Archive for March, 2008

March 31, 2008

Around the Savannah

Had a lazy day today as part  of my wonderfully lazy weekend. In lieu of an actual blog entry today I have uploaded some shots I took this afternoon around the Queen’s Park Savannah which is jusr around the corner from me and on my way to work. The shots are on both my .Mac site and on flickr. You may access the flickr page here: 100_5024.jpg

March 30, 2008

Remotely Interesting

Just when I think this country could not get any stranger something comes along to remind me that there is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of strangeness lurking in the shadows. Yesterday Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday was forcibly ejected from Parliament for ..heaven forbid..using his Parliament issued laptop. It seems the house speaker sent a circular last week outlining his position that only people who plan to participate in the debate may use their laptops. Now one would think that those who didn’t plan to do so would need to fill their free time..but such is not the case. The speaker, confronted with the horrifying sight of the 70 year old Mr. Panday peering at this laptop screen, asked him if he was planning to participate in the debate. The redoubtable Panday replied that it really depended on what the government had to say. In my mind, that was not an unreasonable response to a rather silly question but the Speaker deemed it otherwise. He instructed Panday to leave the house. Panday retorted with something on the order of  “you’re not the boss of me” at which point the police were called and Parliament adjourned.

Frankly I think any 70 year old who is able to use a laptop for anything but a footrest is to be highly commended. That the Speaker would choose to throw him out of the house for something so trivial speaks of his luddite ways and shows someone who is obsessed with trivialities. The fact that the matter to be discussed was rising food prices makes the Speaker’s actions even more unspeakably stupid. As I said, the strangeness just keeps on coming…funny if it weren’t so sad.

I have been treating myself to a few new tech toys lately including a new iPod ( i know..nothing wrong with the old one) and a new Bose home theatre system. The latter also required buying several hundred dollars worth of cables and switchers to accommodate my various devices. The iPod is great for the gym and for watching movies at work and the Bose adds a whole new dimension to my classical and jazz collection which I now find myself listening too all the time. The only downside of all of this, and indeed modern life, is the plethora or remotes. Yes, some  of them are allegedly universal remotes but they never seem to be able to control all the functions of the device in question. I now have seven remotes occupying an unseemly amount of space on my coffee table. I suppose if I were in a relationship with an Italian they would be great for pelting but as it is they just sit there causing me stress when i try and figure out which one I have to grab at any point. I am considering taking up juggling so as to put them to a more amusing use.



March 29, 2008

Food, vanishing food.

Part of a surge in global food costs, rice prices on world markets have jumped 50 per cent in the last two months and at least doubled since 2004. Experts blame rising fuel and fertilizer expenses, as well as crops curtailed by disease, pests and climate change. There are concerns prices could rise a further 40 per cent in coming months.”

The Canadian Press. 28/03/08

The rise in food prices here in T&T and worldwide  is undeniable and worrisome. Many price changes can escape our daily notice but the cost of the nourishment that keeps us going is something inescapable. Populations are able to tolerate all sorts of things but starvation is generally a major motivation behind unrest. A hungry people are unlikely to listen to reason and the fact fact such situations affect the poorest levels of society first- those already living on the edge – makes the potential impact even more frightening.

I am not living hand to mouth but I notice when prices change drastically in a fairly short time. As a single guy I am not prone to energetic spurts of baking and as someone watching my diet I tend to avoid rice so the price of such staples normally escapes me unless it becomes a news story but I buy  items such as butter. The cost of a pound of butter in my local HiLo is now just a bit more than $30 TT . By contrast, a year ago a pound of butter cost just under $10 TT. That sort of price change  is startling. The government figures ( presumably lower than reality) indicate food inflation is somewhere in the vicinity of 28%. Ironically, this country, that has ample arable land suiting any number of crops grows very little now and virtually all of our food is imported. The result of this is that any world price hike in either the cost of fuel or transportation is felt very strongly.  The cause of the food shortage could be global warming, a move away from agriculture, bad weather or any of slew of other factors the end result is the same. Thousands of people in this land of oil money are having a hard time affording food. The government seems content saying it is a global phenomenon and making vague promises to improve the agricultural sector. A country that cannot ensure its population has food is , to my mind, a failed state.

Today I interviewed Kumar Maharaj, the owner of several supermarkets. His view of the situation did not fill me with optimism for the future. His knowledge of the food situation ( over several decades) makes me take it very seriously when he says things might improve temporarily but  that he sees a serious crisis by September. He too was puzzled and concerned about the apparent lack of  action in the agricultural sector and thinks it is a major cause for worry as it leaves us with no buffer zone to protect us from the vagaries of the world market. It is also fairly obvious that small states will be in an especially difficult situation as we don’t have the buying power of richer and larger states.

