Coincidences? Read The Celestine Prophesy

If you have not read The Celestine Prophesy book, do so soon. It’s essential message is simple: ‘coincidences’ or synchronicity are not accidents. You don’t believe me? Just look at yesterday. 

I spent the day working at a golf tournament. Early during my day there, I met a lady sitting near the area where I was due to work. We got talking. We discovered that we knew people in common; not such a surprise in small island communities. As I was later given my assignment in another area far from where the lady worked, I said something like “Nice to have met you.” Moments later, my ‘supervisor’ came to ask me to move to another location…right where the lady was working. We smiled and struck up conversations again. She later went on to do her thing, of checking dignataries into her hospitality area. As the afternoon wore on, it was clear that few of the expected dignatiraies were coming. The lady beckoned me to join her hospitality tent, once I had finished my shift. I moved from gatekeeper, to VIP, once I had taken off my ‘uniform’. Thank you, for the hospitality, Ms. X 🙂 (I do know her name.)

Not long after I started my shift, I met a young lady in an orange tee shirt, responsible for an adjacent VIP tent, while she was welcoming guests. I noticed the company had a connection with my wife’s local church. I mentioned that it would have been nice for the hospitality to have extended to the church, as a sign of good relationships. She nodded and acknowledged the point. Later, while I was enjoying my time as a VIP, I sidled over to the area that separated the two sets of corporate hospitality areas. I started speaking to a man with a large cigar in his mouth, who looked like he might be a CEO. We started chatting and again the point about the church came up. I mentioned my link and he said that the next day I would be free to join his group. OK. 🙂 He walked off to talk with some of the guests. Two men who had been beside him started a conversation with me, and we got onto the tortured existence of getting citizens in our region to change. Suddenly, while talking about the difficulty of our neighbouring islanders to understand each other (Jamaican Patois is often unintelligible for others), I mentioned a Russian word, and immediately one of the men made a remark in fluent Russian. He asked me if I spoke the language and I said I did. We exchanged on our history of learning it: he did so at university in Alabama during the 1980s, but had never been to Russia. I had learned my Russian in the early 1990s and had visited Russia and Russian-speaking countries many times. He is Bahamian, I am Jamaican. We could not converse well in our local dialects or languages, but we could converse in Russian. Bizarre! Or was it? The two men were readying to leave, and the orange tee shirt lady came by us. One of the men explained how we had never met but found we were ‘friends’. She looked bewildered but listened to the summary of our meeting. “That’s too much for my head!” she said. We spoke for a few moments later, then she handed me a bag, containing selected merchandise goodies that had been selected for the invited guests. Remember, I was not one of them. Nice! All that from a chance meeting. Really? 

After getting back to my mother-in-law’s house in the evening, my brother-in-law and I headed to the airport to try to deal with a damaged bag. We went to the Customs are but the officer there could not get a representative from American Airlines to answer the phone, and we were contemplating having to wait for the last flight to come in after 10pm to find someone. Then, in came a rep from Delta, and I said “We want a rep from AA to come in, now.” Boom! The door opened and in walked…an AA rep…on cue. We got the baggage claim made and left the airport. What is the probability of someone appearing seconds after you wish they would appear? I looked for my genie lamp. 🙂


United we stand, divided we fall. Jamaica is divided, so how can it prosper?

Imagine a group of people each given a rope connected to a horse that is stuck in a ditch. The idea is for all of them to pull at the same time, in the same direction to make getting the horse out more easily. If any one of the people pulls in a direction other than the rest, then the horse may still come out, but it wont happen as easily as if all pull in the same direction and at the same time. Depending on who pulls in a contrary fashion, in which direction, and for how long, we could get a situation where the horse stays stuck rather than moving out of the ditch. 

This image strikes me as fitting what I think is going on in Jamaica, at present, and has probably been going on for some time. The horse is Jamaica (in its many guises, as economy and society). The people are all of us citizens (and for the sake of simplicity, I will call ‘citizen’ anyone interested in the future of the country). Note, that I did not say the future well-being of the country, and I will make clear why, shortly. The ropes are anything that can literally take the country from where it is now to another state, and a better one than currently exists

As a country, it’s clear that we have several competing groups who want to tug the country in different directions. I’m not going to try to identify all of these groups–which is probably an impossible task because the groups could be as small as one person wanting to do his or her own thing. Think (with no slight intended) of a typical Jamaican country person wanting to live in the bush or the hills, far away from anyone else and content to farm his/her own piece of land, and feeling or actually being self-sufficient. In that sense, such people are not pulling against the rest of the country, but are not necessarily concerned to join in any ‘national’ efforts. 

The obvious competing forces that I can identify are:

  • Political factions. We can accept the division between the main political parties as sufficiently contentious in almost everything that each says and does. There is little meeting half way for partisans. The idea of consensus has not been accepted by any significant number of supporters on each side. So, for simplicity, we can say that each party wants to the take the country in a different direction–not necessarily opposite, but certainly not getting to any destination by essentially the same routes. Jamaica isnt unique in such divisions, and it’s ironic perhaps that the former colonial masters, the British, had a country long accustomed to such divisiveness, and it manifested itself in economic policies termed ‘stop-go’: whenever, national political control changed the direction of policies was almost reversed, looking to undo what the previous administration had done. Britain’s economy stalled badly as a result of such tensions.
  • Law-abiding vs law-breaking groups. I’ve written a few times, recently, about the fact that Jamaica is in a form of civil war in its struggle against some criminals. Some do not find this notion comfortable, but I think that it’s undeniable. Last week Prof. Herbert Gayle hit the civil war nail on the head, citing numbers, in his piece ‘Light On Violence | ‘We Are Killing Ourselves In Undeclared Civil War‘. Whether one accepts the civil war point or not, it’s clear that those who want to break laws are against those who want to follow the laws of the land. So, the issue is much broader than those surrounding the terrible levels of violent crimes in Jamaica, but extends to all the petty forms of rules violation that are a common part of Jamaican life. That is not to equate the gangland killer with the vendor who operates illegally, but there is an equvalence in the way that our society has been ready to turn a blind eye to many things that people will accept as wrong, yet continue to do

Those two groups alone cover a lot of what happens in Jamaica. They are very clearly part of many daily struggles, whether you are the gainer or loser in a bid for a government contract, or you are someone who has to choose between riding in a registered taxi or taking a ‘robot’ to school, work or play.

