#COVID19Chronicles-99: July 22, 2020-How does it feel to lift the trophy? Part 1 #YNWA

This is the prelude to an historic moment; Part 2 will get written once the trophy presentation is over, following today’s match with Chelsea, at Anfield. So, this is really about anticipation, and it’s been a long time coming, whether you want to measure it on the 30-year arc, or the much shorter, but still intense arc of this current season, with the totally unexpected shutdown of most of the world due to a global pandemic. The title was a sniff away, when the league suspended matches after the last fixture on March 9, and Liverpool needed 6 points to assure the title. The 3-month wait till resumption on June 17 was filled with lots of anxiety for most Liverpool fans, especially when talk involved making the season null and void, when the lead was 25 points! (It was also anxious for other clubs, too, who were either looking from near the top of the table at possible European qualifying places through those who were even mid-table but could see possible relegation in their future. A lot of juggling was happening below the Premier League, though these will all be resolved today, when the Championship has its final match day today. Leagues below have all been settled with play-offs or standings determined by statistical trends.)

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Liverpool FC today will hoist the trophy for winning the Barclays Premier League, having never won it, and 30 years on since they last won the top league in England (and Wales). The joy of hoisting it at home in front of fans at Anfield will have to wait a few more weeks, because the country is still in the grip of various forms of restrictions on crowds gathering and social distancing.

It’s bitterly ironic that this happens after the last home game and the opponents are Chelsea FC, who cruelly snatched the title away from Liverpool in 2014, as a result of ‘the slip’ by Steven Gerrard.

They lost the game 0-2 and missed the title by 2 points, behind Manchester City. In the days before VAR, it was no saving grace that Raheem Sterling had had an equalizing goal disallowed against City, for an offside decision that was about 1 metre wrong :(: “Such a poor decision; you could see it with your naked eye.”

So, the bitter taste in then-manager Brendan Rogers’s mouth at the end of that season must have been awful. Scoring 101 goals, for the highest tally for runners-up. Last year, with 97 points, they lost the title to City, again, by one point; the highest total points for runners-up. That, after having a massive lead in the title race, months earlier. That, added, to the long wait for the Championship was a head of pressure that’s hard to fathom and to keep going for a club that had its heyday as league leaders and cemented itself into European Cup/UEFA Champions League history with astonishing comeback victories.

Fast forward. Rogers leaves Liverpool and moves to Celtic, where he gobbles up domestic trophies for a few years before coming back to manage Leicester and show with their resurgence of form that he is really a good manager. But, it opened the door for Jürgen Klopp and the rest is history.

So, the title-winning side was built on a solid base over a half decade and more.

The 2018/19 season was amazing and capped with a great UEFA Champions League win that was more than deserved after the summary dismantling of Barcelona in the semi-final 2nd leg at Anfield. “The unthinkable, the unbelievable…comeback”, from 0-3 after leg 1, to win 4-0. And how!

I guess an absolute neutral can watch and imagine the task and how it was managed and feel unmoved. But, every time I watch the 2nd half of that match, I am covered totally in goosebumps.

That Spurs pulled off a similar feat in their semi-final to beat Ajax 3-2 away, with similar last minute drama—winner in 90+5 minutes—makes the whole story both bizarre and pleasing beyond description. “I do not believe it!” I still don’t believe the 2nd goal Lucas Moura scored.

So, Liverpool went on and lost to the Community Shield to City on penalties, then won the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup before December, and were already soaring in the Premier League, and the 2019/20 season was already one for the ages.

#COVID19Chronicles-98: July 21, 2020: Yellowish journalism or just journalists yelling?

The image running through my mind these past days is of a country poised to explode in a rash of escalating revelations as the pressure of impending elections—no date yet announced—starts to dictate how those who have brains wired for political shenanigans work. Thone with working brains may lead but they have a lot of sheep following. That image because very vivid on Sunday, when I thought about colors, notably green and orange make brown. Yes, we are in for a s**t storm it seemed as political flavour took hold of limited common sense.

Where the imagery got messed up was when it also became clear that the media was on sort of feeding frenzy and stories with wildish allegations started to hit the headlines and the front pages. Now, I think that most times, Jamaican ‘news’ media stays above a certain line of decency, though it toes it closely. At other times, someone steps a bit past the line. Last week, we saw and heard and read a few things that stepped over the line.

First, there was the “Did you cheat on your wife?” question to the health and wellness minister during a press briefing. I’ll let people use their own compasses to guide them on whether the question was appropriate in the sense of its going to the heart of matter of public interest—how contracts are awarded. Titillating though it may be to know about other people’s peccadilloes, it’s not really a matter for unsolicited public discussion. To my mind, if there were a one-on-one interview that was being recorded, not live, it would be appropriate to broach the question, giving the questioned a bit of space and time to reflect on how and if they wanted to respond. There’s always something a bit off with the ‘Gotcha!’ type of question, which catch people off-guard and then are answered in time and manner that’s easy to interpret in many wrong ways.

