While i write my next one here’s a cogent post from former colleague John Rapley whose forthcoming book is called The Money Cult. It explains the predicament of the West lucidly and engagingly.
“Now, after the Second World War, European countries supposedly saw the light and gave their colonies independence. Yet the state system into which these new countries were born had already been created, with the United Nations regulating relations and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade governing trade. These bodies tended to operate to the advantage of the Western countries. Meanwhile, the initial lack of administrative capacity of most former colonies meant they turned inwards and tended to be rather passive at international negotiations. The end result was that the global economic structure remained more or less imperial, but with the cost of administration in the ‘provinces’ being out-sourced to a new set of what were, in effect, client-states. It was a big win for the West. The world economy continued operating to its advantage, but without the cost of colonial management. Not surprisingly, between 1950 and the turn of the millennium, that income-gap grew from 30:1 to 60:1. How could we honestly persuade ourselves we could maintain such an imbalance without some kind of response from the five-sixths of humanity marginalised by our model?”
The flood of illegal refugees into Europe might be our version of Attila’s march on Rome. But we are the barbarians.
What do you do with a man who slips across borders, puts his life at risk by jumping trains and trucks and crosses a continent to enter your country illegally? Give him a job, of course! Where else will you find that kind of ambition?
UK Prime Minister David Cameron sees things differently. He wants to build better fences, line them with sniffer dogs and toughen security. As he puts it “you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live”. Of course he would say that, but I understand his dilemma. Still, I think the best his approach will do is stick another finger in a crumbling dike.
Today I’m reblogging a compelling analysis of the Greek situation by University of Essex Professor Sheri Markose who provides irrefutable evidence that it was the medicine administered by the Troika of creditors (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) that did the Greek economy in, long before the Tsipras government was on the horizon. Her conclusion?
Clearly, honest brokers and good economics in dealing with the Greek and eurozone crisis have been in short supply. The objective of the Troika should be to kickstart growth in Greece and make that the vehicle for debt repayments rather than aim to implement austerity and regime change which have sunk two previous governments and sent the Greek economy into a tailspin.
Read Sheri Markose’s full post below:
After five years of punishing recession which wiped out a quarter of GDP and led to an alarming 60% rate of youth unemployment and 20% wage deflation, on July 5 the Greek people overwhelmingly voted against bailout conditions that only seemed likely to push them further into a downward spiral.
Then on Monday, a deal was presented which set draconian conditions for a third bailout worth €86 billion, and for liquidity support for Greek banks from the ECB which might avoid Grexit, but which exceeds the ferocity of the kind of post-war reparations meted out to a defeated enemy.
The loss of fiscal and legislative sovereignty signals an intervention that goes beyond the presence of an inspectorate of the creditors in Greece. There was no talk of growth plan and no firm commitment to debt rescheduling which will be considered only “if it is deemed necessary”. It was the culmination of a process which has studiously avoided some clear and crushing truths.
Since its election in January, the main message of the Syriza government to the Troika of creditors (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), has been that Greece is close to bankruptcy and is unable to meet its debt repayments. On June 30, Greece defaulted on a $1.6 billion loan repayment to the IMF. This came amid capital controls, bank holidays and a €60 limit on ATM withdrawals.
A Debt Sustainability Analysis, released by the IMF on July 5 and updated since gave the very same message as Syriza – that Greek debt was unsustainable. The IMF pointed to the need for “debt relief on a scale that would need to go well beyond what has been under consideration to date”. Until then the premise of the Greek creditors had been – and it continues to be the view of many in the Eurogroup – that Greek debt is sustainable if only the Greeks were less feckless and continued to tighten their belt. Faced with these kinds of racial slurs, it is important that some key facts are made clear.
How did Greeks borrow so much?
It is ordinarily not the business of private banks to hold large quantities of government bonds. But, in a chilling account, Viral Acharya and Sascha Steffen show how, despite differences in country risk ratings, the so called Basel II regulatory framework permitted banks to hold government debt with zero capital.
This zero-risk weight on government bonds combined with cheap short-term credit encouraged a roaring “carry trade”. What that essentially means is that banks would borrow money cheaply from central banks, use it to buy high-yielding debt from countries on the eurozone periphery and pocket the difference. Greek bonds gave the highest returns in the eurozone. It’s like you or I taking out a loan at a 1% interest rate to lend money to a struggling neighbour at 10%.
The problems only start, of course, when your neighbour can’t pay you back. The moral hazard grew with the private risk-taking behaviour by banks. Costs of failure were ignored and the banks ramped up their exposure to the periphery countries even as yield spreads – a measure of how risky the debt is – widened between March and December 2010.
Of course, this was not the only bit of debt mismanagement over the past decade. Housing bubbles were blown up too in Spain and Ireland as banking supervision failed to control a tempting era of cheap money for banks. We have seen plenty of examples of how bad regulations can fail to raise alarm bells even when the sums and the risks are equally vast. There was a flow of more than €1 trillion from banks in Germany and France to the periphery.
