Wednesday, January 16, 2013


There's a large black suitcase in the living room. A man in a dark suit stands patiently beside it. He watches me sadly from behind his spectacles as I walk to the bedroom.
"Who is that man in the lounge?" I ask as I ready myself for bed.
"Don't." he says simply. "Don't go out there. It is coming to collect him."
The suitcase is there again the following night. And the night after that, and again for many nights. Sometimes It remains in the lounge. Sometimes It stands solidly in front of the kitchen door, as if to block any attempts of escape. It emits a hollow darkness which echoes in my belly and I know to be Fear.
I do not see the man again.
The days are bright, the sun washes the Fear away and I am happy. I dance around in my wee house, doing my happy homely things, until the day fades and the duvet beckons. I climb, pyjama clad, into my safe bed, with my safe book.
The music is still playing. I've forgotten to turn the music off. It's loud. Too loud. I have to go back out..
But I am afraid.
"Baby. Can you turn the music off please? It's just that.."
"Of course. Just stay here." It is nothing to him.
I fall asleep. A heavy, dreamless sleep.
When I awaken, it is black. A darkness so thick it is hard to move. His side of the bed is empty. Cold. "Dave?"
The realisation jolts me awake and I half-scramble, half-fall out of the bed. "DAVE!" My scream comes out strangled, muted, gasping. My head is yanked towards the ground as my hands fly to my neck. Wrapped around my throat is the long handle of a sack full of rocks. It tightens like a noose as I struggle in panic. The blackness enveloping me is not the dark. It is Fear.
Struggling out of the bedroom into the lounge. Panic. I cannot see. "DAVE!" I gasp. It takes all I have to get out his name. "DAVE!!" The rocks are heavy and the noose only tightens around my neck. On my hands and knees, pulling the rocks behind me. I make it to the kitchen..
The suitcase is there.
It is the source of all the darkness and It sends a Fear that fills my mouth and nostrils, fills my eyes, weighs down my hair, like some cold thick crude oil that can never be washed away. I am frozen, struck voiceless, immobile and choking. It is so very cold.
For an eternity I cannot look away.
Then it disappears.
I spring, all weight lifted from me. I spring, driven, into the bathroom. Across cold linoleum. Driven forward by unknown momentum and the knowledge that I must. I must go. I trip.
I trip. I cannot look down, but I know what has caught my flying feet. It is cold. It used to be human. It is dead on the floor.
But I cannot stop. I must not stop. I must go.
A New Door appears before me and cannot remain closed before my momentum. A New Door that bursts open under my weight and reveals something Glorious. The Fear is driven back by Golden Light. Light that explodes into my senses. And there you are, sitting on the bed, smiling. The Light is coming from you.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Coffee. Balzac. Fueling the Beast. All the things.

I've been so tied up with Uni these days that any writing outside of an assignment context seems repellent.  So I am going to blatantly steal someone else's piece of writing, a short passage that caught my attention at the end of last year and gives me much entertainment whenever I read it.  Also, seeing as I am neck-deep in assignments right now, it seemed fitting to share this passage about something very near and dear to my heart (and stomach..)

The passage describes the addiction to coffee of French novelist and playwright HonorĂ© de Balzac - 

'Balzac fueled his prolific writing by drinking something like 50 cups of coffee a day - until that failed to be enough for him, and he began eating dry coffee grounds straight, a tactic that he describes as "a horrible, rather brutal method that I recommend only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered in liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins." The coffee, he writes, "brutalises these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflammed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain.  From that moment on, everything becomes agitated.  Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages.  Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination's orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink - for the nightly labour begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder." '

[To give full credit where credit is due, this passage was written by Emily Temple and can be found here.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

where is the humanity?

I feel, especially in these last days leading up to our elections, that it is vital that New Zealanders see this.  Actually, stuff the elections, this is something that every person in Aotearoa needs to watch and think about because this is about us as a community, this is about us taking responsibility as human beings.  This is about us putting people before corporations and profits.