The fact that the question came from the principal of a sometime-TV News magazine show/online news outlet made it a bit more problematic. I often give some slack to a piece clearly authored by a journalist for the fact that some editorial influence has been used to craft the final article But, when the editor or principal speak, eg in an editorial, that slack goes away. To me, this is the face of the organization on full show.

Anyway, to my mind, that was the most yellow of journalism last week. Encyclopedia Britannica describes it as: ‘the use of lurid features and sensationalized news in newspaper publishing to attract readers and increase circulation’. It’s called ‘tabloid journalism’ in the UK and has many organs that made it big by using it, eg the News of the World and The Sun. There’s always a market for sensationalism, especially if it comes at the expense of those in the public eye who often try to create ‘clean’ images of themselves.

Where I stumbled last week was on what was the purpose of the question. I had a brief exchange with some friends on Saturday morning about the incident, with one man saying he thought the question was on point as it touched on the appropriateness of a relationship that might have given extra favour. But, the point is that the question never took anyone remotely close to that legitimate concerns, even though it had been preceded by two questions that pointed there; the link was missing. My friend added that sensationalism sells. So, I asked him where the story had been ‘sold’. So far, I’ve seen various other media outlets make news of the journalist making news but nothing from the questioner. Now, having had her judgment questioned by the president of the Press Association of Jamaica, and her question deemed “inelegant”, could have offered an opportunity for several kinds of story on top of the story that was sought through the questions, but nothing. So, again, what was the question’s purpose even when the answer is incomplete or unsatisfying or whatever? It value to the media house is so far a tangible what? History will show nothing directly on its books, though there’s plenty of time to write some stories.This is just a simple take on the economics of the matter, nothing more. Where’s the value? How has the bottom line been affected?

Some say, listening to the exchange, that the question was unfinished. What’s that adage about getting the main point out first—the ‘hook’? The hook wasn’t about procurement, except in some salacious sense.

Some, have taken the salaciousness bait and dangled it in the water. The Gleaner did an interesting thing at the weekend when showing an image of principals in the contractual affair, choosing a cropped version of a picture taken on a private jet of them sitting beside one another. Interesting! Well, not really, given the real context of the picture, which they had published originally—of a boy being airlifted for emergency medical treatment. If a picture says a thousand words what does doctoring a picture say? The media house isn’t obliged to explain its choices, and know well that once a red herring has been dragged across the trail, its scent lasts a long time.

https://twitter.com/hoshingantwang/status/1284980226234159105?s=21

But, as with so many things in life, once something gets set in motion it’s not clear what will follow.

With the PAJ president laying down a marker about the principles of good journalistic behaviour, his stance soon became the focus and now the media profession has become the story, not just the journalist. How did we get there? Knit one, purl one.

Then, one of the profession’s outspoken young practitioners took exception to the PAJ’s president’s stance:

This has been followed by a lengthy reply:

Many will see the length of the PAJ reply as excessive, but it’s purpose was what? One can overthink it, but I detect more than an whiff of ‘damning with faint praise’. I noted especially the references to Sir Horace Heaps, used like a firm pillar in the original letter then kicked over by the PAJ president in a ‘do you really know what you’re talking about?’ manner. Anyway, just my brief interpretation.

But, here we are: the media is now the sensation. Well, that is if you care to notice 🙂

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

#COVID19Chronicles-97: July 20, 2020: Passengers? All change for Watford!

Normally, if you Google ‘Pearson, passengers’ you’d get results for flights into Toronto’s main airport. But, if you add ‘Watford’ you get this:

Well, Watford’s manager, Nigel Pearson, was clearly feeling that some of his players were just going along for the ride when saying some were ‘passengers’. That’s one of the low blows not usually given by managers in public about their players and Pearson got a bit of stick from several TV pundits for his remarks. But, for his frankness, I suspect, which may be a sign that he has lost faith in the team, he will no longer be a passenger on the team bus as he was sacked yesterday with 2 games to play.

This comes hot on the heels of his now former team capitulating in a relegation battle with West Ham, going down 3-1 and not appearing to have much real fight in them. Goalkeeper Ben Foster looked suspect on the first and last goal, though it was a stonker shot from long range by Declan Rice:

In a sense, Watford gave Pearson ‘What for’, which is a British slang expression for punishment.

Pearson was on the verge of another miracle, having taken over Watford and their being bottom of the Premier League at Christmas and looking set for the drop. But, as he’d done with Leicester City in 2014/15, also bottom of the Premier League at Christmas, but managed to survive, it seemed he was at it again. If Watford survive, then Pearson is due his props. If they drop, egg will be on the face of the owners.

He’s been a colourful manager and caught up in a few memorable verbal and physical confrontations and a sacking that wasn’t at Leicester in 2015, when in February, following a home defeat by Crystal Palace in a game in which, at one point, Pearson put his hands around Palace’s James McArthur’s neck, while on the ground, the press reported that Pearson had been sacked. He also famously called a journalist an “ostrich”, “stupid” and “daft” during a post-match news conference after a defeat to Chelsea in April 2015. He was voted manager of the month in April 2015 after a series of great results; but for his heroics, for which he was sacked in June 2016 (‘Thanks, fellas!’), Leicester would not have been in the position to pull off the most amazing footballing miracle of winning the Premier League the following season, as 5000:1 outsiders.

