A Mysterious Escape, A Power Switch and Confirmed Green Mosquitoes: Thursday, September 18, 2014

We’ve had dramatic thunderstorms this week so far and are grateful for the rain. Our dog, however, is thoroughly miserable… And some of this week’s news has been troubling, so far. A lot happening, but I will just focus on the major things for now. Lots of little things are bubbling, though, just under the surface.

Fahdeen Ferguson is now on the run.

Fahdeen Ferguson is now on the run.

The great escape: There are so many disturbing aspects to the case of Mario Deane, who was severely beaten in a Montego Bay police lockup and subsequently died on Independence Day, that it is hard to know where to start. Now, a man who is described as a key witness for the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) in the case escaped from custody early on Sunday morning, while he was being transferred for a video identification parade. He was on housebreaking and burglary charges. I heard that he actually went through an (empty) office and out through an unlocked window. How on earth could this happen? Fahdeen Ferguson is now a fugitive, and one suspects his life may be in danger.  One of the two men who have been charged with Deane’s murder, Adrian Morgan, has been deemed fit to stand trial, once he stays on medication; his co-accused is also said to have mental challenges.

The new Commissioner of Police makes a speech. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

The new Commissioner of Police makes a speech. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

I am not interested in speeches: The new Commissioner of Police was sworn in with much fanfare on Monday. For some reason, he made a speech, which the media dutifully reported, several times over. Why did he need to make a speech? Why all the pomp and ceremony? I would have preferred that he just sat down at his desk on his first day in office and got on with the job. One of the first things I would like him to address is the above situation regarding the Mario Deane case. What happened? He must keep an eagle eye on this one. I would also like him to address the issue of corruption in the police force, in a meaningful way. Words like “transparency” and “accountability” are just that – words. We want to see action.

Seal of the Organization of American States.

Seal of the Organization of American States.

So let’s talk corruption – again: The Organization of American States (OAS) has completed a review of Jamaica’s anti-corruption oversight bodies, and is none too positive in its conclusions – noting there has been a failure to prosecute corruption in general. It recommends that anti-corruption bodies must be provided “with the resources necessary for the proper performance of their functions.” You can read the full report here: http://www.oas.org/juridico/PDFs/mesicic4_final_jam_en.pdf  Contractor General Greg Christie tweeted yesterday: The OAS affirms my repeated recommendation to give the Office of the Contractor General the power to halt contracts which exhibit signs of irregularity, impropriety, corruption. Jamaicans should note that no such power has been included in the Draft Integrity Bill which is currently before Jamaica’s Parliament. This substantiates my already stated position that the draft Integrity Bill must be strengthened and should not be passed in its current form.We may not be able to achieve zero corruption, but we can and should insist upon zero tolerance to corruption.” 

Someone's foot suffering from chikungunya virus. Ugh.

Someone’s foot suffering from chikungunya virus. Ugh.

The “chik v” muddle: It only gets worse. Every time he opens his mouth to speak, the Minister of Health Dr. Fenton Ferguson (he’s a dentist) seems to confuse us more. Of course, not intentionally, but I think he is starting to confuse himself now. If he cannot say anything that is really helpful, perhaps he should speak less. At every opportunity, the Minister trots out ridiculous figures of 24, 35 cases of chikungunya confirmed etc. Please stop doing this, Minister! You know – we all know – that these figures are meaningless and the actual numbers are much higher. There must be 20 people on my Twitter timeline alone who are describing the exact symptoms of the chikungunya virus and are suffering in pain. I don’t think they are imagining it. Now Dr. Ferguson is telling us that dengue fever is much worse, anyway. Oh, please stop! There have been 113 deaths from the virus in the Latin American/Caribbean region to date, says the Pan American Health Organization, by the way.

“Very unusual”: Minister Ferguson said the situation in schools in the eastern parish of St. Thomas – in particular Yallahs Primary School, where 200 students and ten teachers are sick – is unusual. What is usual, Minister? Approximately 697 students and 60 teachers were absent from 25 schools in the parish yesterday, as they were suffering from flu-like symptoms, joint pains and rashes. The Minister still doesn’t want to think they all have chikungunya – maybe it’s… or… Oh, I give up!

Meanwhile, health authorities confirm there are no beds left at the Bustamante Children’s Hospital in Kingston. What’s wrong with the children, I wonder?

Jamaican Education Minister Andrew Holness

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has “chik v,” it is reported…

Mosquitoes love Opposition politicians: Now, one TV station reports that Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has gone down with chikungunya (has he been tested?) This is already prompting comment that perhaps the mosquitoes are only biting Jamaica Labour Party politicians; and that if PNP politicians are suffering, they are keeping quiet about it. After all, we are trying to keep the numbers down. At least officially!

Yay! Hooray for coal power: Yes, coal power – very disconcerting. Dr. Vin Lawrence, head of the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) appointed by the Prime Minister (which appeared to sideline Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell) has decided to turn to local providers of electricity, after all that performance over Energy World International. ESET has received proposals from Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) and two bauxite companies who want, to build, own and operate plants powered by gas turbine or coal; and has submitted them to Cabinet. There is no way, however, all this will be up and running by the Government’s self-appointed deadline.

No elected representatives: Our government (or rather the ruling People’s National Party – PNP) has decided that local government elections will take place in March 2015. Will this include the Municipality of Portmore, which still has an “Acting Mayor” almost a year after Mayor George Lee died? What about a by-election in Roger Clarke’s constituency of Central Westmoreland? Do the people now have an “Acting Member of Parliament”? Until when? Has a by-election date been fixed, and if not, why not?

