Sharing nature’s beauty: week 8-A day on the golf course special

A friend and I drove from Kingston at dawn to Ocho Rios to play in a golf tournament. As the sun rise, we enjoyed sights of the Blue Mountains to the east.

We drove back mid-afternoon, when the day was clearer and the views different.

Lots of interesting things hide in plain sight on a golf course, mainly plants though animals scurry away when humans lurk around. So, enjoy some of the things that caught my eyes.

Gnarled tree trunk
Royal palm
Be-still tree (Cascabela thevetia)
Tree-lined fairways, green as you’d wish to see
Surrounded by lush greenery

Sharing nature’s beauty: week 7–Back in the thick of it

This week’s images make me more excited because I have, at last, discovered a free plant identifier app, PlantNet, that seems to work well. So, now I can offer a little more insight into what I see. Plants are fascinating because of how they have developed for purposes fitting to their lives, sometimes facilitated by other living things–mainly animals and humans. It’s often hard for humans to discern the purposes without a lot of time spent observing what the plant does and how it functions in its natural habits, as host, food, shelter etc. So, enjoy a few intriguing plants, whose designs should make you ponder their purpose.
Heliconia (Macaw plant)
Caryota mitis (Burmese fishtail palm)
Breadfruit limb and leaves, fallen somehow, maybe wind
Custard apple
Megaskepasma erythrochlamys Lindau (Brazilian red cloak)

No place I’d rather be? The 2020 Jamaica vision—Financial opportunities, risks and rewards. Happy hunting grounds or graveyards waiting?

This is going to be a quickie, as I journey through the landscape of modern Jamaica to touch notable qualitative differences since Independence. I’m not going to list the many changes in financial markets or institutions that have happened in Jamaica over nearly 60 years.

The quantitative aspects are clear in the number of banks, financial institutions, ATMs, points-of-sale machines, mobile money apps, opportunity to use payments other than cash, etc. For many, however, that quantitative expansion means little because they argue (simplifying) that ‘dem all a thif’, meaning the perception is that big money (sizeable profits) are being made off the humble citizen, but in return the society gets a hodge-podge of dysfunctional situations. Again, I wont list or try to explain those here. Enough stories abound about cards being eaten by machines, through accounts being cleaned out our closed without notice, through mystery or failed transactions, through unfathomable bureaucratic hoops to opening accounts, through… Many people have a poor relation with financial institutions. So, net, the quality of experiences tends to be negative. It needs to be fixed, and if we wanted to see a lightening rod for disgruntlement in Jamaica just mention banks and their service. Just a few months ago, Justice Minster, the Jamaica Gleaner qouted Delroy Chuck as saying ‘Banks operating in Jamaica are providing some of the worst service to customers,’:

“I say to these establishments, at this time, with business improving, spend some money, nuh, and increase the staff. It’s not fair to the customer that he comes to spend his money and he has to wait half an hour. By that time, he’s so hungry and wants to go elsewhere. I say the same to the banks. The banks are making billions of dollars and providing some of the worst service in the country,”

But, what has happened in the process is that many more Jamaicans have been exposed to financial transactions that were never there or possible for them in the early-1960s. Yes, finance has changed, but the country has not lagged so far behind that we can honestly say that Jamaica is some sort of financial backwater. We now have a buzzing Stock Exchange—and I am not going into what it’s trends may mean. We now have opportunities for those who want them to invest in local and foreign currency assets. Yes, it’s true that institutions dominate many markets; they have deeper pockets by design. So, that’s not a battle to fight. What’s true, and becoming truer in the past couple of years under the current government’s desire to divest, is that the smallest investor now can find a space. This is not a new playbook as far as I am concerned, because I recall well the UK government under Margaret Thatcher putting public corporations into the hands of the public through privatization rather than keeping them nationalized, as the Financial Times headlined Privatisation defined Thatcher era. It was the first opportunity for the majority to invest in stocks and shares, and use savings to own private assets directly, rather than public assets say through things like Post Office savings accounts or Premium Bonds. It was my first foray into that world; I still have some of my shares. As with any financial transaction, some wanted to be in for the hold over the medium- to long-term, others wanted to see if they could profit from a quick bounce. Some got burned either way. Some won either way.

