#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’:

#COVID19Chronicles-149: September 9, 2020-Some unforeseen COVID-19 consequences and public resistance

If you try to fathom what’s going on at any time, it can be a challenge working out the logic behind what you’re seeing. So, a couple of COVID-19-related things passed my eyes in recent days and made me go “What?”

During the pandemic you’d not expect doctors and medical services to be less in demand, yet I read that many family practices are having to close their offices (‘surgeries’ in the UK) 🤔😳 In part, there’s a lack of patients because people are isolating through fear COVID-19 spread, or doctors are closing practices for fear of the risk of spread.

https://twitter.com/fufubar1/status/1255252950336798728?s=21

In some jurisdictions, it’s also become an issue of funding; not necessarily cuts, but some reprioritization and in the case of the USA financial benefits that come from how illnesses and deaths are categorized. Simply put, ‘COVID-19-related’ means more money.

Closing of medical facilities, however, may also open opportunities for medical practices in other forms, eg becoming a ‘locum’:

So, the reconfiguration of economies and work is taking place in many areas.

The surge in home-preparation of food has resulted in shortages of canning supplies, price hikes are now being seen in some areas—simple supply and demand, mainly. (For my sins, I have an ample supply of sealable jars from keeping those from previous use and begging for them in the past.)

A major headache being seen worldwide is getting people to apply a simple set of health protocols—wearing masks, keeping distance, and hand sanitizing. What’s been clear is that most people have gotten the messages about how COVID-19 spreads and how that spread can be minimized. But, either because personal resistance is based on individual risk assessments that the virus will not be harmful or that the person concerned wont be a carrier/spreader, people are rule-breaking. Now, this is happening even when the consequences are heavy and quickly applied.

We’ve seen or heard or read of many egregious cases involving ‘celebrities’, the most recent of which to hit my synapses was two young English professional footballers (Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood), who invited women into the team hotel during a tournament in Iceland. Lots of breaches.

Quite simply, what were they thinking? After team talks and national warnings by the Icelandic authorities? Now, lots of damage control—of image, of other players, of reputations, maybe even careers down the tube. For what? A bit of pokey? Youthful exuberance? Meet stark reality. 🤔😳

We get to cast our judgement more on those who have many privileges and seem all too ready to abuse them. So, the landscape of faux pas has included senior health officials!!!!

As the report above shows, these breaches have been going on from almost the get-go. So, any talk about ‘fatigue’ with applying rules and protocols should get shoved right back from where they came. 😦

Most of us have seen images of masses of people at beaches, by rivers, in parks, in street raves, etc, clinging together, without masks and if they had been sanitized at the outset, the effectiveness of that has long gone. We’ve had plenty of local incidents in Jamaica, most notably of late, Usain Bolt’s birthday bash—which, we now learn was dutifully sanctioned with an entertainment licence. Ironically, a Jamaican-British football teammate (Raheem Sterling) of the Icelandic rompers was present at that event, along with another Jamaican footballer playing in Germany (Leon Bailey). Whether they broke our local 14-day quarantine rules is still—-really?—being determined. But, the question has to be what part of ‘compromising behaviour’ isn’t understood? Elite athletes are not like other humans, at their peak, but they better wise up to how fragile their ‘skills’ and ‘livelihoods’ can be.

Which brings me to where we are in Jamaica. The government has decided to try to address the existence of ‘community transmission’ by tightening restrictions from September 8 through to September 23: mainly, longer curfews, stay-at-home orders for vulnerable groups (over-70s), encouraging ‘work from home’ provisions, limiting congregating etc., and trying to apply more strictly mask-wearing, with threats of prosecution.

By contrast, the UK, one of many countries that have seen in recent weeks and month a sharp escalation of positive cases (around 3,000 a day for three consecutive days) and deaths, has gone to the heart of family life, by limiting congregating to no more than 6 people (from the current maximum of 30—indoors and outdoors—from next Monday.

Rumours are that nighttime curfew may be added to that mix.

But, the worldwide problems we see in getting adherence to health protocols may (just) be good old ‘cognitive dissonance’—a person holds contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, and is typically experienced as psychological stress when they participate in an action that goes against one or more of them:

The stresses may not be as visible to us, daily, but we are seeing that ‘coping’ is talking on some strange forms.

It’s also a display of something well-known in social sciences that once behaviour is under scrutiny, it changes to avoid scrutiny; this often happens with ‘corrective’ policies that lead to a raft of circumventing actions, legal if loopholes exist, or illegal. The urge to continue with ‘bad’ behaviour is strong.

The resistance behaviour has taken on political dimensions in many places, most notably, the US, but swelling discontent has also reared its head in the UK—both these countries are odd because they’ve been amongst the worst in applying such protocols; but maybe the backlash is coming from a different and lower base of initial acceptance. I was intrigued to see footage of masked people ripping off their masks to ‘rescue’ someone who was being arrested for not wearing a mask.

In this and other cases, resistance is framed as ‘liberty’.

So, going forward, it’s worth looking to see if desire for liberty overpowers the desire to survive.

The sheer idiocy of airport security 

Every time I travel, I find some new piece of utter stupidity in what has become of security in air travel. Here’s the latest.

My wife travelled from Jamaica to Miami on American Airlines. She bought items in duty free before her flight. She arrived in the U.S. and cleared Customs, without a hitch. However, her journey continued beyond the U.S.. When she passed to another concourse for her next flight, her hand luggage was scanned and the duty free items were deemed a ‘security risk’. They were confiscated.

What kind of utter foolishness is this? 

The U.S. says you can bring in liquids in your hand luggage but these must be put into checked baggage for onward travel, after clearing Customs.

If she had left the airport with her jars of highly volatile jam, she would not have been chased by foot patrols or pursued on a high-speed chase along a highway. She would have casually put the USA under the threat of death by pectin overdose.

