Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lessons, plans and resolutions

I am not one for making the house spotless. In general yes, but not specifically for New Year's Day. I don't make sure to change the bed sheets or put out the garbage. I also eschew the cliched tradition of making and announcing resolutions. It could be that I'm too lazy to make promises I'm too afraid I wont keep; though I prefer to think of myself as just learning and adjusting all the time, not just on January 1.

2009 was certainly full of wonderful lessons. I learned from my friend Nicole that it can take years to become friends with someone, but it's usually worth the wait and usually right on time. Georgia, DeAnna and Nadia taught me that the best friendships can close the longest distances and make you feel surrounded and loved no matter where you are. I learned at the gym that I am physically capable of more than I had ever imagined. I learned from my children that my time is a valuable gift that I should never take for granted. I learned from my husband that I can do anything I set my mind to, because I am smart and capable and because he has my back. I also learned that troubles are no match for our resolve to get past them.

In 2010 those lessons will serve me well. I will cherish my friendships - old and new. I will push myself beyond my known physical limits. I will give my time liberally to my boys for as long as they want it - and maybe a little longer. I will work to accomplish my dreams without fear, accepting the unrestrained and unlimited support of my partner. I will fret less about how and if, and push ahead with cans and wills.

Yeah, those sound a bit like resolutions, but that would be too cliche.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas memories old and new

I remember the Christmas I got the bicycle with the pink and white tassels and the white wicker basket. My dad didn't put the training wheels on and helped me learn to ride that very day. I remember the Christmases before the divorce when my parents squelched their own feelings enough to give me a family Christmas. I remember the suit my mom gave my dad that was not to his liking, and I remember the hurt she felt when he told her so. To this day I believe that exuberant thanks is the only appropriate response to a gift from a loved one. I remember the Christmas my mom tried to bring the new family together. The cornish hens did not go over well with three teenagers intent on being surly and unpleasant. I remember the Christmas my cousin Ken promised my mom he would keep an eye on me so that I could go Uptown with my friends - only to let me go off to meet my boyfriend. I put my belief of exuberant thanks in to practice that night when the boyfriend gave me a bottle of god-awful perfume. I remember the Christmas Georgia and I greased cake pans, wiped walls and ironed drapes and curtains on our cul-de-sac to earn money for Christmas gifts. I don't remember what we bought, but I remember how industrious and responsible we felt. I remember my first Christmas back home after moving to Florida. The Luria's stores were closing down and I cleaned up with Christmas presents for everyone on my list. I remember our friend Sean's last Christmas. I remember my Uncle Claude's last Christmas.

For me, Christmas is defined by those memories. Christmas is a house filled with extended family, a not-so-stylishly decorated tree, visiting friends and sampling fruit cake and sorrel at every house, shopping for and hiding gifts, menu planning and preparing days in advance, new clothes for Christmas Sabbath, staying up late on Christmas Eve to wrap gifts and to start the cooking, a big Christmas morning breakfast amid the smells of dinner well on its way.

It has been a while since we've had a Christmas like that. That makes me sad, particularly for the kids. More than anything I want them to have wonderful Christmas memories like I do. When my 5-year-old declared recently that there is no such thing as Santa Claus it just about broke my heart. I felt my mommy star tarnish more than a little bit. I have been so busy pining over my memories and all I miss, I neglected my responsibility to create memories for my boys. I had foolishly forgotten that there are many ways to have Christmas.

My husband and I don't share the same reverence for Christmas, but we both realize that it is important to create traditions and memories for the boys. Though he thinks I over do and I can't convince him that simplicity is Christmas sacrilege, we are finding a merry medium. So far this Christmas, I've convinced at least one son to send his wishes off to Santa, the tree is up, and I have started work on the Christmas Day dinner menu. I will dial back the more-is-more Christmas and I will not whine about not being with my mother. My husband hopefully will not ask why as he is prone to do and will roll his eyes less. All we want for Christmas are great memories for our boys.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

All men are dogs and other myths of adultery

Politicians, actors, athletes, members of the clergy. The stories of infidelity seem to be unrelenting. As the stories swirl, women sneer with righteous indignation and men snicker at the carelessness of the discovered one. We all sit around and purport to know the circumstances: men are just dogs/he couldn't love his wife and do that to her; the wife was miserable/had gained a lot of weight/must have driven him to it/she would never have done that to him; the other woman is a jezebel/was just looking for somebody to mind her/must have known he was married/knows he's not going to leave his wife.

Some of that may be true some of the time, but those assumptions have become mostly part of love lore - the myths that help to make relationships and their breakdown easier to explain and understand. If we are to be honest with ourselves though, most of us will admit that life and love are never cut and dry, black and white, or easily comprehended.

It seems that every woman we know has been cheated on and we all know men who are perpetual cheats, but rest easy, your husband is not likely to cheat on you. According to The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction between 65 and 85 percent of husbands have no partners other than their wives during the duration of their marriage. True, the number is not great, but it is better than we usually give men credit for. The Kinsey Institute also reports that 20 percent of wives have had at least one extramarital affair. The secret is out, 0ne in five married women have gotten some on the side.

Books have been written on why men cheat, and I haven't heard any conclusive answers yet. I think it is fair to assume that they don't all have the same reason. No doubt opportunity is a high ranking reason, but since they are human I'm going to also assume that sometimes it has to do with emotions - understanding that emotions include arrogance, covetousness, and lust as well as like/love. For women, we generally assume that sex and the heart go hand-in-hand. While it is true that most women's vajay-jays are directly connected to their heart strings, women sleep with men for all kinds of reasons. Infatuation, companionship, a listening ear, a complimentary tongue, a healthy wallet, or a tight butt are often just enough.

Most cheating wives and husbands go to great lengths to keep their affairs secret: seedy motels, morse code phone rings, cash-only transactions, voicemail messages without a name, and a plethora of evolving lies. If the idea was to hurt the spouse why go through all that trouble? Most cheaters would not go through with it if they knew they would be found out and that their home life would be disrupted. Philanderers weigh the risk of getting caught and take their chances. It has nothing to do with how much they love or don't live their spouse. Barring extraordinary situations, any one who is unhappily married gets out. In the same manner, married folks want to be married. The answer to a bad or unhappy marriage is not an affair and everybody knows that.

