We never saw the ‘Ochi’ in Sochi

Social media trumps other current forms of media because of its ability to present information immediately. The structure of established media houses does not allow them to be everywhere, all of the time. Social media can be, or more correctly, people who use social media can be. So, we need not send out reporters because potential reporters are everywhere. Now, we accept that not everyone can present a concise and accurate report, free from bias, but some of what makes social media unique is that all views can be presented. We may need to use our own or develop filters to really appreciate what’s going on. With the addition of sound and pictures and video images, social media is the 24/7/365 news ‘channel’. That’s by way of context. My focus today, though, is how we in Jamaica seem to be crawling along this real ‘information superhighway’.

Some blogging associates and I were lamenting over the past few days the lack of apparent interest shown by Jamaican media for the Jamaican bobsled team in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. As they have done in the past, the Jamaican team energized the crowds and citizens of the winter games. We know the reasons: it’s a feel-good story. Guys from a tropical isle come to take on Titans of winter sports and MAY win. How great would that be? All the imagery of tropical life may be behind the interest. Coolness, relaxed, happiness. Social and economic interest may be there: rags to riches, postcolonial issues, economic stress, etc. Whatever you want, our bobsledders could have provided it, yet we heard nary a peep from the local press or television, except a lot of copy borrowed from foreign reporters.

Maybe I’m naive, but we had the means to get the stories ourselves.

If our media houses wanted to, they could have sent representatives-maybe they did, but judging by the different coverage this winter and in past summer games, I’d say they were ‘missing in action’.

Jamaica has an Embassy in Moscow; they could have been asked to offer some insights, from the great vantage point of already being in Russia and getting to understand the people and culture. Maybe, they were asked and declined; it may not be within their remit. But, I think that we could find creative solutions.

We could have gotten the sledders themselves to give us a ‘journal’.

Bobsledders going back to their roots
Bobsledders going back to their roots

They were already doing that for themselves on Twitter, and it would have been nice to just say have 500 words each day and some pictures of ‘Cool Runnings II in Sochi’ or ‘From Ochi to Sochi–view from the inside’, or whatever. People clamoured to be seen with the Jamaican bobsled team. You could have had an “I hugged a Russian today’ or ‘Look who I met in the Olympic village’ series of photos. You get the idea. We could also have just fed questions, or even better gotten the Jamaican public to feed questions and requested the sledders to respond. The papers have done this recently on ‘hot button issues’ such as crime, and getting views from Police COmmissioner Ellington. We would not need to filter, except for the nasty or overly personal questions. “What do you eat in Sochi? Can you get ackee and saltfish?” “Do other athletes find you hard to understand?” “Are you doing some undercover promotions for vacations in Jamaica?” Endless. Something like this would have been wonderful as a means of getting us to feel we were with the athletes, especially in an environment unknown to many Jamaicans or Caribbean people. We could have done more to understand the origins of the ‘boblsled anthem‘. Plenty to work with.

I’ve travelled a lot to Russia, and in the winter, and it’s full of things to which we can relate and much that we cannot. Vodka for breakfast, to ward off the icy cold? What’s it like walking on bumpy icy sidewalks every day? How do you cope with the Cyrillic alphabet. but, whoever was in charge of covering the games did not seem to have a clue about using what we were being handed. Instead, we got to see how the rest of the world revelled and marvelled at what the ‘Bob(Marley)sledders” were doing. We got a video clip of one sledding ‘dancing’ with American sprinter-turned-sledder Lolo Jones. We related to that. Wuking up and wining. Yeah!

Our media could have taken and shared better lessons in fundraising. I hear representatives of sports in Jamaica–even those which we think are well supported, like football–crying out “We need more private sector support”. The sledders showed how it could be done. Maybe, their story was more compelling that the team in ‘Dustytown’ somewhere in Jamaica. Bu, you have to present your case. I wont go down the road of ‘dependency culture’ here. Again, with social media, getting the information and message together is much simpler. Even, if we wanted to, we could ahve had contact with those who run crowdfunding sites, looked at other examples, tried to contact those who helped with funding…anything.