Important! Enumerate today: Jamaican people, if you want to get on the next voters’ list, you must get yourself enumerated by September 30! Otherwise, if an early election is called, you will not be able to vote.

Cabinet retreat: The Cabinet had a two-day retreat this week. And…? Oh, the PNP’s Annual Conference starts tomorrow, so we’re in for a noisy weekend.

Inflation inflating: Jamaica’s inflation has risen slightly over 2013. It is 9.8 per cent compared to 9.5 per cent up to August last year. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s now the highest in the Caribbean and one of the highest in the world. This comes as no surprise to those of us who visit the supermarket this week. We’re struggling.

Minister of Finance Peter Phillips

Minister of Finance Peter Phillips

But growth predictions are rosy: Despite all this, Finance Minister Peter Phillips expects our growth rate to be three per cent or more for the 2015/16 period, higher than the cautious projection of 1.5 – 2 per cent. The Planning Institute of Jamaica says the growth will occur in integrated resort development, port and infrastructure and ICT,” as well as expected improvements for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). I would love more details, but all we get is broad statements. We will have to keep a sharp eye out for developments in these sectors.

Members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), who participated in Tuesday’s (September 16) opening ceremony for the 2014 Michaelmas Term of the Home Circuit Court, march past the building housing three additional courtrooms in Justice Square, at the intersection of Kings and Barry Streets, downtown Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), who participated in Tuesday’s (September 16) opening ceremony for the 2014 Michaelmas Term of the Home Circuit Court, march past the building housing three additional courtrooms in Justice Square, at the intersection of Kings and Barry Streets, downtown Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

More court space: Every week there are depressing stories about our malfunctioning justice system – in particular our law courts, which barely creak along. If you have served as a juror or witness (I have done both) you would see for yourself. But the good news is that three additional courtrooms have been opened up in the Supreme Court. Also,the number of cases listed for trial during the Michaelmas Term (September to December) has decreased by 14.06 per cent, compared to the similar period last year. But it’s still just over 500 cases!

Also glad to hear that the five per cent duty on LED bulbs and solar water heaters has been removed. Also, JPS will be purchasing renewable energy from three local producers. Good.

Congratulations to…

"Crossroads Culture": DJ Afifa Aza will present on her extraordinary visit to Peru next Wednesday evening. Go down there and find out more (it's free).

“Crossroads Culture”: Dr Afifa Aza will present on her extraordinary visit to Peru next Wednesday evening. Go down there and find out more (it’s free).

  • Activist, artist, writer, educator and DJ Dr. Afifa Aza, who achieved her goal of going to Macchu PIcchu, Peru, and even climbed up the mountain behind. What an achievement. Afifa will be presenting her thoughts, illustrated by photographs and film, at Di Institute for Social Leadership in Kingston next Wednesday, September 24 at 5:00 p.m. Do go along and learn more about her experiences.
  • Climate change activist and blogger Heather Pinnock, who has been selected for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps three-day training with Chairman and Founder, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore on November 4-6 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. See more at: http://climaterealityproject.org/leadership-corps  BUT Heather needs financial support to get to Brazil. Please let me know if you are able to assist in any way! It would be wonderful to have a Jamaican women at the forefront of the global climate change strategy, and Heather certainly would be a great representative. Please support!

My condolences to the families of these Jamaicans who have lost their lives violently…

Kevin Brown, 30, Irish Pen, St. Catherine

Karen Mattey, 34, Irish Pen, St. Catherine

Byron Cameron, 52, Montego Bay, St. James

Crime Stop Jamaica is working with Britain’s Nottinghamshire Police, to locate a wanted man in Jamaica, and is offering a reward of J$1 million. He has been identified as Loandre Palmer who is believed to be involved in the murder of British teenager Malakai McKenzie who was shot outside The Hubb, Sherwood, Nottingham, England on Saturday 21 April 2012. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Crime Stop Jamaica is working with Britain’s Nottinghamshire Police, to locate a wanted man in Jamaica, and is offering a reward of J$1 million. He has been identified as Loandre Palmer who is believed to be involved in the murder of British teenager Malakai McKenzie who was shot outside The Hubb, Sherwood, Nottingham, England on Saturday 21 April 2012. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

New Book: “Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the building of the Panama Canal”

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I am sharing this from the wonderful Repeating Islands blog that covers all things Caribbean culture. Distinguished Jamaican writer Olive Senior, who is based in Canada nowadays, will be in Jamaica to give the 5th Biennial lecture from the National Library of Jamaica: “Colon Man a Come.” Here is some background information on her book, “Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the building of the Panama Canal.” Ms. Senior will deliver the lecture in Kingston this coming Sunday, September 21, 2014, at the Institute of Jamaica Lecture Hall at 2:00pm; and also in Montego Bay on Sunday, October 1, at the Western Jamaica Campus of the University of the West Indies at 5:30pm. This should be a fascinating lecture, one not to be missed!

Originally posted on Repeating Islands:

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Acclaimed Jamaican writer Olive Senior has just published a fascinating non-fiction work—Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the building of the Panama Canal. Published by UWI Press, Mona, Jamaica, its release date is September 1, 2014.