After my initial surge of rage, disgust, and extreme sadness at watching this clip, my main three questions are these:

Firstly, what on EARTH are they teaching at the police colleges that produce policepeople that are so eager to inflict serious harm on other humans?  When I was at primary school, even at high school, to want to become a policeperson came out of a desire to help, protect and generally do good in a community.  Not sit on a desperate and upset man and calmly beat him around the head and ribs with a police-issue baton in front of his extremely pregnant partner SO THAT A LUCRATIVE POWER COMPANY WHO TURNS OVER MILLIONS EACH YEAR CAN SAVE A FEW BUCKS!!  (which turned out to be a mistake on the power company's part anyway!)

Secondly, what lack of humanity allows contractors to carry on their job when they can see the result it is having?  What is this crazy hold over people that lets them use the excuse 'I was just doing my job' when they can see that doing their job is causing a man to receive head injuries?  When it is causing immense distress to a woman who is overdue to give birth?

And, in conclusion to the first two questions I guess, as it was so VERY obvious that things weren't going so well in this situation (to put it lightly) why on earth could the police and contractors not take the sensible approach, pull back, and reassess the situation??  I cannot think of any reason why the disconnection of power had to happen at that specific time, given the resulting circumstances.  Not exactly a life-or-death situation for the power company was it?  Are we really the type of society who would rather see another human beaten till they bleed rather than have a company lose out on a few profits??  Do we truly worship money that much?  Should we really let it control us in that way?

To those of you who say, regarding the police, that they were only doing their jobs, then I say - well, if that is their job, then I think it's time we thought about what sort of system we're living under.  Because I don't want any part of it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Late-night musings

I was reading back from some journal entries I wrote a few years ago, trying to make sense - once again - of the chaos that is my life.  I came across some notes I'd taken when the idea of a "common bravery" was really starting to invade my consciousness.  It all came back to the fact that I needed to find a better way to deal with the grind of daily life, of everything that surrounded me regardless on a daily basis.  It was a reminder that the inspiration for this is all around me, that I just need to find something that inspires me and hold onto that thing tight inside of me and use it to create a simple courage.  A common bravery.  

The best thing about bravery is that it's contagious.  Once, many years ago, I conducted an interview as part of an oral history paper I was studying at Otago University.  The woman I was interviewing, whom I had never met before, was in her eighties.  She had come to Port Chalmers as a young woman, and was still living when I interviewed her.  She told me things about her life I could never have imagined - such as the excitement of having the first washing machine on her street which all the women would share - and I doubt it was automated.  Of the strength she mustered when she was moved away from her family and anyone else she knew to the, at that time, rather isolated Port Chalmers to be husband-pleaser, baby-maker, mother and housekeeper.  Of being pulled suddenly into the workforce during the War as the menfolk left their jobs, but the factories had to keep running.  And the joy and camaraderie of that work.  And then, just as suddenly, of being relegated back to the house, in isolation, labelled as 'useless', as the men returned home again.  That this tiny woman, feeding me up with scones and showing off the family photos, was telling me about this incredible life without batting an eyelid was amazing, and I felt so privileged to hear her story.

And then.. she asked if we could turn off the dictaphone, and go off the record.  And she proceeded, to a complete stranger a quarter of her age, to break down, to rant, to rage, about all the things she had never been allowed to say as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a grandmother..  This tiny woman, whom had had to hold in so much for so long, suddenly found a common bravery with a stranger and released all the feelings and stories she had held inside her for so long.. I feel like I should insert something meaningful here that ties together the story, but no words can express hearing someone release intense emotions they have been holding inside for decades.

I never completed the course.  But the University has the recording, and I hope one day someone does honour to her story.  And I am proud to be the recipient, and perhaps the releaser, of the parts that aren't on the tape.

A Definition..

