Myths and reality: waiting to retire to play golf

I spend a lot of time trying to explain to people that they have views that are contrary to facts. In the current world of the US administration, it’s timely, perhaps, to state that facts matter. One area where I bridle is when people say things like ‘I want to be like you when I retire, and can have time to play golf.’ I point out that, if one waits until retirement, it will be far too late. So, let me state this as clearly as I can, and if I’m not clear enough just look at the data for yourself.

Most golfers (based on US data)–nearly 60 percent–are people in the prime of their working lives (i.e. >30 and under 60/65); just under 40 percent are in the category that covers most ages when people are eligible for retirement (>60 years old). The demographics suggest that, if the bulk of golfers continue, many will have played golf through their working lives into the period when they are likely to be no longer working.

Most golfers are men, married, well-educated, likely to be professionals, and higher-income earners and have high net worth. So, golf tends to be for those who are financially better off in society. Earlier in my life it was accepting that notion that kept me away from the sport: I did not fit the profile 🙂

Anecdotally, in Jamaica, most amateur golfers work in the private sector and are in their own businesses. Few are civil servants. A small handful are doctors. Tourists (mainly from North America) whom I have met in Jamaica who are playing golf fit fully into this profile. I’ve not played much in Europe, but my limited exposure to golfers there gave me the same impression.

These sets of attributes cements golf as a sport for those who have more disposable income. 

What’s often clear, to golfers, at least, is that playing a full round of golf may take time (say 3-5 hours), but that is something that those who are in control of their time can manage better. So, when someone reaches retirement, such control over time is more evident, but it’s clear that to have had the chance to play much golf before retirement: golfers needed to be able to play when (and where) they wanted to. More likely, the typical golfer is a business person who can decide when he plays. Classic examples are the executive or business owner who toggles golf with business activities (and networking may be part of that). I have a friend whose boss is a golf fanatic and he tells her to pack her clubs whenever they have to travel for business; he (and her) play golf as soon as as often as he can on the trips and make trips as often as he can. Anecdotally, golf courses in Jamaica have many local golfers playing regularly on a couple of midweek afternoons (after 1pm)  and at weekends. The vast majority of these golfers are not retired, but still at work. 

So, seeing golf as a sport for retired people is a myth. Next time you see me and wish that you could be retired like me to get your golf game on, accept that you keep missing the bus. Get started on your golf game well before you retire!


Why does The Gleaner not publish online comments?

I can understand why a print edition limits the publication of comments from readers, eg letters to the Editor: there are real space constraints. I do not understand, however, why an online edition would limit the publication of comments, other than those that are clearly offensive or abusive: digital space is very elastic and almost limitless. So, I am puzzled by a practice I’ve noticed for some time with The Gleaner, which I have started to track, of not publishing online comments. Of course, I can only track my own offerings, but that is plenty for this issue.

I’m not backward in coming forward, as the British say: I have views on many things, or can form opinions on them, and I am not generally afraid to express those. I try to keep my comments ‘on point’ and not attack a person, but tackle the ideas expressed. Some say that I am eloquent. My comments can sometimes be long, but that’s usually because the subject matter and views expressed by the author are not simple, and I don’t pretend that things have easy solutions.

So, twice in recent days, I have expressed critical views–on a ‘Letter of the day’ about currency stability, and on a article about the BPO sector. I’m an economist, and both topics lend themselves to some simple and complex economic arguments. On the latter, I’ve had a vigorous discussion on Twitter with the author about the style of his ‘attack’ on the sector. I posted my comments early, but so far I have not seen them published. In the case of the former topic, online comments are now closed (it’s nearly a week since publication of the letter). Now, I know that the Gleaner sometimes converts online comments to letters to the Editor. But, I wonder what the policy is with my or others’ comments, which having been moderated, and consigned to somewhere out of the public eye.

Let me share links to the relevant articles, and my comments: I took care to make screenshots (and will continue to do so, for the record, going forward).

Currency stability crucial. Here are my comments:

For the record, I show the comments published on that letter.

‘Only’ two comments published, as of this morning?
The second topic was ‘BPO growth at what cost?‘, published on February 23. My reactions were written and submitted early that morning (and appear below, as a Twitter post). As of this morning, ‘only’ three comments have been published online.

‘Only’ three comments on BPOs?

My interest is several-fold. First, as an ‘editor’, myself, of online comments on my blog: I moderate all comments, and publish all, except those that are abusive or use offensive language. So, I will take comments whose content I know or suspect to be untrue, but then deal with them in my replies. I rarely delete comments, unless the author asks for that. Secondly, as a simple member of the public: I would like to know the full range of public opinion on a topic. Thirdly, there are some who think that they see ‘the world’ of public approval and disapproval in online comments, implying that these get published all the time: this is clearly a misunderstanding of what goes on.