Further, given the lack of a single fiscal authority, there is a clear stabilisation problem for these hot capital flows between eurozone countries. In the absence of a flexible exchange rate it needs an institutional solution that reflects forethought and economic inventiveness at institutions such as the ECB, IMF or the EU. Otherwise adjustments will take the form of extreme GDP and wage deflation.
Bailouts swapped bank profligacy for the Troika
Greece had €350 billion of debt in 2010. Five years later that figure has hardly budged after a period in which the Troika effectively bailed out the mostly French and German banks which were owed money by Greece. This extraordinary step in 2012 may have avoided a so-called disorderly default – and it did at least see private investors accept the loss of half the money they were owed – but it eventually forced Greece into a worse position.
It was negotiating now with the IMF and eurozone partners who had stumped up taxpayer money to keep Greece solvent and were loath to let the country off the hook – for political reasons as much as economic.
the stealth rescue of the non-Greek banks was completed with little public attention and the narrative that all the problems were self-inflicted by the Greeks became more pronounced.
But surely the buyout of private sector Greek debt was not simply to prevent a disorderly default by Greece? It could have been constructive. Troika ownership of Greek debt could have come with the kind of long-term 30 to 70-year maturity typical of UK and German war bonds held by the US in order to give them a chance to recover and grow. According to the Financial Times the average maturity on Greek debt at the beginning of 2015 was 16.5 years.
As noted by Jeromin Zettelmeyer, the debt buyback failed to significantly shift the payment profile into the future. There was bunching of payments at the short end of the maturity profile and a Sword of Damocles left hanging over the Greeks: Any slippage or a default, on payments to the ECB in particular, would invite the threat of Grexit.
It all smacks of an inability to face reality. The IMF had to maintain a fiction of the solvency of the Greek government in order to make a loan to Greece in 2010, but by 2012 it was clear even to board members including India and Brazil that, in order for Greece to pay the official creditors back, the debt rescheduling must make allowances for the macroeconomic conditions. Fast forward to this month and it is arguable that the explicit IMF acceptance of the need for debt relief was the crucial concession which at last won Greece some allies in France and Italy in the eurogroup.
Syriza has made a useful target, but for those who need evidence of the Troika medicine killing the patient, even before Alexis Tsipras’ government came to power, then the following data from the World Bank can put things into perspective. Greek banks, despite their recapitalisation in 2012, experienced an accelerated growth of non-performing loans of 30% and more in 2013. This is the best indicator of a failing economy.
Greece Ratio of Nonperforming Loans to Total Loans (%) World Bank
Clearly, honest brokers and good economics in dealing with the Greek and eurozone crisis have been in short supply. The objective of the Troika should be to kickstart growth in Greece and make that the vehicle for debt repayments rather than aim to implement austerity and regime change which have sunk two previous governments and sent the Greek economy into a tailspin.
In which Kei Miller eloquently details the problem with long-distance activism and boycotts organized by outsiders who refuse to engage with activists on the ground, or even inform themselves adequately before taking drastic action:
“It is very obvious that several well-meaning white North Americans would like (ever so earnestly) to bear witness to the suffering that LGBT people experience in the Caribbean. They would like to amplify these hurts – to give an international sound to these poor, hapless trees and saplings falling about in the Caribbean with ‘no one’ at all to hear them. And this kind of advocacy is deeply problematic.
“But let us use an actual example to talk this through. Between 2008 and 2009 a campaign called Boycott Jamaica was started in San Francisco by a man called Michael Petrelis. The launch of the campaign saw people gathered in Stonewall New York to throw bottles of Redstripe Beer and rum down into the sewers. The symbolism could not be lost anyone – Jamaica was such a repulsive place that anything coming out of it rightfully belonged in the sewers. The campaign created the unfortunate image of mostly white Americans who had possibly never been to Jamaica pretending to know and understand what was happening there.”
You know of course the philosophical question I am punning on – the tree that falls in the forest. If no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Apparently if we take the question outside of the discipline of philosophy and place it, instead, within the discipline of Physics, then the answer is possibly No — It does not make a sound. The scientific community is now split on this, but one argument as proffered by the journal Scientific American, goes: sound is what happens when various stimuli and vibrations reach to the ear. The ear translates these things into sound. But if there is no ear to receive such stimuli and vibration, then the sound, technically, isn’t made. The same might be said of an image: if someone wears a bright red shirt, and no one opens their eyes…
Peepal Tree Press Ltd
Published: 06 April 2015
And now for something completely different. This is a guest post by Anu Lakhan, a poet and writer from Trinidad and Tobago. She’s reviewing a volume of poetry by her friend of many years standing, fellow Trinidadian Nicholas Laughlin. Nicholas Laughlin is the editor of the Caribbean Review of Books and the culture and travel magazine Caribbean Beat. He is the program director of the Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival, and a co-director of Alice Yard, a nonprofit contemporary art space in Port of Spain.
