Archive for April, 2008

April 29, 2008

Technology to the rescue

I am just here thinking what a truly amazing world we live in where technology allows us to communicate across thousands of miles with just the click of a button. More amazingly it is completely free provided both sides have internet access, a computer and Skype ( or any of a number of other programmes). Not so many years ago such things would have involved booking a satellite and spending untold thousands of dollars for a few minutes. I am a complete technology junkie but when I had to speak to my friend Karissa and her husband in Dubai a short while ago the reality of what I was doing struck me in the middle of our short conversation. It is rather amazing that as a species we become so used to technology that we just tend to take it for granted . It would do us all a world of good to sit back sometimes and think of the ingenuity and scientific interaction that had to take place to make any of these things possible. That little icon click on my part was the end result of countless years of work by networking minds, a brainwave on the part of Tim Berners Lee, sneaky attempts by a couple of people trying to make pirating software ( which led to them developing Skype) and  decades of work developing chips, software and even the UNIX underpinnings of my operating system. All of this allowing me to take for granted the fact I can help a friend in Dubai get some information in a real time video conference.

The modern world and computers allow us to multitask like never before though I am pretty sure we are pushing the limits of our brains already. As someone who can frequently be seen driving while smoking and texting I know that our ability to pursue multiple tasks is already pushing us into a zone where we are frequently endangering life and limb. The art of concentration which has given us pretty well all of our great works of art and literature is heading for extinction as we wrestle with so many things trying to grab our attention. Like many writers I often find myself trying to concentrate on getting a sentence down while simultaneously monitoring my RSS feeds, MSN, YAHOO, AIM, my email inbox and that half-finished game of X-Words icon I see lurking on my desktop.

It is a very human urge to stay on top of things and communicate but with modern operating systems and unlimited RAM allowing dozens of programmes to be open at the same time it becomes a major problem when something urgent requires our undivided attention. Sure you can just open one programme and do the work needed but that desktop with all its goodies is still visible as are the clickable dock items ( or the start menu I guess for the Windows inclined) that are all screaming for our mouse to drift their way. Faced with this problem , and given my alarming lack of self-discipline, my only choice in dealing with this perplexing dilemma was to consider looking on ebay for a c. 1984 MacIntosh Classic. I remember those wonderful days of facing that 8” monochrome screen, wondering if opening the calculator application would crash my writing programme with my university essay on it, and erring on the side of caution. What to do? Happily, technology and human ingenuity have stepped in to save the day.

In one of my aimless internet jaunts I came across a blog by Kayembi and a  lovely programme he developed called Scrivener that was created by a writer for writers. It has many great features all in one place such as an outliner, a virtual corkboard to post your random thoughts while writing and even templates for everything from screenplays to comics. This is all delightful and one never knows when the urge to delve into the world of comics will suddenly happen. These many and varied benefits were not the selling point for me though. Tucked away in the list of features was something called “full screen view” . I downloaded the programme demo, made a few tweaks to my preferences, hit the “Full Screen” button and suddenly I was back in the 1980’s typing in green sans serif letters on a totally black computer screen. There was no desktop visible, no icons, no Dock nothing but the words I was typing. I must admit I fought back a few tears as I realized I could now replicate the distraction-free days of my semi-youth and even fantasize that I was back on my beloved Apple IIc with its green monochrome screen. Sure, if I want to do complicated things I can just press the escape key and go back to the main programme and all of the other things lurking on the Mac but for as long as I want I can just bask in green words on a black screen. I don’t know who this Kayembi character is but his blog is interesting (http://www.literatureandlatte.com )and his programme is a gift from heaven. I happily sent him my $39.95 and I hope he gets a couple of lattes with it.

As a mixed blessing for blog readers now that I am using Scrivener to type this entry I notice the lack of distraction has led me to write more than I normally would. Sadly, I must now exit full screen and  cut and paste the entry into iWeb and WordPress. Still, I am fascinated  that technology can help free us from itself.

April 26, 2008

Rhythm is a dancer

 

As mentioned in an earlier entry this evening I ventured into the world of culture as Robin and I headed to Queen’s Hall (which is all of 2 minutes from my home ) to see Hamare Taal the latest offering from Sat Balkaransingh. I love dance but I confess I had never sat through an entire evening of kathak dancing. I am happy to support Sat, though, and after Robin reminded me that we were going i made it home in time to don something respectful and allow him to drive us to the venue. 