    The problem with this divisiveness is clear from the image I first painted. We have a Jamaica tussling with itself on a daily basis. We cannot fix most of our problems because we have a bigger mass of people willing to pull against their solution. If one assesses comments about things that need to change in Jamaica, many go to how the ‘little man’ needs to be protected. That ‘little man’ is often doing something illegal, whether it’s stealing electricity, living on land illegally, operating a business that is unregistered and not willing to come into the formal economic structure, or a range of other things that are common in this little island. 

    We have a deep-seated culture of silence, so few are prepared to ‘call out’ those who are wrong doers, yet are ready to suggest that they don’t approve of wrongdoing. We are also a society that has many layers of close connections, so ‘calling out’ someone often means choosing to support a wider social need over a personal bond. We see that played out often, including recently in the case of a pastor accused of sexual abuse/rape of a minor, and how the principal of a girl’s school could publicly come to his aid and the support of her dear “friend”, his wife, yet not see how she compromised her position as the head of that girl’s school. We have not heard the end of that aspect of the story, but we have seen that duplicity is apparent in many elements of what took place and what people say took place. 

    What has been dubbed the ‘fight against crime’ is hampered by this culture of silence–on both sides of the fight. We can understand the fear that exists in those living in areas controlled by criminals, who are known to be violent. We can understand, too, the sense of ‘brotherhood’ that may govern the illegal activities of police officers seeking to ‘solve’ crime problems with a little bit of ‘jungle justice’. 

    Economic progress is hampered, too, by this tussle. The struggle between building an economy that is more highly formalized instead of one that has a large informal element is real. So many Jamaicans thrive on the informal–the fruit seller at the traffic lights who provides the daily healthy snacks; the crab sellers at Heroes Circle; the seller of fruit and vegetables from the back of a vehicle; the ‘friend’ who eases the way through a problem (bureaucratic or technical). Many would not use the word ‘corrpution’, but most of us have hands supporting corrupt practices. Our major problem is that these practices keep the cost of living lower than it would otherwise be, so to overturn it means a heavier burden across many lives, and a burden that many may not be able to support. That’s a tough Gordian knot. There’s no easy solution. One of the things I have pointed to is how we can seem to make progress by increasing inefficiency: filling holes in road, which quickly reopen and get refilled, shows up as ‘growth'(equivalent to ‘better life’ and ‘richness’), while our lives have been made poorer by the persistence of fundamentally poor road conditions. Real corrpution may be behind the contracting of such work, but it’s also corrupt thinking that this style of working should continue. 

    I know how some of these problems can be solved, and I know that many others in decision-making positions also know how to address the problems. But, I am not surprised that the necessary actions dont get taken. Again, connectedness explains much inaction. But, we have to either accept that we may inch ahead instead of moving in leaps and bound, or agree that leaping head may involve some serious national ‘pain’, if we are to make the necessary changes. I am not bold enough to say glibly ‘Take the pain!’

    What I know from experience with countries that make dramatic shifts is that it doesn’t happen without that ‘national consensus’, which we do not have. 

    Moving experiences: Old wine in new skins

    As the process of making a new home proceeds, I’m still reflecting on whether it’s stressful or not. I went to a meeting/lunch this week with lots of women who had moved a lot during their lives, mainly as the trailing spouses of men who were furthering careers as diplomats or international companies. They had some stories to tell:

    • Kidnapping by rebels in Sierra Leone
    • Learning new languages and customs in Moldova; eating what’s grown and in-season
    • Dealing with racism in Russia (essentially, Russians regard most people from outside Russia as undesirable, and your colour may just add to the dislike, but isn’t essential)
    • Moving countries over 15 times
    • Hardships in Haiti
    • Living with a suitcase packed all the time, in case of need to evacuate.

    These are just a few of the instances that came to mind for people. Most were not that pleasant, so we tend to keep pushing the stress button. But, we know that’s only a part of the story. In my way, I will put out some of the other side.

    As I wade through boxes, I also wade through my life that may be partially forgotten or poorly remembered.

    • Letter from my late mother in Jamaica, sent to me in 1993 to America, where I’d been living for three years, including cuttings from local papers of sporting events. That’s a keeper, not least because the three stamps shown were each valued at J$1.10. As my daughter asked, that’s not J$110? 🙂
    • Reminders of my first visit to Moscow, in 1994: calendar cards, showing different images of Russian soldiers and fighters over the years. 
    • Greeting cards kept, for reasons that seem unclear, now. 
    • Russian 12 month entry visa, over 1993-4, which marked my stepping into the world of the just-fallen former Soviet Union. This gave my daughter a Snapchat moment as I read it.

    Life moves on and we change, so moving is one of those events that allow you to reset markers in life.

    Visual reminders are often of pleasant things, like notes from someone you’re courting. I, personally, don’t keep things that remind me of dark moments: they have their own specail place in my memory. Moving can, sometimes, help to erase those.

    Road safety-Jamaica style

    I’ve had a little block in my mind over risk-taking in Jamaica, and it’s still there for the grand picture, so let me take care of part of it, by looking at one aspect of what seems like poor decision-making on a national scale.

    I’ll try to set this out in terms of anecdotes that seem familiar and place them in a sort of economics frame.

    Jamaica loses about one person a day from deaths in road accidents. Somewhat like murders, we have a set of constants that exist, which, if not changed, make it hard to see that the number of deaths will decline dramatically.

    In an ideal world, a place would have all over it great roads and great road users. Jamaica, however, has lots of poor roads and many poor road users. Let’s try to look at both of these, as we meet them often.

