Like a Bolt from the blue…Jamaica Jamaica Jamaica…

What makes Usain Bolt tick? How does Jamaican culture produce such an abundance of athletic superheroes? A selection of images, videos and texts about the unbeatable Bolt and his compatriots…including the up and coming Warren Weir.

Photo by Jamaican photographer Ricardo Makyn, after Bolt aces the 100m
Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt, after taking gold and silver in the 100m. Photo source unknown
Not sure when or where this was but Blake and Bolt are bussing a Jamaican dance move. Photo source unknown
Brilliant photoshopped cartoon by Keon Scarlett…
Usain Bolt with the undeclared winner of the 100m, Coach Glen Mills, who is also Yohan Blake’s coach. Photo source: Usain Bolt’s Instagram.

Just thought I’d post some of the interesting photos, articles and videos that I’ve collected off Twitter and Facebook about Usain Bolt and a few other Jamaican athletes. They give a better insight into Jamaica’s extraordinary athletes than you get from mass media. I think my favourite photo is the one of him with his coach, Glen Mills. You can clearly see the affection between them from the way Usain and Mills are talking to one another. Mills truly is a star in his own right; after all he’s responsible for training the two fastest men in the world today, Bolt and Yohan Blake, who won gold and silver in the Olympic 100m a couple of days ago. Would love to interview him but he dislikes media I understand.

Before that fateful race there were enough skeptics including Tim Layden who went on to write one of the best post-100m articles on Usain in Sports Illustrated. The quote below from a Slate article chronicles the widespread uncertainty about Bolt’s ability to prevail:

A couple of hours before today’s men’s 100-meter final, Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden made a bold prediction on Twitter: “OK. Go big or go home. My 100m pick: 1) Gatlin 2) Bolt 3) Blake.” Layden wasn’t the only one who was betting against Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinter hadn’t run against a 100-meter field this stacked since 2009, when he set the world record of 9.58 seconds in Berlin. In 2011, a false start knocked him out of the world championships. At the Jamaican Olympic Trials earlier this year, he lost to Yohan Blake in both the 100 and 200 meters.

Bolt and Blake clowning around during training. Photo source unknown.

After the race Layden sang a different tune:

LONDON — In many ways, this one was better. Four years ago in China, Usain Bolt transformed the 100 meters into performance art, and the Olympics into a soliloquy, winning with such playful arrogance that it seemed less like a competition than a palette on which an emerging and transcendent talent could splash his greatness in great, broad strokes. The other sprinters were like extras in the Bolt Show, useful in the same way that painted planks of background scenery are deployed in a Broadway production. Bolt was bigger than all of them and so much faster. It wasn’t a race, it was an exhibition (and one that Bolt would repeat four days later in the 200 meters and again in the 4×100-meter relay; three gold medals and an unprecedented three world records. He did likewise a year later at the 2009 world championships in Berlin).

The world gathered again to witness Bolt on Sunday night in London’s Olympic Stadium. Many had surely not seen him since Beijing, as track and field lives on the distant margins of mainstream sport and Bolt is its only true star. In a superficial sense, he did not leave them wanting, winning the 100-meter gold medal in 9.63 seconds, an Olympic record and the second-fastest time in history (behind only his world record of 9.58 from Berlin) and .06 faster than he ran in Beijing. But this was not a virtuoso encore, this was a race, and it had begun more than two years earlier.

To read more go here:

Bolt celebrating with Swedish handball players. He’s got them making the Gaza sign–in tribute to his favourite DJ Vybz Kartel. The sign is also used by US West Coast hip hop musicians.
Warren Weir and Usain doing the Gaza sign, while Yohan Blake looks on. Photo source: Warren Weir’s Instagram

Meanwhile on Foxsport.com Greg Couch lamented USA Track and Field’s lack of get up and go while ruefully noting Bolt’s casual, cool but deadly sporting style:

Usain Bolt posed again with Bolt Arms pointing to the sky, then put his hands behind his ears to get the crowd to yell for him more, as if they could. And then he sprinted his 200-meter heat Tuesday to an easy victory.

Well, actually, he sprinted about 125 of it, then jogged the other 75 to advance to Wednesday’s semifinals.

“I was taking it as easy as possible,’’ he said. “It’s my first (200) run. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.’’

This was basically a day off for Bolt, with a quick Olympic run mixed in. But there’s no day off in the Bolt buzz.

Let’s see: He tweeted back and forth with a Manchester United player, saying he wants to try out for the team. He snuck past one of the picky Olympic rules he complained about the other night, hiding a jump rope in the bottom of his bag. After saying he wasn’t going to celebrate winning the 100 because he needed sleep, he emerged in a picture with three female Swedish handball players, supposedly partying with him in his room at 3 a.m.