But, because some halfwit thought otherwise, a TSA officer was left wondering whether to keep the jar of guava jam or take the mango jam and give away the guava. Or, he was going to pitch it in a bin to add to global food waste.

Presumably, my wife’s devious plot of taking jam to her mummy was a thinly veiled plot to have her native land blown to smithereens by two pots of highly explosive confiture.

I’d never suspected that this terrorist was there in my home all along.

Meanwhile, the man with his golf clubs thinly disguising a dozen gunpowder-filled clubs, pulled his bag along the concourse.

We know the experiences of terrorists and have suffered from forgetting to remove body or hair wash from hand luggage.  

But, sealed duty free items? Is there a trust issue within the airport vending industry?

Danger is everywhere. A sticky end has been avoided this time, America. 😱

Roundabouts: the virtues of patience

We arrived in Rio yesterday (Thursday) morning full of excitement, and very happy to be there. A brewing tropical storm had threatened to derail our travel plans. It had delayed our departure from Jamaica, but nothing else. My older daughter was not so lucky. She left home in Virginia, arrived at Reagan National Airport and checked in. After that, it was all downhill. Her flight was delayed so much that it would leave after her connecting flight in Miami was due to leave. So, she rebooked to travel to Rio via New York, JFK. Her plane got to JFK but was turned back to DC. She went back to her mother’s house ready to start again yesterday evening. No joy: flight cancellation. She’s now rebooked to fly via Miami this afternoon. A great merry-go-round. The poor child was truly sick and tired, putting it politely. This was made more annoying, because her half-sister had left from NYC on Tuesday evening, despite the storm brewing, and arrived yesterday afternoon. A friend, travelling from London, arrived last night, as scheduled. Now, we wait for our missing loved one. We hope and pray for no more delays.

When you’ve geared up mentally to get away and stuff like this happens, you’d be forgiven for losing your cool. But, keeping calm is usually better. You can only control what you control. I have to hold onto that notion, dearly.

Before leaving Jamaica, I’d spent much of the day assisting a friend who needs to travel to Puerto Rico to represent Jamaica in a sporting event in completing his US visa application. We bless technology, but when you are not up to the mark with it, you may be lost. The initial process is now all online; my friend has no computer or email address. I offered to help him by doing the application using a computer at my home. We sat beside my laptop on Tuesday afternoon and plodded through the many questions on the electronic form. This was all new ground for my friend. He had a hard time staying in touch with all that was going on apart from answering the many personal questions. I asked if he wanted to try to complete it himself, feeling that he might be a little embarrassed at having to share some simple but personal details. He said he was alright continuing as we were. So, on we went. All the while, I was trying to get my emotional joules fired up watching the USA play Belgium in the World Cup. Well, that thriller was not getting my full attention, as I plodded on, tapping the keys. I was at it during much of the match, and only really got to focus fully on the extra time play. We had to jump around as I tried to take a digital photo to upload with the form. That process is frustrating, at the best of times, as the requirements for photo quality and size are precise and the software not really intuitive. I’d done it for myself several months ago, so was ready to be frustrated. I also knew that one could carry an actual picture to the interview. So, we tried our best, got booted by the system and completed the application without the digital picture. Boom!

Well, a little happier to get the application completed. But, one then has to pay a fee and arrange an interview. One option was to pay the fee at a bank, wait for funds to clear, then call the US Embassy to arrange the interview. My friend told me he couldn’t raise the US$160 for the fee. Time was not on his side, but I was and I said I’d pay by credit card. That way, we’d save some days. He’s due to travel on August 1.

Well, I tried calling the number to pay, and after being cut off mid-voice prompting about six times, I got royally ticked off. “You call the number!” I told my friend, and went to grab a snack. It was late afternoon, and I had realized that I’d not eaten since he’d arrived initially earlier in the day. We’d had a good Jamaican breakfast, mind you, but that was six hours ago. Like in the Snickers ad, I’m not good when I get hungry. I let loose on some English cheese and French saucisson I’d brought back from my trip. I could feel energy flowing back into me. My man was making progress; he was talking to a real person. But, that call dropped, too. One more try. We got through and reached the point of paying. I supplied the card details. Yeah! Success. Fee paid and confirmation number received. Meanwhile, Tim Howard was flinging himself around with heroic abandon.

Now, for an interview date. Another call. The lady was not a native English speaker, and I suspected the administration used a call centre for this purpose. Anyway, we strained to understand her. We explained the need for travel and when it was due, but got a date two weeks after the due travel date, August 13. We had to accept that and then request an expedited date. That has to be done by email. For the technophobe or persons without this now essential part of modern life, this is the stuff of nightmares. I told my friend to leave it to me and head off to work; he does security work at night time. He did so, and I got cracking on composing a plea. I was in better mood, having seen the best part of the frenzied match. (For those who don’t know, the USA lost 2-1, but had chances to tie that were lost in the most agonizing ways. But, that’s football.) Plea completed, I then thought about eating properly. I was drained, and none of this was for me, personally. Well, the gods would have to work their magic.

Two separate sets of events, connected by the same theme, travel. The more frustrating parts involve travelling in and out of the USA. I could use that as a jumping off point for some polemics about US geopolitics, but resist. Calm reigns. You can only control what you control. Listen carefully to the video and to Ian Andreson singing that signature song by Yes. If you can, drift off with the guitar rhythms of Steve Howe. Hold onto the reins of the horse on the merry-go-round and enjoy the ride.

