Stamp and go! A taste of another Jamaican bureaucratic dish

So, off to Stamp Office, I would go. What could possibly go wrong? 

The entrance told me much. I’ve seen government agencies like this in many countries. Dark. Dingy. Looking like no one loves or cares. Uninviting. 

Stamp Office, Harbour St., Kingston

Fortunately, I love downtown Kingston and will tolerate much.

Bearers are here in numbers, bearing the brunt of waiting; things grinding along like rusty gears.

Systematic queuing, like tickets, haven’t reached here, yet. Instead, officials call out names through a small mouthhole–their voices barely audible.

People waiting are obviously unhappy, even though it’s not long past 10, and the office opens at 8:30. Lots of grumbling, muttering and speculation:

“I don’t know what is so slow, them or the system, or both…” One of a group of women vents.

A name is called, a lady approaches the window. Another lady, still waiting, says “You ago mek me mek noise inna here…!” Not a happy camper.

After 25 minutes I hear my name called. I’m happy. I get back my papers: “Tek it to the cashier!” I walk across the hall and present papers and $500. Moments later, a receipt appears back on the counter. Silence. I ask if that’s it. While cleaning her ears, the cashier tells me to take a seat and wait to hear my name. (What infections might have been passed on my receipt?) 😩 

More names are called and bearers come forward.

Meanwhile, on the street, men ‘manage’ the few free parking spaces. Empty buckets mark spaces and a ‘consideration’ will get them moved to free the space. The economy is working😏

Proof of payment and ready for another trip
But, I’m not done. I hear my name again, get my stamped documents and am ready to leave at 11:15. Not, too much time.

The grumpy ladies are still waiting. Changing name is relatively simple.

Maybe, Jamaica News Network needs to do some infomercials like ‘Inside the Stamp Office: what’s going on’. It couldn’t hurt? 

Now, I have to trek through the mess of road on Marcus Garvey Drive to get to Spanish Town. Someone is being excessively cruel to us.

What an ungodly mess!

In deed, I am…The truth begins to bite…on the Karmic way to Jamaica

Yesterday, I made the 2nd of three visits to RGD. Things were a bit mixed. As I now knew that the office I was dealing with did not start till 8:30am, I chilled for a while before heading out west. When I got to RGD, things started to unravel. The security guard manning the gate peered out of the guardhouse looking at me in my car; she didn’t move. I sat there a few moments. She peered again. I could see her mouth moving. Eventually, she came out through the gate. She explained that because my car was positioned to the right of the double gates, she didn’t think I wanted to enter. For a moment, I had a flash of how terrorist attacks start: presumably, he job doesn’t include telling people to not park idly in front of the gates. Anyway, I corrected her presumption and she opened the left hand portion of the gates. I suggested that a simple sign saying ‘Enter this side’ would be helpful. She didn’t thank me for my suggestion and gave me a good cut eye.

I parked, then walked boldly to the guard on the side of RGD where I’d started my process. She asked me my purpose–to collect my deed poll draft–and I told her and said I knew where to go. No! No there! “You must go to IRO! Through the double glass doors.” I dislike acronyms at the best of times. “IRO?” I asked. She explained: Island Records Office. Off I trotted, and sat with a few other people. A young man took my name. Soon, I heard behind me a soft female voice: “Jones…Jones”. The young man pointed to me. I went to the soft-spoken lady. “Not here. You must go to the office where you left the form.” As I had thought. A hurried person would have been fuming. Instead, I pondered: how much of this goes on each day? My trusted official came and brought my draft for me to review.

My naming issue is only one of several. My good wife has her own to deal with, and a hint of that surfaced in the draft. But, RGD-man and I finessed that. I now needed a few signatures and a JP or Notary’s witness and I could roll off to the Stamp Office to pay my $500 fee. 

I asked RGD-man why the Stamp Office couldn’t have an agent assigned to them, to avoid the seemingly unnecessary journey for this next step of recording. He tried to explain that Tax Administration controlled the Stamp Office. So what? The agent would still be working as he or she should, just here instead of there. That’s a question I’m going to pose. I know part of the answer–inertia–and touched on it in my post, yesterday. Wherever I live, I’m going to need to make at least two trips, one of which is really not needed. But, patience prevails.

Outdated?

Anyway, I’ve my friendly JP lined up (and I read today that the Justice Minister wants 6000 more). Ready for the next step. Will I get to visit 111 Harbour Street, today? 

For those into numerology, note the meaning of 111. 😊👏🏿

Does Jamaica need EGC or ECG?

People who know me well, know that much as I love Jamaica, I am an equal opportunity critic. So, I’m constantly asking “If it’s not working, why do we keep using it?” 

One answer to that question is simply ‘inertia‘: things have been a certain way so long that people cannot contemplate change, and may even resist it strongly out of a deep-seated fear akin to Chicken Little syndrome–‘the sky is falling’.

We see this all the time in daily life, and it’s part of our national rituals.

Some obvious examples include unplanned housing development. Now, this is an enormous problem that has allowed communities to come into existence through squatting and land grabbing, and forced people to live without basic services. Jamaica isn’t alone in having shanty towns and they’re symptoms of economic change as people chase jobs faster than resources can shift to accommodate literally the new workers. But, such developments place big burdens on everyone and everything. One feature of squatting is the difficulty of determining where people actually live, as dwellings get created without formal addresses. That makes it hard to do things like levy taxes. It also creates a natural hiding place for a range of illegal activities because tracing people is more difficult, even as people try to regularize their lives, eg by having work places, attending school and churches, and improving their homes. 