That was the bare bones bio, it describes some of the things Nicholas does without conveying a sense of the man. To remedy this I borrow a Facebook status update by Jamaican poet Kei Miller which deftly places Laughlin as the multi-tasking, multi-faceted literary dynamo he actually is:
In this life that I live there are often two groups: people who mostly write literature and others who mostly make space for literature – editors, agents, festival organizers. But sometimes there is a crossing – someone who has mostly made space becomes someone who mostly writes. And it can be embarassing that crossover – when the writing is servicable but not amazing. Still, occasionally there is a person who makes the transition brilliantly. Toni Morrison comes to mind. She lived an entire life as an editor, working on other people’s writing – and only began to write when she retired from that. In the Caribbean, we now have Nicholas Laughlin. I’ve spent yesterday and today reading his first collection of poems – ‘The Strange Years of My Life.’ It is astoundingly good. I can only hope that we make a space for this book as large and as generous as the space Nicholas has made for all of us.
A review with as many stops as starts
by Anu Lakhan
If you find yourself short on wrens, fur, twigs, teeth, bones and maps, fret not: I know where they are. Nicholas Laughlin has appropriated them and found precise and usually very complex homes for them. If a thing be friable, fragile, concealed or rather like a brand new razor blade hidden just where it can do the most damage to something like a heart or a secret, they are in this first collection from the poet.
That is not at all what I mean. That all sounds very much like no matter how hard you try to break into the text everything will be hidden from you. And that’s not true. In their way, these poems are no more complicated than the average person (or poem); no more inscrutable than he (or another poem). Each poem has a personality and so it is easier to think of them as people than as something as still and set as a piece of writing. Everything vibrates.
Nicholas Laughlin’s first solo flight with The Strange Years of My Life is a nice bit of work in all the real meanings of the word “nice” except the one with which commonplace conversation has abused us. It is fine, sensitive, fastidious, and if you have something in the way of a good dictionary you can work out the rest. I can think of no poet writing now (a Laughlin poem would want a better sense of the “now” of which I speak) or here (as in the world of poetry available to me; that is to say, that written in English) who has more respect for the form. And if you respect the form, you respect the subject and in doing so, as often as not, you end up respecting the reader. Some pieces are spare and surgical. Some initiate conversations that would be better finished off-page and in the company of friends and a lot of wine.
Stop 2: It is difficult not to enter the spaces filled with French cinema and Borges and mirrors but once you get there it’s a question of what to do. You can simply love them. But you will have to work for it.
Stop 2.1: Did Wilson Harris or Eliot or Zeus ever set so many traps? What is it with gods and writers and all these traps?
Start 3: #alreadynooneremembersyouathome. The first poem is called “Everything Went Wrong”.
Don’t trust the maps; they are fictions.
Don’t trust the guides; they drink.
In this country there’s no such thing as “true north.”
Don’t trust natives. Don’t trust fellow travellers.
Better no one knows you sleep alone.
Already no one remembers you at home.
The last line seems destined to be the most quoted of all the lines in all the pieces. That is a shame. It’s a worthy line but if you allow yourself the false security of such neat endings you will miss equally—or exceeding—flecks of the gorgeous, the alchemical, the blood rush beauty.
Stop 3: “It took longer to read about those months than to live them.” Above all else, this is the thing that must be believed. The more-than-a-decade’s worth of work that is here must certainly have been lived faster than the business of parsing and aggregating their details.
This is a story about a traveller. This is about escape and frailty. Mostly, this is a story about undying hunger and the kind of thirst that makes you drink seawater or sand or poison because the need is beyond reason.
Start 4: Remember, these are poems and therefore allowed to tell such stories without being relegated to the worlds of insanity or juvenilia. Be careful with them—the poems are in ongoing dialogue with each other—you may be tempted to feel left out. Don’t. You’re not. The secrets are ready to be let out.
If you can’t manage the English language as a lawyer in an English speaking country, you better stay out of court.
There is still much debate about whether the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry is worth the billions being spent on it or not. Constituted to publicly examine what happened during a security intervention by the state in Tivoli Gardens in May 2010 that left 70 plus citizens dead, the Commission gobbles millions of taxpayer dollars in legal hours on a daily basis. Many think this is an extravagant charade and time-waste; it’s true that it seems hard to justify such expenditure at a time when IMF-related belt-tightening has become the demand du jour if not du jure.