It is so easy to vilify the other woman (or man). The same people who say men are dogs seem hesitant to believe that they would lie about being married or the health of their marriage. I have heard the stories of maneaters who only date married men, but I believe most people don't want to be on the sidelines of their relationships. Sometimes it takes ignored ultimatums and broken promises to clarify the facts, but given a choice - and all the information - the other woman (or man) will likely pack up her heart and her hopes and move on.

The point is that we don't always know what's going on. More of us have secrets than are willing to admit. Love is messy, unpredictable and not void of pitfalls. For most of us it is hard enough to figure out and manuever our own hearts and relationships. We would be best served not to be quick to judgment of the hearts and affairs of others.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Tiger-sized cost of your entertainment

For the last week, it has been almost impossible to listen to the radio or watch the television without listening to speculation about Tiger Woods' driving or getting the latest count on possible mistresses. The media - even the so-called legitimate sources - has been unrelenting in the pursuit of the salacious details of the golfer's life. Of course the pursuit is for only the best reasons: Tiger owes the public an explanation, he's a role model, genuine concern for the "children caught in the middle." Bull!

I was not there when Tiger made his vows to his wife. And I am going to go out on a limb and assume you weren’t there either. His marriage vows are between him, his wife and God. If he breaks those vows he owes me no explanations - unless he took my husband with him on one of his rendezvous.

Tiger holds no public office. He is not being accused of using public funds to pay for his dalliances. He is not being accused of breaking any laws. On what basis do we dare demand any explanations for his actions?

The role model argument is pulled out every time someone famous misbehaves. There is not much hope for future generations if the best we can do by way of role models for our children are public figures whose moral bearings are unknown to us. If D1 or D2 becomes interested in golf it would make sense to me to direct them to pattern Tiger’s game. On matters of right and wrong, of morality and ethics though, their examples must come from those closer to home.

I am not convinced that Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood or Nancy Grace really care about the well-being of Tiger and Erin Woods' small children. If they were, they would leave the Woods alone to resolve their marital issues without interference, instead of creating hours of speculative and sensational coverage for their children to find on the internet when they are older.

Men and women cheat on their spouses every day. Most do not get found out by TMZ, the National Enquirer or Us Weekly. Most get to make amends far from public glare. Most get to resolve marital issues without entertainment reporters weighing in. Tiger and his wife – and those children every one claims to be concerned about – are paying a woeful price for the entertainment of the masses.

Of course there is the argument that all is fair with a public figure. Tiger the golfer is a public figure. Tiger the husband and father has not courted the media. In fact, off the golf course it seems he has gone out of his way to preserve his privacy. His wife doesn’t even hit golf balls. All she did was marry Tiger Woods. Neither of them deserves to have their lives dissected on Entertainment Report.

Whether the media has provided because the masses expect, or the masses expect because the media has provided I am not sure, but we have become accustomed to seeing the most vulnerable slices of celebrities’ lives splayed on the internet and television. We have become blood thirsty for the juicy details of drug relapses, affairs, divorces, and scandals, without thought to the humans behind the stories.

Yes, the media is at fault, but you are the market. No market, no product. This is one of those situations when we should ask the question we often ask our children: How would you feel if somebody did that to you?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Job = Independence?

"I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings.
Only call your celly when I'm feeling lonely;
When it's all over, please get up and leave..."
- Destiny's Child

The word's of soulster Ne-Yo's Ms. Independent are similarly lauding of women who pay their own way - "She's got her own thing, that's why I love her."

I've always thought of myself as independent. I always offered to split the bill on dates, paid for my own trips and leisure. I have never asked or expected any man to pay my way. I, have in fact, looked down on women who expected their rent to be paid by any man who slept in their bed. Since getting married 10 years ago, my husband and I have paid our household expenses from a common pool, but I was free to buy a new dress or pair of shoes if I was so inclined.

After being a stay-at-home mom of circumstances for more than a year, the idea of female independence has been nagging at me. Now that I rely completely on my husband financially, can I still consider myself independent? Of course, marriage is supposed to be a partnership. There's not supposed to be any yours and mine - or at least that's what my husband assures me. That's all well and good, but then how do I assert my independence?

Finding my place in my new life has been hard. My children seem to like seeing me at their schools all the time and have even stopped asking me if I'm going to find a job. My husband has not set rules or pulled rank at all, and even pushes me to make the most of my 'free' time. I still feel uncomfortable. I hate filling out forms that ask for my profession and/or work number. My stomach tightens everytime someone asks me what I do, and I always say "When I was in Florida, I worked..."

I got all the lessons of feminism, but I never learned how to be comfortably reliant. I am, however, slowly realizing I have been asking the wrong question. Rather than trying to figure out how to assert my independence, I should be determining what means independence to me. I can decide independence shouldn't be just about money - or the ability to buy my own diamonds. Now if I can only figure what it is about I can stop feeling like a bum everytime I see another woman in a jewelry store.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who is my child's role model?

As often happens when a famous actor or athlete misbehaves, the public cries foul and complains about their bad example. Now apologies are being demanded from Serena Williams for her temper tantrum during her semi-final match against Kim Clijster. Serena, apparently should be mindful at all times of the little girls who look up to her.

I don't accept Serena's claim of passion for the game as an explanation or excuse for her bad behavior. Like John McEnroe said after the game, "I cannot defend the indefensible." She was a bad sport and behaved like a 2-year-old. But her bad behavior - which started with her destroying her tennis racket; long before she berated the lines woman - was an opportunity for parents to teach. It was a chance for them to point to what Serena did wrong and to talk about what she should have done differently. For parents who aren't willing to absolve their parental roles to famous strangers with questionable morals, it was an opportunity to teach a great lesson about sportsmanship and respect for others.

From Miley Cyrus' photo faux pas, to Beyonce's preference for as little clothes as possible on stage, to Michael Vick's dog madness - people our children recognize, and even admire, are often in the news for exercising poor judgment. With each incident, we worry about the effect on our children. These 'role models' are castigated for abdicating their responsibility for our children.

