniversary of that event, on July 22. The location of the attack was just about 800 metres from where my friends now live in the city centre.

Norway is a country where people seem to take hold of all they have and run with it, literally, much of the time. I've been to Norway mostly in winter months, and of course I had to ski. Life on the snow is part of life: it's often more efficient than trying walk and struggle with snow tyres. But, shoveling snow is also part of that embrace. In the summer, with sunshine for nearly the whole day much of the time, life is about enjoying light. Norwegians love their 'heat', even if in the mountains that can mean lows of 4C and highs of 18C. Jamaican, take some bay rum and inhale slowly.. Having just come off a week that saw our highest temperatures in Kingston for nearly 24 years, at 38C, we should think about exporting some of that heat to Norway.

Norwegians, like many European countries, have long embraced orderliness. If anything draws a clear distinction between life in Jamaica and Norway, it would be attitudes to order and disorder. I loved how my friend would hiss as he saw people riding bicycles without helmets, or riding on the sidewalk. When we drove to the mountains he did what most drivers dD in Europe, he only overtook on one side–the outside. When he parked, he double–checked that his car was within the lines, and never felt easy unless he had properly paid for his parking.

But, my friends' lives was. A microcosm of many things that have helped Norwegian be, and stay, happy. Their children are now adults, one with 2 children. Early child care and access to local schools shaped my friends' and by letting their daughter buy their former home, they've passed on those facilities. Removing the many burdens of parenting early in life, Norwegians are allowed to pursue careers yet know that their children are cared for well. That would put a smile on most faces.

My friends also demonstrate another important feature: that men and women tend to be on more equal footing. They take turns to cook on alternate day, and have done so for decades. I will not judge who is the better in the kitchen 🙂 They each have their styles and signature dishes. My friend does much of the 'heavy lifting', even in his retired days, doing the lawn mowing at their housing apartment. Both friends, though well over 60, still feel exercise is a key part of staying happy with life–he runs, she likes to bike. She has he balcony garden, but they love going up to their mountain cottage, to escape the city and enjoy keeping nature at bay.

Oslo has changed a lot since I first went there, and now it's more about where cars are not allowed, and where next will be pedestrianized. Walking around is less stressful for having such good separation. The climate lends itself more to walking and biking than would be the case in the Tropics, but making good provisions for people movement is a complex process and needs to be well-executed.

Having grown up in Europe, I'm never surprised by extensive public transport systems. Norway takes public transport to new levels, and as we drove across country, I was pleased to see extensive bus provisions through the towns and villages. I know the train and metro are there also to link cities and parts of Oslo.

Now, none of those provisions come cheaply, and it would be silly to ignore that oil revenues gave Norway a huge cushion in finding public funds for its many social provisions. But, managing that well is part of the good governance that makes people happy: knowing that public resources will be well used for wider benefit.

Yet, all is not rosy. I remember asking my friend what he saw as the biggest crime problem in Norway. Corruption was his answer, especially those in white-collar acrtivities, whose size and power made it hard to collar them well. Wealth is never a good enough reason for people not to seek to be corrupt.

My friends have never been to Jamaica and I think that, after sweltering as they stepped out of the airport, and feeling that the smell of pan chicken was delicious, and that a good rum cocktail to wash that down with, while dipping their feet into the pool, they would be having a wave of horror.

Jamaica is not a terrible place, but exists despite lack of order. We are far from being chaotic, now (and I do not dismiss the worst of the 1970s) in that assessment. We are struggling with governance in terms of how public funds are used, and it's not jsut a matter of wading out of a huge deficit and its attendant debt burden. It's about making most people feel that public money is being used to give value for money for the majority, not several minorities.

Jamaicans are often seen as happy people–understanda with our natural resources and beauty–and our tendency to laugh and kikiki enforce the idea of 'no problem'. We know the falsity of that laughter, when it's mixed with the anguished screams of those who are seeing and hearing of their neighbours being killed at the rate of 4 people a day–an insane figure, in any context, and the stuff of psychosis in a country of under 3 million people. Norway has between 20-30 murders a year! Maybe, we have the secret of happiness, right there: Norwegians love and respect each others' lives much more than most other countries; part of that love comes through how the country celebrates its history and culture. Our recent fight over the 'bust' of a national hero tells me much about what we Jamaicans are still having trouble defining: who we are and what do we value.