All in a bray’s work: Jamaica as the land of kick me quick

I went to sleep thinking that I would write today about how Jamaica is sometimes a laughing-stock. Then, amongst the first things I read as I caught up with overnight events was about someone making a list of significant things that had happened locally (and internationally). That got me thinking about something else, at least first. I’ve noticed that Jamaica, while being the land of the nine-day wonder, is also the land of the shocking story that disappears without trace. I should, perhaps, make a list of startling stories that are reported by the mainstream media, which then never seem to reappear, at least that I notice. Of course, as one tries to recall them, they slip from memory.

I sometimes label Jamaica as the place where follow-through is some kind of mortal sin: if you were to do what you said you would, then you would burst into flames, so, it’s best to make promises and keep them empty by doing nothing to fulfill them. The problem with this is that our government has also bought into this as a way of doing business. Another blogger is very good and recalling what the current government promised in its election manifesto that has something landed in the land of no-follow-through: a place with barren rocks and the skeletons of politicians who promised Paradise and gave us a parking lot. I need to ask her to make more prominent this list of thing not done.

But, let me get back to my original thoughts–Jamaica as land of ‘kick me’ signs on its back. I wonder if Jamaica should ditch the humming-bird as our national animal or symbol and replace it with the braying jackass.

This could be our national symbol
This could be our national symbol

I read a few days ago that the jury foreman who alleged that another juror tried to bribe her during a now-famous murder trial, has lost overseas the cell phone she used to tape the bribery conversation. I rolled over with a belly cramp. Why was this phone not impounded, or whatever the police term is? Was it not vital evidence that needed to be protected? I can now visualise the conversation involving the need to travel, and the need for the phone, and no one wanting to offer the jury foreman either a phone to borrow, or paying for a new phone. Of course, there would have been all the modern angst about pictures taken that had not been downloaded or posted on Facebook. Then, there were the other messages that had not yet been deleted. In fact, the phone could have had evidence of things that would embarrass the jury foreman, and if left in the hand of Jamaica’s police force, known for its exemplary care of material personal, especially if important to court proceedings, then “Aie Caramba!” would be a meek cry. Anyway, let’s remain comforted: ‘The prosecution says although the telephone was not available for disclosure to the defence, it is ready for trial as a CD containing the recorded evidence along with all other particulars were turned over to Cain’s legal team,’  and ‘in her letter to the prosecution, the jury foreman stressed that she will return to Jamaica if she is required to testify.’ Everything cris’. This is part of the same case where vital evidence was kept in ‘secure’ conditions that allowed someone to use a murder suspect’s phone while he was in custody. Right. The lady maybe knew she was right to keep the phone, but to lose it. Do I smell something burning on the stove?

We have a minster of agriculture, who whatever he tries or says, ends up being a bit of a laughing-stock. He recently promised us the way out of praedial larceny by giving us chips with our steaks. Well, he said he would issue DNA passports to cattle, so that they could be tracked easily whenever they headed to Fort Lauderdale for a bit of shopping.

Do you want the cow to smile or be serous for the picture?
Do you want the cow to smile or be serous for the picture? (Courtesy of The Gleaner.)

We have not heard a dickey bird about that being implemented. Meanwhile, my daughter and I see men climbing on people’s walls and pulling down their mangoes and breadfruit. Of course, you cannot give a DNA-anything to a tree and its fruit. We hear and read about more horrible stories of farmers being driven out off business because people walk off with their livestock or crops. I don’t know how the administration of these cattle passports, specifically, would work. I hope that it can be done online, rather than having the cattle sit patiently in ministry of agriculture’s offices waiting for interviews, photographs, and carrying two pieces of identification. “Would you like to see my udder side?” Blink fast.

The creature that is Jamaican administration is one of those that is not a rare species, but its local offspring has strange markings. Some of these are long and dark. About a year ago, I was in the process of getting a driver’s licence. When I was living in Maryland, USA, people would joke about visiting the Motor Vehicle Administration offices, fearing that a least a half day of work would be needed. Things often took a few hours, but with few exceptions, you left with what you needed. If not, it was simple to send back the missing administrative item and not need to make another visit. In Jamaica? Well, look here, child! I filled out a form and signed it. Then I had to fill out the form again and sign it. Then, a long time passed, like in fairy tales when princesses fall asleep and are awakened by a prince puckering in their faces. The form came back again, and I signed it again; it was a different-version of the form, but had all of my personal details there. Then again, and again. I still do not have a driver’s licence. I have gone way past the point of WTF is going on. Everytime I pass a police speed trap, I get ready with my false Indian accent to tell them to “Stop harassing me” and “Why do you people always target us”. The time it would take for the police officer to process that this person who looked like a regular black Jamaican was sounding like a native of Calcutta, would also be enough time for him to think ‘I want no piece of this, sah’ and let me go on my way.

I was in contact last week with Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) about ways to pay taxes that did not involve going to an office, something which I have done when younger and could stand in line for hours without searing pain in my knees. But, no more. TAJ advised me of the ways to use their Internet portal to get my taxes paid. I knew it already, but I was so pleased that I had sent a tweet to @JamaicaTax, and within minutes had my answer. They are modern and interactive as far as queries are concerned. Maybe, I should ask them what is going on with my licence.

