#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.

 

Society under threat from social media and computers? Not buying it.

Another exercise is looking at dots. First, a few bold assertions:

I do not believe that social media or access to computers and the Internet by children is destroying society. Why?

Less than half of the world’s population has ever been online. Contrast that to the smaller proportions that have no access to radio or television (about 80 percent of households worldwide have access to a television).

I believe that society changed most dramatically, worldwide, with the discovery of how to transmit sound, so that people could hear clearly what was going on elsewhere without moving from where they were. The invention of the radio seems to have brought the world to within nearly every person’s fingertips, or ears, at the turn of a dial or the pressing of a button. Now, on February 13 each year, UNESCO celebrates Radio Day. Radio is the most widespread communication medium. Just look at the summary statistics for 2013, some of which are highlighted in this image.

Beyond radio, the invention that radically changed how people perceived the world and got most information, was the enabling of visual images to be transmitted broadly and quickly. So, the camera lay at the foundation of that, despite people being able to draw and share images from long before. The camera meant life anywhere could be seen anywhere else, in a short period of time, and it was a more accurate depiction than through a drawing or painting–without getting into the interpretation that any photographer could do. From the camera sprang films (documentary or fictional) and from that television.

Putting sound and images together was a profound invention. Adding mobility to those possibilities is really what computers and later mobile devices have developed. Society was already well into changes in how it interacted long before the notions that inlay social media came into play.

The true human memory is weak and easily manipulated. If you disagree, read about how memories are constructed.

A classic example of this is represented by what we may regard as nostalgia. Christmas is a good time to observe that in action. I wont say much but suggest you listen carefully to how people view past Christmas events. I wager that they will look back at most of them with fondness, including how people used to behave differently. For example, now looking at young people playing on electronic devices and suggesting that in the past people talked and interacted more. Utter rubbish!

My Christmases are not definitive so that is as good a random sample as any, I’d argue. But, I recall (since the early 1960s) people seeking to regain some rest after a long period of work or school since the summer break/holidays. They mostly got up late and broke fast in whatever way they could, when they were ready; balance and nutrition were not important. Those who wanted exercise took it, walking alone or with pets or other people. People read, books, magazines, newspapers, articles. People played, alone or in groups, some games requiring a lot of interaction (like football or cards), others little or none (such as crosswords or jigsaws–I regard those as playful activities). Phones rang, sometimes the calls took up many minutes, sometimes they were brief, often they were not about anything much other than a quick check by someone who could not be with the group on how things were going, including details of their plans to join. Music played on machines (including radios), and could be one person’s choice (often a parent, or at least an adult) or some sort of group taste (eg carols). As children grew, they exerted their influences and might have dominated mostly or given a bigger say in the choice. If circumstances allowed, those whose tastes did not suit the group, were found away from others enjoying their sounds (in the days before headphones, this could be far from others or at low volumes). Coming together tended to be for major meals (lunch or dinner). Conversation was often most animated around the dining table. The rest of the time, conversation happened around activities, often food preparation or when decisions were to be made about what the group might do.

Fundamentally, I’ve not seen any of that change, with the exception that we can share our tastes with others more easily than ever before. In the past, we might have needed to take a physical sound or image file from place to place (exchanging originals or copies physically). Now, that can mainly be done electronically, though not necessarily. Now, everyone can listen to or watch their choices without others having to be subjected to them. That’s the element of choice at the extreme for all things.

But, some want us to think that something sinister is going on with the latest turn of the technological needle. Like modern concerns about bullying, I’ve yet to see recently things as devastating as what I witnessed or learned about as a child. Some of the tools or means are different, but the motivations, perpetrators and victims are all generally familiar.

I’ll accept that the current technologies allow things to be shared much faster and therefore with less chance to verify than before. But, in the past, with things moving slower, those who chose not to, or were unable to, discern were in the same place as now. People have always had reasons to fabricate information. Ignorance has long been an excellent control tool.

Maybe, each generation wants to feel that it has moved on from those of the past, and that may seem easier than to accept that things have continued rather than changed.

Literally, speaking–Redux: media professionals and teachers don’t help

When I wrote yesterday, I had in my mind the unacceptably high number of Jamaicans who had not benefitted from learning the fundamentals of the official language. My compassion was driven by what I see in play, daily. Many Jamaicans may not feel burdened, but are at a severe disadvantage within Jamaica and also compared with many abroad when it comes to bidding for jobs. That drag on employment prospects is at the front of my mind. Our high illiteracy is a major impediment to our raising labour productivity.

