Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Year of Madoff


By Eugene Robinson
Washington Post
Tuesday, December 30, 2008; A15

For anyone taking stock of 2008, Barack Obama is the inevitable choice as Person of the Year. But he's not the only American whose story suggests that this thrilling, dramatic, unforgettable year will be seen as a demarcation of grand historical eras, a bright line between yesterday and tomorrow. My choice for runner-up is Bernard Madoff.

In a sense, we're all Bernie Madoff. We've been running our economy in accordance with his accounting principles for a generation -- and now we face a most unpleasant reckoning.

As everyone knows by now, Madoff -- once one of the most respected financiers on Wall Street -- stands accused of being perhaps the biggest swindler in history. Before his arrest this month, he reportedly told his sons that he had defrauded investors of up to $50 billion. He allegedly followed the playbook written more than eight decades ago by the elegant grifter Charles Ponzi, who used money from new investors to pay juicy returns to old investors. That works fine for a while, but every Ponzi scheme eventually collapses in ruin.

Wall Street veterans recall how investors once begged to be allowed to invest their money with Madoff. Unlike Ponzi, he didn't promise to deliver flashy double-digit returns overnight. He "earned" his investors 1 percent or 2 percent a month, bull market or bear, rain or shine. Because he didn't overpromise, and because he limited his clientele, he was able to keep the scheme going for decades.

Such steady gains, unsullied by the occasional bad year or disastrous quarter, are patently impossible. Some potential investors took one look at Madoff's operation and took a pass. Some of the millionaires, billionaires and professional money managers who unwisely gave their money to Madoff were guilty of allowing greed to overwhelm their powers of observation and reason.

But not all of Madoff's investors could have been in the dark. Some must have realized how unlikely it was that he had found some sort of magical strategy or technique that would always make money, no matter what the financial markets were doing. Some investors, I would wager, must have calculated that they could get in, get their return and get out before the whole thing fell apart.

Which makes me wonder how many of us had our eyes open when housing prices were soaring in Ponzi-like leaps -- by 10 percent or more a year, in some parts of the country -- while middle-class incomes were largely stagnant. How many of us stopped to ask just who was supposed to be able to pay $1 million for a standard suburban split-level, even if it had an upgraded kitchen with a Sub-Zero fridge?

The whole subprime mortgage industry was based on the idea that housing prices would always rise. Given that assumption, it was perfectly rational for first-time homebuyers to sign up for adjustable-rate mortgages that they couldn't really afford. From the moment they signed the loan papers, they would be building equity -- through appreciation -- that soon would make it easy, and lucrative, to refinance or sell.

In other words: Get in, get their return and get out before the whole thing fell apart.

I'm not saying that average Americans were as culpable as Wall Street in creating this financial and economic crisis; our sins were venial, whereas theirs were mortal. Madoff's alleged fraud was at least straightforward. Much worse was the creation of exotic "derivative" investment products -- whose true value turned out to be impossible to ascertain -- that were bought and sold with enormous leverage.

As long as real estate values kept rising, it didn't matter what these chimerical investments were worth. What mattered to Wall Street was the ability to collect enormous fees from real people, in real dollars, for trading unicorns and dragons.

After the bursting of the Internet and housing bubbles, I think we're done with bubbles for a while. Obama's first challenge -- and it may take much of his first term -- is to get the economy back into a pattern of tangible, sustainable growth. He will be able to thank Madoff for giving us the simplest possible explanation of what we knew all along but chose to ignore: that there's still no such thing as a free lunch.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

Monday, December 29, 2008

'Your burdens are my burdens'

Barbara Gilbert with a grateful young resident of 'Barbara's Village'

Robin Mahfood chats with a group of beautiful Haitian children

Jamaica Observer
Monday, December 29, 2008

They say a prophet is usually without honour in his own country. It's probably as bad for a Jamaican-born philanthropic organisation which was recently rated the number one charity organisation in the United States. That's right. Food for the Poor (FFP), a key resource for churches, schools, hospitals and government ministries, was acclaimed by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as the top international charity organisation in the US.

The figures for the 25-year-old organisation operating in 16 countries in the region, are impressive. "We have shipped more than 43,900 trailers of goods, fed millions, built over 50,000 houses, cared for orphans, supplied water wells and development projects, and much more," says FFP Chairman Robin Mahfood. In 2007, Food for the Poor's efficiency ratio was 3.22 per cent. That means that more than 96 per cent of all donations go directly to its programmes, an efficiency ratio lauded by Forbes magazine, which puts out an annual list of America's biggest charities. In Port-au-Prince alone, 15,000 people are fed each day by the organisation.

"I'm always deeply humbled by the generosity of our donors, especially those who give from their need rather than their surplus," says Robin. "The story of the widow's mite takes place each day at Food for the Poor." One such donor is Barbara Gilbert, a single mother and waitress who doesn't own a house, but who was so moved by a radio broadcast in Florida that she raised funds to build 14 houses in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine. The housing cluster is fondly called "Barbara's Village".

CNN was in Jamaica in June 2006 to cover the opening and reported Barbara's greeting to the new homeowners: "My name is Barbara and you are all my family. Your burdens are my burdens and you give me so much more than I could ever be able to give you. I don't own a house... and I probably never will because my money's going to go to keep building houses in Jamaica for the rest of my life."

One of the recipients responded: "Your gift of love is not being taken for granted. Thank you." Barbara had placed a collection box next to the cash register where she worked in Jacksonville, and as word of her mission spread, her generosity of spirit inspired others. "One man gave her a $1,000 cheque as a tip. A woman gave her $2,000," CNN reported.

FFP has fully equipped 18 fishing villages in Jamaica. What a proud day it was in September 2006 when six fishermen at Seven Miles, St Thomas, received not only brand new fishing boats, motors and storage facilities for their catch, but also certificates after intensive training to manage their boats and their business. "Today the fishermen work hard, earn a good wage and share their profits with the community," comments Robin.

A lesser known activity of Food for the Poor is its Prison Ministry led by Sandra Ramsay. With the help of FFP, 20 non-violent Jamaican prisoners were released and reunited with their families in time for Christmas. Over 300 prisoners have been released at Easter and Christmas, and have received training and tools to help them reintegrate in society. Some of their stories are positively heartbreaking: a good husband and father with no previous record, in debtor's jail, hard-put to come up with the small fine owing.

One of FFP's most massive programmes is REAP - The Rural Economic Agricultural Programme, established in August 2004 to assist with the development of small farmers in Jamaica. This programme is a partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture, the Rural Agricultural Development Agency, the Jamaica Agricultural Society and the College of Science and Education. Last year, FFP distributed over $199.7 million worth of agricultural supplies to small farmers including farming tools, basic food items and seeds.

FFP Jamaica Chairman Father Burchell McPherson urged his Jamaican Board to motivate local donors to show the same level of commitment as generous overseas donors. In collaboration with the Jamaica National Building Society Foundation, WISYNCO, Tankweld and other corporate donors, Food for the Poor officially launched the Islandwide School Sanitation Project on December 22, 2006.

Under this project, basic and primary schools across the island which are using pit latrines are having them replaced with modern sanitary facilities in an effort to promote proper hygiene in schools. Under the leadership of dynamic construction engineer Beth Carroll, FFP has since replaced pit latrines in 33 schools, improving the lives of over 6,500 children.

One of the most heartwarming projects this year was energetic fund-raising by a group of children at Hillel Academy Prep, who were able to present a brand new two-bedroom house, furniture, and school supplies valued at $369,200 to the Planter family in Hayes, Clarendon, in June of this year. "I can't thank Hillel and Food for the Poor enough for helping my family," said 13-year-old Kadian Planter, a student at Hayes Primary and Junior High. Ever since Hurricane Dean, the Planter family had been living in a small leaky shack. "It was really fun to help," said 11-year-old Raquelle Cross, one of Hillel Academy's sixth graders who had journeyed to Clarendon with parents and teachers.

"I believe God's divine providence teaches us day by day. I see His hand in my life and in our organisation," says Robin. "God teaches us, but it's up to us to recognise His teachings. Every day, I thank God for the tremendous work we are able to accomplish in His name."

As we gear for a financially challenging year, we can remember that what Ferdie Mahfood started in 1982 with a few thousand dollars and a mission to help the impoverished and the poor in spirit, has since provided US$4 billion in aid. It should be a year in which we share the little or much we have, remembering that "we make a living from what we get, but a life from what we give".


Monday, December 22, 2008

Gifts to others ... and yourself

Excerpt from Observer column | Monday, December 22, 2008

Gift giving

Since money will be short this Christmas, let us look at gifts that will make us more productive and knowledgeable. It's fine to get that multi-featured cellphone as long as you're going to make good use of its features, like alarms to get to work on time and calendars to organise yourself better.

