A Stone for the Disinherited
If Terri Schiavo is lucky, she will at last be allowed to die in peace and with dignity. Mrs Schiavo has not been among those present for the last 15 years, despite the efforts of her husband and her family to bring her back from a condition barely distinguishable from death.
The husband accepted the inevitable some years ago, her parents have not.
The world is now aware of the issues and principles at stake in the dispute, and an overwhelming majority of the American people agree with her husband that it is a travesty to try to keep her 'alive'.
It is an ironic fact that the people of the US have been better informed about the legal and medical details of this contentious dispute than they ever were two years ago about the legal and military details of the impending war against Iraq.
Pressure from the rabid, religious right - the three Rs of American politics - ensured that the Press devoted enormous amounts of time and resources to the Schiavo case with the result that there can hardly be anyone in the US - or anywhere else on the planet with access to television - who does not know the details.
The most trenchant commentary on the case, in my view, came from Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, who said crisply, "As the Bush White House desperately manoeuvres in Iraq to prevent the new government from being run according to the dictates of religious fundamentalists, it desperately manoeuvres here to pander to religious fundamentalists who want to dictate how the Government should be run".
Michael Schiavo (left), husband of Terri Schiavo, answers question during a news conference following oral arguments in the Florida Supreme Court case in this August 31, 2004 file photo, in Tallahassee, Florida. With Schiavo are his brother Bryan (centre), and his attorney George Felos. Schiavo insists that his wife told him she would never want to be kept alive artificially. For seven years he has fought her parents to carry out what he says would be her wish. (Photo: AP)
In the process, President Bush and his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, have demonstrated a cold-hearted hypocrisy which would be difficult to rival.
Despite their so-called principles, their enthusiasm for the campaign to "err on the side of life" evaporated at about the same time the polls disclosed that President Bush's approval ratings had fallen precipitously and were lower than they had ever before been in his presidency.
Having displayed their contempt for the US Constitution and for the 'States Rights' they and their right-wing brethren affect to defend, they backed off as soon as it became obvious that their act was not playing well in Peoria or anywhere else.
President Bush did not 'err on the side of life' when he consigned the born-again, fully conscious Karla Fay Tucker to lethal injection, although Jeb Bush wails about giving Terri Schiavo the same rights as any convicted murderer on death row. Imbeciles and innocents were all grist to Mr Bush's Texan mill, which consumed more human life than any other single legal jurisdiction on earth.
And Mr Bush was the gentleman who signed into law, an act which allowed Texas health care providers to pull the plugs of patients on life support if their guardians couldn't afford to pay - whatever their prospects for survival.
Politicians are rarely an exemplary breed, but in this case they have provided examples of mendacity, hypocrisy and cowardice, which will take ages to surpass.
Zapping the Disinherited
Last week, in the US state of Minnesota, on a Native American reservation, a high school student armed himself with several firearms and, having murdered his grandfather and his grandfather's female partner, proceeded to kill several of his fellow students as well as a teacher and a security guard.
It was reported that he had been a disturbed youth, being treated with Prozac - like the 15-year-old tried as an adult and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment a couple of weeks ago for murdering his grandfather and grandmother when he was 13.
As in earlier, similar cases, the diagnosis was that the boy killers were loners, frustrated, bullied or teased, without any real sense of their own importance. They lashed out, perhaps under the influence of their prescribed medication or under the influence of the Internet or something. Nobody, it seems, took them seriously.
Another news item, this time from California, reported that nearly half of all blacks and Hispanics - mainly boys - drop out of high school instead of graduating. And there are more young black men in prison in the US than are in college in that country.
In Jamaica, entire generations of boys and young men are in similar predicaments and they react in similar ways. They are cosily described as marginalised males, and for most people, that is the end of it.
Almost exactly 40 years ago, Douglas Manley, brother of Michael Manley and son of Norman Manley, did notice what was happening to young men in Jamaica. In an article entitled - if my memory serves - "Mental ability in Jamaican children", Manley described the beginning of the marginalisation process.
Bustamante was then prime minister. He despised teachers - he considered them all members of the Opposition PNP. As far as he was concerned, they would have to wait for decent wages. They are still waiting.
As Douglas Manley saw it, the effect on the male youth of Jamaica was disastrous. Because male teachers had fled the classroom to sell life insurance, or into the police force, young boys in school generally lacked male role models.