For a range of reasons, I do not comment much of pieces I read in The Observer, but I will be monitoring my comments online and how they are dealt with in the case of that paper, too. For reference, comments I’ve made on a range of other news publications, such as The Washington Post, New York Times, or Times (of London) have always been published after moderation.

For further context, I have had letters published by The Gleaner, including several ‘Letters of the day’, and also had commentaries published as guest columns in The Gleaner and The Observer. So, I don’t believe they have a problem with me and my views in general. So, I’m more puzzled with what I see happening online.

I’d love the Gleaner to react and offer some explanation. I hope, sincerely, that the response will not be ‘It’s our paper and we can do what we like’. 

‘Jamaica 55’ celebrations? We really want to spend J$200million to ‘party’?

When I read this tweet from Jamaica Information Service,

my first reaction was “Please, no!” So, let me just state for the record: I am not a fan of funding celebrations (or spending money of non-essentials) when you have a country and people with so many basic social needs unmet. No fan, at all!

I do not think a case has to be made for better uses of J$200 million. But, maybe, it does. It was too ironic that in the press release for this special budget allocation, it was announced that Cabinet approved an annual budgetary subvention of $120 million to the Hope Zoo Preservation Foundation towards the upkeep of the Hope Zoo.

Jamaica has people and things craving funds to deal with real social issues. Must we dip into the meagre resources we have available for another wave of self-congratulation? What are we congratulating ourselves for? That’s almost a rhetorical question, to me. I’m not going to insult my fellow Jamaicans by listing the things that we say we care about which could benefit from J$200 million being spent on them. I will just mention one that should be topical and should be relevant and should be fixed before we lift one straw to ‘party’ yet again. A SHELTER FOR ABUSED WOMEN!

Fell free to vent your frustration or opposition to my view, or to the government’s proposed use of budget funds.

Jamaica is famous for talking about its ills and what needs to be done about them, yet failing to then do the basics to address those ills. Is this yet another example of that national failing?


Jamaica’s dunderhead economy? Flow has problems the EGC must address

I’ve written before about a persistent feature of Jamaican life that is dragging our growth and progress downward. It’s a set of simple inefficiencies that affect everyday lives and waste time and effort. They reduce productivity because of some simple little things. Sadly, their existence can continue and leave us with the illusion of progress when in fact we are standing still, or worse, regressing.

I pointed out previously how our regular ‘patch and mend’ approach to road repairs is literally the old style ‘dig a hole and fill it’ kind of economic activity. In our case, the weather and some usage dig the holes, men and machines fill them; weather and usage dig them again in less than three months; the repairs are repeated. So it goes on. The data record income, spending, and use of materials and labour and we will see higher numbers for national income, aka GDP. But, the economy hasn’t grown in any meaningful way. Traffic delays and damage to vehicles are eased for a while, then reoccur. The repairs make no fundamental changes: the road base is still weak and prone to deterioration.

So, a year on we may see a so-called upturn in GDP but it’s a fiction.

One of my concerns about the government and the Economic Growth Council is that the growth ‘strategy’ talks about not repeating past mistakes but leaves them enshrined in the country. You don’t need to be a brilliant person to see how this status quo suits lots of people. It’s money for old rope–a kind of great swindle.

One can take a certain view when such things are set in the affairs of public sector agencies. But what to do when they’re cemented into private sector activity, too?

Flow is not my favourite corporation for a simple reason: it enshrines inefficient practices that are easy to fix but are left untouched and customers just have to live with them. Competition hasn’t forced Flow to be more efficient. Here’s another strike against them.

Early yesterday, I noticed that I had no wifi service at home. Everything seemed fine with the devices, but the essential connection to the Internet was missing. The TV was working fine, so it appeared that all was well in Cableland.

I contacted Flow via ‘chat’ and then via Twitter.

Chat generates an email exchange with a promise of attention within 24-48 hours. So, it’s not a chat at all. Fix that!

Talking the talk, but walking the what?

My Twitter exchange had more immediate results and highlighted that no technical problems showed up in my area but the matter was passed on another department who would get back to me once the problem had been identified. 

Up to 9pm last night, nothing had changed. I used my data plan all day. I tried to help my daughter to get internet service to do her homework. No joy.

Early this morning nothing had changed after the usual solutions had been tried and all devices shut down overnight and restarted this morning. So I tried to call Flow. My house phone told me service had been suspended. I called them from my mobile. After some checking on the account, I was informed the problem was due to a bill being overdue. The first step, apparently, is usually to call or advise the customer and then suspend service. Not all services, though. Interesting.

