#COVID19Chronicles-165: September 24, 2020: The PNP leadership race is on-ish

If I were a betting man, I’d…But, I’m not, so why go there? 🙂

The burning orange political question is: Who will take over from, Dr. Peter Phillips, who indicted his intention to resign as PNP president after the shellacking in the September 3 elections.

Bill Johnson, perhaps preparturely, ran a poll, commissioned by Jamaica Observer. It put Lisa Hanna ahead; but only Mark Golding, the St Andrew Southern MP has so far declared his intention to seek the presidency. While Hanna, Damion Crawford, Julian Robinson and Philip Paulwell have not yet signalled their intention to contest the presidency. Hanna’s doing especially well amongst the youngest cohort, and the gap narrows to be almost nothing for the oldest cohort. The Observer reported: ‘Hanna’s ascension to the top of the group in the September poll is an improvement on her favourability among respondents in Johnson’s previous poll conducted August 21 to 23.’

Hanna has indicated that she’s taking soundings and will announce her intentions on September 27. The PNP notes she’s ‘humbled’, much as beauty queens would say just as they don a crown 🤔

We have to ask if this will be a popularity contest or substantial policy-making ability and leadership qualities contest.

I’m not academically qualified to do polls, so I’m just looking at one metric—social media presence as measured by Twitter followers.

If I look at Twitter, alone, I see that the numbers are all about Lisa and Damion, with over 25,000 followers each; Julian trails far behind with 15,000, and Mark…well, still at the gate with just over 1,000. Phillip Paulwell (<200 followers) is so far behind on Twitter as to be seen as a complete outlier:

I ought to look at Facebook, too, as that platform is more used for engagement and more extensive dialogue. I could also look at Instagram, though it’s really a ‘showcase’ with little content beyond images.

Those who will select the leader will look at lots of things, including things at which we can only guess. I’ll just take a quick look at what the possible candidate have shown up during the election campaign and since.

Mark Golding has been flashing his wares and been bold and brassy with clear race intent. So, if we look beyond the obvious, it work thinking who could help PNP in any inter-party football matches. Who’s this striker wasting his time rifling thought Budget papers? “My word! Golding!” He’d definitely be the pick.

Lisa was like Bambi ahead of the elections, skipping to Ma Lou. She’s been a bit quiet since.

After a 31 vote election victory following a magisterial recount, I’m not sure what the dance would or should be; some sort of shuffle, I guess.

Damion was a bit all over the place leading the party’s manifesto team, which manifestly didn’t get it right. The joke was his manifesto moved with the sun, so we weren’t sure what to look at and ended up being in the dark.

Personally, I think DC has been a busted flush for some time, from when he did the ‘Yah boo, sucks’ to his constituents in St. Andrew East Rural, then tried to say ‘Tricked ya!’, only for the constituents to say “Tricked you back! You’re outta here!“ so buddum, no seat to defend. Then the parachuting into Portland Eastern for a by-election—a solid PNP seat since Whappy kill Fillup—only for that to go solidly for Ann-Marie Vaz (she showed it was no fluke by holding the seat in the recent general election). He came talking goats for all and left bleating. But, the PNP Executive seem to adore him and he keeps getting plunked into the Senate.

Julian was really ‘Mr. Invisible’ during the election campaign, I suspect mostly because his general secretary role limited his freewheeling. He’s taken a bit of flak for the election defeat. He seems too decent a guy to bet all down and dirty in politics and his well-argued approach somehow seems to be in the wrong place. If he ends up facing Golding (which seems to be the contest Clovis depicted in yesterday’s Observer, I. Think it will be a gum fight not bared teeth.

Courtesy: Jamaica Obser

Paulwell? Well, Paul, we call you. That ‘has not tweeted’ isn’t what we want to see as expressions of interest. Is it that he’s not interested in engaging with the ‘articulate minority’. I hope he’s at least really taking note of social issues in Port Royal. Sadly, he may be associated as the face of election defeat, as he had the thankless task of conceding defeat.


Other commentators, better qualified than me, are throwing their views into the air:

So, early doors. Other names may come into the frame. I’ll take another look at least after Lisa Hanna decides.

#COVID19Chronicles-164: September 23, 2020: New measures

PM Holness held a digital press conference on Tuesday afternoon:

No new lockdown will occur; the PM argued economic damage will be great and there’s no assurance that people’s behaviour will change, once lock down is lifted. However, curfews will continue till early-October along with restrictions on gathering:

Many in the business community, however, feel the curfew hours are too tight, and small-medium sized operations are suffering unduly.

Current COVID trends

The PM focused on the trend of COVID infections and deaths. In keeping with this phase, the basic assumption is that every one is infected.