This isn’t to be critical of Bolt for any of that, by the way. As an American, I’m asking this:

Why can’t we have one of those? By “those’’ I mean Bolt. I wonder if the US is ever going to get Bolt, understand him, build from him. Meanwhile, it was just a few months ago that U.S. hurdler Lashinda Demus referred to track as “a dying sport.’’ It was just Sunday night that two million people wanting tickets to Bolt’s 100-meter race were turned away.

A debonair Bolt models a suit. Photo source unknown.

Well Greg, as i said in an earlier post, to ‘get’ Bolt, you have to get Jamaica. Getting Bolt to tour the USA is one way to approach it but understanding something about the ‘never say die’ nature of Jamaican culture would help too. The videos below might help illuminate this a bit. First a beautifully produced Gleaner video of Jamaicans watching, then celebrating Jamaican victory in the men’s 100m in one of Kingston’s busiest streets:

Then a longer video movie of Usain Bolt, his life and style:


And finally there’s the third Jamaican…

Come tomorrow the world might want to know a little more about Warren Weir, the third Jamaican in the 200m at Olympics 2012. Incredibly Weir too is coached by Glenn Mills. As I write all three have cruised into the 200 m finals. The following video is a good introduction not only to Weir but also virtually the entire Jamaican team, Usain and all, getting ready for the Opening Ceremony…didn’t spot Yohan Blake…but a great peek behind the scenes at the Jamaican camp at Olympic Village. Check it out and #TeamUSA, take notes…

PS: If the copyright holders of any of the photos above identify themselves I will immediately credit them where necessary.

Profiling Usain Bolt…

A further look at my Newsweek profile of Usain Bolt and some of the discussion around what I said in it.

A friend based in Indonesia sent a photo of this double-spread from the AsiaPacific edition of Newsweek where my profile of Bolt occupied 6 pages incl photos….

i was overjoyed when I got the invitation to write a profile of Usain Bolt for Newsweek International. It came in mid-June and I had till July 9th to deliver 2000 words. I sighed with relief for it was a deadline i could work with. Then came the hard part–realizing that i couldn’t get access to Usain because as his publicist, Carole Beckford said, he was in training and absolutely no interviews were allowed at this stage. It slowly began to dawn on me that while Newsweek might need Bolt, Bolt definitely didn’t need Newsweek. That they wanted to put him on the cover made not one iota of difference.

The Japanese edition of Newsweek with my article in it did have UB on the cover…

Dispirited I almost gave up on the story. It seemed unfair. Here was my big break at last and I couldn’t deliver because of lack of access to the subject. Lord knows Carole Beckford must be absolutely sick of me because i wouldn’t take no for an answer though my persistence wasn’t getting me anywhere. While waiting to get through with live access I had started working on a rough draft; at some point it suddenly occurred to me that I already had a fully developed piece written just by talking to people who knew him and immersing myself in all the audio, video and texual material available about Usain Bolt, including his fascinating autobiography 9.58. Written with help from professional writers, the book is a must-read and I warn Ian Randle Publishers that they should be ready to do a huge new print run by mid-August for if UB comes good, millions of people are going to want a copy.

As background, I wanted to foreground Jamaican culture and the place of sports, athletics in particular, in all of this. As I see it Jamaica’s aspirations as a former plantation society to erase the scars of slavery by exemplary, world-beating performance are embodied by Bolt and enacted in its extraordinary track and field history. Remember this is Newsweek, not Sociology Today, warned Editor Tunku Varadarajan, half jokingly, adding that lots of personal colour was what was needed.

There is a certain array of  ‘facts’ about Usain that are in wide circulation already and I didn’t intend to reproduce them. To my mind what would make my article different was providing salient features of the context he comes from. The language wars in Jamaica are something I’ve focused on quite a bit, even featuring Usain Bolt himself in an August 23, 2008 post-Beijing post called To the World from Jamaica! Patwa Power Bolts the Stables…from which i quote below:

The Ministry of Transport hastened to announce that it was going to upgrade the roadways in all the communities whose athletes had produced Olympic gold. Why? Not so much to elevate these depressed communities as to give them an instant facelift so that when the international media arrived their impoverishment would be less apparent and less of a blight on the brand name of Jamaica! The politics of sports in Jamaica! Or just the politics of politics…

On a more amusing note page two of the Observer, the social page, suddenly underwent a population transfusion, the beige and white socialites who normally monopolize it abruptly displaced by the almost uniformly dark-skinned athletes. Sigh! If only Jamaica’s business and social elite were one hundredth as nimble and competitive as the country’s athletes! If only they too were worldbeaters!