I’d never been informed. No one I contacted yesterday had any flag on the account that showed it had been suspended. If that had been the case both I and Flow employees would not have spent time searching for technical solutions to a financial problem.

The agent apologized for the inconvenience and said she’d pass on the point about ensuring customers are advised.

With all the powers of telecommunications at their disposal a way must be there for the simple message to go to the customer. A banner on the TV screen? A text message? An email? A call to the line associated with the service? They know how to find us. 

But it’s part of the corporate MO to not do such simple things. Why? Time wasted is an economic good, now?

The company would rather have its customers and some staff running around aimlessly. Why?

That’s a lot of wasted effort on a regular basis that doesn’t show up as retarding economic activity.

If I had 20 employees dependent on Internet connection who were stymied because of a bill but thought we had technical problems, I’d be fuming. I’m fuming.

For all its PR the EGC doesn’t look geared up to solve problems of Jamaican corporate inertia, such as this episode shows. (I presume that the region suffers as Flow likely has the same practices throughout.)

It’s really all fake, in Jamaica: new news for old wives’ tales

I wanted to write something about the trend of fake news that is sweeping many countries. Social media and the spread of Internet access has made sharing information and misinformation as easy as breathing in and out. I am not going to rationalize why some people would want to spread things they know to be false. They’re mischievous at the very least, and downright nasty and malicious at worst. But, there are many things that go on in the world that are plausible, and unless one knows a lot about a lot, then it’s easy to be caught out.

So, I’m not going to town on people who believed the USA was going to ease visa restrictions on Jamaica, when we have a new US administration that is dead set against most forms of immigration. I will not lampoon those who thought the story of Jamaica becoming a part of the USA like Puerto Rico was real. Some of these stories pander to what people hope would happen to ease lives that are perhaps set in a fragile way regard their legality.

Let’s not knock it! Elvis lives!

Just looking around what passes as ‘news’ in this island is baffling enough. I decided to just look at random at some of our daily papers, especially those known for more exotic stories. Look at what I found as the main story in one–the ‘star turn’, one might say.

The Star: Condoms being used to apply make-up – Jamaican beauticians reject new trend. Should I believe the report? Do I care? If I had a stock of condoms, would I be concerned that they may start disappearing as the lady in my life strives for more beauty? In the absence of a major loss of memory, would I start to panic if my supply, stored in a discreet place, started to dwindle? Would I wonder if I had wandered a bit too much? Let’s leave it there, with a look at the lovely image the Star put with the story.

Condemned to ugliness unless you use these to rub away the warts?

When the rubber hits the road…


What about last summer’s story that wasn’t, of Elaine Thompson being dated by Prince Harry? That was too silly, especially as the pictures used were always of the two ‘lovers’ side-by-side only in two separate pictures. You never noticed?

Princess Elaine of Banana Ground?

We were so besotted by the thought of our new sprint queen being in line to become Queen of England? Princess Elaine of Banana Ground. Let’s invite the Royal Family for a tea party…’Ganja tea, anyone?’ 🙂


Then, we had our own ‘fake food’ story just a few weeks ago, with rice ‘made out of plastic’, which seemed to be a rehash of a well-known hoax, but all of a sudden, Jamaicans were finding reason to believe the island was awash with bendy and stickier-than-normal rice. We banned imports. We tested batches of rice. But, nada. Not a grain of truth? But, maybe people just didn’t know how to cook rice! My suspicions were raised when I heard the lady from Manchester utter that well-known Jamaican word ‘spatula’. Yes, the rice stretched…the imagination…for sure 🙂

People are often unsure about news coming from other countries, that seem plausible. Imagine waking to read headlines like ‘Trump wins!’ After sucking back in the mouthful of cereal that morning, how many thought this was a true story? How many thought it was–surely–a hoax set up by the so-called ‘alt right’? Time to pinch yourself and open your eyes. Surprise! Now, anyone who watched the new US president’s first, impromptu, solo press conference this week–which lasted over an hour–will be rubbing their eyes and asking ‘Is this real?’ It quickly became the stuff of highlight reels. 

“It’s all fake news…The BBC…Quiet!…I’m not ranting and raving…This administration is running like a fine well-tuned machine…”

But, the Chinese, who are often the butt of fake news stories are only one silly story away from being blamed by Donald Trump for the flood of fake news that seems to be sweeping his new administration off its ‘well-oiled-machine-machine’ way.

Jamaica, of all places, though! This is the land where people are making new grief out of old gullibilities, by telling mainly older people in the USA that they have won money in lotteries. How more fake can you get? Well…Our Minister of National Security invoked the spirit of his uncle, whom he claims is an Obeah Man–call that a ‘Witch Doctor’ in standard English–in his fight (or is it ‘fright’) against crime. For real?