Field hospitals (4) are being built out, Dr. Tufton reported:

Antigen testing kits have been ordered:

Schools will restart on October 5, but not with face-to-face teaching; online recorded material and TV presentations will be part of the mixture:

#COVID19Chronicles-163: September 22, 2020: Let’s face it, mask wearing has become a huge issue

Many people are in bewilderment how something so simple as wearing a mask proves to be so difficult. I’m not going to promote antimaskers who have turned it into a political issue about freedom, who won’t wear and will rip off. I just hope for their sakes no rules are introduced compelling people to wear clothes 🤔😳😂

The advice is now clear from health experts.

Visual images circulate about right and wrong ways to wear masks:

Use everyday and everywhere and wash cloth masks after each use.

But, then comes attempts to follow the rules or simply just get the mask on the face right.

Clearly, mask wearing doesn’t lend itself well to certain combinations of tasks, most obvious is eating and drinking. Coaches trying to give instructions and wear microphones with masks? Needs more thought.

It’s getting sillier than Arsene Wenger’s problems with his coat zipper:

My blogger friend, Susan Goffe shared a chart of the 4 mask-wearer personality types:

Messaging is vital. NZ PM was quick to correct the impression of laxness.

Some countries, like Germany, have reached their limits of official tolerance, and are moving to use of force:

Sadly, in Jamaica, we’ve almost reached the stage where main messengers, policy makers, are sending at best mixed, and at worse, wrong messages. The PM has started making a point of highlighting he’s wearing his mask when giving a speech.

His PR machine has now ramped up the message:

If Jamaican politics were the FA Cup Final

Today’s my daughter’s birthday and to celebrate, in her absence, I’m giving myself licence to be the Dad I am—a bit loony.

I’m a former footballer of not bad skills; think Adama Trouré with dashes of Wilf Zaha, on the right wing, mainly, sometimes on the left, as I was a good player with both feet. I was also a midfielder in later years, both right and left—energy bunny—and even played sweeper and full back when I was a player-manager—wide head. Gawk! Have to do everything, myself!

I often see sporting parallels in lots of life—I’m also a former sprinter of decent ability as a teenager.

I was singing Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘September’ to myself when I saw something about one of our political leaders. So, I wondered how things would be if, we were just savouring the FA Cup Final—played under COVID-19 rules, with very few spectators, but the usual intensity. Belmont (aka ‘The Bells’, playing in their familiar green and white and sporting footwear from a new sponsor), just crowned league champions, again, played Hope Academy (aka ‘The Academics’, having their roots in the intramural university football scene). Hope played in their usual orange and black, but their uniforms looked a bit worn and rumours of financial troubles looked to be true.

Belmont really rang the Academics’ bell, much like Leicester shellacked Southampton last year 9-0, coming out easy 4-1 victors; the win was sealed by half time. A couple of decisions had gone to VAR, but nothing really mattered to the overall score.

So, let’s peep into the dressing rooms and hear the managers’ team talks. First, let’s listen in on Hope, whose manager, in his 70s, is more like a Roy Hodgson figure—having steered the national team through some tough matches some years ago, but now trying for success at the club level. He’s somber and not given to rashness. He’s a local, and goes by the nickname “The Rock”:

“Put the blame on me. I led the team. We weren’t well prepared. Up front, in defence, especially in the middle, where we lost control and gave away the ball too easily. Damion, you had a shocker. Sorry, mate, truth hurts. You wanted all the plays to go through you, whenever we released you into space, you turned around a million times, your hair got into your eyes—those locks, mate—and you shot the ball at our goal at lest three times! We couldn’t win with that. Buck up, man!”

Damion was the team darling, and though he’d left the club a few times are being booed by home and away fans, had decided to give it another go, and had been awarded the captaincy. The Rock turned in frustration and said:

“You know, stuff this for a game of soldiers! I think you’re not serious and I don’t see that I need any of this, now. We’ve just had our heads hand to us, and as I’m talking I can hear you catfighting over who’s going to get the Digestive biscuits. What a bunch! You, Bunsome! You talked a lot before the match, but where were you when we needed someone to get stuck in? I’ll be surprised if you don’t get put on the free transfer list right away.”

“My health is a bit dicey and I’m in the vulnerable category for COVID; my family is really where I should focus. I’m done! The owner and director can figure out who they want to run this show, but it ain’t me.”

Along the corridor, we can hear the frenzied singing of a winning team: “Campeon! Campeon!…” We ease the door open, and the players are spraying each other and the gaffer with what looks like huge bottles of pineapple soda. Champagne will come later, we imagine. But, let’s get a bit closer as he gathers them together.

He’s another local manager, who likes to be called ‘Brigadeer’—he’s a natural leader with boyish good looks; he’s much younger than ‘The Rock’, and not as experienced, but he’s just come off a superb season—his team had an unassailable lead in the table, before COVID-19 forced all matches to be abandoned.