Personally I think that the phenomenal performance of Jamaican athletes is also due to the cultural self-confidence they feel; a confidence expressed by Usain Bolt in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium when he spontaneously broke into the Nuh Linga and the Gully Creeper, the latest dance moves innovative Jamaican dancehall music has produced (actually Usain’s trademark gesture of pulling back an imaginary bow and arrow like Orion is now the latest dancehall move here).

This is not a confidence manufactured by the abjectly self-conscious, respectability-seeking, hymn-singing English-speaking middle classes but one bred out of the flamboyant, boisterous, in-your-face Patwa-speaking population. In the forty years since Jamaica’s independence it is the latter who have proved both through their athletic and musical prowess that they are ready to take on the world. The Beijing Olympics have shown that the world is more than ready for them (minus the prissy IOC head Jacques Rogge who sounds for all the world as if he had been formed in the bowels of Upper St. Andrew). To the World Ja!

In providing a lightning sketch of Usain Bolt I had to carefully select the facts I thought would bring him to life and animate him for an international audience. Language would be one of them for Bolt had spoken eloquently about it himself.

In 9.58 Bolt writes:

When I moved to Kingston and started running professionally I had to take special English lessons so that in interviews people would know what I was saying…I can adapt now, according to who I’m speaking to, but with friends and family we always use patois. Some native Jamaicans cannot speak proper English at all, they talk patois all the time–and its raw patois. When I’m talking to my mom a normal English-speaking person could probably pick up some words, but raw patois is impossible–you would have no chance (pp 183-4).

Here was something that none of the previous interviews with Bolt I read or heard had focused on, something my own interest in Jamaica’s language politics had primed me for. Accordingly this is what i wrote in the text I sent to Newsweek:

Another interesting thing about Usain Bolt is that he only learnt ‘proper English’ after he began winning gold medals and was groomed to interface with international audiences. Till then like many Jamaicans his first language was Jamaican patois, a fast-paced amalgam of several different tongues including African languages, English and Spanish, virtually incomprehensible to English-speakers. While the world thinks of Jamaica as an Anglophone country not many realize that a sizeable proportion of the population is fluent only in its versatile oral vernacular. Today, Bolt’s rival and partner, Yohan Blake, finds himself in the same predicament, his English halting and hard to understand. No doubt the nation’s elocution teachers are rushing to rectify the situation weeks before the London Olympics where Blake stands a good chance of becoming the new sprint sensation.

Cartoon titled ‘Edited for Clarity’ by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I’m grateful to Melody Winnig for bringing this to my attention.

Translated into Newsweek speak that became:

Bolt is still growing into his role as an international star. He didn’t even know standard English until he began winning gold medals. Until then he spoke only the Jamaican patois, a dizzying amalgam of English, Spanish, and African languages. Blake currently finds himself in the same predicament, his English halting and hard for outsiders to understand. Jamaica’s elocution teachers will need to work as fast as they can to prepare him for the spotlights in London.

Clearly some of what I said was lost in translation. I could have exercised more control over the editorial process but time didn’t permit. In particular I wish I’d changed back the last line in the paragraph above to my original. But c’est la vie, you live and you learn. There was so much else i thought important and would have loved to include–such as the role of dancehall music in motivating Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and so many of the Jamaican athletes to higher heights–but there was no space for such detail. I remain grateful to Newsweek, to my readers and my critics for all the lessons learnt in the process of producing this profile. Glad I had the opportunity to write about such a legendary athlete for a forum like Newsweek/The Daily Beast. Oh and in Japan mine was the cover story, see above for a shot of it…glad to get a copy courtesy Fuji TV…thanks Kumiko!

PS: September 25, 2013. I just came across an article by Matthew Teller about his experience of writing for CNN and the gross editorial changes made to his text which eventually caused him to ask them to remove his byline from the piece. It’s very relevant to many of the issues I’ve raised in this post and well worth a read:

CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

A Passage to Bangalore…

How i got to Bangalore in spite of Hurricane Irene…

Puma store at Forum Mall, Bangalore

Greetings from Bangalore! Can’t believe I’ve let so many weeks go by without posting something here. But then again its been an eventful few weeks. Left Jamaica on Aug 27 heading for New York and then Bangalore. Instead Irene re-arranged my trip and i found myself twiddling my toes in Miami for two whole days. Fortunately was rescued by my good friend Pat Saunders of Miami University. When I left Jamaica American Airlines couldn’t tell me when they could get me to New York because no one had a clue when the airports would reopen there. Fortunately I had plenty of leeway as I had planned to spend several days in Long Island with my favourite aunt before boarding my Emirates flight to Bangalore.