 

The event was fairly well attended considering that it is Plymouth “Jazz” Festival weekend and I was sorry I didn’t think to wear an Indian outfit as much of the crowd had opted for that approach. I really must find some occasions other than Divali to wear the getup as I think I am able to pull it off quite well. I was pleased to see Sat’s wife Mondira who is an incredible talent herself and also a genuinely lovely and intelligent person so we exchanged a few words before the show started. Before I even get to the show I feel a few venting words are in order. Why do people feel it necessary to have conversations with each other during performances? Is it that they wish the cover of darkness for the exchange of inanities or are they deliberately flirting with the prospect of me leaping out of my seat and doing them bodily harm? For that matter, why do people, after being told to turn off their cell phones insist of having them on and using the screen to read during the performance under the incorrect assumption that the light does not distract others around them? As I sat there fuming  I decided that it is either stupidity or unspeakable uncouthness that leads to such behaviour but it may well be a combination of both. If people spend a long time rehearsing and creating the least you can do is shut the hell up and turn off your damned mobile…face it.. you really aren’t that popular and important anyhow.

 

I am not a dance critic and Robin is even less so but in general there were parts of the evening that i really liked. The music under the direction of Mungal Patesar was exceptional and the I found the rhythmic jingling of the gunghru ( ankle bells..I had to look it up) captivating . There were some performances during the evening that I thought to be pure magic but others were a bit less so. I commend Sat for trying to fuse other forms of dance such as tap and the traditional Trinidad Bele dance into the evening but I am not entirely sure it worked. The other dancers were good – even very good – but I never felt they contributed anything to the overall show. As I told Robin I love Pernod and I love Scotch but i don’t really want them mixed in the same glass. I say this as someone who can hardly be accused of being a purist when it comes to Indian dance but given my enjoyment of the kathak dancing I saw I wish I had been able to absorb it without tap dancers throwing in their efforts. I laud Sat for his effort to tie together the ribbons of Trinidad culture but I feel sometimes individual ribbons are best when left alone. The other rather odd touch was the protracted explanatory narration between segments. This consisted of not just a description of the meaning of what was to come but also detailed information about each performer and what seemed like their entire working and academic history. These long talking bits tended to destroy whatever narrative existed to tie all the performances together.  Perhaps it would suffice to just leave such information in the programme. With that being said I enjoyed the evening and I am glad I made the effort to see something that expanded my cultural horizons a little bit.

 

After the show Robin and I ended up at Alvin’s bar/lounge since I was not driving and Robin is fairly easy to convince when I set my mind to it. We basically just chatted with Alvin for a couple of hours as he worked the door but it was fun and I even got to collect cover charges for a bit ( though i was a wee bit overdressed). At some point during our chit chats the guy who washes Alvie’s car showed up and i asked him if he could wash mine if he is available during the week..to which he readily consented. I mention him only because he stayed chatting for a bit and it is startling how well spoken he is. We are dealing with someone who is articulate, well groomed and clearly intelligent who spends his days hustling odd jobs and his nights sleeping heaven knows where. I learned that drugs are at play in this scenario but it is really sad that someone who speaks better than the average working person in Trinidad ends up like this. I have never been addicted to illegal drugs but I think it is a cautionary tale for us all. I guess I was naive enough to think that someone heavily into crack (or whatever it is they use nowadays) should look and sound like my idea of a drug addict…as they say…you live and you learn..even at my age.

 

April 26, 2008

Outcasts always mourn

 

(published on globewriter.com April 25, 2008 )

I have just  spent the last few hours rearranging furniture and generally beating out any trace of dust in my place. There is something about cleaning house that is enormously satisfying even though in a few days things will be pretty much back to the way they were…Swiffer Wet Jet or not. It seems our illustrious PM also decided to change around his political house a bit by casting his Minister of Trade, Dr. Keith Rowley onto the ever growing pile of  victims of his wrath. According to the PM in his Post Cabinet briefing today he took the action because Dr. Rowley behaved in an indecorous manner during a recent meeting with other ministers and the head of UDEcoTT, Mr. Calder Hart. The PM was not at the meeting himself but several little birds apparently chirped the details in his ear. Dr. Rowley, no stranger to outbursts but usually always quick to admit to them immediately thereafter, denies any such behaviour on his part and is calling on his accusers to have the decency to make their accusations in public. 

 

I am no fan of politicians but I have always had a grudging respect for Dr. Rowley. He tends to operate like a crazed steamroller driver in an effort to get things done and is normally unapologetic  if a few feet get run over in his quest. I would agree with most that he could stand a few lessons in the finesse department  but I would also say that unlike the majority of his former colleagues he tends to get things done and rather efficiently at that. I am not the only person who thinks that had Dr. Rowley been given the National Security portfolio we would most likely not be in the mess we are in today as a result of the ineffective and bumbling current minister. Frankly, were I a person with criminal ideas on my mind I would think thrice about doing anything knowing Rowley was going to come after me.