But, Jamaica is seeing this sell-off of public assets as only a part of a bigger set of opportunities to invest directly (rather than through funds) as companies make initial public offerings (IPOs), or ‘come to market’ for the first time. IPOs tend to excite investors, not least because of the novelty of a company opening itself to new investors, but the tendency for excess demand means the initial price is boosted once the IPO is over and the new shares are listed. People love the chance for a quick profit, and many feel ‘clever’ to be able to sniff out these chances (which are not guaranteed). Inevitably, we also see behind that speculative behaviour (description, not value judgement) greater risk-taking in the form of say ‘leverage’ (ie borrowing to invest). This has happened in many countries and been the source of serious personal and systemic financial problems.

I’m not going to tell my friendly neighbourhood financial market supervisors how to suck eggs, but I hope they are doing their due diligence and watching how the rush of people trying to get their stake of private equity in play is being fed.

My concerns tend to go towards the fact that Jamaicans (not unique) have a penchant for ‘get rich quick’ schemes (Ponzi schemes, scamming, flipping house purchases, pyramid selling, etc). When people feel the pressures to raise their living standards fast and it cannot be done gradually they tend to go towards certain avenues. Let’s say it’s human nature. Yes, significant numbers will see real gains and maybe urge others on, who may or may not understand what they are doing, and make simple but costly mistakes. The general outcome is often that the ‘graveyard’ of failed investors is far fuller than that for successful ones.

So, there you have it. Jamaica is a richer (no pun) financial landscape now than before Independence. More Jamaicans are getting wealthy through financial dealings. More people who may be deemed ‘poor’ have opportunities to get rich through such routes, legally, and faster than say from tilling land or selling panties. Young and old can take their chances, so can men and women, almost equally. You don’t need Internet access, but it often helps, as does a working telephone. Good luck!

Is setting up business in Jamaica hard?

No! Just put up your wares and decide on your prices. Choose your working hours and off you go! Zero to somewhere in minutes. Which country can beat that?

Oh, there’s some formal procedures to go through? Why? I just want to do my thing and make a little living? Why do I need all that?

That seems like a lot of effort for something that doesn’t need it. Anyway, I see business like this all over Jamaica, so why not me? Poor people can’t get a break!

For some, it’s that simple.

No place I’d rather be? The 2020 Jamaica vision—Can we show we care enough and just do something to completion?

A dear Greek friend of mine once explained that unfinished buildings are a common sight in Greece, because the Greeks build what they need today and leave the rest of the building unfinished for the future. It may seem that the Greeks are constantly building houses–and they are.

Our road ‘furniture‘ is often one of the things that is glaring because of its incompleteness. It strikes me every time I am driving around Jamaica that someone is always waiting to finish a job. I know, in some cases, both public and private, that funds have run out. I also know that there’s a tendency for jobs to fall through cracks. Currently, a large amount of road construction is going on in and around the Kingston Corporate Area, and that explains some piles of debris or the state of unfinished work, such as pylons without lights, or bollards awaiting movement to a permanent position. But, going west towards Spanish Town, at the junction with the road from Portmore, why does the newly constructed island that funnels traffic still have old concrete poles crumbled in the centre? Could it be that it will be the base of a future concrete base?