I don’t know what the immediate solution to the looming problem is but I know that doing nothing about agriculture is only making the situation worse.


March 25, 2008

Viewers, we have a problem.

It is a bit late right now and I am only posting because a couple of readers have expressed concern as to my absence from the blogosphere. I can report that I am indeed alive if not actually kicking ( far too unseemly at my stage of life). This being the Easter weekend up until a couple of hours ago I was quite happy to know that I had Friday and Monday off to plan various outings with my friends. As I mentioned my muscle pain from the gym conspired to prevent me from actually moving too much on Friday or even Saturday but I figured after working Sunday I would have Monday to play with. It was not to be as me having a predictable two days off with more than 24hrs notice was far too much to expect. On Saturday night as I enjoyed a few Wii moments the call came from the other manager that one of their ,apparently frequent, family emergencies had popped up and would I be able to work on Monday and Tuesday. I mentioned that I had certain things planned ( which I did) but if it was really necessary I could change them. That was enough for a “thanks!” and I was left contemplating a job switch. Was I happy? Not at all but I steeled myself for the inevitable.

Sunday was fine, as usual, and might even be considered close to perfect as even my addled brain was able to assemble and read the newscast with not a hitch. Monday arrived and I grumbled my way to work to put together the newscast thanking the stars above that we only had one on a public holiday and I could leave by 7pm. The news script was ready and in studio by 6pm…I went to the control room at 6:25 waiting for the news to start and….it didn’t. Some technical glitch occurred that , despite all efforts by Rodney could not be resolved in time. After a jury-rig by Rodney we got our backup system online and a quick call to the CEO determined that we would carry the news at 7:30 meaning that I had to hang around till 8pm. As it turns out I had a social engagement planned for 7pm but that flew out the window. If there are any benefits to altruism I am yet to find them.

I might have blogged about the Easter weekend had I the slightest interest in the whole point of the holiday. I have already made my views on the whole bible thing quite clear but to reiterate; it makes no sense to me. Thankfully, this view has spared all and sundry any entries I might have made full of cherry pink optimism and optimistic talk of rebirth and renewal. I fear the human condition altered not one whit 2000 years ago. It has, and always shall be, the same. The only difference it made is to the greeting card industry and National Geographic Channel re-constructionists.

That being said, quite by coincidence, an improvement in my social life has left me a wee bit reborn but only with a maximum of 24hrs notice it seems.


March 22, 2008

Cop-ing out


As I mentioned in previous blog entries the Congress of the People, the party that gave hope to many and ultimately fizzled out during elections is showing signs of becoming moribund. Since its defeat it has been drifting silently about like a great ocean liner that has lost its rudder and all power. Today Gillian Lucky announced her resignation from the party stating she was pulling out of politics altogether. Actually, she called me at home before I left for work to give me the news and I can’t say I was displeased with her decision. Her pullout marks what I feel will be the complete decline of a party that, despite starting out with a bang, has become a virtual political nonentity.

In a sense the decay was inevitable given the party failed to garner even a single seat in elections. Being in the political wilderness tends to limit how much exposure a party can get in the media ad thus it falls quickly of of the political radar. That being said, the COP had promised during the campaign that no matter what the outcome they would continue to be involved in steering the nation on the right course and remain actively involved in improving communities. Well, like a morning mist in sunshine those promises evaporated and turned into petty internal squabbling and the occasional press release commenting on national issues.

Even before the election loss Ms Lucky was being clearly marginalized in public. She was not invited to speak at the Women’s Forum and was also prevented from speaking at the final rally. That would be all well and good if there were time constraints or other high-profile speakers that needed to be heard but she was glossed over ( in the case of the final rally) for people that nobody had either heard of or cared to hear.

Gillian did not win her hotly contested seat but she has widespread public support and admiration for her straightforward approach and shoot from the hip attitude. People may say many things about political figures but nobody that i know questions her dedication to this country and her stubborn refusal to be bribed or placated into towing any line she disagrees with. He withdrawal from the COP is a major loss and, most likely, marks the beginning of the end of the COP’s credibility as a political party.

I wish Gillian all the best in continuing to fight the good fight and my humanitarian nature wishes the COP a fairly painless death.