Other visible examples include the daily peak hour road chaos created by the siting of Hydel College. Vehicles and people travelling west have no safe way to enter the school. The daily juggle of dodging traffic on Mandela Highway to get across two sets of highways has not been addressed, even for the more-vulnerable, school children, with a solution like a footbridge. Is our fiscal situation so dire we cannot afford this? Can corporate Jamaica not be persuaded to fund this? Does anyone care enough about the lives we say matter so much? 

So, we just trundle along. 🎶🎶🎶🎶

Another is ‘what about the people’s jobs?‘. We see this, for instance, in our approach to waste management. Some justify littering because it keeps garbage workers employed. Madness? So, rather than not litter and move to a world of cleaner living, people tolerate mounds or streams of garbage. It’s not appealing, even to those who do this, but ‘It’s how the thing set’. 🙄

Another reason is that ‘it’s political‘. That’s harder to see and possibly harder to dislodge, given the many layers of maneuvering that may be involved. But, one can suspect. 

It may be party politics at work, eg when some places get good services when one party is in national power. 

It may be local politics and nepotism. Without going into current legal cases, look at Hanover Parish Council.
However you look at the political mud through which people have to crawl, it smears and burdens us all. 

One more is stubbornly refusing to do the right things. This may have elements of the three points above, but can take on its own identity, both individually and collectively. 

Examples include bureaucratic processes that are largely senseless and time-consuming

I will accept that we may be victims of underinvestment so cannot be technologically where some other countries are. That’s why my wife and I can sell a home in the US without moving an inch and having most processing done electronically, including signing documents. Yet, I can barely do anything in Jamaica without needing to ‘come into the office. That’s why we have manual records that are not interconnected. That’s why we have missing files, etc. 

But, some of it is that we doggedly hold on to bad systems. This is present in both private and public sectors. We see it often in the spotty service delivery of banks, as well as the teeth-grinding procedures of many public agencies. It’s part of the ritual of annual patch-and-mend road repairs. It’s part of the ritual of widespread flooding after heavy rain. It’s part of the ritual of demanding additional meaningless ‘proof’ of identity when you already have presented national identity documents. Don’t ask me for utility bills as proof of address; they’re in my wife’s name or I pay online. 

These hurdles are not necessarily my personal barriers, but a well-worn set that were placed there years ago.

Our challenge is several-fold:

  1. Can we break it?
  2. Do we want to break it?
  3. Are we ready for the consequences of change?

As I pondered the other day: we are so accustomed to mediocrity that any shining blip above that is seen as a glimpse of Nirvana. But, that’s really living with a bar set low.

There’s a price to all of this, and we have internalized the many costs. Because so many things are not ‘quite right’, we spend less time and effort ensuring that things are done well. We’re accustomed to things taking longer than they should, so we don’t press too hard to schedule properly, or to set up plans for contingencies. We see this at some dramatically bad times, such as the past weekend, when an island-wide power outage exposed some haphazard ‘plans’. Police did not seem to have a clear set of procedures to deal with the traffic chaos. The urban bus company was planning to cut services early, focusing on the safety of staff and travelers, but seemingly oblivious that such action would trigger a different set of problems, even dangers. ‘Soon come’ will cover all time slippages. Worse, in my mind, we just grab for excuses as if they are boxes of cereal on a shelf.

We’ve also become cynical and less-troubled by things that remain uncorrected

I’m a skeptic concerning the Economic Growth Council and will remain so till I see signs that it’s going to tackle some core features of life in Jamaica that are not about speeding up approvals of big projects but are about unbuckling the many little belts that bind our daily lives. Some of us may need shock therapy to rouse us from the slumber into which we’ve fallen, and it may be a rude awakening for those.

    Will ESPN give us grace-and-favour accommodation?

    One serious problem we Jamaicans have is to understand the nature and value of criticism. By that, I mean attempts to give constructive advice, intended to improve performance. Good managers do this all the time, not least because a well-directed worker makes creating part of a well-functioning organization more likely. In simple economics terms, such an organization should outdo its competitors. That’s good for the current employees and/or owners and is good for the rest of the economy. If all organizations do this, they make a country a ‘place to be’, to work and invest. It’s easier to beat competitors; individuals win and so does a wider population.

    One of Jamaica’s growth dilemmas is whether it wants to excel at sub-standard performance or move to a higher level. Having just enjoyed the experience of our excellent Olympic athletes, we clearly prefer the latter.

    Lots of arguments can support not changing because the personal benefits of doing less than best is that remuneration (pay or profit) is usually more than deserved. I hope that’s obvious.

    If sub-standard performance is allowed to be the accepted norm, organizations can still do well, but logically must be able to do better.

    That brings me to the recent Olympics and the quality of commentary we received from ESPN in the Caribbean. This is not about any individual so I won’t mention any names.

    Many TV sports broadcasts have or suffer from commentators that much of the viewing public dislikes, or thinks could be much better. Broadcasting companies keep with such commentators for many reasons.

    Some reasons involve contracts and the cost of breaking them.

    Sometimes, it’s an evolutionary situation, including that someone new is being tried. Blends of people work in different ways and take time to gel; formats change; and what the public experiences may be the result of things not seen on-screen. The broadcasting company may be like a duck on water and doing amazing work behind the scenes but we don’t see clearly good results. Our unhappiness results at least in lower audience figures and public criticism. At worst, the audience may leave, only to return reluctantly.