In general, the country doesn’t seem taken aback by the lack of aesthetic appeal this kind of situation gives. I often comment that, when one passes anywhere that has had some landscaping say on a median it looks like no one contracted people to maintain the areas. This seems more apparent when the country goes through its periodic sprucing up ahead of some major holiday or when certain foreign dignitaries are due to visit. There are few places in Jamaica where you get the feel of nicely ‘manicured’ and maintained for any significant stretch; instead, we have what Jamaicans call a Chaka-Chaka (very bad quality, disorganized, a big mess, poor quality) appearance. We rarely get the impression that thought has been given to the overall appeal of a structure that has a nice look all around. Climate plays its part, but not as much as lack of planning for that final look. Why should we have roadways that look like the image below taken in Savanna-la-Mar (photo credits Jamaica Gleaner)?

Not everywhere needs to be perfectly contoured as in the picture below of Charlotte, NC, but you can appreciate, I hope the difference in the impression you get.

Here’s an example that struck me yesterday as I drove to Mandeville from Kingston and back. Look at road edgings. It seems as if everyone had been given a blog of concrete and told to make some border along the side of the road, because I’ve rarely seen so much irregularity in a piece of road work. By contrast, you may find a few areas that are both uniform and smoothly finished.

Given that these are the results of public works, whether or not done by public agencies or private contractors, they suggest to us how much or little government appears to care.

Contrast that to the many houses that have been started then stopped unfinished.

Many of these reflect over-ambition, to give a generous interpretation, or like the Greeks, building what one can today, hoping to finish someday. Some reflect the results of crooked contractors who ‘ate’ the funds and left the property owner licking his/her wounds. Whether these homes get taken over by squatters, are repossessed by financiers, remain as unfinished eyesores (and there are many in so-called upscale communities), leaves a sour taste as regards national image. Few such unfinished structures can be obliterated by the sight of spanking new homes of any style or size. If we cast our eyes on many of our hills, or along many gullies, we also see the ‘shanty’ buildings that have become the norm for many communities. Yes, they have ‘solved’ the housing problems for some and left the rest of the society to deal with it, in terms of sanity, service provisions, inadequateness in terms of building codes, and the probable weaknesses if affected by hurricanes or earthquakes or flooding.

But, how much do we care?

We can’t take pride and ‘sell’ the beauty of our natural landscape and have it offset for most eyes to see by the poor condition of man-made landscapes.

Jamaica, land we love, has to really start to take on true meaning.

No place I’d rather be? The 2020 vision-The crime conundrum

Jamaica has long headed up lists for murders per capita, and for that rightfully has a fearsome reputation for its violent crime. Few things scare people more than the risk of being killed by someone else. So, in trying to settle on what the quality of life is now in Jamaica cannot go far without addressing the perception of crime and criminality on the island.

In trying to get a better personal understanding of what is happening to Jamaica, and how that has changed, I’ve been stuck on the matter of crime for a long time. Why?

During the first 6 years of my life in Jamaica, I never saw a violent crime committed. Back then, I lived in East Kingston, close to the Tower Street prison and Bellevue Hospital: the scariest things I encountered were mental patients doing what seemed like unfathomable things for human beings. I have a vague recollection of people being taken to jail. When my parents moved back to Jamaica in the mid-1980s, they chose to live in Mandeville mainly because they were offered a new house on a good-sized lot at the end of a cup-de-sac of new houses. It was a good investment for their savings from selling their home in rural England (they’d moved to Somerset after they took early retirement). It offered calm and a good opportunity to indulge in ‘urban’ gardening. Mandeville had never had a reputation for crime and I imagine my parents felt safe. In any event, they never suffered any of the attacks on ‘returning residents’ about which one reads. They were highly visible in that capacity and they spent a lot of time out of their home, driving to Kingston on Montego Bay often, in part visit relatives in the capital and to the airports in both cities. I never heard them talk about attempted burglaries or attacks on their home or person. The worst crime I heard my father mention was someone taking some of his bananas or plantains that were growing near a wall to the front of the property. The rear of the property was onto an open lot, which still remains that way. Since the mid-1980s, the small community has been built out, and houses bought mainly by returning residents. Some have reported burglaries or attempts and I often heard the sound of car alarms, but never heard of any cars being stolen. My parents were never held up on any road. They were never the victims of any scam attempts. My father walked to the gym, across the golf course, almost daily. He was never assaulted. Were they just lucky?