    Lots of poor roads: Most people in Jamaica know districts with bad roads, usually pot-holed roads badly in need of repair. Many of these are paved and some of them have barely any hard artificial covering. Such roads present dangerous driving conditions. Drivers try to avoid the holes, sometimes at speed. Sometimes, such avoidance puts at risk other road users (drivers and pedestrians), who may be in the path of the vehicles, or following nearby, and may put at risk road ‘furniture’ (lamp posts, etc.). Drivers hit holes and have their vehicles knocked off its intended path, and all of the previous set of consequences again come into play. When rain falls, the conditions of these roads tend to deteriorate rapidly, causing the driver and vehicle to deal with the need for more extreme moves to avoid problems. We also have poorly designed and constructed roads, eg with curves that are not protected or are without warning signs, which can be dangerous in general, and very dangerous in poor weather. These elements have many things that can cause accidents. We also have roads made poor by the presence of repairs that are incomplete (holes waiting to be filled, partly filled with marl), complete but badly finished (thinly covered road patches, which may be uneven or not properly graded). We have roads with overgrown vegetation that make for poor sight lights and may also cause obstructions.

    Many poor road users: From early in the life of the average Jamaica, we are taught certain habits that are not good for our safety on the roads. Let me list some of those that I know from when I was a boy and I still see. Remember that I’ve been around for about 60 years, and in that time many things about traffic have changed, such as faster vehicles, more vehicles, younger drivers, more paved roads, bigger roads that encourage speed, a tendency to want to do things more rapidly, which tends to make people rush more on the roads (both drivers and pedestrians), and many more road users (both drivers and pedestrians). These changes mean that many more problematic encounters (between vehicles and between vehicles and pedestrians) happen each day.

    • Children are taught to cross roads wherever they want, and to try to stop traffic by raising their hands. (In many other countries, this practice is used and works, but is used by adult crossing guards, eg, nearer schools, not children making their way.)
    • Motorists are not encouraged to give way to pedestrians. (In many countries, the pedestrian is given most rights when trying to cross roads, eg by laws that protect that right, or pedestrians are given a fair chance to avoid traffic, by not having to deal with it (eg, footbridges, tunnels), or by having ‘their turn’ to use the road (eg, with controlled crossing areas, whether these are simply marked (eg, Zebra crossings) or crossing areas at traffic lights.) (In Jamaica, we see the absurd situation of highways constructed by places much used by people, yet with no safe way to cross provided (look at Mandela Highway by Hydel Academy or by Jose Marti HS). These measures to give pedestrians a fair chance are most often found in urban areas (with their dense populations and many vehicles sharing space). In Jamaica, not giving way has a (risky) element of hostility to pedestrians, rather than a (safer) attitude that tries to accommodate pedestrians. In other words, drivers don’t tend to slow down when meeting passengers, thus raising the risk of accidents.
    • Drivers develop unwritten rules about priorities on the road. This may be seen by the common practice of tapping the horn to thank another driver (eg, for giving way). We also tend to allow other drivers into traffic, when it’s clear that they want passage. (Some countries teach such behaviour in certain settings, eg, my encouraging drivers to merge alternately when entering a highway from a lesser road.)
    • Drivers develop priorities that favour them rather than other road users. An example of this is that a typical Jamaican driver approaches an obstacle and takes the view that he who gets to it first has right of way. So, a driver who has to pass a parked car will tend to act as if he/she can proceed even though the obstacle is on his/her side of the road and proceeding means compromising an incoming driver who is not facing the obstacle (who is really the one who generally has the priority). You often see drivers racing to beat the obstacle, adding to the danger to the oncoming driver. The average Jamaican driver will even display his/her anger when their ‘obstacle avoidance’ causes a big risk to another road user, who dares to complain or show displeasure. (In most countries, the written rule is that those who have clear passage have right of way, and those obstructed should wait before moving into the free space.) Another feature of such behaviours is that in many countries those coming up hills have priority over those coming down hills. This tendency to favour him-/herself means that at places like junctions well-established rules such as ‘first-come-first-leave’ are not necessarily followed, and even with stop signs visible, drivers on ‘larger’ roads may assume they have priority over those coming from ‘lesser’ roads. When traffic lights aren’t working this practice is often clear to see, and may not even have the well-established notion of treating the non-working light as a stop sign, so drivers will race through junctions where lights aren’t working because they are on ‘the main’, with no consideration of the risks of doing that. Jamaicans’ tendency to favour themselves is not limited to drivers, and pedestrians will often act as if they have priorities in situations where this is really unlikely to be the case (e.g. indiscriminately crossing a road away from any marked crossing).
    • Familiarity with the official rules and laws of the road is not common. Part of this lack of familiarity comes from widespread illiteracy, and it cannot be assumed that the average road user can read and understand written instructions on roads. Although most countries have replaced written signs with signs showing images, Jamaicans still deal with many written signs with odd instructions like ‘Yield’. Pictorial signs are not always easy to interpret, however, and the general principle of warnings in triangles, may not be well-understood.
    • Defensive driving/road use is not common. Best examples of this are: (1) pedestrians walking behind parked vehicles (not in front of them, so that a driver could see them); (2) refusal to use horns as warning (that may be because we use horns as ‘friendly’ signals); not slowing down, but rather speeding up near hazards (this is seen in other countries); (3) indiscriminate crossing by pedestrians; (4) running red lights (though, frankly, it’s a practice much less prevalent in Jamaica than in the US, I think); (5) aggressive driving strategies (eg forcing way into traffic, ignoring restrictions). Car manufacturers havew helped with road safety by fitting cars with lights that come on automatically during daytime, but many Jamaicans may not understand this and try to ‘warn’ drivers that their lights are on, rather than realise that it is good to see the oncoming vehicle. (Some are locked in time to the days when draining car batteries through use of electrics was a bigger problem.) When we have a problem on the road (eg need to make a repair on the road), we don’t use things designed to warn and protect (eg reflective triangles) but will improvise (eg with sticks or rocks in the middle or the road to warn other road users 🙂 Watch a Jamaican repairing a vehicle on the highway and how he/she seems to have no regard for life and limb in where the vehicle is placed and where the repairer will operate. (Honestly, I saw a car being repaired in the outside lane of the North-South Highway, last weekend!) I also saw groups posing for pictures in the middle of the highway. 

    These habits just raise the general level of risk on the roads.

    Add to this the fact that a certain body of road users, namely taxi drivers and drivers of other public service vehicles tend to have road use habits that are often dangerous in the extreme, using speed and aggression on the road, as well as ignoring rules. We all know that taxis will just stop to pick up or stop off passengers. This is common worldwide, but is more hazardous in areas where road space is limited to single lanes, so that stopping blocks traffic flows, and if done suddenly increases chances of collisions, with the taxi or with its passengers (especially, if they just enter the road, not the sidewalk).