While there is some basis for such views I think a Commission of Enquiry becomes a necessary national exercise in the absence of any state agency stepping forward of its own volition to account for such lavish ‘collateral damage’ as the death of 73 civilians in the process of an ‘internal security operation’. It’s also valuable from the point of view of being one of those rare instances where high and mighty public officials, from Prime Ministers to army generals, normally closeted from public scrutiny in Jamaican society, are obliged to sit down like ordinary citizens and answer questions about their roles leading up to and in the Tivoli carnage. The proceedings are carried live on public television and then replayed in the evenings for those who missed it during work hours. Occasionally there is an in-camera session which is not open to the public.
An unintentional but even more valuable corollary or spinoff of this daily spectacle is that the Commission has made visible the hidden codes that operate beneath the surface of official activities and affairs of governance in Jamaica, a highly stratified society, in which a narrow and rigid politics of language is deployed to nurture and maintain privilege in ways that most democratic countries have moved beyond in the 21st century. I suggest that the behaviour and language used by the ‘learned counsel’ representing Jamaica’s armed forces and police at the Commission can and must be read for clues into the deadly series of events that unfolded at Tivoli Gardens on May 24, 2010.
On that day a joint operation between the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (army) was mounted to enter the community of Tivoli Gardens, in Western Kingston, in search of ‘Dudus’ or Christopher Coke, nicknamed Prezi or President. Coke, the most influential don or unelected leader figure in Jamaica at the time, was wanted by the US government for heading the Shower Posse, a gang accused of engaging in drug-running and arms-smuggling in cities along the east Coast of the USA among other things.
In Jamaica however despite a few minor skirmishes with the law Coke had remained a free man, not least because of influential ties to the ruling party at the time, the Jamaica Labour Party or JLP as it is popularly known. However the People’s National Party, the PNP, in power for much of the time since Independence in 1962, didn’t seem to have a problem with Coke either and had never challenged his power or influence enough to keep him behind bars. This imbrication of Jamaican party politics with internationally-connected criminal interests revealed a state whose legitimacy was severely compromised and vulnerable. Not surprisingly the Jamaican government turned down the US’s request for the extradition of Dudus, claiming that the method of evidence collection used by the US, wiretapping, was illegal under Jamaican law.
After grandstanding for a good 9 months after the initial request for extradition to the US was received in August 2009, the Golding government buckled to US and local pressure and reluctantly signed the extradition request in May 2010. In retrospect, with that signature, the Attorney-General at the time effectively signed a death warrant for at least 73 civilians in Tivoli Gardens, the community led by Dudus, where he took refuge as soon as he got word that the extradition request had finally been signed.
Much has been made of the fact that then Police Commissioner Admiral Hardley Lewin, had advised the media that within minutes of his meeting with Prime Minister Golding, where he and then head of the JDF Maj-Gen Saunders were informed about the signing of the extradition request, Christopher Coke–Dudus–had fled his uptown St. Andrew home for the barricaded confines of Tivoli Gardens, his powerbase in downtown Kingston. This of course suggests close, virtually immediate cooperation and communication between the highest levels of government in Jamaica and the topmost informal powerbroker in the country, someone Interpol and the US were calling a criminal mastermind.
Tivoli Gardens, once referred to as the mother of all garrisons, locked down and barricaded itself to protect Dudus. Gunmen from all over the island were reputed to have made a beeline for West Kingston and were reportedly offering their services to an informal army formed to repel any attempt to extract the don from his fortress. The official security forces in Jamaica saw this as an open affront to their authority. They had long been plotting and planning the dismantling of the barricades and the restoration of ‘law and order’ there. On May 24, 2010, therefore, a day considered suitable because it was Labour Day and a public holiday when the bustling streets of downtown Kingston would be much less busy, the JCF with support from the JDF marched on Tivoli Gardens and unleashed a blitzkrieg of no mean proportions on that community.
At the end of the virtual Armagiddeon 73 civilians lay dead but neither Dudus nor any of the hundreds of gunmen who mobilized to protect him were apprehended. They had all mysteriously escaped or otherwise vanished. The JCF called the Tivoli incursion Operation Key West and the JDF called it Operation Garden Parish. They clearly had fun with these names. Despite their inability to capture Dudus and the extremely high cost in citizens’ lives that resulted, under questioning from Mr Williams, counsel for the Tivoli Committee, a representation of Tivoli Garden inhabitants, army chief Maj-Gen Saunders dubbed the operation a success. “The operation was successful, but the patient died,” muttered Commission Chairman David Simmons under his breath, pinpointing the absurdity of the Army’s claim.
It also emerged in the course of the Enquiry that the JDF used psychological and sonic warfare against the community. The loud explosions many Tivoli Gardens inhabitants had reported hearing during the incursion was from mortar fire used according to Maj-Gen. Saunders to disorient residents of Tivoli and keep them inside while the security forces conducted their operation. The use of mortars had strenuously been denied by the Minister of Security and other officials up to that point.