What about taking responsibility for our own children? What about teaching them right from wrong so that they can recognize inappropriate behavior when they see it? Part of the lessons we should be teaching our children is that everyone is fallible. We can admire people's work and accomplishments - even as we decry their bad behavior. Our children, with our guidance, should be able to do the same.

Serena should apologize - to her opponent, to the game officials, and to the people who paid to see her play. Not to my kids though, they are my responsibility.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


When asked where I'm from my answer has always been "Jamaica." After I moved to the Northeast, I started saying "We just moved from Florida, but I'm originally from Jamaica." Jamaica is where I spent most of my life; where my family has roots and land.

Recently my 6 year-old son asked me "Mommy am I Jamaican?" My husband would love for him to think of himself that way, but in that moment I thought it was important to help him forge his own identity. I told him he is not Jamaican, but of Jamaican parentage. That seemed to satisfy him - for a while.

Some time later he asked, "Where am I from? Florida?" I said "Yes; Miramar, Florida." His next question, "If we live in New Jersey for a long time will I be from New Jersey?"

My not-yet-first-grader is already struggling with his identity. To a child that age, a year is a long time. His memories of our old house, his old schools, his old friends, are all beginning to dull. I understood and began to feel his concern.

We may very well move again in a few years. We may spend as much time in the next state as we do in this one. We leave behind, no land, no relatives, very little history. Where will my sons' roots be planted? Will they feel rooted at all? How will they identify themselves?

As my husband and I watched the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we saw people weeping for their great personal and material losses, but vowing to return to New Orleans from the places they took refuge. My ever-practical husband couldn't understand why they would want to return to 'the bowl.' I understood. New Orleans is what they knew. It had been their home for many generations. Their roots were planted firmly there.

Neither he nor I have any plans to return permanently to the land of our birth, but I still had a strong, stomach-twisting emotional reaction when my parents recently decided to sell my childhood home . None of us have lived there for many years, but I still unhappy about the sale. I felt like I was losing a chunk of my foundation.

To feel like you are losing bits of your roots - to a hurricane, to migration, to whatever - is painful. What must it feel like to not have roots at all?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Racist my ass

In high school you may have joined the Inter-School Christian Fellowship because the group reflected your Christ-centered values. If you left Jamaica for a college state side you may have joined a social or advocate group representing Caribbean students to get you a sense of home. Who ever thought seeking interaction with those who share common beliefs, race or heritage could be thought of as prejudiced?

Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor is being harangued by Republicans Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and Tom Tancredo for being proud of her Puerto Rican heritage and for her membership in Hispanic civic and professional organizations. Gingrich and Limbaugh have called Judge Sotomayor racist. Tancredo has taken it a step further and likened La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group of which she is a member, to the Klu Klux Klan.

These rants from the right have been revolting, offensive and just plain dumb. Students and professionals everywhere belong to organizations that represent their sex, country of origin and race. The suggestion that all those people are racist or sexist because they self identify as women, Black, Hispanic, Native American - or whatever - is ridiculous. The arguments are so ludicrous as to make me think that Tancredo and the others could not possibly believe it themselves.

Unfortunately for the Republican Party - which I have to be sure has some level heads - these are the voices that are getting the air time. (Likely because their bizarre suggestions make sensational television.) Today, they are voices and faces of the GOP. As the party's face, they are alienating, not only Hispanics (who, ironically, they need to win elections), but every other group that can recognize true racism.

To oppose Sotomayor's nomination based on disagreement with her judicial philosophy is one thing. To unfairly label her a racist, to attack the reputation of a venerable civil rights group, is desperate. It is cowardly. It is, clearly, the old rusty kettle calling the new shiny pot black.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Justice by the law

Federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been nominated by President Obama to the United States Supreme Court. If confirmed, the highly qualified New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent will be the first Hispanic and only the third woman to sit on the federal bench.

The president had declared that he would be searching for an 'empathetic' justice. He seems to have found that with Sotomayor, who has contended publicly that she believes judges' life experiences should color their legal views.

Not surprisingly, conservative Republicans have taken up arms in criticism of this nominee and her view of her judicial role. Their argument: the law is to applied according to the letter; not interpreted through personal frames of reference.

At the risk of having my party card revoked, I agree with the conservatives on this one. The outcomes of cases before the Supreme Court should not depend on whether the justices can personally relate to the plaintiffs or the defendants arguing before them. The High Court's rulings affect Americans across the country of every hue, racial background and socioeconomic status. To make personal perspectives fair for all, the Supreme Court would need to represent every ethnicity, income level and psychology. It is only in the strictest application of the law that we can be assured that all of our interests are protected. The only issue of interest to the justices - and to every judge - should be which of the arguing parties meets its burden of proof or presents the best argument according to the law. I feel safer when only those factors are at play. I suppose though, that if even that (the very letter of the law) were not debatable there would be need for only one Supreme Justice, not nine.

Going by the word of the pundits and talking heads that have come out to babble since Tuesday morning, Sotomayor is all but confirmed to be Supreme Justice Sotomayor. I hope she serves with distinction and wears the robe without consideration for from whence she came, because "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences" does not necessarily "reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." (Paraphrase from Judge Sonia Sotomayor) That is why we all rely on the colorless, unempathetic and blind law.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Legalize di weed

The most raised issue among the questions submitted by the public for President Obama's innovative virtual town hall meeting in March was the legalization of marijuana as means of stimulating the economy.

A study released in 2006 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis asserts that marijuana is the United States' most valuable cash crop - despite its illegal status. Many proponents of legalization contend that continued prohibition costs the government billions of dollars in law enforcement and detention and forfeits millions in potential tax revenue.

Anti-legalization groups and the government counter that marijuana's cash value should not outweigh the violence associated with its trade. Of course, the trade of alcohol was also carried out with great violence during the years of prohibition. (Famed gangsters Al Capone and Bugs Moran came to notoriety during this period, making their fortunes in smuggling alcohol.) There is, in fact, no historical evidence of much of a 'trade' in marijuana prior to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which resulted in its ban. An obvious argument is that it is the prohibition that causes the trade to be violent. With the same regulations and controls as for tobacco and alcohol, legal marijuana farming, distribution and sale is not likely to sustain the gang warfare associated with it today. The CEOs of Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, or Diageo and Appleton Estate are not duking it out in the streets after all.

