The Bard’s Birthday: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today is St. George’s Day, a rather patriotic day in England. It’s also William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday; he’s getting quite old.  In Kingston, Jamaica, the city is finally coming back to life after the torpor of the Easter holiday.

Still simmering: Resentment over the bank withdrawal tax still simmers. The Jamaican Twittersphere got itself quite tied up in knots over it. Finance Minister Peter Phillips held a press briefing yesterday which was closely followed on the live stream. The Minister tried to explain his broader strategy to modernize the tax administration system; he is seeking overseas assistance to do so. He also tried to explain why he reportedly said there would be no new taxes in the upcoming budget, in January; he said he was referring to petroleum tax specifically and that headlines had been misleading. Those PAYE workers who receive their pay through the bank find the tax unfair. The kind of thing that bugs me, though, is stuff like this: The case against a firm owned  by a People’s National Party activist, which allegedly owes over J$100 millions in General Consumption Tax, is still dragging through the courts after six years.

We have suffered from so many bad taxes – what results have we seen from all the taxes we have paid over the past few decades? Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw did not offer much of an alternative in his Budget presentation, but did say the Simpson Miller administration needed to “cut the fat” by reducing the size of government, cutting back on large overseas delegations, etc.  President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica Chris Zacca tweeted that the tax is “ill-advised” in his opinion (and yes, traditional media has to post screenshots of tweets to keep up with social media, now). And today the Bankers’ Association of Jamaica expressed concern over the impact of the tax on the formal banking system. As well they might. The Jamaica Teachers’s Association is not happy, either. Anyone in favor…?

The “most vulnerable”: This is the Finance Minister’s and the International Monetary Fund’s favorite catch-phrase. They want to protect the “m.v”s at all costs. Who comes into this category now? To my mind, the Jamaican middle class is more vulnerable than ever!

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Minister’s “thing”: A curious conversation between CVM Television reporter Garfield Burford and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has left me wondering. Mr. Burford waylaid the PM outside Parliament to ask her to comment on the withdrawal tax. Mrs. Simpson Miller began, “Well, what I understand from the Minister’s thing today… (thing, Madam, PM?)” and ended up confusing herself and the viewer completely. She interrupted her non sequitur sentences to emphasize, “I think the Minister himself” will explain everything when he closes the debate. I don’t think she understands the tax at all; or, she was not possibly briefed; or, she disagrees and was hinting it would be pulled back? A puzzling interview, altogether.

Still smokin' … A friend took this photo of the Riverton dump fire this afternoon, from Jacks Hill.

Still smokin’ … A friend took this photo of the Riverton dump fire this afternoon, from Jacks Hill. Quite distant, but very much there.

NEPA getting tough: Smoke still wafts across parts of Kingston from the Riverton City dump, five days after another fire started there. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has served an enforcement notice on the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), insisting that the operators of the dump strengthen security and that it provides full details of how the fire started. NEPA is threatening to withdraw the permit that it only just gave the NSWMA in March.

NEPA has also ordered Jamaica North South Highway Company Limited to stop the unauthorized clearing of land outside the highway in breach of its permit, which China Harbour Engineering Company is building. It seems they are over-zealous in their environmental destruction. No comment.

Police in discussion with civilians during the 1999 gas riots. The violent riots motivated the formation of human rights group Jamaicans for Justice. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Police in discussion with civilians during the 1999 gas riots. The violent riots motivated the formation of human rights group Jamaicans for Justice. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Kudos and commendations!

Fifteen years of remarkable work: Happy fifteenth birthday to Jamaicans for Justice, the human rights lobby group that was born in 1999 – at the foot of Jack’s Hill in Kingston, where a group gathered – during the April “gas riots” protesting then Finance Minister Omar Davies’ imposition of a tax on gasoline.

Dr. Andrew Wheatley. I am not sure if he is environment spokesman, am trying to find out.

Dr. Andrew Wheatley, the Opposition’s Spokesman on the Environment.

Opposition Spokesman on the Environment Dr. Andrew Wheatley, who has asked the question,“My position is that we need to decide, what is the greater priority: The health of the nation or cheaper energy?” in relation to the question of coal (why are we even considering coal? The World Bank is no longer funding any projects involving coal). Oh yes, China Harbour Engineering Company want to use a coal-fired plant to provide electricity for their planned port on the beautiful Goat Islands in Jamaica’s largest Protected Area. What a travesty!

Directors and members of American Friends of Jamaica, including former U.S. Ambassadors Brenda LaGrange Johnson and J. Gary Cooper, with residents at the Rose Town Community Library in Kingston.