'Fairness' creams on sale at Dubai airport, en route to Bangalore

Still when i got to Miami I decided I wasn’t leaving the airport till I had been given a seat–some seat, any seat–on a flight to New York, so i joined a very long line at the AA counter and ignored employees who assured me that I could leave and re-organize my booking by phone instead of waiting in the long line now. Let me tell you that was a wise move on my part because an hour or so later I was given a standby seat on one of the first flights to NY two days later. Also a cursory check with AA’s twitter feed informed me that people were holding on the phone for hours to talk to agents and rebook flights. i mean 3-4 hours, no joke!

It didn’t hurt that I had a first class ticket. No, I’m not rich but i was using my miles, AA has a generous system that allows you to accumulate ‘miles’ or points that can then be exchanged for actual tickets, incl first class ones and every now and then I use that option. Well this was a very good time to have done so because when i returned to the airport for the standby flight two days later i got on without a problem, being No. 5 in a list of 60 on standby! and i still got to travel first class!

Interestingly, befuddled from lack of sleep and general anxiety (why does that wretched Miami Shuttle have to pick you up a whole hour before its necessary to get you to the airport by a particular time? especially when i was the only passenger!) i had first joined a 3-400 strong crowd waiting for the general check-in counter to open at 4 am. As the time approached the crowd swelled and tempers frayed but the AA staff remained courteous, sympathetic and helpful. And this was before i woke up and realized i was in the wrong line…I was truly impressed by their civility and decency.

So i finally arrived in a wet and bedraggled New York, only to find that my aunt and uncle whose home is normally a beacon of all mod cons, had no power for the next two days, which meant no phone or internet as well. On top of that they were busy scooping water out of their basement–the whole thing seemed slightly surreal. This was New York?!

previous photo
Air hostesses of Emirates airline welcome passengers inside the A380 aircraft for Delhi-Dubai flight. Airbus A380 arrives at T3

Anyway, a couple of days of making my ritual contribution to various business establishments followed (also known as shopping) after which i boarded my Emirates flight for Bangalore on the 1st. And let me tell you Emirates treats its economy class passengers like business class. EVERYone gets a hot towel, EVERYone gets a cute little bag with a toothbrush, socks and a mask and menus with three meal options. The Dubai to Bangalore leg served the most delectable fish biryani I’ve ever eaten.

Emirates little flightpack

So I arrived in Bangalore in time to take in dear Usain’s latest exploits, and although he missed the 100m a new star was born, Yohan Blake, and how magnificently Bolt ran the 200m and the 4×100! So what if the two of them weren’t standing rigidly at attention during the national anthem. Lighten up folks! Truly large nations don’t get their knickers in a knot about things like this! In fact its a sign of the opposite. In the meantime check out this Puma ad featuring Jamaica and India.

The Boy with the Golden Shoes

[usain.JPG]
Sign in Jamaican storefront during Beijing Olympics

One of the things I most regretted about being in India this August was that I wasn’t in Jamaica during the World Championships in Berlin. Having experienced the sheer exhileration in Kingston, August gone, during the Beijing Games, I knew only too well what I was missing. Because of the time difference and probably because India itself had minimal participation (for such a great nation we have produced remarkably few great athletes) I wasn’t able to watch any of the races live, though by the end of the month Usain Bolt had become a household name all over again in India as well as the rest of the world.

In the last couple of weeks the airwaves and other media have been buzzing with reactions to the Government’s decision to rename Highway 2000 (the superfast major cross-island artery built with French technology) the Usain Bolt Highway. Yesterday on Facebook a local journalist posted what are allegedly a parliamentary reporter’s notes on a Cabinet discussion about honouring Usain Bolt…read on.

Yesterday at 5:38pm

So I managed to pull off a coup. A major scoop so to speak. I got hold of some very interesting cabinet notes on honouring Usain Bolt.

Apparently, Prime Minister Bruce Golding asked his ministers to come up with ideas on what tangible things the country could do to honour Usain and here’s what they came up with:

1) Change Jamaica’s Coat of Arms to “Bolt Arms”

2) Rename the parish of Trelawny – Usain Bolt

3) Rename Yam – call it Usain

4) Make him our 8th National Hero ( It was decided this will come after the next Olympics, they’ll need that long to research how to accord a person National Hero status)

5) Put him on the 10,000 dollar bill (Audley assured Cabinet that the denomination would be coming by next May)

6) Have 9.58 days of bashment celebrating Usain ( I swear Babsy did suggest this)

7) Rename William Knibb High School Usain Bolt High ( Ruddy Spencer asked who is William Knibb and why does he have things named after him? )

8) Declare August 21 Usain Bolt Day and make it a public Holiday ( Cabinet was very upset with Chris Tufton for this one. Andrew Holness said it sounded too PNP. Di man hold up di “fist” one time and tell Jamaica to put di “X” beside di Head and dem won’t let it go.)