They lacked male role models at home as well, because the economics of Jamaica meant that men had to migrate all over the country and even abroad, looking for work. This syndrome was best described by Edith Clarke in her book, My Mother who Fathered Me. Clarke ascribed much of the weakness of Jamaican family structure to this need to migrate, and also, if I read her right, to traditional practices and customs inherited from slavery.
In a society in which male Jamaicans are no more literate today than they were 95 years ago (about 30 per cent), it should be easy to understand why in the age of the cellphone, many Jamaican men still believe that mosquitoes can carry the HIV/AIDS virus. And why they still treat family life as a sometime thing - even when they do not migrate.
In addition to the absence of fathers and male teachers, young boys, because of economic pressure, are prematurely dragged out of school and into the labour force to help their families survive.
Douglas Manley predicted four decades ago that in 20 to 30 years Jamaican women would be considerably better educated than their men, and would have great difficulty finding mates of equivalent educational and social status. Those years have come and gone and Douglas Manley has proved correct.
The University of the West Indies has had to implement what is effectively an affirmative action programme for men in order to try to come near to a balance of the sexes on the campuses.
Because men are so scarce in these upper reaches of the society, their behaviour towards women is casual and often, brutally dismissive. For many young, educated Jamaican men, there is "always another gal" - always another epithet to disparage women, always the sense of an unearned self-importance.
A kind of Jamaican droit de seigneur
In the working-class Jamaican man these attitudes are perfectly expressed by the dancehall artistes whose sadistic lyrics are lapped up by their audiences of both sexes, making the best of their fates - as they imagine. And if those fates include HIV, well.
In a society in which the plantation system still rules, no government has considered that cities exercise their magnetic attraction because there is nothing to do in the rural areas but to gaze on the acres of hunger symbolised by the rolling expanses of idle land.
When slavery was abolished it was the landowners who were compensated for the loss of their capital equipment - the slaves. The slaves were induced, constrained, bribed, beaten and victimised by the laws of the land to go back to the sugar estates, and when even those harsh measures had little effect, the British brought in coolies from China and India to take over from the Africans.
It didn't work, but added a new level of oppression and exclusion. Blacks could not get the loans or the credit to start enterprises, even shops, and had to wait until N W Manley's Facilities for Titles law in 1955 to be able to embark on the business of 'making themselves men'.
Since Independence, the land has been transformed from a productive asset into a portfolio asset. The 'ghettoes' are overcrowded. The schools are primitive, lacking separation between classes which are taught by rote - Class One attempting to be heard over the racket of Class Two.
Because there are so few decent schools, the competition for places is intense. The boys, traumatised by the absence of fathers or father figures, have to be drafted like mules, to learn. (Lest anyone question the value of male teachers, consider this: to whom does a pubertal boy turn when he gets his first 'wet dream'? To his mother? To some unknown woman teacher?) Even the Boy Scouts are now, I understand, mostly led by women.
Because there are so few decent schools and so few places, the boys, distracted by testosterone, are almost always lagging behind. At the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication where I teach part-time, the ratio of men to women is, as in most of the rest of the university, about 30:70 and this is because as I said, the university tries to achieve some sort of balance of the sexes. Without that, it would be more likely four to one - 20:80.
Thirty years ago, Dr Lloyd Barnett's commission of inquiry into conditions at the country's prisons discovered that on Death Row the number of people with extremely high Intelligence Quotients was much higher than in the population at large.
The obvious question is why should some of the smartest boys in the country end up being condemned to death for murder. Since I am no sociologist, my answer is the answer of a layman: it is that the weight of traditional slave society culture, the absence of literacy and the economic disfranchisement combine to drive the brainiest among the poor into crime. They are too proud to beg, too spirited to go gently into any good night while about them and above them are so many examples of grossly unearned increment.
In a society in which they are outsiders from birth, they may make temporary peace with the oppressive system, but they are always at war with it.
Some of them, of course, are more 'fortunate' than others and learn trades which do not require them to read or write. There may be an Einstein, a Pushkin or a Colin Powell at this moment, chopping cane in a canepiece somewhere. There may be a Ray Charles, a George Washington Carver or a Nelson Mandela disassembling and reassembling a machine pistol somewhere else.
So when the prime minister decides to pacify the 'volatile areas' by increasing the number of police and soldiers, the dispatching of community development workers should be more than an afterthought.
Much, much, more.