    My general view is that Jamaicans need to be re-educated root-and-branch about road use. (I know efforts are in place to do some of this in schools, but we have a bigger stock of people who do not know good road use practices.) Ideally, we would make sure that every road user is properly trained and properly certified to operate a vehicle. (We know the many anecdotes about buying licences, and we see the bad results of that when accident details reveal such practices, as well as those that allow unworthy vehicles on the road.) It’s a big challenge.

    I’ve not mentioned the other problems created on roads by new technology (new ways to listen to music or watch images) and how that creates distractions for drivers and pedestrians. I’m not mentioning risks created by substance abuse that impairs

    I’ve not mentioned the other problems created on roads by new technology (new ways to listen to music or watch images or communicate with each other) and how that creates distractions for drivers and pedestrians. I’m not mentioning risks created by substance abuse that impairs the ability to assess risks properly, whether taken by drivers or pedestrians.

    Our general approach to road use is lax, and it’s made easier to keep that stance because our law enforcers are well-known for being zealous about certain misuse rather than all misuse. So, we will see efforts to check drivers’ credentials (important, because we know that many drive illegally and without insurance), but hardly any effort to deal with motorcycle riders who are without helmets or drivers and passengers who are not using seat belts. Some of this lax policing is about resources, but much is about attitude. Cameras or closed-circuit television may provide useful deterrence, but without a re-education, it seems that the problem is being attacked from the wrong end.

    Moving experiences: the power of the new

    Several people found my post about the stress of moving earlier this week had lots of personal resonance for them. Some also asked me to do some more posts as things went along.

    One of the things that moving does is put time into perspective. In our case, having had many personal belongings in storage for a few years, their release has exposed the ravages of time–some things do not thrive when not used or kept in artificial conditions–as well as the speed of change in recent years.

    The ravages tend to ‘attack’ things that need air and light. So, many wooden things we have have lost some lustre and may need a lot of TLC to get back their sheen; maybe, some good doses of linseed oil will work wonders.

    Technological change has been rapid over the past few decades. Nothing shows that more than the world of electronics. However, the side aspect of this is how homes have had to change to accept these changes. For instance, we left behind a house that had an armoire and shelving to house a television and stereo music system. Well, now the world is full of flat-screen and wall-mounted TVs, so no need for furniture. We have the space under the TV and the cable boxes, etc. need to sit somewhere, but not in the old-style (relatively) set up.

    Wall-mounted, flat screen TVs now the norm

    Most people are not fans of dangling wires and I can now understand how nice it must be to design and build your own home and have these wires and cables hidden or so set up that they are not so readily visible. Anyway, time to think about creative coverings.

    We’ve moved from a world of music on discs and tapes to a world of streaming. So, I had to smile when I came across some packs of blank cassette tapes. I should ask my teenager if she knows what they are.

    What!? Cassette tapes

    A friend suggested I sell them on eBay, and there’s a good market.

    We don’t even need a radio to listen to radio broadcasts, as many cable services offer radio stations in their packages.

    What about WiFi? Long gone are the days of having computers connected to the Internet. Now, we have wireless access all over, or almost all over, and get antsy if we have weak signals in any part of the area. I am thinking about leaving some of those weak spots, though, as a kind of ‘quiet zone’, especially as that is around the master bedroom. I’m pretty comfortable with many changes and all the little things one needs to know about setting up Internet connections. But, my heart goes out to those who never grasped how it all works. They may even have never mastered the remotes for the TV and still are at a loss when new equipment arrives and has to be used. Like the transition from a kettle on a fire to an electric one, it can be an odd shift.

    We’re also having to deal with the ‘new’ that is not so new, that is living in a different climate and culture. The climate part is great in that summer all year round is a joy. But, life is different in the tropics. I do not freak out when I see lizards crawling over my sneakers, but I’m reminded I need to check my footwear before sticking my feet in 🙂 If you don’t like living things sharing your space, then see you later. Ants love people and their food supplies. I’d rather remove the temptation than spray, etc, but my wife loves to be armed with Bagon. Then, there is the bad weather. I have not been keep to open lots of windows because I don’t know how the rain falls where we are. When it rains, it can pour hard in Jamaica, and much as I love fresh air, I do not like surprise pools of water because I did not realise from where the rain comes.

    So, as we plod along and things take shape, little adjustments will get made. I’ve mastered the lights. Success! Set realizable goals. Few boxes today than yesterday? That’s the spirit!

    Moving experiences

    “I’ve moved!” I’ve been telling friends, with a certain amount of pleasure and abandonment–of the carefree kind, not the physical leaving behind sort. They often came back quickly with “How did it go?” “Good luck with that!” “I hate moves!” or a set of not happy-inducing remarks.

    I mentioned last week how moving is highly ranked as a cause of stress. I quoted the following:

    “It’s one of life’s most stressful experiences, and it’s because it involves having to cope with change,” explains Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of charity Anxiety UK. “Moving house represents a transition in life, it’s about change and unfamiliarity and for many people that causes stress and anxietyMay 5, 2016 Read How to reduce the stress of moving house – Anxiety UK.

    Now, we’ve moved a lot over the past 15 years, from separate homes as singles into marital home; from our new home in the USA to an official residence in Guinea that backed onto the ocean, and back; from USA to another house in Barbados and back; from our house in a cul-de-sac in the USA to a house in a gated complex in Jamaica, and now within Jamaica. I’ve always thought about the moves with mixed feelings, but more tilted towards the positive, in part because each move was its own start to an adventure, and some of the ‘journeys’ are still underway.

    We also had the good fortune of not ending up in some home that was terrible. Our first spot in Guinea was an official residence on a main road; not a very prepossessing house and not much lived in by my predecessor, and it lacked any homely touches. It also needed a lot of sprucing up. But, it was next door to one of the president’s wives, so was in a safe neighbourhood. I negotiated to find a new official residence and made an offer the owner of a new housing complex could not refuse and he gave up his villa to move into one of the tower blocks on the site, and voila! We had nice neighbours, in the Chinese Ambassador and the British Ambassador on either side. The former I rarely saw, but the latter (which had two postings) I saw often and we became and are still good friends. Living with lots of security takes some getting used to, though. Two guards 24-hours a day was too much, though, and I begged to half the detail. When we got back to the simple life, it was nice to be in a bucolic suburb near the Capital Crescent Trail, where it was a five-minute walk to the shops or to a patch that went to Georgetown in one direction and downtown Bethesda in the other direction, and was frequented by people taking exercise in all forms. Much of the year we could opt to ride to work, and when I retired it was my walking place of choice.