Health research indicates that marijuana has less adverse effects than alcohol. In fact, while tobacco deaths are well known and alcohol poisoning kills 50,000 people in the U.S. every year, there are no documented cases of anyone dieing directly from smoking, inhaling, drinking or eating marijuana.

No one argues (any more) that cigarettes are harmful, but they are legal. Liver disease and alcoholism are inarguably potential direct results of alcohol consumption, but it is legal. Taxes on both put approximately $20 billion in government coffers every year.

President Obama laughed and quickly dismissed marijuana legalization as a means of bolstering the economy, but it is a healthy source of income for many farmers and dealers. Weed bags pay for Cadillac Escalades, houses in suburbs, private schools and family vacations in the tropics. It is unregulated, untaxed income. Particularly in this economic climate, it would not be hard to find plenty of government projects and services that could benefit from the possible tax revenue.

Jamaica has long had the reputation for being a producer of quality weed. The average Jamaican, while quite likely not an imbiber, is generally ambivalent about it. It is available without much trouble if you want it. It has long been contended that the plant could be the sustainable answer to the island's economic woes, but the conversation about legalization is sporadic. This maybe because enforcement on the island is minimal, and because of the island's dependent relationship with America.There is a widely held theory that the United States will squash marijuana growth in Jamaica then legalize it and corner the market.

For the last two or three generations of Americans, marijuana has always been illegal. Understandably, there is a lot of fear related to marijuana, its effects, and the ramifications of legalization. Despite those fears, the movement to legalize marijuana is growing and becoming more mainstream. Quiet as it is kept (and despite the president's dismissive chuckle) we may have already started down the road toward the repeal of the prohibition. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency will no longer carry out raids and arrests of individuals using or dispensing medicinal marijuana, unless they violate both state and federal laws.

It will be interesting to see the next steps the government will take. No doubt the debate will wage on until legalization proves definitively whether legal marijuana trade will stem or increase gang warfare; whether its taxation can indeed bolster the economies of the United States and Jamaica; and whether increased availability will increase social vices.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

He loves me, he beats me

Fans and news watchers across the country, and likely the world, were stunned by the pictures of R&B singer Rihanna's busted and bruised face. Fans of her baby-faced boyfriend Chris Brown were disappointed that the 19-year-old could inflict such hurt - on anyone, let alone a woman. Popular Housewives of Atlanta reality stars Lisa Wu-Hartwell and NeNe Leakes talk about past abusive relationships in the March 2009 issue of Essence magazine. It is hard for anyone who saw the show to imagine any man brave enough to beat up on feisty NeNe or strong-willed Lisa. The stories bring into the day light an issue countless women live with in secret.

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a woman is beaten in the United States every 9 seconds. 540 women and girls every minute. 32,400 grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters every hour. 777,600 women who make lasagna, stewed peas, corned beef and cabbage, enchiladas, or arroz con pollo for dinner. Studies show that teen girls are fast becoming a larger portion of the statistics on abuse. The Liz Claiborne Inc. Teen Relationship Survey 2006 reports that 55 percent the participating youngsters said they had done something that compromised their own values in order to please their boyfriend or girlfriend. Alarmingly, 20 percent of the teens admitted to being slapped or pushed by the person they were dating.

While some are appalled that any woman could tolerate such brutal abuse - even once - too many are painfully familiar with abuse and the reason women stay with their abusers. It may be easy for onlookers to speak with disdain and judgment of women who endure abuse, but according to pyschologists, abused women suffer more than cuts, bruises and broken bones. They suffer terrible damage to their psyche; emotional trauma similar to that of war-worn soldiers. In addition, they often face severe financial consequences, the chance of losing their children and threats of death against her and her children. They often suffer low self esteem and invariably succumb to their abuser's remorse and reconciliatory behavior after each episode.

Some news media have reported sources as saying that Rihanna has sported suspicious bruises since she started dating Brown. Wu-Hartwell says she was assaulted in front of friends. Did anyone try to intervene in either case? There are often signs of abuse, even before the first blow lands. Those signs are often more visible to friends and family members - who are not doe-eyed with love or lust. Many of us know someone whose girlfriend throws things or whose husband speaks to them in a tone that makes onlookers uncomfortable. Those kinds of behaviours should not be ignored. They are not benign. They only escalate.

If you suspect someone in your life is being abused step in and step in firmly. Minding your own business is not a good idea. Resist the urge to question the actions of victims. Vilifying a battered woman further victimizes her and supports the abusers position that she deserves the abuse. Instead, support her and offer your help. Expect that you may be turned down, but keep trying.

The Center for Disease Control has a page with resources that could help:

Friday, March 6, 2009

State sanctioned killing in a country of killers

"Police is gansta." That is a quote from a self-described garrison don during an interview for a Discovery Channel interview for the series Gang Nation. The episode that aired a few days ago featured the interminable and brutal wars being waged on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica's poorest communities between political and geographical factions. The don summed up what many Jamaicans believe: that the police force is corrupted and is part of the island's frightening crime problem.

Ask the average Jamaican what they think of Jamaica's Constabulary Force and you are likely to hear corrupt, inept, and overwhelmed. Ask what they think of the country's justice system - that in large part, rests on those officers - and you are more likely to get a humored chuckle than an answer. It was alarming to me then that in December Jamaica's government elected to retain the death penalty for capital offenses. It seems Prime Minister Golding and other members of parliament have far more faith in the honesty of police officers who make arrests and investigate crimes, and in the efficiency of the courts that prosecute offenders, than does the average Jamaican - at home or abroad.

Cases of police shootings have been the source of morbid jokes for as long as I can remember: Police shoot man waving newspaper: Officers claim self-defense. Amnesty International's 2008 report on human rights avers that 206 people were killed by police between January and September 2006. Very often eyewitness reports conflict greatly with the claims of the police.