    But, such criticism shouldn’t be viewed as some kind of national betrayal simply because the criticism is pointed at one of our own. That’s a kind of knee-jerk justification that risks accepting a lot of things that are truly awful.

    A few examples of bad commentary experiences are worth noting.

    Gus Johnson: he was much admired for his play-by-play commentary on CBS during American football and basketball broadcasts, and was drafted in by Fox to do soccer commentary in 2013 and left in 2104. His ‘enthusiastic’ style (which fitted well with the spectacular plays of American football and basketball) just didn’t work for soccer.

    Fox, US Open golf: having won the rights in 2015 to televise this Major tournament for the next 12 years, Fox started badly, both technically and with its commentators, and the whole package was deemed a disaster. Now golf is hard to commentate, but that’s not an excuse. The saving grace, if any, is that they have lots of time to improve. In the meantime, many viewers went elsewhere. However, Fox bounced back spectacularly in 2016. The big difference? American Paul Azinger was the lead analyst instead of Australian Greg Norman, and the rest of the broadcast team did well.

    Michael Owen: Owen, a star striker at Liverpool FC and various other English clubs has had a torrid time as a commentor, and known to be prone to ‘gaffes’, many of which occur because the person doesn’t appreciate the silliness of their words. Read some at your leisure.

    Fox’s experience with golf points to the risks that large investment in a bad venture can entail–lost market.

    Viewers have preferences, so a commentator has to meet many needs, not all of which may be well-appreciated.

    However, one of the features viewers seek is valuable information that is not readily available–that’s one of the expected benefits of employing someone who has been involved in the sport at a high level, such as a former Olympian, and whose access to athletes, coaches and administrators, and supposed knowledge provide valuable insights.

    Telling viewers what they can see for themselves is often regarded as redundant; this is not radio, where much may need to be described. Viewers also want coherent comments: they don’t want to work hard to understand what’s being said. Accents can affect that, adversely, for an international audience, but again, can be easily addressed. There is also the difference between ‘play-by-play’ (action unfolding) and ‘colour’ (background and context) commentary.

    However, a wealth of experience in the sport or even in the broadcast field does not guarantee success in the commentary box.

    When things appear not to be working well, the management challenge is to change, do so decisively, and bring clear improvements. Commentary, obviously, cannot work well with no words, but useless words are not much better.

    Ironically, bad commentary has its place, but it’s usually to be the butt of jokes, being lampooned, or providing parodies of what good commentary should be, such as some famous versions of ‘British’ commentary on American sports.

    What we should not do–but seem to love doing–is to defend the evident lack of quality because the person has other great skills, or is ‘one of us’, and we ‘should be proud to have our nation represented’, as if these characteristics are the excuses we pull out because we can’t bear to acknowledge an error or hold someone accountable. Of course, both are traits of the Jamaican body social.

    Being gaffe-prone creates many imponderables that can derail the best of projects. How much ‘foot in mouth’ is acceptable? How much time and energy should be spent correcting on-air or elsewhere series of spoken mistakes?

    So, I hope that the people at ESPN take all the feedback and reflect on what happened, and see if they agree with certain criticisms. If they don’t then they have another issue.

    As they go through this process, it will be interesting to see what of it they share with the public–again, we are lovers of ‘dont wash your laundry in public’ as if hiding your struggles makes you better. But, we get a lot of that in many walks of life, so don’t hold your breath.

    Life is a beach and third world problems strike Jamaica

    So, while I was in Miami, and well placed to stock up on items much-needed at home, West Indian cricketers were swinging bats and flinging balls against India, just up the road. So, when I heard that bad light stopped play, I assumed the pending storms and heavy rain had taken another victim. But, no. Lights were out all over my homeland. From about 6pm, the whole island was struck by darkness.

    Now, cynics among you will say “We’ve been dark a long time!” But, I say ‘Be nice!’

    One of the great features of social media is its speed, and sharing critical information fast is essential. However, applications like Twitter are not universally used, and if you don’t follow someone, then you will miss their broadcasts. Unfortunately, utility companies cannot compel us to follow them and so be always in their loop. I readily share so that my contacts know what I know. But, word to the wise: follow the utilities and the police and the Office of Disaster Management, at least.

    JPS are often under fire for the cost of their service, and Jamaicans have been spoiled in recent years, after many experiences with power outages, planned and unplanned. We are not ready for ‘all-island power outages’, less so, when we hear that it may be due to a procedural error. We await know who pulled what, when. Monday will shed light on all.

    Of course, JPS were overjoyed to report that power was coming back slowly but comprehensively.Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 6.32.28 AM.png

    Poor things, it would have been great to show a picture of the outage, and see the little dots of light where people had generators. I could have tried to buy a container-load in Florida.

    So, let’s hope that the journey that began with flight delays does not proceed with any other minor inconvenience.

    Sorry! Being without lights for a few hours is a MINOR inconvenience. Being without electricity all day, everyday, or frequently, is hardship and reality for many. Some people may be a little miffed still at the outages that did not happen a few weeks ago because of non-Storm Earl. But, look, didnt some of the preparations came in handy, last night? Perhaps, a few hoped for longer delays so that the tins of bully beef and the hand-operated can opener could get an outing. People are never happy.

    While, unlike the English, we have few lace curtains to twitch, but we look peeping into other people’s affairs (literally). But, what can you do when they don’t have lights. I think we should all write in protest to the Minister of Energy, Dr. Andrew Wheatley and JPS’s CEO, Kelly Tomblin, to insist that everyone be supplied with a mini storm light for their bedroom, so that next time there’s an outage, people can carry on with the important business of prying into other people’s activities. Before, anyone lashes me. The Commissioner of Police has demanded that we do it, so there!