Little had got past his team in league games, especially on the wings, where masterful coverage was offered by two relative newcomers, Cameron Jordan-Smythe (a polyglot, who spoke the many languages of football style), and “Faithful’ Wilberforce, whose tactical brain and positioning meant being at least a move ahead of any opponent, and had grabbed her chance to impress when one of the team stalwarts was suspended in mid-season.

Some of his flamboyant forwards, were often wasteful in front of goal. One especially tricky dribbler, Darius Vasco de Gama, who has Brazilian blood, had really skated on thin ice once too often with match officials and seen the red card for some reckless play. He had a public tongue lashing from the manager: “His judgement has been poor! Really poor!”. A couple of seasoned players had also tipped the boat badly by getting into some money trouble and hanging with the wrong crowd, and had to be suspended for a number of matches—Rogelio Rendon and Andres Vietlief. But, the team had regained its confidence, come together well, blending some players thought well past their prime, with some stunning young talent, and sealed the deal once matches resumed in mid-June.

Here’s Brigadeer:

“What can I say? We did it in the league. We put in the road work and our legs stayed strong, even after the little lay off. We showed stamina; they took water breaks, we just sucked up the air and stayed focused. I love it! Hands in, on five, ‘My team!’. You know I don’t like pointing to anyone but myself for our successes or our failings—though we’ve few of those, eh. Hehe! But, I want to say a word about Nilesy (Niles Christensen). He came from Iceland and I really wasn’t sure he’d survive in the rough and tumble of our football, with its faster play, tough tackling, and some hostile crowds. But, he did. He had everyone on the carpet with his calm distribution. Nilesy, you’re the man, our MVP. My other word has to go to Cristoph (Tottenburg, for the media). Boy, did you come good for us after the break; re-energized and it seemed that no one could mark you. Untouchable, mate! I know you’ve ambitions to try a club in Europe, and whispers are Barcelona are interested but so too are Bayern; or you may just say it’s your time to manage a team. Whatever, happens, good luck, and I really appreciate the dedication and the vision. Kristoph!”

We’re being waved away, now, as the team looks to say a few words in private prayer. That really was a good look at how defeat and victory sit on the shoulders of players. Back to the studio.

Fundamentally different: a look back at a career #11: Have faith! A brief look at religion on the road.

You get an interesting insight into faith when you travel and moreso if you stay in any country more than a few days.

Africa is almost split across its middle between the dominance of Islam (north) and Christianity (south); it has a close connection too with whether countries are francophone or anglophone but less so than the simple geographical split, as the linguistic layer cake later. That makes sense, given how Islam was spread by refugees from the Arab peninsula and then through Moor conquests coming down from the north.

However, many people in Africa have firm Animist beliefs–voodoo has its roots in Benin; worship of spirits is common. b, from Baga traditions) and her statue was placed facing the doorway for that purpose. (We’ve, since, always, had Nimba statues in our homes.)

You get to see Animism in the most surprising settings. Early during my posting in Guinea, I was invited to a football match, as a guest along with the British Ambassador, who was my neighbour. Neither of us had been in-country long. As a former player, I was fascinated to see a local match up close. The formalities all seemed normal, with my ambassador-neighbour doing the honours at the coin toss. Just when I thought the guests would leave the field and the teams get on with the game, someone brought a chicken to the centre, holding it aloft. After some chanting that I did not understand, the chicken’s neck was cut! Its blood was drained around the centre circle, then the man took it to the side. The field was new and had now been duly sanctified.

I’ve worked in both Islamic and Christian states, including Orthodox Christian Ethiopia. I loved living in Guinea; predominantly Muslim but also celebrating major Christian festivals, Easter and Christmas 🙂 Islam has had a long tradition of tolerating other religions. My secretary was a Catholic and all other staff were Muslims.

Seeing a world revolve around a weekend that starts on Friday and ends on Sunday was a big change only for coordination with my Washington or UK lives. The main prayers on Fridays shifts focus well. The reverence of Friday prayers was always evident by the glorious display of robes that day (boubous). My office closed at noon.

Living in a world where Ramadan and fasting drive lives is revealing. In my first year, I fasted the whole of Ramadan; it was tough. It was tougher than it needed to be because I didn’t know I could drink water, and I hadn’t learned that you should get up before dawn and load up on food 🙂 You don’t fool me twice! I cracked that the second year.

What Ramadan revealed was how the lower energy levels just drive down productivity; lassitude is just everywhere. I was lucky to break fast in the evenings (iftar) with friends and families, most days, which gave a much clearer meaning to what the prolonged fasting meant. The whole process is cleansing, physically and spiritually.

Guinea practised what I called ‘Islam light’. That was evidenced by the absence of extreme form of modest clothing throughout–long clothes were common forms of attire–to the extent that seeing bare-breasted women was commonplace.