Everyone who drives in Jamaica becomes familiar with the language of policemen on the take: "So what you can do fi yu'self?" With that question, pulled over drivers know to count their dollars and consider the option to pay the crooked officer, rather than take a trumped up ticket and lose a day of work to deal with the backward and inefficent courts. How, in that context of disfunction, can a government or a judge opt to take the life of an accused?

Under the best circumstances I am apprehensive about the death penalty. Human error and ill-will make the permanence of state-sanctioned killings scary prospects for me. With every release from death row here in the United States, I find it more difficult to support the death penalty. With widespread corruption, low police morale, and the lack of effective policing and investigation practices, Jamaica is far from the best of circumstances. The margin of error widens into a gaping hole of deadly possibilities.

I understand the need to deter crime, but crime and violence in Jamaica have to be approached with a holistic plan. That plan must include weeding out corruption from the justice system, building a police force of integrity, fostering public trust through community policing, and investing in cutting-edge investigation technology. While those tasks are neither small nor simple, they are necessary to protect the lives of all Jamaicans - including those accused of crimes. Any plan to overhaul the island's justice system is long-term. But only at the end of that arduous process should capital punishment be continued - if at all.

Friday, February 27, 2009

He's just not into you so act like a lady think like a man and take 52 weeks to find him

Ok, the title is a bit much - and they were pilfered - but it goes to my point. There is an astronomical amount of material on the market (books, movies, websites, CDs) offering women instructions on how to snag a man. It is really interesting to me, particularly because similar instruction manuals for men are almost non-existent. When did men abdicate their role as hunters? Has the purported shortage of men flipped the script on the traditional roles of the sexes? Or is the proactive approach being taken by today's woman an upshot of the bra-burning 1960s?

Whatever the reason, many women are taking ownership of their romantic life and their sexual relationships. In many ways women are acting more responsibly than their mothers and grandmothers; from securing their financial independence to buying their own condoms. But are women giving up too much by usurping some of the roles traditionally held by men? Are we sacrificing the old-school precepts - like romance, chivalry and discretion?

Call me old-fashioned, but plotting to net a man on a schedule (a la is tacky and reeks of desperation. And if a woman needs to be told that a man is 'just not that into' her she needs of dose of self-esteem, not advice on catching the next man.

There are some precepts that should never be lost in the mad rush to secure one of the few good men left:
  • When a woman has a full and fulfilling life on her own and not on the constant lookout, she is happier and more attractive.
  • There is nothing wrong with taking initiative. Be places where the kind of men you are attracted to are likely to be - Barnes & Noble, industry association meetings, the organic section of the supermarket, a restaurant popular for business lunches, the local rock-climbing wall.
  • Obvious and transparent are not the same things. Leading a man home takes smarts and tact, not overt fawning and aggressive texting.
  • Let him pay for dinner, let him open the car door, let him help you with something. Yes, there are a few men who take equal rights on a date, but those are suspect. Most men want to play the traditional roles.
  • Learn at least one sport very well.
  • Sure, you can call him the morning after a date. It is quite respectable to call to say 'thank you' if you had a good time and to say you would like to do it again. Just not every hour on the hour to ask him what he's doing.
  • You are not required to answer every call, return missed calls within five minutes, or reply to every text or email. Unavailability and mystery are intriguing.
  • Save some things for later. Whether you want to implement the 90-day rule or a 120-day rule, just have a rule. Value yourself enough to demand someone meet a minimum mark before you give them everything.
  • Have standards and do not bend on them.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Noise without works is just noise

The Wednesday, February 18 New York Post editorial cartoon horrified me. The cartoon depicted a chimpanzee being shot dead by two police men, one saying "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." It was shocking in its blind political bias and its blatant racism.

The reaction from Al Sharpton and the rest of the race police was predictable. Callers flooded urban radio drive-time programs to express their disapproval and utter disgust with the paper's editor Col Allen and cartoonist Sean Delanos. Discussions railed on social networking sites and news media internet sites. The staff in my dentist's office debated on and on the merits of the arguments supporting the cartoonist and those who found it offensive.

What is still to be seen, as public outcry wanes in the face of a half-ass apology from the paper, is
what all the talkers will be willing to do to make their point. When radio hosts publicize phone numbers and email addresses in calls to action, a handful of the audience will call or email; even fewer will take the initiative to write or call without being stirred by their favorite on air personality. Yet fewer will go beyond that phone call or letter, will take the time and endure the inconveniences of taking real action. How many will participate in a protest march or boycott a favorite product to make a point?

Talk is easy and it is very true that it is cheap; which is why it carries less weight than action. Anything worth having, any positive change worth making is certainly worth substantive sacrifice from stakeholders.

For this cartoon and for the next exposed nipple or racist comment, those who claim to be outraged must back up the chatter with a willingness to take action and to make sacrifices. Only then will change come. Put up or shut up.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Just get some help

The first penis I ever saw was hanging long and dirty between the legs of a 'mad' man walking nonchalantly along a street in Kingston. It was startling for me as a child and, now that I think about it, may have caused me to have rather unrealistic expectations. Disheveled men and women with dirt-caked skin and thickly matted hair were, and unfortunately continue to be, the picture of mental disease and emotional disorders in Jamaica.

Children who had trouble sitting still or learning were energetic, or worse, 'just bad.' They did not have ADHD or ADD. People were moody, not bi-polar. Troubled couples argued and fought until one's spirit was broken into submission or they tired of each other and went their separate ways. They did not seek out the services of a therapist. New mothers were tired and 'miserable,' not suffering from post partum depression.

According to a April 28 Jamaica Gleaner article by Latoya Grindley, suicide numbers in Jamaica have been steadily rising, but people were generally unable to recognize even glaring signs of depression. Jamaica's Ministry of Health's National Policy for The Promotion of Healthy Lifestyle has strategies to address chronic diseases, reproductive health and violence, but nothing on mental health. According to a 2001 report from the World Health Organization, mental health treatment is provided in large part by primary care doctors and nurses. For every group of 10,000 in Jamaica, there are only five psychiatric beds, less than one psychiatrist per 10,000 people, even fewer psychologists, and only eight psychiatric nurses. There is little public education to counteract the stigma associated with mental conditions and statistics are unreliable.