Jamaica? I would say our self-hate has long been disguised, but evident. It's not all-pervasive, but is strong enough in many people as to put us all in the metaphorical cross hairs. Our willingness to ignore the imporance of self-preservation is something I do not understand, and cannot figure it out in terms of what existence has been about.

Jamaica does not need Kumbaya, but it could do with a good dose of 'Come, let me hug you!'

Are you your image?

This is about how people misunderstand what they think they see and, therefore, begs immense questions about what they really believe.

I was driving this morning to Mandeville when I was listening to the BBC World Service. The program was about new discoveries in neuroscience. One burning topic, currently, is about the importance of facial images. Questions are often raised about what sight of a person's face may convey, positive or negative. How much bias comes into play, once a face is seen?

A political analyst was commenting on the fact that the facial image of political candidates could have a big impact on how people responded when asked to vote, and that this impact is greater amongst those people who knew nothing or nearly nothing about politics; about 25% of the voting population fell into this category. That 25% is not a trivial amount of people; and in any election could be enough to swing the votes in favour of one candidate or another.

One of the commentators was asked to look at two pictures of a man's face. The commentator, an expert in neuroscience, herself, looked at the first image and said she saw a man whose face was angry and his clenched first above his head showed signs of aggression. She was shown the second picture of the same man and his expression; this time the man held in his hand a pair of dirty underwear. She wasn't sure, but she thought his face showed disgust. The presenter then told her the man's expressions were the same, but the context had been changed with editing. The neuroscientist was appalled at her misjudgment, or that she'd judged, at all.

But, people judge, right. Look at those images of Mona Lisa; all the same or each different? Yet, their judgement is often badly flawed and filled with internal angst.

Now, I'm no neuroscientist, but I do take great interest in how people react to things. Professionally, that was important for negotiations and policy-making. When someone asked 'Can you trust the Minister?' how was I to reach a conclusion? Words? Acts? Looks? All? Hearsay from others? When my high school head boy was reported to have committed suicide, at Cambridge University, in the 1960s, what signs could I recall that he might have been so tortured to want to take his life? None. His face was always a picture of calm and collectedness. His voice was never more than the right pitch. He was always so poised. He was a brilliant student. Who really can judge others?

I had an interesting conversation the other day when someone mentioned to me how I posted images of myself 'all the time'. Comments like that are always a bit odd, as opposed to 'I see your letters in the papers, all the time'. The tone of delivery tells whether this is a good or bad thing. When the word 'narcissistic' is added, the implications are clear.

A part of me pondered where people draw lines. If I were formally engaged to do something, like post pictures of myself, does that render it different in the public eye? In other words, does Simon Crosskill get comments like 'I see your face on TV all the time!'? Would he be better as a commentator as a silhouette on TV? If that seems absurd, let's leave it there.

But, the claim (even allowing for some exaggeration) wasn't even vaguely true.

If you look at my social media profiles on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, you find lots of pictures that I post but amongst the pictures I post there are not that many pictures of myself. Maybe, it's reticular activation: once my face has been seen, it seems to appear everywhere. A little like 'Big Brother'.

What I tend to do is show pictures of things I'm doing or places where I am, mainly because some friends said they liked to see what goes on in Jamaica, etc. (I even got a bunch of complaints when, some months ago, I stopped posting pictures. What a demanding public!) But, showing pictures of things is not the same as showing pictures of myself. Now, I know I took the pictures, but they could easily be stock photos or images others have taken. They seem to be of things I like to do, so it's easier to believe they are mine, etc.

Now, a number of studies exist that show the use of social media can be related (weakly) to narcissistic behaviors. But, who is going to rank the narcissism of the 2 billion users of Facebook, or the 500 million on Instagram? I'm not counting Twitter because it's quite a different space, and I came to it and still use it as a collaborative space for sharing information and ideas.

But, is one picture of a pierced navel or a tattoo equivalent to a picture of a sliced mango on the narcissism scale? Is a picture of a child's prize acceptance better than a picture of an isolated beach with a pair of feet in the foreground?