    Capital Crescent Trail

    We’ve been lucky because working for international organisations has meant that we get a lot of help. We have movers to help disassemble, pack, load, list, ship, store, unload, recheck lists, unpack, re-assemble, etc. That’s a huge physical and mental burden lessened, though the fact that you have to move is no less anxiety-creating. But, moves are wholesale, so it’s a full 40 foot container somewhere along the way. Each move, we got rid of plenty of stuff, but then acquired new things in new places and then shipped those home, to then go through a weeding out again later. But, our core furniture is much the same as when we first decided to buy a home. It’s nice timeless stuff, with lots of cultural and geography added, such as wooden figures, carpets from the Caucasus counties, pottery, and dirt from all over, plus abundant memories.

    Our latest move from a furnished house to one that was unfurnished also had the excitement–yes, you read right–of seeing our own belongings after their spending more than three years in storage. My thoughts turned first to trepidation about what condition things would be in, but hardly anything was damaged or the worse for wear due to being in a container and warehouse all that time. By contrast, my wife was taken with “I forgot we had that!” She of the minimalist lifestyle. 🙂

    Fortunately, too, the initiation of the moves hasn’t always been driven by one part of the couple, because all the liaison can be as burdensome as the questions about what to pack what to ship, what to think about keeping in short-term storage, etc. But, it’s good to have seen it from both angles, as ‘leader’ or ‘follower’.

    I have also moved myself a few times, and I was telling the moving crew at the weekend how I moved from an upstairs apartment and got a bed out of a window single-handed. I learned how to move heavy furniture by sliding it on cardboard, up and down stairs. It’s amazing what one person can do. You have to be resourceful. But, as we agreed, you don’t want to do too much as you have work to do at the other end, and maybe a long drive in-between.

    But, as far as I’m concerned there’s always something funny involved in a move. It may be people or things that cause the ripples in the stomach. This one has been all about Bed-lam! 

    It all began when a friend and realtor offered us some air beds for the first few nights. It’s a while since I slept on one of those and I completely forgot how difficult they are to get off, let alone have a decent night sleep. I woke up feeling I was being wrapped in a huge bowl of blancmange. I had nothing on which I could lever myself, so I slithered onto the floor and then tried to pull myself up by a dresser. I had one night on that THING! I then had to go to the north coast early in the morning after that night and was then spoilt by having four nights in a big, real bed. But, I had to come back and spend one more night on the ‘Titanic’ bubble, which had by now lost half its air. Needless to say the night was rocky, or really squishy. Again, in the morning I had to do my impression of a slithering snake. I’M glad no one was with a camera.

    So, I was excited when I heard that a delivery of our furniture would come the next day. Though I had planned to be on the north coast again from early Saturday, my wife ‘prevailed’ on me to delay my trip (as she and our daughter had just flown off to Florida for a weekend swim meet–didn’t they know we were moving?), so I committed to stay till midday. See, I care! 🙂 As luck had it, the first item out of the truck was our bed 🙂 At least a real mattress would be there for when I got back.

    The movers came with a crew of about eight men, both old and young. Many moving firms seem to have a kind of ‘succession’ planning going on, with older guys (mainly) showing new and younger guys the ropes (literally, in terms of moving the heavy items). This crew was quite funny in a typically Jamaican way. The driver of the container lorry had arrived with his lady, who was a really ‘fluffy diva’, even down to the powder on her neck. I don’t know what he’d promised her, but the two of them were soon on the grass verge as if they had good to country and were on a river bank. Anyway, the guys told me they would be unloading the container and putting the things into a smaller truck to come down the driveway to the house. It sounded like more work to me. But, I was surprised to see it worked well, and of course reduced some of the heavy humping on and up and over. The supervisor was ‘Mr. Big Picture’ and it’s important that someone has that because some of the men are clueless. “Where do you want this box?” the man asked. ‘What’s in it?” I asked. He did not know. I asked him what was its number and we checked the packing list: ‘downstairs office’. OK. We could decide on general location. I gave general ideas, such as make sure that bedroom things are in or close to the rooms concerned. But, I had to point out that stacking boxes four deep by a window meant I could not get to the window to open or close it. Oh! Yes, oh! 🙂

    In between all of this heavy lifting, I suddenly saw some men rolling on the floor with heavy wrapping paper and a man rolled up inside it! “It’s his birthday!” one man said. ‘What happened to the flour?’ I asked. They were having too much fun. Well, noon cane and I left. Most of the container had been emptied. The team was going to assemble as much as possible before their day ended at 4. 

    I went to do my business and spent the night with friends, in a real bed. After playing in a charity tournament on Sunday, I headed home and got in about 8. What a joy! My bed! I couldn’t really wait, but I showered and unpacked a little and slid into it and under the covers. Bliss! I was soon asleep by about 10. Then…

    Kachunk! I felt the bed move and I was leaning over, with my head toward the floor. It did not feel like an earthquake. So, I got up. I went to the bathroom and looked at the bed in the half-light of 2am. I got back into the bed. After what seemed like an hour, I felt it again. Kachunk! Now, my head was closer to the floor. What the…! I got up and looked the bed. The mattress was inside the frame at a steep angle. Had the bed broken? Search me, as they say. I got up and headed downstairs, knowing that I could at least lie on a sofa. What a disaster! I sent my wife a message in the wee hours, so that she could share my joy when she got up in Florida. I watched some tennis–Australian Open had begun.

    In the middle of the morning, some of the loading crew came by. We looked at the bed. Unfortunately, slats that support the base mattress were missing. THey were not in any unopened packages, so somehow they had disappeared. Well, that was good news. I just suggested we move the bed frame and put the mattresses on the floor. So, that’s where we are. My wife came back yesterday and was agog at the stuff that was in the house. But, she seemed to like the make shift bed set-up and was sleeping deeply when I got up before dawn. She didn’t look that stressed. I saw that she had emptied a few boxes before going to sleep…and put away the things I needed to take somewhere today. Oh, I wonder where they are, now?