9) Make his home in Sherwood Content a national landmark ( It was pointed out that the community still lacks piped water and Dr. Horace Chang couldn’t guarantee that they’d get it in Usain’s lifetime.)

10) Make Usain’s favourite food the National dish and create a new designation national night club and give that to the “Quad”.

11) Change the national dress, to all Puma and make it mandatory for everyone to wear the Yamm shoes. (However all agreed they certainly wouldn’t be orange like the ones that Usain wore. Chris Tufton was eerily silent).

12) Finally settle this Gully/Gaza mess and make everybody say Gaza since ah dat Usain say (I feel Babsy in this again)

13) Write Oxford to have the word “fast” in the dictionary replaced with “Usain” (Mike Henry). Babsy agreed and thought we should get “sobolious” added as well!

14) Rename Air Jamaica, Usain Air.

15) SUGGESTION FROM BRUCE GOLDING: Rename Jamaica – Usain. The PM said “There’s no honour that’s too great for this young man and right now the national profile has been taken to echelons far beyond our greatest expectations because of Usain’s feet!”

Well, long before the Jamaican government decided to honour Usain Bolt and before he became a household name outside Jamaica a Spanish national named Fernando Guereta (Nando) decided to honour Bolt and Jamaica’s athletes with a film celebrating their exploits. Called “Why do Jamaicans Run So Fast?” this superbly conceived and crafted documentary-style film creatively captures the environment these athletes spring from in Jamaica.

On the verge of signing major distribution and international TV rights deals Guereta has scooped the world on this. With a beautiful soundtrack and interviews with Usain from the age of 15 onwards the culture that has produced such indomitable talent is centrestaged, with a prominent role accorded to dancehall music and the dances that inspired Usain, Melaine Walker, Shelly Ann Fraser and others to dare to grab their share of the pie.

I asked Nando about the role of music in the film and this is what he said. Keep in mind that he’s not a native English-speaker which makes what he’s done that much more remarkable.

“My two main concerns were to cover all music genres, from ska, to roots reggae and moving towards the latests dancehall hits. The second concern was to make the music match the images properly, even if I sound a little bit arrogant I think we achieve to deliver very well in both matters.

Heptones’ Country Boy matched Bolts origins, Bob Marley’s Bad Card reminds the world that dem a go tyaad fe see Bolt face, Movado reminds Melaine Walker not to forget about the Gully, Bugle ask Carl Lewis what have Bolt done to him, and Jah Cure seh as long as I live he will remember those days.”

Watch this spot over the next week for more from Nando on the making of “Why Do Jamaicans Run so Fast?”

Raising the Bar

The world’s fastest men and women were feted this weekend in Kingston, Jamaica for their breathtaking exploits in Beijing this summer. The Government produced floats, big trucks pumping music, throngs of joyous people, and keys to new cars and the city of Kingston for many of them. We’re not exactly sure what the latter will unlock; surely a little like giving someone the keys to Pandora’s Box.

I feel like a dog with ten tails, said a woman in the street, beaming with delight the day Usain Bolt returned from the Olympics. And all of them wagging full speed no doubt– what could be more evocative than that? As Brazil is to football, the most stylishly competitive track and field in the world will always be to Jamaica and young Usain will likely occupy a similar place in the firmament as the legendary Pele.


I was going through the newspapers that had piled up on me during those glorious Beijing days and found some really great visual material in them. If the print media routinely lets us down in terms of sloppy writing and poorly conceived and executed texts (no world beaters here, alas!) our cartoonists and advertising agencies rose to the occasion effortlessly demonstrating their world class skills in a series of brilliant cartoons and ads celebrating and commenting on the feats of the Jamaican athletic team.


In this post I’ve reproduced what i thought were the most creative print ads in local newspapers and one of my favourite cartoons by Las May of the Gleaner (apologies for the quality of reproduction, its entirely due to the technology i employed). What price that image of the public awarding a big zero to the antics of the two PNP contenders? (above). Adwise I thought IRIE FM won hands down (see immediately below) with its image of the receding heels of an athlete wearing the Jamaican flag like a cape. No prize for guessing what it says in Chinese–“Usain Bolt run things”–I’m sure.