However, as I said in my case I found it hard to understand the accusation not least because with social media these days, it's possible with analytics to check exactly what has been posted in social media. The analytics show I've posted more pictures of my friends playing golf, Jamaican sunsets and sunrises, Jamaican fruit and vegetables, golf balls, my now-dead dog, than I have of myself. 🤔🙄

So, how does the perception that I have been posting 'all the time' pictures of myself gain currency? Is it possible that without my knowing it, I've been posting images of myself subliminally? Is it possible that within those pictures of fruit, golf balls, sunrises and sunsets, and my pictures of people that I play golf with that they're are images of myself included within? Or is it utter BS? 🤔😩

Now, if posting pictures of oneself is supposedly narcissistic, I've no idea what wearing make-up, jewelry, baubles and beads is supposed to mean. Self-promotions are self-promotions, right? Or, is one man's or woman's self-promotion better than another's?🤔💃🏾 Read the 'narcissistic mask'. Note, that there are 'normal' and 'pathological' strains of narcissism and they cross:

'At best, people high in normal narcissism tend to be outgoing (extraverted) but at worst, they have a strong sense of entitlement, expecting others to go out of their way to make their lives easier and better.  Both pathological and normal narcissism contain maladaptive elements, but the balance is shifted toward adaptive in the normal form.  Leaders may be high on healthy narcissism and perform decades of service to their profession or the public without incident. Add in a dose of the pathological variety, however, and they disappear behind the grandiosity that masks their inner feelings of weakness.'

Humans are, at best, often a mass of self-contradictions.

I look in the mirror and see myself naked, holding my briefs over my head. (I know they're torn and are destined for the bin.) My wife walks in and sees me…flaunting my underwear naked in the bathroom. Your eyes don't lie! Which image of me do you want to see and believe?

Relearning my alphabet

I've had a whale of a time trying to get people to understand me for the past few weeks. Since last Saturday, it has been a bit easier–I'm in Lonnon in eye. You what?

English is hard, especially spoken by the Brits.

I was in a posh bit of London yesterday, Highgate, when I passed a store selling a chart of the 'Cockney alphabet'. I glanced at it and had to take a snap, when I saw 'B for mutton', 'C for miles'.Brilliant! If you haven't figured out how that works, then I am sorry for you. 'X for breakfast'? Surely, you've gorrit now! 🙄

Sympathy in London only goes so far.

I just moved from watching some test cricket to get a cuppa cha, when I heard a presenter utter 'Well, it's your daughter…' I had heard hear talk about going out and getting plastered but how did her child get involved? She hadn't. The lass had said 'It's your door to…' but in'at way Lonnoners do, had dropped a few consonants. Well, Jamaican Patois should have my brain well wired fedat, but of course, it don't work lie vat. Y'knowhaamean?

French friends who were here for the weekend struggled to get the hang of Patois. They did well, even able to use 'Awoah!' well in a sentence. I'm not sure they would get far in Coronation Market, or in London because the basic understandings are always made murky by individual tones and illusions.

We were on The Tube and an announcement was made. I looked at my French friends for any sign of comprehension or concern: none.

The diction of the automatic announcement was crystal clear, but it used a few phrases that just throw people. 'Mind the gap!' and 'Alight here!' and 'southbound on the Northern Line' take a bit of nous to decipher.

Any road, we'll venture out again to get our ears tuned. It's more fun than before with so many speaking English who are not native speakers. Imagine, I say 'Uber' and you hear 'taxi'.🤔

I'll be in Boots, later, and look for something for me feet, after all the walking I've done. 😊

Don’t be fooled: Jamaicans have dreams!

I have not read the survey that led to the Gleaner writing 'No time to dream', but I can tell you that it's utter rubbish–or twaddle, which is my preferred word for things I think are rubbish. The conclusion comes because over 50% cannot articulate their dream?

Because I cannot tell you what I want for my teenage daughter, you will tell me that I have no dream for her future? Get out of here! I see her hard work and I hope it turns her into more than a child who had hard work and a wish to do better. If she manages to fulfill her potential as a swimmer, she may not become an Olympian or even represent her country, or even go on to the podium as a winner, but she would have done her very best with what she had. That, my dear friend, is still the stuff of dreams.