It is in the interaction between counsel for the security forces and the people of Tivoli appearing as witnesses and some of the counsel representing them, that the contempt and lack of empathy for Tivoli residents becomes apparent, giving a sense of the magnitude of the problem facing us. I wasn’t here in December 2014 and thus missed the sessions in which Tivoli witnesses were subjected to a barrage of questioning, their dignity as human beings assaulted with the same ferocity with which the security forces had executed their mission in Tivoli Gardens, but I heard about it from others and saw the agitated tweets it generated.
By the time I started watching the proceedings again last week, a new lawyer was representing the Tivoli Committee, and I was privy to the supercilious, boorish class-shaming he was subjected to by Counsels Linton Gordon and Peter Champagnie on behalf of the JDF. Mr. Williams unapologetically drops his aitches, an unforgivable breach of etiquette according to the gatekeepers of approved speech patterns in Jamaica, even though this didn’t in the least diminish his ability to get under the skin of the high-ranking individuals he quite expertly questioned, forcing them to admit information they were reluctant to make public. So egregious were the persistent efforts to destabilize Mr. Williams by mocking his diction and sartorial style (both irrepressibly and admirably impervious to tremendous peer pressure to conform to banal norms of respectability, middle class speech and decorum) that Chairman of the Commissions, Sir Simmonds, was
moved to issue a reprimand: “We are West Indians, not Australian cricketers so there will be no sledging of Mr. Williams.”
According to an internet source about the origins of this cricketing term, “‘Sledging or “Mental Disintegration” as it is also known, is the tactic of talking to players on the opposition side (particularily batsmen…) with the objective of destroying either their concentration or their confidence/self esteem.”
The attempts to destroy Mr. Williams’ confidence and self-esteem focused in great part on mocking his diction and pronunciation, an act of shaming that is frequently used by racists–white Americans, for example–to mock black speech. When the Tivoli Committee representative asked about the ‘booming’ sounds of the mortars Champagnie and others literally collapsed with derisive laughter, Oh my God what a butu–he couldn’t even say ‘bombing’ properly–how to take someone like this seriously, surely the Commission and Jamaica couldn’t possibly regard Williams as a credible spokesperson was the unspoken corollary to the scornful laughter and comments. Yet this is the same usage Bob Marley deployed in Talking Blues when he sang “I feel like booming (bombing) a church.
On cue some journalists picked up the speech shaming and ran with it. The tweets compiled above clearly indicate the unreflexive investment in the idea that only ‘proper’ speech, that is to say ‘standard English’, is worthy of our attention and concern. While I can understand if not condone the need for opposing counsel in the theatre of the Commission to level derogatory comments and laughter at Tivoli Counsel in an attempt to disable and silence him I’m puzzled by the media’s kneejerk support of such tactics.
I’ve included @BigBlackBarry’s tweets because they represent elite beliefs about the role of English in Jamaica. “If you can’t manage the English language as a lawyer in an English speaking country, you better stay out of court,” he tweets. There are several problems here. Is Jamaica really an English-speaking country? If competence in written and spoken English was a requirement how many citizens would pass the test? Are young children who don’t have English in the ‘English-speaking country’ given the means to acquire it before being disqualified for not knowing it? What is noteworthy is the assumption of all concerned, Fae Ellington included, that Williams’ strategically long pauses and imperfect pronunciation of English were somehow a sign of inexperience and therefore ‘a tad embarrassing.’ Please note that some of these tweets have been removed by the individuals concerned although I present them as tweeted at the time.
If ever there was a poster girl for what Jamaicans call ‘speaky-spokey’ (that is painstakingly clearly articulated diction) it’s senior journalist Fae Ellington. She is so celebrated that almost every week she’s invited to a school to give a speech, to inspire students to excel, she’s the ultimate institutional role model and an unswerving champion of the establishment. During the Commission Fae registered her approval of former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington in glowing terms. “Former Comm of Police, Owen Ellington’s handling of Terrence Williams’ questioning makes Mr. Ellington look the lawyer,” she tweeted and subsequently “My respect for Owen Ellington keeps growing. What a calm, patient and steady man. Unflappable. Can’t be twisted.”
Yet this eminently well-spoken, respectable, affable police commissioner was suddenly removed from his position a year or so ago, in a move that raises serious questions about his integrity. It seems the US-UK axis as someone called it, widely seen as the parties who demanded Ellington’s removal, weren’t as favourably impressed by his flawless, articulate handling of the English language. Similarly Police Superintendent James Forbes, described by the Gleaner as the poster boy of what a clean police force should be, was convicted of corruption last year and forced to resign. He is the senior-most member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to have been convicted on corruption charges.
Forbes, an exceptionally well-spoken, presentable man, is also held in high esteem by Fae Ellington. I distinctly remember her protesting in a TV interview that Forbes was a close friend of hers as if that fact alone should acquit him of any wrongdoing. I’m not suggesting that Fae’s defence of her friend was calculated or conscious. We have been socialized to believe that the better you speak English the more upright, honest and respectable you are and as a corollary we are taught to think that the less competently you handle the language as dictated by purely superficial signs such as pronunciation and aspiration of vowels (for make no mistake Mr. Williams’ English in terms of syntax, noun-verb agreement and grammar generally speaking is superior to that of many a journalist in Jamaica), the more likely it is that you’re less than respectable.
