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?

Overtaken by the bré bré?


These days I seem to spend all my time sprinting from deadline to deadline, hurtling over the added hurdles of blog posts–pacing myself–hoping even briefly to attain the grace, elegance and power of Olympian Melaine Walker. Sigh. One of these days….

In the meantime there’s much to talk about. With the potential meltdown of the financial architecture of the United States occurring in the background it seems picayune to return to the PNP power struggle that came to a head last weekend–on the 20th to be precise. But it bears talking about for several reasons. For one the outcome left a number of Jamaica’s leading talking heads and pundits with egg all over their faces…again (the diatribalist also focuses on this, read his Errata).

For another, Portia Simpson-Miller, President of the Opposition People’s National Party, represents to the elite and middle class in Jamaica what Obama represents to white, bible-thumping, gun-toting mainstream America. Thus she comes in for the same kind of demonization and denigration that is often directed at Obama in the US. Which is worse I wonder: To be black (socially speaking) in a black country or to be black in a white country?

Nationwide’s Cliff Hughes, who had predicted that Bruce Golding would win the 2007 election by a landslide, again misread the political landscape a year later. Both he and co-host Elon Parkinson called it for Portia’s rival, Peter, the day before the September 20 election. In this they were echoing the Gleaner’s sentiments as well as the Observer’s. The latter’s chief columnist, Mark Wignall, also convinced himself that Phillips ought to pull it off; in 2007 he too like Messrs Hughes and Robinson had thought that Golding would sweep the 2007 elections.

How to explain these failures on the part of Jamaica’s leading journalists? They all to a man seem to have substituted wishful thinking for objective journalistic analysis allowing their prejudices to inform their professional opinions instead of hard intelligence. What is worse, having made such gaffes, all concerned proceeded full steam ahead with their Portia-bashing, berating the newly elected PNP President for not mentioning her opponent’s name in her post-election address and continuing to cast aspersions on both her and the delegates who had elected her.

“The PNP is in danger of being overtaken by the bré bré…” proclaimed Hughes on the Monday following the election. Bré bré I understand is a word meaning ‘much, many, plentiful’; when used in the way Hughes employed it it signifies what Don Robotham means when he says ‘lumpen proletariat’ or what Upper Saint Andrew is fond of referring to as the ‘Buttoos’.

On Oct. 24th on the TV show, Impact, Cliff Hughes continued his prosecutorial harangue against the PNP leadership wielding the whip of political correctness against the hapless Simpson-Miller. Portia should have immediately checked the delegates when they booed Harry ‘Pip Pip’ Douglas, one of the losing Vice Presidential candidates, and she should have graciously (and with remarkable hypocrisy) acknowledged Peter Phillips by name and offered him a role in the opposition ranks (az cawdin to Hughes).

Not having done either she had once again (in the view of these journalists) demonstrated the lack of ‘leadership qualities’ Hughes and Co. have been accusing her of for some time now. Never mind that the delegates might have been expressing legitimate grievances when they booed Douglas. When he lost his seat in the 2007 general elections one of the newspapers explained why:

Douglas, the politician who some St. Mary residents have alleged honks the horn of his SUV more often than he represents them, has been driven into the political wilderness by the voters in South East St. Mary. He was popularly called ‘Pip Pip’, an indication that he did not even give a full blast of the horn whenever he drove through the constituency.

One might ask why Portia Simpson-Miller should have censored or otherwise interfered with the delegates freely expressing their view of a politician who clearly, judging by the above, had done very little for them.

The open contempt expressed for the rank and file members of the PNP has been breathtaking. On the day of the election Messrs Hughes and Parkinson characterized the votes in favour of Portia as coming from the ‘heart’ rather than the ‘head’. In other words according to the hosts of Nationwide the delegates had hung up their minds and allowed themselves to be moved by emotion rather than reason.