Because my parents had no idea what to expect when they boarded BOAC planes in 1961 and went to England, you want to tell me they had no dreams? One dream was to find work in a country where their qualifications not their connections could get them through the interviews for the jobs they knew they could do. Did that dream materialize? If it did, it was not just due to their wishing it; others had to believe in it.

If some want to say that Jamaicans have no dreams, then look beyond those who wish to dream and look at those who have the power to help dreams be fulfilled. If I need to point out to you to the dream dashers, who crush the hopes of those who wish to be dream makers, then you really have not been paying attention.

I dreamt I could make my parents proud. I dreamt that my grandmother would never stop making her delicious bread and butter pudding. I dreamt that I could eat mangoes and my belly never swell and hurt. I dreamt that when I fell from the tree and my knee was split that my father would believe that I just fell, and had never climbed the tree he told me not to. I dreamt that one day I could jump into the sea and swim without getting tired, and float on my back for hours. I dreamt that dumpling and salt is his on Sunday morning would never finish.

Stop tell lie! Jamaicans have plenty of dreams. They're just not stilted ideas. Because they may be simple, doesn't mean they should be ignored or diminished. That smacks of a certain arrogance in how people–dare I say, some intellectuals–want to shape the world.

Step out of the box and see on what it has been standing.

Ironically, I watched a programme last night on ITV ('Secret history of our streets') about people who live and lived near Caledonian Road, a place often better known for druggies, criminals, prostitutes and life's outcasts. It discussed how one landowner had a vision for developing a huge parcel of land and built tony homes around a square. Others had other ideas and tried to get their piece of the land speculation pie by piling in lower cost housing. Then, the government thought it would be great to build a prison in the neighbourhood–always good for property values and prospects. Then, the railways decided to heavy-handedly develop King's Cross. Waves of workers, followed by waves of cattle, followed by waves of immigrants, descended on the area, and it because the pits. It's the rich who get the pleasure, and the poor who get the blame…

Fast forward. In the 1950s and 1960s some residents had ideas of making the place better and reclaimed old car parks and turned them into green courtyards. Voila! A Jamaican immigrant bought a small house, and several more and rented them and raised his family with his Irish wife; he was later forced to sell as another rail scheme took shape. His daughter, who moved from their row house to a council flat, said her dream was to have a 2-bedroom flat in the estate and raise two children. She did it! She talked about working in Tesco's and 'handing on' goods to neighbours and friends, so that they could get by: that's how it was. Now, in her 50s, she's just bought a pub and got to know how to run it from old pub locals. It's now a place for reminiscing and trying to keep the old working class fabric in tact, as the area becomes gentrified. A Cypriot man, exiled from his war-torn island, but versed in insolvency accounting, bent rules and bought up property and rented box-sized rooms to anyone needing shelter. He's now filthy rich and people pay cheaply to have shelter that has little or no ventilation. One day, they may move out and see real sunlight and maybe get a nice place in Thornhill Square.

Those are all people with dreams; all different, but realizable. If they are just about survival, that doesn't make them worthless.

Peace! Out!

The streets of London

It's always fun and instructive to revisit old haunts with people who've never been to them before. So, visiting London, where I lived for over 30 years, has been lots of fun. This time, my teenager was again with me and her memories of places she had visited several times before are buried in the recesses of her memories, filed under 'less than 6 months old', 'less than teenager', and 'teenager but busy Snapchatting'. My wife's memories are better but sometimes co-mingled with those of other visits. My friends, both those from Jamaica, who know London a bit, and those from France where this is as well known to the French as how to make Yorkshire pudding are lapping up what they can, each day.