Of course, the land of no-follow-through is also the ‘land of fashionably late’. I can understand to some degree when people come late to dinner or parties. The primping and tizzying of hair take time; then there are the shoes selections and de-selections and re-selections. But, I say to my young daughter “Don’t get fooled by the obvious.” I went to the north course for a golf tournament over the weekend. We normally have breakfast provided before the early start, scheduled for 7.30 am on this occasion. We had been denied breakfast by our hostess for the night because “They always give you breakfast at the golf course”. Well, we went bright and early to secure good parking–at 6am. We talked and did some early practice, then headed to get some breakfast. “Here, little breakfast!” People were sitting in the lounge area waiting…and waiting. Not a thing in sight. I asked a lady who served at the bar what was happening. I got back one of those stock Jamaican answers: “Is not me doing the brekfuss.” I did not want to say “Clearly!” I asked her if she knew who was and where it was. No, she did not know. Then, at about 7.20, a lady came with a tray of water melon. Men descended on her like flies on a cow pat. “Wait, please!” she cried. They let her put down the tray and resumed their landing. No plates or utensils were there, so hands went and pulled at what was seen. Then came trays of boiled yellow yam, some fish with broad beans, callaloo, and fried dumplings. Men descended again. “We have no plates!” ‘We need forks!” Both arrived. The frenzy started as people, now dizzy with hunger, clamoured for some of the life essentials. “I gave up certain, for uncertain,” said one of my Chinese-Jamaican golfing friends, as he told me what he had done. “My wife gave me a sandwich with sausage. She’s no fool,” said another friend. Our smiles came back as we felt the fuel tank filling and reaching full.

I did not want to ask what had happened to make this near-disaster occur. Of course, 7.30 start-not was now in play. Players fed. Time to get rolling with admin details and ‘To your carts!” It was just after 8; not bad, considering.

I was getting a ride on a cart with one of the team members who was not playing. “Who’s taking your team’s cooler? Your captain should designate someone,” one of the organizer/sponsor ladies asked. “Excuse me. What cooler?” She told me that refreshments were now in a cooler for each team to carry and distribute. I had made this suggesting during the last round, when drinks ran out and the ‘players with ticket only’ system clearly could not control the flow of drinks served by callow youths in the heat and sun. “Take a house point, Jones,” I heard in my head. I quickly took over the cart and went in search of my team captain. He had no clue what I was talking about, but accepted my offer to go back and sort out whatever was needed. I did, and was soon hauling–by cart–a cooler ladened with water and Gatorade. I went in search of our playing groups and made sure they had supplies for the next few hours. Simple, really. I then had enough of driving a cart and went back to walking and taking pictures. This was a case of someone taking a simple suggestion and running with it. I was shocked and wondered what kind of organization she worked with. Well, she was well-educated, had lived and studied abroad, and her boss was a ‘math whiz’ (which may not be true, but he clearly likes to use mathematics to solve problems). Bottom line: try something new to overcome something that is not working. That, dear reader, is not the Jamaican way.

What is the normal way was shown to me vividly by a request to drop someone into Ocho Rios town to try to get a bus to Kingston. Wherever I have lived, it was easy to find where to take buses: there were signs marked ‘bus stop’ or ‘bus stop next right’, etc. In Jamaica? You really want to ask? We recalled that the Knutsford Express interurban bus stopped at a jerk centre on the outskirts of Ochi. But, where to get a regular Coaster or maxi-taxi? We asked at a gas station. We were told to go back and turn at the second stop light. We did. Whoi! Bus stop land. Dozens of buses were parked with men hovering in the street like old sailor ready to ‘Shanghai’ passengers. “We goin’ to Half Way Tree!” “He lying! He nuh go a Half Way Tree…” My passenger was standing in a throng of at least six men all trying to push her towards their chariot of inspire and get a fare and full load, and head off. I took a picture, just in case she later called me to say that she was nowhere near Half Way Tree.

'This way, Miss. Half Way Tree..."
‘This way, Miss. Half Way Tree…”

I could not go to get her, but could at least help identify the lying son of a jackass. For my lady passenger to be shocked like me to see the huge bus park and no signs was telling. Well, we will know another time that it’s just across from the police station.

I’m still struggling to remember some of the cases that had been reported without trace. But, that may well be what is intended. We feign we care, but really we don’t give a yam.

But, we are truly the land of ‘that’s how we do it’ (or ‘ah so wi dweet’ in Patois), except that no doing it is what we do.

 

The good, the bad, and the ugly (April 13, 2014)–The Thinking Jamaican Edition

Jamaica has some very sharp-witted people. We also have an inordinate number of those termed ‘not the brightest button on the jacket’. Some of our thinking is heavily constrained by certain moral and religious positions that make sense to some but little or no sense to others. We also have a bunch of people who, rather than fess up and acknowledge that they have done something really silly, will sit there and bluster and bluster and wait for the house to be blown over. The saddest part of that is it’s so awfully obvious. Add to it a bit of pomposity and you’ve got yourself the makings of a great interchange. Anyway, let’s have at it.

Good

I will single out JUTC (Jamaica Urban Transport Company) for a series of moves trying to make its segment of the public bus transport market a saner place. Most welcome were the quick measures to stop people throwing stones at buses. The series of attacks on JUTC buses is suspected to be by people thought to be opposed to the reformed sub-franchise bus system introduced by the JUTC on April 1, 2014. JUTC recorded 18 other incidents over two days which left damage estimated at J$2.5 million to a number of the company’s buses. The police have arrested a number of people in connection with the attacks. However, the Joint Coalition of Transport Operators has sought to distance itself from the series of attacks.

The new system for sub-franchise operators took effect on April 1. Under the reformed system sub-franchisees are now required to abide by a new set of regulations which include painting their buses yellow, wear uniforms with clearly displayed identification cards and have route numbers and franchise stickers displayed on the back and front of their vehicles. Order! Accountability! They are also required to pay a fee. According to the operating groups, the sub-franchise fees in some cases have increased from J$280,000 to $756,000. They have been warned that licences will be revoked if the requirements are not adhered to.

JUTC is also going to get heavier with its existing ban on preaching/evangelising on its buses.

It takes all sorts...
It takes all sorts…

It may make for a colourful journey (though I should say that as I’ve not had to deal with it, though recall experiences on the train that used to run across the island, and know it from similar activities in other cities). Jamaica does not have the lock on that. The logic of some pastors/evangelists is that they must spread the word of the Lord wherever and whenever they can. Some of them say we must listen or remove ourselves.

An already tense atmosphere in the process of travelling by bus may get more tense.

