“A Time of Major Transition” for Jamaican Art

petchary:

On several occasions, we have enjoyed the National Gallery of Jamaica’s satisfying and enjoyable free Sundays – a compilation of the performing arts, excellent coffee, the always-tempting gift shop, and of course, plenty of art. But in what direction is the once vibrant Jamaican art scene heading? Is it going anywhere at all, or merely stagnating against the background of a weak economy? The recently-appointed Chief Curator of the National Gallery Charles Campbell spoke at the opening of an exhibition of student work at the Edna Manley College for the Visual & Performing Arts in Kingston, and I thought I would share his comments here. Let’s hope that Jamaican artists of the future will take up the challenge.

Originally posted on National Gallery of Jamaica Blog:

Nadine Hall - Sacred Bodies (2014), detail of installation - presently on view in Be Uncaged

Nadine Hall – Sacred Bodies (2014), detail of installation – presently on view in Be Uncaged

The NGJ’s Chief Curator Charles Campbell was the guest speaker at the April 3 opening of Be Uncaged, an exhibition of student work at the Edna Manley College’s CAG[e] gallery. Since his remarks have broader relevance, we decided to share them here. The exhibition, which was curated by the students in the Introduction to Curatorial Studies course, is well worth visiting and remains open at the College until April 17.

One of the questions I’m frequently asked is what I think of the art scene here. It’s a complicated question to answer. Are we talking about the artists that live here, the Island’s talent pool and what’s going on behind closed doors in studios and bedrooms across the island? Is it the quality of the exhibitions we get to see, the activity…

View original 1,129 more words

Swept Away: “Werther” at the Met

I spent the afternoon sitting in the Carib Cinema weeping blissfully. At one point in the final act of Massenet’s “Werther,” I had the urge to throw myself down in the aisle and sob loudly. I am not sure if the small but devoted Jamaican audience would have approved – but some might perhaps have joined me.

Werther reminds Charlotte of his literary inspiration - the writings of a legendary Gaelic poet called Ossian - as he sings "Tout mon ame est la!" (All of my soul is there).

Werther reminds Charlotte of his literary inspiration – the writings of a legendary Gaelic poet called Ossian –  singing “Tout mon ame est la!” (All of my soul is there). His emotional aria “Pourquoi me reveiller” nearly brought the house down at today’s performance.

The brief ball scene in this production - not a part of the original libretto.

The brief, candlelit ball scene in this production of “Werther”- not a part of the original libretto, but done with great delicacy.

We were watching another in the series of Metropolitan Opera of New York’s live broadcasts, which are seen in some sixty countries around the world. There are just three left in the current series. There is little variety in musical offerings in Kingston – there is a dearth of classical music of any kind, and even anything approaching jazz seems to have died a death. So we are grateful, and lucky, and thank our local Palace Amusement Company for making it all possible.

The beautiful Werther, sung by Jonas Kaufmann. As you can see here, the sets depicting the changing seasons in the earlier part of the opera were very effective, with the use of video. Crows perched in wintry trees, burnt-orange leaves fell in autumn, and here was the dappled green of summer.

The beautiful Werther, sung by Jonas Kaufmann. As you can see here, the sets depicting the changing seasons in the earlier part of the opera made very effective use of video. Crows  flew to their perches in wintry trees, burnt-orange leaves fell; and here was the dappled green of springtime on a country estate.

Very grateful, indeed, for the  extraordinarily beautiful performances in the nineteenth-century French composer’s opera “Werther.”  This transported me back to my high school days, when I studied German for Advanced Level and was obsessed by the music, literature and art of the European fin de siècle. The heightened emotions, the melancholia, the world-weariness, the love of nature and beauty. As a teenager I just lapped it all up.

A young Goethe, painted in 1787 by Angelika Kauffmann. By the way, there was a 2011 film, "Young Goethe in Love." Please try to avoid it...

A young Goethe, painted in 1787 by Angelika Kauffmann. By the way, there was a 2011 film, “Young Goethe in Love.” Please try to avoid it…

I was very fond of the German poet, writer, lawyer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was actually pre-turn of the century, but working up to that same spirit of the times. At the age of 25 Goethe was already a superstar, with the 1775 publication of his first novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” on which the opera is loosely based. The vaguely autobiographical work (it is a “love triangle” of sorts)  was a huge European hit. And yes, Goethe himself fell in love a great deal, as you might expect. “Sorrows” is a classic example of the “Sturm und Drang” artistic movement of the time. It’s really hard to translate; but basically this was all about the individual and the vehement expression of one’s emotions, in response to the cool rationalism of the Enlightenment period (OK, it’s more complex than that, but in the interests of time and space…) In short, Sturm und Drang was a kind of eighteenth century punk rock movement (without the spitting).

Jonas Kaufmann in this production of "Werther." (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe/Metropolitan Opera)

Jonas Kaufmann in this production of “Werther.” (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe/Metropolitan Opera)

Well, let us look at this fictional poet Werther, in the handsome person of Jonas Kaufmann, the German tenor. Both Kaufmann and Sophie Koch, a wonderful French mezzo soprano who played Charlotte, have sung these roles together several times before, and it showed. There was nothing stilted about their acting; and as Charlotte sang, “Que ton âme en mon âme éperdument se fonde!” (“Let your soul and my soul merge desperately!”) their performances really did blend together effortlessly. (By the way, Werther was bleeding pretty badly at this point).

Charlotte (Sophie Koch) with Werther in the final scene.

Charlotte (Sophie Koch) with Werther in the final scene.

The New York Times recently described Kaufmann as “currently the most in-demand, versatile and exciting tenor in opera.”  Well, he’s in demand with me, all right. I would run a hundred miles and cross many seas to see and hear him perform again. His voice has been described as having “dark” tones. In the final act, his soft notes were as exquisite as his earlier passionate ones. And he is simply quite beautiful (see: http://www.jonaskaufmann.com/en/) I am quite tempted to go and see the encore performance, which will take place in Kingston at the Cineplex Cinema and in Montego Bay at the Multiplex on Sunday, March 23 at 11:30 a.m. 

The art direction included frames (sometimes asymmetrical and tilted) to create more intimate settings on the huge stage. Here in the final act, Charlotte gets ready to go and find Werther, who is already rather ominously contemplating a box of pistols in his room. This is a piercing moment when she stands outside in the darkness, fearful for Werther, while he moves about his room.

The art direction included frames (sometimes asymmetrical and tilted) to create more intimate settings on the huge stage. Here in the final act, Charlotte gets ready to go and find Werther, who is already rather ominously contemplating a box of pistols in his room. This is a piercing moment when she stands outside in the darkness, fearful for Werther, while he moves about his room.