Instead, my impression–and I apologise unreservedly if The Gleaner and The Observer or TVJ or SPortsmax were trying to do any of this and it just passed me by. I will go down on my knees at a public place of their bidding and prostrate myself. Put me in stocks and let passers-by belt me with bananas, if I am wrong. (By the way, if the stocks idea comes into play, I would suggest that Jamaica Producers get involved and we charge people to throw bananas, with the proceeds going to the bobsledders for their next campaign.)

So, here is where I plant my flag. We are in serious need of getting out of our comfort zone and dragging ourselves to where many in the world are racing. We have great sprinters in our midst–did you watch this weekend’s Gibson Relays–but we are also snails-paced in seeing ideas and making them real for ourselves. Money is not why we are struggling in many areas; it’s an inability to act quickly and see how that furthers our interests.

I look again at the potential that we have and what we do not value. I think of projects that have been run where children were given cheap cameras and asked to take and share their views of the world. One such venture involved autistic children. Another, similar idea was a photographic ‘conversation’ a father had with his autistic child.Screenshot 2014-02-24 05.42.12 I cite those because they helped us see a world that is visible that we don’t see. So, too, with Sochi. The Games were not just the races and events we saw on television. We really lost the chance for our Jamaican view of that to come to us live and direct and in real-time. An opportunity lost, but one that should be grasped firmly whenever we can.

Perpetual underdogs?

One thing that is unlikely to escape a Jamaican travelling to Trinidad is the relative economic situations of the two countries. It’s not that Trinidad looks like a runaway economic success and that Jamaica looks like it’s ready to check out of Planet Earth. But, the infrastructure and general physical appearance of the countries reflect their different fortunes. Both economies have been the children of mineral wealth–bauxite for Jamaica, oil for Trinidad. Bauxite had its heyday and says “Hey, there!” with a muted voice. Oil and its byproducts have had the pole position in terms of desirable commodities for most of the past 50 years. Other things have worked for and against each country, but the net result is that Trinidad has ended up in a better place than Jamaica. We have had much need to keep putting out the begging bowl to keep from drowning (sorry about the mixed metaphors). Trinidad has been able ot live high on the hog (sorry for any offence to some of its Muslim population). So, we’ve been heading in near opposite directions.

Let’s cut right to the chase. Jamaica is nearly insolvent, with its debt to national income (GDP) ratio hovering near 150 percent. We hand over a huge amount of our national income just to pay interest on debt–that’s about 10 percent of GDP, or about 1/3 of government revenues.

By contrast, Trinidad’s debt to GDP ratio is just over 45 percent; its interest payments are only about 2 percent national income, and about 8 percent of government revenues.

So, whenever Jamaicans think it would be good for government to fund something (in part or wholly), we have to remember that the debtors have to be satisfied first. Then, we can argue about the left overs. So, with about 70 cents of each dollar only to work with, we have to make sure that our priorities can be met by that lesser amount. We cannot think that we should borrow more to make the money up. But, we also have to note that we need to reduce the debt burden by about 50 percent of GDP in only a few years. Did I hear you say “Squeeze!” Where are those old trousers that I used to wear when I was not so fat? So, we are either going to try to raise more revenue or spend even less.

Alright, we want to develop and help the next generations have some prospect of a future. As part of the current IMF arrangement, the Jamaican government is committed to minimum levels of spending on social programs (education, health, etc.). Well, that leaves much less for any discretionary spending. In an ideal world, the government would have some clearly set development objectives and want to stay on track with those. Anything else, has to be considered (and probably wont get a look in now because the whole process of agreeing the current priorities wore out even the most patient of persons). Jamaica has Vision 2030, and having settled on that we should hold the government’s feet to the fire to stick to that. Otherwise, they’ll be open to comments that they are unfocused and wishy-washy.