It is no wonder then that so many Jamaicans lose time and happiness suffering from emotional and mental problems that could be resolved with some couch time and/or medication. Insecurities, low self-esteem, depression, daddy issues, fear of abandonment that come as a result of sexual abuse, absent or abusive parents, or by a chemical imbalance in the brain are ignored, overlooked or accepted as character flaws.

There is no telling how many of Jamaica's children are written off as dunce when they are actually dyslexic or have Attention Deficit Disorder. How many young women's promiscuity is symptomatic of sexual abuse? How many people who suffered through teasing or isolation as children have become self-conscious and insecure adults? How many couples are wondering why their love does not seem to be enough to sustain their relationship? How many people are being hard on themselves because they cannot seem to snap out of their depression?

Guarding our mental health should be no different from protecting our teeth. There is no shame in getting a cavity, only if you allow your whole mouth to go rotten. There is no shame in being depressed, or just needing to talk with someone trained to guide you to solutions. A little couch time never hurt anybody.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

No more stop at Kingston 21

Air Jamaica will stop flying to Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Barbados, Grand Cayman and Grenada in February. Route cuts and lay offs are necessary to keep the beleaguered airline afloat.

The airline business is tough. Sir Richard Branson (Virgin) likes to say if you want to be a millionaire start with a billion dollars then go into the airline business. Among the traditional U.S. airlines, American Airlines remains financially the most stable; not because it is making profits, but because it is the only one that has managed to avoid bankruptcy. Air Jamaica, while smaller has not been exempt from those hardships.

The airline has been beset by year-to-year losses for some time, and I have long contended that the Love Bird needed to cut back on some of its in-flight hospitality. Other airlines charge for everything - from six pretzels in a bag to an uncomfortable inflatable pillow. Even after getting squeezed by the discount carrier Spirit, Air Jamaica still served hot meals and soft drinks for free. Now they must make the big changes.

Sadly, the cessation of the Kingston-Miami route marks the end of an era. Air Jamaica was largely built on that route. From the beginning to the end, the flights between Miami International and Norman Manley International airports catered to 'informal commercial importers' bringing in their wares from farin, well-heeled Jamaicans hopping out for weekend partying and shopping trips, and illicit lovers sneaking away for clandestine meetings. Every traveling Jamaican has at least one story of a higgler who refused to accept that she had too much luggage, or a virgin traveler wearing his Sunday best and carrying his heavy coat over his arm. They also, no doubt, have a story about a delayed flight during a holiday that was tempered only by the sweetness of a pretty flight attendant.

The troubles of the national carrier and now the demise of the popular flight route will undoubtedly trigger feelings of loss, regret and some guilt (for those who flew with JOSpirit or American Airlines to save a few dollars). For me, the feeling is nostalgia. I smile at the memories of the little girl with the rich patois accent who tried to open the airplane window, of my late girlfriend's crisp uniform and tight bun, and of feeling like I had already arrived on the island the minute I took my seat on the plane.

Dark paint on ol' house

Ever heard of Michael Steele? Had you heard of him before Friday's news cycle? If you are a political news junkie or live in Maryland you may have. For most everyone else, Michael Steele is the former Lt. Governor of Maryland who came out of oblivion to be elected the new chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Steele, an attorney, made an unsuccessful run at a senate seat in 2006 and is not a member of the RNC. It took six rounds of voting, but Steele ultimately prevailed over republican heavyweights to become the party's first black chair.

Is the RNC embracing change? Or is it putting new dark paint on an old house? Call me skeptical, but I cannot swallow Steele's election at a time when the United States is still swooning at its election of the first black president as a coincidence. I am going out on a limb and suggest that the Republican Party believes it would be advantageous for the party to put on a black face at this time. Steele is the party's answer to their devastating loss in November. A loss they have tragically simplified to be racial.

The party of the good old boys has shown itself committed to racism and racial ignorance. Are voters supposed to confuse one black face for another and 'swap black dog fi monkey?' Are the thousands of voters who abandoned the Grand Old Party and its long held positions and ideals in November supposed to return now because its public face is now a dark one?

If I were hopeful I would view Mr. Steele's election as the RNC's indication that they are opening up the party and their minds to more inclusive actions and policies. But my inclination is to believe that the RNC hopes to pull off an optical illusion, instead of making substantive changes to its policies. They are hoping all black men look alike, instead of aligning more with its public to respect human rights, preserve quality of life for citizens in every economic bracket, and enforce checks and balance for businesses. More than anything, Steele's election shows it is business as usual at the old RNC house.

My womb or ours

In 2003, a Gallup Organization poll found that by a margin of 72 percent to 26 percent, the public supports laws requiring a married woman to notify her husband if she decides to have an abortion. In every state of the union adoptions require the consent of the siring mate. The legal father - the man to whom the woman is married, if she is married - and/or the putative father - the man who fathered the child if conceived out of wedlock - have the same rights as the mother in making adoption decisions.

Beyond those public leanings and legalities, what responsibilities does a woman have to share or extend her reproductive rights with her mate? Should the choice for birth control methods be discussed the same way a car purchase would be? Should a husband carry equal sway in the discussion about the number of children a couple have?

In a recent conversation with my unmarried and childless cousin, I was surprised to find that she believed that reproductive choices should not be solely that of a woman. I was surprised mostly because she usually has a very feminist view. Further discussions with other friends indicate that many women hold this view, but that their positions are very nuanced: A man has some say (and the right to know about a pregnancy) only if the couple is married, for example.

We are certainly moons away from the days when women were considered chattel. Today women view their reproductive rights in a myriad of ways. Being a single mother does not carry the same stigma it did 20 years ago. Increasingly, woman are choosing to parent solo. As women have become financially independent, they have come to look at motherhood as an option available outside of marriage and partnership. This is particularly true for women whose search for Mr. Right is not keeping pace with their biological clocks, or if the Mr. has turned out to be wrong.

According to the polls - and the women I've spoken to - married women lose some of those freedoms single women are exercising more and more. The feminist teenager I used to be now almost feels justified for having held an anti-marriage stance.