But, the problem of the general population is worsened by failings in places where we would not expect to see illiteracy or poor grammar on a regular basis–in the education sector and in the mainstream media. We expect teachers to know, and even if not majoring in English, we often assume skills in that area are higher than average; that may be an unfair assumption, however. Likewise, we expect the wordsmiths of our society to be also high on the pole of those who have mastered the official language. But, I find in Jamaica that those are wrong assumptions more often than I think is acceptable. Just look at what hit me at random today:

‘That, essentially, was what was expected to happen in Tivoli Gardens after to 2010 operation to route strongman and gang leader, Christopher Coke.’

That sentence is from today’s Editorial in The Gleaner. Can you spot the errors?

Let me help: ‘after to’ should read ‘after the’; ‘route’ (a course taken) should read ‘rout’ (retreat of defeated unit). 

Is it reasonable that a national media publication produced by people trained in communications should make such mistakes? Who is responsible for quality control? Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 5.35.54 AMIf the quality oversight is poor in the main part of the publication that expresses the paper’s opinions can we expect it to be higher elsewhere in the routine reporting?

I often utter a huge guffaw when various mainstream media practitioners try to argue about the higher quality of mainstream media professionals (often demeaning many who are in the world of newer communications, like bloggers, like me). My reaction is not pure defensiveness–and I do not see pure self-service on their part–but based on the rigour that I had to go through daily in my written and oral communication, and which formed how I always approach what I do. I have no supervisor, so have to rely on a tough attitude towards my own mistakes. I am no saint, but I’m far from a sinner in this area. So, I take great pleasure is find and pointing out the kind of error I saw this morning.

But my pleasure is muted. Those who do not know what is wrong will inevitably repeat that error. Admitted, it’s not realistic for a newspaper to be reprinted. In the world of electronic media, the digital version can be corrected, so The Gleaner online version, which I read earlier this morning could realistically be expected to be corrected later today. I pointed out the errors in the online comments; let’s see what happens.

I got a communication from school yesterday that was full of grammatical howlers; I see them often. But, as the school year comes to an end, I thought it would helpful to gently point out that I thought it reflected poorly on the school. They accepted my point, and pointed out some slips in their quality control. But, I don’t want my child using such communications as their guide, which they will because ‘Teacher knows best’ in the school arena.

If I seem pedantic in these concerns, fine. I have the luxury of being able to spot what’s wrong and also enough sad memories of what it can mean if one lets them go uncorrected.

Why does The Gleaner not publish online comments?

I can understand why a print edition limits the publication of comments from readers, eg letters to the Editor: there are real space constraints. I do not understand, however, why an online edition would limit the publication of comments, other than those that are clearly offensive or abusive: digital space is very elastic and almost limitless. So, I am puzzled by a practice I’ve noticed for some time with The Gleaner, which I have started to track, of not publishing online comments. Of course, I can only track my own offerings, but that is plenty for this issue.

I’m not backward in coming forward, as the British say: I have views on many things, or can form opinions on them, and I am not generally afraid to express those. I try to keep my comments ‘on point’ and not attack a person, but tackle the ideas expressed. Some say that I am eloquent. My comments can sometimes be long, but that’s usually because the subject matter and views expressed by the author are not simple, and I don’t pretend that things have easy solutions.

So, twice in recent days, I have expressed critical views–on a ‘Letter of the day’ about currency stability, and on a article about the BPO sector. I’m an economist, and both topics lend themselves to some simple and complex economic arguments. On the latter, I’ve had a vigorous discussion on Twitter with the author about the style of his ‘attack’ on the sector. I posted my comments early, but so far I have not seen them published. In the case of the former topic, online comments are now closed (it’s nearly a week since publication of the letter). Now, I know that the Gleaner sometimes converts online comments to letters to the Editor. But, I wonder what the policy is with my or others’ comments, which having been moderated, and consigned to somewhere out of the public eye.

Let me share links to the relevant articles, and my comments: I took care to make screenshots (and will continue to do so, for the record, going forward).

Currency stability crucial. Here are my comments:

For the record, I show the comments published on that letter.

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‘Only’ two comments published, as of this morning?
The second topic was ‘BPO growth at what cost?‘, published on February 23. My reactions were written and submitted early that morning (and appear below, as a Twitter post). As of this morning, ‘only’ three comments have been published online.