There are non-money gifts that are well appreciated: a spring clean of an elderly parent's home, baby-sitting for stressed-out friends, home-made items. We could support some Jamaican titles. These are the books I plan to give: Beverley Manley's The Manley Memoirs; Marguerite Gauron's and Cynthia Wilmot's Falling in Love after Fifty...the Best is Yet to Come; Easton Lee's Run Big 'Fraid; Joan Andrea Hutchinson's books and CDs; Melville Cooke's 11/9; Valerie Facey's and Jackie Ranston's Belisario, Sketches of Character, A Historical Biography of a Jamaican Artist; Marguerite Orane's Free and Laughing and Robert Lalah's Roving with Lalah.

We could give tickets to the theatre or a great show. This year's pantomime Runner Boy should be a good treat which helps to support our artistes and production personnel. By attending Shaggy's show on January 3, you will be helping the Bustamante Hospital for Children. Anything for charity is a good bet, so I won't be shy to mention that all author's proceeds for first-quarter sales of my book Souldance will go to Food for the Poor and Stella Maris Foundation.

And here is the most important gift of all: the one to ourselves, resolving to live our best life ever. This means staying connected to our God through prayer, cultivating an attitude of gratitude, laughing more and remembering that the healthier we are, the more we'll have to offer to the ones we love best. Have a safe and peaceful Christmas!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh the Glory! Congrats Reggae Boyz - Digicel Caribbean Champions!

Jubilant Jamaica Captain Tyrone Marshall holds the Trophy aloft. Second place: Grenada, third,Guadeloupe,fourth Cuba.

Monday, December 15 - Kingston, Jamaica: After an exciting 6 months, the wait is finally over, Jamaica have proven their dominance in Caribbean Football and have been awarded the title of 2008 Digicel Caribbean Champions. Jamaica receives the DCC Trophy and US$120,000 while rivals Grenada receive the 2nd place prize of US$70,000. After a penalty shoot-out, Guadeloupe secured 3rd place prize of US$50,000 and Cuba go home with the 4th place prize of US$30,000.

In a statement at the closing press conference at the National Stadium in Kingston last night, CFU Vice President and JFF President, Capt. Horace Burrell, congratulated the DCC Finalists: “The Reggae Boyz have proven that they are indeed Champions. Grenada demonstrated what will and determination can achieve. I congratulate Grenada on a sturdy performance.”

Winning team Head Coach, John Barnes, also congratulated Grenada: “Grenada was a worthy opponent. They didn’t make it easy for us.”

Barnes also expressed his feelings about the Reggae Boyz’ victory: “I am happy for the players and the country. Thanks to the players and the coaching staff for enabling me to help them win the Digicel Caribbean Championships.”

Grenada Captain and Coach, Anthony Modeste, graciously accepted 2nd place: “We don’t feel like losers, we feel like winners. We did ourselves and our country proud. No one thought that Grenada would have made it so far. This little team has shown that in the Caribbean, anything is possible.

“Congratulations to the Reggae Boyz, they are the deserving Champions. If we couldn’t have that trophy there is no one else we would want to have it.”

As the proud sponsors of the Digicel Caribbean Championships, Digicel are happy with the success of the tournament. Digicel's Head of Group Sponsorship, Kieran Foley, expressed his excitement: “Our company slogan is Bigger and Better and we feel that this year’s DCC was just that. This year, 21 teams competed which is the largest number to date. We are really happy with the success of the tournament.

"Grenada making it to 2nd place is a testament to just how Football in this region has developed and Digicel is committed to further developing the sport in the Caribbean and to showcasing the talent worldwide. The Final matches of the 2008 DCC was broadcast live in Asia, USA, South America and the Caribbean.

“Congratulations to Jamaica, Grenada, Guadeloupe and Cuba and we wish them luck in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup.”

CFU President, Jack Warner, in one sentence, summarized the 2008 Digicel Caribbean Championships: “This tournament has proven that the standard of football in the Caribbean has risen to great heights.”

For match pictures and further information visit www.digicelfootball.com


Since its launch in 2001, Digicel has become the largest wireless telecommunications operator in the Caribbean with more than six million customers. After seven years, Digicel is renowned for competitive rates, unbeatable coverage, superior customer care, a wide variety of products and services and state-of-the-art handsets. By offering innovative wireless services and community support, Digicel has become a leading brand in the Caribbean and has placed the region at the cutting-edge of wireless communications – the company is also a new entrant to the Central American market.

Digicel is incorporated in Bermuda and now has operations in 31 markets world-wide. Its Caribbean and Central American markets comprise Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, El Salvador, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Panama, St Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago and Turks & Caicos. The Caribbean company also has coverage in St. Martin and St. Barths. Digicel Pacific comprises Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Digicel is the lead sponsor of Caribbean and Central American sports teams, including the West Indies Cricket Team and Special Olympics teams throughout the region. Digicel is also title sponsor of the Digicel Caribbean Championships and the Copa de Naciones Digicel, which are the Caribbean and Central American qualifiers to the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Visit www.digicelgroup.com for more information on Digicel

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tribute to Hartley Neita by Ian Martin

Dear Jean : I too would like to join you and the many who have offered tributes to the late Hartley Neita. In so doing, I include excerpt from a letter that I forwarded to the editor of the Jamaica Observer relative to your column that appeared in the October 13, 2008 edition of the Jamaica Observer and titled "Hartley Neita's JC Thriller"
"Veteran journalists like Hartley Neita, Ken Chaplin, C Roy Reynolds and the late Geof Brown, to name a few, are guys that brought a stroke of objectivity, fairness and independence to the profession. They pulled no punches and wrote and reported as they saw it."

However, the above comments do not and cannot even begin to tell of the many virtues of Mr. Neita. Mr. Neita's expertise was not limited to journalism. He was a diplomat in his own right very versed in protocol and an advocate of folk history. Beside his down-to-earth demeanor, he was a class act and an embracer of social graces.

Not so long ago, a former chief-of-staff of the Jamaica Defence Force and I shared a conversation where Mr. Neita's name came up. The former army official told me when he had any questions relative to protocol and certain ceremonial rites, Mr Neita had the answers and was only a phone call away.

Mr. Neita was truly an ambassador and son of Jamaica. Deepest sympathy to family, friends relatives and colleagues. May his soul rest in peace.

Ian Martin
Brooklyn, New York

Friday, December 12, 2008

Remembering Hartley Neita

Hartley Neita at a reading of 'The Search'

I had the privilege of interviewing Hartley in October about his life and his book 'The Search'. Please read below about this patriot's amazing journey. Hartley Neita, trailblazer, mentor, family man and communicator par excellence. May his soul rest in peace. - jlc

Jamaica Observer column - Monday, October 13, 2008
Jean Lowrie-Chin

Thank goodness Hartley Neita does not know how to retire. His fingers have not been still since he taught himself touch-typing on his Dad's Hermes portable at their Four Paths home in the 1940s. This communications trailblazer recently launched The Search, a thrilling page-turner, the true story of five Jamaica College boys lost in the Blue Mountains. The book will benefit his alma mater's foundation.

Although he was a small boy of 10, and miles away from the action, the writer remembers the suspense of those two weeks, when all the folks in his district gathered every evening at his home to hear accounts of the search for the five JC students, read aloud from the Gleaner and Standard newspapers. It was Hartley's task to collect the papers from the police station and he became immersed in the story of the lost boys.

Hartley's father, GS Neita, was the headmaster of the Four Paths Elementary School and a correspondent for the Gleaner and the Standard. He encouraged his children to read and little Hartley became a voracious reader at an early age. So absorbed was he with the JC adventure that when he won one of the few precious scholarships to any of the island's top boys' schools, he unhesitatingly chose Jamaica College.

The Search is a compelling book, but for more reasons than the narrative. Well known for his evocative short stories and columns, Hartley paints an era in our past when Jamaicans of all walks of life showed keen concern for each other and particularly for our children. When the long-awaited boys arrived in Fruitful Vale, Portland: "People lined the road, shouting and cheering, clapping their hands and hailing happily to the boys."

As they travelled back to Kingston, "the roads and towns were crowded with people eager to welcome the boys. Men cried and several persons fainted on hearing the good news". The euphoria was very much like last week's homecoming celebrations for our Olympians. The leader of the five young climbers, Douglas Hall, was first and in the top three in the 100 yards, 220 yards and 440 yards events in the Inter-Secondary School Championships ("Champs" has a proud, long history).

Another brilliant journalist, the late Evon Blake, is quoted on the courage of the students: "When the history of Jamaica's brave sons is written, five names will stand out. as a glorious monument, challenging Jamaican youths to rise, to dare, to be beckoning them to forsake the beaten path. and like the great sons of other nations rise like conquerers, heads and shoulders above the crowd."

The account by Douglas Hall shows the intelligence and bravery of the five teenagers (the others were John Ennevor, Eric Gray, Teddy Hastings and Donald Soutar, the only living member of the group), reminding us that our country has never been short of heroes. Such a book, replete with reports and first-hand accounts, should be on the reading list of every Jamaican child. The Ministry of Education would do well to include it on our school booklists.

Hartley Neita is a man who has read "everything", and (unlike Palin) readily names his favourites: the Bible, John Steinbeck and Vic Reid. He speaks animatedly about his creation of the "Discover Jamaica" campaign at the Jamaica Tourist Board in the '70s. It was from this popular promotion that we learnt little-known facts about the country.