The problem with that is people like to see things they like supported. Look at the national bobsledders working their hardest to be respectable in Sochi, Russia, during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Where are government in helping them? Not sitting at the beach bar drinking another pina colada. More likely, government had no image that the sledders were going anywhere. The sledders themselves were not really on a clear track to qualify. Nice that they did it, but not nice in that we never had them in our sights. Instead, we had in our sights Champs–madness in March–and the Reggae Boyz trying to raise the flag in Brazil–Poof!

I really feel saddened that the sledders had to struggle so much for funding.bobsledders But, could they have helped themselves a bit more, too? Maybe. When their backs were up against the wall–they’d shocked themselves and qualified–they found some imaginative friends and went to the modern piggy bank of crowdfunding. It got them over the hump in quick time. But, imagine what might have been the situation if there had been the equivalent of a ‘business plan’ or promotional venture called ‘From Ochi to Sochi–helping Jamaica’s sledders reach for gold’, begun in say 2010. Those four years could have been a very interesting period of fund-raising, consciousness-raising, talent spotting, and more to help the ‘cool runners’ run this time and maybe sow seeds to keep running after Sochi.

The world loves underdogs. We love being underdogs. We love being loved. However, if you keep putting yourself in the position of underdog, you will lose more than you win. All that worldly love doesn’t feed or develop us, even though it looks good on TV to see foreigners in false Rasta wigs and yelling “Irie, mon!” and wanting to take pictures with our struggling athletes. Our successes don’t and wont come from putting ourselves into the position of perpetual underdog. If not, we will end up where underdogs do most often–at or near the bottom–no matter how much ‘love’ is showered on us.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (February 16, 2014)

Good

Lizzie Yarnold (Great Britain), won gold in the women’s skeleton in the Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia. I would love to see this event up close and am glad that someone feels able to hurtle headlong down an icy run in search of glory. I’ve seen a luge/skeleton run from the top and have no intention, now in life, to have that ‘thrill’ 🙂

Lizzie Yarnold, heading, literally, for gold.
Lizzie Yarnold, heading, literally, for gold.

Bad

Word has it that the Tivoli Gardens Police Post, in west Kingston, formerly the seat of power for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, may be haunted by evil spirits. Think about that for a few moments.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller told a contentious sitting of the House of Representatives that her administration spent a total of ~J$118 million on travels for Cabinet members between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2013. The PM said all the trips, with the exception of those associated with funerals she attended, had engendered economic or other benefits to the country, but would not elaborate. Her staff and junior ministers incurred additional costs of about J$40 million. The PM does not acknowledge publicly that she sees a need for transparency and accountability in matters such as these and that it’s really good governance to both account for the costs and inform Parliament and the population of the expected outcome and benefits of such use of public funds. Tell me again, who pays for the running of the Administration?

The viral game, ‘Flappy birds’ had its wings clipped.Flappy-Bird-Game-Wallpapers The mobile phone and tablet game was taken off apps. I have never heard of this game, but my 10 year-old tells me it’s great fun. Already downloaded versions of the game still work.

Ugly

Despite a sharp drop in deaths from road accidents so far this year, compared to the same period in 2013, Canadian visitor died after his vehicle plunges into the river in St Catherine, by Natural Bridge.

Natural bridge accident: car being hauled from river
Natural bridge accident: car being hauled from river

The good, the bad, and the ugly (February 8, 2014)

Good

The Winter Olympics began in Sochi, Russia. I love most of the winter sports, especially downhill racing, and get an enormous thrill watching that, ski-jumping, snowboarding, ice hockey, bobsledding (where Jamaica now has interest in the two-man…Cool Runnings II coming?),  and luge. I really admire the skills in curling. Another series of nights watching sports in the wee hours beckons.

Bad

I understand the urge to curb people from producing more children in conditions where they appear unable to support them, but reproductive rights should be protected. So, Sen. Ruel Reid’s suggestion of mandatory limits on reproduction do’t sit well. Reactions to this in coming days/weeks will be interesting.

Ugly

Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1…not the treatment that title leaders in the English Premier League like to endure. Worse, perhaps, for having to see Daniel Sturridge perform that very weird dance to celebrate a goal.