For Jamaicans, problems are often obvious and speak for themselves
For Jamaicans, problems are often obvious and speak for themselves

Bad

Yesterday morning, I wrote about the strange way that Jamaicans think. I headed out to spend the day at the National Stadium complex, where my daughter was swimming in the Mayberry Investments Prep/Primary Schools Swim Meet. I go the complex each Thursday for my daughter’s swim training; I occasionally go there at the weekends for swim meets or sometimes for track and field events. A few things have struck me about the management of the complex, which is the responsibility of Independence Park Ltd, a government agency under the Office of the Prime Minister. IPL’s mission is ‘to manage the entities under its control as viable facilities ensuring that they are maintained at “world class” standards‘. I imagine that most patrons going to the complex don’t know that mission. I wont speak about the other places managed by IPL. But ‘world class standards’ are eluding them, if we’re talking about high standards.

On the many occasions that I have visited the complex over the past nine months, a few things have struck me.

The flow of people is poorly managed: Parking is provided at the complex, and available in three main areas, but I have never seen a sign indicating the parking areas. In somewhat typical Jamaican fashion, it seems that the notion is that if you’ve been before you’ll know where to go. Except that one area is ‘to the back’ of the Stadium near a community called ‘Nannyville’. Parking is for a fee, usually. I have never seen a posted fee structure. Instead, some ‘security personnel’ man the gates and inform parkers of the tariff. That’s a lot of interaction for each car, which tends to make things slower. It also invites negotiation of various forms: people who think they don’t have to pay (eg those in diplomatic vehicles); those who don’t want to pay; those who will pay but want something else, whether on offer or not. At least one guard spends a lot of time telling people that they cannot enter by the gate marked ‘Main Entrance’, to which many drivers flock, naturally.

When multiple events are being staged, such as yesterday with a major all-day swim meet and a major track event, the parking areas are designated for each event, except no one has bothered to make a sign to indicate that. Look, Jamaicans love to put up sign, and even in our sometimes bad English, it would be easy to write ‘UTech Classic Meet parking here’ or ‘Swim Meet parking via Nannyville entrance’. The result? Minor chaos yesterday morning–that, well before the track meet started at 4pm. People got angry as they found they had to turn away from entering near the main gates, or the front of the stadium, and circle around to Nannyville. Lines were forming at the front and the manoeuvering was getting harder as cars started to “bump up against each other” as one angry woman retold the tale. Probably, made worse because many visitors are not regulars at the complex. The guards seemed to lack a few basics in courtesy (and probably were met with similar by some), and “did not have any manners”, as the lady also retold. Lines to enter via Nannyville started to stretch back a long way: the gate had one guard, who in the absence of a sign that said anything other than ‘No entry’ on one side (closed) was having to handle each driver who had a simple query, “Where do I park?” I got there early and parked easily, but judging by announcements at the pool area for drivers to come to move their cars, which were blocking others, things got a bit tight.

I suggest that IPL review how a few excellent stadiums manage the people and car flows. I won’t tout the US, necessarily, but it’s close and has lots of venues of similar size and layout, albeit in a society that is much more car-oriented.

I don’t know how IPL interacts with other agencies and, therefore, which of these problems come from that interaction not working well. But, if that is part of the problem, I’d hope that the OPM would be able to knock heads together and get the matters sorted out. Funnily, for all the talk about Jamaicans and aggressiveness, there’s an amazingly high level of tolerance for the kind of nonsense that exists at the Stadium complex. That may be part of the problem: we know and accept “that’s how we do it”.

Ugly

Pride of place has to go to Northern Caribbean University (NCU, for its banning of a student for her part in a cheerleading routine that ‘deviated’ from what was approved (though NCU never vetted the whole routine so it’s not clear what deviation there was from something incomplete–head shaking already). For the record, the team was disqualified and then the summons process began. The proximate problem was that the female student, playing the part of a male groom on top of a wedding cake-simulated pyramid, apparently kissed the hand of the female ‘bride’. She was called to a meeting (I simplify the bureaucratic language), during which she was asked some questions about her personal life (for reasons NCU have deemed no one need know) and handed a two-week suspension from NCU; to this was added a two-year ban from all extra-curricular activities at NCU as a ‘probationary’ measure. Well, some lawyers have had a field day. NCU is a private Seventh Day Adventist institution, but accredited by the University of the West Indies, so has to be consistent with UWI’s overall philosophy, not a law totally unto itself. NCU has also not been as open and clear as it should be. We heard that the student did not show enough ‘remorse’ and that weighed on the punishment. She also attended the meeting with a tongue piercing and without her student ID. Good grief! You’d think someone would either have told her to go get the ID, or given her a ‘temporary pass’. Likewise, if the tongue thingy was so offensive, she could have been told to go to the washroom and remove it before the meeting began in earnest. Too simple? I guess, if you are after pound of flesh.

Many have talked about ‘natural justice’ and punishment fitting the ‘crime’. NCU have not explained why they punished just one of the cheerleading team, and the girl who was on the top, not her supporters. This was not a solo performance, after all. NCU said that another student called to the meeting did not attend. She has not been ‘found’ and hauled before the ‘bailiffs’. They said, when pressed during a television discussion, that investigation are ‘ongoing’, except that no one has been scheduled to any more meetings. All of this coming over a month after the incident. The other students may be ‘in hiding?’, or have run home? NCU surely know who they are. The performance has now featured in videos circulating on YouTube. (Some wags have said the ban should have been for the performance being long and boring.)

