Life imitates art

Last night’s news was dominated by coverage of the Dutch royal family’s visit to our proud little city on Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag). Security was ratcheted up to DEFCON 1 as a result of the car attack on the family during last year’s celebrations in Apeldoorn.

Mr B went into town with our oldest two, and had a hard time getting near the market place. Hundreds of police had been bussed in to block every winding lane in the city centre. And those who had gotten through were corralled into pens that prevented them from following the royalty after they walked passed. The TV news showed a couple of vox pops where
locals claimed they agreed with the high security measures, but Mr B heard plenty of disgruntled voices behind the barricades.

By the time I got there — children #3 and #4 have overlapping naps which take up a large part of the day — the royals had left, as had most of the visitors, which just left lots of police officers standing around.

Police overmanning on Queen's Day
No loitering!: Police ambush squad spring into nonchalance as suspect approaches, the only person not wearing orange on Queen's Day in the Netherlands.

Going back to the news last night, the final item caught my attention: it appeared to be a very realistic first-person shooter game, à la Modern Warfare 2, with commandos rappelling from a helicopter onto a ship, and stalking round corners and obstacles looking for targets. In fact it was a video that had just been released by the Dutch Ministry of Defence and showed Dutch marines storming a cargo ship that had been hijacked by Somali pirates. The images were captured from a helmet camera, with a viewpoint that put the viewer in the thick of the action. It was a striking example of how game technology has permeated our perception of events, a contemporary case of anti-mimesis, as described by Oscar Wilde: “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.”

See for yourself.

By the time I saw the news round midnight, the video had already been blogged and a rough translation provided for the team leader’s commentary:

The marine boarding team received orders to liberate the fifteen crewmen of the merchant Taipan, which was hijacked by ten pirates. The captain and crew of the German-flagged Taipan had locked themselves in their safe room, from where they called for assistance.

The sensor-operator deploys the fast ropeline while the team leader provides covering fire with the MAG GPMG.

Note the ‘landing zone’ of the marines; enough cover to prevent hostile fire, yet not too much to obstruct cover fire. In that respect they were lucky that it was a container ship, and not some bulk-cargo carrier.

Approaching the bridge, they detained six pirates hiding at the lower deck. The marines ordered the pirates to climb through the shot window. Two more pirates were found hiding at the aft deck, and subsequently arrested. A ninth was found on the deck above, and summoned to come down.

A three-man team secured the bridge, and from there they went through the rest of the ship. The marine team-leader further comments on the ravage the pirates caused in their search for valuables, which included shooting up doors and cabinets which were locked.

The weapons the pirates used ranged from handguns, AK-47s, and RPG-7s.

Once the ship was secured the crew of the Taipan came out of the safe room.
(Translation source: Marcase)

The team leader adds that the crew gave them a round of applause, “They were really happy to see us.”

I bet.

The pigs are all right

The police car was half-hidden by the side of the overgrown lane. I instinctively leaned back, drew my seatbelt across and pulled out of the farm. The police car rolled forward to the middle of the road and stopped. Mr B and I looked at each other and frowned. Two officers climbed out and walked slowly towards us. As the first one approached my open window, his stubble caught the last of the sunlight, sinister he seemed, older and maybe that was a gleam of the unbalanced mind, maybe liquored, certainly weary. My eye fell to his partner’s gun, dull blunt metal hanging in its leather holster.

– Where are you coming from?
– The farm.
– Which farm? This road is forbidden for through traffic.
– The farm on this road, Jacob Catsway.
– On this road?
– We just pulled out behind you. We have to use this road to access our home.
– …
– By the way, your right brake light is not working.
– … uhhh …

– And make sure you’re clean shaven the next time I see you. You’re a bloody disgrace to the uniform, babylon beasty bwoy!

That said, off we sped, to pick up Joolz and the Samster from the creche.

Four sprogs, five house moves in one year … is it any wonder I can’t tell up from down?

Mbour Mblues on the Coke Coast

Name that tune …

Hey Jim, Jim? Where is Jim, man?
Jim, I want you to tell me somethin’
I want you to spell for me New York, Jim
Come on, Jim, I want you to spell New York

These days you could ask Jim how to spell Dakar, because a whole lot, whole lot of cocaine is running round West Africa, most through Senegal, with the resultant rise in Hummers and Escalades zipping along the Corniche with blacked out windows.

This week’s Guardian report repeats what has been public knowledge for over a year, that despite the obvious attraction to Colombian traffickers of a failed state like Guinea-Bissau, the lion’s share of cocaine seized in the region is further north, in Senegal.