Watford should have a place in the hearts of all Jamaicans firstly because of Jamaican-born Luther Blissett, whose striking form helped propel Watford from the Fourth through First divisions in the late-1970s-1980s. Secondly, as the home of Jamaican-born John Barnes, who got his professional start with them before soaring to greater heights with Liverpool, and played in the 1990 title winning side. So, we wish them luck in the fight to avoid relegation. If they escape, maybe former owner Sir Elton John has another song to sing, having been literally instrumental in setting the club on the road to much higher ambitions to make it to the then-First Division.

With their historic links, it’s somewhat ironic that in this horror season, Watford found inspiration to inflict a first defeat on Liverpool this season, when they have become champions of the top tier in English football for the first time in 30 years, when Barnes played for them.

It’s a funny old game 🙂

 

#COVID19Chronicles-96: July 19, 2020-What’s in a decision if just deck chairs are shuffled on the ship?

I woke this morning with thoughts about team management, prompted by some comments about how the PM had dealt with a new clutch of poor judgments and decisions by some Cabinet ministers. A noted former journalist described his actions as ‘decisive’ and I disagreed.

I guess if one takes decisiveness as quick decision making that might pass; but not if you take it to mean things done in a conclusive manner.

In summary, my view on lack of decisiveness was a simple tallying of what had happened to Cabinet ministers found to be at least wanting in judgement. Bar one, they were first reassigned to, or had their responsibilities reassigned within, the Office of the Prime Minister as ministers without portfolio. Many wags were quick to call this the ‘naughty corner’ or like being ‘put into detention and told to write lines’. As columnist, Daniel Thwaites, put it today-Of The Intertwined And The Closely Affiliated:

assigned to that holding pen for the aged, the infirm, those who have been allegedly involved in some project or the other, and those charged but not convicted. It’s a place formerly known as the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

For those who cannot recall:

Karl Samuda (now just back as Education Minister), Andrew Wheatley, Daryl Vaz and now J.C. Hutchinson have met this fate since 2016; the latter two in the past few weeks, having publicly been criticized for “poor judgment” by the PM.

One of my concerns is simply that with collective responsibility in government, these people have been retained in Cabinet and as such are still part of the decision-making process. Shuffling people to an area of unspecified responsibilities or reassigning their Cabinet responsibilities isn’t decisive. It could even be described as deceptive, and as action goes is much less meaningful. We don’t see enough of the inner workings to know whether such moves are in fact sine cure positions.

To my mind, there’s a incongruity in chastising a team member for poor judgment and retaining their judgment in your decision-making process.

Many styles of team management exist and it’s not clear that politicians have any particular one in mind when they assume the highest office, especially of they haven’t been leaders of large teams. As this is the Caribbean, it’s likely that they see themselves as cricket team captains, where the expectations are that all things on the field of play are yours to determine, maybe in conjunction with a coach/manager, but you handle the details of what people do and where they play. It’s very ‘hands on’ or delegation on a short leash. As in cricket, more than many other team sports, you’re stuck with the team selected-no substituting. You hope the selectors got the picks right, and you do with them the best you can. You may wish, in the conditions, that you had a different line-up, but too bad. Football, or many other sports, allow you at least ‘a bench’ with other good players reader to call on for a range of reasons.

Well, cricket matches last at most 5 days; governments last for a much longer time. Honestly, it’s hard to see or justify why some of these ministers were not summarily dismissed from Cabinet, except for the precarious position that numbers play, more so in a Parliament where the government had a razor-thin margin at the outset. I suspect that the thinking in that situation still prevails, even though the margin is a little easier. Clearly, the idea of ‘bad apples’ spoiling the barrel seems to be of little concern. Then again, what’s to spoil?

Another thought rolling through my mind was dissatisfaction with the ‘Westminster’ model of government that Jamaica inherited and has left essentially unchanged. The concerns were several:

We don’t elect PMs; we elect an MP who happens to lead a party and if his/her party wins the majority of seats, he/she is (usually) nominated to form a government. So, in practice, our elected leader is first the choice of a party alone and then selected by default having been voted in by only his/her constituents. It’s always seemed ludicrous to me to have national leaders chosen by such a cockamamie process.

Cabinets are too large. In small countries, the immediate problem is that the portfolios have to be shared amongst a small number of capable people, who are not elected for their ability to manage anything. Inevitably, that leaves a PM having often to ‘scrape the barrel’ to find good people and is loathe to lose any, especially if they have become trusted confidants.

For the moment, my concerns may fizzle, because as more are noticing, elections are due, and with each passing day, must be coming sooner. So, the apple cart wont be toppled over in a hurry. Will all of these ‘holding patterns’ get shaken up after, if the government maintains its hold? Your guess is as good as mine, but I think it could be arrividerci for more than a few.