 

What happened to Rowley is just another symptom of the PM’s unwillingness to countenance anyone around him who does not follow his leadership with few or no questions. In the particular matter that apparently got Dr. Rowley into the hot water, he dared to question the actions of Mr. Calder Hart who is the PM’s point man for implementing all his grandiose construction schemes. Many of these projects are undertaken with little scrutiny and often using foreign contractors and labour ( primarily Chinese ). Mr. Hart apparently washed up on these shores a few years ago from Canada and nobody is quite sure about his bona fides. Despite many reasonable questions about his credentials the man’s background remains a closely guarded secret. Everyone is entitled to their  secrets, of course, but when the person in question is spending billions of dollars of tax money and getting a salary that a Saudi Crown Prince would be reasonably happy with – the matter is somewhat different. My gut feeling is that Dr. Rowley’s dismissal has more to do with him questioning the spending and methods of Calder Hart and daring to upset the PM’s blue eyed boy than any outburst he may or may not have engaged in during a meeting. Whereas Brown and Blair   managed to distrust each other and engage in numerous backroom disagreements our elected leader tends to have adopted a more Peronist approach…sans blood.

 

Whatever my problems..and depending who you listen to..they are myriad..I feel somewhat relieved knowing that I am unlikely to be cast into the political wilderness.

 

April 26, 2008

Crossroads

 

( published on other blog – Apr. 22, 2008 )

I have used the time since the last blog post to enjoy the luxury of thinking. Things have not been bad at all, in fact, work and otherwise, my life has been rather good. Despite some family troubles that seems to be sorting itself out in ( or because) of my absence I have had the chance to catch up on a bit of culture, revel in music and even read a bit. As is usually the case the reflection has been productive.

 

I have known some turbulence in my life both inner and outer and it is good to be at a place where I can calmly look at myself and the world without worrying about the sky falling. I refuse to let myself fall into too much of a rut no matter how comfortable it is so that has concerned me of late. Frequently, at such crossroads in our lives we find ourselves presented with opportunities – or perhaps we notice opportunities that were always lurking just outside our sight. I find myself now noticing such possibilities for improvement or , at the very least, a slight change of course. Now I find myself wrestling with the usual demons of doubt that always urge me to stay the safer course and who I have a great habit of ignoring. The great thing about being of sound health, unattached and with a searching mind is that I am free to change direction like a rogue ship. Once the direction is changed it is just a matter of fighting the swells and avoiding any icebergs. The joy of life for me has always been the voyage rather than the destination.

 

With that said I am not sure where HMS Vern will head in the near future but knowing myself to some degree I am sure the trip will keep me alert and interested. To paraphrase my beloved Oscar Wilde…only the shallow truly know themselves.

 

April 19, 2008

Stockpiling

With the Plymouth Jazz Festival fast approaching the halls of ieTV have been abuzz with activity for the past few weeks as our CEO is also the main organiser of the festival. Ignoring, for the moment, the fact there is not a single jazz artist in the line-up, the event has become one of the biggest events on the national calendar and thousands of people plan their weekend around it. The downside of the fact our small company has to turn its attention to getting such a huge event off the ground is that quite a few of our staff are now completely involved in the festival exclusively. Starting next week Tuesday most of our non-news camera crew will be in Tobago setting up to shoot the event meaning my interview programme cannot be taped as usual. To prevent a hole opening up in our schedule i have been compelled to indulge in what i refer to as an orgy of interviewing…trying to get as many in the can as I can for the next week or so. While the interviews I have been doing are often a function of which guests are available I was pondering the odd assortment I have done in the last two days.

Yesterday i started with Senator Wade Mark who represents the Opposition UNC. He is a genuinely engaging man and, coming from a trade union background, enjoys interaction. Our conversation covered everything from the current laptop dispute to food prices and made for an interesting ( at least from my perspective) half hour of discussion. He was followed by George Daniel who is the local ( and regional) head of Disabled Peoples’ International ( I have no idea why they word it that way). He has manage to fight for the rights of disabled persons to have access to everything from buildings to education in this country and has done so from the confines of a wheelchair. I am not sure how he lost his legs though i assume it is a congenital condition but I know he has more force of will than most people i meet. Thankfully our studio was more accessible than the last time he visited us and I was not forced to apologise to him on camera for the inconvenience as I chose to do on the last occasion. I thought the interview was productive and at least a bit optimistic since he has noted real progress in the physical arrangements made for disabled persons in most new buildings. To be sure he was a bit discouraged that attitudes have not changed so much but, as usual, he felt the future would see improvement.

