#COVID19Chronicles-118: August 10, 2020-Who’s got your goat?

One obvious problem of playing tag is that you are there to be tagged, too, if you don’t catch people.

Jamaican politicians love to play ‘gotcha’, which is like political tag: rather than focus on matters of substance and policies, they like to get in little niggly jabs. Death by a thousand strokes, in a way.

When I wrote yesterday, little did I know how all-seeing I was. My blog post included:

I like Damion Crawford as a political showman, who is one of the most entertaining of all the current politicians…My biggest problem with Mr. Crawford, is that, as a mathematician, he’s often guilty of not following his arguments to their logical conclusion, and gets wrapped up in his own entertainment.’

Not long into the morning, I then saw a tweet from said Senator, querying some COVID19 data, and unable to square the circle. I tried to help:

The real problem for the Senator was simple; he had chosen to use data summarized by the Gleaner newspaper rather than the data supplied daily by the Minister/Ministry of Health and Wellness, which had all the figures to solve the non-puzzle.

Twitter is a herd and when it smells blood it tends to head straight for the kill, so there was a veritable ‘feeding frenzy’ over the mathematician struggling with some simple maths. Gotcha! Gotcha back!

Things reached a political head when the Minister decided to pile on:

The double entendre ‘Check yourself, bro’ was a master stroke.

As often happens, people double down rather than back down or admit they may a (silly) mistakes and politicians never make mistakes, right.

The Minister didn’t need to make the obvious point that he and his ministry had ‘said it a little louder’, but obviously some couldn’t hear…and now must feel…ridicule.

As the adage goes, when stuck in a hole, just stop digging.

For me, it was telling in several ways. I don’t know if many people really saw the solution themselves, or just saw it solved and then used that knowledge. But, what better than to beat someone with their own stick and Senator Crawford’s stick was the fact that he’s a mathematician.

But, give a dog a bone and somehow it won’t let go, even when it’s dry and starting to look like a fossil.

But, it was telling in terms of what passes for motivation and real points of importance. So driven was the senator to prove he was right when most saw he was wrong was the simple point that his problem with the numbers wasn’t due to those whom he wanted to target. The Gleaner editor was locked in a bathroom only findable by the hysterical giggle that could be heard from behind a cubicle door. If he’d written ‘The Gleaner needs to give us the full details’, he could have gotten away almost scot-free including with a jab at a common enemy, the ‘fake news’ media. But, no. Wag bone, wag.

The Senator has a soft spot for goats, but he ought have learned the lessons of his defeat in East Portland—the goats that people may want is curried in a pot:

But someone really got his goat, yesterday.


#COVID19Chronicles-106: July 29, 2020-Bank of Jamaica goes primeval

Lake Placid - 1999
Photo Credit: Bob Akester-scene with Brendan Gleeson in ‘Lake Placid’

I have a lot of time and real admiration for our central bank, Bank of Jamaica; after all, I worked for 10 years at the Bank of England 🙂 But, my feelings are not knee-jerk ones of kindred spirits. I really admire what they are trying to do to make their business more understandable for a wider audience.

The principles, practices and language of central banking are not always easy to understand. Most people understand what money is, though they may have to be guided to realise it’s not just cash, but also money held on deposit to be used in payment; that it can include domestic currency as well as foreign currencies.

The exchange rate and foreign currency loom large in the thinking of countries like Jamaica, that have a lot of business with foreigners and can literally see money coming in and going out of the economy, and the movement of the exchange rate is often felt or perceived sharply. But, again, much more foreign currency flows than is visible to the ordinary citizen: banks and other financial institutions, corporations, government and some individuals conduct their transactions well away from the sight of people, as massive flows move between accounts. For the longest while, Jamaicans had to pay careful attention to the exchange rate and foreign currencies because the latter was in real short supply and the former reflected that as it went on a move to lower values. That’s changed in reality as the country moved to a floating exchange rate, though this hasn’t necessarily been well understood by many.

Jamaicans, not unlike lots of people, stake their pride on the strength of their national currency against others. The anguish of a major devaluation or a series of depreciations is real for policy makers as well as citizens, and I remember how Britons reacted when the pound sterling was devalued in 1967, from US$2.80 to 2.40 (14%) and PM Harold Wilson needing to reassure people that the “It does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued.” Whether Britons understood how this was an alternative to massive foreign borrowing, I can’t say.

Then, we have inflation, or the movements in the so-called general price level. Lots of people struggle to understand that prices going up or down is not really what inflation means, but whether this is persistent.