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-6-05-26-am
‘Only’ three comments on BPOs?
screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-5-51-43-am

My interest is several-fold. First, as an ‘editor’, myself, of online comments on my blog: I moderate all comments, and publish all, except those that are abusive or use offensive language. So, I will take comments whose content I know or suspect to be untrue, but then deal with them in my replies. I rarely delete comments, unless the author asks for that. Secondly, as a simple member of the public: I would like to know the full range of public opinion on a topic. Thirdly, there are some who think that they see ‘the world’ of public approval and disapproval in online comments, implying that these get published all the time: this is clearly a misunderstanding of what goes on.

For a range of reasons, I do not comment much of pieces I read in The Observer, but I will be monitoring my comments online and how they are dealt with in the case of that paper, too. For reference, comments I’ve made on a range of other news publications, such as The Washington Post, New York Times, or Times (of London) have always been published after moderation.

For further context, I have had letters published by The Gleaner, including several ‘Letters of the day’, and also had commentaries published as guest columns in The Gleaner and The Observer. So, I don’t believe they have a problem with me and my views in general. So, I’m more puzzled with what I see happening online.

I’d love the Gleaner to react and offer some explanation. I hope, sincerely, that the response will not be ‘It’s our paper and we can do what we like’. 

It’s really all fake, in Jamaica: new news for old wives’ tales

I wanted to write something about the trend of fake news that is sweeping many countries. Social media and the spread of Internet access has made sharing information and misinformation as easy as breathing in and out. I am not going to rationalize why some people would want to spread things they know to be false. They’re mischievous at the very least, and downright nasty and malicious at worst. But, there are many things that go on in the world that are plausible, and unless one knows a lot about a lot, then it’s easy to be caught out.

So, I’m not going to town on people who believed the USA was going to ease visa restrictions on Jamaica, when we have a new US administration that is dead set against most forms of immigration. I will not lampoon those who thought the story of Jamaica becoming a part of the USA like Puerto Rico was real. Some of these stories pander to what people hope would happen to ease lives that are perhaps set in a fragile way regard their legality.

Let’s not knock it! Elvis lives!

Just looking around what passes as ‘news’ in this island is baffling enough. I decided to just look at random at some of our daily papers, especially those known for more exotic stories. Look at what I found as the main story in one–the ‘star turn’, one might say.

The Star: Condoms being used to apply make-up – Jamaican beauticians reject new trend. Should I believe the report? Do I care? If I had a stock of condoms, would I be concerned that they may start disappearing as the lady in my life strives for more beauty? In the absence of a major loss of memory, would I start to panic if my supply, stored in a discreet place, started to dwindle? Would I wonder if I had wandered a bit too much? Let’s leave it there, with a look at the lovely image the Star put with the story.

Condemned to ugliness unless you use these to rub away the warts?

When the rubber hits the road…

 

What about last summer’s story that wasn’t, of Elaine Thompson being dated by Prince Harry? That was too silly, especially as the pictures used were always of the two ‘lovers’ side-by-side only in two separate pictures. You never noticed?

Princess Elaine of Banana Ground?

We were so besotted by the thought of our new sprint queen being in line to become Queen of England? Princess Elaine of Banana Ground. Let’s invite the Royal Family for a tea party…’Ganja tea, anyone?’ 🙂

 

Then, we had our own ‘fake food’ story just a few weeks ago, with rice ‘made out of plastic’, which seemed to be a rehash of a well-known hoax, but all of a sudden, Jamaicans were finding reason to believe the island was awash with bendy and stickier-than-normal rice. We banned imports. We tested batches of rice. But, nada. Not a grain of truth? But, maybe people just didn’t know how to cook rice! My suspicions were raised when I heard the lady from Manchester utter that well-known Jamaican word ‘spatula’. Yes, the rice stretched…the imagination…for sure 🙂

People are often unsure about news coming from other countries, that seem plausible. Imagine waking to read headlines like ‘Trump wins!’ After sucking back in the mouthful of cereal that morning, how many thought this was a true story? How many thought it was–surely–a hoax set up by the so-called ‘alt right’? Time to pinch yourself and open your eyes. Surprise! Now, anyone who watched the new US president’s first, impromptu, solo press conference this week–which lasted over an hour–will be rubbing their eyes and asking ‘Is this real?’ It quickly became the stuff of highlight reels. 

“It’s all fake news…The BBC…Quiet!…I’m not ranting and raving…This administration is running like a fine well-tuned machine…”

But, the Chinese, who are often the butt of fake news stories are only one silly story away from being blamed by Donald Trump for the flood of fake news that seems to be sweeping his new administration off its ‘well-oiled-machine-machine’ way.