    But, she’s off on the road again, and a two-day conference followed by another trip means that we will put off the joint decisions about whether her long dresses really should stay in the closet with my shirts. I know what I think. Now, let’s see what else I can do? Lots of boxes to unload. Not quite sure why my shoes are on shelves that look better suited for clothes. Where is the food? Well, here is some. Odd. It’s with some bed linen. Hmm! Can I find my Nutribullet? Well, here is a large blender cup part. But, where is the motor base? What are all these keys? Is there a map for the light switches? Oh, that sounds like a phone? Where was I when I last had my cell phone?

    Jamaica wages its ‘battle’ of the ‘Boyne’

    Ian Boyne is articulate. He is also, by his own admission, well-read. Those two things together tend to give opinions a certain power, whether or not that is merited. I say that simply because I am driven by the power of strong argument, not the power to make me think the argument is strong. The art of the con man is to make the story sound convincing. But, don’t get me wrong: I am not arguing that Ian is a con man. I just want to make sure that I think about the substance not the superficial.

    A few days ago, Mr. Boyne put forward some ideas for dealing with crime in Jamaica, under the title ‘Is Holness tough enough?‘.

    Now, the first part of the superficial is the positing that it’s a problem of one person (as the title suggests) rather than the problem of a government and all its part. In other words, we are asked to believe that it’s all about whether the leader has the right mettle, rather than whether the Cabinet is made of the right stuff. At it’s extreme, it could be that, in the face of a split Cabinet, the PM will have the casting vote. That would not be about his toughness, but about his deciding where the balance of power really sits more comfortably. But, let me not dwell on that.

    But, let’s dig deeper into the commentary.

    ‘…our elite dominates traditional media discourse on the issue, and our politicians are in terror of them the way ordinary citizens are in terror of gunmen.’ I noted immediately that Mr. Boyne is himself part of ‘our elite’, so I was stumped when I tried to think of who he meant. I’m still stumped by the implicit idea of ‘except me’. I was also struck by the mention of ‘traditional media’, noting that Mr. Boyne, as far as one can tell from checking does not step into the arena of ‘non traditional’ media, by which I mean social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. I then have to wonder whether the balance of opinion in traditional media is what matters, as opposed to balance of opinion is a much wider setting. I got confused by this argument, though, when Mr. Boyne acknowledges ‘We have a prime minister who is social media savvy and who is directly in touch with multiple tens of thousands of people through those platforms. His thinking is not just influenced by what traditional media discourse is.’ I now have no idea why the first postulation is relevant. (That last point about being ‘in touch’ also begs questions about whether the nature of social media interaction is well-understood.) 

    More important, is discourse in the media what really matters on weighty issues? It gives the media a superiority over opinions that makes me feel uneasy. But, think about it. That’s more powerful than, say, discourse in parliament? 

    ‘The politicians don’t have the guts and courage of leadership to take the tough decisions which they need to make to send a signal to criminals because talk-show hosts, articulate, well-spoken defense attorneys and other human rights fundamentalists will clobber them if they dare to act decisively and tough.’ Not having the guts because is odd. It suggests that the politicians have guts in other instances, but wilt in this area. I find that laughable. Jamaican politicians do not display guts in many areas, so the ‘fear’ of being bashed cannot be what is holding them back. I think if one looks across the realm of political decisions over decades one can find easily many instances where weak decisions are the preferred way of doing things for Jamaican politicians. You can take that from the decision to not deal with squatting and land capture, through the facilitation of stealing of water and electricity, through the building of garrison constituencies (to make it easier to win votes by the rule of fear, rather than the power of argument), through the general aversion to political and financial transparency, through the unwillingness to address clear economic problems UNTIL it is a necessity to get any more financial support from the international community (let’s call that being ‘beaten by the IMF to do it’) and much more. So, Jamaican politicians are better described as gutless. PERIOD.

    ‘our journalists, columnists and civil society activists have the gall to be making calls for the Government to ‘do something now’ and to ‘act decisively’ to deal with crime…Not one would have any effect on murder today or next week.’ This seems like a self-serving accusation, not least by scooping all things together and listing noting in particular. One of the problems with Jamaican politicial decision-making has been its willingness to put things off. So, we are forever pushing past the point when decisions should have been made to get maximum effect, and so it is actually harder to find a solution that can deal with almost any of our problems in an instant, because we have allowed them to become deeply ingrained. It does not only relate to crime, but to almost any aspect of our social and economic life. Look at the creaking infrastructure. Look at the simple matter of road signage, that was pointed to yesterday. Look at the systemic weaknesses in so many aspects of public service provision. Look at the feather-bedding in public employment. Look at our serial inability to hold anyone to account. We have wasted time (and money), so will always have to do more now to correct that weakness. 

    Whether Mr. Boyne can find one journalist who can say what can be done to affect crime now is not the point; it has been said, by others, at least. I and others, including academics, for police officers, lawyers, the US State Department and more have written and spoken often about how the risk:reward relationship of crime in Jamaica is badly and wrongly skewed. Getting away with crimes is far too easy in almost all spheres.

    One simple thing to do now is for the police to do a better job first of policing, including catching criminals, and for the justice system to do a better job of trying and convicting them. Without fighting over the meaning of ‘clear up’ rate, we know that a low percentage of alleged murderers get caught and under 10 percent of them get convicted. That is either because the wrong people are caught, the defence lawyers are better than the prosecution, the juries are more complicit, or judges are more lenient, or some combination of those factors. That can change with the very next trial (call that ‘today’) and go back to the process of police investigation to be able to mount strong cases in court, so help raise the success rate in the future.

    Now, the meat of the matter. Mr. Boyne is happy:

    I was happy to hear the prime minister announce that “we will be creating the legislative environment to support the establishment of the rule of law in communities where it is absent and to separate criminals from communities they have captured.” He went on to say: “We will be creating under this framework, zones where the security forces and other Government agencies will be able to conduct special long-term operations in high crime areas, including extensive searches for guns and contraband.” Excellent!