Congratulations too to Maurice Smith (who has various friends of mine drooling over him); the captain of the team, he is an outstanding decathlete and his role as leader should not be overlooked.

Sorry now to have to drag you from the sublime heights of Olympic stardom to the dismal depths of print journalism in Jamaica but i need to revisit my post of a few weeks ago, Pronounced Dead, (September 5 to be precise) in which i lamented the kind of shoddy writing that passes for reportage and commentary in this country. I return to it now to quote from some of the incisive responses that post received which really bear being quoted and highlighted.

According to V.

the most worrisome part is that, other than illustrating the sloppiness of local editorial practices, the “pronounced dead” narratives also reveal an appalling intellectual dishonesty. Our newspapers know perfectly well that those routine police reports conceal more complex and sordid stories and they should make more effort (correction: MUCH more effort) to uncover and report them.

As Bitter Bean pointed out:

The truth is that those who run the papers care more about the advertising than the editorial content. Articles are just included so that all the ads don’t look overcrowded.

On September 22nd the inimitable Long Bench left this:

I noticed today that the NYT actually created an online page to address the errors that editors and readers find —

http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/when-spell-check-cant-help-a-quiz/

Well, well, well. So my post was a timely one. It’s not only in Jamdown that the print media is being critiqued by its readers for the numerous errors purveyed in their pages. The difference is that being Jamaica (read third world? provincial?) newspapers here have completely ignored all criticism, undeterred in their determination to pepper their prose with the most careless and egregious errors.

The Gleaner shows marginal improvement. In last Sunday’s paper ( all the examples cited here are from September 27) the only thing i could find at first glance was this line from Ian Boyne’s column: speaking of Portia he said “…the odds have been stocked against her…” A good proofreader should have picked that up, odds are stacked against someone not stocked.

From the Herald there were several bloopers: in Garnett Roper’s column I read “What Jamaica faces is an economy which has almost grounded completely to a halt.” Later in the same column “People are wondering around lost because of mounting bills.” Today’s editorial in the Herald is titled “Why Journalists must be troublemakers” and makes the case for aggressive newsgathering and storytelling. i completely agree; the Herald is virtually singular in taking such an uncompromising stand in the quality of the stories it carries. It must also display utmost integrity and intolerance of errors in the language it employs to tell its stories.

Finally the Observer had some priceless ones in its editorial titled “Will somebody please answer Ms Verna Gordon-Binns?” The editors seem quite incensed that Ms. Binns’ proposal that ganja or marijuana be used to make ethanol instead of food staples was unceremoniously laughed out of parliament. Quoting from an unnamed document they refer to ‘mitigating the environmental fallout from anthropological activity’. Now mind you this is a quote but the Observer retails it without commenting on its putative meaning. what on earth is being implied here? That anthropological fieldwork has somehow been destructive enough to cause environmental fallout? where, when and how? is the quote correct? Anthropology is “the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind.” I’m at a loss as to what link there might be to the health of the environment here.

Why don’t all three papers take a leaf out of the book of The New York Times? Mind you the level of incorrect language used in the NYT pales in comparison to the local newspapers yet in contrast the NYT had the grace and humility to acknowledge its shortcomings. Here’s how their article on editorial errors started:

Even in the rush to publish, writers and editors at The Times strive for polish and precision in our prose. Sometimes we succeed.

But sometimes, after the dust settles, we are dismayed to see painful grammatical errors, shopworn phrasing or embarrassing faults in usage. A quick fix might be possible online; otherwise, the lapses become lessons for next time.

Will the local print media do the right thing and start paying more attention to copy editing what it puts out in the way of editorial matter? Jamaica’s Olympic team has raised the bar very high but will the Press Association of Jamaica take even a baby step towards demanding (and attaining) internationally benchmarked professional standards in journalism from its members?

Neither pale, nor male…

Just some postscripts while we wait for Hurricane Gustav to huff and puff and blow our house down. When I read Jean Lowrie-Chin’s column “The best of times in Beijing” in the Observer yesterday i was seized with envy and regret. Why hadn’t i thought of going to Beijing myself? Why oh why had the thought not even occurred to me? What a once in a lifetime occasion that would have been!

But then again the second best place in the universe to be when the Jamaicans took Beijing by storm was right here in Jamdown! You could have sliced up the euphoria in the atmosphere with a knife–i personally have been humming ‘walk like a champion, talk like a champion’ ever since…of course the rest of the x-rated lyrics to the Buju Banton song don’t apply but those two lines remind me of Jacques Rogge and Usain every time.