#COVID19Chronicles-95: July 18, 2020-Asking the right questions

When I first started work at the central bank, my first boss told me I hadn’t been hired because I was bright and had all the answers; I was expected to ask the right questions. Well, this week has been a glitter show of how to not ask the right question.

The most glaring must be when a journalist appeared to want to know if a Cabinet minister is giving unfair advantage to a company with whose principal it is alleged he’s having an extra-marital affair: the key question goes to the contract, and procurement policies, not the personal contact, and the question is NOT “Are you cheating on your wife?” The answer to that question gets you no closer to knowing what the public need to know about the management of public assets.

More painful than asking the wrong question is the social capital and credibility wasted by the journalist as a mouthpiece and ear of the people. It’s the people not the peeping! On live streaming, when you have the minister and permanent secretary where you and the nation want them to ask pertinent questions about the handling of the pandemic and procurement policies you want to ask about hanky-panky?

Anyway, good to see the president of the Press Association of Jamaica grab the reins to stop the runaway horse.

Second to that is a Cabinet minister, who doesn’t seem to care what his nearest and dearest are doing with their business, so doesn’t ask them about it and lands in the hot peas soup when they get free dibs on a huge piece of defunct sugar land. Oh, the problem with that? He’s the minister of agriculture!

The winds swirling around Jamaica are bringing sand from the Sahara and no rain; the land is parched and the dams are drying up. But, the whiff of ministerial impropriety is also swirling around the nation’s nostrils.

The adage about ‘fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’ keeps coming to mind. Weeks after the minister in charge of land and the environment is found to have brokered a sweet deal for himself adjacent to protected areas, we have the minister of agriculture handing over prime agricultural land for a song to his ‘life partner’ and her son setting up the only supplies shop on the property…and he doesn’t ask any questions about their business dealings. The shame of that is added to by how the PM has dealt with two glaring cases of poor judgment by people whose task is to exercise good judgment. In the first instance, give another ministerial portfolio over housing and water. In the second case, taking away the agriculture portfolio, but keeping the man as minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

As those with keener eyes than mine can see, shifting the ‘chairs’ around the ‘deck’ doesn’t really cut it, expect for speed of reaction. OPM seems like a ‘detention room’ for naughty boys: do 1000 lines—‘I will not get caught again showing such poor judgement’. Those with a more cynical bent. who smell a heavy dose of economy with the truth, may suggest OPM means Office of Practising Mendacity. I agree with Julian Robinson and others saying shifting ministers is not the solution:

It doesn’t send the right messages, at all. I’ve written recently about what it takes to dismiss a Cabinet minister and it seems the key to the exit is hidden so high that not even the PM can reach it. Oh, boy! You forget the election is in the wind? Sorry, my bad. 😦

Be that as it may, I fear the PM, too, isn’t asking the right questions of those who work for him and of himself. Keeping people who you admitted as showing judgement poor enough for you to strip them of certain portfolios as part of Cabinet and so collective decision making begs logic.

COVID19Chronicles-94: July 17, 2020-Friday frivolity: #JamaicaIsNotARealPlace? It’s pure theatre of the Absurd

For a while, #JamaicaIsNotARealPlace has been circulating on social media, and I noted it, but passed it by, mainly because much of what people find unreal about Jamaica is stuff one sees in lots of other places—are American college students trying to dive bomb into a vat of ice cream not unreal? Admittedly, a lot of seemingly absurd things happen in every day life in Jamaica, and it’s hard to say if they happen more here than elsewhere, or are being reported more and faster now than in the past because of social media, or some other feature that makes comparison hard. What’s clear, though, is that the absurd seems to happen here in some kind of clustered fashion. That’s what made me pay attention—economists are supposed to pick up on trends and have them help foresee events and help explain past events.

Now, I don’t have or wont dare try come up with a theory of absurdity. Fact is a theory of absurdism already exists. Wikipedia gives a good nerdy summary:

‘In philosophy, “the Absurd” refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe. The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously. 

As a philosophy, absurdism furthermore explores the fundamental nature of the Absurd and how individuals, once becoming conscious of the Absurd, should respond to it. The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence. He then promotes life rich in willful experience.

Absurdism shares some concepts, and a common theoretical template, with existentialism and nihilism.’

Though, Camus and other early-20th century philosophers get a lot of credit for Abusrdism, it’s not hard to see it existed in form, if not philosophy, from much earlier. In that regard, the ‘theatre of the Absurd‘ or ‘New Theatre’, which is seen as a post-World War 2 creation, with the likes of playwrights such as Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and Tom Stoppard, clearly had its origins and influences well back into the Elizabethan era, with famous absurd dramas and characters penned in plays by William Shakespeare, for instance, often helping the audience better understand complexities by showing them in a ridiculous light, such as ‘Dogberry’ in Much Ado About Nothing and ‘Bottom’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But, it can also be seen in the satirical writing of people like Jonathan Swift in, for instance, his 18th century Modest ProposalIt’s also evident in the satirical cartoons of that era, often bawdy.