Since coming back to Jamaica, I’ve had to consume the almost daily tide of reports of violent crime, and murders and maimings are things that the Jamaican media like to report. That tendency, set alongside the flow of statistics that puts annual murders in the 1300-1500 range, or in the 3.5-4 murders a day range, inevitably makes me feel that Jamaica is really a ‘ killing field’. Touch wood, neither I nor any of my family living here have been victims of violent crimes. We know some people who’ve been murdered or attacked, however. Part of that fortunate situation is a result of where we live. Although, I grew up in what is now the rundown heart of Kingston, whenever I looked a map of murders, the clustering was clearly away from what we may describe as ‘uptown’ areas, or away from ‘country’ areas where some of my family live. Again, the nearest I have come to seeing ‘crime’ and its ‘victims’ has been in crashes on the roads–where we are also on a tear, with some 300+ deaths a year, call that 1 a day.

But, with the advent of the Internet, social media, and now messaging platforms (like WhatsApp) where news can be shared, true or false, current or stale, verified and unverified, I now see a constant stream of crime ‘reports’. Where I now live is not known as a hotbed of crime, but I cannot ignore the several reports of hold-ups, car thefts, or assaults that have occurred in the area. The reports have some common features, eg household workers being targets on paydays on their way home. Some of the reports of theft strike me as reflecting a lack of awareness that motive without opportunities usually means no crime, so when I read of valuables left in cars parked on the road (less common in Jamaica than in many other places), where these are out of sight for considerable time, I wonder about ‘street smarts’.

That said, should one not be able to just leave one’s belongings and have them remain untouched?

The real and perceived risk of crimes has led to action to get technology into the fray, so CCTV has been installed in several homes and on certain routes into/out of the community. Some of these have helped identify criminals and their attempts at crime. One piece of the puzzle that is troubling though, is reports to the police often end with little or no results. Naturally, given the generally higher socio-economic profile of the area, and its being adjacent to some ‘gully’ communities, some people feel that the community is an easy target. I’m still unsure, however, how crime has changed in reality versus more information flowing about crimes being committed.

From decades living in London, where it was common to be out late at night, either driving or using public transport, I built a certain awareness about surroundings and some precautions that, at the least, would give a hint of trouble nearby. Again, however, in all my years in England, the nearest I came to seeing a violent crime was some occasional road rage or a few domestic disputes that flowed outdoors, including one (in the late-1960s) with a Jamaican tenant of ours who decided to attack my mother with a knife, and ended with her being taken away in cuffs and straitjacket in a ‘Black Maria’. However, I recall being afraid when the infamous ‘Shepherd’s Bush murders’ occured in 1966, and 3 policemen were shot dead.

Aftermath of murder of policemen, near Wormwood Scrubs, west London

Although the shootings occurred a few miles from my home, as an 11-year-old what mattered was that it took place close to familiar territory: Wormwood Scrubs was an open public field where many local footballers played every week; it was also adjacent to the hospital where my mother had started to work when she went to England. It was in my ‘manor’, as the saying goes in England. This kind of brutal crime and involving the slaying of police officers (normally unarmed) was unheard of. The name of the killer, Harry Roberts, quickly became the words used to scare or threaten people.

But, living in London for most of my life, walking home alone, from the time I arrived in England through to when I left in my mid-30s was commonplace, or with a few friends at any time, but as I grew up late at night, on dark streets, through ‘dodgy’ areas, on country lanes, or being stuck in my car in a snow storm or broken down, didn’t result in my becoming a gruesome statistics. I lived most of my life in London in what were called ‘rough’ areas, the most notorious of which was 5 minutes from Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, scene of race riots in the mid-1980s.