Directors and members of American Friends of Jamaica, including former U.S. Ambassadors Brenda LaGrange Johnson and J. Gary Cooper, with residents at the Rose Town Community Library in Kingston.

American Friends of Jamaica - led by former U.S. Ambassadors to Jamaica – recently gave J$14 million-plus in grants to community-based organizations. Every year they raise funds for grassroots Jamaican organizations with little fanfare. Thank you so much!

The "Gleaner" office building on North Street in downtown Kingston.

The “Gleaner” office building on North Street in downtown Kingston.

The “Old Lady of North Street”, our venerable newspaper the Gleaner, which is celebrating its 180th anniversary this year. It is in fact the oldest company in Jamaica. I hope it will seek to maintain and uphold journalistic standards for many more decades to come.

Two unidentified men were killed since Sunday: One in Waterford/Portmore, St. Catherine and the other on Woodlawn Road in Mandeville, Manchester.  I have not been able to find their names, but I have no doubt they are mourned.

ON THE ROAD: My friend and fellow blogger Dennis Jones does not believe that Jamaican drivers are generally indisciplined. I have to disagree. Speeding remains a huge problem, and the holiday weekend’s occurrences underline this. Four people died and many others were injured in crashes over Easter – including a minibus carrying twenty people to a beach outing on the north coast. The bus was apparently trying to overtake a car, which was turning right. 

One of the many people injured in a bus crash in St. Mary is placed in a wheelchair. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

One of the many people injured in a bus crash in St. Mary is placed in a wheelchair. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

 

 

Earth Day Part 2: Join the Green Run on Sunday!

Happy birthday, Portland Bight Protected Area!

We love you, Portland Bight! From C-CAM's Facebook page...

We love you, Portland Bight! From C-CAM’s Facebook page…

 

Yes, the largest protected area in Jamaica – which includes the now-threatened Goat Islands – was declared a Protected Area on Earth Day, 1999 with much fanfare by then Environment Minister Easton Douglas. Here’s a report from Peter Espeut, who then headed the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation:

The following message was circulated on 11 June 1999 by Peter Espeut, Executive Director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) Foundation, Jamaica.

On Friday, June 4, 1999 as a prelude to Jamaica’s Environmental Awareness Week, the Honourable Easton Douglas, Jamaica’s Minister of the Environment and Housing, formally announced the declaration of Portland Bight as Jamaica’s newest Protected Area. He had previously signed the Declaration Order on April 22 — Earth Day 1999.

Chairman of the ceremony was Franklin McDonald, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), the government’s environmental agency. The ceremony was jointly sponsored by the NRCA and C-CAM. It was held within the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) in the fishing community of Old Harbour Bay, St. Catherine. The PBPA falls within two civil parishes — St. Catherine and Clarendon. Councillor Maureen Scott of the St. Catherine Parish Council welcomed the attendees to the parish.

Carla Gordon and Frances Blair of the NRCA explained the government’s Systems Plan for Parks and Protected Areas in Jamaica. Peter Espeut, Executive Director of

C-CAM, described the natural and human resources of the area, and outlined the management goals C-CAM would seek to achieve when it was delegated the management authority. He pointed out that about 50,000 persons lived within the boundaries of the PBPA, and that many industries were located there. He expressed his confidence that the co-management approach being pursued by C-CAM would lead to success in bringing sustainable development and sustainable prosperity to the area.

Minister Douglas then gave a stimulating address where he outlined the government’s record in protecting the environment, and committed the government to implementing the systems plan. He stated his confidence in C-CAM’s ability to manage the area, and promised that a location would be provided for the headquarters of the PBPA. He then signed copies of the Portland Bight Declaration Order in the official Jamaica Gazette, and presented copies to Councillor Maureen Scott representing the St. Catherine Parish Council, Councillor Winston Maragh representing the Clarendon Parish Council, St. Catherine Member of Parliament Jennifer Edwards, and C-CAM Chairman Tarn Peralto.

Following the ceremony was a boat tour of the northern reaches of the PBPA. The first stop was the beautiful Cockpit Salt Marsh on the Clarendon side of the Bight, where a fish (a mullet) conveniently jumped into the Minister’s boat. The tour then proceeded to Little Goat Island on the St. Catherine side, where the group had a look at the decommissioned US Naval Air Base (WWII vintage) and the tourism potential of the island. The party then returned to the mainland for refreshments.

Coming events

June 19 – Delegates from all the citizens’ associations in the St. Catherine and Clarendon parts of Portland Bight, meet to consider the Management Plan and regulations for the PBPA. Funded by the OAS-ISP.

June 29 – All Portland Bight fishers are invited to a Fisheries Management Symposium to discuss the Management Plan for the PBPA and the draft fisheries regulations drawn up by the Portland Bight Fisheries Management Council (PBFMC) for implementation within the PBPA. Funded from the Pew Fellowship to Peter Espeut, 1996 Pew Fellow.