Common: 1. Mutual; shared by more than one.
               2. Occurring or happening regularly or frequently; usual.
               3. Found in large numbers, or in a large quantity.
               4. Simple, ordinary or vulgar.

Bravery:  noun. Strength in the face of fear.

For me, this is a concept of a daily courage to stare life down.  To stare down the daily grind, and find inspiration from the seemingly ordinary just to spite it. 

And to recognise that courage is contagious, that is expands exponentially, that we should be sharing it around and doing something amazing with it!  Otherwise, what's it all for? 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How the IMF's involvement in Jamaica stunted Jamaica's development

In the early 1970s, the socialist-leaning government led by Michael Manley promised reforms that would end the historical inequalities left behind from Jamaica's days as a colony of the United Kingdom. However covering the costs of these reforms, and dealing with issues such as massive increases in international oil prices, quickly saw Jamaica in financial trouble and in need of assistance. Unable to meet the day-to-day costs of running the country, let alone debt repayments, they had no option but to turn to the International Monetary Fund. Although not responsible for the initial causes, the conditionalities that accompanied IMF assistance were responsible for the continuation and entrenchment of Jamaica's weak development performance since the 1970s.

In the early 1970s, a decade after its independence from the United Kingdom, Jamaica was a small post-colonial nation largely dependent on its agricultural and mineral sectors, and an emerging tourism industry. Although state-promoted industrialisation, economic diversification and foreign investment had seen Jamaica's economy grow since independence, historical social inequalities still existed. The socialist-leaning Manley-led government that came to power in 1972 promised a path of social reform that would address these inequalities and lead to a better way of life for working-class Jamaicans. However, increased welfare services saw a massive increase in state expenditure that had to be covered. The spike in OPEC oil prices of the mid-1970s also pushed up the price of oil and food imports on which Jamaica relied heavily. Fortunately the global financial institutions were flush oil with revenue, and large loans were easy to get. By the late 1970s the price of oil had fully impacted on industrialised nations, pushing interest rates up and causing a slump in the demand for raw materials such as the bauxite that was a main pillar of the Jamaican export industry. Jamaica was now burdened with high-interest loans and contracting revenue with which to meet repayments.3

In an effort to deal with its ailing economy and debt the government took measures to curb imports and raise foreign currency. High tariffs and restrictions on luxury and 'non-basic' goods were imposed. Production levies were introduced into the mineral sector, especially on the multinational mining companies. This new assertiveness from the State scared foreign investors into disinvestment and capital flight from local investors.4

The Jamaican government was in deep trouble financially and facing social unrest. By the end of the 1970s it had no choice but to turn to the IMF for help.5 By the time the IMF began its association with Jamaica, the country was already deep in debt, had scared off foreign investment and was suffering from a currency crisis, and was politically committed to social welfare reforms it could not pay for. Jamaica had dug itself a massive hole in terms of development progress and performance. However far from assisting Jamaica to recover from this situation, the IMF – in exchange for much-needed funds to tide the government over – would impose programmes of conditionality that would only work to entrench, and in some cases exacerbate, Jamaica's fragile situation.

In July 1944, representatives from 45 countries met in the town of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in the United States. They believed a framework for international economic cooperation would need to be established at the end of the war to avoid a repeat of such conditions at the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is from this meeting that the Bretton-Woods Institutions, which include the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were formed.6 The initial concept behind the IMF was the Keynesian assumption that market failure will occur at some point in some countries, and when it did the IMF would be able to bolster that country's institutions to provide employment, fund tax cuts and the like until it was able to get back on its feet again. Global collective action around this was seen as important as one country's economic actions spill over into others, and if an ailing country could be temporarily supported, then it would allow the global market to continue to run smoothly – thus avoiding another event like the Great Depression.7