You get the feeling that poor Werther is ready to end his own life from the beginning of this story. He is as much wrapped up in himself as he is in Charlotte. As Jonas Kaufmann himself jokingly said during an interview, you keep wanting to tell him, “Get over it… Give us a break.” 
But that wasn’t the way of the Romantics. They wanted to keep that candle burning. As well they should.
An image of the first edition of

An image of the first edition of “Die Leiden des jungen Werthers” (The Sorrows of Young Werther) by Goethe. Actually “Leiden” means more than sorrows. It means suffering.

The Jamaica-Crimea Connection

Sounds rather odd, doesn’t it? But actually, there is one, and it’s rather interesting.

A quiet afternoon at Mary Seacole Hall. (My photo)

A quiet afternoon at Mary Seacole Hall. (My photo)

A couple of days ago I was at a women’s residence on the University of the West Indies’ Kingston campus, Mary Seacole Hall. I spoke to a group of students from the I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation, which mentors teenage girls. It was a quiet Ash Wednesday holiday; small groups of students relaxed in the courtyard in the pale sunlight. Rain hovered in the hills surrounding the campus, but none fell. Nadeen Spence (a member of the 51% Coalition), who established the group, was talking about “The Realities of Girls in Jamaica” when I arrived.

This bust of Mary Seacole is tucked away to one side of the hall of residence at the University of the West Indies. Sorry I didn't grab a more close-up photo.

This bust of Mary Seacole is tucked away to one side of the hall of residence at the University of the West Indies. Sorry I didn’t grab a more close-up photo.

The only known photographic portrait of Mary Seacole, courtesy of the Amoret Tanner Collection.

The only known photographic portrait of Mary Seacole, courtesy of the Amoret Tanner Collection.

The residential hall was named after Mary Seacole in 1957. As a woman of mixed race, she also faced many tough realities, back in colonial Jamaica and in the UK where she lived for much of her life (and where she is buried). Ms. Seacole was born in Kingston in 1805, the daughter of a “free” Jamaican woman and a Scottish army officer. (I put “free” in quotation marks because many civil rights were still denied to Mary’s family). Her mother ran a home for invalid soldiers in Kingston and this started Mary’s interest in nursing. She was married for eight years, then widowed. Then she went off on her adventures – a few years after the “full free” of Emancipation (that was August 1, 1838). Over the next few years she worked as a nurse during a cholera epidemic in Panama and worked at Up Park Camp in Kingston during a yellow fever outbreak.

Why am I telling you so much about this extraordinary pioneering woman? Well, in 1853 war broke out in the Crimea – yes, the same Black Sea peninsula where there are currently uncomfortable standoffs between militia and soldiers waving flags and guns and singing patriotic songs. It remains to be seen whether the would-be-czar Vladimir Putin decides to annex the Crimea this time around, but during the Crimean War (1853-56) Russia eventually lost to an odd alliance of the British, French, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia, after the siege of Sevastopol. It was a bitter and costly war (as they so often are) which devastated the Crimea. Since then, and throughout the last century, the Ukraine suffered terrible losses from famine and civil war – and at the hands of Stalin and Hitler. One hopes history does not repeat itself.

A commander at the Ukrainian military garrison at the Belbek airbase speaks to troops under Russian command occupying the Belbek airbase in Crimea on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A commander at the Ukrainian military garrison at the Belbek airbase speaks to troops under Russian command occupying the Belbek airbase in Crimea on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Well, Mary Seacole was determined to join Florence Nightingale in the Crimea and care for the British soldiers. She was a middle-aged woman now, and pretty much on her own except for the support of Mr. Thomas Day, a relative of her husband’s. In London, she tried to enroll as a nurse in the Crimea, but was rejected several times. In the end, she raised enough funds to get there anyway. She traveled alone with her supplies to the battlefield of Balaklava, where she set up the famous “British Hotel” for sick and wounded soldiers. When the war ended, she returned to London, completely broke. But her autobiography, “Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands,” was a best-seller. A gala was held in her honor in 1857 and funds were raised to support her. She became quite close to the Royal Family at the time, received several awards, and a Count carved a bust of her.

Balaklava Harbor in the Crimean War. (Photo: Roger Fenton. www.old-picture.com)

Balaklava Harbor in the Crimean War. (Photo: Roger Fenton. http://www.old-picture.com)

Mary Seacole died in 1881. Back in England, there is an appeal for a memorial statue of her to be erected at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. You can find out more, and contribute here: http://www.maryseacoleappeal.org.uk  And you can read much, much more at http://www.maryseacole.com.

A 2005 commemorative postage stamp.

A 2005 commemorative postage stamp.

Her fame lives on. In an effort to promote black history in Britain, the website and campaign “100 Great Black Britons” was launched in 2003. Mary Seacole was voted number one on the list. The BBC aired a documentary about her; a portrait of her was discovered and now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London; biographies have been written. A move by the Education Minister to have her (and Olaudah Equiano) removed from the National Curriculum sparked a huge protest in England and a petition, signed by over 35,000 people, ensured that the Ministry changed its mind.  Yes, the British have claimed Mary Seacole as one of their own.

Jamaican journalist, dramatist and cultural activist Dr. the Hon. Barbara Gloudon. (PhotoL Institute of Jamaica)

Jamaican journalist, dramatist and cultural activist Dr. the Hon. Barbara Gloudon. (Photo: Institute of Jamaica)

(Oh, is the story of Mary Seacole included in the Jamaican school curriculum? I hope so). Meanwhile, I am thankful to Ms. Barbara Gloudon, who wrote a column about her yesterday, for inspiring this blog post. Here is her piece: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/A-Jamaican-woman-was-there-before-Putin_16205851 And here is an article from the conservative UK Daily Mail, subtitled: “Claims of her achievements have been hugely oversold for political reasons, says leading historian” that made me feel uncomfortable:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2255095/The-black-Florence-Nightingale-making-PC-myth-One-historian-explains-Mary-Seacoles-story-stood-up.html#ixzz2vQwA7iw5  Being a historic black figure is uncomfortable and complex, it seems…

March 8 (International Women's Day) is celebrated with lots of flowers in the Ukraine (and Russia) - mainly tulips, roses and spring flowers. I like this...

March 8 (International Women’s Day) is celebrated with lots of flowers in the Ukraine (and Russia) – mainly tulips, roses and spring flowers. I like this…

Meanwhile, I hope you all had a wonderful International Women’s Day! (Incidentally, in the Ukraine – of which the Crimea is still a part – the day is celebrated almost like Valentine’s Day, with flowers and parties for women. How do I know this? Because a blog reader told me!)