Aftermath of Broadwater Farm riots, 1985

As happens, days after the rioting, I was back to walking in the park adjacent to ‘The Farm’ and, not surprisingly, never felt that the riot symbolized more than a serious spat between the police and residents there. I didn’t feel like Tottenham had become any kind of ‘war’ zone or that rioting would break out on the High Street.

That kind of sentiment moves with me still in Jamaica. On any given day, when I move about, I do not feel that I am in a country that is plagued with violent crime. I’m not indifferent to the data, but I’m still convinced that much of the worst crime is confined, not widespread. Is that comforting? Of course!

I sometimes read stories and have even had conversations with people who say ‘You can’t walk the streets’ in Jamaica. Yet, I see people on the streets every day, morning, noon, and night, as they say. I see women walking alone. I see children walking alone. I see people going about their business. What I don’t see are people too afraid to go out. My wife is part of a running group that is based around the Barbican area, and they have been assaulted at various times in the past year; they still run, with more precautions. I’ve not heard of more assaults, but I’m sure the mindset has changed. I see our Minister of Health and Wellness out running, usually with a partner (not sure if it’s just a running buddy or security detail), but not with any other ‘outriders’. I sometimes meet people walking early in the mornings, either as I head to my walk or during it; many are older people, walking the streets, some with a stick many with nothing in their hands. How vulnerable are they and how vulnerable do they feel? I read messages about ‘hold-ups’ in supermarket car parks nearby and I pass by the supermarkets and ponder whether what happened was random or targeted and what either may mean.

The spread of ‘state of emergency’ checkpoints across various parishes suggest a problem that is spreading and needs extraordinary measures. I’m a skeptic about the merits of this, not least because it seems to easy to bypass checkpoints, but I can understand that these may give assurances to many that ‘something’ is being done. The ‘ zones of special operations’, likewise. Relatives who live within them have had their lives disrupted. From what I’ve heard, it’s not clear that any of this has changed the mindset of the more-worrying criminals, eg scammers, whom some relatives report they can sometimes hear in adjacent properties, ‘going about their business’. I’ve heard of concerns that come from the loose application of zoning regulations, whereby commercial activities (eg trucking) have spread to residential areas, and with that the risks of commercial rivalries spilling over into neighbourhoods.

How much ‘petty’ crime was there and how much is there now? I’m often grateful when someone says “Mind your wallet (phone)” which I may have tucked into my back pocket, as many men do. That’s vigilance but also a consideration that we are each other’s keeper. When I go to buy gasoline, I’m always leery of people in the courtyard, and what they may be doing; but, that’s something I’ve always done, anywhere. Was I more at risk in Connecticut over the weekend, when I needed to travel around? I rarely carry cash–and that’s testimony to a positive change for me that I can live cashlessly. When I go to an ATM I take lots of simple precautions about my physical space, but am I aware enough of the lurking cybercrime risks that are also rising?

My wife always drives with her windows up and AC on; I prefer windows cracked and no AC. But, as I approach a stop light, I tend to wind up the window a little more, and I always scan who is approaching my car. Normal procedures, for me. If I approach one of our notorious ‘wiper boys’, I’m always on the lookout for what eye contact tells me, and I am always firm and clear that I do not want my windows wiped. When the exchange changes, eg, when one wiper wanted to cuss me about my ‘social standing’ I guess he wasn’t ready for the flow of (anglicized) Patois that came from me, and my passenger gasped as I shredded his assumptions and I told him to “Gweh, wid yu dutty self! Yu nuh kno mi mudda!” When he persisted and touched my car, he also wasn’t ready for me to open the door (risky, but calculated), and I asked if why he wanted to risk losing his hands. I wouldn’t recommend my approach, and I have seen the persistent annoyance others drivers get. When taxis are in my vicinity, I adopt another kind of caution, knowing that they are often emboldened by their passengers and any interaction with a driver can easily turn into an interaction with a mob. But, do not cut me up on the road, because where I learned to drive, that’s a no-no, and I will deal with you! We’re often hot-bloodied people, but deference is often not far away.