It is widely accepted that marriage is sustained through compromise. Even so, compromise is not always possible - even in the most successful marriages. Does a woman's rights then revert to the days when she could be declared a taxable asset? Obviously this discussion will take a different direction for every couple, and at different times. The principal question remains though: Should/does a woman's reproductive rights be suppressed with marriage?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let us not get weary

The 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, has been sworn in and starts his tenure in office. While President Obama's inaugural address was expectedly stirring, it was Rev. Joseph E. Lowery benediction that spoke most to me. It mirrored the concerns of my heart and the pride of my soul.

I do not think for one second that the 24-hour media cycle, or the hundreds of thousands of people who flooded the streets of Washington, D.C. is too much hype. This is a significant moment in the history of not just Black America, but for America and for the world. Just as the country issued in a new democratic way when George Washington passed the presidency to John Adams - a passage not of blood line or of war - it is issuing in a new era today. The United States of America can shed some of its guilt and shame and move forward with a renewed hope and trust in its ideals.

Rev. Lowery's prayer recognized the journey that has taken us to this moment, but he also asks for God's strength so that we will not get weary. After the National Mall has emptied of the cheering crowds, after the cameras have turned to some other news, the journey continues. It is not on President Obama's shoulders alone that the future of this nation depends. As he said in his speech, every task counts - as basic as the nurturing of a child.

Let us not get weary. Let us look for opportunities to support our communities. Let us make our voices heard in the administration of our governments. Let us mentor our youth and care for our seniors. Let us reward hard work and spurn laziness and wasted talents. Let us not get weary, but let us face the prospects - bitter and sweet - together.

Account from Washington D.C.

Check out fellow blogger and democratic delegate Marlon Hill, Esq.'s account from D.C.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Leading morality

The Caribbean Seventh-day Adventist community is astir with the pending swearing in of Dr. Patrick Allen as the next Governor General of Jamaica. Dr. Allen, until his selection for the office, was president of the West Indies Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. He is also chairman of the boards of directors of Andrews Hospital and Northern Caribbean University - both Adventist institutions.

Jamaicans on the island and around the world are buzzing about whether the minister will slobber on beauty queens like Glasspole, attend state functions on Saturday, or break the rules of the Adventist diet. The trite chatter is not unexpected considering that the role of the Governor General is largely ceremonial. Also, while the numbers of Adventists in Jamaica is large and growing, so that everybody knows an Adventist, the best known precepts of the church make them subjects of curiosity.

Dr. Herbert Thompson, president of Northern Caribbean University, was exuberant in his response to Allen's appointment. Dr. Thompson said he believed Allen would give Jamaica 'a new moral vision.' I'm not sure what that means, but it was the second time in a week I had heard the concepts of country and morals raised together. During his last press conference, outgoing United States President George W. Bush was asked by a member of the press corps if he thought the country's moral standing had been damaged during his tenure.

As we see clearly by Bush's record low approval ratings, the actions of a government or leader do not always meet with agreement from the people he leads. How then, is the moral standing of a country determined? Is moral standing for countries even possible where people are of such disparate opinions and beliefs? In Dr. Allen's case, how could he possibly affect the morality of Jamaica/ns when his job description consists mostly of wearing an archaic costume and opening parliament?

There seems to be little argument that Dr. Allen has lead an exemplary life. He has been an advocate for pressing social issues, held administrative positions of great responsibility and earned the Commander of the Order of Distinction in 2006. By education, training and actions, he is more qualified to lead than many in Jamaican politics. However, even if his position was one of significant leadership it should not be one that determines morality. It is attempts to determine moral direction and establish moral authority that threaten the reversal of Roe v. Wade, to re-write the consitution to decide who should be able to get married, and to oppress an entire country of people because they don't say Jesus and God.

Dr. Allen's best chance at affecting the moral vision of Jamaicans is by living righteously in their view.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lighter better for many Jamaicans

I caught a piece of Island Stylee on Black Entertainment Television Jazz recently. If you have flown Air Jamaica you may have seen the travel and entertainment video produced by the airline. I have seen a few hosts on the show over the years, most often former Miss Jamaica Rachel Stuart. The host of the episode I saw on BETJazz was new to me, but had a familiar characteristic. She was light-skinned, as was every other host I had ever seen on the show.

A few days prior to my seeing the show, a friend sent me a clip originally shown on Current TV, addressing the concern of skin bleaching in Jamaica. It occured to me that the unhealthy practice and the selection of hosts for the show could very well be fruit of the same ugly tree.

While Jamaica did not have the racial struggles African-Americans did, the island has had, since its independence, distinct color lines that ran across social and economic standing. Things are less discriminatory today than the days when office and bank jobs were reserved for light-skinned Jamaicans. Today the discrimination is largely social and self-inflicted.

In 1992, popular dancehall dj Buju Banton came under fire for his release Love mi browning, refering to Jamaican women with light skin. Public condemnation of the song forced him to quickly respond with another tune, Love mi black woman. I worry that 17 years later, the first song would have meet less public outcry. The widespread use of skin lightening chemicals suggests that many Jamaicans have accepted the notion of black inferiority.

The view of light skin and Euro features as more attractive than dark skin and Afro features is rampant in the island. The tie-dye faces - tell-tale sign of bleaching - of women, men and children are a common sight on the streets of the island. Bleachers use a myriad of methods - from toothpaste and curry mixes to illegal creams - alarming the government and health officials. Two years ago, the Health Department launched a campaign Don't Kill the Skin to warn users of the dangerous effects of the practice and to clamp down on illegal product import and sale. I have not, however, heard of any efforts aimed at addressing the underlying problem.

In Jamaica light skin is associated, not just with beauty, but also with affluence and privilege. A vestige of slavery and colonialism, businesses and property owners are largely descendants of Europeans, ie people with light skin. Even as Jamaicans of every hue are represented in academics, politics, and entertainment, the island's poorest residents are still wearing the shackles of colonialism - mental slavery, so to speak. Any attempt to curtail skin lightening has to start with fostering pride of self.

Legalities vs good politics

It looks like Roland Burris, a former Illinois Attorney General, will actually get his seat in the United States Senate. By creating a spectacle, filing a lawsuit, and being persistent he will be President-elect Obama's replacement to represent the people of Illinois. He has shown that the law is on his side, but he has shown poor judgment and political shortsideness.