Mary Jane Seacole (née Grant) by Albert Charles Challen oil on panel, 1869 9 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in. (240 mm x 180 mm) Purchased with help from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Gallery supporters, 2008 (National Portrait Gallery)

Mary Jane Seacole (née Grant)
by Albert Charles Challen
oil on panel, 1869
9 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in. (240 mm x 180 mm)
Purchased with help from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Gallery supporters, 2008 (National Portrait Gallery)

Stuart Hall, Caribbean Thought and the World We Live In

I have to preface this article with a confession: Although I have lived in England and in Jamaica for most of my life so far, I had never heard of Stuart Hall, who recently died at the age of 82. He taught at my alma mater, Oxford University, a few years after I graduated. And I realize that Hall had actually lived in England much longer than I have, arriving there in the year of my birth, at the age of nineteen. I was preoccupied with other things than politics in 1980s Britain (including making money, and moving permanently to Jamaica). British politics was a mere backdrop for me, and perhaps I had moved on a little from my youthful radicalism (although, looking back on it, I may well have been influenced by Hall’s thought, without knowing him, from the late 1960s to the 1970s)

OK, confession over. A colleague shared this revealing article, written by esteemed academics at the Centre for Caribbean Thought, and I am sharing it with you below. I hope that you find it of interest, as I did. It begs the question, though: What is the state of “multiculturalism” in Britain today?

Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall coined the term "Thatcherism." (Photo: Getty Images)

Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall coined the term “Thatcherism.” (Photo: Getty Images)

There have been many tributes to the Jamaican-born thinker Stuart Hall. We at the Centre for Caribbean Thought  remember the 2004 conference “Culture, Politics, Race and Diaspora: The Thought of Stuart Hall,” where  with  mesmerizing eloquence Hall  addressed  ideas about thinking, activism, the Caribbean  Diaspora , politics and  the  complex relationships between culture, race, class and power. When we invited Hall in 2003  and informed him that his work would be the subject of a “Caribbean Reasonings Conference” his initial response,  typical of his character  was that he had not written much on the Caribbean; that  his work was not of the kind like that of Lamming, or CLR James. Yet in a lecture delivered at the 50th anniversary of the University of West Indies, Hall had noted that the 1998 event occurred at the same time as the 50th anniversary of the docking of the SS Empire Windrush in the UK. That landing began a new history of post-war Caribbean migration to the UK.

Hall arrived in the UK as a Rhodes Scholar in 1951. His life was a Caribbean life away, a diasporic life in which the new meanings of home were constructed while retaining  echoes of the former home. How could one forget the 1991 seven-part documentary series which he narrated, Redemption Song,” that deeply explored the past and present of the Caribbean? Hall was a Caribbean intellectual, one who was part and parcel of the post war Afro- Caribbean migration experience.  That he did not  return “home” like others – George Lamming, or Sylvia Wynter ( who returned for a while ) and others did not mean that he was not Caribbean . What it meant was that the Caribbean was now working through a different geographical and cultural location. He himself noted: “The fate of the Caribbean people living in the UK, the USA or Canada is no more ‘external’ to Caribbean history than the Empire was ‘external’ to the so called domestic history of Britain.”  

Living at the heart of the British colonial empire in its dying days and on the cusp of regional political independence was both a formidable intellectual and political challenge for Hall.  These challenges remained with him for a long time and as he said in an interview in 2012, “I am not quite English.” Hall’s preoccupation with Diaspora and race emerged out of this conundrum which he navigated. There is profound connection between Hall’s life and his writings and thinking about Diaspora and race for as he once said in a debate with a conservative political figure in London,“You cannot have at the back of your head what I have in mine. You once owned me on a plantation.”

When Hall became involved in British left politics it was at a moment when orthodox Marxism was reeling from the exposures and revelations of the brutalities of Stalinism. If in 1956 another Caribbean figure, Aimé Césaire resigned from the French Communist Party, stating that not only the bodies murdered by Stalin were an eloquent testimony to the negative practices of orthodox communism but that the colonial and race problems  required new and different readings of how societies were constituted, Hall along with others in 1960 founded the “New Left Review”  as one attempt to construct a new left politics. This desire to construct a  different left politics which was not a distant cousin of orthodox Marxism (what he would call in 1986 in an article on ideology, “Marxism without guarantees”) was critical  to Hall’s intellectual and political life. Indeed his work as the central founder of the field of “Cultural Studies” at Birmingham University was not so much about a study of the popular but more about thinking around the relationships between power and culture. It was to understand culture as a complex phenomenon which was always contested; but importantly he believed  that one could not think politically without grappling with the yeast of culture. It was this  understanding which made it possible for him to coin the term “ Thatcherism” as a hegemonic cluster of ideas, which were not just political but deeply rooted in  the cultural and social history of Britain.

Hall’s political thinking in recent years was to grapple with the ideas inaugurated by Thatcher and others  and what he called a year ago the “neo-liberal revolution.” He reminds us that Thatcher once said, “The object is to change the soul.”  In grappling with this new ideological configuration, Hall posited two sets of ideas amongst many which might be in part legacies for us today. The first is the notion of contingency. The idea that social and political life is not fixed, that there is no formal closure and therefore there is fluidity in what seems fixed and frozen. It is an important idea because it always means that in the darkest of times there are always “points of light.” The second is one which he took from the Italian political thinker, Antonio Gramsci – the idea of “common sense.”  His challenge to us was that we should understand how common sense gets  formed. In  an  article written by himself and Alan O‘Shea  in December 2013 , he argued that  the   “assumption that everyone is obviously going to agree with what is being proposed is in fact a means of securing that agreement.”  He also noted that the idea that “we all share common sense values … It is a powerful legitimation strategy.”

That months before his death Hall and others worked on the “Kilburn Manifesto’” a document about the possibilities of renewing the left in Britain, is indicative of a force field of determination. But perhaps even more so it was indicative of his deep desire to confront the world as we know it and challenge its assumptions. In London, Hall’s contribution to visual culture is well known, particularly his work with the group of Black Photographers and the establishment of Rivington Place. Hall had that rare gift of discerning the contours of the world in which we live. With unmatched generosity he worked across generations. He was open to the future and to the possibilities of a different world as he practiced a form of engaged listening and dialogue . For those of us at the Centre for Caribbean Thought he is a seminal figure and thinker of the 20th century.

Brian Meeks, Professor of Social and Political Change, Director Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of , The University of the West Indies, Mona

Anthony Bogues, Lyn Crost Professor of Social Sciences and Critical Theory , Professor of Africana Studies, Director, Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice, Brown University

Rupert Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Political Thought, The University of the West Indies, Mona