People are talking about rules and abiding by them. NCU haven’t actually said what rules were broken, but give the impression that we all know and agree that what happened was terrible (presumably alluding to same-sex relations) and needed to have a student put out of circulation for the rest of her university life, somehow on a probation that is not for review. Sha-Shana James, the student, said on CVM TV that she has no intention of returning to NCU. I wonder why? The school seems to have been a bit knee-jerky and got itself into a least one pickle after another. Take a look at the video of the routine. If the university is about ‘ethos’ etc, you have to wonder why they are getting students to perform cheerleading routines, and ones that start with hip-swinging routines. In this case, they seem to want their (wedding) cake and eat it, too. The amount of onscreen dancing by Charles Evans, who was speaking for NCU on CVM the other night was a little disquieting. NCU has seen only one culprit and have not really sought anyone else. That’s discrimination and they know it and seem to want to play it as something else. But, given that NCU upset some students late last year with  a new policy that makes the absence from the twice weekly chapel assembly punishable by expulsion from the institution, we have to understand that the place is strict. But, strictness and sense are not substitutes. The routine was a depiction, not real. The rationale that a man was too heavy to play the role himself seems reasonable. The troupe did not suddenly collapse in disgust as the final move was played out, suggesting at least tacit approval by all in the troupe. Anyway, enough head shaking.

If NCU has a problem with student’s sexual orientation, then be upfront about that and put it on the table. In that sense, the ‘performance’ is irrelevant. If it’s the performance that is a problem, then deal with the performers in a way that makes sense. Look, I for one wont judge NCU for being consistent in applying its rules, but don’t do this cherry picking and dissembling.

Read Orville Taylor’s take on the incidents. Read also Carolyn Cooper’s accounts of the incidents.

What really matters?

I’ve been involved in a few spirited discussions in recent weeks. One has been about getting more women representatives in politics, essentially, the case for and against quotas in Parliament. I’m against. Another, about complex language and whether it’s an essential part of dealing with complex ideas. I don’t believe it is. A few things passed my eyes and ears in the past few days that make me think about how these issues come up, but not necessarily with any debate.

Women and men both have amazing gifts and much to offer. We are generally encouraged to think that having more women in areas where men have dominated will bring clear and better results. A notable argument raised recently was that it would mean less corruption. But, I asked myself, why is that we have a public agency that struggles to do its job, and run by a woman for the past two years? Jamaica’s National Solid Waste Management Authority, has a female head of agency, Jennifer Edwards. As far as I can tell, she has uttered nary a word since the start of the recent fire at Riverton dump/landfill. Why? An acquaintance mentioned ‘jobs for the girls’. Guess what?

Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA
Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA

Ms. Edwards was President of the People’s National Party’s Women’s Movement. She ran on a PNP ticket in general elections. Now, we should not jump to conclusions, but as talk of quotas swirl, persons like me wonder about where merit is put to one side and favouritism comes into play. This gets bothersome with bodies that have been tainted by claims of cronyism in their activities. Corruption is as much perception as actual greasy palms. So, better to remove all perceptions of slipperyness. That aside, clearly, no one woman can be a miracle worker, but if we are interested in better results and good processes, someone has to show me what we are supposed to have gained and what we have gained by placing our bets on a gender.

By contrast, it was interesting that no sooner had news flowed yesterday that the ‘Cuban light bulb case’ had been declared ‘no case’ by Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey, than words flew about the ‘spat’ between her and DPP Paula Llewellyn, and two women who were locking horns (if I can mix my gender metaphors). Justice Pusey had put her foot down and tried to get Ms. Llewellyn kicked out of proceedings in the case. An appeal quashed that ruling. Ms. Pusey refused to recuse herself. The process of impartial judgement seemed to be slipping. But, these are professionals, right. Both women seem to be well-equipped for their posts and I’d have few reasons, prima facie, to suggest that anything other than merit played into their being where they were. But, they got into a professional tiff and…well, it’s good for selling papers.

In a sense, my point is simple. Numbers mean little if they are fiddled. I’m still nervous about quotas.

On the language of the bright and mentally bountiful, I should have been warned when I heard Public Defender, Earl Witter,

Earl Witter, Public Defender
Earl Witter, Public Defender

tell Dionne Jackson Miller that a process had not been “sufficiently purgative“. Metaphors are tough at the best of times. Ones that deal with the evacuation of bowels are always tricky. The interviewer was trying to get some clarification to points Mr. Witter had made in a press conference earlier in the day, about the pending Tivoli Inquiry. The interview between the two did not go well. He was reluctant to understand that he had a duty to explain why his ‘Tivoli report’ had taken so long to prepare. He mentioned how the media had created a “straw man” in terms of ‘deadlines’. He wanted to know what deadlines meant. Ms Jackson-Miller patiently tried to get him to address that, but he wittered on about meaning.  She pointed out that many civil society groups, not just the media, had queried the delays. Mr. Witter went on. The tone got tense. By the time I stopped listening, the interview was nearly over. A lot of talk from the Public Defender and not much good listening. That’s odd from someone who is a renowned lawyer.

When people struggle to explain things simply, it’s always hard for those who struggle to understand. Lawyers may be good at weaving webs of words to obscure the truth and sometimes they get tangled in their own spinning.

Happy? Where’s Jamaica’s morning-after pill?

Yesterday, the world was supposed to celebrate International Day of Happiness. Jamaica was there, too, although in no nationally visible fashion. We’re not miserable people at heart, just living in a woefully disorganised state for far too long. That leads many to feel unhappy when the opposite would be easy to achieve.

I joked yesterday that I was happy because I had full water pressure to take a morning shower. A friend replied that I should be ecstatic because I had water in my pipes.

Water everywhere and none to drink?
Water everywhere and none to drink?

Many communities don’t have that–in the ‘land of wood and water’. Should we call Jamaica ‘the land of would and whatfor’?

Last week, many Jamaicans got excited because a long court case concluded with a verdict that surprised them because ‘the system’ seemed to work. But, so often the daily grind is to get through so much that does not work. Or, living through consequences that result from responsible persons not fulfilling their responsibilities.