When, rarely, I encounter the police, I am also warier than usual. Why? Most of my encounters, here and abroad, have taught me that many street policemen are just a breath away from inappropriate acts, often bolstered by an inadequate understanding of the laws they are supposed to uphold, and replace understanding with bluster and bullying. They, often, do not react well to having their ‘authority’ questioned, especially when it would take little to prove they are in the wrong. But, it forces most of us to either know enough about the law, or care enough to want to ‘just have a peaceful life’. I’ve never had a policeman gesture to me that a bribe may be in order, but I have a friend who swears he’s never met a policeman who would refuse a bribe–I need to go on a road trip with this friend, sometime.

All of that to say, what? On any given day, the biggest problem people encounter (based on traffic over messaging platforms) is with their neighbours and the lack of consideration around their shared space. Occasionally, crimes occur; so far, none fatal, but some brutal. I’ve heard of no home invasions–something I recall being more prevalent in the past, hence the booming business of grilling houses. If one reads reports of crime carefully, many of them do not involve total strangers (and I recall conversations with some people in Montego Bay about how ‘dem know one anadda’, when it came to many reports of gun violence.

Better to be safe than sorry seems to be the common watchword. As noted above, it’s hard to know how much more avoidance and precautionary people now practice: no late night events; don’t go to unknown neighbourhoods; always let people know where you are going and try to update status, frequently (much easier with cellphones, than in the past). More people live in ‘secure’ housing (grills are a knee-jerk addition to a property), and private security is much more the norm than a decade ago. I only know two people who are licensed firearms holders, and only one of those has told me of discharging his weapon, interestingly to deal with a neighbour’s dog that attacked him. One is a businessman, whom I saw wore his as an ankle holster, and his businesses are in busy commercial settings and he often travels late at night.

A Jamaican friend, who lives in the USA, visited last week on a business trip; she’s here often. We went out for dinner in New Kingston. We also ate out another evening. My wife talked about how nice it was to be able to dine outdoors and in a (seemingly) safe environment. Whatever is going on in Jamaica, having such a perception is not trivial. If you watch enough TV dramas, you’ll know how vulnerable you may be in a parking garage; Jamaica has few of those, but instead has open parking. That makes for better safety? We see and hear about attacks in elevators and in dark stair wells in neighbouring countries; most of our establishments only have a single story. Are kidnappings on the rise, and if so, who is at risk? It seemed to be a common crime in Trinidad some years ago, but has it become so here? How many people get attacked on buses or in taxis?

It’s not a clear picture, but amidst the fuzziness, how do we all feel? Is every loud explosion during the night gunfire, or is it something less threatening? Is everyone who comes knocking a potential thief, or is it someone just doing a job, maybe someone ‘trapped’ by our loose approach to the need for convincing IDs? Can we walk to our gates unconcerned when someone honks their horn, or do we need to install a camera to give us a better protective cushion? Do we sleep with doors and windows unlocked at night? How do we feel when we come home and find that we hadn’t locked the grills?

I’m interested in what seems to be a changing official narrative that while murders remain stubbornly high, other major crimes have been trending downwards. Is that clutching at straws or getting people to see brutal killings as being outliers in terms of significant trends?

Sharing nature’s beauty: week 6–North American winter special

I took a quick trip north…way north…to Connecticut, USA. Temperatures hover around freezing point, and a few degrees up makes you feel really good–yesterday, it reached a sunny 50F/10C. If the wind blows, then knock off a few degrees, depending on how cold it was before and how much the chill air is blasting. But, I like spending time in the cold, not least as a real change from our usual heat in Jamaica.

Stream flowing with hint of recent snow

Bright sunlight makes everything look wonderful

No leaves till Spring 

No place I’d rather be? The 2020 vision

I’m in the present day, though I have blogged in a chronological manner through to the 1970s. I need to think about where we are and then go back to see what of the past seems relevant to my thoughts; there’s a personal story that may not matter too much to the story of what I perceive about Jamaica since I came back in 2013.