    ‘People in inner-city communities know that there are certain criminals who are well-known but whom nobody can testify against in a court of law. These guys can hire the best attorneys to defend them or to get them on bail where they can kill more people.’

    ‘But I am calling for locking down certain communities, locking away certain known crime perpetrators; going into homes without search warrants and stopping vehicles on the road. Curtail some of my civil liberties in the interest of all. You can’t have human rights if there is not a viable state. We cannot allow Jamaica to become a failed state and to let our prospects for economic growth evaporate before our eyes because our politicians and chattering classes are cowards.’

    Yet, this happiness is based on a disturbing proposition. The crime monster that he perceives is an inner city monster. It supposedly lives and breathes nowhere else, or if it does, it is not thriving there. I stopped my breath immediately with a sudden recollection of testimony during the West Kingston Commission of Inquiry, about how the security forces went looking for Michael ‘Dudus’ Coke. The man resided in Red Hills (amongst other places), not known to be part of any ‘inner city’; and one of the signal failures of the operation in 2010 was to not find Dudus in the inner city places. So, if that were a precursor for what the likelihood of success is for such an idea, I’d say, please do not waste our time and money. 

    Going into homes in selected areas sounds fine, so long as it’s not YOUR area, and as it’s the inner city that seems targeted then ‘our elite’ can sleep a little more soundly. But, maybe, it’s not so limited and the prospect of being stopped on ‘the road’ is wide and worrying. 

    I have an aunt who lives in Montego Bay. She does not live in the inner city. But, she can tell me of the lotto scammers who live in the neighbourhood, who she can overhear from her balcony, and ply their trade from the well-appointed homes on the hills. 

    Let me finish with a few other thoughts.

    Mr. Boyne’s monster is not the monster of crime, but of particular crimes. I have written already about whether culling murders will change the crime landscape in Jamaica, if we are still plagued with tens of thousands of abused children. It is not the crime of the pastor raping an underage teenager. It is not the crime of the schoolboy being stabbed on the bus for his phone. It is not the crime of the corrupt, who remain faceless in their corrosive walk through the coffers of the country. It is not the crime of the person who stole phones from President Obama’s entourage at the hotel. It is not the crime of the judge who was more lenient in that case than over the man who stole mangoes. Those are not crimes that will be touched by curtailed civil liberties. It is not the crime of the corrupt police officer (and you can choose which of the recent cases you think fits the bill regarding what misdeeds go on under the cover of uniform or without it).

    Bashing the media and those advocating civil liberties is easy. But, why not bash those charged with upholding the law? Who controls the police who will not pursue criminals? Who controls the judiciary that will not bring harsh sentences? Who admonishes judges who seem to imply that children under the age of consent can consent to sexual activity? Who controls the parents who ‘shop’ their children to make money to live another day? Who controls the teachers who cannot understand that they are protectors of children, not predators of them? Who controls the society that condones the petty crimes that lay the ground for the acceptance of many crimes? Who controls the politicians who knowingly and repeatedly transgress the laws of the land which they frame? Cherry picking is a great exercise, but it’s not real gardening. 

    Please speak clearly to me about crime reduction plans

    Those who know me know that I prefer to have ‘clean’ discussions. By that, I mean making sure that the topic is well understood, and that we try to not mix things up in getting to a understanding of the problem. It takes time, but it’s worth it, so that solutons, if any, can be seen to be aimed at tackling the right things. I am not keen on doing things for the sake of doing. So, on crime, I have made a plea and happily repeat it, while the sounds levels rise and the hints of hysteria increase.

    Jamaica does not have A CRIME problem. Jamaica has MANY CRIMES problems. Why do I make that distinction?

    It’s important when people talk about removing civil liberties to address crime to realize what they may have in mind as their target criminals, and if they succeed what criminals and crimes will be left in our midst. My impression is that people’s major focus is on murders, because of continued recent increase in that crime. But, as I have also said, the JCF told us consistently that other crimes were trending down. So, without murders, the narrative was that Jamaica as being DECRIMINALIZED. 

    Now, let’s not get out of whack. Jamaica still has high crime levels, if that narrative is true. But, I want to make sure I am content for the right reasons.

    The JCF will soon offer us the results of their analysis of 2016 crime data. But, let’s look at what we know about 2015 and crime in general in Jamaica. The US State Department Diplomatic Service prepared a 2016 report on ‘crime and secrity’ in Jamaica, which looked back at 2015, from which I will borrow:

    It’s general view was ‘Organized crime elements are prevalent and extremely active. Most criminal activity is gang-related’.

    • Arrests made in 45 percent of homicides (murders).
    • SEVEN percent of those accused were convicted and sentenced. ‘This leads both the public and police to doubt the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, leading to vigilantism, which exacerbates the cycle of violence.’…’most civilians fear that the authorities cannot protect them from organized criminal elements and could be colluding with criminals, leading citizens to avoid giving evidence or witness testimony.’

    So, for homicides to be tackled effectively, justice needs to be seen to be done. For crime fighting to work, confidence in the honesty and integrity of the police must rise. 

    So, we must ask ourselves whether the curtailment of civil liberties will address those basic systemic failings. If it will not, then please think about what it will be doing.

      The US report goes on to discuss other major areas of crime, in part because of their particular impact on US citizens but also to cover the land properly: mainly, sexual assaults, burglaries, scamming and cyber crimes.

      If you follow local news, you will read many reports of sexual assaults, and we have another case with a twist running now (a pastor accused of raping a minor). We should know that the Office of the Children’s Registry report each year over 10,000 cases of abuse of children (not just sexual). So, my natural question is ‘Will the curtailment of civil liberties address child abusers?’ If I could answer my own question, I think hardly likely. However, if locking down communities, stop and search, searches without warrants are going to sharply reduce this set of crimes, then I can see that we may have some happier homes and safer children. 

      I’m not ignoring the other heinous domestic abuse cases, especially against women. Will we have safer spaces for women?

      Anecdotally, we know that many crimes like burglaries go unreported and the cycle of mistrust of the police and the ineffectiveness of their efforts to catch criminals mean that most people don’t feel reporting such crimes will address the problem. Instead, they rely on other measures, including deterrents as well as increased personal security measures (guards, alarms, weapons). But, again, my question is what will curtailment of civil liberties mean for the rate at which such crimes are committed?