Maybe, like The Donald, we should just keep yelling “Your organisation’s terrible…Quiet!…Dont be rude!…You are fake news!”

Heaven help us the next April 1.

My word! A day is a long time in politics? Orwell, strap in.

I’m not a great student of politics, but I do love language. What the new US administration has done for language is something quite extraordinary and we must embrace that we are living in such times.

Not telling the truth is now a linguistic art form. In less than a month, we have had some gems.

KellyAnne Conway gave us ‘alternative facts‘, when the Counselor to President Trump,

So, Steve, you and I are not actually walking side by side. That’s clear, right?

appeared in late January on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd and uttered the now famour (or imfamous) phrase “alternative facts” when pressed about the falsehoods uttered the previous day by White House press secretary Sean Spicer regarding the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration. Do we need to explore the oxymoronic properties of this phrase? I thought not. Anderson Cooper, clearly could not contain himself: 


But, such terms have spawned counters that embrace it. Last night, I overheard a CNN commentator, talking to Anderson Cooper, who gave us ‘fact-free statements’, referring to utterances from the White House.

Hours later, the administration lost its first Cabinet member, when National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned,

Michael Flynn, and his guiding light

after telling Michael Pence some huge pork pies about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador, and lifting of sanctions on Russian, which for a while he’d been reportedly been unable to recall.


In his resignation letter, Flynn gave us “I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information”. screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-7-45-49-amThis stands tall, compared to ‘being economical with the truth’.

If you’ve never read ‘1984’, I suggest you do so before the week is out.

What are good friends for?

Jamaicans say that good friends are better than pocket-money. I believe it. But, do most Jamaicans have and want good friends, or are they driven in search of other kinds of relationships? To me, that’s an important question any time, but more so as we wrestle with some clear cases of searches for unfriendly relationships: abuse, crimes against persons, and actions that generally disregard the needs of others are on what my eyes land. So, I see the rapist, child abuser, gangster, loud party-keeper, speeding taxi and minibus drivers, insolent or obdurate employee (and that includes the guardians of citizens in the form of the police, mainly, but the security forces overall); and others too many to mention as in the same bag. They all need behaviour correction to give others the space to do well, and stop trying to stop others doing well. It’s too complicated to go into why they do what they do, but that does not mean that it’s ignored.

I may not answer that question directly, but I am going to do a little bit of introspection, and it’s really to test myself and see how I stack up.

A friend, whom I met about a year ago, asked me this morning ‘How goes the month?’ I started answering by saying that I had lost two dear uncles in the past week. Loss of life is something that brings burdens that may last for a long time and I am barely in the process of grieving for them, yet. But, I am staying on the positive side that comes with change and plans for change. We moved house, recently, and the process of creating order and a pleasant living environment is very gratifying. I am not a perfectionist, so I know I can function with things partly done, so long as they are done properly. My ‘office’ has its desk, computer, printer, and accessories all in order. The surrounding space is a mix of boxes and books that are awaiting placement. Bedrooms have beds. We have all our clothes. Our kitchen is well-stocked, so we can cook and eat with relative ease, subject to not yet agreeing where everything will go, and how to flow through some spaces. The garden is full of fruit trees and some have already given gifts, and I was happy to share those Otaheite apples with a friend who lives about a mile away. I got in return some grapefruit and a pot of soup. Friends and pocket-money.

I added that I had fixed some summer travel with my teenage daughter to spend 10 days with long-standing friends in Europe, pass some time with cousins, and catch some former friends in London at the same time; some other friends will come from France to find me in London for a weekend. That’s really nice. Friends and pocket-money.

I’m trying to organize a ‘Thinkathon’ for this weekend, so that some people I know can get to meet me and each other and chew over whatever we feel like for a couple of hours, in the peace of my home somewhere–garden, most likely. I hope we get to know each other a little better and that our sharing of ideas will lead to some changes, because we are also action-oriented people. Friends and pocket-money.

Outside of people, I know, I have much faith in what I know is still a major part of every day life in Jamaica: mutual respect and a willingness to do the right thing. Examples at random from the weekend:

  • My saga with Flow and getting my mobile number ported was completed by the process being done partially, as promised by Digicel, on Friday evening and then finally on Saturday morning. I am good to go. During that process, I had chance to see how Jamaican people are patient in the face of seeming provocation and do not resort to loudness or violence. Thank you, Digicel staff at Loshushan.
  • My daughter is a competitive swimmer. Hydration is important for her. She asked me to get her some coconuts so that she could get that hydration and enjoy the jelly. I passed a man on the road selling coconuts on my way to Digicel on Saturday morning. I asked him to prepare 6 coconuts and I would pick them up on my way home. I got the price and went on my way. Forty minutes later, I got back to the stall. The man was not there, but my coconuts were and ready. I paid, went home and my daughter got a good drink, not long after she had done her early morning practice. I chopped the coconut and she devoured the thick jelly.
  • Sunday was a day full of rain and greyness, and I had no plans to go anywhere, except to get gas in case I needed to go to the country. I headed to Heroes Circle in the early afternoon, after my family got back from church and their impromptu lunch. They brought me a meal and I grabbed a bite before heading out. The young man at the gas station began pumping, then started to clean my windows (not standard practice, in Jamaica). We joked about how Sundays were quiet, but also that Jamaicans don’t like rain. We exchanged pleasantries and I headed home, but had to note the men working on the new perimeter fence to the park. Men doing heavy labour on Sunday is a rare sight in Jamaica. 

So, we have good will. That is well displayed, literally, all around us in the carefreeness of many aspects of our daily life. Look at the images I captured this morning.

Typical roadside vendor
Not a care in the world

This is the Jamaica where you expect to just go about your business.

But, how do we account for those who want to disturb all that and impose mayhem and the carnage that also now a part of daily life? 

A friend took issue with the seeming lack of coverage of a murder in Cherry Gardens a few days ago. I pointed out that coverage was plentiful, if one looked in other places: local papers, Indian papers (the man who died was an Indian citizen), India’s High Commissioner and Jamaica’s PM and senior Cabinet ministers made remarks about the incident, including about the safety of Indian nationals, that I saw on social media, and India’s foreign minister had also commented. My friend then changed his tune to say that it wasn’t on the front pages (whatever that means in the world of electronic publishing and social media). I presume he wanted to see a prominent reference to ‘uptown’ in the pages of murders. There’s a bizarre sentiment, for you, in the mould of ‘uptown lives matter’. But, I also thought that the essence of the murder was not such as to make it a crime of locality: people in the jewellery trade, as Rakesh Talreja was, are often targets of crime, for clear reasons. He could have been robbed anywhere between his work place and his home, depending on opportunity. But, that’s not to excuse the crime in any way.

Finally, I look back at the measures the PM announced to tackle crime. People have focused on ‘preventative detention’ and efforts to get taxis to remove tinted glass. I wont say much on either of these points. But, the latter exposed how unfriendly we have become. Put simply, the taxi drivers oppose being ordered to remove the tinting, in part with good reason–the law allows some level of tinting. So, the taximen have to decide if they should lose all tinting for the sake of safety or press to keep some tinting for the sake of protecting something the law allows. To me, it’s a question of the greater good versus the good of a few. I think that most people would go for the greater good. TOday, the taximen will discuss the issue with government. But, my beef with them is that, rather than deal with their many transgressions themselves (overcrowding, loud music, inconsiderate road use, speeding, breaking road rules, etc) they seek to defend a ‘right’ when it seems it may be lost. In other words, they do not really care for the rest of us but are focused narrowly on their own satisfaction. Taximen are not friends of Jamaica, it seems.

Their self-interested actions offer an uncomfortable lesson. How far can we go if we are only going to move if dragged?


Ending the redundancy in the economy: a tale of addresses

What is the relevance of a ‘proof’ of address in the current world? With the advent of mobility, especially in communication, where you supposedly ‘live’ is of less importance than it once was. More generally, your ‘home’ may be one of several places where you may be found, regularly. Many people spend more hours daily in their offices and may feel that there is more likelihood of that location remaining fixed than their current residence. For that reason, many people put their office location as their address. To the extent that is done consistently, then the office address will be the one that is used whenever ‘proof of address’ is sought, but few, if any live at the office–despite claims to the contrary when hours at work become an issue in personal relationships. At best, ‘proof of address’ proves somewhere to which certain documents may be sent, maybe on a regular basis. Yet, for sure, I have a proof of address for somewhere where a document has never been sent.

Jamaica is one of those places (and they are plentiful in the Caribbean) that puts much store in ‘proving’ where you live. It goes to many lengths to get this ‘fact’ established. But, it’s of little true meaning. Yet, I had a testing time with it, recently, as I tried to transact something quite simple that seemed to get unnecessarily complicated.

I was excited at the prospect of moving my mobile service number from Flow to Digicel: enough had become enough. As with grades, a move from an F to a D was progress. (We’ve had number portability in Jamaica since June 1 2015, but many people are still unaware. Simply, you can port mobile or fixed-line numbers, but only within a service category, not between services, so no mobile to fixed, for instance.)