Goat Islands and its surroundings are now seriously threatened by a planned shipping port, to be constructed by China Harbour Engineering Company. The current Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill has remained completely silent about the plans. If you search for “Portland Bight Protected Area” or “Goat Islands” on my blog you will find several articles with more information. Also DO look at savegoatislands.org which is regularly updated and very informative.

This year, the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation is celebrating the PBPA’s fifteenth anniversary with its first “Green Run.” If you are in Jamaica, do join us! The run/walk will begin at 7:00 a.m. sharp on Sunday, April 27, 2014 at Vere Technical High School in Clarendon and will end at Pawsey Park, Lionel Town. Registration fee (J$1,000 includes a Green Run T shirt, refreshments and prizes). All proceeds will go to C-CAM’s work in the PBPA. For more information call C-CAM at 289-8253 or email: ccamfngo@gmail.com. You can also leave a note on C-CAM’s Facebook page, and look at their website: http://www.ccam.org.jm

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Earth Day Part 1: Why Caribbean Birds Matter

Happy Earth Day, everyone! Although with the ever-present climate change issues weighing us down, and here in Jamaica the threat to our beautiful Portland Bight Protected Area still looming over us, it’s hard to feel very “happy”… But we live in hope and must keep on working for our precious Planet!

Today (Earth Day) is the fifteenth anniversary of the declaration of the Portland Bight Protected Area by the Jamaican Government on Earth Day, 1999. It is also the launch day of the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival. Read more on this below…

BirdsCaribbean’s logo depicts the Bananaquit, a colorful, friendly and easily-recognized songbird that is a common resident on most Caribbean islands.

BirdsCaribbean’s logo depicts the Bananaquit, a colorful, friendly and easily-recognized songbird that is a common resident on most Caribbean islands.

Birds Caribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds) is a major regional supporter of the campaign to save Goat Islands in the PBPA from a major port development and coal-fired power plant, which the Government of Jamaica aims to have built by China Harbour Engineering Company. Birds Caribbean is a non-profit organization committed to the conservation of wild birds and their habitats in the insular Caribbean. More than 80,000 local people participate in its programs each year, making BirdsCaribbean the most broad-based conservation organization in the region. Some of its international partners and supporters include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Royal Society for the Protection of Caribbean Birds, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Wetlands International, and BirdLife International.

The Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival (CEBF), an annual BirdsCaribbean event, is a celebration of the region’s unique bird life: of 770 bird species in the region, 148 are endemic and 105 of these are confined to single islands, including colorful parrots, hummingbirds, todies and warblers. It is celebrated for one month in the spring, from Earth Day (April 22nd) to International Biodiversity Day (May 22nd). Local conservation organizations will be celebrating through an array of events, including bird and nature walks, presentations, art exhibitions and competitions, radio quizzes, bird calling contests, beach clean-ups, tree plantings, and more. 

To find out more about BirdsCaribbean and the CEBF, look them up on Facebook and follow BirdsCaribbean on Twitter @BirdsCaribbean. Here is their press release on “Why Caribbean Birds Matter,” the theme for the CEBF.

There’s no question that birds have a special place in the hearts of Caribbean people. The intimate cultural connection between people and birds is reflected in the local names for birds that vary from island to island. They are celebrated in art and literature from the region as well, receiving praise from Bob Marley for “singin’ sweet songs,” and representing the Caribbean spirit in the poems of Derek Walcott. The true importance of Caribbean birds, however, goes far beyond their beauty and power to inspire.

Although often unknown or unnoticed, birds play many critical roles that enrich the ecosystems and economies of the Caribbean. They act as garbage men, gardeners, fish-finders and tourist attractions. The Caribbean as we know it couldn’t exist without them. Best of all, they do all this work for free!

Birds eat pests. A single Barn Swallow can eat 60 insects in an hour, up to 850 per day! Photo by Ron LeValley.

Birds eat pests. A single Barn Swallow can eat 60 insects in an hour, up to 850 per day! Photo by Ron LeValley.

1. Birds eat pests.

The early bird catches the worm, and many Caribbean birds eat insects of all kinds, like mosquitoes, cockroaches, flies and beetles. In the wild, insect-eating birds help ensure the proper balance between plants, insects and other animals. On farms, and in even in backyard gardens, they do much the same, controlling the population of pest insects for free, and reducing the need to use potentially harmful pesticides.

