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The dreaded four horsemen of the apocalypse did not ride

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Do not let the goat you might carry on your shoulder play in the mud. — A Mende Proverb/Sierra Leone

Those who predicted that the sky over Jamaica was going to fall during the first week in September may still be wiping egg off their faces. Chaos addicts and speculators who readied themselves to profit from the misery which they forecast, have lost their shirt.

Jam-Sceptics

In the final week of August, some in the media, and especially social media, trumpeted that Kingston, parts of St Andrew, and in particular Portmore in St Catherine would have been transformed into a near apocalyptic parking lot. It was easy to spot those who were motivated by genuine concerns as against those who were attempting to use tactics from Orson Welles' War of the World, radio broadcast in 1938.

Welles' Hoax

Recall that on the day before Halloween, on October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and his team of actors, aired an adaptation of HG Wells' science fiction novel T he War of the Worlds, about a Martian invasion of the Earth. However, in order to make the material more suitable for the medium of radio, it was significantly adjusted and, thereafter, performed to sound like a news broadcast about an invasion from Mars.

Welles said the changes were done to heighten listening. For many decades it was repeated that the broadcast triggered national panic. Credible research in recent years has shown that was not the case. As an example, Slate Magazine, which has been compared in terms of credibility with the Washington Post, noted, among other things in one of its publications: “Far fewer people heard the broadcast — and fewer still panicked — than most people believe today. How do we know? The night the programme aired, the CE Hooper ratings service telephoned 5,000 households for its national ratings survey. 'To what programme are you listening?' the service asked respondents. Only two per cent answered a radio 'play' or 'the Orson Welles programme', or something similar indicating CBS. None said a 'news broadcast', according to a summary published in Broadcasting.

In other words, 98 per cent of those surveyed were listening to something else, or nothing at all, on October 30, 1938. This minuscule rating is not surprising. Welles' programme was scheduled against one of the most popular national programmes at the time — ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's Chase and Sanborn Hour, a comedy-variety show.” — Slate, October 28, 2013

Lessons For Us

There are lessons here for those who believe they can use media to create mass panic to suit their political agenda. Scores of broadcasts on social media aimed at citizens in the dormitory city of Portmore said they needed to leave their homes from as early as 3:00 am if they were going to have a fighting chance to get to school and/or work on time in various parts of the country's commercial and political capital. Some did so in jest. Others who are apparently obsessed with a political death wish for this country, primarily because their political party was rejected by the people two and a half years ago, mouthed that the governing Jamaica Labour Party Administration, led by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, should be assigned full blame for the Leviathan-like traffic snarls which they said would swallow up thousands of Jamaicans on the first day of the 2018/19 school year.

Then there were those who drew their familiar badmind political card. They castigated the Administration for what they said are too many road improvement projects being done simultaneously.

Maybe they are newcomers to Jamaica. Over the last 30 years, especially, thousands of Jamaicans have complained bitterly about roads riddled with potholes. Studies have been done on our inadequate and outdated road networks and the consequences of retarded movement of goods and services for economic development. A former minister of transport and works was so overwhelmed by the inadequacies of our road network, he committed one of the most famous political gaffes to date. Recall this banner headline in The Gleaner of May 4, 2002: 'Pothole-free roads by 2003, Pickersgill promises'.

'Pick yuh Choice'

Those who maintain that there are too many major road improvement infrastructure projects going on at the same time might want to pick which of these needs to be stopped: Mandela Highway, Hagley Park Road, Constant Spring Road, Alexandria to Brown's Town Road Project [St Ann], Junction Road Improvement [St Mary], Ferris Cross to Macfield [Westmoreland]. There are others that I have not named from which, as we say in local parlance, they can 'pick dem choice,' albeit I strongly doubt that would shift the decision curve of the Administration.

In order to realise the economic independence, which National Hero Norman Manley spoke about decades ago, it is clear we have to improve our social and physical infrastructure.

The kinds of infrastructure improvements that are needed have to reflect a vision of what we want for our country 50 and even 100 years from today. When renowned statesman Lee Kaun Yew and his team started the job of transforming what some branded a 'malarial island', into a country which today has one of the highest per capita incomes and best education system in the world, he told his team that they were involved in a process which would see the real benefits 50 and 100 beyond them. Some who hanker after power seem not to understand this thought process.

I was appalled, for example, to see Dr Shane Alexis, the People's National Party's standard-bearer for St Mary South Eastern, post on his Twitter page – on July 26, 2018 — inter alia: “The scale of work, which appears to have widened the future road way to have multiple lanes is a curious development.” Maybe Dr Alexis has not recovered from the tremendous political flogging he received from the Jamaica Labour Party's Dr Norman Dunn. Or maybe he believes an improved bridle path is the best St Mary South Eastern deserves. Recall the blatant neglect of the constituency by Harry “peep peep” Douglas?