Jamaica, of all places, though! This is the land where people are making new grief out of old gullibilities, by telling mainly older people in the USA that they have won money in lotteries. How more fake can you get? Well…Our Minister of National Security invoked the spirit of his uncle, whom he claims is an Obeah Man–call that a ‘Witch Doctor’ in standard English–in his fight (or is it ‘fright’) against crime. For real?

Maybe, like The Donald, we should just keep yelling “Your organisation’s terrible…Quiet!…Dont be rude!…You are fake news!”

Heaven help us the next April 1.

My word! A day is a long time in politics? Orwell, strap in.

I’m not a great student of politics, but I do love language. What the new US administration has done for language is something quite extraordinary and we must embrace that we are living in such times.

Not telling the truth is now a linguistic art form. In less than a month, we have had some gems.

KellyAnne Conway gave us ‘alternative facts‘, when the Counselor to President Trump,

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So, Steve, you and I are not actually walking side by side. That’s clear, right?

appeared in late January on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd and uttered the now famour (or imfamous) phrase “alternative facts” when pressed about the falsehoods uttered the previous day by White House press secretary Sean Spicer regarding the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration. Do we need to explore the oxymoronic properties of this phrase? I thought not. Anderson Cooper, clearly could not contain himself

 

But, such terms have spawned counters that embrace it. Last night, I overheard a CNN commentator, talking to Anderson Cooper, who gave us ‘fact-free statements’, referring to utterances from the White House.

Hours later, the administration lost its first Cabinet member, when National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned,

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Michael Flynn, and his guiding light

after telling Michael Pence some huge pork pies about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador, and lifting of sanctions on Russian, which for a while he’d been reportedly been unable to recall.

 

In his resignation letter, Flynn gave us “I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information”. screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-7-45-49-amThis stands tall, compared to ‘being economical with the truth’.

If you’ve never read ‘1984’, I suggest you do so before the week is out.

What are good friends for?

Jamaicans say that good friends are better than pocket-money. I believe it. But, do most Jamaicans have and want good friends, or are they driven in search of other kinds of relationships? To me, that’s an important question any time, but more so as we wrestle with some clear cases of searches for unfriendly relationships: abuse, crimes against persons, and actions that generally disregard the needs of others are on what my eyes land. So, I see the rapist, child abuser, gangster, loud party-keeper, speeding taxi and minibus drivers, insolent or obdurate employee (and that includes the guardians of citizens in the form of the police, mainly, but the security forces overall); and others too many to mention as in the same bag. They all need behaviour correction to give others the space to do well, and stop trying to stop others doing well. It’s too complicated to go into why they do what they do, but that does not mean that it’s ignored.

I may not answer that question directly, but I am going to do a little bit of introspection, and it’s really to test myself and see how I stack up.

A friend, whom I met about a year ago, asked me this morning ‘How goes the month?’ I started answering by saying that I had lost two dear uncles in the past week. Loss of life is something that brings burdens that may last for a long time and I am barely in the process of grieving for them, yet. But, I am staying on the positive side that comes with change and plans for change. We moved house, recently, and the process of creating order and a pleasant living environment is very gratifying. I am not a perfectionist, so I know I can function with things partly done, so long as they are done properly. My ‘office’ has its desk, computer, printer, and accessories all in order. The surrounding space is a mix of boxes and books that are awaiting placement. Bedrooms have beds. We have all our clothes. Our kitchen is well-stocked, so we can cook and eat with relative ease, subject to not yet agreeing where everything will go, and how to flow through some spaces. The garden is full of fruit trees and some have already given gifts, and I was happy to share those Otaheite apples with a friend who lives about a mile away. I got in return some grapefruit and a pot of soup. Friends and pocket-money.

I added that I had fixed some summer travel with my teenage daughter to spend 10 days with long-standing friends in Europe, pass some time with cousins, and catch some former friends in London at the same time; some other friends will come from France to find me in London for a weekend. That’s really nice. Friends and pocket-money.

I’m trying to organize a ‘Thinkathon’ for this weekend, so that some people I know can get to meet me and each other and chew over whatever we feel like for a couple of hours, in the peace of my home somewhere–garden, most likely. I hope we get to know each other a little better and that our sharing of ideas will lead to some changes, because we are also action-oriented people. Friends and pocket-money.