Wrapping all of that up and talking about each and every as part of monetary policy usually leaves many reaching for the off button or swiping away from that output. Let’s not even try to talk about what it means to supervise the financial system and macro-prudential concerns.

But, what the BOJ has done is to unpack a lot of the mystique and make it simpler to understand. They’re now famous for putting monetary policy to music. What was as notable as the medium was the international acclaim for the initiative:

For what it’s worth, the Bank of England had tried long before to make what it does a bit more accessible, but to a more limited extent, and not in as catchy a way. 

But, cometh the moment, cometh the man, and the BOJ has seized the power of social media fully in all its glory.

Generally, the BOJ has sought to really engage the public through this medium. It’s common for it to use its Twitter feed to have real conversations about topical matters and it’s carved out a style that’s also jovial, including with its sort of dorky ‘spokesperson’, Croc-O. Doyle, who has become a literal mouth piece for the bank. Everything you ever needed to know about the difference between alligators and crocodiles was explained by the BOJ:

It’s had a number of efforts to calm national nerves about the exchange rate, which is not running away, but people seem to treat with apocalyptic fears with each downturn.

Yesterday, it did something a bit different but necessary in terms of ‘setting the record straight’ by summarily dissecting the misinformation circulated by a commentator on matters economic, John Jackson:

One could say the croc bit down hard on its victim and wrestled the life out of him with some vicious clamping of the jaws.

I don’t want to stir the pot too much more, but this is what we need a lot more of from public institutions: letting the public know what they do on a regular basic and dealing with the flurry of misinformed, ill-informed, or downright wrong facts and opinions. I’m not going to say anything about the style or tone—my own fingers get very sharp edges when people just getting their facts wrong 😉


Facing challenges: CaPRI goes out of the box to explain Budget 2017-18

I was in the pleasant company, over dinner midweek, of a varied groups of mainly Jamaicans, both old and young (my daughter was there), and some living locally and some living mainly abroad. We got into talking about ‘having it’ and what that meant and if it had been achieved. I said I ‘had it all’ and went on to explain that it was partly a question of money that I had accumulated during my life–though this was by no means mega millions–but did have the benefit of not really having to think about a budget every day, something that I had to do for many years. That’s not to say that I am not frugal: I am ‘mean’ like star apple! It also goes to the nature of personal contentment, and over time, I have tried to stop striving. It helps that I retired on a good pension. My wife still has a paid job and between the two of us our daily needs are well covered, financially. But, I get contentment from being able to use my time to satisfy my needs, and most of those are simple: Can I go walking when I want? Can I travel if I want? Is my life free of deadline? Can I say no to requests? Can I choose to help when I want to? And so on. I prize my liberty and am loath to give it up. For that reason, I am leery of nice-sounding attempts to get me to ‘do things’. Again, don’t get me wrong. I love to volunteer, but that means I decide, not someone else, when and where I send my energies, because I want to give fully when I give. Done!

I also mentioned that, for me, the greatest challenge in life now is to help people do things that they say the cannot. For some people that’s a simple nudge or helping hand to get started with something, often a clearly expressed desire that somehow has stalled. For others, it means breaking down a many-layered wall of resistance that has been built over time and reinforced, often by things that are not that rational–so fear has taken hold.

Simple example: the friend who hosted the dinner wanted to get back into golf. She had played a little, with lessons, etc, but an injury set her back badly. Coming back was both a physical and mental problem because the fear of a flare-up of the injury was there and the origin of the injury had deeper health risks. So, I offered to get her started again, gently, by having a session with a few clubs in my back yard. She did great and we spent about 90 minutes swinging gently. As I coach, I explained that I always like to end a session on a positive note, so when she took a good swing, connected well, and the ball pinged off one of the avocado pears on the tree in front of her, I said “Time to stop!” However, some of her previous health issues recurred and she’s not come back. But, she’s promised to do so, and needs to upgrade her equipment to remove their state of ‘disrepair’ as a cause of not resuming. Watch this space!

Another example is a high schooler who swims for the same club as my daughter who is ‘learning’ French. I put him under pressure by insisting on speaking French whenever we meet. My basic point is that he needs to free his vocal chords and get French words flowing naturally, without concern about correctness–that latter part we can fix. In other words, he needs to be like a toddler learning and babbling and not necessarily being coherent. It’s working, to a degree, and he’s less intimidated by the process now, but is still thinking too much. I speak at normal speed, first. Then, if he’s struggling, I slow it down to help him hear the words better as separate sets of sounds; fluent speakers elide a lot of words, so ‘la plume de ma tante’ can sound like ‘laplumdemataunt’ and it’s not obvious what are the separate words.