In an article titled “Who are these PNP delegates?” Horace Williams, a human-resource specialist, gave quite a different picture from that of the die-hearted Phillips supporters masquerading as journalists:

There has been much debate as to why the Arise and Renew team did not win the PNP’s presidential elections, given the large sum of money provided by the private sector, and the moneyed class, their level of organisation and level of intellectual input from the middle class, the backing from sections of the media and the overall level of advertising and media exposure. It is also felt that the Arise and Renew team presented a vision of the future for the country, which was clear, rational and evident for all the delegates to see.

What appears to have happened, in my estimation, is that all those so-called ordinary black, uneducated, unsophisticated, ill-informed and short-sighted persons who voted for Mrs Simpson Miller are singing a different tune from the so-called educated, visionary, upper class, intellectually sophisticated and far-sighted Jamaicans.

Over the last three or so decades, the lot of the ordinary black people in this country has not changed substantially. There has been some improvement, but much more could have been done. They have voted for successive governments, but all that appears to be needed of them is to dip a live finger in the ink on election day. After the party has been elected, ministers of Government who then move into upper-class neighbourhoods in St Andrew are appointed, are provided with multimillion-dollar luxury vehicles, and are provided with all the trappings of modern life. Their friends and relatives are allowed to plunder the resources of the country for their own benefit…

…So, Mrs Simpson Miller’s win may be seen in the context of a drowning man clutching at a straw. In my estimation, the delegates are saying to the owners of capital, the intellectuals, sections of the media, the browns, whites and the other class: “You have not helped us so far, or much more could have been done”. Let us cling to Sister P who is one of us, whom we can trust. In my estimation, they are saying: “We do not trust you; we do not trust your company; you want us at the back of the bus; your only intention is political and economic power for yourselves.”

This is hardly an example of people voting with their hearts instead of their heads is it? On the contrary the PNP delegates calmly and rationally examined the lay of the land and coolly decided where to cast their vote. Those who were swayed by emotion rather than rationality, their hearts rather than their heads, are all those media VIPs who called it for Phillips and the Arise and Renew campaign despite the political portents to the contrary. How credible are they now?

Photo by Varun Baker, http://www.varunbaker.com

Patwa Grammar

Today’s a big day in Jamaica. The People’s National Party (PNP) which held power from 1989 to 2007 is undergoing a power struggle which culminates today when party delegates will decide whether the incumbent party leader, Portia Simpson-Miller, continues to lead them or if contender Peter Phillips will get a chance to take the helm. An unbelievable amount rides on the outcome of this race for each candidate is seen as representing a different class. what we’re seeing is nothing less than a class war though there’s a lot of resistance on the ground to calling a spade a spade. Much of this class struggle expresses itself linguistically and Carolyn Cooper had a boss article called “Nuff tings a go gwaan” on the subject in last Sunday’s Gleaner (see below). Read it; i’ll be back at the end of the day when the results are announced to add my two paisa worth. till soon!

Nuff tings a go gwaan?

Prime Minister Golding spoke straight from his heart when he was asked how the nation was going to honour our Olympic champions: ‘Nuff tings a go gwaan.’ Then in response to Jacques Rogge’s reprimanding of Usain Bolt for celebrating victory in typical Jamaican style, the PM’s passionate assessment was: “Is pure red eye and ‘grudgefulness’.”

In classic dancehall fashion, our prime minister dismissively sent a message to all bad-mind people: “Tell dem to tek weh demself.” Incidentally, that’s ungrammatical Jamaican. It should have been ‘fi’ instead of ‘to’. And in the sentence above it should have been ‘a’ instead of ‘is.’ And then ‘grudgefulness’ adds an over-correct English ‘ness’ which wouldn’t usually be there in Jamaican. These are good examples of English interference in Jamaican grammar. Bilingual speakers sometimes get their languages mixed up, especially when they are in a highly emotional state.

8.10 pm

Yessssss! Portia prevails! by 350 votes–

Photo credit: Pepper swimps by Varun Baker (who happens to be my sun and a great photographer, check out his website)

When a picture is worth a 1000 words…

This is the work of Zina Saunders–talk about illustration with an edge…The reference in the Hunter image is to Palin’s fondness for aerial hunting of wolves, bears and other hapless creatures.