Outside of people, I know, I have much faith in what I know is still a major part of every day life in Jamaica: mutual respect and a willingness to do the right thing. Examples at random from the weekend:

  • My saga with Flow and getting my mobile number ported was completed by the process being done partially, as promised by Digicel, on Friday evening and then finally on Saturday morning. I am good to go. During that process, I had chance to see how Jamaican people are patient in the face of seeming provocation and do not resort to loudness or violence. Thank you, Digicel staff at Loshushan.
  • My daughter is a competitive swimmer. Hydration is important for her. She asked me to get her some coconuts so that she could get that hydration and enjoy the jelly. I passed a man on the road selling coconuts on my way to Digicel on Saturday morning. I asked him to prepare 6 coconuts and I would pick them up on my way home. I got the price and went on my way. Forty minutes later, I got back to the stall. The man was not there, but my coconuts were and ready. I paid, went home and my daughter got a good drink, not long after she had done her early morning practice. I chopped the coconut and she devoured the thick jelly.
  • Sunday was a day full of rain and greyness, and I had no plans to go anywhere, except to get gas in case I needed to go to the country. I headed to Heroes Circle in the early afternoon, after my family got back from church and their impromptu lunch. They brought me a meal and I grabbed a bite before heading out. The young man at the gas station began pumping, then started to clean my windows (not standard practice, in Jamaica). We joked about how Sundays were quiet, but also that Jamaicans don’t like rain. We exchanged pleasantries and I headed home, but had to note the men working on the new perimeter fence to the park. Men doing heavy labour on Sunday is a rare sight in Jamaica. 

So, we have good will. That is well displayed, literally, all around us in the carefreeness of many aspects of our daily life. Look at the images I captured this morning.

Typical roadside vendor

Not a care in the world

This is the Jamaica where you expect to just go about your business.

But, how do we account for those who want to disturb all that and impose mayhem and the carnage that also now a part of daily life? 

A friend took issue with the seeming lack of coverage of a murder in Cherry Gardens a few days ago. I pointed out that coverage was plentiful, if one looked in other places: local papers, Indian papers (the man who died was an Indian citizen), India’s High Commissioner and Jamaica’s PM and senior Cabinet ministers made remarks about the incident, including about the safety of Indian nationals, that I saw on social media, and India’s foreign minister had also commented. My friend then changed his tune to say that it wasn’t on the front pages (whatever that means in the world of electronic publishing and social media). I presume he wanted to see a prominent reference to ‘uptown’ in the pages of murders. There’s a bizarre sentiment, for you, in the mould of ‘uptown lives matter’. But, I also thought that the essence of the murder was not such as to make it a crime of locality: people in the jewellery trade, as Rakesh Talreja was, are often targets of crime, for clear reasons. He could have been robbed anywhere between his work place and his home, depending on opportunity. But, that’s not to excuse the crime in any way.

Finally, I look back at the measures the PM announced to tackle crime. People have focused on ‘preventative detention’ and efforts to get taxis to remove tinted glass. I wont say much on either of these points. But, the latter exposed how unfriendly we have become. Put simply, the taxi drivers oppose being ordered to remove the tinting, in part with good reason–the law allows some level of tinting. So, the taximen have to decide if they should lose all tinting for the sake of safety or press to keep some tinting for the sake of protecting something the law allows. To me, it’s a question of the greater good versus the good of a few. I think that most people would go for the greater good. TOday, the taximen will discuss the issue with government. But, my beef with them is that, rather than deal with their many transgressions themselves (overcrowding, loud music, inconsiderate road use, speeding, breaking road rules, etc) they seek to defend a ‘right’ when it seems it may be lost. In other words, they do not really care for the rest of us but are focused narrowly on their own satisfaction. Taximen are not friends of Jamaica, it seems.

Their self-interested actions offer an uncomfortable lesson. How far can we go if we are only going to move if dragged?

 

Jamaica wages its ‘battle’ of the ‘Boyne’

Ian Boyne is articulate. He is also, by his own admission, well-read. Those two things together tend to give opinions a certain power, whether or not that is merited. I say that simply because I am driven by the power of strong argument, not the power to make me think the argument is strong. The art of the con man is to make the story sound convincing. But, don’t get me wrong: I am not arguing that Ian is a con man. I just want to make sure that I think about the substance not the superficial.

A few days ago, Mr. Boyne put forward some ideas for dealing with crime in Jamaica, under the title ‘Is Holness tough enough?‘.

Now, the first part of the superficial is the positing that it’s a problem of one person (as the title suggests) rather than the problem of a government and all its part. In other words, we are asked to believe that it’s all about whether the leader has the right mettle, rather than whether the Cabinet is made of the right stuff. At it’s extreme, it could be that, in the face of a split Cabinet, the PM will have the casting vote. That would not be about his toughness, but about his deciding where the balance of power really sits more comfortably. But, let me not dwell on that.