Short biography of Stuart Hall: Stuart Hall was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1932. The UK “Guardian” notes: “His father, Herman, was the first non-white person to hold a senior position – chief accountant – with United Fruit in Jamaica. Jessie, his formidable mother, had white forebears and identified with the ethos of an imaginary, distant Britain.” Educated at Jamaica College, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University and moved to the UK in 1951, just after the migration of Jamaicans on the “Windrush.” He studied English at Merton College, and began doctoral studies on the work of Henry James. He was drawn towards Marxism and quickly became involved in the establishment of the New Left, after the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and other dramatic global events. In 1957 he founded the “Universities and Left Review,” and subsequently became founding editor of the “New Left Review.”  Moving to London and abandoning his studies, he became a supply teacher in Brixton and in 1961, a lecturer in film and media at Chelsea College, London University. He became increasingly involved in cultural activities and co-authored “Popular Arts,” with Paddy Whannel. In 1964 he married historian Catherine Barrett. He moved to Birmingham as the first research fellow at the new Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Birmingham University, founded by Richard Hoggart. The “Guardian” notes that during this period Hall “shifted the terms of debate on the media, deviancy, race, politics, Marxism and critical theory.” In 1979 he became Professor of Sociology at the Open University (OU), which had opened just eight years earlier during Harold Wilson’s Labour Party administration in an effort to make higher education (through distance learning) much more widely available to those who would not qualify for a traditional university education. He stayed there until 1998, later becoming emeritus professor. His move to OU coincided with Margaret Thatcher’s election victory; in “The Politics of Thatcherism” (1983) he pointed out that her political beliefs reflected an authentic popular British ethos. From 1997 to 2000 he served on the Runnymede Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Leaving academia, he collaborated with many young artists and film-makers, focusing on black expression and the immigrant experience. He helped secure funding for Rivington Place in east London, dedicated to public education in multicultural issues. A history of his life and work produced by film-maker John Akomfrah, “The Unfinished Conversation” (2012), and a widely distributed film, “The Stuart Hall Project” (2013) brought Hall to the attention of a new generation. In 2005 Hall was made a fellow of the British Academy. His published work (all collaborative volumes) includes: “Resistance Through Rituals” (1975); “Culture, Media, Language” (1980); “Politics and Ideology” (1986); “The Hard Road to Renewal” (1988); “New Times” (1989); “Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies” (1996); and “Different: A Historical Context: Contemporary Photographers and Black Identity” (2001).

Incidentally, Stuart Hall was a lifelong, passionate fan of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. His 1959 album "Kind of Blue" is recognized as one of the most influential of all time.

Incidentally, Stuart Hall was a lifelong, passionate fan of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. His 1959 album “Kind of Blue” is recognized as one of the most influential of all time.

Why should we admire the Monuments Men?

1452085_592388000815718_1216398192_n

petchary:

These were not just famous paintings. These were an intrinsic part of a culture. If you rob a people of the artifacts that constitute that culture, you take away their soul. I am sharing my fellow blogger’s thoughts with you, for your consideration.

Originally posted on idealisticrebel:

1452085_592388000815718_1216398192_n For centuries, when there was a war, the winning side would take the culture of the country they had beaten in the war, the art, the music, literature, and either incorporate it into their own culture or simply destroy it.  This was done in addition to raping, torturing and murdering the losing population.

The Monuments Men — a group of American and Allied “soldiers”, most of whom were actually art historians, gallery owners and artists, not soldiers at all– were different.  At the end of World War II, they went into Nazi-occupied areas, even into Nazi headquarters and private quarters of the Nazi elite, and not only rescued art and artifacts that the Nazis had systematically stolen from private citizens and museums in occupied territories, but they took the unprecedented step of returning these artifacts to the original, rightful owners, rather than simply keeping them for American or Allied museums…

View original 484 more words

Cool Sunday, January 19, 2014

A police officer takes footage of the anti-crime graffiti in Denham Town, which they clearly approve of. Are they going to paint it out? (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A police officer takes footage of the anti-crime graffiti in Denham Town, which they clearly approve of. Are they going to paint it out? Probably not. (Photo: Karl McLarty/Jamaica Observer)

We have a visiting cold front, bringing lovely cool air and lovely rain to some parts of the island. Aah!

Graffiti wars: It’s either smart PR, or clever strategy to lure gang members. Senior Superintendent of Police Steve McGregor, who is in charge of West Kingston, stands in front of walls covered with graffiti calling for freedum”  (sic) for the oppressed inner-city area. There were over eighty murders in West Kingston last year. The spelling doesn’t matter, but the police seem happy with the defaced walls. The messages suggest that residents are tired of the lingering influence of Christopher “Dudus” Coke and his cronies. On previous occasions the police have whitewashed out some beautifully painted walls in inner city areas – because they celebrated the lives of supposed gangsters, one assumes. I’ve seen similar wall art in San Francisco in memory of a “ghetto youth” and no one would dream of painting it out. It’s a pity. I am not criticizing SSP McGregor  however; I have always known him to be committed to community policing efforts and I wish him luck in his difficult task. I think I understand what he is trying to do.

Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of West Kingston Steve McGregor. (Photo: Gleaner)

Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of West Kingston Steve McGregor. (Photo: Gleaner)

“Death Squads”: The Sunday Gleaner dropped a bombshell with its headline today. A former policeman is alleging that senior police officers order the killing of wanted men. The police high command issued a press release today sternly denying any such thing, as you would expect them to; and urging those with such knowledge to let them know, without fear of reprisal. I don’t expect anyone to be doing such a thing any time soon. And I think many Jamaicans may believe such “death squads” exist. And this is the problem: trust. Or should I say, the lack of it.

I’m glad to see that USAID has embarked on Phase 2 of its Community Empowerment and Transformation Project (COMET). Its main aim is to improve police-community relations and citizen security. Nothing could be more important. Nothing!

Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke.

Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke.

After the apparent mismanagement (according to the Auditor General) of the government’s agro-parks, the Ministry of Agriculture is throwing more money at them, to the tune of J$1 billion. They are supposed to be engines of growth.  “We will have to work to straighten this one out,” says Minister Roger Clarke of the fiasco in St. Thomas, which has seen failed crops and farmers owing hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Let’s hope the European Union and Inter-American Development Bank’s money will be properly spent, this time.

 

Bank of Jamaica Bryan Winter is anxious to keep the Net International Reserves topped up… No wonder he's frowning. (Photo: Gleaner)

Bank of Jamaica Bryan Winter is anxious to keep the Net International Reserves topped up… No wonder he’s frowning. (Photo: Gleaner)

The elusive U.S. Dollar: After Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association head Brian Pengelley expressed his frustration over the shortage of foreign exchange, noting several pointless meetings at the Bank of Jamaica (BoJ) and business people running round town desperately searching for it, the BoJ has come clean. It also needs U.S. Dollars and is going to be snapping them up, in order to keep the Net International Reserves at the level required by the International Monetary Fund! What encouraging news… So, with J$1 going for close to US$107, we can expect it to slip still further. Oh, but it’s all awesome isn’t it, Jamaica Observer? (see my note below).

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. (Photo: Gleaner)

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness: a transformative leader? (Photo: Gleaner)

A laid-back response: Opposition Leader Andrew Holness eventually responded to a journalist’s question on the utterances of Mr. Everald “Go to Hell” Warmington, who declared recently that those who did not vote  (for his party) should not receive any benefits from him. Mr. Holness observed (when pressed by a journalist for a comment): “The party’s position has always been that state resources are available to all citizens, regardless of their belief and whether or not they vote, yes or no.” I am not impressed by his rather casual response to comments that are a) undemocratic b) unconstitutional and c) corrupt, as Professor Munroe suggested. I guess if “Warmie” had made these remarks in Parliament Mr. Holness might have had to make more of a big deal out of it. In an excellent Jamaica Observer column, Mark Wignall questions whether Mr. Holness can be a “transformative” leader if he continues in this vein. I question also.