But, a bigger challenge is getting people to understand basic things about the world they live in. I am not a paid teacher, but I am someone who has often been a giver of instructions.

One of the huge challenges is just a language barrier–like with the French student. So, many people do not have the vocabulary for subjects, let alone the ability to understand what the words could mean. So, many attempts at teaching pass from teacher above head of student. In the class room that happens often at the start of a topic, but gets less as the topic is explored. However, in life, that lack of understanding can be near permanent. Add to that the fact that we do not speak alike. That is a huge problem in places like Jamaica, where the language of many ordinary people is not the language of many of those with so-called ‘high levels of knowledge’. People rale about Patois not being a language because one cannot automatically discuss all topics in that ‘tongue’. But, for things like a lot of economics, it can be done.

So, I was fascinated to see last night how an attempt to bring such knowledge out of the dark realm of ‘mystery’ into the light would work. Our national budget is about what we try to do with what we have (a variation on ‘having it’) and shifting around the resources is one of our big challenges, which honestly we often don’t do that well.

CaPRIThe Caribbean Policy Research Institute, put on a public forum, ‘Money Talks’ What does the new budget really tell you? in the open air of Mandela Park, in the heart of Kingston, Half Way Tree (HWT), at 6pm, plumb in the middle of evening rush hour. The topic was the recent Budget, and what it meant for the nation. Heady stuff. Well, no surprise, HWT was its usual hopping self, with taxis fighting to grab people and space, and street vendors trying to deny space and take people’s money, all at the same time and mostly in the same space. Let’s call that the hustle and bustle of Kingston. In the midst of that was a set up for the live event. In typical Jamaican fashion, the event was being animated by music. Nice vibes.

The event began a little late, but mainly because the MC wanted people to come closer, as ‘they do in church’. But, it was a forlorn attempt: it’s a thoroughfare and if people are reluctant to move from the outer edges by the walls, so be it–the need was for listening, not closeness 🙂

If this could be any prettier…
The event got underway with some pleasant words from a European Union official, as the EU is a major funder for CaPRI. He was followed by the main presenter, Dr. Damien King, was is a co-director and also head of the department of economics at UWI, Mona. One of Damien’s great traits is that he speaks clearly about economics and uses terms that are usually easy to grasp. So, he began talking about esoteric things such as the debt/GDP ratio, but had it illustration as a large mountain of money, and explained that its being 147% in 2012 meant that every Jamaican needed to work for no pay for a year and a half. Clear as a bell! So, it went on as he covered the broad set of measures of the budget, which I wont repeat here. The crowd, about 70 people seated and others around the edges, was absorbed and attentive. He simplified things and made some clear statements about the important matter of how does the budget affect each of us–a matter of personal circumstances and lifestyle.

Nice, simple graphics: a picture says a 1000 words
So, Dr. King has grappled with the challenge of making the budget more accessible to the public.

Now, getting the eyes and ears of fewer than a hundred people is obviously not the same as getting that attention from tens of thousands or even a million or more, but it’s a start, especially if everyone reaches one more, and like the multiplier in economics, gets the word spread by word of mouth.

So, I applaud CaPRI for this venture and hope that others in the domain of public policy see the need to get out from the contented position of ‘doing it the old way’ to doing it a way that is effective. I also like that it fits with my recent suggestion on this blog of a need for a non-partisan debate on the budget–it’s too important to leave to baying politicians. The CaPRI team did well to give people many of the building blocks to understand what the budget means overall, and to each of us, personally.

One of the ways that public policy is being better explained is through the use of social media, and I also applaud the Government and in part the Opposition for grasping this and using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to get out messages, but there’s a place still for live, in your face interaction, I must admit. Let’s hope to see more things like this. Some will see the similarity with ‘TED talks’ and if that helps then so be it. Take this approach to the clubs, to the beach, to the National Stadium…to the world!

Communications in the modern age: You can relax, Grandma!

As we roll out of 2016 into 2017, it’s fitting to think about one of the things that’s changed a lot and will keep changing a lot–communications. 

My mother-in-law is ‘worried’ about her grandchildren, because they ‘don’t communicate’. She sees them huddled over devices like iPads, laptops, smart phones, and says ‘they’re not talking’. Grandma wants to see and hear communications they way she knew them as a girl, if I interpret her concern, correctly. I tried to put the matter differently to her.

She had just gotten off the portable phone with a friend, about an event later today. She’d talked, but had not been face-to-face. Surely, that was different from 60-70 years ago?