We saw that in a near-disaster this week. The main garbage disposal site in the country had a huge fire, which started in a pile of used tyres.

Riverton Dump on fire
Riverton Dump on fire

The agency responsible for managing the waste, does not manage that well. National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) bow your head in shame. The agency which oversees NSWMA, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), does a poor job of oversight. A few weeks ago, we learnt that NEPA was allowing NSWMA to operate illegally, without licences. Part of the reported rationale was the dire financial state of NSWMA. Give us a break! Let’s all cry poverty and see who lets us ordinary folk off our obligations. I think some have loans they’d like eased. Then, have a few days of smoke-filled air and…NEPA issues licences to NSWMA. What makes situations like this doubly annoying is the wall of stony silence that passes for communication. I have seen not one statement from NSWMA about either the licences or the fire. Maybe, the Minister responsible has heard something, but if so have the people heard a peep.

The word that comes to mind is ‘disdain’.disdain-2

That, sadly, is a status word for many things in Jamaica. My father, who used to be a mental nurse, often talks about Jamaicans’ love of silent insolence. Mix that with disdain. … Toxic!

Examples of daily ‘unhappiness’ below focus on the ‘broken’ Jamaica that comes from that sorry admixture. None of them are excusable or hard to fix:

  • Broken car axles … from driving over potholes: visible problems, simple solutions. Who cares? Who should do?
  • Interminable waiting for simple administrative tasks.
  • Landlords who ignore tenants’ complaints.
  • Extortion activities that prevent normal activities. We see people assuming ‘powers’ that no one has given and no one seems ready to take away. The police are reported to be ‘stepping up the fight’ against such things.

    Car parking extortion in Kingston
    Car parking extortion in Kingston
  • Praedial larceny: it’s not just farmers who suffer. A friend told me about her yam hill near her house being reaped by thieves, after she’d waited nine months for her harvest. Adding insult to injury, they roasted the pilfered yam in her yard. Taking people’s hard work and using its rewards for your own benefit without permission is perhaps one of those truly despicable acts.

These examples are not unique to Jamaica, but demand more attention because of the brazenness with which the corrections are ignored or avoided. Also, we often see frenzied action ‘to fix’ things that have been left to ‘get rotten’ over months, years, decades. Take a hard look at downtown Kingston. Take a look at the entrance to the ‘coastal resort’ of Negril. Take a look at downtown Montego Bay. Take a look at Ocho Rios. Take a look at the National Stadium Complex.

Take a good hard look at it all. Ask yourself why has any of that been allowed to happen.

Wheel of misfortune
Wheel of misfortune

Why have Jamaicans repeatedly given position to people who demonstrate clearly and repeatedly that they cannot do a good job?

Wok this way

The general population often make fun of public servants. Think of some negative sentiment–time wasters, pen pushers, etc.–and it will often be tagged onto those who do the bidding of government. I like to think that I can think, so I am wondering why the minds of some of our public servants and the politicians they serve don’t seem to want to do any yoga.

Jamaica’s Minster of Tourism has just announced that soon Chinese tourists will be able to visit our sun-soaked isle, and stay for 30 days without visas. The rationale given included:

  • China’s “potential for growth as a tourism source market for Jamaica”.

China is now the largest spender in international tourism, but Jamaica has had difficulty in achieving “substantial growth in Chinese arrivals, as many Chinese citizens have had to travel great distances simply to obtain a visa from the Jamaican Embassy in Beijing“. Wait a minute! This is the 21st century: information superhighway and all that. Why are we forcing Chinese people to travel to Beijing?130517141050-china-tourists-hong-kong-camera-story-top

Yes, it’s common sometimes to have to go in person to a consular office. But, other options exist, such as visa applications by mail or over the Internet. The actual visa may still be an endorsement in the passport or may take the form of a document or an electronic record of the authorisation, which the applicant can print before leaving home and produce on entry to the host country. Why can’t we have that option? Or, are we just wanting to do all we can for Chinese potential visitors?

The US State Department gave me the pleasure of spending 90 minutes recently on a computer to renew my visa, and uploading the picture alone took a good 15 minutes, including having it rejected for being too dark (hey, my skin is not pale). Why deny potential tourists such pleasures? Or, just let them boost internal travel in China.

Or, we could treat China like little Andorra (population 78,000), and let them get visas at the port of entry. True, all of Andorra could fit into Jamaica and not be noticed, but I suspect a worry about a tidal wave from the ripple of 1 billion Chinese people may be lurking around.

I honestly don’t care if visitors to Jamaica come from Timbuktu, or Wanganui, or Banjul. But, I’d like to think that government moves in a way that seems neutral and logical to the outsider and the insider of the country. Is it just the potential foreign exchange rather than the cultural exchange? Jamaica had already done the same for Russia. Jamaica’s embassy in Moscow is a nice little trek across the steppes from Siberia. So, the distance and hardship argument could apply there, too.

Interestingly, countries that are deemed ‘friendly’, such as those in the British Commonwealth, usually have no need for visas to visit Jamaica. That is, with the exception of Nigeria. I can only wonder why Jamaica would mete out such discrimination to our fellow Commonwealth brethren 🙂

So, it’s all about the Benjamins, baby. China, in 2013, recorded 72.5 million outbound trips for the first three-quarters of 2013. Chinese tourists spent US$102 billion abroad in 2012. Only 2,420 Chinese tourists visited Jamaica last year. What should yuan do?

 

We know our problem, but what are the solutions?

I try to help my 10 year-old with appreciating maths by telling her that it’s what life is all about. In maths, if you multiply two negatives, you get a number that is positive. However, life does not reflect maths in that case. Jamaica’s multitude of behavioural negatives leave us with a negative impression.