Description: The popular West Indian migration narrative often starts with the “Windrush Generation” in 1950’s England, but in Dying to Better Themselves Olive Senior examines an earlier narrative: that of the neglected post-emancipation generation of the 1850’s who were lured to Panama by the promise of lucrative work and who initiated a pattern of circular migration that would transform the islands economically, socially and politically well into the twentieth century. West Indians provided the bulk of the workforce for the construction of the Panama Railroad and the Panama Canal, and between 1850 and 1914 untold numbers sacrificed their lives, limbs and mental faculties to the Panama projects. Many West Indians…

View original 160 more words

Corruption, Religious Marches and Indomitable Women of the Press: Sunday, September 14, 2014

As usual, political issues are threatening to swamp much of our media coverage. But there is a lot more going on that gets relegated to the back pages…

Finance Minister Peter Phillips. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Finance Minister Peter Phillips. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

“Fighting corruption is a national priority”: So says Finance Minister Peter Phillips. I am sure his supervisors at the International Monetary Fund were glad to hear these words. But these are just words. Don’t we need actions to prove the truth of this statement?

Greg Christie, former Contractor General.  (Photo: Gleaner)

Greg Christie, former Contractor General. (Photo: Gleaner)

Well, I am quoting below a series of tweets from former Contractor General Greg Christie. Yes, you can say quite a lot on Twitter! You can judge for yourself whether the Jamaican Government is doing a good job in “fighting corruption.” Take a minute and read…

“Jamaica’s Finance Minister has publicly acknowledged that the fight against corruption remains a national priority for the Jamaican Government. But has the Jamaican Government, in its day to day conduct, been demonstrating this?The fight against corruption begins with exemplary political leadership from the government of day. It is defined by an inflexible adherence to the rule of law & best practices in good governance. But Jamaica is yet to see this from the Government. The conduct of Dr. Omar Davies comes quickly to mind. He sought to block the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) from scrutinizing the Jamaican Government/China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) $600m highway contract. The OCG is Jamaica’s leading Anti-Corruption Agency. Its mandate is to ensure that there is no impropriety or irregularity in Government contracting. When Dr. Davies failed to secure the support of the Jamaica Supreme Court, he publicly challenged the Court’s ruling. The Government, not to be deterred, at the insistence of Davies, then expressed its intent to use its powers in the Legislature to defang the OCG. Recently, the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) was arbitrarily stripped of its regulatory oversight functions over the transport sector.This is a sector which also falls within the ministerial portfolio domain of Dr. Davies, Jamaica’s Minister of Transport, Works and Housing.There is also, at present, a Jamaican Mayor who is facing criminal charges for misleading the OCG. Despite this, he remains in office. If the Government is really serious about tackling corruption, then it, along with all of its Ministers, must begin to walk the talk. They must not talk about fighting corruption. They must, by their actions, adhere to the highest standards of good governance. The Government must also demonstrate that the proposed Anti-Corruption Bill is not a window-dressing facade.T he Bill must be strong enough to bring about a radical change to the endemic corruption that is perceived to be now pervading Jamaica.”

Mario Deane died in custody after suffering severe injuries at the Barnett Street police lock-up in Montego Bay.

Mario Deane died in hospital after suffering severe injuries at the Barnett Street police lock-up in Montego Bay.

Mario Deane’s family needs funds to pay for his funeral in St. James next Sunday. Family members reportedly refused offers of assistance from the Government. Well, the Government has in no way accepted responsibility for Mr. Deane’s death, despite agents of the State supposedly having responsibility for the welfare of those in its custody. Attorney General Patrick Atkinson has said rather coldly that the matter is being investigated, two men have already been charged with Mr. Deane’s murder and the Government will basically wait and see. Donations to assist the family can be made at Scotia Bank – Account number 823837.

Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton.

Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton.

And on legal matters, the Government has got into a bit of a muddle over insolvency and bankruptcy legislation. Our aforementioned supervisors, the IMF, have given us a month-end deadline. It has become so complex, with so many amendments, that at this late stage the Government has decided to table a completely new bill in Parliament. Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton hopes to introduce the new bill on Wednesday; he must be a man in a hurry.

Our Health Minister has put out a nice op-ed on chikungunya in all the newspapers, pointing out that it’s “all hands on deck” to prevent the virus spreading. He should have published this weeks ago. Yes, it is true that a certain amount of politicking by the Opposition has gone on around the issue, but the Minister should not just be reacting to that. He owes the Jamaican public clear and open information on the matter. The Minister also gives out numbers to contact (which we should have all known about from Day One): 922-8619; 922-8622 and 1-888-663-5683 (1-888-ONE-LOVE), Monday to Friday. You can also report cases to parish health departments.

Health Minister Fenton Ferguson touring the Kingston Public Hospital. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Health Minister Fenton Ferguson touring the Kingston Public Hospital. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Wait until 2017…0r 2018: Erica Virtue is reporting in the Sunday Gleaner that patients must wait until 2017 for surgery at the Kingston Public Hospital – these are mainly orthopedic surgeries. But those dates are mostly taken, so by the end of the year it will be 2018. Surgeries are often canceled because of a broken-down elevator, which has failed for the 20th time this year according to the report! However, emergency surgeries do get precedence (one would hope).

I see and hear some odd things on local media, these days. Some pronunciations that are so strange that I don’t even recognize the word the newsreader is wrestling with. The latest is a protest march in “the pelting sun.” CVM Television, I thought it was the rain that pelted. I could write an entire blog post each week about the desecration of the English language that goes on daily. But it would bore you (and me) to death, I am sure! 

Louis Farrakhan, Leader of the Nation of Islam since 1978.

Louis Farrakhan, Leader of the Nation of Islam since 1978.