    They say Karma is a b****, and who told us to get all high and mighty in Rio and waltz off with the people’s prizes? You forget your place? Get back in that line marked ‘Under development’.

    Mi gaan!

    First World problems and other worldly things

    My wife decided that she wanted to spend her birthday weekend ‘a farrin’, which for a lady who spends many hours in airports and on planes may seem odd. But, dutifully, husbands say “Yes, dear!” So, bound for early morning flight we were. 

    Now, we really don’t like Miami that much but it’s a convenient spot and can offer a few advantages. One of these is not having to connect to go anywhere else. 

    Our flying day had a mixed start as our plane was suffering an oil leak from the engine, which delayed our departure a good 90 minutes. At least, getting in later didn’t spoil our non-plans. Friends we bumped into at the airport were not due to reach their destination till near midnight, instead of early afternoon. Argh!

    Anyway, we were brighter and had a great time checking in for our rental car with an equally zany Cuban lady, who tolerated my faux-Spanglish. We got a nice upgrade, though. Which proves my point about giving people a chance to do you a good deed, by treating them nicely. Road wi seh!

    ‘Shirley’, as I dubbed the ‘lady’ on Googlemaps, was all excited and got us out of the airport in a flash. Then, she had a sulk. Silence! Ok, so I missed the first exit ramp. But, I found my way back to it. Maybe, that was the trouble: she’d gone for a quick change ‘rerouting’ and thought I’d wait. My bad!

    So, she uttered nary a word till I was back on I-95. Childish! 

    We found our hotel, and our slightly later arrival meant our room was ready. Yeah! A quick fresh and off we went for lunch.Traveller girls wanted pizza. No argument. We parked and got our college credits figuring out how to pay at the meter machine. Cool! No need to display a ticket as the licence plate was programmed in. (At some stage, we’ll get an app to show the journies a car makes?)

    How green is my alley?
    Only Rip van Winkle wouldn’t know that the Jamaican dollar is worth very few US cents–actually less that one cent😩🇯🇲. But, being in the US means leaving the cash-cart behind and using a slim billfold. No awkward bulges! That aside, don’t get fooled into thinking the US is cheap. Look, a single scoop of Devon House ice cream costs easily under US$3. Imagine my shock at paying US$6 for a measly gelato. 

    That grin was the relief of finding an AC spots in the humid 90+ day. That’s the price of comfort, my boy.

    It was the first of a few shocks. 

    We’ve been having water issues in my neighbourhood, but the water flows, and I never have any concerns about drinking it, certainly if it’s boiled. But, kuyah! Uncle Sammy tells me that whatever fluoride may be in Florida water, it shouldn’t pass my lips.

    This isn’t West Africa!
    Well, we had no kettle and long gone are the days when I travelled with an heating element. 
    Back to the future?

    We’ve also had our growing concerns with mosquitos and diseases they carry. But, do we always have bug spray ready at restaurants? Maybe, we do. 

    But, I was still stunned by the speed with which the waiter produced it. Bugger me! He’s quick! I suspect that US liability laws could be in play and lawyers in Florida ready and waiting.

    Zika has caused much more concerns in Florida and we Jamaicans ought to have a travel advisory, like our Bahamian fellows. 

    What awaits today? 

    We were hit by a heavy thunderstorm while dining and the weather system building is headed this way. ‘Two disturbances in the central and eastern Atlantic Ocean, Invest 99-L and Invest 90-L’ I read on weather.com. 

    Probably, good that we’re only here the weekend and the safety of Jamaica is close at hand 🇯🇲👍🏾🙄

    Crime and the corruption of Jamaican logic 

    Many discussions in Jamaica about important national topics often get bogged down in what I would call side issues. Our favourite side issue is how partisans of each political party position themselves on the matter. Another side issue is often whether it’s a Kingston/Corporate Area vs ‘country/rural’ issue. Another is whether it’s about ‘us’ or ‘them’. That latter can get very complicated because groups and their identities can be fluid. But, a common ‘us’ might be people who are seen as ‘uptown’ compared to those who are seen as ‘downtown’, if we are focusing on Kingston/Corporate Area. After saying all that, we still need to deal with the meat of the matters.

    Yesterday, The Gleaner ran an editorial ‘Editorial | Lee-Chin and the priority of crime’, about the drag of crime on economic life, which has been estimated by the World Bank to cost Jamaica some 6 percent a year. This is more than the core target set for itself  by the recently created Economic Growth Council (aiming for 5 percent growth by the end of four years). What those World Bank figures relate to mostly are the categories of crime which most people fear: murder, rape, assault, robbery–i.e. violence against people and property. The thrust of the editorial was the need to tackle crime as an important pillar in moving Jamaica to a faster growing economy.

    It brought to mind another piece in the Observer, by Franklin Johnson entitled ‘We sacrificed for the economy, what will we sacrifice to be crime-free?’ several weeks earlier. That was touched off by the Attorney General opining about the need to perhaps curtail certain rights and freedoms in order to address crime issues more effectively.