March 21, 2008

Junk in the trunk


As I type this I have just returned from spending a bit of time with Alvin and Binky just shooting the breeze and catching up on the usual bits of news that seem to make life slightly fun. That being said I had to take 3 aspirin before leaving the house as Clyphil has artfully conspired to ensure that every muscle in my body is in some sort of spasm following his torture session in the gym. You know it is all very well for a 23 year old to be telling people to sit on a ball and contort themselves into various unusual positions but I would like to see him do it at my age. That being said, I must say he really gets me to do things that I would never have even ventured to do at the gym otherwise.  I have now taken 2 more aspirin extra strength and I am hoping that I am able to sidle out of bed tomorrow as I have a day off and there is a plan afoot to drive to Icacos on Trinidad’s extreme South-Western tip. It is entirely up in the air if I will go or not as it is my day off and sleeping in is high on my priority list ( as opposed to getting in  Robin’s HiLux for a 4.5 hour drive in each direction). I am only considering it because I may get a chance to take lots of pics and it will be fun hanging out with the usual gang.

I added another gig of RAM to the iMac G5 that i am currently using after I agonized about whether or not to but two gigs of matching RAM so as to switch the processor into a 128 bit data path which is theoretically faster but the thought of tossing a good 512 Mb stick in the drawer seems wasteful. So far the machine is, as the say in the tech world, “teh snappy”. I am never sure why tech people like to spell “the” that way but i guess it is a inside joke on a common typo. Now, of course I am almost certain I will run out and purchase another 1 gig stick on Tuesday just so I can see how snappy it can get ( and it is pretty damned snappy now). Why do i obsess on technology so??? It is a curse. I also know that within a month I will be buying a Macbook Air and most likely an iPod Touch…just so I can have them…never mind my old iPod is working an I have given away the at least two iPods I have bought since then. For that matter why do i need an Air since it is only thinner than by powerbook and not even noticeably faster? Ah well.

And speaking of technology, I cast a rare glance into my junk mail folder on Apple’s Mail today to see if anything slipped through the cracks. Nothing did amazingly given I use 5 email addresses on the programme but the content of the junk mail truly amazes me. I mean what else but junk mail would have subjects like “Boobs galore at SM beach” or “longer and harder os good for her” or even the tantalizing “Britney loves it large”. I mean God bless Britney and her refusal to settle for anything less but really who, other than a spam emailer, has ever sent out anything with such subject lines? Even more puzzling is who on earth would open one of those emails and click through to the advertised site? Surely someone would have to be dumb beyond reckoning to respond to such a thing. I suppose, though, spammers count on the .001% ( I hope)  who would be stupid enough to actually open and check such an email. But  even in that select club who would be so extraordinarily cretinous  to actually whip out a credit card and order the product? Well yes, I suppose there might be a few people with internet access who are actually cretins..but surely they would not have a credit card? I ask myself how these spammers actually make money given the abysmal response rate? Now being a Mac user I might also assume that many of these spam items might also be vectors for viruses which cannot affect me so i will excuse those enterprising souls who use it for that purpose…but again…who the hell would open an email with such a subject line??

It says a lot about the human condition that out of the 310 items of junk mail that Mail has caught a goodly 275 are for something to do with either penis enlargement or sex in general. In case you are wondering the remaining emails seem to be trying to sell me a Rolex which , of course, one would naturally purchase via an unsolicited email. No matter how developed we become as a species with our technology it always seems that someone will use the latest and greatest tool to push sexual content. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against sex and i hear it is very good in the right circumstances, but there is something terribly wrong when sex seems to dominate every aspect of human life. Look at the internet and personal computers..possibly the most powerful combination of tools to spread information that has come along since writing and most people use it for…make a guess…sex. I would not be surprised if at least 80% of people view some form of sexual content on the web or even use it for arranging sexual trysts. I would not be surprised if closer to 100% of teenage boys use the internet for looking at sexually explicit material at least a majority of the time. Despite the fact it just comes down to something going in somewhere and a bit of friction the sex urge is part of the internet and , from what I can see, a major part of the world of spam.

Maybe it is just me but do that many men really obsess about their penis size? There seems to be no lack of fraudulent products available through spam or on the internet in general for addressing the ..ahem..point. It is all too sad.

Now if you will excuse me I have to do some clicking to see exactly why Britney is so emphatic.

March 17, 2008

When good news goes bad.

As we slogged through the morass of tepid news stories today I had pause to ponder on the nature of what we consider news. Too often it seems that we view stories as fodder to fill a half hour rather than worrying too much about the quality or even, heaven help us, the freshness of stories. This phenomenon is especially acute on weekends when our newsroom is pressed for staff and the stories available are not what I would politely call – earthshaking.