James Gilray is perhaps the most famous of the caricaturists of that time.

If we fast forward, we can easily set the satire of Monty Python clearly in that same frame.

So, I’ve often positioned many things I see and hear in Jamaica within this absurdist tradition.

Don’t take my word for it, take a look at a sample and have a think for yourself.

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😂
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On another episode of: #JamaicaIsNotARealPlace A wrecker a put a wrecker with a car pon a wrecker on a wrecker?  wut!  pic.twitter.com/9pIMG0APu7

— DJ Dav Muzik (@Jus_Davi876) June 9, 2019

Then this real?? #jamaicaisnotarealplace pic.twitter.com/iJJVnJ2OlI

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— Lee  (@xo_lee21) December 20, 2019

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This waa crowd 
Can someone plz tell me wat kinda car this is??? Am not good with cars#jamaicaisnotarealplace pic.twitter.com/fga4ztoqsV

— Shaeberry (@Miz_Fructose) March 27, 2019

Some of our best literature and drama play on this, sometimes with the easy get out that we are dealing with ‘mad people’, but often understanding that ‘ordinary people’ are as afflicted.

Now, some may argue about what motivates Jamaicans to act as they do, but that’s not so important in seeing the actions for what they are. That said, many situations arise out of ‘need’ in some fashion, and how people ‘cope’ with a life that is not as filled with resources, so have to craft solutions. It’s also true that we are a society that tends to exaggeration, and that makes the absurd much less of a leap.

On one hand, we can credit the ingenuity, on another hand, we have to wonder if people realize what they are doing. But, we also have a long tradition of making light of serious things (‘tek serious ting fi joke’) and laughing at ourselves in the process. Which, be warned, is not the same as others laughing at us, no matter how absurd we may appear to be. But, to be honest, some people are just plain stupid.

The notion of embracing the absurd is not far from that of being fatalistic, and that’s a common feature in many societies where extreme struggle has been a common feature of life.

#COVID19Chronicles-93: July 16, 2020-Holland pull-up; ants will bite you if you eat sugar in bed

In Patois, we have the expression ‘Haul ‘n’ Pull-Up’—a messed up situation, applied to things or people. So, it’s a short linguistic step to ‘Holland pull-up’

Right now, no matter how you try, it seems you can’t miss that some Cabinet minister is putting his foot into his mouth. We have metaphors about you don’t know what it’s like until you walk in another person’s shoes. Well, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking I’d like to have on a pair of those size 10 loafers that these guys seem to wear. They’re comfortable, often leave no tell-tale footprints, and easy to clean, too. So, where’s that trail of mud coming from and why are sugar grains on the floor?

The answer is simple. A Cabinet minister, clearly lost in translation what ‘Dutch courage’ or ‘going Dutch’ or ‘double Dutch’ or ‘pass the Dutchie’ mean. He’s in charge of the agriculture portfolio and represents a seat in St. Elizabeth, where the Holland Estate sugar lands are located. Simply put, he let his closely connected ‘family’ get their hands on a sweet deal. The Gleaner kindly summarized the details in an editorial this morning—‘Holland Deal Doesn’t Pass Smell Test’. (As it involves sugar, I’m surprised they went for smell not taste test.)

Let’s just simplify the story by saying the minister let a company in which his ‘life partner’ is a director have a sweet deal on control of a 2400 acre piece land, and their son operates a supplies store on the property, apparently unbeknownst to the MD of the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ). The MD is named ‘Mr. Shoucair’, which is so close to sugar that it’s almost ludicrous. Leaving the son aside for the moment, the ‘life partner’ is ‘a member of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) board, which, like the SCJ, falls under MICAF [Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries]. RADA provides extension and other support services to Jamaica’s farmers. Ms Marshall-Williams is also chairman of RADA’s advisory board for the parish of St Elizabeth, where Mr Lee, her co-director at Holland Producers, is RADA’s deputy parish manager according to the Gleaner.

The Gleaner is clear: ‘For the issue relates not only to Ms Marshall-Williams. It involves, too, a host of other connected parties, an absence of transparency and arm’s-length dealing, as well as, at the very least, poor judgement by public officials in their handling of taxpayers’ assets.’

The Holland Producers and the son’s company were registered/set up on the same day in 2019

Yet, No alarm bells started ringing.

Say what?!

Those of you who took ‘Principles of Elementary Ethics’ know the answer.

In many countries, this would be an appropriate reaction, and a call for smelling salts would be in order, plus a punkawalla to come fan the fevered brow. But, this is Jamaica, where people have eyes that look out to either side and never see what’s right in front of their noses.

I did not hear the minister give several interviews on the radio yesterday, but reports are they were a series of ‘car wrecks’ in communications terms. I just listened to the first 30 seconds of his interview on Nationwide Radio and I can see where the car was heading for the cliff.