The patriot also served as press secretary for several political leaders and told fascinating stories about their style. Norman Manley, he recalls, was a stickler for time, looking grimly at his pocket watch if the 25-year-old press attaché was even five minutes late for a meeting. He remembers NW writing out speeches in longhand, to be then transcribed by his secretary and finally rehearsed in front of a mirror, his phenomenal memory retaining the words verbatim.

Hartley also worked for Sir Alexander and says he was impressed by our first prime minister's sharp mind. "A lot of people didn't realise how smart he was," says Hartley. "He would fire off good, strong letters and addresses in no time at all." Hugh Shearer, who later became a close friend, was one of the most diligent people Hartley had ever worked with - he would call him at 6 am to plan the day's work, and was a thorough, analytical reader.

His next book entitled The Forgotten Prime Minister, is about Sir Donald Sangster and will include details of his illness and death, with excerpts from the autopsy, which he believes will finally address some unanswered questions about the shortest serving PM's sudden passing. Hartley travelled overseas with Michael Manley when he became ill, handling sensitive media communiqués.

The Search also tells us the state of communication in the Jamaica of the 30s. Although we were sophisticated enough to have the telephone, well ahead of 95 per cent of the rest of the world, there was yet no radio station. People depended heavily on the newspapers and the post office. Therefore, after arrival safely out of the mountains, the lost boys asked for the nearest post office where they could telegraph their headmaster.

Hartley has deeply lived the evolution of communication in Jamaica, remembering how he had to adjust his hands from the heavy clicking of manual typewriter keys to the silent keyboard of the computer, and now enjoying international publications and emailing on the Internet.

As we reflect on the gentler time of his childhood, Hartley declares, "This is not the Jamaica I worked for." He remembers how values were drilled into him at an early age: "We had cards on the wall in our classroom reading 'Be kind', "Be honest', 'Be thoughtful', 'Be punctual'."

He can congratulate himself on raising fine children with these qualities - Gary (CPTC), Gregory (BMW), Karen (Atrium, MoBay), Michele (JMMB) and Toni-Ann (NCB). He is devoted to his grandchildren and encourages them to learn about our history. One grandson who read The Search remarked that he had no idea that Jamaica had suffered a major earthquake in 1907.

Hartley Neita recounts many occasions of prayer in The Search. He rightly believes that more focus on prayer could help Jamaica to become peaceful once again, as in those golden days of his Clarendon boyhood.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008


In response to reader's request for ISBN Number - ISBN 978-976-637-386-3

Sunday Gleaner - 7 December 2008
A dance through real life with power and beauty

Title: Souldance
Author: Jean Lowrie-Chin
Publisher: Ian Randle Publishers
No. of Pages: 170
Reviewer: Huntley Medley

Communications guru Jean Lowrie-Chin has launched her maiden collection of writings – Souldance, highlighting in the process, a side of her that is not as well known as her 30-odd years in pr and advertising.

is a work of literary art that presents a celebration of life so vividly captured even before your begin to turn the pages. For the cover, well known Jamaican artist Viv Logan has provided an awe-inspiring rendition of life in its most innocent depiction yet laced serious social, cultural and religious symbolism. Her work, Cherubs Gone Rasta depicts two dreadlocked children at play sharing ripe berries picked, no doubt, from their lush garden backdrop. These children are perfect icons of the free spirit that produced Souldance and their growing pains, loss of innocence and concern for their changing world are etched in the ensuing dance of words with varying movement and tempo over the work’s 170 pages.

Section one of Souldance bears the name of the work and opens with the title poem. This piece fittingly sets the stage for the theme of freedom both explored and reflected throughout the work:
“How wondrous is the truth I found
The Soul is not by body bound”
Lowrie-Chin then dances through the circumstances of her birth in Jonkunnu Baby, “When jonkunnu wheel into the yard
Beating all kinda contraption
Till she start feel contraction”
to memories of her mother’s love and the useful lessons her life provided for her children (My Mother’s Road).

Family is a recurring theme in this first section of the book with works dedicated to her father and to her children, Anita and Noel, to whom Souldance is also dedicated. Pick-Up Time, dedicated to her children, like none other, underscores family. Soaring profits, gourmet lunch, important clients and incoming contracts are not enough to interfere with a caring mother’s daily preoccupation with picking up her children. For that and their sublime laughter time freezes.

While the author’s immediate family is brought into focus, there is no doubt that she views her Jamaican society and the big wide world around her as her extended family. For Susan Campbell, Tess Thomas, Madam Rose Leon and Vilma Mais – woman whose lives were cruelly snuffed out at the hands of murderers – there is For Our Sisters Rise as, “The goodness of our sisters dead will keep us strong in heart and head.” Mi Sister is the universal familial extension of emotional support:
“Love, mi sister, don’t stress yuself
I going stand up for you
So don’t depress yuself”

Meanwhile, Angel’s Message and Hugh’s Reply (for the late Hugh Croskill) underscore the author’s underlying philosophy that the temporal body cannot contain the human spirit, which soars beyond circumstances and transcends suffering, pain, disappointment and other human conditions.

Jean Lowrie-Chin achieves much in Souldance. She philosophizes, dreams, empathizes make social comments, enters the skin and minds of her subjects and urges humanity to take another look at itself through the mirror of time and one’s own actions. In Souldance, Jean Lowrie-Chin has a lot to say and does so beautifully and with power.

In Your Son Too (for Lee Boyd Malvo) she speaks in the voice of the young sniper’s mother relating the unspeakable anguish a mother inevitably feels, and the spiritual fortitude she must summon in such circumstances.

Then there is Land of the Free, written to release the spine chilling emotions following the news of 9-11 reflects on and mourns the catastrophe wrought in her, mine and many other Jamaicans’ “just-in-case-place”.

In Part II of the work which is subtitled Growing Pains, Jean Lowrie-Chin steps boldly into the realm of the reality of personal social experiences. In this section the Cherubs have come of age and whether it is Loving Free, Goodbye, Separate, Wedding Vows Revisited, or I Want You Back, she delves into the emotions and takes us on the journey that is her life and that of her loved one, husband Hubie.

Many of the Jean Lowrie-Chin’s pieces are quite well known. My Chinaman Jump to the Riddim of Jah was first published in the Daily News in the 1970s (yes, she has been writing poetry for some time now) and has been read to an audience in the United Kingdom by professor of English literature, Mervyn Morris. Pick-up Time has been published in the school textbook, Buried Treasures.

Much of Souldance is incisive social commentary. The piece Yu See Mi dramatically sums up the class divisions and economic disparities that drive much of the crime and violence in the Jamaican society. But it does more than that. It also explores the psychological dimensions of the problem and urges the show of respect and tangible expression of concern that must be the starting point and main engine of any sustainable solution to the problem.

In keeping with theme of social responsibility that recurs throughout the work, and is summed up in God’s Unblinking Eye, all the author’s proceeds from first quarter sales of the publication (including the Christmas period) will be donated to the Stella Maris Foundation and Food for the Poor. Driven by a belief that in the absence of sharing none of us, rich or poor, will be able to survive, Jean Lowrie-Chin reminds us that “Our deeds are our unending story.”

If the measures of poetry are the quality of the beauty it evokes and its emotional power, then Souldance fits the bill as being both beautiful and powerful. True to its promise, the poems of Souldance are written mainly in the free verse that is like oxygen to a work of this texture. Yet Jean Lowrie-Chin at the same time manages to reflect the metrical disciple that reflects her formal training in literatures of English and which, no doubt, does justice to the tutelage of literary greats Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris.

The book brings together more than 30 years of writings – poetry as well as comments and thoughts about the society in which we live and the events, issues and ideas that impact our lives everyday. Lowrie-Chin explores these issues with ease and simplicity that demonstrate superb clarity of thought and profound grasp of the issues of her time.

Inspired by the work of Claude McKay and the encouragement of professors of English Literature as well as friends Christine Craig and Lorna Goodison, Lowrie-Chin’s writing is anchored in the experience of writing for the Daily News in the 70s, Gleaner in the 80s and the Jamaica Observer since the 90s.

The third section of the Souldance – titled The Power of Words – is a collection of her more recent articles and prose writings that continues the dance through (not around) the issues of the day with thoughtful reflection, sharp analysis, relevant commentary and useful recommendations. Of note is the piece, “The Rendezvous of Conquest,” about the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt and President-elect of the USA, Barack Obama, remarkably, written in June 2008 – months before their stunning triumphs and Jamaica’s Beijing experience.

In the words of the author, who writes because she must, “from a breathless messenger in love with her family, her Jamaica and her world,” comes Souldance.

is available at Sangster's Bookstores, Kingston Bookshop, all branches of Fontana Pharmacy and Monarch Pharmacy, Liguanea Drug & Garden, Chronicles, Manor Park Pharmacy, Bookophilia, Stella Maris Church Office, Ian Randle Publishers, PROComm, at www.positivetourism.com and in January on Amazon.com. It was launched at the Terra Nova hotel in St. Andrew on Friday, November 28 by Mrs Beverley Manley. Hon Prime Minister Bruce Golding kindly participated in the unveiling of the cover.