      I ask these questions not to reduce the importance of the scary prospect of being killed, but as a reminder of what will be left behind IF WE WERE TO REMOVE ALL THE KILLERS. 

      I would like someone to perhaps estimate how much card skimming will be reduced (both at ATMs and points of sale).

      Is there a projected reduction in the amount of lotto scamming that will occur? (To the extent that some significant part of homicides are the result of activities in the lotto scamming area, removing those killers may reduce such scamming, but the link is not clear.)

      I dont want people to think that the world of curtailed civil liberties is a world that will ‘all of a sudden’ be a safer one. 

      Now, if those who want to make such proposals want to paint me a clear picture of how the world will look AFTER the sweeps have been done, and tell me that the changes are going to be permanent, I will think hard about whether I want to be a possible victim of the curtailed liberties.

      As an aside, I have to recall what it was like in a time and place where such curtailed liberties existed, though it was not a general state, just a law that affected certain people more, and what it was like to be a target. 

      When the UK had the ‘Sus’ (suspicion) laws, when police could stop and search on the basis of suspicion, being a young black man was rough. I recall the night I was stopped and questioned, on my way home from university, after a night training with the football team, because I ‘fit the description’ (of a tall, fair skinned man…I’m 5 feet 9, and black). Dark and alone, I should have been scared, not least because of the reputation of the police in such situations. I did not resist,e except to question the obvious flaw in what was the motive for stopping me. I was armed with a quick brain and a little knowledge of the law. My bag was searched and my reeking football kit was given an airing. This was in the days before cell phones, so I could not call anyone as I as cornered in a shop doorway by two white policemen. I took their badge numbers and told them that I would report them for harassment as soon as they let me go. They radioed and had a conversation, then ‘let me go’. I went to the police station that was about half a mile away and reported the incident straight away. I asked to call my parents, to tell them what had happened, and that I would get home as soon as I could. They did not need to get me. 

      I have an idea of whose doors and whose communities may be affected by the nice sounding suggestions of curtailed liberties. I have lived in uptown Jamaica and I am pretty sure that it is not there. But, if I am wrong, I stand to wait and see how the areas of Norbrook and Cherry Gardens, etc will react. 

      Some would say that the places to lock down first may be the many churches in this country. Contentious? Have it your way!

      Jamaica and its ‘fight’ with crime: haphazard approaches may work, but they cannot have certainty.

      Economics is one of several disciplines (and they are in both the arts and sciences) that force you to think about many problems from first principles, elaborate on those initial conditions, apply various assumptions to that, and then move to conclusions. These conclusions can then be tested in theory (with mathematical modeling, for instance) and practice, by trying to look at real world evidence and seeing if that comes close to what one would expect. However, much of life is an ongoing experiment, and we do not have the luxury much of the time to hold things static or to know whether some or many of our assumptions held true before events, through events, and hold true still after events. Humans are responsive, so modify actions based on past experience. All of that simple summary is to say what?

      I have some clear views in my mind about what kinds of things work with humans and which dont. Those views are borne less out of economics and more out of living. However, I hold onto one strand of economics all the time: people always respond to incentives. Once you understand the structure of those incentives, then changing those is what will change behaviour. 

      Now, we could argue to the end of the world whether or not some incentives are stronger than others, or if each incentive works the same for each person. That’s where life gets really complicated. Example: Many people use pain to get others to respond. That works better for people who have low pain thresholds. If you have a high pain threshold, someone may have to go to the ultimate point of taking your life (and maybe not even then) to get a response. 

      Money is similar, in that we each respond differently, depending on our starting level of assets, and our prospects for those assets to increase or decrease. We have different tolerance for risk and different responses to rewards. Some cousins asked me to play poker for a pot of US$20, and I said I’d be interested if it were US$2000; they were not. They played and got really jacked up at the end to collect the US$20. I watched the NFL game. 🙂

      So, what about crime? In particular, what about crime in Jamaica?

      I fail to see how one can make a case for doing ‘something’ to ‘deal with crime’ (whatever that something is, and irrespective of the element of crime that is to be addressed) without some basic tenets and questions concerning:

      • What you see as the problem? 
      • What you tried?
      • What worked?
      • What failed?
      • How you responded to failure and success?
      • Who are the actors?
      • What are the intereconnections?
      • What are the rewards from crime and what are the risks that are being taken and overcome?

      Those are just some simple questions whose answers would then lead most people to say an understanding of the problem has been shown, and we know what weaknesses and strengths we are dealing with on the many sides of law and order and law breaking. 

      To my mind, none of that has anything to do with things like politics or culture or gender or a host of features and attributes that make for some interesting colour, but do not go to the fundamentals (economists love those).

      So, I am about as interested in labelling someone and their opinions as I am in knowing what colour underwear they have on today. 

      What I have seen repeatedly in Jamaica on the matter of crime is simple. Its main actors in leadership positions, who are in the business of law-keeping, have not been able to tell a story that makes sense from start to finish. When that is the case, the one clear conclusion is that there is much misunderstanding, much confusion, and little real idea of how to solve the problem. (What economics tells me, and it’s shown to be true in life, is that in such circumstances the responses that come forward MUST BE REACTIVE, NOT PROACTIVE–because, you’ve no real idea how to deal with the root causes, so treat symptoms.)

      Before someone jumps up and shouts how unfair that is, I will ask one simple question. If successive Ministers of National Security have called on prayer and God as their answers to the problem, what are they doing taking tax payer money to perform a job that they say is not theirs?

      If someone wishes to paint me a different picture, I remain as patient as ever. 

      I suspect that the excitement about August Town going murder-free is founded on a series of results that came from many of the questions I posed above being asked and answered. 

      Crime ‘fighting’ must be like the way that healing works in the body: it starts from the inside, not the outside.

      Twelve Jamaican days of Christmas: Twelve

      On the twelfth day of Christmas, my Jamaican love sent to me twelve Rasta drummers…eleven pineapples standing…ten ‘lawd have mercy’…nine Nine night dancers…eight mateys tempting 🤔 …seven shameplants swaying..six geezers playing…five goat kids…four coffee buds…three men cutting ten…two fried dumplings​…and a chicken patty with curry gravy.

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