The follow-up to that was an interview with the President of the Administrative Professionals Association. This was the one I was rather dreading as there is nothing worse than an interview that should take 5 minutes being dragged out to half hour but I was surprised we managed to find many interesting aspects to the job of “gatekeeper” that kept us chatting for the full time with no problem. I will admit that it might not have been the hardest hitting interview I have ever done…but variety is good and I promised my staff I will not make it a habit.

Today we managed just two interviews but they were both useful. I spoke to the Asst. GM of the electricity distribution company about a proposed rate hike that goes into effect any second now. He explained their position and the fact that the company has not raised its rates since 1992 so I suppose one could hardly begrudge them some sort of increase. I will admit that of all the utilities here T&TEC is probably the most efficient and the most receptive to telephone calls. That being said, his smiling confession to me that my power consuming lifestyle will most likely result in what he called a “whopping” 40% increase did little to make me more cheerful. Funny how they always tell me these things off camera which probably means that viewers must be puzzled by my grim look.

My final guest today was the husband of an old friend of mine and half of the dance company that they run. He spoke about a Classical Indian Kathak performance he is staging on the weekend of the jazz festival and we chatted about the difficulty of getting local audiences to attend events that are outside their normal fare. He is incorporating other dance forms in the performance which i hope will help pull a crowd as should the fact Mungal Patasar is providing the music. After the interview he kindly gave me two tickets ( though i was happy to pay for them) so I immediately called Robin and booked him for that evening. While the rest of the country might be in Tobago enjoying Rod Stewart and Whitney Houston i will be attending my first ever full evening of Classical Indian dance.

April 16, 2008

Family Ties

 

In between keeping my sanity, working, and trying to make dents in the piles of unread books and online periodicals I must confess I have little time for the popular pastime of keeping up with family and old acquaintances except in a very cursory way. To be honest I have managed to plod through life quite happily despite , or perhaps because of, this serious character defect. I actually don’t really regard it as a defect but more as a form of self preservation. I realised long ago that I am only able to keep tabs on so many things  without fear of tipping myself off this little dinghy that I call my life. Where does this strange topic come from you ask? Well it has been largely precipitated by Peggy’s book which is, as I previously mentioned, now in my physical possession. 

 

My Father comes from a large family that, in many years gone by, was a fairly close knit bunch. As the years passed and members died off or spread themselves across the globe the family has become more of a concept than a reality. Some members try and stay in touch with others but generally we exist as pieces of a former whole that has been shattered by our individual pursuits. I omit myself from the list of members who pursue this, no doubt, noble pursuit. Jahajin is, to me at least, very much about ties and family and, to an extent, the process of letting go of ties. Re-reading the book and having to suddenly realise I have family has been something of a traumatic experience for me but I am working on it. I think family is rather like Australia. It is great to know it is there but it will remain the same whether or not I visit it or even send the occasional card to the Postmaster General.

 

One of the ways I manage to survive life is to proceed as if I have blinders on. As I mentioned to Peggy ( the only cousin I actually communicate with regularly) insularity is a necessity for my survival. I have no need to jaunt down memory lane,to visit places out of nostalgia or, for that matter, to stay in touch with people simply because I am supposed to. It is not realistic for me given my psychological makeup to deviate too much away from my narrowly lit path. This may or may not be good but it is how my mind operates and I work with what I am given. I am honestly amazed that some people are so good at keeping tabs of who is sick, getting married or on death’s doorstep. It is a skill I am completely unable to even consider working on. It may qualify as a form of selfishness in the views of some but I am willing to take that criticism rather than have a total mental shutdown from having to visit, call and keep tabs on scores of people. 

 

My approach may not be ideal but with the small group of people I manage to stay in touch with I honestly don’t feel any real lack in my life. Those who help weave the complex fibres of families together have my heartfelt admiration.

 

April 14, 2008

Synchronicity

 

Maybe it was looking at I Heart Huckabees again recently or maybe I have too much thinking time on my hands but I have been noticing a number of coincidences lately. Today at work our lead story was about a father who decided to poison his two kids with lannate( mercifully they are still alive in hospital) before drinking the weedicide and killing himself. Naturally, and sadly, it was as a result of his wife leaving him after she suffered years of abuse. I will ignore, for the moment, the anger that arises in me when I hear of  such cases of male vanity resulting in the “well if I can’t have you I will destroy someone you love” scenario and talk instead of the off coincidences leading up to the news story.