By no means is Jamaica the worst place I know, and it’s not the best in many areas. However, it does have things that I have not seen surpassed and things that are as low as I have ever known. So, there’s a wide spread to deal with. For many, that is THE problem. If you live somewhere that is abjectly awful (in my experience, parts of Guinea, Guyana, slums in Italy, parts of downtown Kingston, come to mind), then all you really hope for is some move to the upside. Conversely, if you live somewhere that seems the envy of the rest of the world (eg, Zurich, Oslo, The Seychelles, The Blue Mountains), you cherish that and do your best to preserve it.

My overall feeling about Jamaica is that policy makers have disappointed more than they have satisfied: too many promises have been unfulfilled; too many things languish for no apparent good reason; mediocrity has set in to far too many areas; too many lives are still just a breath away from squalour; the best on offer is enjoyable by too few (not their fault). The disappointment comes as much from a serial unwillingness to point the country towards a clear vision that it can excel in all areas and setting in train the means to do that. It’s all well and good to clamour around our world-beating athletes and the kudos they bring with them, but then we fail to understand how much of their success has been despite resources, not because of them. They signify a well-know resilience and willingness to push through that out to be given opportunities to appear in all fields. Our creativity is renowned (8 new different music genres developed during the 20th century). We know we have the ability to produce well-educated people, and this has gone on for decades, yet we have an educational system where only 30% of children graduate high school with any form of qualification. We show some potentially disturbing tendencies in tertiary education, which has risen to about 30% from about 5% in the early-1970s and 20% in the early-2000s, but is now heavily skewed towards female enrollment (about 2/3 now, from about 40% in the mid-1970s. Yet, males appear to be earning far-better salaries than women. There are tensions building from the underlying inequities in education which have no clear outlet, though one of them is to see a continued drain of well-educated talent (increasingly female), again leaving the country with a labour pool that is much lower in qualification than many of our competitors. We cannot be a magnet for higher added-value and technologically-advanced processes if this is what we are offering to potential investors.

Without a doubt, if you look at the physical landscape of Jamaica you’d applaud the sight of highways covering important stretches of the country heading west-central and north. You’d also need to then consider where that has left the east, the southwest and far west of the island in terms of accessibility. The better access comes at a price, so it’s not a universal gain.

If you move in and around the Kingston metropolitan area you’ll notice both significant architectural changes, both commercial and residential. You’ll see much higher density and you’ll see good design. You’ll also understand better why the traffic flows into and out of that area are often dense and clogged at ‘rush-hour’, which often starts earlier and last longer than before, and recurs if there is any disruption as simple as heavy rain, let alone if there is something that sends people into ‘panic’ (eg warnings of hurricane or earthquake, or major event scheduled for Kingston/New Kingston). I wont go into any argument here about whether devolution of functions should have been a priority to reduce pressure on the metropolitan area, but… However, a good portion of these heavy flows of people and vehicles is a direct result of a society that has not managed to shift its technology fast enough.

More people move to do things that can now be done from the comfort of their homes, but are not and the need to deal with physical paper-based transactions impose a heavy load on many people’s daily lives (read the many daily pleases involving hours spent in a tax office to renew a driver’s licence). Part of that continues because we cannot claim to have made the whole country well-connected to Internet and phone services. It’s worth remembering that the metropolitan area, though significant in terms of sheer population is only a small part of the national geography and the spread of people is still far and wide.