‘Pronounced Dead’ Resurrected Three Years Later…

It may interest you to know that in 12 years of writing for a Jamaican newspaper, the only time i was censored was when i sent in a column mocking the execrable language used in both print and broadcast media here. That column mysteriously never made it to print and i knew better than to make a fuss about it at the time. There is nothing though to prevent me from publishing it here three years later–just keep in mind that the dates referred to in this piece pertain to the year 2005. Oh and i should mention that i was reminded of the existence of this column when i read the Coffeewallah’s latest post on hoof-in the mouth journalism in Trinidad and Tobago. Coffeewallah! great name that–

‘Pronounced Dead’

What I wanted to talk about this week were the distortions of the English language one frequently hears and reads in local media reports starting with the much abused phrase “pronounced dead”. This term often appears in radio newscasts recounting police shoot outs where “shots were fired”, “the fire was returned” and then “the injured men” (rarely members of the police force) are taken to hospital, where “upon arrival” they are invariably “pronounced dead”.

In fact “reports have revealed” that those lucky enough to somehow survive such encounters are often left “nursing gunshot wounds” while hapless “motorists” in the vicinity “are urged to exercise caution”. In less deadly encounters we hear that a grade 10 student allegedly “traded blows” with her principal; naturally “a tussle ensued”.

I don’t know how many of you have been “pounced upon” by a duppy or a gunman yet but no doubt we have all been exposed to situations where knives are “brought into play”. The best story I ever heard though was actually in a TV newscast some years ago; it seems two cars had collided and the policeman who took the reports was then himself involved in an accident when on leaving “the scene” he was “pounced upon by a number of cows” apparently intent on colliding with his car. Fortunately for the policeman in question his injuries were minor and he escaped being pronounced dead “upon arrival” at a nearby hospital.

Weather reports are little better and we often hear that one island or another is “being lashed by” wind and rain. To make matters worse weather reporters seem to specialize in weird accents so that in the height of the hurricane season I’m sure I heard a headline that said “American Golf Course braces for Category 4 hurricane”. Another one announced that “Hurricane Rita is heading straight for the American Golf Course” while “Part of Spain” was also “preparing for a possible hurricane hit”. Fortunately my Trini friends in Part-of-Spain were spared the worst of that storm…(of course now, three years later, we’re about to be beset by Hurricane Hike).

The newspapers, all three of them, are some of the worst offenders in terms of purveying bad English, not merely circulating quaint or hackneyed language mind you, but the most egregious errors. Let’s start with this paper (Sunday Herald) which on December 4 informed readers that “the case lied dormant for four years…” A columnist in the October 16 edition averred that “In the face of Rita, 20 senior citizens similarly infirmed perished in a bus, as it burned, caught in a gridlock outside Houston caused by those trying to flee the possibility of Katrina par two”.

If you think that’s bad check out these bloopers in the Observer; their proofreader must have called in sick the week of August 14 if one is to judge by the following howlers: “There has been an expulsion in the number of providers of such services over the past 15 years. From the days of one television and two radio stations.” Another column urging people not to distort the facts of the Air Jamaica hub didn’t hesitate to distort the English language. If the airline continued to “loose money” in a period of prosperity asserted the writer it would probably have lost money even under the best management. “It is even more sad that a hotelier who clearly benefited from the extraordinary growth of the airline and more importantly an airline that gained the confidence of the tour operators and travel agents. A hotelier who new first hand that…”

A Gleaner writer, not to be outdone, wondered in a November 6 article why we couldn’t be like Japan,“Why did your ancestors turn a blind eye to the plight of my ancestors and did nothing to help?” he beseeched. Well, probably because the Japanese would commit hara-kiri before allowing a blunder like that into print. The Gleaner’s proofreader was definitely out to lunch that week for in the same edition an article on ‘Ritchie Poo’ Tyndale claimed that the fugitive, considering himself safe in the remote village of Black Shop, “soon adopted to rural life”.