She and her children had spent some of the day playing Scrabble, eating conch fritters, and making arrangements for today’s open house. Some of the planning was being done in the kitchen, some on WhatsApp, some over the phones (mobile and land lines). 

The conch fritters had been fried by one of the housekeepers who’d just come back from holiday with her children in Jamaica. We knew about the trip to Kingston and Clarendon because some of it had been reported on Facebook and Instagram. Sadly, when they had spent Christmas in Clarendon, there was no wifi so they weren’t able to call many friends back in Nassau because they could not afford to make the calls, using network lines and data.

I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I had spent part of the previous day dealing with some business overseas. I had called a credit card company in the USA on Skype and sorted out something over a 10 minute call. I had done the same with one of the airlines: free calls using their 1-800 numbers. My mobile phone is not connected to the local carrier when I travel–it’s too expensive to make such calls. Finally, I had made hotel arrangements in Jamaica using a combination of Facebook Messenger and email, via which I had received my confirmation rate and dates. The booking was cancelled and changed about five minutes after I got confirmation, but another email explained that the hotel had a big booking coming so needed to switch my rooms. No problem. 

I spent much of the day exchanging Christmas greetings with friends, from the comfort of my mother-in-laws living room: my friend in Vancouver, with whom I went to grammar school, gave me some interesting philophical advice via Facebook Messenger. I gave him it back with a smile, in spades. I ‘heard’ about a year of successful poem writings from an acquaintance in New Zealand, whom I’ve never met in person, but whom I ‘studied’ with during a ‘MOOC’ (massive open online course; a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people) offered by the University of Iowa. The class ranged from India, Israel, USA, New Zealand, and more. She’d posted on Facebook and Twitter her year and news about her 50-plus published poems during the year. 

I also had a short conversation with a young Jamaican entrepreneur, using the phone and video facility of FacebookMessenger. He was playing video games and having lunch at the time, so I kept the chat short. He is a media specialist and talked to me about how to advance my use of video for my commentaries, and I told him about some ideas for graphics I wanted to try in 2017. I’ve ordered items on Amazon and my wife will collect them for me on her next US trip

I had written and posted two blog articles earlier in the day. One, about crime in Jamaica, was generating some reactions and I was exchanging comments about it via Twitter.

My older daughter and I had gone ‘old school’ during the afternoon, on the sofa, yelling at grown men chasing a ball in England on a cold misty night–live from The Bahamas. C’mon, Hull! 

The children descended on the house in the evening, aged from about 9 through 20s. My daughter, who had not called all day, said she had been making ‘goo’ with her cousin. Why did you both have cell phones if you’re going use your hands to make stuff? Go figure! 

I had a problem with my cell phone and their collective brains worked on it, but to no avail. So, I did some checking and rebooting and disconnecting from networks and bravo, ‘Daddy fixed it!’ Yea! I should have shamed them on Facebook 🙂

We ended the evening with another few rounds of Scrabble with my daughters and my wife, and then a crazy game of ‘Go Fish!’. During that, I commented that I thought my teenage daughter communicates too much with her friends, as they have long group chats in the afternoons, after school and sometimes way past her bed time. I have to turn off the light and take away her laptop. I dont know what they find to laugh about and scream so much. I think about eight of them are chatting and video chatting at the same time–from their homes, not in mine. When they come to visit, they create mayhem and mess. This way, I only have my one child’s messy bedroom to deal with. 

My point, without wishing to diss my MIL is that ‘things ain’t what they used to be’. But, I’m not sure that it was all that in the past, either. 

I remember when I was a boy, coming home, and if I was not able to go out and play with friends in the street, being inside on my own, with no one to talk to: we had no phone. In fact, no one in my family had a phone for years. We got television sooner in England than any of my relatives in Jamaica. I watched some childrens’ TV and listened to the radio, and read comics and some books. I did my homework. I spent years working in bureaucracies and now for my own pleasure write an ridiculous amount. Funnily, I just got a message about my Twitter account: my most active audience this week was in Slovenia. I know no Slovenes (including Merlene Ottey, who switched from Jamaica), and have never been there. Interesting!