    Most people can see how these two sets of ideas are closely related. But, in my mind, one of the pieces of the puzzle regarding dealing with crime is that age-old Jamaican trait of tolerating things that seem to be about ‘ends justifying means’. This was well addressed, too, a few days ago in a piece by Dennis Chung about Jamaica’s hustler mentality. It’s basic point was well spelled out early: ‘most Jamaicans are “doing a business” and are not “in business”. What this basically means is that many of us are really just trying to earn money through “hustling”‘. What it really argued was how our economy has really built itself on a substantial amount of informal activity. He also put the problem in a way that I have many times (my emphases):

    ‘Because of this hustler mentality we have created today a huge problem of a large informal economy, numerous informal settlements, and a set of people who are unable to create any value for themselves, because they have grown up learning how to sell on the streets or wipe windshields.

    Effectively, the lack of action by the authorities and the support of this “hustler” mentality have ended up creating greater poverty.

    This is because governance has been about giving someone a fish rather than teaching them how to fish.’

    Many people would not see this as part of the ‘crime problem’, but at its core it is, in my mind.

    Much of the informal economy that we tolerate is built on doing things illegally. The ‘value’ chain in Jamaica is often littered with illegality. But, people see them as problems or not largely based on personal convenience created by the activities. I will cite a few well-known examples.

    • Robot taxis: clearly illegal (unregistered vehicles for hire). People tolerate because legal taxis and buses are clearly in short supply, and not covering needed journeys, and the inconveniences often seem to outweigh the convenience. People even cite the risks of using them, while willingly using them and feeling at great risk. [We should study very carefully the data on road accidents to confirm our comfort levels.]
    • Vendors (sellers of goods or services): often unregistered; if registered, often operating in places other than those designated. People tend to tolerate those that provide things many feel they need/want (fruit, drinks, food, sex, etc.) and oppose those that seem to intrude or create unpleasant experiences (windshield washers, sex).  We have internalized the lower prices street vendors allow us, and ask few awkward questions about what they do, and where and how they get their goods.
      Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 8.03.03 AM.png
      Nice fresh fruit, always at our finger tips….
    • Informal settlements: clearly illegal. Tolerated because formal and legal housing is inadequate. Tolerated, too, because it was a ‘subsidy’ for electoral gains. [The costs to the country of either enforced unplanned service provision, or the cost of not providing services needed in communities, need to be well understood.]
      Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 8.05.33 AM.png
      As Jamaican as ackee and saltfish…but squalor comes at a high costs in terms of health and sanitation…
    • Unauthorized electricity or water connectionsTolerated, in large part, because it was a ‘subsidy’ for electoral gains in ‘garrison communities’. [Utility providers have been trying to claw back their rights and costs, but have not done so without public and political resistance.]
      Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 8.08.58 AM.png
      (Courtesy, Jamaica Observer)
    • Tax evasion. No need to explain the distinction between this and tax avoidance. We know that billions of dollars in unpaid taxes are outstanding, whether through fraud or delinquency of some form. The tax authorities need to divert substantial resources to collecting those monies, which have really been ‘taken out of our pockets’.

    These are just a few of the examples that most people can recognize in their daily lives.

    But, as Mr. Chung pointed out, we didn’t get there yesterday or by accident. Much of this has been the creation of an ‘entitlement class’, that was given life by politicians. Unfortunately, the class grew and morphed. At its worst, we see it in gangs and what they do to sustain themselves–drugs and guns, and  money-grabbing ‘schemes’ of various sorts: their latest offspring is ‘scamming’. But, it’s a child born out of needs that were allowed to be fed by illegality of other kinds.

    I don’t want to make light of crimes that assault people and property, but we have a deeper seated problem, which is we like to live with the excuses that make us feel comfortable. Call that a ‘bly’, in local parlance.

    As Dennis Chung said, ‘One of the major challenges we face today is that Jamaicans are so dependent on “hustling” to make money, that any attempt to bring order to the society is going to be faced with strong opposition and can result in hardship for many Jamaicans.’

    Thus, the real sacrifice in dealing with widespread crime is that it’s deeply woven into our daily lives, and we do not appear ready to let that change.

    Doing the dirty deed: a Jamaican confessional

    My wife’s coming to terms with the fact that I’m not the man she thought she’d married; this often happens in relationships. She had an inkling when we came to live in Jamaica, but now she’s confronting me with the facts….Do I need a moment to call Shaggy?Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.33.52 AM.png

    The simple truth is that Jamaica hasn’t had decades of systematic recording of births. Part of the problem comes from not having universal bedside registration of births.

    With the advent of the computer and the Internet, many details of births and deaths are easier to record, verify, search, and share. (While writing this, I was able to see details of one of my deceased grandparent’s life records online, and that source, running from 1880-1999, is rich.) That doesn’t mean, however, that such things occur automatically or instantaneously. Records have to be created, and that is done by humans, not by something transmitted by the body in question. Mistakes happen, even without macabre ‘baby-switching’ stories.

    Our history, through slavery and Colonialism, has left us with a hotchpotch of records that are slowly getting into a kind of order. But, as many understand, we have a stock and flow problem. With the best will in the world, all new births get recorded quickly and correctly. Let’s assume no errors in the first records and no mistakes as records are recreated elsewhere. Let’s also assume that simple, but tragic mistakes do not happen at the outset, such as assigning names to wrong people. (Such things happen, and more advanced places, like the United Kingdom, have created ways to deal with that. Life there has changed a lot and things like needing to consider changes in gender are amongst their problems.) So, going forward, we have nice, clean, and accurate records. The flow part is set correctly. However…

    We still have a stock of mistakes. Through no fault of their own, people get mistaken identities. In places like Jamaica, where literacy skills have been weak, this happened more than we like to know. So, we have many people whose names were never checked for spelling, and people did not think that this mattered much because ‘Biscuit’ is hard to spell and ‘Biskit’ sounds the same. But, that’s not bad if ‘Biskit’ lives with that spelling all of his/her life. If when that person goes somewhere and tells another person the name, and then creates a record that has ‘Biscuit’, then problems start to grow. In part, that’s my problem, but more on that, later.