Ian Martin reflects on Barack and Byron

Email from my friend in New York Ian Martin

Originally mailed on November 5

Ms. Chin: Good morning! In anticipation of the victory, I took the day off from work today. Ms. Chin, you cannot even begin to imagine how I feel about this piece of history. If somebody had told me a year or so ago that I would live to see this day, I would probably tell him/her that there is a pill on the market for such utterances.

The victory has been a tear evoking one for me. Yet, my delight has no bounds. I am so glad to be a part of the history. Despite the name calling, the labels and slurs hurled at Barack Obama, he did not reply in like kind. He simply kept focused by sticking to the issues.

In governing, like King Solomon of old, hopefully president elect Obama will ask God for wisdom to lead. I also hope that the media will display a great degree of decency as it relates to Obama's two daughters. There can be no denying that Obama and his wife at their own choosing have embarked upon territory that provides fodder for the media. However, their children are innocent.

Once again, I am proud to be a part of this history.


On the death of the Honourable Byron Lee, one can’t help but concluding that the last month or so has been somewhat unkind (for the want of a better word or lack thereof) to the music entertainment world. Within the past thirty days, we have lost Alton Ellis, Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne's younger sister, and now Byron Lee.

Byron has certainly been a legend and a pioneer in the Jamaican music culture. The longevity of his band speaks volume. The longevity of his band does not only speak of Byron's steadfastness; it serves to remind those of us who have been around from the sixties of the other bands that played a part in shaping the Jamaican music culture.

There were bands like, the Skatalites, Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelations, Carlos Malcolm and the Afro Rhythm, Lyn Tait and the Jets, Babba Brooks and the Band, Prince Buster All-stars, Beverly's All-star, Ingrid Chin and the Carnations, Granville Williams Orchestra, Kes Chin an His Band, Bongo Herman and the Legendary Sonny Bradshaw Orchestra, to name a few.

Based on the style of the music played by the more contemporary bands like Inner Circles, Tomorrow's Children and Zapow and Third World, Byron Lee's Dragonaires must have had some influence on those bands.

Then there's the talent that Byron brought to the forefront in some of the lead singers who had made there navigation through his band. There was Keith Lyn singing "Empty Chair"; Ken Lazarus singing the Lyrics to the Dragonaires hit song "Jamaica Ska", Vic Taylor crooning "Think Twice My Love" and "My Way". Among others that sang with the Dragonaires include, Barry Biggs and Lloyd Williams. And off course, one cannot forget Byron teaming up with the birdman, Mighty Sparrow, in composing the album titled "Sparrow meet the Dragon".

Byron has played an excellent and a captain's inning, an inning filled with class and shots. May his legacy live on and his soul rest in peace. Deepest sympathy to his family friends and relatives.

That's all for now Ms. Chin.

Staying tuned,


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fae Ellington on Dr Lucien Jones

Dr Lucien Jones, Convenor and Vice Chairman of the National Road Safety Council – one of his many hats, with Melaine Walker and David Summerbell Jr.

By Fae Ellington – Sunday Herald – 30 Nov 08

Dr. Lucien Washington Jones is a medical doctor who for the past 30 years, has made the daily trek from Kingston to May Pen and back. That is where, as a young doctor, he was led to establish his practice. With the exception of Sundays and some Thursdays, May Pen is ‘home’. He credits his cousin, Dr. Errol Williamson, with influencing his decision to offer his skills as a doctor to the people of Clarendon.
Those of us who know Lucien Jones, know that he is a passionate Christian and devout Anglican. Although he describes himself as a ‘Pentecostal’ Anglican, it was the Adventists — led by Lucille Christian, who now lives in Mandeville — who got his practice going in May Pen. She saw him as a patient, then went out and told the Adventists about him. A man of God is just a man of God. Denomination should never be a barrier or hindrance.
Dr. Jones has helped or caused so many of us to straighten out our lives spiritually. He has an Internet ministry, a text ministry and a blog ministry. Here is a sample of one of his text messages; ‘Brick by brick, community by community, school by school, church by church, acts of faith by acts of faith, one day at a time trusting God. That’s how Jamaica will be rescued; by you and me. Let’s starts today.’ If only we all were seized with that understanding and used our special gifts and time, what ‘miracles’ could be wrought for this country.

On Thursday evening, November 27, some of us gathered at the Halse Hall Great House to give thanks for and say thanks to ‘a doctor who for 30 years served the community of May Pen SELFLESSLY, in a CHRISTIAN manner, at great sacrifice to himself and his family’. It was indeed a surprise. His wife Vivienne was tasked with the responsibility for getting him there. And that she did without ‘letting di puss outa di bag’. Mrs. Jones is a picture of grace and charm. Sister Sonia and brother Wayne were on hand to share in the occasion.

Mrs. Jones, like Michelle Obama, is his reality check. He told the gathering that once years ago, during a period when he was working until late in May Pen, and driving home to Kingston even later, then sitting at his desk to work late into the night or into the morning hours, Vivienne once asked him, “You think you are Marcus Garvey?” That set him straight. You see, life is about balance, and it was now clear that the scales were tipped in one direction. He had to make time for his wife and two children.
Dr. Jones told Winsome Singh that his guiding philosophy is to listen to the Lord and obey HIM. He dislikes bad manners. To the question, ‘Who do you admire most and why?’, he answered: “My father (Winston Jones, the late politician) because he was a good man: and also my mother because she was a gentle soul (she too, is deceased).
Dr. Jones’ head is not in the sky, he has no airs, but lots of ears for those he treats, counsels, guides, assists, motivates and inspires. Mrs. Dahlia Henry, who has been a patient of his from childhood, and who serenaded him, said she named one of her sons, Lucien, for obvious reasons. The very talented keyboardist and vocalist, Joel Edwards, said: “They don’t make them like you anymore. Not because you haven’t seen me in a while, I wouldn’t go to any other doctor, because that would be like changing my religion.” Wow!
In the citation that was read by former principal of Denbigh High School, Mrs. Joan Wint, Dr. Jones was described as “young, debonair and dashing” when he descended on May Pen. He was said to have later become “cool, competent, compassionate and the consummate professional”.
The church was well represented. At the start of the ‘thanksgiving’, Archdeacon Winston Thomas (Anglican) prayed, Reverend Morna Christmas Fraser blessed dinner and the cake, and Sister Alvarine Roberts offered the closing prayer.
Mr. Patrick Lawrence of Vere Agencies lauded Dr. Jones for his contribution to the town, its environs, but most of all, the people.
Dr. Peter Wellington travelled from Mandeville to celebrate with his colleague and friend, someone he clearly admires.

Like a bolt
Many times during the evening, Dr. Jones looked on in disbelief, wearing the, ‘Is this really happening’ expression.
Thanks to all for the event, especially the chief cook and bottle washer, Carol Dacres.
There were several highpoints during the evening. This one took the cake for me. A legitimate firearm holder was once taken to him: The purpose was to get the gun away. Later he would be told that the man was quite mad. You’ll appreciate I’ll have to edit the story. Well, after some coercion, Dr. Jones got the man into the examination room, talked him into getting on the bed, and then asked him if he would like to give up the gun, to which the man promptly said ‘Yes’. Relief! So you think.
While all that was happening, a colleague had strategically placed himself near the door to secure the weapon. Seeing that the ‘patient’ had so willingly agreed, Dr. Jones stepped to the door to indicate to the colleague that the time was right. As the colleague entered the room with Dr. Jones in tow, they were faced with a gun trained directly at them. Well, if you think Donald Quarrie or Usain Bolt could catch Lucien Jones! He took off like a bolt of lightning or a Lightning Bolt as it is called these days, ending up at some woman’s place down the road, cowering and cuddled in her arms. Someone should write a play titled ‘A day in a doctor’s office’.
He reminds me that I shared this proverb with him: ‘Dawg ah money, ‘im buy cheese an’ set puss fi guard it’.
My column is published every other week, so back with you on December 14. DV. Walk good!

Fae Ellington is a broadcast journalist, lecturer in radio and a communication consultant. Your views and comments are welcome. Send them to fae@mail.infochan.com

Monday, December 1, 2008

Help JA: support Ja Netball Assn

The impeccable Sunshine Girls with Coach Connie Francis (left), Vice Captain Nadine Bryan (centre), Team Doctor, Prem Singh (front) and JNA President Marva Bernard (right).

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Call it columnist’s crossroads: so many burning topics to choose from – terrorism in Mumbai and heated local issues. So there I was, torn between a planned piece on Marva Bernard’s passion for the Jamaica Netball Association (JNA), the week’s headlines and the myriad topics on Prime Minister Golding’s ‘Jamaica House Live’ call-in programme.