We need to break this inflexible association between standard English and legitimacy and Patwa and other non-standard languages and illegitimacy. There is no simple correlation between these categories of behaviour and speech. We also need to ask ourselves hard questions about those who act and speak in the name of the establishment in a situation where there has been a working collaboration between the state and criminal forces.
What if the society you live in has been completely subverted by decades of moral equivocating on matters of right and wrong? Can the establishment still then be held up as an ipso facto exemplar of good conduct, governance and legitimacy? Can and should the language of the establishment, stilted and unproductive as it has been, be the sole medium of approved communication in the postcolony? What about the language of the people in the transition to democracy from the profoundly undemocratic state of an ex-slave colony or plantation society? Is the devaluing and disapprobation of Jamaican Patwa, the constant mocking and derision of its speakers, not a direct reflection of the low value placed on the lives of what Buju referred to as ‘low-budget people’?
Are we not in as much need of a #lowbudgetlivesmattertoo campaign as the US needs a #Blacklivesmatter one? Did this widely prevalent and prejudicial attitude to a certain class of people not enable the ferocious invasion and concomitant lack of respect for the lives and limbs of Tivoli residents? As Scottish editor Kevin McKenna, writing about class problems he had faced in the UK said, “When we (that is, society at large) deem people from working class backgrounds as somehow less-than because of the way that they use English, we’re being classist – plain and simple.”
And that holds true of Jamaica as well. Classism is no less despicable than racism or gender-based discrimination, something it would behoove the JDF’s lawyers to remember. The JLP used the same tactics against Portia Simpson-Miller in the last election and it backfired spectacularly against them because when you assume that we all agree with such prejudices you’re overlooking those who identify with the aitch-droppers and who know very well that the fact that they say ‘igh-rise’ instead of ‘high-rise’ and ‘booming’ instead of ‘bombing’ is no indication of character whatsoever.
Tivoli and what happened there on May 24, 2010 must not be translated into the perfectly articulated but overdetermined and exhausted language of what is known as ‘standard English’ in Jamaica, it must remain indigestible and provocative, demanding answers, in Patwa-inflected English if necessary, from those who would govern us. For there is no crime in this…on the other hand there is much crookedness, corruption, class snobbery and more inscribed in the discourse of standard English in Jamaica, and this is what we need to dismantle if the status quo is to change for the better. After all what has any zealous aitch-pronouncer and proud speaker of standard English done to elevate this country that compares to even one hundredth of the world-class exploits of the aitch-droppers who put Jamaica on the map?
In which Kei Miller decisively dismantles Mel Cooke’s presumptuous point of view on homosexuals, published in the Gleaner a few days ago. A masterful takedown…read it…
One of the most important points he makes is worth calling out: “To publicly challenge things that are said publicly is not the same as being censorious. To point out (sometimes with vehemence and rigour) how some things can cause offense, or how they might be homophobic or racist or whatever, is not the same as saying that thing should never have been said. That is reductive thinking. Of course I affirm Mel’s right to say what he wants to say, to share *his* point of view if not the assumed Point of View of the Other. But I also affirm everyone else’s right to contend, to debate, to come with new arguments and counter arguments. Isn’t that what discourse is?”
Nuanced discourse is too often missing in Jamaica…certainly you rarely find it in the newspapers…hallelujah for blogs where some of the best critical writing can be had at a moment’s notice.
There is a saying in Jamaica – mi throw mi corn, mi nuh call nuh fowl. (I threw my corn, I didn’t call any fowl). And another one – ‘throw stone inna hog pen, him who squeal a him it lick’. (when you throw a stone into a pig’s pen, the one who squeals is the one who was hit). Both sayings are about words that are aimed and yet pretend disingenuously to have no directions – words that hit targets but then shrug. ‘Oh? Did I hit you? I am so sorry!’
Mel Cooke’s recent article in the Jamaica Gleaner, ‘Bye-Bye, Boom-Bye-Bye’ did a lot of throwing. He was throwing corn, throwing stones, and throwing word. His target? Oh – the usual of course. Every Jamaican DJ who wants the crowd to go wild, every Jamaican pastor who wants a louder Amen, and every Jamaican newspaper writer who…
In which i try and capture a long, rambling, regret-soaked set of tweets by Binyavanga Wainana reflecting late Friday, May 15, on the dissembling life of gay men like himself and how sex is the least of one’s problems…
The tweets welled up almost spontaneously, unstoppable, even extending to a promise to visit Kingston, Jamaica in December this year but mostly they express anguish over past wrongs induced by the pressure to conform to society’s demand for appropriately masculine behaviour from boy children. They also mention fellow African writers Chimamanda Adichie and Elnathan John…and Bishop Tutu and Ruto, Kenya’s Deputy President, whose speech may have precipitated Wainana’s stream of tweets.