Bishop Delford Davis (center) holds hands with Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller at the 35th National Prayer Breakfast this week. (Photo: RJR)

Bishop Delford Davis (center) holds hands with Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller at the 35th National Prayer Breakfast this week. (Photo: RJR)

Is there any point? As happens every year, Jamaicans discuss whether the annual National Prayer Breakfast has any purpose. I get the feeling that most Jamaicans think it can’t do any harm. But isn’t it just a lot of hot air, an empty ritual? Don’t we have enough speechifying and sermonizing? Nevertheless, the proceeds do go to a good cause every year; I hope the pledged funds reach their destination.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips

Finance Minister Peter Phillips (Photo: Gleaner)

“Demoralized,” yes… Finance Minister Peter Phillips said something rather profound recently. He said the Jamaican nation is demoralized – in other words, Jamaicans are doubting their ability to succeed. When this happens, of course, a kind of paralysis sets in – we are frozen and unable to act. Very true, I think. But we must unfreeze ourselves, and get moving!

The Prime Minister on leadership: “There are some leaders who speak to everything… I really need to get some things done and work every day and I work very hard,” our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller told journalists after the prayer breakfast. Yes, Ma’am. Hard work is your mantra, we know, and nothing wrong with that. But leaders must also communicate with their followers in a substantial way. Do not hide behind “working, working, working.” You have a large staff. Delegate! Communicate!

Everything hunky dory… except… Oh. One little Thing, and a few others. I am all for optimism, and I actually truly am an optimist by nature. But a statement like “We suggest that never before have so many of the elements of success come together at the same time as now”  is far-fetched and just plain silly. The Thing (or should I call it, “monster” of crime), of course, was not mentioned in  -  yes, you’ve guessed it – another pie-in-the-sky, off-the-mark editorial headlined “Five signs that Jamaican prosperity is now on the horizon” in the Jamaica Observer.

Over three months ago, the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) selected  Energy World International (EWI) as the entity to build a 360 megawatt power plant in Jamaica. What is the status of the due diligence process? The Jamaica Public Service Company has announced that it is partnering with EWI to acquire a stake in the power plant. Professor Trevor Munroe, of National Integrity Action, and the Opposition JLP are requesting an update. We need one!

The beautiful Cockpit Country. (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

The beautiful Cockpit Country. (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

 Cockpit Country: The amazing Cockpit Country is overflowing with biodiversity; but threatened by mining, quarrying and deforestation. Therefore a Gleaner article today seems encouraging. The Forestry Department launched its Cockpit Country Forest Reserve and Surrounding Forest Estates plan last month, in which it seeks to encourage eco-tourism. But there’s much work to be done and money to be raised. Read Petre Williams-Raynor’s excellent article here: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140117/news/news2.html

(Cynical laughter): They actually paid good money for a survey to find out whether Jamaicans understand what the logistics hub is. Not surprisingly (considering that it has been behind a mysterious veil since Day One) they discovered that 75% of respondents feel the Government has not provided enough information! Well, well. And 41% weren’t sure whether it was good for the country. Now, at last, the Logistics Hub Task Force is going to “roll out a public education plan.”  Let’s see if that enlightens the poor benighted Jamaican public…

Those zinc fences: If anyone thinks that removing zinc fences and replacing them with painted white PVC ones is going to make one jot of difference to the lives of the impoverished community of Greenwich Town (represented by our Prime Minister)…think again. Do they have flush toilets or running water? Or jobs?

Tourism comparisons: Meanwhile, the small, dry, volcanic island of Tenerife gets five million visitors a year. And Guyana is reporting a twelve per cent increase in visitors last year. How does Jamaica compare?

A lot of cash: Do Jamaicans know that they are obliged to formally report amounts of $10,000 or more in U.S. dollars, equivalent foreign currency, or other monetary instruments when traveling in and out of the United States? Two Jamaican women were caught carrying US$65,643 and $31,040 in cash while attempting to board a flight to Montego Bay recently. They weren’t charged, but the cash was seized. Be aware!

The “untouchables”? I have learned this week that the flouting of Jamaica’s environmental laws by People Who Should Know Better continues unabated. I have heard of two such cases on the western side of the island. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Are the government agencies responsible for protecting our environment willing to take action? Let’s not hold our breath.

More dreadful writing, Gleaner and ObserverThe Gleaner wrote an article purportedly about Berette Macaulay’s recent photo-art exhibition in Kingston. Except that it didn’t actually review the exhibition at all, and did not mention the title of it or the titles of the art works! The article consisted of a bio of Ms. Macaulay, copied and pasted from a website. As for the Sunday Observer, one of its articles (a sad story, about the murder of a young nurse that is unsolved after a year) included the phrase: “She meandered her Toyota Starlet motorcar…”  How on earth do you meander a car? Sigh. What are the editors doing? Where are they?

Winston Watts (sitting down) was captain of the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. (Photo: Getty Images)

Winston Watts (sitting down) was captain of the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. (Photo: Getty Images)

Support Jamaica’s Bobsled team! Remember the hit movie “Cool Runnings”? Although I had some problems with the authenticity of the actors etc., there’s no doubt the film did great things, celebrating the energy and commitment of Jamaicans. Well, I understand that the two-man bobsled team (comprising Winston Watts and Chris Stokes) has qualified for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but does not have the funds to get there. They are trying to crowd-fund their trip and have raised just over US$14,000 so far. Here is the link: https://www.crowdtilt.com/campaigns/help-the-jamaican-bobsled-team-get-to-sochi/description Do share with anyone who might be able to support! And chip in with some dollars, if you can!

A woman and children mill about a section of Greenwich Town earmarked for better housing under a Food For The Poor and the Constituency Development Fund programme. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

A woman and children in a section of Greenwich Town (in our Prime Minister’s constituency) earmarked for better housing under a Food For The Poor and Constituency Development Fund program. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

  • I highly recommend Kate Chappell’s blog, Jamaican Journal. Kate is a Canadian journalist currently working as a CUSO volunteer with the non-governmental organization Youth Opportunities Unlimited in Kingston. She updates her blog daily and offers a clear-eyed view of current issues in Jamaica. Her recent story about young Navada Smith of Mountain View Avenue is especially inspiring. Find it at: jamaicajournal.wordpress.com.
Deika Morrison (left) and former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater at a Crayons Count workshop last year. (Photo: Gleaner)

Deika Morrison (left) and former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater at a Crayons Count workshop last year. (Photo: Gleaner)

  • Ms. Deika Morrison is a marvel. She seems to have boundless energy and is such a genuinely caring person. She has just received the Gleaner Honor Award for Education - and it is richly deserved – for her work with Crayons Count. Ms. Morrison has advocated tirelessly for greater recognition of early childhood stimulation over the past three or four years (using the social media to great advantage, too). Congrats!