We heard the PM commiserating with President-elect Obama over the tattered US economy, but I felt even sorrier for him as I listened to the range of concerns raised by callers. After nearly one continuous year of rain, his Government has $12 billion worth of damage to our roads and bridges, while losing US$35 million in October in the alumina trade, resulting from what he felt was a poor deal negotiated by the previous government with Alcoa Minerals.

A mother of three children by three different fathers called in to say she was about to be turned out of her house by her landlord as only one of the fathers was helping. Another mother with two children and no father in sight was now jobless. One was a dressmaker and the other a practical nurse. A sympathetic PM Golding promised them assistance, obviously moved by their plight.

Those calls made up my mind. We have to promote any effort that builds self-esteem and self reliance in our people – if only these distressed ladies had been beneficiaries of the JNA’s comprehensive programmes. Our Sunshine girls and players in the four sponsored leagues operated by the 49-year-old association, are examples of what every Jamaican girl can achieve with the right support.

“We have a holistic programme that focuses on the total person,” explains JNA President Marva. “Each of our four national squads has two managers assigned that act as mother, friend, teacher, nurse you name it. We teach them how to speak, to dress, (no chewing gum in their uniforms) we inculcate values that we are not sure are taught at home. Some of us hug them each time we meet … I don't shake young people’s hands. I give them lots of love and hugs.”

This nurturing of mind, body and spirit has paid off: “Almost all of my Sunshine girls are either at university, finishing high school in sixth form or graduates of a college. We even have a professional netball player.”

Marva is referring to 20-year-old Romelda Aiken, the First Sunshine Girl to be offered a lucrative contract to play professional netball in the inaugural ANZ pro netball Championships played between eight teams from Australia and New Zealand. She was voted the MVP of the series by the eight coaches in the competition. She is 6 ft 4'' and will be returning to Australia in March 2009 to play for her franchise The Queensland Firebirds. Who knew that this Jamaican girl, idolized by the Aussies, is one of the top goal shooters in the world?

Marva Bernard, though grateful to her existing sponsors for their support, continues to struggle to stay abreast of expenses. “The top teams come here at their own expense to practise with the agile Sunshine Girls,” she remarks. “But we still have to pick up the huge costs for the use of the National Indoor Sports Centre.” Marva, who is Finance Director of Finance at JIS, is the first Jamaican to be named Finance Director to the International Body (IFNA) in 1999. She is grateful for the unstinting support of the JNA Council, Secretariat, volunteers and friends.

As I thought of Romelda and her legendary netball predecessors, our track queens, Veronica, Melaine, Shelley-Ann, Grace, Deon, Juliet, Bridgette and Merlene, I realised that the sponsorship and adulation we shower on our male athletes are not equally enjoyed by our women. The glass ceiling may have been cracked, but not yet shattered in the world of sport, business and politics.

Indeed, during the recent US presidential election, I received a report from their local Embassy headlined ‘Parties Recruit More Women to Vote Than to Run’ by Lea Terhune at America.gov. The JNA could pick up a few pointers from the US women’s political action committees (PACs). Terhune quotes Barbara Palmer, from American University’s Women in Politics Institute: “For the past few election cycles, if you do the math, female congressional candidates, at least, actually raise more money, on average, than their male counterparts, so we have definitely closed the gender gap there. And that is due to the activism of women PACs.”

I am recording here some of the heroic struggles of our Sunshine Girls as I appeal to existing sponsors to increase their contribution, and encourage others, especially those with women in charge, to join them. Consider 18-year-old Malysha Kelly who attends high school in Ewarton. “After school she takes a robot taxi to Spanish Town,” says Marva, “ then one from there to Half-Way-Tree, then one to Cross Roads and then one to the Stadium. And she does this three times per week for training! Of course we pick up the cost but if that is not dedication then what is?”

Marva describes the unthinkable sacrifice of former captain Elaine Davis, 2007 winner of the Courtney Walsh Award for Excellence in Sport, who has played in four championships through the pain of several knee surgeries to bring glory to Jamaica.

Sunshine Girls captain Simone Forbes is the winner of the first Professor Kenneth Hall scholarship at the Mona School of Business. Hailing from August Town, Simone got a volleyball scholarship to Mercy College in New York and returned home to serve her country through sport. “She was also one of the 2005 winners of the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence in Sport,” says Marva. “Simone gave up one semester of her Masters programme to prepare for our participation in the World Netball Championship in New Zealand last year November.”

“I am proud of all my girls and maybe that's why I don't have children as God has blessed me with them,” says Marva, to whom Coach Connie Francis dedicated the team’s hard fought Bronze Medal in last year’s World Championships held in New Zealand.

Despite their quest for funding, the JNA continues to bring us fame, and to produce generations of patriots who serve their country with distinction. People have been telling Marva that she may not achieve her sponsorship goals if she does not get a man on board to influence the right people. Let’s prove them wrong. lowriechin@aim.com, www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt, right, and pole vaulter, Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia hold their "Athlete of the Year Awards", Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008, in Monaco, awarded by the International Athletic Foundation.

Usain Bolt is the Winner of the Int'l Amateur Atheletics Federation World Athlete of the Year Award. He was awarded at a glittering Ceremony at the Sporting Club d'Ete in Monte Carlo, Monaco earlier today.

The women's awardee was Russian Yelena Isinbayeva.

Male Performance of the Year - Cuban Dayron Robles and Female Performance of the Year Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba and Barbora Spotakova - Czechoslovakia.

Usain was also one of six receiving Special Olympic Awards.
We had an inkling that this was a done deal for Usain when we heard that Fab Five was invited to play at the event.

Previous Jamaican winners were Merlene Ottey (1990) and Asafa Powell (2006).

Congrats to the Usain Bolt circle - parents Mr & Mrs Wellesley Bolt, Manager Norman Peart, and Coach Glen Mills.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Change makers in our midst

Observer column for Monday, 17 November 2008

by Jean Lowrie-Chin

As we made our way to Kendal in the blinding rain last Saturday, I joked to my colleague, “In this kind of weather, I may be addressing an audience of one.” We were heading for the 21st Annual Neighbourhood Watch Conference, zealously organised by Sgt Barrington Brown and their national executive. You can imagine our pleasant surprise when we saw a hall packed with volunteers, who had travelled from every corner of Jamaica on our rocky roads.

The main speaker was the no-nonsense Dr Leachim Semaj who warned us that while not trivializing our security challenges, we should take a wider perspective. He said that most crimes were gang related and concentrated in five parishes: Kingston, St Andrew, St. Catherine, St James and Clarendon. The statistics on the Jamaica Constabulary Force website (www.jcf.gov.jm) supported this: of the 1050 murders committed from January to August 2008, a whopping 83.5 percent were committed in these gang-infested parishes. Recent abductions smack of horrific initiation practices – which is why we need all good citizens on watch.

Semaj said that the media should be careful how they give the impression that “Jamaica mash up”. He hoped more reporters would stay beyond the usual opening address at meetings to learn about such valiant efforts as Neighbourhood Watch. Then they could reassure the general public that there is much that is still good and decent about our country.

So here are some untold stories that should keep us positive on Jamaica. We spent some time last week with the Nurse, Teacher, Police Officer and Principal of the Year and were moved when we heard how these extremely busy individuals found the time to reach out to others.

Teacher of the Year Joan Davis-Williams who teaches Food & Nutrition at Ardenne related how she had maxed out her credit cards a few days before the award ceremony, because she wanted her students to have a comfortable and attractive work area for the examiner’s upcoming visit. “When I heard I was a finalist, I thought I would probably get a basket and a plaque,” she said. The morning of the ceremony, her utility bills arrived and she realised that she was now in a tight financial spot. She said she was thrilled to discover that her prize included $100,000 cash and said the lesson she was passing on to us was, “Give, give, give and don’t count the cost. It will always come back to you.”

Mrs Davis-Williams’ class scored the highest marks in the island – all 17 students passed with A’s!

Nurse of the Year Grace Smart Simms, who was the first Nurse from Bellevue to have won the Award, had a significant birthday a few months after receiving her prize money. She decided to throw a party for all the people who had supported her through life in various ways. Instead of asking for presents, she used half of her prize money, $50,000 to give gifts. Mrs Smart Simms is naturally aware of the importance of mental health, and relates how she gives such gifts as vouchers for massages, because she believes we should always find ways to lift up each other. “You may not be able to do big things, but you can do something,” she insists.

Police Officer of the Year Constable Marvin Franklin is the youngest and lowest ranking policeman to have won the award. He brought tears to our eyes as he related that the very next day when he went to his station, “For the first time everyone, even the Superintendent, called me MISTER Franklin.” He had us in stitches as he related that he had been called everything in his community “from Lasco police to mackerel police.”

In the Spanish Town area where he is assigned, Constable Franklin said there was a community that boasted a sign stating “Home of the ------ Gang.” When he said he wanted it changed, he was told that many such attempts had been in vain. “I went and reasoned with the youth in the area,” he told us. “I told them they were inviting tough security operations with such a sign and I noticed that they were listening to me. The next day I used some of my prize money and bought some paint. I gave it to them, and told them they should take the next step and paint a proper community sign.”