But, let’s dig deeper into the commentary.

‘…our elite dominates traditional media discourse on the issue, and our politicians are in terror of them the way ordinary citizens are in terror of gunmen.’ I noted immediately that Mr. Boyne is himself part of ‘our elite’, so I was stumped when I tried to think of who he meant. I’m still stumped by the implicit idea of ‘except me’. I was also struck by the mention of ‘traditional media’, noting that Mr. Boyne, as far as one can tell from checking does not step into the arena of ‘non traditional’ media, by which I mean social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. I then have to wonder whether the balance of opinion in traditional media is what matters, as opposed to balance of opinion is a much wider setting. I got confused by this argument, though, when Mr. Boyne acknowledges ‘We have a prime minister who is social media savvy and who is directly in touch with multiple tens of thousands of people through those platforms. His thinking is not just influenced by what traditional media discourse is.’ I now have no idea why the first postulation is relevant. (That last point about being ‘in touch’ also begs questions about whether the nature of social media interaction is well-understood.) 

More important, is discourse in the media what really matters on weighty issues? It gives the media a superiority over opinions that makes me feel uneasy. But, think about it. That’s more powerful than, say, discourse in parliament? 

‘The politicians don’t have the guts and courage of leadership to take the tough decisions which they need to make to send a signal to criminals because talk-show hosts, articulate, well-spoken defense attorneys and other human rights fundamentalists will clobber them if they dare to act decisively and tough.’ Not having the guts because is odd. It suggests that the politicians have guts in other instances, but wilt in this area. I find that laughable. Jamaican politicians do not display guts in many areas, so the ‘fear’ of being bashed cannot be what is holding them back. I think if one looks across the realm of political decisions over decades one can find easily many instances where weak decisions are the preferred way of doing things for Jamaican politicians. You can take that from the decision to not deal with squatting and land capture, through the facilitation of stealing of water and electricity, through the building of garrison constituencies (to make it easier to win votes by the rule of fear, rather than the power of argument), through the general aversion to political and financial transparency, through the unwillingness to address clear economic problems UNTIL it is a necessity to get any more financial support from the international community (let’s call that being ‘beaten by the IMF to do it’) and much more. So, Jamaican politicians are better described as gutless. PERIOD.

‘our journalists, columnists and civil society activists have the gall to be making calls for the Government to ‘do something now’ and to ‘act decisively’ to deal with crime…Not one would have any effect on murder today or next week.’ This seems like a self-serving accusation, not least by scooping all things together and listing noting in particular. One of the problems with Jamaican politicial decision-making has been its willingness to put things off. So, we are forever pushing past the point when decisions should have been made to get maximum effect, and so it is actually harder to find a solution that can deal with almost any of our problems in an instant, because we have allowed them to become deeply ingrained. It does not only relate to crime, but to almost any aspect of our social and economic life. Look at the creaking infrastructure. Look at the simple matter of road signage, that was pointed to yesterday. Look at the systemic weaknesses in so many aspects of public service provision. Look at the feather-bedding in public employment. Look at our serial inability to hold anyone to account. We have wasted time (and money), so will always have to do more now to correct that weakness. 

Whether Mr. Boyne can find one journalist who can say what can be done to affect crime now is not the point; it has been said, by others, at least. I and others, including academics, for police officers, lawyers, the US State Department and more have written and spoken often about how the risk:reward relationship of crime in Jamaica is badly and wrongly skewed. Getting away with crimes is far too easy in almost all spheres.

One simple thing to do now is for the police to do a better job first of policing, including catching criminals, and for the justice system to do a better job of trying and convicting them. Without fighting over the meaning of ‘clear up’ rate, we know that a low percentage of alleged murderers get caught and under 10 percent of them get convicted. That is either because the wrong people are caught, the defence lawyers are better than the prosecution, the juries are more complicit, or judges are more lenient, or some combination of those factors. That can change with the very next trial (call that ‘today’) and go back to the process of police investigation to be able to mount strong cases in court, so help raise the success rate in the future.

Now, the meat of the matter. Mr. Boyne is happy:

I was happy to hear the prime minister announce that “we will be creating the legislative environment to support the establishment of the rule of law in communities where it is absent and to separate criminals from communities they have captured.” He went on to say: “We will be creating under this framework, zones where the security forces and other Government agencies will be able to conduct special long-term operations in high crime areas, including extensive searches for guns and contraband.” Excellent!