Even at the best of times in a small country such as this where most stations run on shoestring budgets the news is usually 80% based on press conferences and what government is ostensibly doing. Because of the constraints and the rather tricky libel and slander laws these stories usually are what passes for news. In a larger, more developed country there is the chance to do investigative pieces, hurl innuendoes around with gay abandon and generally find a wider palette with which to work but here we are rather stuck within a fairly rigid framework. This is not the happiest state and we certainly try to put in the odd bit about HIV or other topical subjects but there are only so many around. I would also suggest that the in-depth sort of look at a subject is generally not what the public wants. Based on newspaper sales and general feedback it would seem viewers want who was killed, who is heading to jail and what politician is in the doghouse.

If we look at the recent attempts by government/Caribbean Airlines to purchase a private jet which by all accounts will cost a ton of money and be primarily used for the benefit of the emperor apparent the limitations of our abilities as an industry become painfully clear. The reports in all media are primarily based on what the government/CA says and what the opposition says. Government speaks of the matter almost exclusively on on official platforms and any attempts to ask pertinent questions about the cost/benefit analysis of the purchase are brushed off as being “confidential” business matters. The fact that the purchase is costing taxpayers  a figure North of $400 million plus we still have to pay to book the silly thing are mere piffles apparently. The latest news indicates the deal with Bombardier may be scrapped in favour of leasing a jet..who knows what will go on with that deal? There is no point in even discussing the strange explanation that we were paying $10 million US more for the jet because someone else wanted it – sort of like a Wii on eBay at Xmas time I guess. Apparently with the US economy in a downhill slalom there are still dedicated buyers who will pay millions more for a jet from what is , it seems, the only executive jet manufacturer on the planet ( it seems Learjets and Gulfstreams are passe).

Back to the news in general. When filling 30 minutes of news time it is sometimes a matter of just finding things to supplement the actual news that rears its head on that day. Generally speaking the important stories go in the bit before the first commercial that we call the “first section” and the other “stuff” goes after the break and before the regional news. Sometimes, a really good story ends up in the swampy ground of the second section because of editing time constraints or waiting for a last minute addition to the story but generally the section is populated by sloppy seconds. These can be ho-hum stories that are not really of any great import or even leftover stories that weren’t able to be aired the day before or even days before. Is this news? Probably not but the exigencies of filling air time can lead us to adopt the attitude that if some of our viewers never saw it before it is probably news to them.

Now from a marketing point of view it would make sense to pepper the duration of the newscast with hot stories to keep the viewers tuned in. This would lead to the US style of saying “ coming up later in the newscast ..a baby killer could be in your neighbourhood..stay tuned” but sadly this doesn’t work too well here. It might work if you are 100% sure nobody else has the story  but otherwise you will be scooped by the other news houses who place the same story higher in the news thus making you look stupid for placing it at the end of the second section to keep viewers glued.

I could talk of how we choose the order of stories but that is material for another blog entry.


March 14, 2008

Noblesse oblige

picture-6.pngThis blog entry is being used to fulfil an online course requirement I am doing. What you are seeing is an exercise in which we are required to register for a blog and upload an entry ( no problem there) and to get an RSS reader and register a few news feeds. Obviously, based on the picture I have attached I have more than a few news feeds. I have been assured, however, that I need only explain my choice of a few of them. I choose to use Apple’s  Safari web browser as my RSS reader because it is handily in my browser anyhow and provides an elegant interface to the whole RSS feed scenario. My bookmarks bar shows a handy number next to the RSS sites I place there so I can tell how many new articles are available. The picture I have posted is of the RSS sites contained in a folder on my bookmarks bar I call  “News” which holds the considerable overflow of sites that I could not possibly accommodate individually on the main bar. The reason I love Safari is really the elegance with which it displays the RSS feed i choose. This is what a click on an RSS feed looks like in Safari: picture-7.png   As you can see the interface is pure Apple and blows my former reader NetNewsWire out of the water for simplicity. As to my choice of feeds there are so many and so many reasons for choosing them. I suppose the BBC, the NYT and the Washington Post are there to give me as balanced a news viewpoint as possible  from the mainstream media. Admittedly, the NYT and the Post might be seen as the liberal establishment but i am happy enough with that for international news.  I have been a Mac aficionado since i bought my first Mac SE so i always want to keep up on the latest news from the Apple front which explains the goodly number of Maccentric feeds i have in my list. To get a sense of what the tech community both home and abroad are thinking I am completely addicted to Ars Technica and Wired. Finally, to see what views local bloggers are sharing I make a point of reading Jeremy Taylor’s blog whenever he updates it, KnowProse and Caribbean Free Radio provide me with useful links to what is happening in the region and the wider blogosphere. It is not the perfect list for everyone but it keeps me occupied for a couple of hours each day.Me a news addict? Nah! 