Who knew how much Jamaicans love Barack Obama? I didn’t until he arrived yesterday and the country went into full One Love mode. “So the real world boss land” commented Colin Channer referring to the local self-titled Worl’ Boss, Vybz Kartel, languishing in jail. Meanwhile “We welcome the President on this hysterical moment” a newscaster is reputed to have babbled in his excitement. People congregated at key sections of the road from the airport to New Kingston but were disappointed when Obama was transported by helicopter instead of the Beast. Nevertheless as @wayneprawl tweeted: Marine One just frigging passed over my house. The entire Port Royal just erupted in waves and screams. Others noted that POTUS’s arrival had displaced the live draw of Cashpot, a national lottery, that never yields its airtime not even for the Olympics. Obama has managed to stop Cashpot and NOTHING stops Cashpot tweeted @jomariemalcolm in awe while Alison Stuart said: What! He stopped Cashpot!!!!! He mus really be a powerful man!!!!!!!
Meanwhile my neighbour Deborah Anzinger told me her daughter Zoe, 6, had asked if her parents could take her to talk to Obama. What do you want to talk to him about? her mother asked. Her answer: she wants to ask him “why are you here?”
One thing i’ve noticed in some of the bumph attached to this event is a reference to it as “the start of a social movement”. Would love to hear more about this, was there some kind of social motive or rationale behind the hedonistic display of Diner en Blanc? Or did they mean ‘social’ as in page 2 of the Observer? Anyone know anything?
With this piece Sarah Manley has certainly declared herself a powerful voice for social reformation, perhaps following in the footsteps of her father, former Prime Minister Michael Manley. Take a read…
They say the victors record history. It is they who tell the story from their perspective, as they are often the only survivors to tell the tale. But, a narrative told only one way misses details that in hindsight are important. Small or large tidbits left out present an incomplete picture. Perspective matters.
When I posted the picture juxtaposition of the Diner En Blanc affaire beside the huge plumes of smoke from the Riverton City Dump fire blanketing the city of Kingston I did so with a clear conscience and a profound sense of irony. The elegant aerial of Jamaica’s elite decked out in fine style streaming in to our National Emancipation Park, a picture I might add widely circulated in social media, and in traditional media, presented an irresistible visual representation of the haves doing what haves do. Their choice of white clothing formed an almost cloud like film eerily similar to the white smoke billowing over the capital. While Rome Burns, a long venerated metaphor for those with excess living to excess in the midst of poverty and desperation begged to be the caption. Immediately came the backlash from attendees, many of whom I count among my friends, acquaintances, former school mates and family. I am myself a part of the elite of Jamaica. In fact I hold the dubious distinction by accident of birth, and by far more deliberate upbringing of being counted among perhaps the most reviled of the elites, the political elite.
A curious response emerged to my post from the attendees of the dinner. They seemed unaware that there was any irony attached at all and were genuinely surprised that I would put the two images together. They said they were unrelated. That the fire did not literally happen while they dined. They said in short that I was comparing apples and oranges. I was actually shocked. I expected some response, perhaps a sheepish, “well mi dear we may as well for Rome is burning anyway”. But to not see the irony at all was something that frankly astounded me. I can go on ad nauseum with examples of how Rome is figuratively burning daily, hourly, minutely in our beloved homeland. Where do I begin? I’ll begin with the dump itself which within a few short days and a few short miles away from the charming stylish dinner, began to suspiciously smoke, and as the head of the fire department said, was engulfed in flames over an unprecedented area, an area so large he has to attribute the fire to arson. This is not a new phenomena as these dump fires happen annually, and in fact it has been suggested are an accepted part of an economic structure so deformed that starting the fire is a common strategy of business development for the truck owners who are paid to haul the huge mounds of dirt needed to put it out. It is in fact business as usual. I go further. Noted environmentalists have said that strategies to improve garbage disposal in Jamaica have been repeatedly ignored by successive governments because they are either unaffordable or stand in the way of garbage for energy plans that appear to be permanently on the shelf. This is Rome burning literally and figuratively.
I can go on. The Ministry of Health, itself so cash strapped that it is frequently in the news for being short of even the most basic supplies, not to mention broken equipment it cannot repair, hospital beds it cannot supply etc, stated that it was awaiting results of air quality tests sent overseas to labs that we don’t have to determine the level of contamination in the smoke. Curiously, they later said that there will be no lasting effects from exposure. Fascinating. Are these Canadian lab results in? And what did they say? Enquiring minds want to know. These are but two of several examples of Rome in flames that are directly related to this particular fiasco.