Photo I took driving through Labé

Black Africans are generally not ashamed of their bodies.

Burqas and all black attire were seen to any large extent only in parts of the Fouta Djallon, amongst some fundamentalist elements of the Peuhl population. Yet, even in the heart of that community, you’d see things like motorcycle taxis where women were riders and men pillion passengers.

Most Christians only know of monogamy as a way of life, whether formally married or not; many have a hard time with the idea of polygamy, when a man with multiple female partners, simultaneously. Well, the Muslim marriage allows up to four wives; it doesn’t give the reverse polygamous rights, as if polyandry were accepted. It took a while to understand how that worked out, and I did not have any judgments, but noted that for some men it was about raising the odds on creating a family, eg by taking on some younger woman(en) to add to his marriage. The tenet is that each wife should be loved equally. I don’t know what the test or proof of that is; it’s understood, though that the husband can and will have his favourite. Guinea’s president during my time, Lansana Conté, had three wives, one of whom was a Christian. Let’s not delve into the less-know area of extra-marital arrangements when a man has several wives already. 🙂

We attended a Catholic church in Conakry for several years, as a way of introducing our young child to Christian workshop. For me, a Protestant, that was no simple journey of faith, but the priest was a wonderful man and the congregation, mainly people from Sierra Leone was truly joyous.

One of my best Guinean friends, now departed, El Hadj Sow (who was secretary-general in the ministry of finance), was an Imam of great repute, who hailed from the town of Dinguiraye, a holy city for African Muslims. He taught me what little I know about Islam and the Quran. I was fortunate to speed several weekends with him, his brothers and, his family, when they had the tradition of taking each meal at a different brothers house, from Friday through Sunday. It was very simple and open and I have great memories of Rhian wandering into the prayer area and kneeling to join the prayers, something she was accustomed to doing at home when our household staff had their prayers 🙂

I know many Muslims who have been to Mecca for the Hadj; many more than Christians I know who have made any pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The power of faith and religion was best brought home to me in places where it had been denied for years, the former Soviet Union. If nothing else marked regime change, it was people flocking freely to and in churches. Ironically, Soviet leaders had understood the power of Christian and other beliefs within Russia and the satellite states, and did little to damage the physical structures, such as churches or mosques, some of the most beautiful examples of which exist within that political regime.

Little can touch the beauty of Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral, poised defiantly in. Red Square.

#COVID19Chronicles-162: September 21, 2020-Schools reopening; field hospital; dengue

It looks like phased opening of schools will occur from October 5.

Field hospital being set up:

Dengue looms on the horizon as recent heavy rains have helped mosquitoes breed more. Fogging (which only tackles adult mosquitoes, not breeding sites) will be stepped up.

Fundamentally different: a look back at a career #10: Dealing with the unexpected

We don’t usually get hazard pay for work done on the job, but sometimes we should. When I started my Guinea assignment, I spent a weekend with my assistant on the roof of the building that hosted our office. Why? The Fund knew it couldn’t rely on the parlous state of local telecommunications so wanted to install a satellite connection. Problem? No technician to do that. So, naturally, my assistant and I were up on the roof of our building jiggling a huge satellite and trying to liaise by phone with a technician in another country the physical installation and the technical calibration. I’d not swear to being able to get a job doing that, but, who knows? My assistant and I were forever well-bonded by this experience. [In passing, I did the unthinkable of proposing him for training several times, and as a result the technical capacity of the post was enhanced greatly. He’s now a senior economist/resident representative for the Fund in The Gambia 🙂 Job done!]

One mission to Riga, Latvia in 1994, was memorable for SAS losing my luggage. Checks showed it had gone to Iceland. Well, fine. My briefcase and computer bag were all I had. So, for the next day, a colleague offered me a jacket, shirt and tie. I never travelled long-distance in business clothes. I had no toiletries–never again, and I always have or make sure I keep the vanity kits from in-flight. At the end of day 1, still no bag, which had somehow not been sent to Riga, but Valletta, Malta. The airline suggested I buy some clothes and would get compensated. Great! You probably cannot imagine what lack of choice looked like in recently former Soviet countries: dark grey or dark brown. Jeez!

Security can be an issue, especially when you work for an organization that often doesn’t ‘get the love’. That said, I have never been shot at, though presidential guards’ guns were trained on my driver and car in Guinea, with me inside. Diplomatic privileges kicked in fast—shouldn’t have been necessary—and hostilities (for reasons unknown) were ended.

We were often moved around with lots of security in tow, but that was more for the politicians we were meeting than us. We sometimes could not be trusted to keep our mobile phones in meetings and had to leave them in a tray outside the room.