The coffee berry borer beetle, the world’s most serious coffee pest, is an excellent example of this. Research on Jamaican coffee farms has shown that migratory song birds, such as the American Redstart and Black-throated Blue Warbler, and resident birds, such as the Bananaquit and Jamaica Tody, feast on the berry borers during the critical period when the beetles are attempting to invade the maturing coffee berries. This research demonstrated that wild birds in the Caribbean increased the profits of coffee farmers by about 12 percent.

Birds also help control invasive species that are harmful to human health and ecosystems. Birds of prey such as the Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, and owls eat rats and mice in addition to smaller birds, mammals, insects and reptiles. In St. Martin, the American Kestrel hunts immature green iguanas, which are an invasive species.

2. Birds bring birdwatchers.

Birdwatchers love birds. They are visiting the Caribbean to see our rare and beautiful endemic birds and unique habitats. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service has calculated that birding and other wildlife watching is worth $32 billion per year (U.S. dollars) in the United States alone. Birding tourism, a growing segment of the international tourism market, now makes the Caribbean an important area for sun, sand, sea – and bird-watching! Birding trails and hotspots are established on most Caribbean islands, attracting both casual cruise ship visitors and the more dedicated stop-over birders in significant numbers. Birding tourism generates jobs and revenues for national parks and preserves, and hotels, restaurants and other small businesses. Promoting birding tourism during the peak migratory periods in the fall and spring may even help boost tourism during months that are traditionally considered the low season for tourism.

3. Birds clean up.

One man’s trash can be a bird’s treasure. From carcasses to breadcrumbs, birds are the champions of removing dead animal and other organic remains. Vultures, egrets, herons, crows and several other species remove road-kill, farming and domestic refuse. This helps keep islands beautiful and also benefits public health by disposing of items that could cause pollution or even spread disease.

Birds spread seeds. Many birds like the White-crowned Pigeon, Scaly-naped Pigeon, grassquits, parrots, bullfinches, and mockingbirds spread seeds by eating and digesting. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

Birds spread seeds. Many birds like the White-crowned Pigeon, Scaly-naped Pigeon, grassquits, parrots, bullfinches, and mockingbirds spread seeds by eating and digesting. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

4. Birds spread seeds.

None of our tropical hardwood forests would exist in their current state without wild birds. This is because for many tropical forest shrubs and trees, birds are the most important seed dispersers. The Caribbean is rich with seed-swallowing and fruit-pulp feeding birds, such as pigeons, doves, parrots, warblers and grassquits that spread forest seeds. By doing so, they protect valuable watersheds; produce vital water catchments; support important hardwood timber industries; help control floods; and buffer the effects of global climate change. Dominica’s large parrots, with their powerful thick beaks and feet, enhance seed dispersal by opening large hard fruits, making their seeds more available to smaller seed-dispersing songbirds.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Photo by Sean Modi.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Photo by Sean Modi.

5. Birds pollinate flowers.

Without birds, the region would lose some of its most beautiful treasures. In the Caribbean, bats, insects and birds, including hummingbirds, Bananaquits and many warblers overwhelmingly dominate pollination. A collection of studies has documented that the shape, nectar characteristics, and colors of several Caribbean flowers have evolved in response to hummingbird pollination. Thus plant diversity can be limited by a lack of hummingbird pollinators on some islands. Pollination is a key environmental service provided by birds—without birds, numerous plants could not produce seeds and fruits.

6. Birds enrich soils.

Guano, or seabird poop, contains concentrated sources of nitrogen and phosphates and is a valuable source of fertilizer. Although manure from commercially-produced chickens is now prevalent, seabird guano once formed the basis of entire industries. In the 1900s, before inorganic fertilizers became common, extensive guano deposits on Caribbean islands were harvested as guano prices skyrocketed in the Europe and in North America. Today, birds continue to provide this service in many habitats by enriching forest soils and recycling important nutrients for plant growth.

7. Birds are experts at finding fish.

Birds have been helping fishermen find fish since long before the invention of sonar and electronic fish finders. Seabirds like the Magnificent Frigatebird, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy have millions of years of experience spotting fish as they fly high above the sea. They are quick to the scene when schools of small fish are forced to the surface by larger, more desirable species. In the Caribbean, savvy fishermen have been using seabirds to help spot fish for generations, and refer to them as “fish finders.” They even know what type of fish they are likely to find in a given area based on the birds that are present!

A pair of binoculars and field guide is all you need to get started on a rewarding life long hobby. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

A pair of binoculars and field guide is all you need to get started on a rewarding life long hobby. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

8. Birds connect us to nature.

Birds are everywhere and are easy and fun to observe. In the Caribbean, where there are few native mammals, birds are often the most charismatic and familiar animals, making them the perfect ambassadors for appreciation of nature. A pair of binoculars and a field guide is enough to get anyone started on a rewarding lifelong hobby. A field trip to see birds can bring biology to life and inspire students to be our future scientists and conservationists.