‘People in inner-city communities know that there are certain criminals who are well-known but whom nobody can testify against in a court of law. These guys can hire the best attorneys to defend them or to get them on bail where they can kill more people.’

‘But I am calling for locking down certain communities, locking away certain known crime perpetrators; going into homes without search warrants and stopping vehicles on the road. Curtail some of my civil liberties in the interest of all. You can’t have human rights if there is not a viable state. We cannot allow Jamaica to become a failed state and to let our prospects for economic growth evaporate before our eyes because our politicians and chattering classes are cowards.’

Yet, this happiness is based on a disturbing proposition. The crime monster that he perceives is an inner city monster. It supposedly lives and breathes nowhere else, or if it does, it is not thriving there. I stopped my breath immediately with a sudden recollection of testimony during the West Kingston Commission of Inquiry, about how the security forces went looking for Michael ‘Dudus’ Coke. The man resided in Red Hills (amongst other places), not known to be part of any ‘inner city’; and one of the signal failures of the operation in 2010 was to not find Dudus in the inner city places. So, if that were a precursor for what the likelihood of success is for such an idea, I’d say, please do not waste our time and money. 

Going into homes in selected areas sounds fine, so long as it’s not YOUR area, and as it’s the inner city that seems targeted then ‘our elite’ can sleep a little more soundly. But, maybe, it’s not so limited and the prospect of being stopped on ‘the road’ is wide and worrying. 

I have an aunt who lives in Montego Bay. She does not live in the inner city. But, she can tell me of the lotto scammers who live in the neighbourhood, who she can overhear from her balcony, and ply their trade from the well-appointed homes on the hills. 

Let me finish with a few other thoughts.

Mr. Boyne’s monster is not the monster of crime, but of particular crimes. I have written already about whether culling murders will change the crime landscape in Jamaica, if we are still plagued with tens of thousands of abused children. It is not the crime of the pastor raping an underage teenager. It is not the crime of the schoolboy being stabbed on the bus for his phone. It is not the crime of the corrupt, who remain faceless in their corrosive walk through the coffers of the country. It is not the crime of the person who stole phones from President Obama’s entourage at the hotel. It is not the crime of the judge who was more lenient in that case than over the man who stole mangoes. Those are not crimes that will be touched by curtailed civil liberties. It is not the crime of the corrupt police officer (and you can choose which of the recent cases you think fits the bill regarding what misdeeds go on under the cover of uniform or without it).

Bashing the media and those advocating civil liberties is easy. But, why not bash those charged with upholding the law? Who controls the police who will not pursue criminals? Who controls the judiciary that will not bring harsh sentences? Who admonishes judges who seem to imply that children under the age of consent can consent to sexual activity? Who controls the parents who ‘shop’ their children to make money to live another day? Who controls the teachers who cannot understand that they are protectors of children, not predators of them? Who controls the society that condones the petty crimes that lay the ground for the acceptance of many crimes? Who controls the politicians who knowingly and repeatedly transgress the laws of the land which they frame? Cherry picking is a great exercise, but it’s not real gardening. 

Why do the press think we should speak with one voice?

Economic activity, or what is called casually ‘growth’, is hard to measure, so when the question of whether growth is occurring, plenty of scope exists for differences of opinion. Without getting too technical, what we want to measure is either the total production, incomes, or spending within the economy. If everything was tied to some central calculator, it would be easy to know what is happening in real time. That would be really cool. But, we humans haven’t been that clever. Instead, we try to get an idea of what’s going on by taking surveys of firms, government, and households, to compile our data. Adding the pieces is simpler when we have common units, such as how much money is involved. That’s fine for incomes or spending. For production and services, we’re stuck trying to measure physical things that are not similar: tons of steel girders, bushels of potatoes, kilos of fresh fish, number of people given advice, patients treated in hospitals, etc. That gives an idea of the computational issues. When the bodies surveyed don’t reply or reply late, the compilers have to adjust for the gaps. So, the best of intent is often subject to the failings of people involved.

The difficulty of measuring correctly and consistently is also there across all areas of the economy, but tends to be of a different order with say prices, external trade, monetary developments, or government financial operations.

Earlier this week, the Governor of the Bank of Jamaica spoke about how the economy had shown “unprecedented resilience” to inflationary shocks, and touched on how the economy had been growing and would grow in coming months. Not surprising to me, at least, someone took issue with that. The fact that it was the chairman of the newly formed Economic Advisory Council of the Jamaica Labour Party–the official opposition party–made this difference of view more interesting. That no academic economists sought to debate the matter says volumes. The official government spokesmen on economic policy are more likely to put data and developments in a positive light, so we need someone to either put a different view on the data and developments or to corroborate the official view. That the academics appear to do neither makes me wonder what role they think they should play, other than training another generation of thinkers and doers.