Apart from tooting the horn of his sport utility vehicle when he drove by constituents, Harry Douglas did very little for St Mary South Eastern in the 18 years he was Member of Parliament. The Junction Road in St Mary is like the aorta, the largest artery in the body. Junction connects the eastern parts of the island to the capital, Kingston.

The last time I remember the Junction Road being in a very drivable state was in the late 1980s when Edward Seaga was prime minister. As one who hails from St Mary, south-east St Mary in fact, I am extremely happy to see that the Junction Road, which I have described on radio and in this newspaper as one of the worst roads in Jamaica, is finally being rehabilitated, but with a vision of years from today.

But back to the doomsdayers who predicted that there would have been mass dislocation, excruciating bottlenecks and chaos in the Corporate Area last Monday. This reopening of schools was one of the smoothest in many years. Traffic moved smoothly, thousands of schoolchildren returned to school. Mass lateness of students and school staff did not materialise. There was no shutdown of the city and other major towns. The dreaded four horsemen of the apocalypse did not ride.

There are some lessons here.

Firstly, there is no causative relationship between the significant number of road improvement projects and indiscipline on our roads. The indiscipline is caused by undisciplined road users who flout the rules of the road, because they can, and suffer few if any legal consequences in too many instances. Top of the list of undisciplined road users are taxi drivers, pedal cyclists, bike operators and minibus drivers who, in too many instances, use their motor vehicles as awful weapons.

Secondly, enforcement works. Where it is absent the rule of the jungle takes over. The overwhelming majority of those who were wishing for and even praying for chaos last Monday, got their comeuppance. This needs to be the new normal in public spaces.

Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson and his 700-member member Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch deserve high commendation for their work last week.

I am heartened that the minister of national security, Dr Horace Chang, has indicated that the kind of order in public spaces which we saw in the Corporate Area and elsewhere last week will be maintained well into next year.

More Ruckus in the PNP

Recall this? “Incidentally, the birds, the ubiquitous Black-Bellied Plovers, John Chewits and Banana Quits warble that Deacon Thwaites is not a political favourite of the incoming party president. Is it that Thwaites is to be sidelined for someone whose surname begins with a 'G'? — Jamaica Observer, March 26, 2017.

Now, more than a year later, this headline in The Gleaner: “Central Kingston comrades fear coup - Paul Buchanan reportedly plotting to overthrow Ronnie Thwaites.”

The story said among other things: “The People's National Party (PNP) is trying to put the lid on a boiling cauldron in its organisation in Central Kingston following reports of a possible challenge to sitting Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites for the chairmanship of the constituency.

“Today is the church service to mark the 80th anniversary of the party and we could not allow an unnecessary clash to spoil our day. The conference will be shifted to sometime in October,” said a senior PNP source.

He added that the leadership of the party is trying to negotiate a settlement before the issue becomes uglier.” — Gleaner, Sunday, September 2, 2018. Is there another challenger?

The birds tweet, yes. More anon.

Flour Poisoning

One of my readers sent me an e-mail last Wednesday, noting that she read my article on the Eventide Home Fire in May and was wondering why I did not mention anything about the “big flour poisoning in Jamaica” which happened “September first in 57.” I did some research but came up empty concerning flour poisoning in that year and month. I did find material, however, on a “big flour poisoning” here in Jamaica in 1976.

It dawned on me that she had 'mixedup' the dates of the Kendal Train Crash in Manchester on September 1, 1957, and the flour poisoning which happened in 1976. In the tragedy, 11 people died in one day, and 79 became ill after using contaminated counter flour according to reports in the Gleaner.

A report in the New York Times ( NYT) by Ralph Blumenthal, published on January 30, 1976 said among other things: “As a result of the poisonings, tentatively traced to a shipment of Lion Head brand flour carried here by ship from West Germany, authorities have seized or destroyed almost all the flour stocks on this Caribbean island of two million people. The imported flour was contaminated by parathion, an insecticide.

“After almost daily reports of new suspected poisoning cases, the Health Minister, Dr Kenneth MacNeill, announced today that no confirmed new cases had been reported in the last 24 hours and 'the present indications are that the epidemic that brought so much destruction is under control'.

“The outbreak began January 2 when a child and an adult died after being stricken in a poor rural parish outside the capital.

“Thirteen other persons died in a second outbreak last weekend in St Thomas Parish, east of Kingston.

“Two other deaths have been blamed on the contaminated flour, but not confirmed.” I am grateful for the e-mail, notwithstanding the reader's little mix-up. Confessedly, I did not know about this incident before. The same NYT story said Jamaica also a had flour poisoning in 1968, five dead and 50 were made ill by “Parathion contaminated flour.”

Tourism Shines Brighter

This must be a major bother for those who are betting against Jamaica because politics for them supersedes national development. “The island experienced record-breaking stopover arrivals from May to August this year, with provisional estimates showing stopover arrivals up by six per cent, over the same period last year.” — Jamaica Observer, September 5, 2017.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

“Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations.”— Dr Mae Jemison

— Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist, and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com