The sign was repainted and the close rapport that Constable Franklin established with the youngsters has now developed into one of the most active Police Youth Clubs in the island. He said when he took the children on outings, he realised that never before in their lives had they gone even as far out of their communities as Flat Bridge!

The Principal of the Year, O’Neil Ankle received a call after Barack Obama won the US Presidential Elections. It was from one of his friends urging him to go into politics, because of his passionate commitment to his country and his school. Mr Ankle is head of the Green Park Primary and Junior High School in Clarendon, where he insists that no student must be static. “Even if they are slow learners, we have special programmes to ensure that they move from one level to the next,” said this intrepid leader.

Students at his school pay a fine if they are late. “When they grumble, I tell them that they have to be prepared for the working world by developing the habit of punctuality. I explain that when they are adults, three times late and they could lose their livelihood.”

Mr Ankle said that while Jamaica had many positive role models, the youngsters gravitate to some of the dancehall artists who spew violence and obscenities. “Do we understand what we are doing to our children? This has to be stopped. That’s why we are having so many problems,” he believes.

Along with Senior Guidance Counsellor Melissa Pryce-Stephens, Mr Ankle is planning a Behaviour Change Camp at Morelands for some of the boys in his school. They regard this as an important step towards giving the children as much support as they can. There is a crying need for better parenting. “Children want structure in their lives,” says Mr Ankle. “They want their parents to be in charge.” Mr Ankle boasts a “brag board” for students and awards them with buttons that say “World Changer.”

World changers. That’s what these four goodly champions are. So are our Neighbourhood Watch volunteers, who refuse to hand over their communities to criminals. They have demonstrated that we can change our world by simple, but never ceasing, acts of care. In our hands, Jamaica can become the paradise that God designed her to be. lowriechin@aim.com, www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Remembering Uncle Melvin - Road Crash Victim

Today is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Crash Victims. In his message, Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who is also Chairman of our National Road Safety Council, observed that EVERY THREE MINUTES, A CHILD IS KILLED IN A ROAD ACCIDENT SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD.

The Council, under the leadership of Vice Chairman/Convenor Dr Lucien Jones and Executive Director Mrs Paula Fletcher, has launched the Save 300 Lives campaign. They are appealing to Jamaicans to at least stay below the 300 number - we lost 350 lives on the road last year, and have already lost over 270 since the beginning of 2008.

At a Church Service to mark the day, held this morning at Saxthorpe Methodist, we paused to remember the loved ones we had lost and memories of my favourite uncle, Melvin Williams, came flooding back. Uncle Melvin, my mother's brother, lived all his life in the little district of Big Bridge, Westmoreland. He was a farmer and fisherman and rode his bicycle everywhere.

When we were children and "spent time" at the Williams homestead, Uncle Melvin would take us for rides, and placed himself totally at our disposal -- never tiring of picking starapples and guineps, peeling oranges and giving us piggy-back rides. His eyes twinkled and his laughter came from way down in his belly. How we all loved him!

About 20 years ago, we got the terrible news that Uncle Melvin was knocked off his bicycle by a speeding minivan. He was taken to hospital, never regained consciousness and died within a few days.

As we remember our loved ones who lost their lives on the road, we can promise ourselves that we will do everything in our power to protect the life of every road user - including our own. Fasten your seat belt, stay within speed limits, don't drink and drive. Life is precious - take care!!

The gift of the Obama family

Jamaica Observer Column - Monday, November 10, 2008

Will we ever tire of seeing the defining moment in history when Barack Obama and his beautiful family emerged onto the stage in Chicago's Grant Park, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of cheering, weeping fans? We're chuffed that we correctly called the US presidential elections, and so moved at the scenes of celebration around the world.

Who knew that there was a Japanese town called Obama where the citizens joyfully donned Hawaiian leis as they watched the US election results? They cried in France, they cheered in Sydney, they killed a fatted bull in Kenya and we can say with certainty: they partied in Jamaica.

Watching Obama in triumph, then British racing driver Lewis Hamilton's heroes' homecoming, and the incessant reruns of Tiger Woods' exploits on the Golf Channel, I harked back to that "flower power" anthem of the 60s by Blue Mink:

"What we need/ Is a great big melting pot/Big enough to take the world and all it's got /Keep it stirring for a hundred years or more/ Turn out coffee-coloured people by the score."

This was the age of Obama's idealistic mother, who fell in love with a young Kenyan student she met at the University of Hawaii (the same university where Sidney Poitier's character fell in love with a white student in the prophetic movie, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?).

They produced the handsome coffee-coloured Barack Jr and after their divorce, she married the pragmatic Indonesian Lolo Soetero; young Barack lived with them for about four years in Lolo's country. Obama's description of their neighbourhood in his book, Dreams from My Father, reminds us of Jamaica - animals in the backyard, beggars in the streets.

As I heard commentators discussing Jamaica's continued expectations from the US under its soon to be sworn-in president, I harked back to a telling passage. His stepfather tried to guide him when Obama was moved by beggars:

"How much money do you have?" he would ask.

I'd empty my pocket. "Thirty rupiah."

"How many beggars are there on the street?"

I tried to imagine the number that had come by the house in the last week. "You see?" he said, once it was clear I'd lost count. "Better to save your money and make sure you don't end up on the street yourself."

This incident happened during Obama's most impressionable years and his campaign speeches have reflected this thinking: be compassionate but don't ship American jobs abroad.

As a skinny kid, Barack was taught by Lolo to defend himself from bullies with neat boxing moves: "Men take advantage of weakness in other men. They're just like countries in that way. Better be strong. if you can't be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who's strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always."

Even as Lolo taught him the street smarts, his mother was ensuring that he read prodigiously and woke him at daybreak to do English lessons. If we examine the Obama campaign, his quiet, nimble fighting spirit, and the brilliant minds he brought together, we see he has learnt his lessons well and has gained what President George W Bush describes as "capital" - tons of it.

But he is not resting on his laurels for a single moment. The day after his victory, Obama breakfasted with his family, worked out at the gym and met behind closed doors with his transition team. He is rousing himself and his team early o'clock to deal with the challenges faced by their extended family - the nation of over 300 million Americans.

Jamaicans had better know that our little rock of 2.5 million, with none of the challenges that bitter winter brings, will have to wait for America to solve her pressing problems. A friend who lives in Florida said on a recent visit to Jamaica that she was seeing more opportunities here than in her community there - campaign news has overshadowed the details of massive job loss, displacement and desperation among once comfortable Americans. Like any leader, Barack Obama will be sorely tested and will not always look like that cool, confident leader that strode out onto that Chicago stage last Tuesday night. 

Americans throughout the world have regained their national pride, being congratulated at every step after the Obama victory. "Long live America!" many non-Americans are cheering.

On a tour bus in Beijing in August, an elderly American tourist walked up and down the aisle, collecting tips for the driver. I said to him, what I have said many times to my American friends, Republicans and Democrats alike: you are the most generous people on the face of this earth. We need to share this generosity of spirit, and understand that the average American is now suffering from the economic downturn, and that the country needs time to recover before it can once again pour out its munificence on the world.

There is a way out of our own serious issues, one that requires no help from anyone but our very own selves: family. The gift that Michelle and Barack Obama have given us is worth far more than any millions they can dole out. They have shown us what a strong black family looks like, sounds like and can achieve. Barack Obama found time during his campaign to spend two days at the side of his gravely ill grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, to take his wife to dinner for their anniversary, to talk each night with his two daughters. They showed us how hard work, high achievement, and righteousness took them to the most prestigious address in the world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ian Fleming’s Jamaica

Alex Quesada for The New York Times
Strawberry Hill is an 18th-century plantation turned resort.

By DAVID G. ALLAN - New York Times

(click on title - the NYT page carries a video of James Bond footage/Jamaica scenery!)

“THE first law for a secret agent is to get his geography right,” Ian Fleming wrote in “The Man With the Golden Gun.” And so it is for anyone following the trail of the man who created the world’s most famous secret agent through his adopted island of Jamaica, a journey that starts near Kingston on the tiny spit of beach called the Palisadoes that connects the city to Norman Manley International Airport.

Most of the traffic heads into the capital, but if you steer westward, snaking around the contours of dunes on the poorly paved street toward the peninsula’s dead end, you’ll find Morgan’s Harbour Hotel in Port Royal.

Only five miles from the airport, you are already deep into Ian Fleming’s Jamaica.

Fleming, the British intelligence officer turned newspaper man turned spy novelist born 100 years ago this year, spent winters on his Caribbean getaway for almost two decades. The airport and the Palisadoes both feature in James Bond novels; the hotel is where Bond chose to lay his head in “Golden Gun.” It was on Jamaica that Fleming wrote more than a dozen novels and short stories featuring Agent 007. Of these once best-selling volumes of action pulp, “Dr. No,” “Live and Let Die,” “The Man With the Golden Gun” and the short story “Octopussy” are largely or partly set in Jamaica, and the films based on the first two were also shot there.