Not for the first time, there has been a murder in the supposedly quite rural community of Sherwood Content – the home of Usain Bolt. How strange. And how very sad that such an elderly man could be killed. Another rural area, St. Elizabeth, has already had seven murders this year. One wonders about these things. My deepest condolences to those who are grieving. I hope they will find comfort, eventually.

Robert Campbell, 73, Middle Quarters, St. Elizabeth

Vivian Staple, 54, Ballards Valley, St. Elizabeth

Vanessa Boyd, 26, Wakefield, Trelawny

Leslie Smith, 79, Sherwood Content, Trelawny

Dwayne Lewin, 56, New Longville, Clarendon

37-year-old Janice Linton (Mama Tete) was stabbed to death in Hope Bay, Portland, on Wednesday. She was the mother of three children. Her common-law husband has been taken into custody. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

37-year-old Janice Linton (Mama Tete) was stabbed to death in Hope Bay, Portland, on Wednesday. She was the mother of three children. Her common-law husband has been taken into custody. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Sidestepping

My mid-week commentary is just not going to happen at this point. I have had many pleasant distractions to start the year, including a young visitor whose company we have enjoyed. When he leaves on Sunday, I will return to my writing routine, and you shall have your Sunday commentary on time. I promise!

Meanwhile, here are a few photographs I took on our ramblings with visitor… They aren’t quite over, yet.

Enjoy…

Blue Hole (Blue Lagoon), Portland.

Blue Hole (Blue Lagoon), Portland. Yes, it is this color, and incredibly deep.

Hill view from Mockingbird Hill, Portland.

Hill view from Mockingbird Hill, Portland.

Artist's house, Black Rock, Portland. He has interesting installations along the roadside in front of his house.

Artist’s house, Black Rock, Portland. He has interesting installations along the roadside in front of his house.

Boston Bay, Portland.

Boston Bay, Portland.

Sunlight and shadow on the river. Frenchman's Cove, Portland.

Sunlight and shadow on the river. Frenchman’s Cove, Portland.

The beach at Long Bay, Portland.

The beach at Long Bay, Portland.

Our visitor contemplates the ocean. Long Bay, Portland.

Our visitor contemplates the ocean. Long Bay, Portland.

View from Mockingbird Hill, Portland.

View from Mockingbird Hill, Portland.

Friendship Gap on the Junction Road is a place to stop and refresh yourself. Frankly though, none of these soup options appeal to me…

Friendship Gap on the Junction Road is a place to stop and refresh yourself. Frankly though, none of these soup options appeal to me… Pumpkin Soup with Chicken Foot, Red Peas and Peanut (no meat), Red Peas and Cow Skin.

Women at market, Port Antonio.

Women at market, Port Antonio.

Cocooning Catharsis: The Uncertainty of Change

Photo artist Ms. Berette Macaulay says she is “becoming a Bedouin.” A Bedouin who is moving through changes, setting her feet on new paths through the drifting desert landscape.

Berette Macaualy: Cocooning Catharsis

Berette Macaualy: Cocooning Catharsis

Tall and smiling in a leaf-green dress, Ms. Macaulay welcomed us to her current exhibition in Kingston, “Cocooning Catharsis.” She smiles, but the  works displayed at Kingston’s HiQo Gallery speak of a letting go, a gathering in, a “slow process of releasing stuff,” as the artist put it. And as we walked through the gallery (which has a light, bright attic feel) we sensed this shedding of memories and expectations – some disappointing, perhaps. Change and decay and rebirth.

The first room has smoke impressions on glass. The smoke curls against darkness, and leads us into the second room, where Mnemosyne awaits.

Mnemosyne, with a touch of spring sunlight.

Mnemosyne, with a touch of spring sunlight.

“Mnemosyne Offers Spring for the Searching Soul,” a 2011 installation, stands near the window. Mnemoysyne is Berette’s favorite Greek goddess. She is the Titan goddess of remembrance; and because she helped translate memory into words, she is by extension the patron goddess of the oral tradition, and poetry read aloud (something Jamaicans love). Her bodice is entwined with the honeysuckle and rosebuds of spring. Her hips are broad (good for giving birth) and her skirt long and flowing. I saw the skirt’s hazy-blue as reflecting the mists of time and fading memories; Berette created it as Mnemosyne’s pool in the underworld, spilling onto the floor. Greek myths tell that the dead, on reaching Hades, had the choice of drinking from the river Lethe, where they would forget all the pains of their previous life and then be reborn; or from the Mnemosyne’s pool of memory, which would allow them to enter the Elysian Fields, in joy and peace forever.

Mnemosyne Offers Spring for the Searching Soul (detail)

Mnemosyne Offers Spring for the Searching Soul (detail)

Importantly too, for all artists, Mnemosyne is the mother of all nine of the Muses, having slept with Zeus for nine consecutive nights (yes, the promiscuous Zeus!)

A decaying tree is suspended by its roots from the ceiling. A bundled cocoon hangs from it, waiting to be born. It is spring-time, after all, and that means everything is born anew. But without memories?

"We Are Lighter Than All This" (detail)

We Are Lighter Than All This (detail)

Memory is a part of the process of change. You can discard some of it, carry others with you as you begin your new journey. But they will never leave you. In the third room, where Ms. Macaulay’s mixed media lightbox works line the walls, we learn of the difficulties of change. It is not a smooth, straight line. It is discomfort and pain. In the first lightbox, “We Had Kingdoms First,” Berette is seated, on the blue Atlantic Ocean. She is throwing up fragments of skyscrapers – the Empire State Building and others. I thought she was juggling them, trying to keep them all in the air at once. Berette says she was tossing them away – her dreams of New York, her old fantasies about the great city where she lived for five years. In one corner is a baby, symbolizing change. Berette is wearing a traditional Sierra Leone batik head wrap - “trying to remember my royal self,” she suggests with a wry smile. Discarding her present life, and at the same time reaching back.

We Had Kingdoms First (detail).

We Had Kingdoms First (detail).

The faces in “We Are Lighter Than All This” have a spiritual, almost ghost-like quality. Some photographs have lines and cracks; others are blurred; others are sharp as day. They look like ancestors; they look like friends. This lightbox was created using pinhole photography. The result is – like change – uncertain. You never know, precisely, how each will turn out. Our spirits all have their own journey to pursue. “An Undulation to Higher Cycles” expresses a kind of sensuous yearning, with dark curves against a night-blue sky and a stone-white moon.

 (I photographed this sideways because of the light reflection)


An Undulation to Higher Cycles (I photographed this sideways because of the light reflection)

A note on the technicalities of the lightboxes. Ms Macaulay used a slow, inherently imperfect alternative method of processing. The images (pinhole or digital or film) are hand-processed as photographic transfers, and then acrylic, water and citrosol. The process creates layers of imagery; the end result is almost a collage. You have to just wait and see how each image turns out, the artist explained. Like change, it is unpredictable.

