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.

 

The Centrality of Central Park to NYC

First post participating in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) in which I feature my first encounter with Central Park in New York City.

Well, it’s November 1 and I’ve decided to take part in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). That means I’ll post something on my blog every single day this month. Thousands of people are participating in this event all over the world so the ‘National’ should really be changed to ‘International’ resulting in InBloPoMo. But at the moment it remains the blogging counterpart of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) during which hundreds of thousands of would-be novelists churn out 50,000 words during the month of November. Well, i guess they haven’t heard of the demise of the novel…

So I was in New York City last month for about 9 days and found myself staying one short block from Central Park. Before reaching the city I had had ambitions of walking in the Park every single day of the precious 3 days at that particular address. No such thing happened and I found myself hurriedly getting a walk in on the very last day. What surprised me was that even though it was the end of October very few trees had changed to the traditional autumn colours of yellow, orange and red. Was this another sign of the creeping climate change we’ve all been noticing recently?

The apartment I was staying in was at 102nd st very close to the 103d st entrance to the Park. There’s a lovely duck pond there with benches sprinkled here and there. What I hadn’t expected were the little plaques on each bench evidently placed there by the individuals or families who had paid for the particular bench. I’ll post some of the photos I took below:

CentralPark01 CentralPark02 CentralPark03 CentralPark04 CentralPark05 CentralPark06 CentralPark07 CentralPark08 CentralPark09 CentralPark10 CentralPark11

And soon after getting back to Kingston I came across the article below which I found alarming considering that Central Park in effect constitutes the lungs of the city…are the proposed skyscrapers akin to invasive cancerous growths that will eventually cause the demise of this treasure?

Luxury Skyscraper Shadows Are Devouring Central Park

http://gothamist.com/2013/10/29/skyscraper_shadows_will_ruin_centra.php

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One57 looms large over Central Park, its shadow resembling an appropriately obscene gesture. (Warren St. John)

The city’s parks are among the few empty spaces protected from New York developers. No parking garages will ever trample Central Park’s Sheep Meadow and no high-rise Walmart’s will ever raze Prospect Park’s Nethermead. But there is one threat to the park’s sanctity that perhaps few people had considered: The Shadows.

It’s not a weird hypothetical sprung from the world of sci-fi. Developers are eying the south side of the park as the new home to seven enormous towers which will serve as second and third homes for as-yet-unborn children of gallingly wealthy oil moguls around the world. The towers, nicknamed Billionaire’s Row, will stand as tall as 1,424 feet, and the shadows they will cast over the park will serve as chilling reminders that their owners are probably on a plane destined for Saint-Tropez anyway, and you’re on the ground shivering under their icy umbra. It’s an allegory for your life.

Looming skyscrapers can make a particular difference in the winter months, Michael Kwartler, the president of the Environmental Simulation Center, told Warren St. John, who penned an op-ed in today’s Times on this very issue. At noon on the winter solstice, Kwartler calculates that the building’s shadows will fall half a mile into the park by noon, and up to a mile as the day wears on. “The cumulative effect of these shadows will be to make the park less usable and less pleasant to be in,” Kwartler said.

Tropical Tendencies: Jamaica and the Arctic 30

Why does environmental activism not register frontally either locally or globally? The politics of climate change

On October 10, 2013, the news agency IPS put out a story sensationally titled The Climate Plague which it described as “a shift to an entirely new climate where the lowest monthly temperatures will be hotter than those in the past 150 years. The shift is already underway due to massive emissions of heat-trapping carbon from burning oil, gas and coal.”

According to the article:

A climate plague affecting every living thing will likely start in 2020 in southern Indonesia, scientists warned Wednesday in the journal Nature. A few years later the plague will have spread throughout the world’s tropical regions.

By mid-century no place on the planet will be unaffected, said the authors of the landmark study.

“We don’t know what the impacts will be. If someone is about to fall off a three-storey building you can’t predict their exact injuries but you know there will be injuries,” said Camilo Mora, an ecologist at University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu and lead author.

Mora goes on to use Jamaica as an example of the kind of change we can expect:

“Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past,” he said.

In less than 10 years, a country like Jamaica will look much like it always has but it will not be the same country. Jamaicans and every living thing on the island and in its coastal waters will be experiencing a new, hotter climate – hotter on average than the previous 150 years.

beach

The story hit the Jamaican public sphere a few days later in the form of a wire  article in the country’s leading newspaper, The Gleaner, but barely attracted any notice. The Hill 60 Bump blog lamented that there seemed little reaction to the alarming news either in Jamaica or other tropical countries also slated to face steeply rising temperatures:

‘Temperatures Rising: Jamaica To Face Extreme Heat in 10 Years’ –  Perhaps this headline was not sensational enough, the text too scientific or there were just too many other news items but for some reason, this article in the Jamaica Gleaner a few days ago seems to have received little attention. We spotted brief discussion on twitter about whether or not this would be good for solar power and a single query about roof insulation but in general, minimal hysteria. The lack of public response seems strange as our immediate thoughts ranged from recollections of the drought of 2009 all the way to Armageddon type blockbuster film scenarios. Online searches returned a myriad of global articles on the matter but little in from the news desks of the tropical countries now considered to be on the climate front line.

