2001 Articles


How old is the universe? The latest data suggests approximately 15 billion years. Or at least that is the amount of time science says has elapsed since the so called ‘big bang’, when an infinitesimally minute point of singularity exploded into a 10 billion degrees hot fireball and gave birth to the universe. But how did this point of singularity come into being? How long did it exist before it exploded? And what caused it to explode?


“It would be a fine thing indeed if the world was run by those who judge men from books and the world from maps!”. Napoleon’s jibe against ivory tower intellectuals came to mind when I read Marcia Sutherland’s December 5th letter about my article “Thinking in patois”, which accused me of “linguistic bigotry”, advised me to “examine the scientific linguistic evidence”, and chided me for lacking “scholarly expertise”.


The other day an irate customer confronted me about an out of order credit card machine in my store. She said in these unsafe times she didn’t carry much cash. And on three occasions in the past week she had to leave her goods at the cashier because her keycard could not be processed. I apologetically told her that every time we called the bank promised to fix it  ‘tomorrow’. “Mr. Chang” the lady said sternly “how long you living in this country? Don’t you know that to get anything done here you have to go on bad? Get ignorant with the bank and you’ll see how fast they fix it!”


An Australian expatriate recently told me that the biggest problem at his plant was workers “thinking in patois.” In his experience those who could not speak understandable English usually could not think logically. While those who spoke English well were generally efficient employees.


I used to read a lot of novels. But Jamaica has caused me to lose my taste for fiction. Who needs made up stories when everyday life here is so full of passion and drama? Yet whenever I try to make sense of this country Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes From The Underground” comes to mind.


Witness slain at home - “… before day break yesterday, gunmen kicked down her door and pumped several bullets in the body of 50 year old Icylin Vaughn and her common-law husband, 48 year-old Milton Grey… several weeks ago a group of men destroyed sections of Miss Vaughn’s house with stones… She reported the matter to the police and has subsequently been branded “informer”… Yesterday the matter was supposed to be mentioned in the Half-Way-Tree Court.” The Gleaner, September 1, 2001


“Boxing” George Foreman once said “is the sport to which all others aspire”. Meaning that all competition between men really is sublimated fighting - an assertion proven true every time football, basketball, or baseball players lose their tempers and start throwing punches.


Small it may be. But the English speaking Caribbean has excelled on the world cultural stage of late. Only eight years after St. Lucian Derrick Walcott was given the honour Trinidadian V.S. Naipaul has also been awarded the Nobel literary prize. And last year Jamaican Bob Marley’s Exodus and One Love were chosen as Time magazine’s album of the century and the BBC’s song of the century. Can any other region of only 5 million individuals – and West Indians surely have enough strongly shared sensibilities to qualify as a “people” - boast of such recent cultural success?


Jamaican politicians agree on almost nothing. But they all seem to feel the media is biased. Comrades, labourites and democrats are forever accusing the press of “distorting the facts”. As if the media is responsible for the government’s failure to control crime or maintain our roads. Or the opposition leader’s seeming inability to speak publicly in anything but an aggressively confrontational manner. Or the NDM’s lack of coherence.


Whatever else he may be, Edward Seaga is unique. He must be the only non-native born white man ever elected prime minister of a predominantly black country. And has anyone else in recent times played such prominent roles in both the cultural and political development of a nation? A pioneer in Jamaican anthropology; a driving force behind the popularization of ska; an originator of Festival; arguably our best finance minister; the prime minister with the second longest term in office; the longest serving parliamentarian ever - no one else has influenced modern Jamaica in so many ways.