Minister Farrakhan is coming! Again… The 81-year-old leader of the Nation of Islam will be returning to our shores. No doubt many Jamaicans will embrace him – something I have never understood, since his background (and religion) is so far from the Jamaican experience. Oh, I forgot – he had a Jamaican father (whom he never knew, by the way). This time he is planning a “Million Man March” on Sunday, October 19. Who will be marching? What is the purpose of the March? How will it benefit Jamaicans? How will it benefit the Nation of Islam? Is it a recruiting drive?

And what is the Kingston Metropolitan Region Resort Board? I never heard of it before. Anyway, James Samuels, who heads it, says Kingston is going to earn J$150 million from it. OK, so all the hotels will be booked.  Thinking about leaving town that weekend.

Perhaps the Love March will join. This group of energetic (mostly young) conservative evangelicals, who believe in “the family” and “sexual purity,” had a march a few days ago. They claim to be “non-denominational” (?) and “all love Jesus,” but they sound rather confused to me. They don’t seem to approve of sex, that is for sure.

A good comrade: Patricia Williams holds a custom made wreath at former Minister Roger Clarke's funeral, held at the St George's Anglican Church in Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland on Saturday. (Photo: Janet Clarke/Gleaner)

A good comrade: Patricia Williams holds a custom made wreath at former Minister Roger Clarke’s funeral, held at the St George’s Anglican Church in Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland on Saturday. (Photo: Janet Clarke/Gleaner)

Funeral of Roger Clarke: Former Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke was buried in Westmoreland yesterday, on a wave of clichés and platitudes from the politicians, and a tide of genuine emotion among his party supporters, friends and family. He was undoubtedly a very well-loved man. But, Madam Prime Minister, what does “a great Jamaican patriot” really mean? I am always wary of that word patriot.

The Gleaner has had some great op-eds over the past few days – especially the Saturday edition, which was its birthday. Take a read of Kelly McIntosh’s column on “Putting Productivity Back Into Work,” and Gordon Swaby’s commentary on “New Media Must Pick Fights They Can win.” Good stuff.

And please don’t forget my own weekly article on gleanerblogs.com! The series is called “Social Impact” and you can find it here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/ There’s a new article up every Tuesday… Please share, and comment. I would love to have your feedback.

What is this beautiful place? Great Goat Island, described as a dump where nothing lives by some government officials. (Photo: Max Earle)

What is this beautiful place? Great Goat Island, described as a dump where nothing lives by some government officials. It is fringed with pristine mangrove forest. (Photo: Max Earle)

Congratulations to…

Managing Director of the Gleaner company Christopher Barnes has a few words of gratitude for 80-year-old Lillian Palmer who was a participant in the Gleaner 180 5K Run/Walk in Kingston. - (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Managing Director of the Gleaner company Christopher Barnes has a few words of gratitude for 80-year-old Lillian Palmer who was a participant in the Gleaner 180 5K Run/Walk in Kingston. – (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

The winners of the Gleaner’s 180th anniversary 5K Run/Walk today, Kirk Brown (first male) and Chris-Ann Lewis (first female) – and all the great participants, young and old who came out on Saturday morning. The Gleaner’s Managing Director Christopher Barnes notes: “On the afternoon of Saturday, September 13, 1834, the very first edition of The Gleaner, and Weekly Compendium of News was published and made available at Water Lane in Kingston.” Congratulations again to the “Old Lady of North Street” on its 180th birthday!

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Distinguished journalist and a mentor to many, Ms. Fae Ellington, who celebrated her fortieth anniversary in the profession with a blood drive! She collected 87 pints in Kingston this weekend, and the drive will go island-wide on Tuesday. I wish I could donate blood but for various reasons cannot. I hope all who can will support! The Blood Bank is always in need…

Here's a photo of the new PAJ President Dionne Jackson Miller at Fae's blood donation drive! (Twitter pic)

Here’s a photo of the new PAJ President Dionne Jackson Miller at Fae’s blood donation drive! (Twitter pic)

Another terrific journalist, Dionne Jackson-Miller, who is new President of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ). Helene Coley-Nicholson (who was so kind to me recently when I was conducting training at the PAJ and still fighting flu!) is the First Vice President and the awesome Karen Madden (a Chelsea Football Club fanatic, but I won’t hold that against her) is Second VP. Rohan Powell is the new PAJ Secretary. A powerful female triumvirate at the helm!

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Cash 4 Books, a husband-and-wife outfit in Kingston’s Southdale Plaza that sells secondhand text books for a fraction of the price, easing the burden on parents. Robert and Nicola Desnoes buy and sell books for the current school year that are on the Education Ministry’s book list, and also source them for customers. They are open weekdays from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Tel: 876-397-1909 E-mail: cash4booksja@gmail.com and find them on Facebook.

Ms. Barbara Blake Hannah

Barbara Blake Hannah.

Barbara Blake Hannah, writer, filmmaker, cultural activist and Director of the Jamaica International Reggae Film Festival, who has won a story competition and will be special guest and presenter at the International Film Festival Summit in Austin, Texas from December 7 – 9. I know Barbara will make the most of every moment! Meanwhile, check out her new historical novel “The Moon has Its Secrets”available on Amazon and Kindle.

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The Jamaican Folk Singers.

The Jamaican Folk Singers.

Do go see… The Jamaican Folk Singers’ 2014 Season at the Little Theatre in Kingston. They are (and always have been) simply wonderful!