Birds also have much to tell us about the world we live in. Our understanding of the natural world was and still is enriched through research on birds by numerous scientists. Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist and geologist who developed the theory of evolution by natural selection described in his book “The Origin of Species,” how his study of mockingbirds and finches in the Galapagos Islands contributed to his theory. In the Caribbean, bird research may bring new discoveries that help us better understand both the region and the world. Each island is, after all, a laboratory of sorts, running its own experiments in ecology and evolution.

9. Birds are our “canary in the coal mine.”

In the past, coal miners brought canaries and other small animals with them into mines because they would die when exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, giving the miners a chance to escape. Even today, birds often signal when there are dangerous threats to the environment and people.

In the mid-20th Century, populations of birds of prey such as the Peregrine Falcon, Osprey and Bald Eagle declined. Scientists found that accumulations of the pesticide DDT made them produce thin, brittle eggshells that broke easily. This discovery warned of the dangers of DDT to the health of wildlife and humans. More recently, mercury has been found in the blood of forest birds such as Bicknell’s Thrush, even though the birds are living far from power plants, showing the far-reaching effects of human pollution.

Just the presence or absence of birds can tell us a lot. In some parts of the Caribbean, the Magnificent Frigatebird was known as the Hurricane Bird. Their arrival from far at sea was a sign of a coming storm. When there are fewer birds, due to human disturbance such as forest clearing it can mean a loss in biodiversity. This makes habitats less resilient to change and more prone to invasion of harmful species and agricultural pests.

10. Caribbean birds are UNIQUELY ours!

The Caribbean cannot claim many goods, products and services as unique to the Caribbean. Many things that we now celebrate have their roots in other cultures and are derived from influences outside the region. Caribbean birds are, however, a notable exception! Ranked among the top five areas of the planet to possess a unique (and threatened) bird community, the Caribbean boasts a diverse collection of bird species that have lived here for millons of year and are not found anywhere else! According to global experts, an astonishing 72% of the approximately 208 resident island bird species found on Caribbean islands are endemic—that is, found nowhere else on the plant. Sadly, threats and rates of extinction have been increasing, meriting international focus on the preservation of this unique natural heritage.

By Leo Douglas, Mark Yokoyama and Lisa Sorenson

This article was inspired by the Audubon magazine’s articles “Ten Reasons to be Thankful for Birds” and “Birds Matter Because They Do.”

 

The Restrepo Man

petchary:

I am re-blogging this piece I wrote three years ago, after viewing the incredibly moving HBO documentary “Restrepo.” Today is the third anniversary of the death of Tim Hetherington, the photo-journalist who co-directed the film, in Misrata, Libya. An American colleague, Chris Hondros, was mortally wounded alongside him. These brilliant, brave men risk their lives every day to bring us the dramatic footage we see on our newscasts every evening. Let us not forget Tim and Chris.

Originally posted on Petchary's Blog:

There have been so many powerful stories lately, it is hard to catch up on them.  But one that resonated with the Petchary recently was the death of Tim Hetherington – photojournalist and filmmaker.  Tim was buried in London yesterday, May 13.  He died covering the conflict in Libya on April 20.

The first documentary film he ever directed, “Restrepo,” has aired recently on HBO.  I could not leave the television set for one moment until it ended.  I was immediately drawn into the lives of a platoon of fifteen U.S. soldiers, holding out in an area of Afghanistan called the Korengal Valley, a lonely place of dry, empty hills.  The place is considered one of the most dangerous postings anywhere, with attacks coming in from all directions, and the soldiers named it after an army medic, Private First Class Juan Restrepo, who had been 

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Easter Sunday: April 20, 2014

For those who celebrate it… Happy Easter, everyone. This blissfully quiet long weekend in town continues. It seems our entire neighborhood has migrated, except us. We are enjoying it.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

Budget anger: On Thursday, Finance Minister Peter Phillips told Jamaicans how he plans to finance the 2014/15 budget. His announcement of a “progressive” tax on bank transactions has gone down like a lead balloon among Jamaica’s middle classes (let’s just call them the “working poor.”) The levy on withdrawals from deposit-taking institution and encashment from securities dealers is expected to raise J$2.3 billion – about one third of the announced tax package. As I write, some are questioning economist Dr. Damien King’s interpretation of that word “progressive.” Attorney at law Marc Ramsay (now here’s another Jamaican blog you should follow – http://www.marcramsay.com) is encouraging Jamaicans to sign an online petition that is circulating protesting the taxes. Actually I believe there’s more than one. Dr. King says: “It’s progressive because the poorest hardly use banks so they will pay zero. Use of banks rises with income…”  Hmm.