Many will be blinking, listening to it, that the minister, living with his ‘partner’ and son, said he has nothing to do with their businesses and knows nothing at all about them. Well, just out of prudence, it’d be a good idea to know, so that one doesn’t unwittingly get into embarrassing dealing with those entities. Sitting back and saying the that ‘people’ elected his ‘partner’ to a position to transact, seems naive beyond comprehension. In that small, rural community, who would not think that having the minister’s wife in a leadership position was a great idea. C’mon man!

What is immediately apparent is that Jamaicans are so besotted by ends justifying means (in this case someone has control of the land and squatting is prevented) that they think that a good serving of a rotting herring (a closely connected person) is a good meal because a plate of food was provided for someone who had nothing to eat, and the stench it leaves or the upset stomach at best it leaves are just normal. This mentality clearly resides in the mind of senior politicians who can only see the deed and think nothing else matters. Brother, history is not so kind, you know.

Anyway, a lot of dust has to settle and many questions should be asked and adequately answered. For my part, I wondered aloud yesterday if the minister did any of these things or allowed them to happen with the advice of his senior civil servants as a public official, or in consultation with a lawyer, if we believe that he had the capacity to act as a private person.

If the lines in Jamaican politics were not already smudged like a two-year old trying to write its name on a wall with chocolate icing, it couldn’t get any more so.

Finally, I’ve long followed events and noticed a tendency for those involved to almost mark their trail with names that fit, so I have a #NameForTheFrame hashtag. So, look what I found out about the meaning of ‘Hutchinson’:ED327F89-8897-4483-A317-6CE623857CED

Don’t try to tell me that your name meaning ‘hug the son of kin’ is not meaningful! 😉

#COVID19Chronicles-92: July 15, 2020: Why do we treat politicians with such kid gloves? Where’s our funny bone?

I often wonder why Jamaican politicians aren’t taken to humourous task more often. I’m a lover of satire, and grew up in Britain during the era when political satire was resurfacing with real vigour in the 1960s (‘Beyond the fringe’, ‘That was the week that was’, Private Eye), through the 1970s (‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’), and into the 1980s and 1990s (‘Spitting Image’, ‘Yes, Minister’, ‘The Young Ones’).

It’s not for want of material, because politicians are adept at putting their feet into their mouths at the drop of a hat. We also keep getting evidence that they do a lot of dipping elsewhere, sometimes into money pots, sometimes other honey pots 😉

Jamaican politics, even in the 21st century, is not too far from British politics during much of the period through the 1960s, where the population was extremely deferential to politicians, putting them on pedestals. The British system was built on the idea that there was a ‘ruling class’, mainly those close to nobility and often nurtured through public schools and Oxbridge, and closely connected personally. We don’t really have that pillar in our politics, though personal closeness keeps cropping up in our actual and alleged scandals, so nepotism and cronyism are there to be probed, humourous.

Ironically, Britain’s satire boom from the 1960s was created by well-connected graduates from first the University of Cambridge, and then the University of Oxford, who, perhaps, were well-placed to take down their Oxbridge political peers.

We seem to only have cartoonists who are ready to take regular jabs at any institutions, including the political class, but often as not, it’s one of the annoying public utilities, more recently, the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) who provide electricity. Today, is a classic example:62C0A417-D07F-4E13-920C-4D044F51379B

Source: Jamaica Observer

Why, for example, is the ‘sleaze’ and ‘scandal’ that so derailed many a British politician not a thing that rips apart Jamaican politicians? These aren’t new traits in politics, and if one traces the UK’s history, it’s easy to see how this has risen each decade since the 1960s. For sure, little seems to drive Jamaican politicians to resign, in contrast to the UK—though, unusually, we’ve had two Cabinet ministers say a premature ‘Sayonara’ from the current administration. Was Teflon invented in Jamaica? Little seems to stick to the Jamaican politicians. 

The best of Clovis, not one to shrink from offending, in general, from the past few days, shows that even he’s pretty polite:0CE04ED4-227C-44FC-A664-51E8803C487C

Source: Jamaica Observer

No one can forget Peter Cooke speaking directly and mocking PM Harold McMillian sitting in the theatre, or his take-down of the pompous and disparaging attitude of the Conservative Party:

Is our reluctance based on our closeness to each other? Six degrees of separation is clearly evident. 

Haven’t we repealed the laws on criminal defamation? What’s holding us back? I’m sure that, as soon as the whiff of embarrassing acts come to light—and that’s lightning fast with mobile devices and social media—the jokes are being shared, privately.

With general election and local election looming, let’s hope that some step up to the plate to stick a few needles into the skin of the political classes. Meantime, it’s left to the wagging element to nibble away and the thin crust of cover that exists outside Parliament 😉

#COVID19Chronicles-91: July 14, 2020-An economy of truth? Some thoughts on the debate about the Manley legacy

A debate has been raging in some Jamaican spaces over the past few days stemming from critical comments made by the PM regarding the policies of former PM, Michael Manley—‘ideological missteps of the Michael Manley-led People’s National Party (PNP) administration from 1972 to 1978’:

Now, I haven’t heard the comments, personally, so will trust the Gleaner has reported accurately. So far, no reactions from the PM have come to suggest he was misquoted.