 

 

The Government reports a “fifteen per cent reduction” in murders so far this year, compared to 2013. This is wonderful news, although I am slightly puzzled. The lists at the end of  my blogs have been quite long this year, apart from a few weeks during the summer. I think murder rates in some parishes have declined considerably, while others are high – for example, St. James and certain parts of Kingston. Although it seems to me that the distribution is fairly even, across the island. This is just from looking at the lists on my blog… Well, my condolences go out to those who are mourning these Jamaicans who have been murdered in the past four days:

Junior Salmon, Negril, Westmoreland

Kenty Thomas, 47, Montego Bay, St. James

James Sorrell, Falmouth, Trelawny

Peter Wallace, May Pen, Clarendon

27-year-old Bonnie Hardware, of Falmouth, Trelawny and Hartford, Connecticut, USA, has been missing from her home since Wednesday. Please call Falmouth Police or 119 if you have seen her. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

27-year-old Bonnie Hardware, of Falmouth, Trelawny and Hartford, Connecticut, USA, has been missing from her home since Wednesday. Please call Falmouth Police or 119 if you have seen her. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Bus operator Peter Wallace was shot dead and a twelve-year-old male student of Denbigh High School was shot in the back in May Pen, Clarendon last week. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Bus operator Peter “Mitchy” Wallace was shot dead and a twelve-year-old male student of Denbigh High School was shot in the back in May Pen, Clarendon last week. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

“Serena” by Ron Rash: Book Review (soon to be released as a film)

A few years back I read this novel and thoroughly enjoyed it. This is the review I wrote at the time.

I also just learned that “Serena” has been made into a film, directed by Oscar-winner Susanne Bier and starring Jennifer Lawrence in the title role, with Bradley Cooper as George Pemberton. I thought it would make a compelling film – and I hope the film is as good as the book, although I suspect it will be “prettied up” a bit. I understand it will première at the BFI London Film Festival on October 24, but strangely there appears to be no U.S. release date.

By the way, there are no spoilers in this review! 

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the upcoming film of "Serena" directed by Susanne Bier.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the upcoming film of “Serena” directed by Susanne Bier.

This is what my father would call “a cracking good yarn.” Dear reader, you will be tossed around on a surging current of emotions: anger, jealousy, greed, revenge, self-pity, lust, fear…but very little love.

The heroine – or anti-heroine – of this book, Serena, is ill-named. There is absolutely nothing serene about her; unless you can equate serenity with the calm – a kind of cold certainty – which shines in her eyes when she has just made up her mind to… But no, I had better not say any more. You will soon find out for yourself what Serena is capable of.

It is 1929. George Pemberton steps off the train in Waynesville, North Carolina with his new bride Serena, and the action starts. The story begins with a murder – the kind of killing that is committed deliberately to show dominance, the kind that is done with a swagger. Thereafter, the Pembertons waste no time in establishing their authority among the “highlanders” who work for them. They immediately begin planning their assault on the land: thousands of acres of untouched forest to be logged, gold to be mined, railroads to be laid. It’s all theirs for the taking.

The relationship between Pemberton and his wife is so close that it is almost stifling. Serena sets the tone from the outset: “That’s what I want, everything a part of you also a part of me.” She calls their love-making “a kind of annihilation.” To Pemberton, she is not only desirable; he is in awe of her, unashamed in his admiration.

Serena rides out to oversee the work on a white Arab horse and dispatches her pet eagle to kill all the rattlesnakes in the valleys. The workers quickly develop a healthy respect for their mistress with her men’s clothing and calloused hands. After saving his life, Serena develops a close relationship with one man in particular. He becomes a devoted follower – and accomplice.

Quite apart from the juicy story line and the terrifying heroine (I will reveal no more of the plot, which thunders along at a steadily accelerating pace) there are things to savor along the way. The everyday detail of the period is absorbing: a hunting knife with an elk-bone handle; an apple wood fire burning, with a cane-back chair by the hearth; a Bible wrapped in oilcloth; rhubarb and blackberry jam, buttermilk and whiskey; burlap sacks, gray cotton stockings, red handkerchiefs, tripod cameras. The not-yet-touched areas of the southern landscape are richly described; Rachel, the sweet but resourceful mother of Pemberton’s illegitimate child, lives closely with her environment, going into the woods to gather roots and herbs until sundown.

But, as George Pemberton discovers, and his men already know, the land is hard: it fights back against the attacks of saws and axes. The long cutting blades snap as the tree trunks resist their bite. A young man drowns in a crowd of logs carried downstream. Rattlesnakes bite fiercely. There are rumors of a mountain lion lurking in the hills. The men slip and fall in acres of mud; the rivers fill with silt and dying trout; the wind blows hard and the snow lies thick. There are terrible deaths and injuries. And the end result is the same: a devastated wasteland of tree stumps that grows wider, season by season. Meanwhile, a political battle looms between the loggers and a growing movement to create the first national parks.

Then one beautiful evening, on a meadow golden with brush sedge, George Pemberton confronts his darkest fears alone and reaches out…for salvation.