If only the Gleaner and the other papers would adopt a proofreader or two…in all these cases its hard to blame the writers, for depending on the pressure under which stories are written errors are bound to creep in. That is why the humble proofreader exists and for a small fee she or he will keep such errors to a minimum. Proofreading and copy editing are standard practice in newspapers all over the world so it is not clear why the local media is trying to economize in this essential area. One can only hope that this habit of not proofreading the news will soon be pronounced dead. Upon arrival, of course.

PS: The Bitter Bean’s critique of the current Gully mania, Hurricane Gustav and the Politics of Hot Air, is worth reading. Check it out…

Gustav takes region by storm!

I was reading Janine Mendes-Franco’s blog on Global Voices online earlier today; she did a round-up of blogs in the region about Gustav and you get a sudden sense of being part of a community–the Caribbean. I suddenly realized for instance that if we had been paying attention to what was going on in Haiti and the DR during Gustav’s onslaught there we really should have been better prepared and known what to expect when he changed course and came here.

But no, in the first place we were lulled into thinking that like the PNP last year Gustav would definitely “nah change no course” and then when he did we still thought oh its just a storm, not even a hurricane and so on. For instance i first thought he was a pussycat rather than a roaring lion and if i had been paying any attention at all to what went down in Haiti, if i’d read their blogs for instance, i should have known better.

We suffer from insularity at the best of times, but to continue to be insular in the worst of times is asking for trouble. I for one am going to think regionally in addition to locally and globally from now on…

ok now for something completely different: Check out these videos of my co-workers at the University of the West Indies watching the Olympic 4x100m final on that glorious day, was it just last week? Just call us the SALISES screamers…it was the second best thing to being in Half Way Tree…

Such a Natural Mystic…

There is something so newborn and fresh in the air after a hurricane leaves—don’t tell me Gustav wasn’t a hurricane when he visited here; it’s like insisting someone is 19 when they’re turning 20 tomorrow. The atmosphere seems to have been cleansed, purged of all the humid, hot and evil vapours that have been oppressing us for months now. A zephyr-like breeze whispers idle threats and the sun sparkles as it shines on the moist landscape. The riddim track to Marley’s Natural Mystic is blowing through the air.

This is life reasserting itself after having tossed off a tantrum to remind us who’s in charge. Too many people can’t enjoy the beauty of this moment; they have been storm-wrecked and can’t put the pieces back together again. On the other hand most of them are old hands at navigating hostile weather whether from the elements or the lopsided social system that always has them on the receiving end of bad Karma.

Many more will have to suffer
many more will have to die
don’t ask me why…

And no, we can’t just send them some good Karma, a la Facebook. A helicopter is plying back and forth rescuing people marooned in the middle of Hope River in Gordon Town. Marooned in Hope? Hopefully not Obama’s fate now that McCain has trumped him with Palin. The woman looks like a closet dominatrix, doesn’t she? She almost doesn’t look real. More like something out of The Avengers or Charlie’s Angels. Can you imagine her presiding over the White House were something to happen to McCain?

No Sir, give me Obama any day.

Going back to the Olympics for a moment wasn’t Dayron Robles, the Cuban hurdler great? i wish i could replay the footage of him, headphones on, warming up by rhythmically and effortlessly climbing back and forth over the same hurdle. I thought it was great that he insisted on wearing his usual glasses or spectacles rather than contact lenses or some fancy name-brand pair of racing glasses. A more unlikely looking athlete you could not hope to find. Dayron Robles, the anti-athlete, doing it for the nerds! If you wanted to personify the limber, indomitable, insubordinate, swimming-against-the-current Cuban spirit you couldn’t hope for a better poster boy. Between Robles and Bolt the Caribbean certainly expanded the vocabulary of Olympic stardom!

As you can tell I’m somewhat scattered post-Gustav. Our resourceful Cuban neighbours are probably being besieged by him now. They are far more competent at moving their people out of harm’s way so this creeping hurricane probably won’t damage them too much.

In lieu of having anything worthwhile or truly meaningful to say let me leave you with this inspiring video of Bob Marley’s Natural Mystic fom jahlivejahlove