Why the bitterness? It’s something called distrust. Young Member of Parliament and State Minister Damion Crawford tweeted that he didn’t know what all the fuss was about, adding fuel to the fire of discontent. But Jamaicans all know about two things: corruption, and tax dodgers. When are measures going to be taken to address these issues? I understand that would be difficult and costly, so let law-abiding Jamaicans suffer with new tax measures. One man said on television that he is going to start saving his money under his mattress. Jamaicans already pay very high bank charges (this is a government tax, of course).They are anxious about a pending large increase in electricity bills. The prevailing mood is a simmering anger. Meanwhile, at the end of 2013 the Gleaner reported from the Auditor General’s report: “Eleven importers who owed the Government some $1.2 billion in general consumption tax (GCT) and other taxes from 2011 were still able to get waivers valued at $4.2 billion in the last financial year.” It’s against this kind of background that Jamaicans feel they are being unfairly treated, again.

I am told a "phablet" is a medium sized tablet from which one can make phone calls. OK, then.

I am told a “phablet” is a medium sized tablet from which one can make phone calls. OK, then.

“Phablets,” Minister? Oh, there is no customs duty on “phablets.” This is the first time I have ever heard this word. Where did you get it from, Minister Phillips?

The inflation rate for the fiscal year ended up at 8.3 per cent, just below the target range of 8.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent. For this and more economic data, http://www.digjamaica.com is an excellent source, by the way.

Members of the Alpha Boys' Band play for The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on their arrival at the Norman Manley International Airport a few years ago. - Winston Sill/Freelance/Gleaner

Members of the Alpha Boys’ Band play for The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on their arrival at the Norman Manley International Airport a few years ago. (Photo: Winston Sill)

On a positive note: Good changes are taking place at Alpha Boys’ School, which was recently dragged into a completely unnecessary controversy. Apart from the Alpha Boys’ School Radio (which I recommend highly!) and a new music studio, a screen-printing training program will set up shop soon, with support from the Digicel Foundation and others. The football field is reportedly once again in very good shape. After all, “Onwards and Upwards” is their motto!

Fire and pollution… The Riverton dump again. (Photo: Twitter)

Fire and pollution… The Riverton dump again. (Photo: Twitter)

AGAIN? So soon? Yes, the Riverton City dump (and I wish the officials would stop calling it a “landfill”) starting burning again on Friday night – fifteen acres of it. This close-up photo was taken by a news team who visited there yesterday. Now, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) says the fire is “contained” (but not necessarily out) and I hear there was nasty smoke billowing out up to last night. How could this happen again?

The drought deepens: It is hot and it is windy in Kingston. We can literally feel the yard drying out, minute by minute. But we must – must – conserve water, as supplies are getting alarmingly low in both the reservoirs that serve the city. They contain about three to four weeks’ worth of water, we understand. This is frightening. Montego Bay got some rain yesterday, but the capital city desperately needs some really good, heavy showers.

Disturbing: I was surprised and disturbed by a full-page article by the Sunday Observer’s “Editor-at-Large,” an all-out ad hominem attack on former Deputy Commissioner of Police Mark Shields. The editor did not like Mr. Shields’ concerns over a sensational, front-page report in the same newspaper last week, making certain allegations relating to the Vybz Kartel murder trial (I did not write about this as I considered it irresponsible journalism myself). Mr. Shields suggested the report was indeed irresponsible, in that it put peoples’ lives at risk. The editor’s vitriolic response was unnecessary and very unpleasant, indeed. Come on, Sunday Observer… As I have said in previous blog posts every week, you can rise above the gutter. Don’t dig yourselves in deeper.

Easter recommendations and kudos:

Alpha Boys' School Radio

Alpha Boys’ School Radio

I’ve been listening to some great roots reggae, ska, dub, you name it today on http://www.alphaboysschoolradio.com. Yes, the Alpha Boys’ School Radio station is up and running online; you can even download the free mobile app for your android or iPhone. Find them on Twitter and Facebook. Tune in! According to the radio station, Alpha Boys’ Band started in 1892 with drum and fife; then got some brass instruments from the United States. The boys found out then that it was “a lot of hard work, a lot of practice.” 