I’m a kind of maverick in Jamaica because I refuse to move to do things I know can be done electronically; it’s often a fight to get organizations to accept things that they are set up to do, but seem willing to hide from. Why should I have to point out to a representative what are the possibilities for bank transfers? So, I do not go out to sign documents, or pay bills; it sometimes takes a few heated conversations, but I get there. But, we are a country that has put a low value on personal time, so this resistance is more inate, here. Ironically, I’m a JP, so I understand the frustration others feel in having to get forms signed and sealed. But, I cannot change the whole social structure to render such stuff meaningless. I understand some of the ‘why’, but much of it leaves me boggle-eyed. I’m baffled by the volume of people who go to banks and what they do after waiting in line for often hours; I’ve heard explanations, but I’m still perturbed. There’s a lot of re-education needed on both sides of providers and customers, and then there’s the matter of trusting processes that are automated and electronic versus those that involve face-to-face activities.

Jamaica is in a much more comfortable position economically than in decades. Many Jamaicans understand the stability but have an impatience for that to translate into something called ‘faster growth’. That doesn’t mean that the average Jamaican has found than the financial side of daily life is much better now than in 2015. Part of the past economic problems were fully in the area of government and its budget and how that dominated the financial life of the rest of the country. Fixing that fiscal problem doesn’t mean that private financial situations improve in like manner. Easing the public sector debt burden, say, doesn’t mean that everyone else has more money in their pocket, perhaps on the contrary.

Admittedly, few in Jamaica have any notion of what that means, but I suspect they foresee many more people doing what are perceived as ‘quality’ jobs (but see above on how that’s constrained). Perhaps, they also foresee considerable improvements in the quality of goods and services (so that they equate more to what may be experienced in North America or Western Europe). These would demonstrate to many a country that has somehow become ‘richer’. Elements of such things are here, already, but they are spotty. Another feature of this ‘faster growing’ country may be the orderliness that’s associated with wealthier countries. To my mind, much of this comes from a perception of how society is supposed to function better for more people and setting in train developments in that direction, which are easier to support with more resources, but can go on with ‘slower’ growth. So, clean environment and tranquility are things that people associate with economic advancement. An economist could argue that those things that make life seem better are ‘friction’ that has been removed (friction is associated with lower productivity). Less chaos often leads to anything being easier to do that if there is chaos. Our lives would be transformed overnight if, say, route taxis were committed to follow a code of conduct that had them acting as if their prime concerns were for good road behaviour and passenger safety, and if most transgressions were met with heavy sanctions. So, for Jamaica, significant reductions in disorder would quickly give the impression that life has gotten better. So, an important part of this growth development comes from people behaving differently.

But, changed behaviour usually comes easier in a society where people are better-educated, meaning their ability to understand and adjust should be higher. So, I look back at what our education system is producing and have to wonder how we can get there from here. The comparator countries we like to look towards to mark how little we have progressed have made major changes in how they educate their populations, and being contented with ‘dumbing down’ people and letting young talent flounder wasn’t part of the blueprint. The disparity between Jamaica’s best and worst schools is a national disgrace and the system of sharing out the spoils to offer children a sniff of the best opportunities is a disaster for the average child. But, fixing that can’t be done quickly, and one danger is how long people will remain patient for signs of that to appear. Behind that is another danger of sorts where those who have understood the value of the better education and can afford it, have and will continue to opt out of local education–understandably, given the importance of good investment in children’s education.

I’ve not commented on how our political processes have been a brake on moving the country and I’ll need to think a bit more about that beyond stating that a national motto of ‘Out of many, one people’ that is notable in the absence of true application of that without political favour is the kind of unhealthy self-delusion that has gone on for too long.

I also need to think and discuss crime and the growing perception of fear and insecurity.

Sharing some of nature’s beauty: week 5

Fresh local strawberries from Mavis Bank, St. Andrew

Custard apple (Wild sweet sop, or Annona Reticulata), overhanging from a neighbour’s tree into my yard)

First ripe custard apple, happy to oblige

Ackee pods, not yet ripe and open. Don’t eat! Wait till they open, naturally

Glass filled with blossom

Sun setting, and viewed looking south towards Kingston Harbour

This dead palm from looks like it was placed on the dying grass, rather than having been blown there by the wind