Much Law, No Order

We slavishly practice the letter of the law and studiously ignore its spirit, especially if financial blandishments are on offer. As a friend observed on Facebook recently, “I love how TVJ follows an ad for Black Stallion “Bedroom Tonic” with a public service announcement about how the program is rated PG. At 8:50 on a Sunday morning #dobetter”.

At Daggers Drawn: The Broadcasting Commission and Jamaican Popular Culture (updated)

Below is the unedited version of my Gleaner column of Aug. 10, 2016. It seems ever more relevant today now that news has broken that five senior members in Jamaica’s Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) have been fingered in a campaign funds misappropriation scandal. At the same time the police are belatedly continuing an  investigation into the alleged involvement of a senior Jamaican politician from the ruling party in a murder plot years after evidence was provided of wrongdoing.  Meanwhile the Police continues to harrass and arrest citizens for using profane language. The concept of obscenity takes on new meanings in such a context. See my column below:

It’s high time the law against using ‘indecent language’ in public is taken off the books. In a society which acknowledges widespread abuse of power by the Police, the state must remove any unnecessary pretext  lawmen might have for arresting citizens, especially when the so-called crime is absolutely no threat to public order. People should have the right to curse when they are upset, and if Police are breaking the law by cursing at them for no rhyme or reason, yes, citizens should have the right to curse back without being manhandled on the pretext of being arrested.

Had this inane law not been on the books Kay-Ann Lamont and her child would be alive today, the latter all of 4 years old. Her two older children would not have to be passed around from relative to relative like hot potatoes as was reported in the news a few days ago. According to a  newspaper account:

“The summer holiday is a bittersweet period for sisters Gillian Senior, 13, and nine year-old Sabreka Salmon, daughters of Kay-Ann Lamont…For the first time since last Christmas, the sisters played together two Thursdays ago, having become accustomed to a choppy routine after being separated to live with relatives following their mother’s death.”

Lamont’s crime? A policeman overheard her using an expletive after her wallet was stolen on Orange Street where she was shopping for back to school items for her children. In the tussle that followed his decision to arrest her he ended up shooting the 8-months pregnant woman in her head, killing both mother and child instantly. If that isn’t obscene, i’d like to know what is.

Meanwhile criminal charges have been pressed against the Gordon Town woman who greeted profanity from a policeman with profanity but “NO CHARGE FI DI POLICE WHEY DID A BATTA UP DI WOMAN FI NOTHING”. This despite the fact that the policeman involved was caught on video dragging the woman by her hair and generally manhandling her with the kind of gusto and  abandon one has become used to seeing from American police, prompting a #Blacklivesmatter movement in that country.

As an online commenter once said “the culture we have developed seems to be one where there is much law yet no order”. Yet we refuse to reconfigure the legal system inherited from our colonizers, keeping alive archaic laws that have long been consigned to oblivion in the countries where they were first devised. We slavishly practice the letter of the law and studiously ignore its spirit, especially if financial blandishments are on offer. As a friend observed on Facebook recently, “I love how TVJ follows an ad for Black Stallion “Bedroom Tonic” with a public service announcement about how the program is rated PG. At 8:50 on a Sunday morning  #dobetter”.

This is the same spirit in which the government pays lip service to the Paris Agreement it signed some years ago to stick to a Nationally Determined Contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. According to Wikipedia, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) is a term used under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that all countries that signed the UNFCCC were asked to publish in the lead up to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris, France in December 2015. Jamaica did so in November 2015.

Along comes an investor with deep pockets, promising thousands of jobs, and the government is willing to abandon the Paris Agreement and sign on to a 1000MW coal-fired plant to be built by a Chinese company, Jiuquan Iron and Steel (JISCO). As Diana McCaulay, head of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), often a lone voice in the wilderness, points out:

“A modern coal-fired plant emits 762 kilograms of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, if there is no CO2 capture. This plant alone would emit roughly 6.7 million tons of CO2 per year, just over half of our 2025 target. Meeting our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement would become highly unlikely.”

A multitude of sins creep in under cover of blandishments of ‘development’ and ‘progress’. For the government ‘job creation’ translates to votes which must constantly be mustered no matter the cost. What could be more indecent than that? In an eloquent article published by Commonwealth Writers called ‘Giving up on the earth’ McCaulay details the price we are paying globally for reckless abuse of the environment in the name of progress:

“As I write, the world faces 14 straight months of global record breaking warm temperatures, described on many websites in the dispassionate language of science. Disease vectors like mosquitoes are spreading outside their previous latitudes and so are the diseases they carry. Wildfires rage earlier and longer. Land cracks in droughts and is washed away in floods. The largest living structure in the world, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia had its most serious bleaching event ever – roughly 22% of this wonder of the world is dead. All over the world, the people most vulnerable to extreme climate events are displaced, impoverished and die. You think there is a refugee crisis now? Wait until large areas of the globe are uninhabitable. And yet real reductions in greenhouse gases have not been achieved, despite decades of international meetings, agreements and stated good intentions.”