But the merry revelers need not concern themselves with Rome as it appears they are exempt from it’s rules, it’s outcomes and it’s consequences. By example we look at the choice of the location secured for their bashment. The Emancipation Park. This park was opened in 2002 to serve as a monument to the end of the ignoble history on which our nation was built. In deference to it’s name and the freedom for which it stands its rules include that it is a public park. One of only a few carefully maintained public spaces in our city designed for all to enjoy. It costs 80 million sweat drenched dollars annually to keep it in it’s pristine state, money financed controversially from another venerable Jamaican institution the National Housing Trust. We forgive this misuse of NHT funds because this Park is for all of us. Or is it? The Diner En Blanc crowd, by virtue of its extensive political and economic connections in society appear to have circumnavigated the express rules of the park and managed to not only have a section, their special section, closed for their soiree, but to bring champagne no less, in a towering pyramid of sumptuous white, to the park which expressly prohibits the use of alcohol. Champagne, the glorious symbol of excess… the wine drunk by kings. Yet there is no irony. Yea right.
So we must ask ourselves this question. Why are these self important, over privileged, over exposed, immaculately dressed folk unable to see themselves as the fiddlers and to see Rome itself in flames around them? Why do they think they are entitled to have their story recounted by them only, from their perspective alone? Have they bought in to their own press? Over the past 20 or so years, a culture has emerged in Jamaica. In it, a society of “important” people have been created by virtue of attending social events and having those events publicized, first in the traditional press, which continues, and now in social media. It has become a thriving business where products are marketed and those in attendance are photographed and presented to the public as icons of style,fashion, and overall class and good taste. In fact, these page two moments are peddled by calculating culture vultures who hold the other side of the coin, the often vicious gossip column entries as the sword over the heads of any party thrower who dares to exclude them from participating. It’s a pretty nasty trick that has exploited the over inflated egos of the wanna bes for financial gain. It has been allowed to flourish unchallenged for over 2 decades as no one wants to be on the receiving end of the pepper potty mouth. Is it this ridiculous press that has convinced the few that their aspirations, their desires to see themselves in newsprint are actually a form of relevance? Notably absent from the Blanc proceedings were many brokers of power in our charming little village. Well known politicians were not present, well known bankers, well known businessmen were not photographed frolicking among the champagne glasses and white table settings shamelessly touted in the weeks leading up by businesses owned by other members of the elite. Do they see the irony of flaming Rome surrounding the emancipated blancs? A good question.
I have long espoused a theory I find to be one of a few core root issues we suffer from in Jamaica. I call it form over function. We Jamaicans are spectacularly good at appearances. We are good at creating the appearance of success. We seem however to have confused looking the part with being the part. It is so ingrained in our culture that to many of us we genuinely think that if we show up, in the right attire, at the right address, it doesn’t matter if we actually produce nothing, do nothing, alter nothing, because to us, the mere fact of our presence is enough. Blanc is a fine example of this. Surely our haute couture elegance taking over Emancipation Park is evidence of our general success as movers and shakers in society. Surely the fact that we could demonstrate such a sumptuous show of style is evidence of our virtue. To suggest otherwise is, well it’s just being a hater. But, form is not function. The appearance of success is not success.That you could turn up in your finery with your picnic baskets of (What was in those picnic baskets? Good cheese? Pate? Or tin mackerel?) of whatever, is evidence of nothing. Rome is a flame, despite your presence on the Boards of Associations, despite your Jimmy Choos. The desperate in ghettos ten deep to a room are plotting ever plotting to scale your wall, to pick your pocket, to carve themselves out a slice of your pie cooling just beyond their reach on your watchtower.
We have its not my fault itis. Witness our Prime Minister’s statement to the people of Jamaica regarding the Head ofthe NSWMA. She races to her defense with a most peculiar logic. She says, that since the head of the agency did not start the fire, she cannot be held accountable. Really? So what is her job then if not to take on the responsibility, and with that the concurrent accountability for happenings on the dump she collects a monthly paycheck to oversee? It’s nobody’s fault. Blame is not a thing we take easily here on the remnants of the plantation. Perhaps the sting of the cat o nine is so rooted in our ancestral memory avoiding blame is something we must do at all costs, for the whipping is hot, and the scars never fade.
Diner en Blanc is an international phenomenon. Originally it had about it an air of wanton subversion. In the past it was staged in public spaces without the permission of the authorities and the secrecy of the location was not only to surprise and delight the participants, but also to avoid authoritarian reaction. It has evolved into something else. An exclusive gathering of the crème de la crème showing the rest of us what style really looks like. When you hold such an event in a poor third world country, what you end up presenting is perhaps not what you intended, but it’s a spectacle that in our case ironically, preceded Rome literally igniting. It is the final layer of irony in an event ablaze with it that some picnickers are unable to see this perspective and it reeks of a denial so deep it is frightening.