The island was Fleming’s retreat, artist colony and passion, and he repeatedly sent Bond, an incarnation of Walter Mitty-esque wish fulfillment, on assignment there. The legendary spy experienced the island as Fleming did — beautiful and underdeveloped with enough exoticism, history and potential for danger to justify it as a backdrop for postwar espionage adventure.

Fleming’s Jamaica is a Venn diagram of three overlapping spheres: the author’s actual Jamaica of the 1950s and early ’60s (when the island was a British colony rapidly becoming a hot spot for the rich and famous); the semi-fictional Jamaica as seen through James Bond; and Jamaica as a location for the 007 film franchise.

While the rural interior of the country has changed little in the last 50 years, the huge, buffet-to-beach inclusive resorts and a blighted downtown Kingston, once high on the jet-setters’ dance cards, would now discourage Fleming. He lived in Jamaica when you could get there by banana boat, and he described Negril on the west coast as a “five-mile crescent of unbroken, soft, white gold sand, fringed for all its dazzling length with leaning palm trees.”

In 1947 Fleming wrote a portrait of his adopted home in Horizon magazine, influential enough to fuel a postwar tourist boomlet among well-heeled Britons and Americans. “I have examined a large part of the world,” he wrote. “After looking at all these, I spent four days in Jamaica in July 1943. July is the beginning of the hot season and it rained in rods everyday at noon, yet I swore that if I survived the contest I would go back to Jamaica, buy a piece of land, build a house and live in it as much as my job would allow.” He did just that, as foreign manager for Kemsley Newspapers.

The Palisadoes at night is still as Fleming described it in “Dr. No,” a “long cactus-fringed road” with “the steady zing of the crickets, the rush of warm, scented air ... the necklace of yellow lights shimmering across the harbour.” Not so Morgan’s Harbour Hotel, now an estranged and shabbily furnished cousin of the “romantic little hotel” from “Golden Gun.”

Kingston, reached by the road used in the first car chase in “Dr. No,” sits beside bright blue waters and beaches littered with broken boats and the rusting remains of bygone industry. It feels like an early Bond film — vibrant, colorful and a bit disconcerting. What Kingston does not resemble, for the most part, is itself from the Fleming days. Justine Henzell, a Kingston native whose father, Perry, was a writer of the reggae-fueled movie “The Harder They Come,” was my guide to the city. As we wandered downtown, Ms. Henzell pointed out the urban shadows of former elegance, including an empty lot by the water where the Myrtle Bank Hotel, once one of the Caribbean’s most glamorous, had stood. The vacant space now borders a parking lot where hundreds of young people reveled to loud dancehall beats in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

When Fleming made his first visit to the island 65 years to the month when I was there, he chose to stay in the cooler climes of the Blue Mountains. I followed his lead that evening and took the B1 road, which curls itself up into the mountains. My destination was Strawberry Hill, an 18th-century coffee plantation turned resort owned by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. A Jamaican native, Mr. Blackwell is part of Fleming lore himself, thanks to his mother, Blanche Blackwell, who was, depending on your source, either the writer’s close friend or his mistress and muse. That connection helped Mr. Blackwell, at age 24, land a gig as a location manager for “Dr. No” (you can spot him dancing in a bar scene filmed at Morgan’s Harbour), and his resort franchise includes the Fleming home on the North Coast.

Over a breakfast of scrambled eggs and Blue Mountain coffee (the same morning fare Fleming preferred and Bond nearly always enjoyed) on the balcony of a private bungalow, guests overlook the same vista Bond did in “Live and Let Die,” where he “had his breakfast on the veranda and gazed down on the sunlit panorama of Kingston and Port Royal.”

Most of Fleming’s days in Jamaica, though, were spent on the northern coast, best reached by the A3, or Junction Road, “that runs across the thin waist of Jamaica.” Bond and his local sidekick Quarrel travel the same route in “Live and Let Die” to get to the secret island lair of the villainous genius Mr. Big.

The mountainous interior of the island, “like the central ridges of a crocodile’s armour” as Fleming put it in “Live and Let Die,” is a constant pull on the steering wheel, back and forth, through little villages, past cliffside sundries shops and on numerous detours into rutted, gravel-spattered dirt roads. It’s a relief to reach the other side and spill into the ramshackle town of Port Maria, its pristine aquiline bay punctuated by the diminutive and uninhabited Cabarita Island, which inspired Surprise Island, the fictional hideout of Mr. Big.

Fleming and his wife, Ann, were married in Port Maria’s town hall, which still stands. She didn’t share her husband’s love of Jamaica, never staying as long as he did. But his best man and local neighbor, Noël Coward, was equally smitten with the place. Coward was a year-round island resident and a tax exile who died there in 1973. The home he built, Blue Harbour, is a compound of seaside bungalows overlooking Port Maria’s bay. Guests can now stay there if they can find it. The only marker is a small, faded sign pointing down a heavily potholed road leading to a rusty white gate.

Judging by the décor and electrical wiring, Blue Harbour has pretty much been left untouched. But despite its rough edges, provincial food and generally musty condition, it has three things going for it: a stunning perch over the sea, a cliffside saltwater pool and a rich history. You can imagine a rotating cast of celebrities like Errol Flynn (who also lived on the North Coast), Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, James Mason and Laurence Olivier, all lounging poolside. The living room is hung with pictures of celebrities like Sean Connery, Alec Guinness clowning in the pool in Arabian headdress and a group shot that included the Flemings.

The scene became too much for Coward, who relocated to a higher perch above Blue Harbour. His retreat from his retreat, Firefly, is now a museum and his grave site. His friends gave their homes colorful names as well. Fleming’s haven, about 10 miles west, was Goldeneye, named for a wartime operation he was involved in, and now one of the most exclusive resorts on the island. Between the two writers lived Blanche Blackwell, at Bolt.

Of his mother’s relationship with Fleming, Chris Blackwell simply told me that she was a good friend of his and was very fond of him. As a thank you gift for a stay at Goldeneye, Ms. Blackwell gave Fleming a small boat she had christened Octopussy. She may have also been an inspiration for Honeychile Rider, the Bond girl from “Dr. No,” who, like Ms. Blackwell, was the Jamaica-born child of an old island family and a passionate student of sea life.

Situated in the small town of Oracabessa, once a banana port, Goldeneye is an unassuming patch of land with stone paths and trees planted by former famous guests. Handwritten signs mark the mango planted by Pierce Brosnan, the lime tree by Harrison Ford, the royal palms by the Clintons. Set among them are three villas that, with Fleming’s original house and a restaurant overlooking the ocean, make up the current property. Where the restaurant sits, a gazebo once stood. Fleming liked to take notes in it, and it once served as a command station when Prime Minister Anthony Eden of Britain visited Goldeneye in 1956 (another boon for Jamaican public relations).

The Honeychile villa, just over a small fence from Fleming’s house, is nicely appointed with a plush bed draped in mosquito netting, a claw foot tub and an outdoor shower built into a large banyan tree. The bedroom is flanked by a second house with a patio overlooking the sea and a bookshelf housing a nearly complete set of the Bond stories (written a hundred feet away). It is hard to imagine the resort retaining that kind of casual intimacy when Goldeneye’s 100-acre residential development currently under construction is finished in the coming years.

Establishing his life in Jamaica was a necessary precursor to Fleming’s pursuit of fiction. “One of the first essentials is to create a vacuum in my life which can only be satisfactorily filled by some form of creative work,” he wrote in the Evening Standard of London. His training as a Reuters correspondent was another ingredient in this equation, allowing him to write with a don’t-look-back, free-flow technique. Six weeks later you have a novel, he wrote, and “if you sell the serial rights and film rights, you do very well.” Indeed.

Before mass-market guides like Frommer’s and Lonely Planet, travelogues were tourists’ main resources outside Europe. For the 1950s Caribbean, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “The Traveler’s Tree” was the bible. Mr. Fermor visited Goldeneye and glowingly wrote that “it might serve as a model for new houses in the tropics ... great windows capture every breeze, to cool, even on the hottest day, the large white rooms.” His description is apt. The small house’s windows are still without glass. Past the sunken garden is the private beach to which Fleming often trod — fins, mask and spear in hand. The small rock pool Fleming built for his son, Casper, is still standing. Black crabs crawl along its walls, recalling the swarm of them that Dr. No uses to try to torture Honeychile to death. This perch out to the reef that shielded the snorkeling writer from sharks and barracuda directly inspired Fleming’s work.

Of the entire 007 cannon, the short story “Octopussy,” written in 1962, best captures his island lifestyle. The story is about Major Dexter Smythe, a Briton “irretrievably tied to Jamaica,” attracted to the “paradise of sunshine, good food, cheap drink, a glorious haven from the gloom ... of postwar England” but later bored from consorting with the “international riffraff” of the north shore. His one joy is exploring the local sea life, including the eponymous octopus to which he feeds conch.

Fleming’s gardener, Ramsey Dacosta, who still works at Goldeneye (now in guest relations) and invariably referred to Fleming as the Commander, told me that his old employer would bring conch to an octopus at the reef, and, as in the short story, “the octopus would return the shell.” Bond makes a brief appearance in “Octopussy” to arrest Smythe for a wartime theft, but Smythe takes his own life, with help from the octopus. Fleming died a much less dramatic death from a heart attack in 1964 in England, where he is buried.