    Jamaica is littered with people whose names are wrong or maybe never recorded, formally. It’s also littered with people whose basic birth details, like dates, are wrong. No bedside registration. Auntie or Grandma goes to register the new-born. She has more than one child to register. She confuses the children, and registers them with the wrong birth dates, maybe even confusing the names. Problems created. My father is one such child, and we celebrated his birthday, happily in April, most of his life. Then–and I cannot recall why–he told us his birthday was in March. What?! He and his ‘cousin’ were registered with each other’s birthday. Happiness! (There’s another story about the ‘cousin’, but we leave that out there… Woe is me? :))

    Because our laws never demanded the name of the father on a child’s birth certificate, and because having children out-of-wedlock has been the norm for decades, we also have a stream of children whose clear lineage is only through their mothers. That’s no real problem, except that we got stuck with Colonial conventions and practices regarding relationships, and with that of naming women and children.

    Get married? Woman takes on surname of husband. Yes, we know it’s about property, but it’s the creator of many a problem. Most women didn’t seem to object moving from ‘Miss Franken’ to ‘Mrs Stein’. Children come along? Easy! Give them the surname of the father. His ‘lineage’ is preserved; the mother’s is erased. Come along modern-woman, now. She wants to preserve her life-long identity as herself. Imagine! She marries, but wants to keep her maiden name (quaint term) and carry, also, her husband’s name. Along comes the stream of double-barreled named women. So, our previous heroine can become Mrs. Franken-Stein. (Now, for obvious reasons, she may not like how that sounds, but let’s leave her with that dilemma.)

    Again, children are created in this relationship, and they carry the name of…? Well, it depends. No fixed rules. They may all become ‘Baby Frankensteins’.

    Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.03.33 AM.png
    All babies are cute, right?
    Or, the parents may decide that Mummy has ‘done her thing’ and sanity is needed, so they agree to call the children ‘Baby Steins’. No real problem, till they have to go to school and register for class. Most people are conservative, and adopt things slowly. So, this Mr. Stein, Mrs. Franken-Stein, Baby Stein thing can throw some. But, let’s move on. Of course, modern woman could have hung on to her maiden name, then have the children adopt that, or the father’s name. I even know some couples, who did both, for different children. Where are they now? Hard to trace. But, humorous complications aside, you see what simple conventions can lead to.

    Life can throw many curve balls at children, and the parents aren’t around to clear up the mess.

    That’s where I come in, again. I have birth documents that show my name as ‘Denis’. But, all my life my parents spelt my name ‘Dennis’. Skipping along merrily, I was. I moved from Jamaica to England, and carried ‘Dennis’. I got passports from Jamaica and the UK, carrying ‘Dennis’. I got paid, married, earned pension rights, etc. the same way. I moved to the USA, and took on a new job, the same way. I needed a new Jamaican passport. Oh…my…goodness! The body-known-as-RGD tells me I am not me! Cut the story short. Despite one Jamaican government agency having accepted me as ‘Dennis’ and issuing me documents, the head-honcho in matters says ‘It cannot continue, thus!’ I get a nice computer-generated document called a birth certificate (the yellowing paper I had always thought was the certificate was merely the ‘registration paper’), in multiples, and it said ‘Denis’. I kicked and screamed, and as you know, that made no difference. So, new Jamaican passport comes for ‘Denis’. Life goes on, though, as ‘Dennis’. Fast forward.

    I return to Jamaica. My registration with Foreign Affairs is done based on my wife being a diplomat and I am also an ‘expatriate’ in their eyes. Bring out the UK passport, and hello ‘Dennis’. But, I need those other life essentials in Jamaica, like a TRN, and that requires a Jamaican document, and hello ‘Denis’. Dont I know you? So, now, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are sitting in the room together, looking at each other, struggling for control. Everything I try to do in Jamaica, now, is driven by my TRN, and ‘Denis’ is getting the upper hand: driver’s licence, bank accounts, company registration, electoral registration… I was holding up, though. I should have taken to drink.

    But, matters come to a head!

    My dear wife goes to a conference in Montego Bay this summer with the nice people at RGD and the topic is ‘Caribbean Civil Registration and Identity Management‘. Our government is developing a National Identification System (NIDS), which is on track for full implementation by 2020. ‘NIDS will allow for the identification of Jamaicans and people ordinarily resident in the country, and will provide a comprehensive and secure structure to collect and store personal identity information’. All of this is wonderful and sensible, and helps deal with the many forms of identity fraud that Jamaicans (and others) love to play, at home and abroad. (Did I hear you mention overstaying in the USA?). I can’t wait for this and the removal of dead people from the voters’ lists.

    But, now my wife is exercised and I have to do the deed. Not talking about Don Anderson and his polls. I have to get my name sorted out by deed poll. The process seems simple, and I am told it is quick and painless, once I have a JP sign a few pictures. But, I’ve been fooled by such assurances in the past. image1.JPG I see a few trips are needed to get more JP signatures and pay stamp duty.

    RGD have not endeared itself to me, as I sent them an email weeks ago, making a basic query and have yet to get a reply. Will I find the office covered in cobwebs and bats flying around the parapets, when I get there?Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.57.24 AM.png ‘Anybody home?’