Another senate-hopeful from Illinois, Danny Davis, was approached by indicted Governor Rod Blagojevich about taking the vacant seat. He declined, citing concerns of about being able to gain the public's trust if appointed by the tainted governor. Smart move. Burris, who from many accounts has a solid political reputation and would be in contention for the seat anyway, has unnecessarily put himself on a uphill battle to prove he isn't on the take - or on the give. He starts in office under a skeptical public eye, before he has even had a chance to screw up. This man who ran as governor, with then-Senator Obama's backing and against Rod Blagojevich, has tainted his own name in his rush to secure the senate seat.

Mr. Burris has shown a lack of scruples by accepting the appointment and by forcing it down Senate Democrat's collective throat. He will have to run for that office in two years. He has already given his opponent a gift-wrapped, camera-ready line questioning his credibility. His eagerness to get into office means he will always be Blagojevich's pick.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Middle East Conflict: Happily never after

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's analogy in defense of Israel's actions in Gaza says anyone who had a crazy person pounding on their apartment door threatening to come in and kill them would want the New York Police Department to respond with all its might and resources - not merely by sending one officer.

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart retorted it would depend on if you had forced the person to live in your hallway and forced him to go through checkpoints in order to go to work, to the supermarket, to visit family and to worship.

Israel's military actions in Gaza are very much like the NYPD sending all its men and firepower to respond to one crazy man. The Palestinian death toll stands close to 800 people today - nearly half confirmed to be civilians. Overkill is the word that comes to my mind.

Politics, religion, and history meld in the Middle East resulting in irreconcilable differences. Palestinians are not likely to forget that their independence, way of life and the very ownership of their land was disrupted by the United Nations to make room for the world's Jews to live together after World War II. Nor will they ever accept Israeli control of their movements and of Jerusalem. Israel will never come to the decision that the land was not given to the Jews by God. The conflict will continue. The course of the conflict, however, can be altered.

Israel has come to look like the big bully in the dispute, particularly as it has the unabashed backing of the United States. The state has no incentive to be either just or merciful. And it choosing to be neither. Red Cross/Red Crescent and United Nations representatives report that articles of the Geneva Convention are being violated in this latest assault on Gaza. There are no safe havens for Palestinian civilians; every building is subject to bombing from Israeli fire. Inadequate amounts of food, water and other aid are being allowed into the region. United Nations aid workers temporarily halted oeprations after one of its drivers was killed by Israeli fire. An Israeli mortar shell also killed 43 people in a United Nations school.

Casualties like these are inevitable with heavy warfare in as densely a populated area as Gaza. The only way to stop the deaths is for Israel to stop the fighting. Other attempts at curtailing the deaths and injuries are ineffective at best, disingenuous at worst. Israel has made phone calls and distributed leaflets urging residents of Gaza to evacuate for their own safety. The phone calls and leaflets did not, however, assure safe passage for evacuees or offer havens to which residents could could escape.

Human Rights Watch criticizes Israel for not paying enough attention to distinction and proportionality - distinction between combatants and civilians, and whether an attack will have a disproportionate effect on civilians in the area. In Sunday's New York Times Fred Abrahams, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said this is 'the first conflict he could remember when civilians could not flee the war zone. Gaza's borders are shut both to Israel and to Egypt, and civilians, he said, " are like fish in a barrel."' Mr. Abrahams and Human Rights Watch also criticize Hamas for infractions such as hiding weapons in mosques.

I do not know (and would welcome an education) how the United States came to take sides so explicitly in a conflict so rested on untenable religious beliefs. What is without debate is that radicalism is born and nurtured in oppression and isolation. Israel's heavy handedness, in this war effort and in its ongoing dealings with the Palestinian people, and the United States' blind support will only cause the number of crazy people in the hallway to multiply.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Simplicity and frugality: Watch words for 2009

For a couple of reasons I have never made New Year resolutions. Mainly, I don't want to set myself up for failure. Life trips me up enough as it is without me putting up new hurdles to get over. Plus, I like to think I am on an ongoing quest to better myself. No annual lists necessary.

Nevertheless, I recognize that a new year presents an opportunity to assess and challenge ourselves. Since I have been meaning to write this post for two weeks, I assess that I have a tendency to procrastinate and challenge myself to complete tasks in a more timely manner. Also, looking at my most recent BJ's and Shop-Rite bills, I assess that I am a spendthrift - a welterweight spendthrift, but a spendthrift nonetheless. I am challenging myself to cut back on unnecessary purchases and to look for new ways to save money.

According to the the pundits, the economists and my investment portfolio, 2009 will be financially difficult for many of us. President-elect Barack Obama is issuing dire predictions that things will get worse before they get better. It is no wonder that groups and websites like Wisebread and Frugal Village that promote low budget living are gaining traction across the country. These sites give suggestions on saving money - from shopping at salvage grocery stores to homesteading. While buying dented cans of food or living and sharing expenses with strangers is not an option for everyone, most of us will admit that we have opportunities to be more frugal, and to simplify our lives.

Having accepted the frugality challenge, my first step was to unsubscribe from any mailing list aimed at selling me something. Gap, Old Navy, DSW, Zappos, Gymboree, Children's Place, Stride Rite, Piperlime,, Tuesday Morning, Sears, JCPenney, Target, Disney, AirTran, Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines. And those are only the ones I can remember. I am sure I have forgotten some. I did not realize before starting the unsubscribing process that I was getting so many emails on a daily basis announcing clearances, season sales and 'low, low prices.' Each one an opportunity to 'need' and buy something else.

That process has led to other choices for simplification - and hopefully, savings. I have decided to wash all my laundry in cold water. I save time on sorting and money on electricity/gas. I have decided to cook every week day and to shop from a meal plan and only with a list. I save time contemplating what's for dinner and avoid the temptation of buying take out. I also save money on eating out and on unnecessary grocery purchases.

I am looking forward to seeing how these steps are going to make my life better - and also if I can save enough money to justify the giraffe Dooney bag I want.

Are you planning any changes in spending for 2009? Do you think your life can be simplified?