Author note: Ron Rash was born in Chester Springs, South Carolina, in 1953 and grew up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. He is proud of his Appalachian heritage which goes back 250 years. As a child, he spent summers at his grandmother’s home in the mountains of North Carolina. He has a B.A. and M.A. in English from Gardner-Webb College and Clemson University. He taught English at high school and at a technical college for 17 years. His first book of short stories, “The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth and Other Stories from Cliffside, North Carolina” was published in 1994. Since then he has published three books of poetry, three short story collections, and four novels. His poetry and fiction have been published in numerous literary journals: he describes himself as a narrative poet, influenced by traditional Welsh poetry. His 2008 novel, “Serena,” is, like his earlier work, set in Appalachia and echoes the environmental themes of his poetry collection “Raising the Dead” (2002) and his novel “Saints at the River” (2004). He currently holds the John Parris Chair in Appalachian Studies at Western CarolinaUniversity, where he teaches Appalachian Literature and Creative Writing. He has won the Novello Literary Award, Foreword Magazine’s Gold Medal in Literary Fiction, the James Still Award of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and an O. Henry Prize, among others.

The beautiful Appalachians in North Carolina are the oldest mountains in the United States. (Photo: mountain professor.com)

The beautiful Appalachians in North Carolina are the oldest mountains in the United States. (Photo: mountain professor.com)

A New Police Chief, Mosquitophobia and Back Road: Thursday, September 10, 2014

It’s been an average sort of week, so far. A little rain here and there, and a few interesting things going on round town.

Our new Police Commissioner, Carl Williams. (Photo: Gleaner)

Our new Police Commissioner, Carl Williams. (Photo: Gleaner)

We have a new Police Commissioner: On Monday morning we got our new Police Commissioner. His name is Carl Williams, and he has been a narcotics man for quite a few years – investigating, that is. He is fifty years old and joined the Jamaica Constabulary Force thirty years ago. He was the founding director of the famous Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA) and also helped set up the Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force (which has been quite successful, especially recently; only today two Chinese nationals and a German were arrested). His appointment was no surprise – at least, not to me. I also believe he has the stamp of approval of our “international partners” – in other words, the United States, UK and Canada, who take a close interest in all security-related matters in Jamaica, as we know. And I think he may be the best man for the job – but time will tell. It’s performance that counts.

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson. (Photo: Gleaner)

Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson. (Photo: Gleaner)

A political bug: Well, the mosquitoes bearing the chikungunya virus seem to have acquired green stripes, somewhere along the way. The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party has been accused of “politicizing” the issue, and to some extent this may be true. Our current Health Minister, Dr. Fenton Ferguson (who I discovered is actually a dentist by training) called former Health Minister Dr. Kenneth Baugh’s pronouncements on the matter “alarmist” during a radio interview. He thinks Dr. Baugh (who is a medical doctor) is “embellishing” the facts, somewhat. There is still an enormous amount of confusion among the general public – that is for sure. The Health Ministry has handled the matter clumsily, when all it needed was to get the facts out clearly from the start – symptoms, treatment, keeping mosquitoes away, etc. But in its efforts not to create panic it has managed to obfuscate the issue beautifully. We all know people who are suffering from the virus (or at least who appear to have the symptoms) but are not reporting to the doctor (which costs money after all). The Ministry also talks about not confusing it with dengue fever, leptospirosis – even the flu. The media has been swamped this week with discussions about fogging (are mosquitoes becoming resistant to the active ingredient, malathion?) – or in the case of our neighborhood, the lack of fogging and lack of garbage collection!

A sewage overflow in West Kingston last year. It's a regular thing. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A sewage overflow in West Kingston last year. It’s a regular thing. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Awash in raw sewage: We uptowners complain about these trivialities, but we don’t have raw sewage flowing in mini-waterfalls and collecting in ponds like Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston. If you do a quick Google search, you will see that this is by no means a new phenomenon. It has been a recurring problem for years in the inner-city community. Television footage showed Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie and colleagues having to hop over the sewage as they stepped out of his constituency office. Shame on you, National Water Commission!

Seaview Gardens is a pretty name. This is what it looks like - or at least the gully that empties into Kingston Harbour a little further down. (Photo: Gleaner)

Seaview Gardens is a pretty name. This is what it looks like – or at least the gully that empties into Kingston Harbour a little further down. Mostly plastic. (Photo: Gleaner)

And choking in plastic: The downtown neighborhood of Seaview Gardens is another that has suffered for years from an enormous pile up of garbage, which fills the gully that empties into the sea not far from the community. You will notice a stench also, as soon as you enter the community; whether it is from another malfunctioning sewage issue, from the swampy land nearby or from the gully, it’s hard to tell – but it’s probably all of the above. I suppose there’s not a hope in hell of the gully ever being cleaned. It would be a huge task.

But then, it’s only poor people living in these places, right? Low priority, or so it always seems…

Public health issues? Well, it seems that despite (or because of) our success with the International Monetary Fund, we have no resources to deal with them. This is the “bitter medicine” of which Opposition Leader Andrew Holness spoke just before the last general elections. No one liked him for saying it, but…

Fire boats, ambulances and other necessities: Meanwhile, the island’s only fire boat has been out of action for about a year, but should be fixed soon, we are assured. And Negril reportedly still has no ambulance of any description, whether for tourists or for local residents.

INDECOM-logo

Police killings down, but… INDECOM reports that our security forces have killed an average of three people per week so far this year – a total of 96. Although this is significantly less than in 2013, the numbers are still very high and disproportionate to the population and the size of our police force.

Policeman charged with murder: Police Corporal Selvin Williams was arrested and charged this week with the December 2012 murder of Valbert Salmon by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Valbert was shot dead on December 29, 2012 in Top Hill, St. Elizabeth.