    Anyway, such things have to be done by many people, and even the famous know that. Good thing my name isn’t Michael Caine.

    Biting the hands that feed us: Jamaica still has to face its constant predicament

    Farewell, Rio! We loved most of what you gave us. Jamaicans are mostly proud and elated that our athletes did so well, and gave the world images and memories that we are more than ready to share. Our Ambassador, Usain Bolt, carried our image high and wide and handsomely ‘to the world’. Every athlete, winner or not, deserves fulsome praise. Their dedication and sacrifices are things which most can barely imagine. Those who are young and just starting on their international journey have older and wiser and more-decorated heads and shoulders on which to stand, and from whom they can learn much. Sadly, whatever is in our DNA does not get transferred between us automatically, but has to moulded and nurtured.

    Therein lies a problem that was evident before, during, and sadly remains after the Olympics festivities. Our country does not all see the same thing.

    While many, both home and abroad, were fretting and hoping and praying for victories, or doing those things and wanting to avoid disasters, we had some, both home and abroad, who were just hoping for another chance to create havoc. While a few were looking to bring back a little pride and glory, some were looking to take away the few precious moments or things that others have. At it worst, those precious things and moments are lives.

    Some of us, in moments of idealism, wish that during times like the Olympics, the negatives of life would just go on holiday, and let us all live in peace. But, bad things, like bad Karma, seem to just lie in wait, and strike at moments of maximum weakness. But, reality bites, and it bites the hands it shouldn’t at the most inopportune moments.

    Over the years, I’ve wondered at the racial politics of the USA and blinked as I saw black people destroy their own neighbourhoods as their anger and frustration reached breaking point. Their anger and frustration had just cause, but was that the way to express it? Taking away the livelihoods of their neighbours and making their area poorer than it was already?

    Some Jamaicans seem to do something similar. While many could not wait to get back to their armchairs, bars, verandahs, or wherever, to see the latest attempts at something great, we had reports of people shooting and burning in their neighbourhoods. Clearly, their anger and frustration were not things that could be changed or curbed by the distant image of compatriots running, jumping, diving, and swimming. They were not happy enough with that, and content to sit back and watch. They had to take destructive action against their own people. I’m not psychiatrist, but you cannot convince me that that is not a manifest sickness. But, why is it plaguing the body national?

    In a simple and graphic way, a cartoon in one of today’s papers portrays a bitter reality.

    Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 7.58.05 AM.png
    Metaphor of Jamaicans’ current economic struggles (Courtesy, Jamaica Observer)
    The currency has been ‘battered’ for years, but its recent decline has many feeling more pain than ever before. It’s easy to accuse the IMF for laying that beating on this important symbol of national well-being. However, financial realities are that Jamaicans lived beyond their means for too long, and the cost of that has to be borne in one or several ways. One of them is currency depreciation; another is unemployment (now nearly 14 percent); another is a crippling debt burden, made harder to bear because the ‘investment’ of the funds was never good; another is a dripping decline in the amount and quality of public services. Each of these could take a week of explanation and discussion.

    Another image that perhaps shows the problem well is one of the now iconic ones of Usain Bolt winning. In now customary fashion, he’s run his race, and reached his goal, but those in the event with him are struggling to make it. That can stand as a metaphor for many Jamaicans.

    Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 8.04.27 AM.png
    Those in Bolt’s wake have worked at least as hard as him, but cannot match his success
    Many have worked as hard as he did, but seem to get little for their efforts. For their efforts, they are forgotten, and the present and history has little or no place for them. Notions like that help go a little way towards understanding what some must feel.

    Headlines like ‘One dead as West Kingston again erupts into violence‘ tell of a constant horror that is unchanged by what some of us take for a time of bliss. Messages from government agencies like the one below, tell us that some people’s lives are unmoved by advice or instruction, but compelled by something that has ‘death and destruction’ written all over it.Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 8.12.05 AM.png Seemingly wanton self-destruction goes on daily on our roads. Hit and run attacks, whether against police or other citizens, tell a story of cowardice and vindictiveness.

    I guarantee that we will have a few days of somber reflection about how Jamaica and Jamaicans and those who have Jamaican lineage can do so many amazing things, like Dr. Michael Abrahams did today, with his ‘Jamaica…boom!‘ article. But, we will be hard pressed to touch the bitterness that some have in their hearts that transcend those amazing things.

    We got a hint of that during the Games, when the amazing feat of Omar McLeod in winning the 110 metres hurdles, and the many unique features of that was not enough for someone to hold back their hatred of what they thought he might represent, as possibly a gay person. The company for whom the offensive man worked had to spend its valuable time apologising and trying to control the damage that was raging like a wild fire. In a similar incident with a British athlete, Tom Daley, a few days later, the author J.K. Rowling jumped to defend the athlete, on Twitter:Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 8.19.47 AM.png

    When people are driven by hate, or stupidity, or spite, there are only a few ways to deal with it. Being silent isn’t one of them. We see, with social media, that people’s voice can be heard (for good and bad) quickly and loud, whoever, they are.

    But, that national reflection will bring with it things that, though not meant to divide, may and will. If your town has been without water, electricity, flush latrines in schools, are you going to feel blessed with a new statue or a new name on the stadium?

    Naturally, a nation will feel the need to honour those of its people who have brought honour. Already, ideas are swirling about how to do that. I can’t stop those thoughts, but I can imagine how some will feel if and when a new statue or a new museum or something else is created, and yet they still seem to have little or nothing. The world isn’t level, and those who feel or sense unevenness will usually react.