Digicel, like many companies in Jamaica, request proof of address, so they asked me to go through this loop. I’m a special case, but I easily highlight much of the meaninglessness of such requests. The normal ‘proof’ requested is a combination of utility bills, or government IDs, or letter from certain categories of people (JPs, Ministers of religion, or police officers–we can argue about that listing).

Now, it’s obvious that one can consume the utility services but not be the person whose name appears on the bill. That is a matter of personal financial arrangements in many households. It’s also the case that one can consume other services at an address, but this is (arbitrarily) not regarded in the same light (no pun intended) as a utility bill. If you have regular service of a pool, or use a gardening service, it would be clear how that goes.

I pointed out, somewhat facetiously, that being an atheist, with no contact with either policemen or JPs who could vouch for my residence, having moved my power source to solar, taking water from my well, and using small amounts of bottled gas or coal to cook, I had none of certain utility bill proofs. But, I had my local driver’s licence and my voter ID card, so why were they not sufficient, given that they vouched for me as a person (with my TRN) and location (as the voters registration involves a visit to my stated place of abode)? The reply was not at all convincing. I wont bore you with the iterations. I went off in irritation.

More frustrating was the fact that I had been a Digicel mobile customer for several years, my address for them was the same as on my government IDs, and my payment record was known and exemplary–I clear my bills on time each month. So, for what logical reason would I need to provide additional proof of address? The replies remained unconvincing.

The real concern, it seems, with their opening a post-paid account–which is really allowing customers to live on credit–is ability to pay. But, the so-called ‘proof’ offers no such guarantees. If we assumed that they had interest in coming to visit, to check out what living conditions were like, then I’m still not sure that the ‘proof’ really helped, as one could easily arrange to be there just for the visit. (That same concern applies for registering one’s voter ID, but I will not walk that path, today.)

Many people, feeling that ‘pay-as-you-go’ phone services are better and cheaper for them, go the pre-paid mobile phone route. Many people who cannot, or do not want to, provide a set of (accepted) proofs of address, also go the pre-paid route. The risk is that in an emergency or other unforeseen situation, one could be without credit or access to data. But, that’s a personal choice, with the attendant risks. (Increasingly, in a world where free wi-fi access is the norm, this latter concern matters less.) I prefer to know that I have continuous mobile service at all times. But, that’s a side issue in the story of ‘proving’ where I live.

I could not go through the loops to the satisfaction of the agent I was dealing with. I pointed out the impossibility of my meeting the conditions, and the absurdity of asking for this proof from someone who was already a customer. His stumbling block was that my bill from the competitor mobile provider had a different address. But, budge he would not. I left. This non-movement struck me as stubborn stupidity. Why would it matter what address I had on the other service, when I am coming to you for service, and you already have my address?

I went to another point of contact, and engaged Digicel in a ‘conversation’ on Twitter. They sent me a list of possible solutionsscreen-shot-2017-02-11-at-12-35-34-am and assured me that what I had offered was sufficient. Emboldened, I went back to the Digicel branch to start the process again. I had offered bank/credit card statements, but Jamaican institutions seem to not understand that foreign financial institutions can have valid Jamaican addresses.screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-12-51-45-am So, my statements from my US bank and American Express, both of which carry my Jamaican address, were rejected. My head would have been hurting had it not been for the fact that I have it full of common sense (rather than red cents?).

When I got back to the branch, the supervisor got involved. She told her junior that all that I had offered was indeed accepted, especially as the government IDs had addresses that matched the Digicel bill. Yeah!

But, I also mentioned my exceptional situation, which I had pointed out to the junior in my first visit: I have a diplomatic ID card (without an address), but that puts me into a different category, where the ‘proofs’ of address are not necessarily required. (I was asked for a letter from my ’embassy’, but I pointed out that the ‘ambassador’ was my wife, and that this seemed to be weak proof of anything except love. The point did not seem to register. Anyway, I said, no such thing would be requested, as it was utterly senseless.)

But, why should one have to be so stubborn in not accepting seeming foolishness to get to a point of sense?

So, the port request was submitted and…it did not go through! Well, that seemed to be down to some technical issues that Flow had. I’m not going into the conversation I had with a Flow contact centre agent, who told me that I ‘needed’ to visit a store to have the technical problem dealt with. I was stern and said that as I was not the cause of the technical problem, I did not see how my going anywhere could be the solution. The agent repeated the need, and said that she had given me an ‘explanation’. Sorry! I pointed out that nothing had been explained. The line went dead for several minutes. She came back and repeated her statement. My position didn’t change, and I suggested that maybe some departments within Flow needed to talk to each other, and someone call me when the problem was resolved. She said that would not happen. I said ‘goodbye’. (Interestingly, when I had a technical problem with my UK bank earlier in the week, they had done as I now suggested, and gotten some departments to resolve the problem and call me back.) I raised the issue with Flow on Twitter.  I did not bore them with the details, merely that porting was not happening. They promised to check: screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-12-53-20-am

That was at about 2pm. By about 6pm matters had been resolved. screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-12-56-55-amI was ready to be ported. I asked Scotty to beam me up on to the Starship Digicel and move at warp speed away from my ‘abusive’ relation. They did.