Free at last! Superintendent Rudolf Edwards (right) of the Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Centre seems quite pleased as he joins Gillette Ramsay (left), a volunteer with Food for the Poor Jamaica, in sharing the good news with one of the three inmates. (Photo: Gleaner)

Free at last! Superintendent Rudolf Edwards (right) of the Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Centre seems quite pleased as he joins Gillette Ramsay (left), a volunteer with Food for the Poor Jamaica, in sharing the good news with one of the three inmates. Food for the Poor paid the fines of 21 prisoners to ensure their release for the Easter holiday.  (Photo: Gleaner)

Food for the Poor Jamaica has done its twice-a-year routine, ensuring the release of 21 prisoners who were unable to pay fines for minor offenses and ended up in jail. So they are enjoying the Easter weekend with family, now. Thank you!

Remember the Coptics? As the debate on ganja legalization/decriminalization continues, fellow blogger Barbara Blake Hannah reminds us of a piece of history: the emergence of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church in eastern Jamaica during the seventies, and the impact this had on Jamaican society and politics. Read more at http://barbarablakehannah.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/remember-the-coptics/ 

I love this photo of Antoinette Wemyss-Gordon, the first female Commanding Officer of the JDF Coast Guard. (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

I love this photo of Antoinette Wemyss-Gordon, the first female Commanding Officer of the JDF Coast Guard. (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Many congratulations to Antoinette Wemyss-Gordon, who has become the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard’s first female Commanding Officer. What an achievement! Interestingly, she says women should not “rely on their femininity” when seeking to advance their military career. Male colleagues, she adds, “expect you to behave equally like them, like just another officer. That’s where you earn your respect.”

It’s very sad that four Jamaicans were murdered on Good Friday. Among them, a teenage boy and a friend who were reportedly targeted by robbers in Clarendon. Another teenager was injured. My condolences to the families who are mourning this weekend:

 

Phillip Douglas, 24, Farm/May Pen, Clarendon

Omar Joseph, 16, Farm/May Pen, Clarendon

Owayne Barrett, 33, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Nigel Steele,Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Nain, St. Elizabeth

On the road: A 69-year-old woman was killed in Chudleigh, Manchester on Thursday. The driver was apparently speeding, hit a wall, and the woman who was a passenger was flung out of the car. Was she wearing a seat belt? In any case, can we please just SLOW DOWN? And another young policeman was killed that day, while riding his motorcycle in Kingston. I hope everyone is taking care on the roads this holiday weekend.

“Limbo”: A New Jamaican Novel by Esther Figueroa

Sitting here in limbo
Waiting for the tide to flow
Sitting here in limbo
Knowing that I have to go

One of Jimmy Cliff’s most wistful songs, this one written in 1971, came to mind as I was reading Esther Figueroa’s recently published novel – described as arguably Jamaica’s first “environmental novel.” 

Limbo is, of course, a state of not doing anything. You’re not heading in any direction. While Mr. Cliff sounded calm enough in his song, quietly contemplating his next move, the hero of Dr. Figueroa’s novel is far from satisfied with her situation – and that of Jamaica in general. Flora is a feisty Jamaican woman approaching middle age, who heads an environmental NGO. Her mood veers between nervous anxiety and restless frustration throughout much of the novel, and she curses regularly. She cannot sit quietly in limbo, at all. Waiting for something to happen does not suit her temperament.

Limbo by Esther Figueroa.

Limbo by Esther Figueroa.

There are different kinds of limbo. The cover of the book depicts the “limbo” that was once an amusing attraction for the tourists (in the fifties and sixties) with “natives” bending over backwards under a pole, while others shake maracas playfully and beat drums. This reference to Jamaica’s tourism “product” is clever, and ironic. Flora’s expeditions around the island expose the negative impact of all-inclusive hotels on the environment and local people. She sees the monstrous Spanish hotels along the north coast, and in particular the cruise ship pier and the construction of a fake “Historic Falmouth” with oversized parking lots for buses. Of course, we know of the wholesale destruction of coastal mangrove forests that took place to create these tourist havens (heavens?). Flora is also angry at a place called Sea Fun World, where the dolphins are “better off than when they’re living in the wild” (oh, sure…)

A part of Gustav Dore's illustration of Dante's "Limbo."

A part of Gustav Dore’s illustration of Dante’s “Limbo.” Nobody really knows what to do with themselves…

But let’s get to the real limbo, now. This is the limbo of Dante’s “Inferno,” between heaven and all those circles of hell. It’s a place where there are no struggles or torments; but those dwelling there are waiting for redemption, in the hope of reaching heaven. They just sit around there, powerless, waiting for their fate to be determined. Which will it be, heaven or hell? In the novel, the question is asked, “Which circle of hell is reserved for those who have done irreparable damage?” 

“Forget vision…It’s about money and power,” says Flora in one of her moments of deep cynicism; she is talking about the government’s vision, or rather lack of it. But she doesn’t have much time for philosophizing. She takes the reader along at a rollicking pace, moving through intrigues personal and political, complex deals and corrupt maneuverings, family entanglements, love affairs past and present – even a murder mystery. Flora may complain of exhaustion, but her life is never dull. We meet crusading journalists, shady businessmen, wise fishermen, unscrupulous developers and influential talk show hosts. It’s great fun.