Naturally Kingston’s dancemasters, no, not the NDTC ( National Dance Theatre Company) but dancemakers such as Johnny Hype, Shelley Belly and Elephant Man, are tickled pink that Usain Bolt showed off their creations to a global audience in such fine form. Check out this video of Elephant Man and others demonstrating their brand new Lightning Bolt dance and the To di Worl’–

My friends from Left, Right and Centre (Nationwide Radio, Digital AM 720) had their usual wicked spoof on the Olympics advertising a product called Haterade Plus:

Are you angry because your sprint career has ended without a gold medal? Do you feel the pain of your country’s poor performance at the Olympics? Are you so bitter that you want a review of your own false starts? Then reach for Haterade Plus! Haterade Plus is jam-packed with anabolic steroids, caffeinated beverages and the most bitter sinkle bible (aloe vera) in the world. So if you’re a hater with attitude break your own record with Haterade Plus!

They go on to mercilessly skewer the in-fighting in the PNP by sending up the whole ‘core values’ discussion. I am going to try and link to an audio clip as soon as possible so watch this space!

Also check out Clovis’s cartoon in yesterday’s Observer. This is Clovis at his best. I love it. This one is priceless.

Cartoon by Clovis, Jamaica Observer, August 25, 2008

And I was so sorry when Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles lost his bronze medal for allegedly stepping out of his lane in the 200m. Glad to know an appeal has been mounted on his behalf, hope its successful. Read all about it here.

Finally moving on from the Olympic races to a different race altogether–the American presidential race–Michelle Obama was impressive, wasn’t she? Neither pale, nor male–i can identify with that…

To the World from Jamaica! Patwa Power Bolts the Stables


Yes, we can…be worldbeaters! That’s the message from Jamaica’s relentlessly resilient and resourceful underclass who have proven yet again their ability to dominate global competition in the arenas where their lack of English doesn’t hold them back. This is Patwa power (patois or creole, the much reviled and disdained oral language spoken by the majority of Jamaicans) at its most potent: a lithe and flexible force–honed by adversity–flaunting its mastery of the universe of athletics.

To underscore its point Patwa hurled its most powerful lightning bolt at distant Beijing. Named Usain, this young and irrepressible son of Jamaican soil then re-inscribed forever the significance of the word Bolt. Both English-speaking and Patwa-speaking Jamaicans united in celebrating Usain Bolt’s extraordinary exploits (Gold and world records in Men’s 100m, 200m and the 4×100) and those of the nimble, determined young Jamaican team accompanying him. Over the two weeks of the 29th Olympiad they enthralled global audiences over and over again with their worldbeating skills.

Portia Simpson-Miller, considered by many patwa-speakers to be their spokesperson, nailed it when she said on radio that the achievements of Jamaican athletes at Beijing made her proud because “what people call ‘ordinary people’ have produced such extraordinary results”. Prime Minister of Jamaica briefly from 2006 to 2007 Simpson-Miller has faced enormous hostility from the English-speaking elites here who would like to continue their hegemonic rule over this small island state in the Caribbean. President of the Opposition People’s National Party she is currently being challenged for leadership by Dr. Peter Phillips, seen by many as representing the highly educated but numerically small middle class and a state of mind known as Drumblair, the equivalent in Jamaica of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) culture or status in the United States.

Watching the athletic meet at the Olympics unfold from the vantage point of Kingston, Jamaica was an incredible experience. Raw, naked nationalism at its very best: First we rallied around Samantha Albert, Jamaica’s only entrant in the equestrienne events. Samantha is a white Englishwoman with a Jamaican mother who was born and lived here in her early years. She didn’t stand a chance of medaling, merely hoping to make it to the top 25, yet Jamaicans cheered her on, proud to see their flag in this never before contested event.

Then there was the first big race, the men’s 100 metres, in which both Bolt and Asafa Powell were gold medal contenders. Alas Powell disintegrated under the pressure; he still came in fifth but his fans were inconsolable. Bolt’s sensational streak to victory helped but by and large Jamaicans were grieving for Powell. He holds a special place in their hearts. It is as if they identify with him. Whereas in the past they used to cuss off Merlene Ottey when she only managed a bronze medal this time the public concern shown for Powell’s morale and well-being in the aftermath of his disastrous run was quite remarkable. When he finally anchored the 4×100 team to victory in fine form, thundering down the closing stretch like Nemesis herself, he had completely redeemed the favoured son spot he had never really lost.