Some people never felt safe or secure on mission, either because of some deep fear of being in a foreign country, or because the political or social state of the country caused them concerns. I remember one mission to ‘Tana, when one mission member never set foot outside the hotel other than for meetings, after we’d been walking and saw people defecating on the sidewalk. One can understand some mission members, often women, not feeling that walking alone at night was for them; but some felt that way about daytimes. Sadly, that meant when missions offered some downtime from the string of meetings, at the weekends, they were among those always found in their rooms, at worst, or somewhere on the hotel property. In tropical places, like Guyana, that was fine, where the hotel had a nice courtyard with trees and plants that offered a great alternative to the four walls of a room. But, imagine Moscow in February. Many Fund economists will admit they know nothing about their countries beyond the journey to and from the airport, their hotel, and and where they had their meetings.

Choice can pose problems when travelling, and if food options are limited, get used to being back again and again…like regulars…and the menu may mean the same meals, again, and again… It’s usually only 2 weeks and not every meal, lunch and dinner. Going out at night was usually a short walk or if further missions usually had cars and drivers assigned to them by the national authorities, so no need to navigate fares and journeys with taxi drivers. I’ve done that, though, and lived to tell the tale of how to drive the wrong way along one-way streets in Ankara at night: there was a lot of traffic 🙂

By contrast, I was an adverturer. I’ve travelled a lot for pleasure and I have a facility with languages, so was not overawed easily. I grew up in London so thought I could navigate most urban situations with at worst some simple braggadocio. However, you don’t want to attract undue attention to yourself, so the open mike or Karaoke can be skipped, especially if a bit wasted. So, I had no problem doing soft cultural things on my own, or with a colleague, and I was always up for that. I would also want to explore local street or cafe food. In some places, I had acquaintances who would be helpful guides. So, in Moscow, for instance, I spent a few weekends with friends in their typical Russian flat, with their kids, eating and drinking vodka on a winter’s day. I’d been picked up and dropped off in their car, but I’d have happily taken the fabulous Moscow metro.

Adventures could be simple pleasures, like having my hair cut by a street barber in Kampala. They involved hunting the market in Moscow for film or driving out to a dascha with colleagues who were both Russian-speaking and knew Russia. It could involve taking the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki to see what it was like to head there for shopping. When I worked the monetary sector, I always tried to get a good feel for how money and finance worked on the ground, whether in banks (I opened a bank account in Uganda), or in parallel FX markets (I’ve changed lots of money, even though sometimes Fund rules strictly forbade it), or is regular markets (to see where goods were coming from—the power of China was often visible in consumer goods). A trip to the Pushkin Museum or the ballet in Moscow, which cost 1 ruble; going to the opening of the McDonald’s in Moscow—my first ever Big Mac!

National authorities can test your adventurous nature, too. I’ve told my food stories. But, there are the ‘trips’, some boring, to nationally significant places, but with the added ‘special’ meal or ‘entertainment’. Sword swallowers? OK. Balalaika players? OK. Taking the floor with belly dancers? Not OK, for me 😦 Trips along lazy rivers with lunch at the end? Very OK. Hunting (never took up the offer)? Not OK. I enjoyed visiting the bobsled track at Sigulda, Latvia, and am forever grateful we were not asked to take a ride in a sled for the full experience.

Stress on missions is normal: the Fund has a lot of learning by doing on the job; no mission tutorials, for instance. Working hours are usually long and mission chiefs can be autocratic. I’ve been on mission where a new team member was totally at sea about how to do ‘routine’ forecasts, and we spent hours with her tearfully working through her sector numbers. She was no technical dud, coming from a senior position in her home country, but missions can be solitary and your colleagues may actually or apparently undermine you. Some departments thrive on that, even seating mission members on the same tasks, unbeknownst to them to develop creative tension. Not my style and not my liking 😡

Some just cannot handle the sometimes crazy deadlines on missions and the frequent iterations and integration of numbers. Whether simply flustered or in a downright panic, as I have been, it’s just no fun. My worst nightmare was doing a debt sustainability analysis (necessary to assess if a country had achieved their goal for widescale debt relief); the program kept on crashing. Now, the calculations can be done by hand, but, really? My other nightmare came when I realized I’d calculated some date with the wrong signs—not uncommon with the balance of payments, where some flows need the opposite sign because they are ‘below the line’ (financing items). But, my best was non-nightmare. I was presenting my budget forecast to the finance minister, who was visibly angry and asked “Where did these numbers come from?” I looked at the budget director, with whom I had spent days working on them item by item, mainly in German and Russian. He nodded his accord. The minister was furious because I had a 3% deficit and he thought it ought to be 6%. That’s normally the reverse reaction. A lot of whispering and huddling went on for a few minutes, then the minister came back: “I don’t like these numbers, but I’ll accept them!” I think that was an apology.