Street walking: One of our well-known television reporters, Nadine McLeod of Television Jamaica, has an adventurous streak in her. She donned a wig and tight skirt and sallied out onto the infamous “Back Road” (the Port Henderson Road in St. Catherine), where brothels and go-go clubs proliferate. You can watch her reports, headlined “Business on Back Road,” on TVJ’s website. To be continued…

Major kudos are due to…

Some of the energetic young people in the videography workshop at Phase Three - selfie time!

Some of the energetic young people in the videography workshop at Phase Three – selfie time!

The bright young graduates of Phase Three Production’s thirtieth anniversary free summer workshops on videography, who had their graduation ceremony and a special visit to meet Governor General Sir Patrick Allen this week. The workshops were endorsed by Sir Patrick’s “I Believe” Initiative. I hope all the young people’s dreams and ambitions come true! They are dreaming big…

Sad to say, the police have killed at least four Jamaicans in the past week or so. My condolences to all those who are mourning.

Dadrian Davis, Garveymeade/Portmore, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Okeelie Brown, Garveymeade/Portmore, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Unidentified man, Port Henderson Road, St. Catherine

Felicia Sutherland, 25, Burnside/Red Hills, St. Andrew -employee of RJR

Daryl Lodge, 52, Burnside/Red Hills, St. Andrew – U.S. Citizen

Eldon Calvert, 31, Salt Spring, St. James

Clayton Whyte, 51, Green Pond, St. James

Marlon Davidson, 31, Junction, St. Elizabeth

Irving Drummond, 47, Old Buckfield, St. Ann

Peter Wallis, Clarendon

A picture of grief: Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna (left), Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (center) and Minister responsible for sports Natalie Neita Headley wept as the body of former Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke arrived at Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport. His funeral will take place on Saturday in Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland.

A picture of grief: Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna (left), Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (center) and Minister responsible for sports Natalie Neita Headley wept as the body of former Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke arrived at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport. His funeral will take place on Saturday in Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland.

 

 

King’s House: “I Hope it Will be Etched in Your Minds”

As we got out of the car, a group of olive-throated parakeets wheeled past with loud, squeaking cries, their wings beating fast. The noise of the Hope Road traffic faded.

We were at King’s House, the official residence of the Governor General of Jamaica, the Head of State. Our current “GG” is His Excellency the Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen; the building is both an office, the venue for official Government functions and a residence, where he and Lady Allen live, on the top floor. King’s House Lands (then called Somerset Pen) was originally the home of the Anglican Lord Bishop of the Diocese of Jamaica. The house’s first occupant, Sir John Peter Grant, was Governor of Jamaica from 1866 to 1874. He moved from the old capital in Spanish Town in 1872, and purchased the property for six thousand pounds. He spent eight thousand pounds building a new King’s House. In 1907, King’s House was destroyed in a major earthquake, and rebuilt.

The south side of King's House, with its wonderful buttresses.

The south side of King’s House, with its wonderful buttresses.

It was a beautiful day...

It was a beautiful day…

Why was I here on this beautiful morning, all hazy white clouds and birds and powder-blue sky? I was tagging along with Managing Director of Phase Three Productions Marcia Forbes and her staff – and an excited group of young people, slightly nervous and all dressed up in black and white. These were the graduates of two special (free) hectic one-week workshops on videography, hosted by Phase Three with expert presenters and facilitators in celebration of the firm’s thirtieth anniversary. They were to meet with Sir Patrick Allen and to have a special guided tour of King’s House.

On guard at the entrance to King's House.

On guard at the entrance to King’s House.

As we approached the entrance on the south side of the building, groups of people were leaving. Sir Patrick had just sworn in eight female jurists (as I discovered afterwards) in the bright, high-ceilinged Ballroom. Congratulations to the lady judges! After waiting in the foyer for a few minutes, we made our way to the Consuls’ Tea Garden, which was renovated by the Consular Corps of Jamaica and officially opened in 2010. We stood on the walkway in the shade of a vine, and the sound of a cool waterfall greeted us.

The Governor General welcomed and congratulated the graduates. The program has been endorsed by his “I Believe Initiative” – launched in 2011 – a very effective and high profile service-oriented program for young people. Be all that you can be, is the message.

Marcia Forbes introduces the young people and informs the Governor General of the success of the videography workshops. (My photo)

Marcia Forbes introduces the young people and informs the Governor General of the success of the videography workshops. (My photo)

Sir Patrick made some interesting comments on the building where he lives and works. He said that he hoped the young people, with their collective photographic eye, would retain this “moment in time” in their memories. “I hope it will be etched in your minds,” he added. He noted that he and his wife and their staff “strive to maintain the authenticity and integrity” of the building. Although it still has the breath of colonial days, the Governor General wants King’s House to encompass and enshrine “the hopes and aspirations of a nation.” Because, he added, it is more than a historic building – it is not just a place, it is people.

The dining room table seemed to go on forever.

The Dining Room table seemed to go on forever.

We were then whisked off by our kind and gracious tour guide, Ambassador Evadne Coye, who is Special Advisor to the Governor General. In the Dining Room, we gazed at a huge painting of King George III (almost certainly a copy, Ambassador Coye noted – copies of paintings of royalty were made by lesser artists for every country under British rule). In the Drawing Room, I particularly loved the delicate, almost flowerlike chandeliers in the Drawing Room, beautifully enhanced by the soft golden drapes at the tall windows. The chandeliers were taken from the first King’s House in Spanish Town.

One of the delicious chandeliers, from the original King's House in Spanish Town, in the Drawing Room.

One of the delicious chandeliers, from the original King’s House in Spanish Town, in the Drawing Room.