Yesterday, I touched on what I may call Jamaica’s ‘out of orderness’: we just relish setting ourselves up to fail. I have to admit that it’s something that frustrates and annoys me; I know that many other people are similarly affected. Are we all put off by it? I can’t say. But, economics tells me that the answer must be no. Jamaica has shown its revealed preference; it’s bought more of the out of orderness than less. So, we have the country that most people want. We have to live with what we tolerate.

But, what is to be done, if we really do not want this situation to continue?

The short answer many people will offer is more education about the costs or impact of what we are doing. Put into that bag the idea that people need to learn to behave differently.

In the corporate or bureaucratic world that relearning has to come through retraining. I will give examples of the better behaviour we want to see.

  • Understand that time is money, and that lateness is costly. (Being on time and staying on schedule should be the norms.)
  • Give the customer/client your full attention when they approach, or have the courtesy to ask the person to just wait a moment. (The anecdotes about staff continuing private conversations while customers wait are legion. So, too are the side conversations that go on while people are being served.)
  • Do not act in a surly manner. (People rarely go to an office to have a fight. If they have problems, they want solutions, not abrasive or aggressive reactions.)
  • Do not abuse what little authority you may have. (Stories of brutish behaviour by police officers are so common that you have to believe that it’s seen as part of our culture of policing that roughness is an essential part of how the job is done.)

At the least, changes such as these will create a different atmosphere to each interaction. Most people can handle the disappointment of not having their problems solve immediately if they have not been made to feel bad or wrong about raising it.

I know that such practices are easy to follow. When my daughter and I returned to Norman Manley International Airport on Sunday, we were faced with a female Immigration Officer who had long highlighted braids. She immediately complemented my daughter on her good looks. I asked, jokingly, whether that bordered on harassment. We struck up a conversation with her about this while she checked our passports. Her comments were about how she does not want people to touch her hair; nor does she want people to feel they can rub her stomach if she’s pregnant: that would be harassment, in her eyes. She stamped our passports, wished us a good day, and we hoped that she had the same. My daughter and I quickly made comments about how this interaction differed from that we received at another Caribbean island’s main airport. There, it was a major event to get more than “Passport?” Smiles were not offered to incoming passengers. Instructions were curt, and the parting greeting was usually in the mail. Remember, this is an island that thrives on tourism. The first interaction with locals if often not pleasant.

Our experience with this Immigration Officer is similar to what has happened each time we’ve entered Jamaica over the past seven or so months. Either, the airport recruits the nicest people who have come from homes where such pleasant behaviour is the norm, or they are trained to present themselves in such a manner. I tend to think it’s the latter. On arriving in Montego Bay, we had been treated as nicely, but there one may think that the bias is towards ‘welcoming visitors’ to our tourism capital. Kingston does not have that driving it’s reception. So, we have a good example in the public sector.

I know of others in large private sector organizations. I’ve been impressed with the staff in Scotiabank branches, some of whom even go that extra step to jazz up the atmosphere on a Friday with singing and dressing up. That does not remove problems, such as slow-moving lines, but customers tend to be more tolerant after some light-heartedness. Scotiabank may be using that as a ploy to cover its inefficiencies, but it may just be working 🙂

I am not the typical Jamaican, so I will not suggest that what I feel needs to be done will meet the approval of others. However, the changes that seem desirable are really quite small.

I have commented a lot about bad road use behaviour. How hard is it, nowadays, to buckle up the seat belts? Clearly, very hard. I stopped to let out a couple coming out of their driveway in a huge SUV/truck. As they approached me to pass in the other direction, I gestured to their belts, which were unbuckled, and said “Put it on, please,” The lady said they were going to, and they both did. The man was wearing a very large crucifix and I could not resist saying that I thought the Lord needed him to not head up to Heaven too soon. The moral of the story is that using safety belts is not second nature to many Jamaicans. It is also disturbing that this is the case as much (or even more) amongst those who we may say should know better. In the upscale, uptown parts of Kingston, the children of the middle- and upper-classes bounce around in gay abandon inside vehicles. Parents, are sometimes strapped in, but often are yapping on the phone at the same time. It’s the privilege of wealth? I’m stumped.

Each of us who feel that these problems are weighing us and the country down needs to take control of the change. Maybe, I’m more activist in my approaches, but my reaction is going to be to address each case I can. It’s not a crusade, but the start of a lot of conversations. It happened on the road. It also happened on the phone: I rang an insurance company yesterday to return a call. I was passed on to three different people before I got a good answer to why I had needed to call. I identified myself to the first responder and explained why I had called. Each person to whom I was forwarded asked me my name, or just said “Hello,”. None of them knew why I had called. I said at the end that this seemed inefficent, even rude. A friend suggested that it was perhaps a security ploy to ensure that I was who I said I was. I didn’t buy that. Nor did the last person on the other end of the phone, who agreed that it was not good business practice and that she would speak to other staff. I would like to think that happened, but was happy that my point was acknowledged.

But, there’s a long road to walk and it may be rocky and mostly uphill.

Heading home in traffic last night, a policeman was directing traffic near Devon House. He was stopping turns to the right onto Hope Road (normally allowed). One driver, wanting to turn right, was getting annoyed as the officer signalled she must turn left. She delayed her turn, gesturing to where she wanted to go. He continued pointing her to the right. She waved her arms out of the car, and held her head in her hands, then accelerated around the corner, as directed. Yes, she was frustrated and perhaps going to be a little later getting to whereever. The officer did not approach the car in any hostile manner; he did not appear to change his demeanour. He certainly did not set off to beat the driver. He did not have the opportunity to get warm and fuzzy with the lady driver, but tried to stay focused on his main task. No other drivers seemed bothered by his commands. Let’s give that policeman an A: he displayed most of the behaviour I noted above. Who’s next?