Goldeneye is the mecca of any Fleming pilgrimage, but not the heart of it. In Horizon, he wrote about the other elements that made his life in Jamaica fulfilling, from the food (“delicious and limitless”) to the weather, calypso and, most importantly, the people. Fleming wrote that the locals “will surprise and charm you,” which they often did during my time there.

But even in Fleming’s lifetime, Jamaica was evolving. By the time he wrote his final Bond novel, “Golden Gun,” in 1964, the island had gained independence from Britain, and Fleming’s nostalgia for the colonial era is channeled into his spy. Waiting in the Kingston airport for a flight to Havana, the secret agent recalls his “many assignments in Jamaica and many adventures on the island ... the oldest and most romantic of former British possessions.” As he reflected on his escapades in “Dr. No” and his love affair with Honeychile Rider, “James Bond smiled to himself,” Fleming wrote, “as the dusty pictures clicked across his brain.”


Air Jamaica flies from Kennedy Airport in New York to Kingston and Montego Bay. According to a recent online search, flights for travel next month start at about $500.


Ashanti Oasis (Hope Gardens, Kingston; 876-970-2079) is an open-air vegetarian restaurant in the middle of the peaceful botanical gardens. The menu varies daily, but you can’t go wrong with a combination platter of the day’s tropically inspired dishes and a fresh juice. Lunch for two is around $1,300 Jamaican dollars, about $17 at 75.8 Jamaican dollars to the U.S. dollar.

The Seaside Terrace at Round Hill Hotel and Villas (John Pringle Drive, Montego Bay; 876-956-7050; www.roundhill.com) feels as if you’ve gone back 50 years when Jamaica catered to the rich and famous. The enormous bar is lined with black-and-white photos of celebrities from that era, and you can enjoy hearty à la carte fare like escovich snapper sandwiches on coco bread ($18; American currency is widely accepted for payment) under umbrellas by the water.



Other than its proximity to the Kingston airport, the only reason to stay at the underfurnished Morgan’s Harbour Hotel & Marina (Palisadoes Road, Port Royal; 876-967-8040; www.morgansharbour.com; about $140 for a standard double room) is its association with James Bond lore. The famous secret agent stayed there in the novel “The Man With the Golden Gun” and the first 007 film, “Dr. No,” used the hotel’s grounds as a shooting location.

A former coffee plantation turned luxury resort, Strawberry Hill (New Castle Road, Irish Town; 876-944-8400; www.islandoutpost.com; starting at $395) is high in the Blue Mountains outside Kingston. Some individual bungalows include private kitchens and four-poster beds.

Goldeneye (Oracabessa; 876-975-3354; www.islandoutpost.com; the one-bedroom villa starts at $660), Ian Fleming’s former home, has been transformed into one of the most exclusive resorts in Jamaica, complete with private beach and a restaurant. Staying the night in the three-bedroom villa where Fleming wrote the James Bond novels can cost up to $3,400, but the three villas are a plush and intimate consolation.

Judging by the condition of the rooms, Blue Harbour (Port Maria; 575-586-1244; www.blueharb.com; $200) has changed little since Noël Coward made his home there. The stunning views of the ocean and the cliffside saltwater pool help guests overlook the mustiness.

DAVID G. ALLAN is Travel & Styles editor for NYTimes.com.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Man of Tomorrow by Desmond Tutu

His election has turned America's global image on its head.

By Desmond Tutu
Washington Post - Sunday, November 9, 2008; B01

CAPE TOWN I am rubbing my eyes in disbelief and wonder. It can't be true that Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, is the next president of the United States.

But it is true, exhilaratingly true. An unbelievable turnaround. I want to jump and dance and shout, as I did after voting for the first time in my native South Africa on April 27, 1994.

We owe our glorious victory over the awfulness of apartheid in South Africa in large part to the support we received from the international community, including the United States, and we will always be deeply grateful. But for those of us who have looked to America for inspiration as we struggled for democracy and human rights, these past seven years have been lean ones.

A few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, we had our first shock, hearing your president respond not with the statesmanlike demeanor we had come to expect from a U.S. head of state but like a Western gunslinger. Later, it seemed that much of American society was following his lead.

When war began, first in Afghanistan and not long after in Iraq, we read allegations of prisoner abuse at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and of rendition to countries notorious for practicing torture. We saw the horrific images from Abu Ghraib and learned of gruesome acts performed in the name of gathering information. Sometimes the torture itself was couched in the government's euphemisms -- calling waterboarding an "interrogation technique."

To the outgoing administration's record on torture we must add a string of other policies that have damaged the standing of the United States in the world: its hostility to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases; its refusal to assent to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, establishing the ICC's role in prosecuting war crimes; its restrictions on the use of U.S. funding to fight AIDS; and the arrogant unilateralism it has employed in declaring to be enemies any countries it deemed "against us" because they were not "for us."

The Bush administration has riled people everywhere. Its bully-boy attitude has sadly polarized our world.

Against all this, the election of Barack Obama has turned America's image on its head. My wife was crying with incredulity and joy as we watched a broadcast of the celebrations in Chicago. A newspaper here ran a picture of Obama from an earlier trip to one of our townships, where he was mobbed by youngsters. It was tacitly saying that we are proud he once visited us.

Today Africans walk taller than they did a week ago -- just as they did when Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994. Not only Africans, but people everywhere who have been the victims of discrimination at the hands of white Westerners, have a new pride in who they are. If a dark-skinned person can become the leader of the world's most powerful nation, what is to stop children everywhere from aiming for the stars? The fact that Obama's Kenyan grandfather was a convert to Islam may -- shamefully -- have been controversial in parts of the United States, but elsewhere in the world, Obama's multi-faith heritage is an inspiration.

And the president-elect has one additional key quality: He is not George W. Bush.

Because the Bush years have been disastrous for other parts of the world in many ways, Obama's victory dramatizes the self-correcting mechanism that epitomizes American democracy. Elsewhere, oppressors, tyrants and their lapdogs can say what they like, and they stay put, for the most part. Ordinary citizens living in undemocratic societies are not fools; they may not always agree with U.S. foreign policy, but they can see and register the difference between the United States, where people can kick an unpopular political party out, and their own countries.

In the midst of this celebration, however, a word of caution is appropriate. In the first days after 9/11, the United States had the world's sympathy, an unprecedented wave of it. President Bush squandered it. Obama could squander the goodwill that his election has generated if he does not move quickly and decisively on the international front.

On human rights, President Obama needs to signal the changes his administration will bring by speedily taking a few high-profile symbolic actions. One might be to close that abomination, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Another could be immediate replacement of guidelines on the treatment of detainees, thus putting the United States back in the mainstream of international humanitarian law. He could launch a comprehensive inquiry into who authorized torture and when. And it would be wonderful if, on behalf of the nation, he would apologize to the world, and especially the Iraqis, for an invasion that I believe has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

On humanitarian issues, he will be hard-pressed in the ongoing global financial crisis to match the current administration's generally admirable record. President Bush has succeeded in working with Congress to devote unprecedented amounts of money to fighting malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. But if the United States is to show that it places as much value on a human life in Africa as on one in the United States, Obama actually has to improve on Bush's achievements.

Obama's election has given Americans the message that hope is viable, that change is really possible. He galvanized huge numbers of his compatriots across the board, particularly young people who had become disillusioned with politics. He drew huge numbers of volunteers and raised record amounts of money, not just in donations from the wealthy but in relatively small amounts from many so-called ordinary people. Judging by the reception he received in Berlin earlier this year, he has given the world similar hope.

The renowned African scholar Ali Mazrui has pointed out that Obama could never have gotten as far as he has without an exceptional level of trust on the part of white Americans. In this, his achievement is similar to what Nelson Mandela had achieved by the end of his presidency; Mandela's party may never have drawn a majority of white votes, but he has come to be revered by white as well as black South Africans as the founding father of our democracy.

Mazrui likens Obama to Mandela in other ways, saying that both men share a readiness to forgive and show "a remarkable capacity to transcend historical racial divides." Both, Mazrui says, are "potential icons of a post-racial age which is unfolding before our eyes."

Such a post-racial age for me has the characteristics of a rainbow. We are in a different time now than when I first spoke of a rainbow nation, describing the South Africa that Mandela led for the first time in 1994. But my vision for such a place remains. It is a place where people of each race and cultural group exhibit their own unique identity, their own distinct attributes, but where the beauty of the whole gloriously exceeds the sum of its parts.

Obama is the son of a Kenyan man and a Kansan woman. He spoke movingly about his background during his long campaign. Now he's the president-elect. His triumph can help the world reach the point where we realize that we are all caught up in a delicate network of interdependence, unable to celebrate fully our own heritage and place in the world, unable to realize our full potential as human beings, unless everyone else, everywhere else, can do the same.


Desmond Tutu is the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.