Working all night, especially towards the end of missions was normal, even doing numbers on the way to the airport and in the lounge waiting to fly, with some official ready to take the electronic file (disks back in the day, thumb drives later, and now just a shared link). Then, you could crash on the flight…or maybe, just remember that you’d made or not corrected some cockup 😦

Not surprising, then, that coping skills can be tested. I’m a chocoholic; I’d load up on Cadbury’s when I transitted London. I wasn’t a drinker or smoker; but others were. Mission chiefs should sense anxiety but how it’s dealt with varies. One mission chief always had a few sessions where the team read scenes from a Shakespearean play 🤔Another always opened the nightly team meetings by offering the contents of his minibar; his expenses were no issue. Both were good icebreakers, at the end of f sad sad sometimes trying days.

I was never on a mission where any hanky-panky took place amongst or involving mission members. I have been on missions with people who were later found to have been hanky-pankying…. 🙂 The nearest I came was being taken to a night club with Latvian officials—the club was in the penthouse of our hotel—and there I saw how the top apparatchiks could live: young ladies, endless drinks, no paying, sleezy-looking associates… 🙂

Air travel issues are one thing but living in a place brings other ones. Guinea isn’t well served by air travel in or out or within. Most distance travel is by road. The IMF doesn’t have projects to assess but other lending agencies do. I’d often be invited and it helped put flesh on economic activities. A close acquaintance was the rep for the Islamic Development Bank; his office was adjacent to mine at the central bank. I joined him on a road trip to check on a rice project in the Fouta Djallon. He was a Peuhl (Fulani) and that was his native region. We travelled in my Land Cruiser with my driver and economic assistant both of whom were also Peuhl. We’d agreed to stop at their home villages. However, coming uphill from the site, the car hit a large hole in the road and was tipped onto its side. We were four in the car, but could not move it. Fortunately, workers from the rice fields were quick to come to our aid.

Who’d think a plush hotel suite would be hazardous? The Metropol in Moscow is the most elegant hotel I’ve ever stayed in: its rooms are mainly like studio apartments, and really feel like personal space. Once you stayed several times, they happily assign you your favourite room. But, they also decide upgrades. So, I was thrilled to get a suite the size of a 2-bedroom apartment, with palatial trimming.

However, I never expected to host my mission chief there for any meetings, but he insisted. Well, it was his first trip to Moscow and he’d been given a plain room. When he got to my suite, his eyes popped out on stalks. I explained how things worked at the Metropole. As soon as we’d done, he headed to reception to demand an upgrade; he got it, but it was meh. 🤔😇

Finally, fittingly, maybe, is the matter of gifts. The Fund had a clear policy on accepting gifts and the acceptable value that did not need declaring. Grandiose gifts could be donated to the institution. I have no stash of expensive watches given by any government 🙂 I had fond memories of eating or drinking my gifts, or giving them to friends. Sadly, gifts are often given at the most inconvenient time, eg on arrival at the airport or worse, on our way from the lounge to the plane, when there’s no chance to put the items into checked luggage and one has to negotiate carrying a mini-statue of Tutankhamen all the way back to Washington. But, let’s keep things in perspective: I’ve some trinkets and commemorative coins that hold many tales of good and bad times serving the world. 🙂

#COVID19Chronicles-161: September 20, 2020-Some international and regional context

No definitive measure exists to say whether a country is doing well with the handling of COVID-19. That’s not to say you cannot assess the impact of measures used by countries.

Dramatic differences in how countries have been curbing transmission rates within their borders—and which actions have been most effective across the board.

Typically, the best weapon in the containment of diseases arsenal is a vaccine, which stops a virus before it can multiply inside a person. While the world waits for this preventative medicine, which may not be ready until next year, countries are focusing on other measures, such as testing, isolating sick people, and shutting down borders. But what scientists have learned since January is that COVID-19 often beat these defenses before they could even be established.

One thing many countries learn is that ‘containment fatigue’ is real, and restrictions will be fought hard my many, maybe even most, in some areas.

No measure can set one country against another to say categorically it has done better than others. Starting conditions were not the same. Underlying conditions are not the same. Social structures and cultures are different. Ethnic differences are not trivial. Health profiles (national, regional) are not the same. Resource availability differs, especially but not confined to what medical facilities exist (hospitals, equipment, staffing etc) and under what conditions (costs, physical location and quantities). I’ve tried to follow what’s going on in lots of countries since I got back from the UK to Jamaica in March. Responses in Europe were different across the continent. Response in the USA were different from those in Europe and also different across the (strange federal structure) states. I have tried to note responses in Latin America and Africa, but again, these are all over the place. A global pandemic with no common approaches across countries, seems to bode ill for eventual success, but let me try to remain optimistic. I am not going to hail or condemn any country. I noted Sweden and Israel early on because they took clear policy stances; Sweden decided to keep things as close to normal as possible (it had some lockdown, initially. The BBC reported: ‘Sweden has largely relied on voluntary social distancing guidelines since the start of the pandemic, including working from home where possible and avoiding public transport. 
There’s also been a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, restrictions on visiting care homes, and a shift to table-only service in bars and restaurants. The government has repeatedly described the pandemic as “a marathon not a sprint”, arguing that its measures are designed to last in the long term.’