    One of Jamaica’s major problems is to make those who have been and continue to be disconnected, feel and be connected. We can’t ship people off to Australia, like the British did once upon a time. We can’t create enclaves within the country where those who are not positive about the country can live with their negativity and not affect the rest of us, as some countries used to do with lepers or those whom society felt were unworthy.

    These are angry people, who want something, and get upset for not getting it. These are people who see little value in their own lives (why else do you hurtle along at speed on a motorcycle without protection?). These are people who may represent other things that many others do not feel are part of their lives: how many of us are gangsters or scam artists?

    Poverty and lack of resources, oddly, are the root of some of our current success. Bolt now lives in the tony Kingston/St. Andrew neighbourhood of Norbrook, but comes from the poor area of Sherwood Content, Trelawny; some call that place ‘primitive’. It’s part of a rags to riches story. Similarly, with Elaine Thompson, from the village of Banana Ground, Manchester. Same with Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, from the tough urban neighbourhood of Waterhouse. And so on.

    Are we what we are on the track because of what we have to endure off it? PhD theses candidates can start exploring that, along with what is in our DNA (and that of the Caribbean and USA). Why is it, though, that poor areas in west Africa (supposedly where our roots are from, mainly) have not produced similar outcomes?

    Struggle has long been seen as part of the road to glory. Football/soccer and basketball, for example, have understood and told this narrative in many countries many times.

    But, we cannot fix the world. We have to fix ourselves.

    Bolt did not come from a broken family and broken neighbourhood. He and many of our sports personalities found solid mentoring early and stuck with it. They might not have had much support from government, but people were important in carrying them along hard roads. That is a narrative that many Jamaicans understand.

    But, beyond beginnings, we know that good opportunities must exist or be created to move people along. But, making that into reality is the challenge for us, for it to not just be about ‘the one’, but ‘the many’. That’s the true essence of our national motto–making the many feel as one. What happened for Abigail Cameron to rise from humble inner city life to getting a full US$250,ooo scholarship to Dartmouth University?

    Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 8.51.44 AM.png
    Abigail, one who should be among many
    We are proud of our athletes, and we need that pride to spread further and wider. It’s a big deal to achieve, and we need to understand how and when to do that, not just for those who mount podiums or stand at the top of classes, but for everyone who puts out maximum effort.

    Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 8.45.37 AM.png
    KFC’s ‘Jamaica is a Big Deal’ advert could stand as a theme and metaphor well beyond the Olympics

    Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 7.35.51 AM.png
    So true it’s funny (Courtesy, Jamaica Gleaner)
    Our quick condemnation and readiness to speak of ‘failure’ when people do anything but place first is not a matter of which we should be proud.

    #WorldPhotoDay: delayed release 

    August 19 was the day, but the people at http://worldphotoday.com/ are keeping submissions open till August 25. I have been a little distracted by goings on down south. Sports absorb me fully and I absorb them equally, more so when friends and neighbours and compatriots are in the mix. So, I was pleased that some could open their eyes and minds to an on-the-day celebration. I’m a bit late: *shoot* me! My eyes couldn’t *focus* on things not-*Olympus*-related.

    I’ve been taking photos for decades. At secondary school, a friend and I read books on the topic and spent time walking in London, taking candid shots with a small Leika. Sort of Bond-like with stealth. We took a lot of pictures of feet and legs as we walked with the cameras held in our dangling arms, to seem natural. I still take many shots of feet: they rarely pose and often show a mood clearly.

    We learned how to develop film and spent time between learning that and playing guitar.

    As I went on to earn a living, I bought newer cameras, not expensive, but better. Everything is relative. My joy was a bulky Soviet Zenit camera, that saw much of Europe with me. But, in typical Soviet fashion it had little quirks, like a closing latch that tended to get caught on a carrying strap that would flip open the camera and…expose the film. Argh! Weeks of holiday pictures gone!

    Technology gave us smaller and faster cameras and then no need for film, as digital images became possible.

    Then cameras tended to be unnecessary as other devices could take pictures. The mobile phone is now the camera of choice for many. No need to search for and carry anything else. With reversible lenses, they gave the photographer what he or she often lacked–the chance to be in pictures. Hello, selfies! We’re in the moment. We are the moment. Gone are the days of ‘Where were you in the picture?’

    I have many preferred subjects, but spontaneous works well, whether with natural things or created things. Food is very photogenic.

    Home-made paella
    You never know who may come into focus
    So, for most, gone (if ever there) are days of f-stops, exposure meters, bulky flashes, interchangeable lenses, carrying bags, rolls of film. Holiday packing used to have to reckon with ‘Daddy’s camera stuff’. Now, it’s just ‘Where’s my phone?’

    I need not fuss about taking pictures as others press away and share with me faster than we can say ‘Cheese!’.

    Friends and family, near and far, can be in the mix. I don’t do Photoshopping but can understand its appeal. But, I enjoy simple juxtaposition.

    Bolt and De Grasse acting like two little boys playing…in a semifinal
    Do I miss boxes full of dusty albums and nights sitting through slides of ‘Our weekend in Skegness’? No!

    Do I wish I had old photos of when I was much younger but cameras weren’t available? Oh, yes! I have barely a handful of pictures of my younger sporting days; my youngest has a museum-full gallery. Maybe, a time machine is coming soon😊

    “Mr. Jones? *Snap* out of it! You’re talking in your sleep!”