The Gleaner reported (my stresses): ‘Holness said the “misadventure of the PNP, which diverted us from the path of economic growth, selling the people of Jamaica false hope and unrealistic dreams”, wasted the gains made by the post-Independence JLP administration, which it succeeded.’

Now, we have to understand that in many countries politics is not just about what was done but about who can get credited or blamed for what was done and the outcomes. So, what stood out to me was the clear juxtaposition of ‘misadventure…PNP’ and ‘gains…JLP’; putting some colour on the comments make them a bit clear, in my mind.  We should also remember that we are counting down to a general election, so painting images of the two main parties is more important in this period than say a year or so into the administration. People need to see what kind of legacy is on the line. That’s meant to be an objective observation, as I have no party political axe to grind.

It went on: ‘We had a flirtation with ideologies that were foreign to us and did not serve us well. With all the social problems that needed to be addressed, had we stayed the economic course and ensured that our economy was aligned to the opportunities that were created by the industrial transformations that were taking place, Jamaica would be a better place today,” he insisted.’

Well, I have to ask what ideologies are indigenous to us? This is what could be called classic false equivalence—a logical fallacy in which an equivalence is drawn between two subjects based on flawed or false reasoning; categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency’. Here, the PM talks about something ‘foreign’ as if that is exceptional and has a counterpart that is ‘domestic’. Again, I have no real idea what he meant, but I can see, in a simple xenophobic sense—foreign = bad—where he may want to point.

We would have to think hard to find domestic ideologies, of which Rastafarianism might get a look in, but it’s a hard sell to think that Jamaica was built on anything but foreign ideologies. I mean, we love to claim to be originators of so much. After hundreds of years of colonial rule, what ideologies did Jamaica have that were not foreign? Did we cast back and find a set that were, say, distinctinly African?

Finally, to throw out a hypothesis about how Jamaica would be now, is borderline absurd. Each action has an equal and opposite reaction, means that whatever Jamaica did differently in the past would have led to a series of different responses to those we saw, and we don’t know how those would have totted up, better or worse. But, again, it paints one side as ‘killing the golden goose’ and the other side, by default, saving it.

‘Holness drew on comparisons with economic progress made by Singapore and South Korea, which, at the time, were worse off than Jamaica. The fundamental difference, he said, was that these countries were not distracted and maintained a steady and balance (sic) course’.

Well, that’s a nifty précis of the Lee Kwan Yew (LKW) regime, on one hand. The broad assessment of LKW was that he was a benevolent dictator (at best), in his own words: Lee Kuan Yew reflected on how he would be remembered: “I’m not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial…Close the coffin, then decide.” I’d agree that was a lack of distraction and a steady course.

As for South Korea, here’s a précis from ‘South Korea: A model for development?‘ of how it was ‘not distracted’ and ‘maintained a steady and balanced course’, after the Second World War (remember life didn’t start in 1962):

‘South Korea, however, benefited from big injections of foreign aid, first from the US, then Japan…the US offered about $60bn in grants and loans to South Korea between 1946 and 1978. In the same period, the total amount of aid provided by the US to the entire African continent was $68.9bn. Korea—considered by the US an important ally during the cold war—indisputedly used the aid well.’ Well, who could not do with a little helping hand like that?

‘South Korea, under strongman Park Chung-Hee, focused on building up large economic champions, or chaebols (business conglomerates), against American advice to focus on small- and medium-sized companies. That policy laid the foundation for successful South Korean brands in the world market, such as Samsung and LG, although it came at a price in terms of political corruption in the close ties between business and political elites. KoFID and ReDI argue that the focus on conglomerates led to the chaebols exploiting their monopoly status, fostering increasing economic inequality. Hmm, not sure if we want to focus on that, so let’s just skip that important episode.

Park took a pragmatic approach to corruption. Instead of cracking down on corrupt businessmen as urged by the US, he expropriated their bank shares and assigned them to invest in import-substitution industries, such as fertilisers, a point made in Catalysing Development, a book on aid edited by Homi Kharas, Koji Makino and Woojin Jung.‘ Well, there’s focus and balance in a nutshell. Not sure the

I’ve always loved these comparisons with Asian countries’ successes while Jamaica floundered and wondered where we would have been with a benevolent dictator locking up the opposition voices and a Christmas sackful of aid from the USA. Like comparing Manchester City and its support from one of the world’s wealthiest individuals and his Gulf wealth with the fortunes of Barrow-in-Furness (voted out of the Football League 48 years ago (1972), pushing to get back in, leading the National League, but stymied by COVID19, yet saved by a vote to be reinstated. There’s a simple reason why City didn’t languish in the cellar and success did not come cheaply. Who wouldn’t benefit from a little sheikh, rattle and roll? 🙂 [Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan (born 20 November 1970), often referred to as Sheikh Mansouris an Emirati politician who is the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, minister of presidential affairs and member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi. He is the half brother of the current President of UAE, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He is also the chairman of the ministerial council for services, the Emirates Investment Authority.] He doesn’t just own a chippie in Barrow 🙂

Finally, ‘Jamaica, he added, missed out on this era of global development at a time when it was enjoying significant investments in bauxite, tourism, agriculture, and infrastructure, which would have borne fruit had the focus been maintained on our economic independence.’ One thing is for sure, when you compare us to the Asian successes is that they did not get there by maintaining their economic independence. We’ve seen the little leg up foreign aid from the USA played in South Korea’s success. If you regard Singapore taking a diplomatically neutral stance but being a clear ally of both the USA and China as demonstrating economic independence, then pardon my ignorance.