Woven into the narrative is a moving and very personal tribute to one particular person: a journalist, a fierce environmental campaigner and a good and true soul – one who is no longer with us. He is a dear friend of Flora’s, and if we know Jamaica at all, we will quickly recognize him (as we may half-recognize some other characters in the novel). The book is dedicated to him, as well as to environmental activist Diana McCaulay – who also heads her own non-governmental organization, Jamaica Environment Trust.

Flora tackles all of Jamaica’s major environmental concerns head on. Apart from unsustainable tourism, these include the choking tide of plastic on our seashores, toxic waste, over-fishing, the devastating impact of bauxite mining on rural communities. She does not lecture the reader, however. She discusses, she argues, she seeks to persuade, she uses all her social skills to try to influence others. But the “everlasting arguments” exhaust her. She feels the burden of being an activist with little support. At one point, Flora realizes she is “absolutely sick of trying to save human beings from themselves and from destroying the planet.”

And as events unfold, Flora is increasingly seeking to bring balance into her life. There are interludes of rest, enjoyment, sheer pleasure. Her best friend Lilac cooks delicious meals for her; I enjoyed the mouth-watering descriptions of Jamaican food, in particular – cocoa tea, fish and bammy from Port Royal, fragrant cornmeal porridge and much more. One of my favorite chapters describes a visit to Kingston’s Coronation Market with Lilac, where an abundance of local fruits and vegetables is heaped into the van in preparation for an uptown party, complete with soca music. A fishing trip, an escape by boat to a small island, where she stays overnight, sleeping in a hammock with her lover. These are the kind of things one dreams about doing in Jamaica. I think the word I am searching for is idyllic.

These moments of respite, amidst Flora’s weariness and frustration, express her profound love for Jamaica (and one senses, the author’s, too). But the book does not portray a “Come to Jamaica and feel irie!” prettified Jamaica; far from it. There is nothing sentimental about Flora’s non-negotiable, unequivocal love for her home, Jamaica – the land, and the “real” people.  Flora simply cares, deeply, for her country, and she has fought for it. She travels, she has studied overseas. But we know she does not want to live anywhere else; why should she?

The message is clear: This island of Jamaica has riches, abundant. We don’t have to tear her apart and rob her of them. She can keep them, and we can nurture them, because they will benefit all of us, for generations to come.

As Bob Marley once sang (and I think he was talking about those “big men” Flora had to deal with):“Think you’re in heaven, but you’re living in hell.” Limbo is, perhaps, the worst option. But the novel ends hopefully, in a small quiet place by the sea, where the breeze blows and the light plays over land and water.

This book is not about Jamaica. It is, truly, Jamaica.

“Limbo” is published by Arcade in hardcover, and is available at Jamaican bookstores and on amazon.com.

Author Esther Figueroa is a Jamaican independent filmmaker who has produced several films on environmental issues, including "Jamaica For Sale," a powerful documentary on the impact of tourism.

Author Esther Figueroa is a Jamaican independent filmmaker who has produced several films on environmental issues, including “Jamaica For Sale,” a powerful documentary on the impact of tourism.

 

 

 

 

Save British Botanical Gardens’ Scientific Work

petchary:

Kew Gardens was a place of beauty and delight to me when I was growing up not far away in the London suburbs. The father of a schoolfriend was a keeper in the gardens and lived there. I remember wonderful summer evenings playing in the gardens after they closed to the public.But Kew Gardens is not just a beautiful place. It has always been a major international center of scientific research and is of even greater significance, with climate change increasing the need to conserve so many endangered plant species. Whether you are in England or not, please support the campaign to save Kew Gardens and Wakehurst Place from government cuts.

Originally posted on Dear Kitty. Some blog:

This video is about Kew Gardens in London, England.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Campaign and petitions launched to save botanical garden jobs

Saturday 19th April 2014

London’s Kew and Wakehurst Place in Sussex are threatened by government cuts

A national campaign has been launched to save vital conservation and scientific work at two botanical gardens where 120 jobs are under threat.

General union GMB said on Thursday that jobs are under threat at Kew in London and Wakehurst Place in Sussex due to government cuts.

Kew Gardens is a world leader in its field with over 250 years experience, but has announced a £5 million deficit.

The campaign includes a petition and early day motion in Parliament.

Naturalist Sir David Attenborough is backing the campaign.

GMB regional officer Paul Grafton said “The aim is to save globally important conservation and science under threat.

“Never before has…

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