 

Two days ago i was reading some research papers on the net and came across a French study on suicide in Trinidad and Tobago. The findings of the study were alarming despite the fact any news person would have guessed at the general thrust. It seems that East Indians account for some 83% of suicides in this country. While my involvement in news suggests that this ethnic group is more prone to suicide than others even my colleagues were shocked at the alarmingly high percentage.  I also found it interesting that the preferred means of suicide overall was the ingestion of weedicide which accounted for over 81% of all suicides. I shared the information with all in the newsroom and we discussed it based on our observations of suicides in the last year. I am sure there are several cultural reasons for the preponderance of suicide in the East Indian community and there may well be a reflection of the tendency in Asia as well..though I am no expert on the matter.

 

The popularity of weedicide as the medium puzzles me despite the fact it is readily available in economies such as ours that have a sizeable agrarian component. I have known three people who killed themselves using this method and the one thing I know is that it is neither quick nor painless. The after effects are awful as the corrosive eats away at the oesephagus and even though the patient may recover for a period the damage done to the internal organs almost inevitably results in death..and a painful one at that. It has been my view that anyone who consumes either gramoxone or lannate knowing what the effects are must have a serious case of self hatred in addition to suicidal tendencies.

 

In between reading and discussing the article with staff I also chatted with Robin about weedicides and he informed me that though anyone can buy the substance without a permit the vendor has to pay for a licence to sell the stuff. Then today, before I learned about the murder/suicide thing I noted that Newsday published a piece on lannate and its status as a controlled substance in Europe. All of these things came together in my mind when I heard about our lead story. I know they are unrelated incidents and share no causal root but my mind has made them into a connected series of events.

 

The above can mean one of two things. Either the human mind  is wonderful in its need to see reason and sense in disparate events or else I should avoid watching I Heart Huckabees for at least another year.

 

April 8, 2008

Jahajin Arrives

 

After much gnashing on teeth across several oceans the hard copies of Peggy’s book were finally located by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I now have them at home with me. I think the story is magical and layered but there was something in me that longed to actually hold the word in my hand. Funny how a digitally inclined  person like me can still feel the need for actual paper. This is not the first time this urge has happened to me and I cannot count the number of times I have clicked on that Amazon “one click” button to get a copy of a book that I have lost somewhere in the lending labyrinth. Even stranger. just as is the case with Peggy’s book, I sometimes have a digital copy of a book and have the need to possess a physical copy. My most recent obsession in that regard was a book of poems by Mallarme that i felt i could not live properly without having it on my shelf. human nature is a strange thing and I truly apologize to Al Gore for causing another tree assassination.

 

In any case now that i have my physical copy of Jahajin ( and a number of other copies I have to distribute) I think I may well sit down and reread it with my feet propped up on the couch. Say what you will about digital editions but propping a laptop or even..God help them..a Kindle..is not the same thing as flipping a page or holding a book against your chest as you ponder the words just read.

 

Off to bed now as I have a marathon day of interviews tomorrow including a Minister, an activist and an actor. Let’s hope i don’t get the questions or the approaches mixed up.

 

April 3, 2008

The silver tongued fox

Well I had Opposition Leader ( and former PM) Basdeo Panday on again today and, as was expected, he showed his skill at answering every question as if he had the script days beforehand. Actually, having interviewed him several times before we were able to have a conversation which just happened to be on camera. I had him on primarily to talk about the “laptop incident” which he  managed to get a great deal of mileage from.

In the hands of an expert even the smallest thing can be made to have great significance. This is not to say the matter of him being suspended from Parliament was a trivial matter as it most certainly wasn’t. I am of the view the House Speaker exercised extraordinarily poor judgment in enforcing a rule that, at best, was foolish. I really can’t see the difference between perusing a screen and reading a newspaper – a frequent sight in the chamber. The fact that many members choose the time to sleep is an even more offensive affair but apparently, to the speaker, not as shameless an act of effrontery as scrolling on a keyboard. Mr. Panday essentially called the speaker a “stooge” for the ruling party. Not an unsurprising take on the matter from his perspective.

Other than the interview it was a normal day of phoning around arranging future interviews and being tortured at the gym. Vashtee called a short while ago to say that there has been an explosion in downtown near the cathedral and that one person has been taken to hospital. I have not been able to confirm this but it has been just about three years since the last unsolved series of explosions in the capital. Let’s hope that it was just a vendor’s cooking appliance and not the start of another series of disruptive events.

The PM also addressed the nation this  evening to talk about food and crime but said nothing that has not been said before and until something concrete is seen coming out of his visions I think it is best we file the speech under the “lots of talk” category.

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