However the 1980s saw the rise of a new neo-liberal free market economic paradigm. Championed by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the paradigm soon made its way into the IMF hierarchy and became its new mantra for the developing world.8 Stiglitz argues that this new influx of “market fundamentalists” discarded Keynes' belief that public institutions should shield the public from inevitable market failures, and instead pushed a faith that markets were near-infallible and that public institutions were the hazard.9 He also believes that a 'revolving door' between the financial community and the IMF saw the blurring of interests between the two.10 He argues that at that time, albeit unofficially and probably unintentionally, the IMF began to work like a debt collector for G-7 lenders. Their policies became focused on debt repayment rather than other options such as stalling repayments or bankruptcy options – options that were better off in the long run for the developing countries and for global stability, but would mean that creditors remained unpaid. “Looking at the IMF policies in this way, its emphasis on getting foreign creditors repaid rather than helping domestic businesses remain open becomes more understandable.”11

I believe that in these two criticisms lie the crux of why Jamaica's weak development performance was entrenched and exacerbated through its dealings with the IMF. I will look at situations in Jamaica generated by IMF requirements and policies, how they demonstrate these two criticisms of the IMF, and how they have been detrimental to Jamaica's development.

An important criticism of the IMF's policy implementation requirements is that they push for too much liberalisation too soon. Liberalisation before adequate regulations and monitoring systems are put in place, before social adjustments or retraining can occur, before new practices can be learnt, can lead to disastrous consequences for developing countries.12 Trade liberalisation in Jamaica is a good example of this. In the period following its independence, Jamaica diversified and industrialised its manufacturing sector, however the majority of its markets – with the notable exceptions of minerals, bananas and an emerging tourism sector – remained domestic. Agriculture for the domestic market still played a large role in the economy. Its main export products were few, and dependent on a limited number of markets, namely the United Kingdom and the US, and the banana industry received preferential treatment from Jamaica's old colonial masters the United Kingdom.13 Tariffs and restrictions on the importation of some goods provided subsidies for important agricultural imports that the local sector couldn't provide.14 By the early 1990s, most of these protectionist measures had been removed as a requirement to receive IMF assistance.15 In some instances, this was a good thing. The importation of cheap second-hand cars from Japan allowed a new taxi industry to flourish.16 However in many instances the Jamaican market was flooded with cheap, often second-rate, products that the local market could simply not compete with. The agricultural sector was hit particularly hard. For example, local businesses selling high-grade chicken to the local market were put out of business after cheap 'dark meat' parts of chicken flooded the market from the US.17 The dairy industry was also hit hard, with farmers having to dump fresh milk into the gutters because milk powder from overseas was inundating the market at a lower cost.18 Ironically the US and other industrialised countries such as members of the EU maintain tariffs and restrictions on foreign imports, and subsidies such as in the agricultural sector, which leads to issues such as overproduction and the subsequent market flooding of developing countries.19 The developing countries, reliant on assistance from the IMF, must adopt liberalisation or perish – but trade liberalisation is only beneficial if you have a well developed export sector, and Jamaica did not. It is likely that even if it did, it would still have encountered barriers when exporting to countries such as the US. Although a greater variety of goods were available, and at a cheaper price, to the Jamaican people this was offset by the collapse of local industries and businesses, and subsequent unemployment.20 The collapse of the agricultural industry saw rapid urbanisation as people came to the cities in search of work.21 Although non-traditional crops such as coffee and condiments showed promise for the export market, this required long-term investment, education and nurturing that often wasn't available.22 However, the 'market fundamentalism' predominant at the IMF did not see these effects as consequences of trade liberalisation – instead of admitting error, the IMF, in Jamaica and other developing countries, only pushed these policies further.23