The dancers' images sewn onto Mnemosyne's gown.

The dancers’ images sewn onto Mnemosyne’s gown.

Four separate, large photographs on canvas complete the exhibition. Two dancers support themselves, and each other, against a tree trunk (in Central Park). It’s a recurring image in the exhibit, sewn onto Mnemosyne’s dress, for example. Berette, a trained dancer herself, reminds us that dancers have tremendous endurance: “They will take the pain…but they can’t show it.”  Strength like the tree trunk, to work through those changes.

Berette Macaulay, Afropolitan.

Berette Macaulay, Afropolitan.

In a 2010 newspaper interview, Ms. Macaulay observed (without sadness, one suspects) “I am not at home anywhere.” She was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but “never lived there.” She has lived in the United Kingdom (as a child); in Jamaica (where she grew up); and then in the United States. She is interested in the experience of migration. Now she will be returning to the land of her birth, to discover as a woman what she had never experienced as a girl. She says she is “coaxing herself back to her African roots.” Sierra Leone has had two peaceful elections, and after the agonies of civil war it is beginning to find itself again. Berette says she is starting to see herself as an “Afropolitan” – a term invented a few years ago to describe a group of urban Africans who travel and who are culturally aware (there is even an “Afropolitan” magazine). Many Afropolitans (such as Adama Kargbo, a fashion designer who honed her craft in New York and Paris) are returning to Sierra Leone to help rebuild.

Berette Macaulay explains her work to a visitor.

Berette Macaulay explains her work to a visitor.

Berette quoted the Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, who once said: “Technically, every work of art comes into being in the same way as the cosmos – by means of catastrophes…” Yes, and so is change a series of small catastrophes – small, gentle, sometimes jarring, sometimes imperceptible, as reflected in the art of Berette Macaulay.

The lightbox series, by the way, is based on a collaborative poem by Ms. Macaulay and Steve “Urchin” Wilson. Each line of the poem is the title of one of the pieces, as follows:

We Had Kingdoms First/We Fawn Over A Cocooning Catharsis/We Connect At The Root Of A Beautiful Catastrophe/We Are Lighter Than All This/An Undulation To Higher Cycles/Some Walk Upright While Some Stay Wet…/In an Idiotropic ReBirth We Swim Up for Purpose/Mnemosyne Offers Spring For The Searching Soul

A cocoon is a comfort, a retreat from the real, a protective warmth that we do not want to leave. Just like a baby who must be born we fight change, Ms. Macaulay believes. Babies are so angry when they are born. But change is as inevitable as day follows the night.

Do go see the exhibition, “Cocooning Catharsis.” It is at the Upstairs Gallery at HiQo, 24 Waterloo Road, Kingston 10 (opposite the Terra Nova Hotel). Viewing hours are Monday to Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tel: (876) 864-1997. Email: fredrixauctions@gmail.com. OPEN UNTIL MONDAY, JANUARY 13!

B

Berette Macaulay will soon be returning to her roots.

Celebrating Christmas with the Juniors: Trench Town’s Stars, Glitter…and T Shirts

What does Christmas mean to the children of Trench Town? As much fun as it’s possible to cram into the school holidays. A little more freedom. And a little more fun.

Trench Town Reading Centre’s Christmas party was warming up when we arrived. Mariah Carey was giving those Christmas songs all she’d got on the music system. The bounce-about was in place. Now, this is a very important item on any respectable children’s party list in Jamaica. In case you don’t know, it is an over-sized inflated object, mostly enclosed. You get in, and start bouncing. It’s hard to keep your balance in it, so you fall all over the place. The smallest children usually have a rough time of it, poor things. It’s a dog-eat-dog world in there and those who bounce hardest last longest.

The children and the bounce-about.

The children and the bounce-about. No casualties…yet.

The scent of fried chicken was so delicious that a small group of neighborhood dogs quietly appeared at the gate. They knew they would be shooed away if they came in further, so they kept a respectful distance. For now. But their moment would come.

Inside the classroom, tables and chairs were set out, and the beautiful Christmas tree took pride of place in the middle of the room. The afternoon light slanted in, illuminating the room in patches of brightness. The children had decorated the tree with beautiful stars that they had painted themselves in glitter – luminous greens and pinks.

The children were getting hungry, and who could blame them? Having fun brings on your appetite. While the food was being served, I ventured into the library and learning area, where some amazing T shirts were laid out. They were hand-painted in shades of red, green, black and gold in all kinds of designs – Christmas trees, herring-bone patterns, Jamaican flags, zig zags.

After their meal the children presented these to each other as gifts. Sadly we could not stay for this. But we did help with serving the Christmas dinner – plates heaped up with fried chicken, rice and peas, curry, salad and vegetables.

As we departed, the Christmas carols were still playing. But the Trench Town Reading Centre was hushed. Children at work… Nyamming. (Oh, for non-Jamaican readers, this means, simply – eating!)

As we drove back up Collie Smith Drive towards the busy Half Way Tree area, bursts of music hit us from bars and street side hangouts.

Yes, Christmas is creeping up through Kingston town, after all.

Tucking in to the food...

Tucking in to the food…

And before dinner - prayers.

But before dinner – prayers.

A design from one of the younger children. So vibrant.

A design from one of the younger children. So vibrant.

I loved this design.

I loved this design.

Some of the T shirt designs.

Some of the T shirt designs.

A sugar pink star.

A sugar pink star.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree...

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree…

The hopeful dogs wait to be invited in. Rather well-behaved, I thought.

The hopeful dogs wait to be invited in. Commendable restraint really, I thought.

Cooking up a storm…The spicy fried chicken smelled delicious...

Cooking up a storm…The spicy fried chicken smelled delicious…

Mid-Week Bulletin: Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I have been helter-skelter again this week so forgive me if I have missed something vital. Next week I will definitely slow down. Meanwhile, many Christmas cards are still waiting to be written…

What? Some church leaders are NOT right-wing fundamentalists!? But that’s un-Christian!! Online readers of the Jamaica Observer appeared shocked and outraged that an Anglican priest decried the discrimination and abuse meted out to gays during a church service for Human Rights Day last weekend. If most of these commenters were Jamaican, then anyone who pretends this country is not homophobic need only take a look at a few of these ignorant diatribes. They will have to eat their words. The way to get lots of comments in Jamaica (in this case, well over 100!) is to post an online article advocating for LGBT rights. We’ve got a long way to go. Read: “Pastor lashes out at injustices faced by gays” in the Jamaica Observer.

Are we committed to fighting corruption? Yes, I could rewind the Prime Minister’s avowed determination to fight corruption on taking office nearly two years ago (sigh). But ten years ago the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption first asked the Ministry of Finance (very politely, I am sure) for access to computerized Tax Administration Jamaica records. This government agency, who must feel like giving up sometimes, is still asking at regular intervals, to no avail.  And Monday was International Day Against Corruption! The Gleaner reports “‘Finance ministry not open to request for online access.”