Countries like Jamaica are full of partisans and many views can only be understood through the optics of partisanship. But, we need to hear those diverse voices and we can try to filter the biases.

The official opposition and its support agencies cannot spend their time effectively being a cheerleader for government. Instead, they oppose, at the least by questioning what government says and does. That said, it’s peculiar that one newspaper would think that it should tell an opposition agent to be careful in disagreeing with the spin the government has given to economic news. The media themselves should be seeking to assess what the government is saying, questioning the speed with which opposing voices are raised. This is a democracy, after all. 

Jamaica is in a low growth environment for decades, and has been for decades, according to official data. Saying that it’s grown by about one percent in recent quarters, is as good as saying nothing has changed, if we look at the statistical noise surrounding that small rate of change. So, disputing the contention is no really big thing–unless one only wants to hear that things are better, which is as bad as only hearing that things are worse.

If we just go with our eyes and ears, we can come up with a story that fits the notion that Jamaica has been growing recently (e.g., construction activity), or remaining stagnant (e.g., little change in unemployment), or going into decline (e.g., drought has meant negative disruptions across a range of economic activities, and people who are having a harder financial time now than a year ago, not least because wages have been held unchanged or considerably lower than many prices, especially the cost of utilities).

There is rarely a single truth where economic data are concerned. Asking that we all hold onto the single message put out by the government does us all a disservice.

Open the vent: air quality in Jamaica

I’ve not mastered the art of the ultimate pull when it comes to titles, but I think I have a knack of finding catchy lines.

Jamaica can be an exasperating country, and this week (and maybe a bit longer), my exasper has been much rated. I’ve gotten a little tired of what passes for opinion in many quarters. I could put that down to old age, and that as a budding codger I have reached the end of my tether. So, I just find that my brain latches onto incomplete ideas or bias masquerading as something else.

I listened to RJR News the other evening, as I was driving back to Kingston along the St. Mary road via Junction. My father had taken ill again, and I needed to get home fast. He hails from St. Mary, near Richmond/Highgate, and it seemed right to take that road and think of him as I enjoyed the drive. He’s had a good week and all of my thoughts were with him.

Anyway, I heard the news reporter talking about this or that topic being ‘ventilated’. It seemed an amusing term, and certainly one she liked. I can’t recall ever using it myself regarding opinions or events (if that is not a pun). As the week wore on, it seemed a very good word. Jamaicans really do vent and also need to be vented. We are full of lots of cobwebs in the upper floors of our bodies. Well, I did my venting, and I feel really cleansed. Was I vented enough? I’m not sure.

It may seem pompous, but I like to think that I can learn from anyone and anything. If I feel threatened by someone, I will fight or flee. The armed guard at the patty shop yesterday did not frighten me: I was not about to commit any crime. So, I held the door open for him and said a few words. “Always be vigilant.” My daughter held my hand and shook: “Guns! Scary!” I am glad she had that reaction. I assured her that usually the guns are not aimed or fired at people like us. ‘Bullets’, in other forms, may come our way. She seemed assured and we headed to her piano class.

I have no problem embracing a person or their ideas. I do not own the world’s opinion. Everyone has something to teach me. Sometimes, I learn well; at other times, I am slow on the uptake. I also have no problem rejecting ideas, but still embracing a person. Some of my closest friends are people whose ideas often get my goat. We know our differences and spar over them constantly. I’m trying to get my daughter to understand how some adults can be this way and not actually fight.

But, I’m leery of false friends. Those pool who always “must have me round for dinner”, and years later are still growing the fresh vegetables to go with the meal. Society has many of these, and they are ready to come eat from our table and not give back as they should. Offensive as some may think it, some religious groups are this way. They latch on to some wrongs and seem out to lunch on others. Tired of it! I am not a Bible belter, but their cherry-picking is galling.

One problem I’m wrestling with is which ‘platforms’ support opinions better. A great thing about social media is that traditional media cannot control its voices. A newspaper may have a stated circulation but it may really be limited relative to a blog, online newsletter, Facebook page. Persons using such media don’t have to await the Editor’s approval. That can be powerful. I know people are realizing that more and will watch how use of such spaces develop in coming months.

But, time to rest my brain, at least for a few hours. North coast-bound again, and on Knutsford Express. Mary J Bligh is playing. Lay back. Relax. “Saturday….”