It’s early days in my new relation with an old partner, and it seems to be going smoothly.

But, there are serious economic implications in this simple little story. This kind of ‘saga’ happens often, in Jamaica. During the day, I had been with a friend (also a male spouse on a diplomatic assignment), who had gone through the same loops. He related how in a south-east Asian country the process had not been needed, and the whole transaction took a few minutes, and not the hour that seemed to be the norm–in part because the Asian country keyed information into a computer, when the Jamaican style was to hand write details.

Here’s the kicker in my story. I have just moved. The ‘proofs’ of address definitely do not prove where I live. However, I am now in another Catch-22 loop, where I need to provide proofs of my new address to be able to have my old addresses changed. I hope I don’t have to spell out how that cannot happen 🙂

This search for proof of address redundant! This search for proof of address is largely meaningless. It’s a bureaucratic loop that satisfies some checks but offers little of real significance. Yet, it consumes time and energy and in that way is a drag on the economy. I do not expect the Economic Growth Council to solve this sort of problem, but it may be useful for them to think about things like this as yet another strand of red tape that binds us.

The institutions need to think about what it is they really need, such as proof of ability to pay, which may be more difficult, but it is certainly pertinent.

Following me to Leeds: A customer service story

Well, it all started innocently enough as yet another attempt to get a customer service department of a major institution to give service to the customer. For a couple of years, I had been trying to get the attention of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to a simple plight: I just couldn’t find out about my account. Now, it’s partly my fault for opening a bank account in the UK. But, I can explain. RBS was a new incarnation of a bank with whom I had an account since I started working in England in the 1970s: the bank was then called Williams and Glyn’s (WG). It had my private account there, in The City, despite the fact that as a Bank of England (BOE) employee I also had an account there, with its fancy old-fashioned cheques.


Truth was, the BOE didn’t really do full retail banking, but I had the dual convenience of the swish and the bank that would do my wish.

Fast forward.

I resign from the BOE and move to the USA and work for the IMF. I closed my BOE account and let life take its toll. I really saw no need for another account, either, so also closed the RBS/WG account. Well that was fine until I went on a trip to London and found that trying to always use my US bank account had a few problems, not least the fact that he K was ramping up banking security and if your cards did not have a chip it was hard to do electronic transactions. So, I went back crawling to RBS and opened a new account. I did not get grandfathered, but let that slide 🙂 I could open it without funds oe fees (Jamaicans will relate to that) and did so. So, things stood, languid, for a while.

The old-fashioned look of Williams and Glyn’s

Well, two things happened, and I am not going into the whole saga. First, RBS decided to go on another corporate shake-up. Second, the BOE decided to get out of retail banking. Both conspired to make me think more seriously about my RBS account. So, I tried to get attention to arrange for balances from BOE to be transferred to RBS. But, I couldn’t hear a dickey bird, as they say. But, persistent that I am, I just kept trying. But, no luck. My bank balances were reportedly transferred from the BOE, but I could not verify that at the RBS end. I was frustrated, but not too much. I was also a bit stymied, though, as without the BOE account and its fancy cheques, I could not make sterling deposits easily in Jamaica, which I needed to do occasionally.

Then, I moved a few weeks ago, and now things took on another turn. I needed my bank to know that. Simple, yet a bit complicated. Again, I tried the route of replying to emails to get attention. No joy. I could see that RBS was really a bank that dealt with customers by phone. So, I phoned and got caught in a little voice loop. Then, I just took a look at the website that said there as a Facebook page. I went there and posted a question. All of a sudden, roses bloomed, butterflies fluttered, ambrosia flowed and I was getting somewhere. 🙂

Within moments, someone wanted to chat to me on Facebook Messenger, so off we went. In the space of a few minutes, we were humming like…a humming bird.

Someone’s interested in my case 🙂

I left that conversation to go to bed, as the RBS agent couldn’t complete the checks, then. As is the way of the world, I slept well but woke at about 2am to have some water.screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-8-38-34-am

Well, as I was sort of awake, I noticed a message pop up on my phone. I checked. RBS was bright and awake–they are in England, five hours ahead of me. Someone wanted to actually talk to me on the phone. Well, I was game, and we engaged in a nice chat for about half an hour. The bottom line: I activated my online banking credentials, sorted out the activation of my Visa/debit card, was able to check my balance (yes, my money had arrived, and new deposits were flowing in). I was happy.