So, like with many stories politicians tell, there’s a lot to unpack. “Being economical with the truth” (paraphrasing Edmund Burke in the 18th century) really is a motto that has meaning.

#COVID19Chronicles-90: July 13, 2020-The Anglo-American clear and present danger

Jamaica’s tourism business is vital to its economic well-being, contributing about 1/3 of GDP. The sector depends heavily on passengers from the USA and UK, making up well over 3/4 of visitors (with Canada also important, ahead of the UK), so what is happening in those two countries should be of immense concern simply because, if we are to resume our tourism unchanged, we’d have to accept that the source of visitors would remain largely the same.

Our main concern is really the USA, because of both its numerical contribution and its closeness; we’re usually well served by US airlines into our two main airports.

If we are not afraid of what we learn about how the UK and USA are handling the pandemic, then we are not really paying attention.

When Jamaica reopened its borders on June 1, our new COVID19 cases, which had levelled off, started to rise again, and the bulk of the rise was from ‘imported’ cases mainly from the USA (and UK) as both returning Jamaicans and foreigners came to the island. The reopening not only caused an increase in cases, but also put the health facilities under immense pressure, and promises of test results within 3 days were shown quickly to be unsustainable and we now have an acknowledged backlog of 2 weeks. Given that our quarantine protocol stipulates 14 days, it means that many can come, be tested, quarantine, leave without knowing their results. Worse still, they can come, not abide by quarantine or isolation or no-circulating rules, without the benefit to them or us of a result, and asymptomatic or not, we have a body of people readily infecting the local population.

Personally, I don’t see that we should take that risk and advocated pre-testing of arrivals, from wherever or whomever, to help defray the burden on us, as well as offer the best health protection. We were slow to introduce pre-testing, accepting that it has flaws in terms of how valid the test can be as time passes, but it also would have helped us contain costs of testing on arrival, which is amongst the things putting our health sector budget under immense pressure.

Our politicians have not decided to go fully for pre-testing, though have now requested pre-testing from those coming from four states where the pandemic seems to be running riot, with high totals and increasing new cases in startling numbers—Arizona, Florida, New York and Texas. Truth is, cases are rising in 46 of 50 states and almost the whole country is ‘hot’, as the chart (through July 11) shows:

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Source: NPR

For much of the pandemic, a large share of US cases have been centered around New York City, but things have levelled off in the city and state. But, when you look at the data for states, you should shudder that some near the top in numbers are seeing new cases treble over the past three weeks:

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Source: NPR

News reports explain why, with much of the policy in chaos and much of the country in apparent denial that the pandemic is real and that the infection can only stay rampant if people insist on gathering in masses and not wearing masks. That those aspects of basic protection have taken on partisan political colour is additionally scary with notions like ‘real Americans don’t wear masks’.

In the last few days, one of the main reasons for that defiance, the president himself, seems to has changed, as he donned a mask for the first time, in public.

I have watched the implosion in the USA with amazement, as I imagine have many others. But, it need not have descended to this. Both the USA and UK were regarded as being the ‘best prepared’ for a pandemic, but have failed miserably in their response. The were ranked 1 and 2 last October on the Global Health Security Index. In Time’s report, the reasons are clear (my stress):

‘There is an eerie similarity in the appalling political decisions made by President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson—two right wing “illiberal populist” leaders who believed their nations were invulnerable, generally rejected science, and turned inwards and away from multilateralism. Their parallel decisions consigned many of their citizens to the grave.’

‘American and British exceptionalism during COVID-19 reached a peak when both countries ignored the WHO’s guidance on how to prevent coronavirus transmission. The WHO urged all nations to focus on “track and trace”— identifying and isolating every case and tracking and quarantining anyone exposed.’

The UK has seen a series of dithering decisions and too-late responses that keep leaving the population exposed, the latest of which relates to mask wearing, where “common sense” is being urged on wearing masks in shops, rather than making it mandatory, in the face of ample evidence that sense is not at all common. The reopening of pubs last weekend was such a frenzied affair that it was quickly reversed in several areas.

For me, one of the clearest examples of what the USA has refused stubbornly to accept is in the follow graph, which shows that it was on track with the EU to stabilize new cases but has now seen a second phase of the same intensity as before it stabilized (the angle of the increase is essentially the same).

But, if you are against science and want to make up your own story about what is really going on, which has largely been the USA and UK cases, then none of this will matter. However, for us, it matters a huge amount and we ignore it at our peril.