Israel decided to lockdown much (eg travel restrictions, social distancing, national emergency) early on–all in the context of no official government, pending elections.

Sweden was much criticized in the first three months, largely because its death rate was considerably higher than most. Three months further on, and the Swedish approach is showing that the impact of the pandemic has levelled off considerably (almost disappeared) and deaths are lower than in many countries. A significant part of the death story is that Sweden got wrong the policy for people in care homes, who made up the bulk of deaths. Its economy is now showing a much shallower downturn than many of its comparators.

Israel’s early success is just about to be put back as it has decided to reimpose a near total lockdown ahead of the major religious celebration, including Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, on 27 September. That new lockdown has created major political upheaval.

As the BBC reported: ‘Many nations are experiencing second surges of the virus. However most governments are now imposing smaller local lockdowns in affected areas, rather than blanket national ones.’

So, the global pandemic is exhibiting a global pattern, as second waves appear after countries have tried to go back to ‘normal’. This second wave is at least of the same intensity and magnitude (cases and deaths) as the first. It’s too early to say if this will be the chronic trend, going forward, ie if multiple waves of varying intensity will occur and with what intervals. So, somewhat like other coronaviruses, eg flu, we may see something that is quasi-seasonal, ie recurrent and inevitable.

As Jamaica’s minister of health and wellness releases data daily on tests, cases and deaths, people see Jamaica’s progress in great national and local detail, but they see little else. I do not recall a comparison with more than one or two countries in the region. Consequently, it’s easy to get what’s happening in Jamaica out of context, even in the simple regional geographical sense, especially now community transmission is occurring. But, in light of what is going on elsewhere in the world, it’s important to not just look at our country as if that tells us very much. People who should have an eye on the region can be cited as saying “Jamaica’s numbers are bad!” Bad, my foot!

Relative to most countries in the Caribbean, Jamaica’s results are good, especially when seen on a per 100,000 people basis, as the chart shows, and notably, when one considers bigger territories.

So, before you feel tempted to join the chorus of ‘the sky is falling on Jamaica’, cast your eyes around and ask if the Dominican Republic or Trinidad or The Bahamas look to be in a more ‘perilous’ state. Always, being mindful (if possible) of what each country has done or is trying to do.

#COVID19Chronicles-160: September 19, 2020: Workplaces

For my own purpose, at least, I want to keep track of the policy response repositioning that’s going on as Jamaica adjusts to the ‘community transmission’ phase of COVID-19.

Dr. Tufton began consultations with private sector firms on new workplace protocols.

The ministerial team has been expanded with the addition of Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn as Minister of State, who’d been introduced to the public at the previous ‘COVID Conversation’:

Fundamentally different: a look back at a career #9: Affair of flying

I have no fascination with planes, much as I don’t with cars; but work has created love affairs with flying and some messy divorces.

I’ve flown with many of the world’s major airlines. I’ve had the luxury of flying first class and on Concorde, thanks to work. (They always gave passengers sterling silver gifts on Concorde flights, and I usually gave mine away to friends with whom I stayed with overnight en route.)

I’ve also flown on what my wife calls juk-juk’ (tiny) planes, for private travel, not just puddle jumpers in the Caribbean (LIAT, you’re unparalleled), but ‘bigger’ airlines for what are ‘sketchy’ airlines (the Turkish central bank booked it, so I had faith). I’ve travelled by helicopter and found it generally terrifying, more so with a baby in tow—between Conakry and Freetown—and the sight of vodka bottles under the pilots’ seats was as frightening as you’d imagine. I’ve flown alone and with family, friends and colleagues. I’ve met interesting people on planes but also some absolute cuckoos: I’ve played hard of hearing for an 8-hour flight to avoid the prattling of a be-pearled old lady who just seemed too nervous to stop talking. I’ve had flights leave early and arrive late; flights that left late or not at all, including sitting on the tarmac wondering for 3-4 hours.

I’ve learned over the years that almost anything can happen with flights, and now travel with ‘insurance’: change of clothes, toiletries, snacks, mainly. My family get a royal ribbing if they are sitting in a lounge like me and walk out without at least a bag of peanuts. When they say “Daddy, do you have anything to eat?”, when the crew explain they cannot serve anything will we wait on the runway another hour, they know ‘the look’.