March 13, 2008

The Artist as Critic.

I am happy to confess that as much as I love hard news and frequently break into a sweat when there is some untoward act happening  when I am producing the newscast I am primarily a fan of the arts. I am not the least ashamed to admit that nothing gets my mind going in an interview as much as a chance to speak to someone who creates for a living. Today I felt i hit the jackpot as I had not one, but two of Trinidad and Tobago’s most famous creators back to back. Beter yet, they represent to completely different areas of the arts so I was virtually bubbling over with questions.

My first interview guest was Paul Keens Douglas who is better known around these parts as Tim Tim. He has, for the last three decades charmed and fascinated audiences with his story telling and humour. He has held up a mirror to our society and foibles and continues to do so . These days he makes a living out of motivational speaking in addition to his performances. We spoke of the lack of respect that storytelling ( I guess it is one word now that i think about it) has in terms of government allocations and the consequent need for those who love the artform to persevere in order to keep it alive. It is sad that one of the essential parts of Caribbean culture is struggling simply because those in power are obsessed with more flashy material things. Again, it seems to me we are selling our essence for an empty future. Paul has a new concert DVD out and from my brief glimpse of the clips we showed I think it would be a great part of any serious Caribbean culture collection.

My perennial favourite guest, Leroy Clarke was also on the programme today so I was kept quite happy for the afternoon. Leroy was relaxed as usual and we started rolling long before the cameras did. I can safely say I have never had a more effortless conversation with anyone on the programme nor has time passed so quickly. I was thinking “this is great we can really get going to some serious discussion” when the Director flashed me the 10 minutes left flag. We spoke about his book launch for “De Distance is Here” ( highly recommended) which has been taken up by UTT Press and about his art. I have written about the book previously and I still treasure the copy he gave me but today we spoke about his art and his journey to get to this point in his career. Leroy is entering his 70th year in 2008 and he says he sometimes thinks of stopping but always comes back to the fact that he cannot ignore the path he is driven to take. I agree with him. If creativity moves you and  you have an spiritual need to produce it would be a travesty to stop and possibly deadly. To a true artist I imagine stopping creating is equivalent to stopping breathing. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the complexity and often terrible beauty of Leroy’s work and I truly hope he will continue creating and breathing for many decades to come. Based on his zeal and amazing stamina I wouldn’t be surprised if he outlasted me.

Truly a rewarding day despite some momentary moments of vexation on looking at some comments on a past blog entry. I would dare say that the only thing that could have made this day any more rewarding in terms of work would have been another David Rudder interview – but that would be greed on my part.


March 11, 2008

Days go by…

Two interesting interviews today and both completely different.  My first was with Tanya Wood of the International Federation of the Red Cross which was a useful insight into an organization of undeniable value to the world. So often whenever disaster strikes some region on the planet the first group in to help alleviate suffering is the IFRC.

My second interview was with, and without my notepad this may be difficult to remember, Jafar Mir Abdullah, the Nawab of Sheesh Mahal, Luknow. That being said and when i was given the dossier by my able assistant Heidi I thought someone was pulling my leg and having me interview an Enid Blyton character. A quick spell on Google told me that the gentleman in question did, in fact, exist. There were some odd bits of trivia that also turned up in my search. According to the Times of India there have been some questions raised about the man’s lineage. According to the newspaper the last verifiable Nawab died without issue towards the beginning of the last century and claimants to the title now are relatives of his wife. There was also a reference to the current “Nawab” in which he accuses anyone who questions his bona fides of ignorance. The paper went on to say that there was no documentation to support the current Nawab’s claim as he says the paperwork was “eaten by termites”.

The gentleman is here as a guest of the University of Trinidad & Tobago  to speak about India’s observance of Hosay ( a Shia festival that is also observed here) so I just went with the flow. I am not sure if he really is “Your Excellency” and given the fact India is a republic I don’t think such titles even exist but what the heck..if someone wants to be an Excellency I am happy to oblige. There wasn’t much light shed on Hosay but he did speak at length about the tradition of Muharram in Lucknow. I know very little about Shia tradition other than the basic roots of the festival but it certainly made for a unique interview. According to the goodly Nawab all is rosy in Lucknow and who am i to disagree.

I have been thinking a lot lately that my current work situation leaves a lot to be desired in terms of a regular schedule. I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else but I am starting to feel that three years of not having regular days off and having to make special arrangements to get away for a weekend is not an ideal situation. It would be nice to plan things more than a day or so in advance and not being able to spend time with my friends on weekends has become rather taxing on my social life. I will have to add fixing my work schedule to my list of things to change this year.