It’s an uncomfortable fact that for countries such as Jamaica, India and others in the ‘developing’ world environmental concerns have remained a preoccupation of the elite, those well off enough we think, to worry about changing weather patterns, global warming and the like, in the face of more urgent local problems such as unemployment, hunger and homelessness.

The truth however is otherwise. “People don’t realize that events that seemingly have no connection to activities like drilling the Arctic for oil are actually intimately linked in an interdependent chain of violence and destruction,” says Kumi Naidoo, the outspoken head of Greenpeace International. In a recent interview with US TV journalist Bill Moyers, Naidoo elaborated on this:

Take the genocide in Darfur for instance, in Sudan, the media largely reported it as an ethnic quasi-religious sort of conflict and so on. But, that is your first major resource war brought about by climate impacts because Darfur neighbours Lake Chad. Lake Chad used to be one of the largest inland seas in the world. And the climate scientists warned us decades ago that, as a result of a warming planet, Lake Chad was under risk.

Lake Chad has now shrunk to a size of a pond as the current secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon put it recently. So water scarcity, land scarcity and food scarcity as a result of an absence of water and land was the toxic mix that created conditions for identity manipulation by opportunistic politicians that saw the horrific events in Darfur happen.

In three days it will be a month since 30 Greenpeace activists were intercepted by Russian forces during an act of non-violent civil disobedience in which they mounted a peaceful protest against drilling in the Arctic, a region Naidoo refers to as the “refrigerator and air conditioner of the planet”. According to news reports some of the environmental group’s activists scaled the rig, operated by Russian state energy giant Gazprom. The Greenpeace crew were protesting Russia’s plans to drill for fossil fuels in the fragile ecology of the Arctic. The ship was towed to Russia’s Arctic port of Murmansk and the activists bused to the local headquarters of Russia’s Investigative Committee. Despite the fact that the activists posed no threat to property or to people, Russian authorities have imprisoned the 30 citizens from 18 different countries, pending trials which could see some of them receiving up to 15 years in prison.

Marco Weber, one of the detainees, whose first language is not English, has written a letter describing the conditions of his detention and pleading for help from the ‘global public’.:

“I am now for about 12 days alone in a cell. I don’t have books, newspaper, TV or someone to talk to. At the daily walk I am also isolated. The 4×5 metre “walkyard” is surrounded by concrete walls and covered with iron bars. On top is a roof, which doesn’t allow the sunshine in.

“The only sky I can see is out of my cell window, which is placed in the northern wall of the building. This means no sun at all. Days are long! The highlights are weekly visits of my lawyer and consul. And yesterday I got the first bunch of email from the outside! Yehaa…

“The aggressive and unfair acting of the Russian government and Gazprom shows how important it is, that decisions about Arctic and its future are made by global public. And not by states and companies which are blinded by its resources and short term profits.”

What worries me is that the world seems to be paying as little heed to the dangerous drama playing out in Russia and the Arctic as Jamaicans are to the news of their impending descent into a tropical inferno as soon as 2023. Will anyone pay money to visit this tourist haven then, as they do now, just barely keeping this fragile Caribbean economy afloat?

Can those of us from poorer economies afford to avert our eyes from the environmental catastrophes looming on our doorsteps? Can we afford to withhold our activism leaving it to white people and isolated elites around the globe to save this planet from ourselves? What is most disturbing is the precedent this will set and the chilling effect on any kind of activism anywhere if the Greenpeace 30 receive jail sentences. Are we being told that we can’t hold peaceful protests anymore? Is civil disobedience, that cornerstone of democratic liberalism, no longer recognized or allowed? Is the concept of protest being criminalized?

If there’s any danger of this we ought to organize a day of collective protest globally in tribute to the Arctic 30, because their actions symbolize the freedom to register dissent, to draw attention to public bads, to demand our right not to comply with rapacious processes in the name of ‘development’. Unlike the localized protests we’ve seen spreading all over the world from Egypt to Turkey to the USA to Libya, environmental protests such as the one mounted by Greenpeace against oil drilling in the Arctic call on us to respond as concerned citizens of the globe. This is not just about our neck of the woods, it’s about the world we live in and all the creatures in it. Are we going to sit by and allow rich corporations to loot it into oblivion? Shouldn’t we too be willing to risk our lives to safeguard the planet for our grandchildren?