I’ve lost luggage in transit and had items stolen on a flight (I’ll be generous and say that someone saw something they liked unattended on a seat and…). I’ve had people grab my luggage, swearing it was theirs, even after I showed the tags that identified them as mine. I’ve had luggage damaged, and (touch wood) never had an issue getting compensation for that. My most recent experience was one of the funniest, when I travelled to London last February, when Virgin Airlines’ rep told me she’d just process a refund rather than go through all the fuss of having me submit a claim etc. She’d seen the photo of the damaged bag and the luggage tag, taken as I’d collected the bag at Heathrow, and that was enough. I thought, I had to argue…not 🙂

I’ve gone through whole business trips where my luggage never reached and came back to me after I got home.

I’ve had airline staff act the total fool about damage or loss claims and they are now in mental, if not physical, intensive care. My wife doesn’t engage airlines, she just says “You deal with them!” My daughters know how I operate and now regale me with stories of how they got their just desserts and more from ‘acting like Daddy’ 🙂

I can play the fool, but I don’t suffer fools gladly.

I’ve had to tear up my travel itinerary at the drop of a hat. I’ve switched airlines at departure when my airline cancelled but I had another airline option at hand—one of the benefits of premium travel. Sudden changes made me a ‘suspect’ on the US Department of Homeland Security lists and I was subjected to ‘random’ checks almost every time I flew from Dulles Airport after 9/11. I had to take on DHS to get the ‘red flags’ removed from my profile. Those who say they think that reactions were calm, even ones I admire like Paul Krugman, must be in a deep freezer.

I’ve rarely had issues at immigration; most of my business travel was on a UN laisser-passer (including the rarer red ones for ambassadors). On visiting Libya, I’ve yet to see what the entry process is, having been whisked to a VIP lounge, the truly whisked at high speed into Tripoli to the hotel.

But, I had a Russian Customs official admire my watch so much and so suggestively that I had to tackle the ‘bribe’ moment frankly and just say he was wasting his time.

I’ve had an airline try to bump me from business class for a president’s relative, I’ve had a plane hold its door for me to arrive before departure. I’ve taken an international flight (many times) without having to go through immigration and Customs, either sitting in the VIP lounge, or just going straight to the plane on the tarmac. Once, my friend who was a transport magnate, got the call for the flight while we were dining and drove me there himself 🙂 Now, that is special!

Virgin Upper Class offers a limo service—excellent. I’ve a friend now who’s a London cabbie, who’s ready to do my pick-up and drop off as soon as I message him, no matter how many years since we last saw each other. We discovered by chance that we’d played football together sometime in our earlier lives.

Arrivals and departures during ‘normal’ hours can seem a luxury. I think it was about 3am in the morning when I arrived in Addis Ababa, then the shock of thin air as the altitude hit me. Trips to Guyana always involved midnight/early morning arrival/departures; it took many trips before I saw the airport road in daylight. Trips there involved undoubtedly the worst stopover at the airport hotel at Piarco, Trinidad, the most vivid recollections of which are the size of the cockroaches.

You might not note it, but smooth checking in can matter. German efficiency from Lufthansa was only bettered at times by BA’s Concorde desk. Fast track used to be really fast until 9/11 made all travel slow and painfully slow. Air France in Conakry was unmatched because it was ore-check-in and my bags etc could go from my office and all I had to do was present myself at the airport.

Amenities are interesting. Lufthansa gave some neat toiletries in a little leather case. British Airways first class offered them in a series of cotton bags with printed flying scenes; I still use one regularly. Concorde bags were sleek; mostly given away, especially if I could grab a extra one. Kenyan Airways was nothing to talk about. Virgin and BA offered nice jump suit pajamas; my youngest loves wearing one I snagged for her.

Lounges can make or break a trip. Virgin have the best for imagination and variety and design. American tended to be just so. BA’s always excellent at Heathrow and Dulles, especially for pre-flight dining. I love transiting London for a spot of old English grub—bacon 👍🏾🇬🇧

My favourite airport? Heathrow, even with its immensity, but once direct rail access was added, it was one of the easiest to reach and leave. I loved Stockholm in m-transit. Really don’t like De Gaulle. Frankfurt has great free luggage carts, but is enormous. Schipol and Brussels get honourable mentions. Really dislike Piarco 😡Dakar could be interesting in an odd west African way 🤔😂But, Singapore! 🙏🏾👍🏾👍🏾👍🏾

In-flight entertainment goes to BA and Virgin; Air France, you’ve work to do.

Finally, airline food and drink. Best of both was usually British Airways (BA); Air France was surprisingly meh, often. I especially love BA offering a snack bar that had some chocolates bars that took back years. 👍🏾😳 Service with a snarl was usually an American carrier; I avoided them trans-Atlantic at all costs. Touch wood, I never got food poisoning from flying.