More engineers needed: Our local manufacturers (a steadily shrinking group in our economy) are always vocal. I am afraid that otherwise people might forget we still have a manufacturing sector. But I totally agree with Mr. Howard Mitchell, who says we need to train more mechanical engineers – and keep them in Jamaica (many have migrated in search of employment). The University of Technology apparently graduates about 40 mechanical engineers annually. Read: “Grinding to a halt – Manufacturers say nation needs more mechanical engineers before economy crumbles” in the Gleaner.

At the behest of the IMF: Meanwhile Parliament is busy pushing through legislation to amend the Securities Act, to clamp down on Ponzi schemes. Meanwhile, the Jamaican operator of one such scheme is happily pottering around Jamaica while the case against him languishes in limbo; and another Jamaican swindler is doing time overseas, having never been charged or convicted in this country. Anyway, this legislation is demanded by the International Monetary Fund; otherwise it would likely never happen. Read: “Ponzi squeeze – House revises Security Act in bid to attract more investors” in the Gleaner.

A requiem for arsenic (sob): It seems the operators of Jamaica’s fancy and expensive golf courses are wringing their hands over a ban on a certain kind of weedkiller they use which contains…arsenic! Well, thanks for telling us at this late stage (one assumes all wildlife on golf courses has been wiped out meanwhile?) Apparently arsenic never goes away. The golf course operators seem more concerned about the cost to their wealthy customers of more environmentally friendly fungicides and herbicides than about arsenic seeping into our underground water. Read: “Ban on weed-killer to hit golfing hard” in the Gleaner. 

Something strange… Is happening at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) which used to be a quiet place, tucked into lush green surroundings just off the main road leading to Port Antonio, Portland (a parish well-known for the lowest crime rate in the island, by far). There was another fire there early this morning, in which four students were injured, one seriously. This is the third fire at CASE this year; following one in March a student was charged with attempted murder and arson. A lecturer was found murdered on campus in September (case unsolved). There have been break-ins, and last month a student was stabbed by another. What are the police doing? What is the college administration doing? Has any journalist sought to investigate these many strange happenings?

The decline of television? Traditional television is on the decline, it seems. But in Jamaica? Well, not so. And who should know better than the former head of Television Jamaica Dr. Marcia Forbes, who has written an interesting article in the Carib Journal (www.caribjournal.com) on “Jamaica and the Future of Television.” Recommended read.

Congrats, congrats, congrats…

Tamika Pommells Williams poses with the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. (Photo: Facebook)

Tamika Pommells Williams poses with the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. (Photo: Facebook)

To Ms. Tamika Pommells Williams and her husband Ian Williams for their Certificate of Excellence from the travel website TripAdvisor (which I always consult before traveling and contribute to as a reviewer). The couple run the Ahhh Ras Natango Gallery and Garden near Montego Bay. TripAdvisor is a very influential and important website. Tamika has a beautiful garden (she often posts brilliant flowers on my Facebook page!) and her husband’s paintings are lovely. Congratulations to you both, and to your team!

  • Ms. Tessanne Chin (again) for being simply brilliant in another round of “The Voice,” the talent show on NBC. Her rendition of Simon and Garfunkel‘s Bridge Over Troubled Water” - a deceptively simple song that is hard to sing because of the range required – was passionate. (Did you know that the song topped the Billboard charts for six weeks in 1970, and was a huge global hit?) Now fingers and toes are crossed for next week’s finals. Emotions will be overflowing in the Jamaican Twittersphere, that’s for sure!
Tessanne Chin sings "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on "The Voice." (Photo: NBC)

Tessanne Chin sings “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on “The Voice.” (Photo: NBC)

Norman Manley Law School students, who won the World Human Rights Moot Court competition in Pretoria, South Africa recently – the fourth consecutive win for the Kingston-based law school. Many congratulations, and I hope this means that Jamaica will make greater strides in human rights in the future!

Final year students at the Norman Manley Law School, Ralston Dickson (left) and Donia Fuller (right), proudly show off their awards after copping the top prize. Sharing the moment is the chief judge, Madam Justice Bess Nkabinde, who is also a judge at the Constitutional Court of South Africa. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Final year students at the Norman Manley Law School, Ralston Dickson (left) and Donia Fuller (right), proudly show off their awards after copping the top prize. Sharing the moment is the chief judge, Madam Justice Bess Nkabinde, who is also a judge at the Constitutional Court of South Africa. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Ms. Monique Long, another student at Norman Manley Law School, who was recently selected as the first woman Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN), a voluntary youth-led program and training organization focused on development issues. Wishing you all the best in your new position, Monique!

Jamaica Environment Trust and the creative musical and animation teams that have put together a wonderful little animated song “Don’t Mess with Goat Islands.” Do look it up on JET’s new website (www.savegoatislands.org) and share the link!

"Two likkle lizard" (the Jamaican Iguana, as described by the Transport Minister) as featured in the "Don't Mess with Goat Islands" animation.

“Two likkle lizard” (the Jamaican Iguana, as described by the Transport Minister) as featured in the “Don’t Mess with Goat Islands” animation.

Monique Long, the first female Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Action Network. (Photo: JYAN Facebook page)

Monique Long, the first female Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Action Network. (Photo: JYAN Facebook page)

  • A policeman from the Greater Portmore Police Station offers his condolences to grieving neighbours of John-Michael Hett who was shot dead in the community of Portsmouth on Monday night. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

    A policeman from the Greater Portmore Police Station offers his condolences to grieving neighbours of John-Michael Hett who was shot dead in the community of Portsmouth on Monday night. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

A "Jamaica Observer" editorial cartoon. The well-traveled Prime Minister, on hearing that singer Tessanne Chin has reached the finals in "The Voice," asks the pilot to prepare for takeoff so that she can fly off to be there in person...

A “Jamaica Observer” editorial cartoon. The well-traveled Prime Minister, on hearing that singer Tessanne Chin has reached the finals in “The Voice,” asks the pilot to prepare for takeoff so that she can fly off to be there in person…

A “brilliant” teenager from Dunoon Technical High School was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Portmore. Seven – yes, seven – Jamaicans were killed in 24 hours, most of them in St. James. The seven included three women, one elderly. Saying that some of the killings were “gang-related” is really no consolation. A death is a death. My heart goes out to the grieving families and loved ones of:

Beresford Robinson, 74, Hill Run, St. Catherine

Wayne West, 49, Portsmouth/Portmore, St. Catherine

John-Michael Hett, 16, Portsmouth/Portmore, St. Catherine

Errol Forrest, Maizeland, St. James

Natasha Palmer, Hibiscus Drive/Norwood, St. James

Nicolette Palmer, Hibiscus Drive/Norwood, St. James

Shane Anglin, 27, Hibiscus Drive/Norwood, St. James

Romario Haughton, 19, North Gully, St. James

“Banga,” North Gully, St. James 

Cynthia Devanza, 78, Hopewell, St. Mary