But, I was happier to have had on the other end of the line a lovely lass from Yorkshire, in Leeds, who’d been to Jamaica for her wedding 30 years ago! We joked about English regional rivalries–my affinities are to the other side of The Pennines. I love Yorkshire pudding, and Ilkley is one of my favourite places.

She joked about how her child had been born in Cumbria. To her husband’s joy, the child was a girl. Had it been a boy, he would not have been eligible to play for Yorkshire as he was born outside the county. You didn’t know England had these separate republics within the island? Shame on you! Well, Yorkshire changed that rule in 1992, to include those educated within the county, a dispensation that allowed Michael Vaughan to play; and was then abandoned altogether. Yorkshire’s first overseas player that season was 19-year-old Sachin Tendulkar.

Well, having established those links, I went on ambassadorial watch and suggested that my agent think about coming back to Jamaica. As we’ve left it, she and her husband will think about it. I promised her lodgings, so let’s see.

Funnily, I had another query later in the day, and got another invitation to chat via Facebook Messenger. Again, I was passed to the same agent, this time a text chat. It was a pleasant as the punch she yearns for in Jamaica 🙂 I got my other issue resolved and we went off to enjoy the rest of our respective days.

Now, if we could get this sort of service working in Jamaica.

Why wear black? A question of Olympic proportions, but if the protest fits, wear it.

I was surprised yesterday to see on my Twitter timeline a conversation involving Juliet Cuthbert MP:

Wearing black weekly has become an international symbol of protests against violence against women and children.

The question struck me as odd, as it did some others. One reaction was to ask ‘Why march’ weekly? Both wearing something symbolic and marching could be seen as ‘at a distance’ forms of actions. Some would say, ‘Why not go and hunt down the perpetrators?’.

I added a facetious, but legitimate, touch on the possible economic implications of various forms of protest. Society gets many benefits from the things we do, whether some see those things as positives or negatives. So, my seeming facetiousness has a real import. In a place like Jamaica, one could argue that people would support actions that provide other benefits to the rest of the country, especially if these actions are planned and regular. Look at what now happens with 5k runs/walks.

If it’s not clear, the issue is really about the effectiveness of various forms of protest

The implication of Mrs Cuthbert’s question was that wearing black was too passive or ineffective. I’m not sure who gives anyone the right to question what others feel is appropriate protest. If it’s not to your liking, better surely to do what you feel is right. In fact, as her party leader once suggested not so long ago (2014), there’s nothing wrong with being the only one protesting in a particular way [though, against a bus fare increase by JUTC, not against some crime]. He subsequently organized a nationwide peaceful protest against the increase. Whether it made any difference or not, it was how some chose to act. Maybe, Mrs C would have asked ‘Why not boycott JUTC?’ or set some buses on fire? That’d teach them people didn’t want to take it anymore.

Maybe, the question has implicit in it a notion of ‘the protest should fit the crime’: so it’s ok to have a peaceful protest march for bus fares, but one should burn tyres and throw rocks against forms of violent crimes. I’m not sure. In Jamaica, we tend to have a narrow range of responses to policies or situations we dislike. Often, cutting down trees and blocking roads is the form of protest prescribed in the ‘national manual of acceptable protests’.

Maybe, because Mrs. Cuthbert is a ‘five-time Olympian’, who gave birth last year at the tender age of 51, is made of sterner stuff and really wants an active form of protest befitting of an Olympic athlete. Just wearing stuff doesn’t cut(hbert) it?

Mrs Cuthbert and her husband at the March 2016 swearing-in of MPs
You need some heart-pumping going on. Maybe, if asked she wanted a national steeplechase or half-marathon against violence, with full back pack. We must all share the pain? (On that point, wouldn’t that be an interesting punishment to fit some crimes?)

National steeplechase against violence? Gruelling, it would be.
All I know is that for most people doing anything to show support for something that has not affected or does not affect them is a major challenge. Much easier to just sit pat. So, if you can do your little part, somehow, I say ‘Let it rock!’. (I wont joke about what I have heard on occasion, such as ‘I don’t look good in black’.)

Mrs. C? Knock yourself out organizing some alternative form of protest. Cut it to fit your cloth. [BTW, that’s no reference to a little slip of the diplomatic language tongue a couple of years ago… :)]

History may show that one form or another seemed to give better results, but then again, it should not be a competitive thing: my  protest is more hefty than yours. If you care, you show it how best you can.

Those who write letters to the papers or to MPs, or decide to raise funds to maybe find alternative homes for abused women and children, I think what you are doing is fine–as I’m sure you did, already. So, as some may say, when it comes to bump, carry on.

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