The grim coastal towns south of the capital, Dakar, appear to be the most popular transit points, dumps like Rufisque and Mbour. Despite a few architectural remnants of former privilege and trading wealth — Rufisque was once one of only four cities in West Africa where inhabitants could claim French nationality — these days the only reason to be happy to see the place is that it marks the end of the bumper-to-bumper crawl out of Dakar — the only road out of the capital ! (average speed = 20 km/hr).

As for Mbour, looking on a map, one might imagine a sleepy, leafy town full of provincial charm, picturesque fishing port full of happy smiling people, a delight of unspoiled Africa for the popular neighbouring tourist resort of Saly. The reality, unfortunately, is a traffic jam the length of the single road through the centre, blocked with heavily loaded/leaning lorries from the titanium minings, belching low quality diesel fumes into the cars and buses around it; through the smog, you can see ugly buildings thrown up in 1970s style and not maintained or cleaned since; further still, the trash-strewn alleys lead to the fishers’ beach and a smell of discarded fish guts rotting in the sand. It is truly

a boyle on the erse of the world

as Chaucer might have said.

Yet to drug smugglers it is the capital of the Coke Coast; with busts of several tonnes of cocaine per year, one wonders how many more tonnes are getting through the underfunded, easily corruptible security forces. You can bribe your way in or out of the country; you can even bribe your way out of jail, as happened with the chief suspects of Senegal’s biggest coke bust (read more … in French).

The huge construction sites all over Dakar are probably one way the drugs profits are being laundered; it’s obvious that the scale of development is out of line with actual demand for new construction, and I predict a collapse in the Dakar property market in the next year.

And while some Senegalese may not care about what Europeans and Arabs stick up their nose, the influx of drug profits will surely rot local society, the drugs will seep into Dakar suburbs, turf and gang warfare to follow.


Curious to see how, or even if, it will happen in such a traditional Muslim context.

Ghetto can’t hold you back

The athletics results this last week in Beijing represent the summum of success for Jamaican runners, putting them in first place in the gold medal league table, equal with Russia and ahead of the US.

Bear in mind that Jamaica has a population of only 2.7 million.

Jamaican athletics results

The first gold medal went to Shelly-Ann Fraser in the women’s 100m. Amid the thousands of news stories trying to come up with something original to say, AFP interviewed Shelly-Ann’s mother.

Shelly-Ann Fraser can thank her mother’s uneasy relationship with the Jamaican police for helping her become an Olympic Games sprint champion.

Maxine Fraser, who brought up her daughter in one of the Caribbean’s meanest ghettos, believes her quickfire genes have been passed on to the 21-year-old who led a Jamaican cleansweep in the 100m final in Beijing on Sunday.

Maxine has had to live on her wits all of her life and working as a street vendor she regularly has to put in a blinding turn of pace if police are chasing her for illegal trading.

“This is to show that something good can come out of the ghetto. Ghetto can’t hold you back as long as you have ambition,” said Maxine after watching her daughter take gold.

Source: AFP

The reference to running from the police reminded me of a post I wrote back in March 2006. I’ll give you advance warning: turn your speakers low before you watch the movie.

“[27 March 2006] The source of the sprinters’ success then is that Jamaicans know from a young age and from much experience that at the sound of gunshot …”

Some commentators wonder whether Jamaican runners are not getting a little extra kick from illegal doping …

However, locals have scoffed at suggestions that drugs may be the reason for the country’s recent success.

In fact, many argue that the heavy consumption of yam, banana and breadfruit have helped power the sprinters.

Source: AFP

Nyam yam, myam-myam!

Driver! Don’t stop at all

Drawing to the end of my series of images of downtown Kingston, I post below the first part of a drive I took last week with my good friend, Barry White.

I know, it’s the voice.

If all goes according to plan, Part II will include a drive round the main square, Sir William Grant Park (during which you will be grateful that the Internet cannot transmit the overpowering stench of urine and human feces), before heading up one of the most famous streets in music history: Orange Street. We’ll end up at Studio One and see the plan to develop a museum dedicated to the myriad stars who cut their teeth and their first records there.

Part III will begin with a cold one at the original Tastee patty restaurant, site of the Tastee Talent Competition, which most famously gave us Yellowman many moons yore, then scoot quickly through the garrisons of West Kingston: Arnette Gardens, Trench Town, Rema, Tivoli Gardens and Greenwich Town.

On with the show!