My dear friend, Jean Lowrie-Chin, wrote earlier today on Twitter how we need to respect Seniors, who nursed the Gen X/Gen Y/Millenials in their embrace of tech, and also endorsed the need to be patient with grandparents. 
Credit to grandma; she’s come a long way. She doesn’t use her laptop much, but is getting better with her cell phone and using Whatsapp–she’s better than the lady we heard about who wanted to pay for her Whatsapp bill and wanted to know why she needed data on her phone when she had Internet at home. I may introduce grandma to video chats, but let’s see. As a bit of fogey, myself, I know that I have to embrace much of the technology around me because I am not into hppfing all over the place to get things done. I like banking from my armchair and see little value in standing in lines in banking halls. I get to see my daughter’s grades and assignments before we talk about them in the car on the way home, and I can send her mother notes from the meetings at school, when she’s off travelling, so that when she talks with Miss Lovely she has another view about how things went down.

I dont think grandma need worry, too much. Now, if she becomes an subject of interest on Snapchat, she may regret ever mentioning communication. Bless her!

When I went to bed, I left grandma and grandpa sitting in front of the TV watching a rather violent film. I’m worried about their eyes. 🙂 The items shipped from Florida made the new house look homely, as did the items delivered by boat from Inagua

Emancipendence time

A fellow (female) blogger stole my sentiment this morning. This period between Emancipation Day (August 1) and Independence Day (August 6) is awkward. People really don’t want to slide from one holiday to another with a few days’ break; this time, the first holiday was on a Friday. Most people who can think want to straddle that to the next holiday on Wednesday, especially as schools are closed and many kids may be out with grandma or at camp. It’s good adult peace time.

But, I’m not convinced the media struggle at this time, as Jamaica is so full of foolishness that the slow summer months seem like the rest of the year.

It’s beyond fiction that a ‘man of unsound mind’ can disarm a police officer and then go in a shooting spree in the busiest part of the country. But, in Jamaica that’s what we had at the weekend. Only to find out that the gun was in a ‘non-standard’ holster. Was the budget busted so the officer had to go to a flea market for a replacement? Or, as a commentator said, the officer wanted to have a ‘cowboy’ holster? But, in the Jamaican way of ‘ah so we dweet’, where we do what we want, we should be grateful that the gun had real bullets. Though, maybe, a set of blanks would have helped.

I rarely read what passes for court reporting, but now and again a story catches my eye. Yesterday, I read of a man choking a woman to steal her cell phone. In his defence, the man said he just “took it from her”. The judge had little time for this nonsense and slapped the choker-non thief with six months in jail. Was that worse, though, than the man who fought a woman though her car window to steal a chain, then hide it between his toes in his shoe?

If I believe what I read and hear, then the world health authorities are getting to terror levels in their concerns about the Ebola virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in recent days that the disease ‘is out of control’. But, in Jamaica, where all is cool and Irie, our Ministry of Health is going the extra step…not. They noted, proudly, that they are monitoring the WHO website. Are you serious? Better than playing Candy Crush, I guess. I hear the sound of deep snoring from behind the minister’s door…But, Jamaica has at least mastered the lingo of international boo-ha-ocracy: We are not yet in ‘the category of at risk countries’, but “we continue to ensure that our systems are strengthened so that we can have an effective response if the need arises”. Our “surveillance system has already been heightened”, we will be “sensitizing staff” and “monitoring of the situation.” Well, blah me down!

The spokeswoman said “public education is also an important feature of the Ministry’s strategy and stressed that there has been no change in the position of the Ministry as it relates to facilitating interviews and providing information through the media about any health related matter. As part of our communication plan, we will continue to partner with the media through interviews and other methods of disseminating information so that the public is kept informed and understand their part of the responsibility to deal with these types of diseases.” Hold on! Is this the same ministry that refused to give RJR interviews last week on this topic? Can’t be, right. 20140805-071203-25923807.jpgThe spokeswoman, Dr. Marion Bullock DuCasse is entitled Director, Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services. Is that ‘DEADMESS’ in acronym speak?

Finally, we heard that the Minister of National Security–fittingly, at this time, Mr. Bunting–will be giving more beef to the fight against corruption by merging two agencies and having them called MOCA (the same acronym as one of the old agencies, which some find a bit confusing). I’ll give MOCA a bly for at least putting itself into the world of miner communication with a vengeance. It took to Twitter and Facebook to try to explain the new moves, thinking new followers, and being all social media-friendly.

Maybe, someone should look over the partition and tell those security officers who can be seen bundling a girl in a wheel chair into a police vehicle that evenhandedness and respect for citizens starts with understanding that we are all now watching carefully every move. Maybe, MOCA can do some outreach and explain how the modern world works. Don’t let the rest if JCF make mockery of crime fighting. In fact, fight less and deal with crime more.

Meantime, I’m going to take a slice of that wonderful new bun made by Morhers, specially for Independence.