The room I enjoyed the most (despite the lack of curtains at the windows, for which Ambassador Coye apologized) was the Morning Room. It is comfortable, bright, and has a fine view of the back of the house, with the green mountains beyond. I could spend a day just relaxing there…writing, perhaps, and drinking tea. In one corner stands a bust – a gift from Chile, of their National Hero Bernardo O’Higgins (a name that has always fascinated me). In a large cupboard at the back is a splendid array of silver, from what was then the West Indies Regiment; and in two corner cupboards, some lovely china with the crest “ER” (Elizabeth Regina). A wonderful print of the Rio Cobre caught my eye.

The glow of silver in the Morning Room.

The glow of silver in the Morning Room.

Who is this handsome man? Why, it's Bernardo O'Higgins, Chile's National Hero, who led the country to Independence from the Spanish.

Who is this handsome man? Why, it’s Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile’s National Hero, who led the country to Independence from the Spanish.

 

This beautiful verandah dates back to 1871.

This beautiful verandah dates back to 1871.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the large, sturdy porch outside, Ambassador Coye began to talk about duppies. For non-Jamaicans, that means ghosts. She told us several stories of duppy sightings by soldiers on guard in the quiet of the night, expressing regret that she had not yet seen one for herself. Some of our group looked skeptical, others faintly amused. I just love ghost stories, so I listened closely.

Walking towards the eastern end of King's House.

Looking towards the eastern end of King’s House.

As we walked round the side of King’s House, a lively breeze brushed the avenue of palms where swifts wheeled and dived after insects. I had noticed in the porch that a number of their nests were glued to the corners of the walls. How lovely that these graceful birds shared this home with Sir Patrick and Lady Allen – and that previous generations of birds had, most likely, shared this space with previous governor generals and their wives and families.

Swifts' nests tucked into the porch.

Swifts’ nests tucked into the porch.

Ambassador Coye tells us duppy stories.

Ambassador Coye tells us duppy stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mantra of the I Believe Initiative, by the way, is: “There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica.” As Sir Patrick Allen told the Phase Three graduates this morning, “You are part of what is right with Jamaica.”

And it felt – yes, just right.

King’s House has a very good website: http://www.kingshouse.gov.jm/  They are also on Facebook and on Twitter @KingsHouse_GG  

Learn more about the I Believe Initiative at http://www.ibelieveinitiative.org and you can also find them on Facebook and Twitter @ibija  

Cool reflections on a polished table in the Morning Room.

Cool reflections on a polished table in the Morning Room.

A Day at the Beach: International Coastal Cleanup Day is September 20, 2014

Here’s a reminder of the upcoming International Coastal Cleanup Day in Jamaica – Saturday, September 20. The Jamaica Environment Trust is expecting a tremendous turnout. Many thanks to the Tourism Enhancement Fund and to the Sandals Foundation for their ongoing support!

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has received an overwhelming response to International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Day Jamaica, to be held on Saturday, September 20, 2014. For the first time in Jamaica, there are over 130 registered cleanup sites islandwide, including 6 river and 11 underwater cleanups. The number of expected participants has also increased to a record breaking 8,000 volunteers.

“ICC Day in Jamaica has grown leaps and bounds each year,” said Diana McCaulay, JET CEO, “We aimed for 100 sites and more volunteers this year, but 130 sites far exceeds our expectations.” As the National Coordinator, JET is working with local site coordinators to carry out cleanups in all 14 parishes in Jamaica on Saturday. The JET flagship beach cleanup has over 2,200 persons registered, including 21 corporate teams, who will be volunteering at the Fort Rocky Beach on the Palisadoes strip in Kingston.

International Coastal Cleanup Day in Jamaica is funded by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). The Ministry of Tourism and its agencies, including TEF, will participate in cleanups in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Kingston. “The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) is delighted to know that a record number of sites have been registered for the 2014 ICC Day. It is a clear indication that we are beginning to understand and appreciate the concept of social responsibility and the importance of environmental stewardship…not only to ensure our own survival, but is also expected of us from visitors who are holding destinations to higher environmental standards,” said Clyde Harrison, Executive Director of the TEF.

There has also been enthusiastic participation from tourism stakeholders including hotels and resort boards. Sandals Foundation has come aboard again as a major supporter of ICC Jamaica 2014, coordinating 10 cleanups in 4 parishes. Couples Swept Away, Hedonism II, The Cardiff Hotel and Spa, and the Tryall Club are also coordinating cleanups in their resort areas.

At ICC cleanups, volunteers are not only responsible for picking up trash, but also collecting data on the type of garbage they collect. The data is compiled and sent by JET to the Ocean Conservancy, who coordinates the event globally. A full list of cleanups islandwide is available on JET’s website, http://www.jamentrust.org. JET encourages all Jamaicans to join a cleanup in their region – A day at the beach can make a world of difference!

For further details, contact Suzanne Stanley, Jamaica Environment Trust, 11 Waterloo Road, Kingston 10. Tel: (876) 960-3693; sstanley.jet@gmail.com

Please find below JET’s photographs from last year’s ICC Day around the island…

Scuba divers such as those from the Discovery Bay Marine Lab in 2012 participate in ICC Day by assisting with underwater cleanups.

Scuba divers such as those from the Discovery Bay Marine Lab in 2012 participate in ICC Day by assisting with underwater cleanups.

Volunteers at ICC Day 2013.

Volunteers at ICC Day 2013.

Young volunteers at ICC Day 2012.

Young volunteers at ICC Day 2012.