The French adults are great: just suggest something to them and next thing is they are trying to arrange to do it. So, after arriving via EasyJet on Saturday and smothering us in hugs and kisses (because we've known them for about 12 years, but my wife hadn't seen them for about 10 years, and 'the baby' whom they saw 3 years ago has now shot up in height and changed looks), they slept well and were off early on Sunday morning to find a tour bus to see all of the major sights. We'd not see them again till noon, when they were running back into the hotel breathlessly, after leaving the bus, walking through Hyde Park, negotiations the Tube, and getting back to the hotel on foot. Phoof! 🙂 We'd planned to take them to have afternoon tea at the Wallace Collection, just off Oxford Street. If you don't know this gallery of fine art then shame and discover fast next time–it's free–as it's tea room, located in the back, is a gem. 'Ah, wow!' That's French for 'Oh, wow!'

We took in the latest display, which was ironically from the 'gilded age' of Louis XIV (14 for those who didn't do Latin). 'Ah, wow!' After a gobful of richness, I suggested a walk outside before our tea reservation. I decided to not follow my wife and daughter, whose shopping genes were kicking in as I saw them heading south towards Duke Street/Oxford Street. I took my French friends north to George Street and gave them a mini-tour of four blocks of potted social and economic history.

Row houses, that were chic; mews where former stables now gave people small apartments; public housing that has now become the habitation of the well-to-do. Massive structures that told you about the concentration of people and money that still exists today. Did we lose count of the number of Rolls Royces that passed? 🙂

I showed them the Post Office Tower, a marvel still, with its revolving restaurant: "It moves!" my friend told me, after he'd stood staring for five minutes. I explained what I recalled of it's opening as a telecommunications marvel. My father worked for the Post Office at the time. I also mentioned the underground mail railway that few knew existed, that transported mail through the city. I now see that this month the Post Office has opened it to the public as an historic feature on which rides can be taken. My father worked for a time at the Western District Office, at Rathbone Place, and I remember his showing me this amazing sight of dark tunnels and mini-trains.

I also showed my friends pieces of urban architecture that are easily overlooked: footscrapers, from the days when streets were not paved and mud was not to be trailed into the house; coal shutes, looking like manhole covers on the sidewalk, to supply coal into the basements of houses, when coal fires were allowed (those chimneys used to serve a purpose, but bad smog in the 1960s killed that off before it killed off more people). We looked at the reality of 'upstairs, downstairs' as we inspected the many basements. I tried to explain the many squares that one sees in London, which give the city centre and some other areas unexpected greenness and charm. We looked at globalization at large with coffee house chains competing for our money. We looked at some pubs and I explained how they used to enshrine social divisions (no women or children, for a long time; restricted hours; etc.) We explored some public toilets, now beautified, and still functioning, though some have now moved to other uses, such as 'downstairs' clubs. Then, time for tea!

It's a charming part of English culture that holds many little traps. Scones and clotted cream are delicious in the afternoon, with a pot of tea. Now, I'm a bit traditional on this, and explained that the scone should be warm and split by hand, not cut (that way the surface can hold more 'filling'), and that the cream goes on the scone before the strawberry (no other) jam. It's not difficult, so why spoil the pleasure. The arrival of the tray of scones, etc, was followed by more 'Ah, wow!' and then a few more 'Ah, wow!'s Was there ever a time when the French wished they were English? This may be it.

After a long, lazy time working our way through our tea, served appropriately by a French-speaking Congolese man, we ventured out again into the English 'summer'. The ladies went into shops, and I took my friend on a tour of Bond Street and Brook Street, and pointed out how the city had been calmed with more pedestrianization, but also changed immensely with the arrival of Middle-eastern influences such as hookah bars. A quick tour of former places of high fashions, and a look at Claridges, the luxury hotel in Mayfair, with its doormen in their top hats and tails, and we were done. We sat outside the massive structure of Selfridges and talked, then walked through part of the ground floor, where my friend's eyes gazed in amazement. It's incredible to imagine this store in its original time in the early 20th century, once a chain of stores, but since largely sold off, and the flagship store in Oxford Street is the second largest store isn't he UK, after Harrod's.

We got back to mundane things and I gave a little economics lesson about what was going on in London on this calm Sunday, as money chased goods, and supply met demand. Race, colour, gender did not matter so long as the oil of economic logic flowed through the pockets of those carrying bags and goods.

I reminisced about Oxford Street at Christmas-time and gawping as a boy in the 1960s at the lights that stretched all along the street, from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road. 'Ah, wow!' 🙂