If Jamaican success at the men’s 100m was tempered with disappointment at not pulling off a trifecta (or even a bifecta) the female athletes delivered perfection by winning gold, silver and silver at the women’s 100 metres. This was an unexpected bonanza. Till now no one had really focused on the female runners or races other than the women’s 200m where Veronica Campbell-Brown was expected to deliver gold. Now the women had successfully grabbed the spotlight and kept it on themselves winning gold or silver in most of their events. In the end, of Jamaica’s 11 medals (six of which were gold) 8 were from women as TVJ’s commentator Bruce James usefully pointed out. One of the sweetest was Melaine Walker’s virtually effortless 400m hurdles gold medal.

Shelley Ann Fraser (women’s 100m winner), the pocket rocket who shot out of the starting blocks and into our hearts wasn’t even considered a medal contender to begin with. Earlier in the year when Veronica, the defending Olympic 200m winner didn’t qualify for the Jamaican 100m team because she came fourth in the qualifying trials (this shows you how competitive athletics is in Jamaica) there were many who thought one of the unknowns who had beaten her should have stepped down in favour of Campbell-Brown out of deference to her seniority and past distinctions. Fraser was the one many thought should have been eliminated from the Jamaican team to make way for Veronica.

Maybe that’s what made her run like a cheetah and spring like a moko jumbie but from now on everytime anyone in the world wants to illustrate the concept of delight they should simply replay Fraser’s girlish leaps and bounds when she realized she had won Olympic gold. If the whole world fell in love with that ecstatic brace-filled smile and the spontaneous, unadulterated joy Shelley-Ann Fraser expressed on the track you can imagine how we in Jamdown felt.

What was hard to imagine even down so (admittedly from uptown down so) was how the parents of these individuals must have felt. Especially when the TV cameras took you to the homes of Shelley-Ann and Sherieka Williams and Sherone Simpson and Melaine Walker and you realized with shock how very poor these people who had produced such champions were. Most of them had watched their sons and daughters winning Olympic silver and gold on very small TV screens, in very humble living quarters, in this ghetto or that one.

Waterhouse. Slaughterhouse. Powerhouse. That’s what young Shelley-Ann from Waterhouse has reiterated for us in case we didn’t know this already from the abnormal number of successful musicians her community has produced. Virtually 80% of Jamaica’s biggest names in music have come from Waterhouse, one of the poorest ghettoes in Kingston, including the young singer I mentioned in my last blog, Terry Lynn. The area should be declared some sort of national patrimony or Talent Park with free education up to any level for all.

When asked if she herself had ever displayed any running talent Shelley Ann’s mother said that indeed she had quite a bit of experience sprinting from the police, with the goods she tried to sell as an unlicensed street vendor. She was an experienced runner she said so her daughter’s performance was not that surprising.

The Ministry of Transport hastened to announce that it was going to upgrade the roadways in all the communities whose athletes had produced Olympic gold. Why? Not so much to elevate these depressed communities as to give them an instant facelift so that when the international media arrived their impoverishment would be less apparent and less of a blight on the brand name of Jamaica! The politics of sports in Jamaica! Or just the politics of politics…

On a more amusing note page two of the Observer, the social page, suddenly underwent a population transfusion, the beige and white socialites who normally monopolize it abruptly displaced by the almost uniformly dark-skinned athletes. Sigh! If only Jamaica’s business and social elite were one hundredth as nimble and competitive as the country’s athletes! If only they too were worldbeaters!

Personally I think that the phenomenal performance of Jamaican athletes is also due to the cultural self-confidence they feel; a confidence expressed by Usain Bolt in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium when he spontaneously broke into the Nuh Linga and the Gully Creeper, the latest dance moves innovative Jamaican dancehall music has produced (actually Usain’s trademark gesture of pulling back an imaginary bow and arrow like Orion is now the latest dancehall move here).

This is not a confidence manufactured by the abjectly self-conscious, respectability-seeking, hymn-singing English-speaking middle classes but one bred out of the flamboyant, boisterous, in-your-face Patwa-speaking population. In the forty years since Jamaica’s independence it is the latter who have proved both through their athletic and musical prowess that they are ready to take on the world. The Beijing Olympics have shown that the world is more than ready for them (minus the prissy IOC head Jacques Rogge who sounds for all the world as if he had been formed in the bowels of Upper St. Andrew). To the World Ja!

Photo credits, captions
(L-R) Asafa Powell, Nesta Carter, Usain Bolt and Michael Frater of Jamaica celebrate the gold medal after the Men’s 4 x 100m Relay Final at the National Stadium on Day 14 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 22, 2008 in Beijing, China.
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images AsiaPac)

(L-R) Joint silver medalist Sherone Simpson of Jamaica, gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser of Jamaica and Joint silver medalist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica stand on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women’s 100m Final at the National Stadium on Day 10 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 18, 2008 in Beijing, China.
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images AsiaPac)