Its high time we paid attention to the spirit of the law and agreements we sign on to, instead of obeying them in letter only. And take that #$%^@ law against indecent language off the books! There is much to curse about.

 

‘Bad Words’ at Calabash 09


Calabash Vibes: The Underage drinker Drew, The fossil Blinger, Marlon, the proprietor of the world’s coolest name, Johnny Temple, the never far from a camera Annabelle, and some writer named Junot Diaz. Photo: courtesy The Fossil Blinger.

WRITER & WIFE: Anthony Winkler and spouse, Cathy, at Calabash (i enjoyed a brief career as Winkler’s wife courtesy Tallawah Review. The error has now been corrected).

the-torment-of-saint-anthony-michelangelo

The Torment of Saint Anthony, reportedly by Michelangelo

Writers are not the most spectacular looking creatures (except for Terese Svoboda who apparently dazzled the Calabash crowd with her silver-sequined mini dress if not her poetry) so i thought i’d lead into my first brief on the literary festival with some unrelated but compelling images from the artworld.

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami poses on top of one of his art works. EFE/Ym Yik.

I’ll tell you up front. The main draws for me at Calabash 09 were Patrick French, Junot Diaz and Pico Iyer. Many of the other literary stars i’d already heard read or know personally. I’ve heard Stacey Ann Chin at least four or five times but was still eager to hear what she might say or read from her memoir. I heard her being interviewed on radio recently and she struck me as more mature and thoughtful than on previous occasions where her rage outran her rapport with the audience.


Stacey Ann Chin flanked by Mr. Seaga and Anthony Winkler.
captions courtesy Peter Dean Rickards


Chin didn’t disappoint. Her account of her first encounter with a sanitary pad under the gimlet
(if grim) gaze of her aunt played havoc with the Jamaican sensibilities present some of whom shook their heads in disbelief. Stacey Ann proceeded with the frank chronicling of her abused pumpum, followed by Mr. Seaga whose autobiographical account was severe and puritanical in contrast. One of my companions sardonically remarked that he seemed to be reading his resume. Anthony Winkler, who followed, restored the climate of lewdness and profanity that had been set in motion the first night by an ebullient Junot Diaz. Winkler regaled the audience with the story of ‘Greasy Legs’ a prostitute who initiated generations of Cornwall College students into the slippery secrets of her anatomy.

The session between Paul Holdenberger and Pico Iyer took the festival out of the gutter to spiritual heights as travel writer Pico (whose work i used to read in Time magazine) described the peripatetic trajectory of his existence. A citizen of the Global Commons if ever there was one, Iyer (pronounced the way many locals pronounce ‘Higher’ but with a Barbadian ‘I’) personifies the figure of the Nomad, combining contemporary radical chic (he once spent two weeks at LA International Airport as part of the research for his book Global Soul) with a yearning for the timeless, ageless monasticism of ancient Eastern cultures.

The next session of invited readers included Laura Fish from the University of Newcastle whose second novel Strange Music is about Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Fish’s father resides at the Greenwood Great House near Falmouth where the Barrett Brownings lived. Fish struck a clean, light note followed by Marlon James, whose compelling, dark novel The Book of the Night Women has just been published to much critical acclaim. His profanity-laden reading found disfavour with audience members who had brought their children with them. They attempted to intervene without success and were reminded by the organizers that Calabash is, after all, an adult event.

From the album:
“Wall Photos” by Marlon James
Because the kiddies deserve a good story too. I know, please keep your awwws to yourselves


Does shielding young ears from words like pussy, bombaclaat, pumpum and other such words ensure a more sensitive, ethical adult? Especially when they can see for themselves the hypocritical, unjust society we live in? And if we assume that all the outraged adults yesterday had been similarly shielded in their childhood why aren’t we living in a better organized, more just society?

Patrick French was the boomshot for me. He didn’t just read from his superb biography of Naipaul. His comments and reactions to place names in Jamaica, his thoughts on Caribbean and Trinidadian society, his observations on Derek Walcott’s dubbing Naipaul the Mongoose at Calabash O8 engagingly prefaced the reading. His performance was deft and sure-footed. It never fails to impress me that the best writers are careful to leave you wanting more (as did Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz on the first night) while the lesser ones have no qualms about abusing your patience. It’s like blogging–you do have the freedom to go and on but is that really the wisest strategy in engaging your readers?

Postscript: Incidentally it is NOT true that Stacy Ann Chin has instructed her publishers not to distribute her memoir in Jamaica. I asked her myself and she said that the UK rights have not yet been negotiated although the US rights have and since Jamaica falls under the former where book distribution rights are concerned we will have to wait for bookshops here to stock it. The book is also being vetted to ensure that Ja’s strict libel laws have not been violated. When are we going to revise these? I mean antiques have their place but not in law surely? In the meantime anyone wanting a copy of Stacy Ann’s book can easily order it from Amazon.