One sector in which Jamaica did develop comparative advantage was the apparel manufacturing sector. In an effort to induce foreign direct investment into the country, and at the behest of the IMF, Jamaica liberalised its financial sector. This allowed it to establish 'free trade zones' – zones in which usual import/export taxation, labour and union laws do not apply – and open them up for foreign business interests. This was mostly in the form of CMT (cut make trim) firms where workers assemble garments from imported pre-cut fabrics. In accordance with IMF guidelines, wages are kept low to help maintain 'comparative advantage'. Jamaica's proximity to the US, which was the market, also gave Jamaica advantage.24 However, 'free trade zones' encouraged by the IMF are autonomous zones, with little connection to the local economy, except for providing cheap land and low-paid labour. For example the CMT zones imported all the fabric, pre-cut, directly into the autonomous zones. The only value added to the garments in Jamaica was that of labour when the garments were assembled. Low-skill labour, as was used in the CMT firms, is not something that needs investment, there is no need for education or training. There few reasons for such companies to stay in one place in the long term, let alone invest in that area. Surely enough, in the mid-1990s, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed and low wage competition in Central America emerged that Jamaica couldn't compete with. The CMT firms packed up and left en masse – between 1996 and 2000, 47 companies closed or relocated their operations leaving their workers with nothing.25 This provides another example of how IMF policy pushes for risky short-term solutions to enable developing countries to cover debt repayments at the expense of less lucrative long-term investment that will provide stability and growth of communities and economies.

Granted that the world has changed a lot since the Bretton-Woods Institutions were first formed in 1944, I do not believe that the spirit behind the IMF – to assist countries regain long-term stability in times of fiscal hardship – should have. However the dominance of the neo-liberal free market ideology and the 'revolving door' between the private financial sector and the public institution of the IMF has seen the IMF lose sight of this. It is able to push its fundamentalist free market ideologies onto developing countries that are in no position to say no. In Jamaica this devastated the local agricultural sector, flooded Jamaica with second-rate goods, and left already-struggling people unemployed and with no immediate job prospects. The IMF's tendency to push for debt repayment over long-term stability has seen projects such as the 'free trade zones' set up in Jamaica. They only encourage and entrench weak development performance as they provide no opportunities for workers to upskill, the wages are very low, there is no investment in the wider community, and there is no incentive for long-term investment. Indeed, in Jamaica the firms left as quickly as they arrived once cheaper labour became available elsewhere. Although Jamaica was in a bad economic situation of its own doing already, I believe that Jamaica's weak development performance since the 1970s was exacerbated and entrenched by its involvement with the IMF.

1Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience' (Unpublished, 2005), p186
2Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience', p191
3Broad, R and J Cavanagh, Development Redefined: How the Market Met Its Match (Colorado, USA: Paradigm Publishers, 2009), pxii; Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience', p191
4Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience', p191
5Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience', p191
6International Monetary Fund, 'About the IMF: History: Cooperation and reconstruction (1944–71)', (accessed 9/4/2011)
7Stiglitz, Joseph E, Globalization and its Discontents (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002), p196
8Broad, R and J Cavanagh, Development Redefined: How the Market Met Its Match, pxii; Stiglitz, Joseph E, Globalization and its Discontent, p13
9Stiglitz, Joseph E, Globalization and its Discontents, p196
10Ibid, p207
11Ibid, p208
12Fukuyama, Francis, 'The Imperative of State Building', Journal of Democracy 15/2, p20; Kirkpatrick, C and D Tennant, 'Responding to Financial Crisis: Better Off Without the IMF? The Case of Jamaica' in Finance and Development Research Programme Working Paper Series (University of Manchester: Institute for Development Policy and Management, 2002) Paper #38, p7; Stiglitz, Joseph E, Globalization and its Discontents, p212
13Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience', p186, 188
14Ibid, p193
15Ibid, pp192-195
16Ibid, p199
17Black, Stephanie, Life and Debt: A Film (Tough Gong Pictures, 2001)
20Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience', p206
21Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 'Jamaica – Economy', (accessed 10/4/2011)
22Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience', p203
23Stiglitz, Joseph E, Globalization and its Discontents, p213
24Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience', p195
25Witter, M 'Trade liberalization: The Jamaican Experience', pp195-196; Black, Stephanie, Life and Debt: A Film