Archive for May, 2008

May 28, 2008

Face to familiar face.

 

Now that Peggy is here to promote her book Jahajin it was inevitable I would have her on the programme for a little tête-à-tête about her visit. It is never an easy business interviewing a family member much less someone who has always rather awed me with her multiplicity of talents. Like the cat that she has always used as a metaphor for her personality one must simply approach it and hope for the best. As it turns out it was a very pleasant interview and Peggy even consented to do two interviews back to back. The logic of this was not simply to maximise the nepotism potential ( and, yes, I mentioned she was my cousin) but also to be able to get her on before the book launch tomorrow and to also have a programme with her insights for Indian Arrival Day which is this Friday.

 

Both interviews were enjoyable for me and Peggy is nothing if not an intelligent raconteur. She discussed the book candidly and was able to give insight into the genesis of the idea and her motivations for bringing it to press. I thoroughly enjoyed her discussion of what it is like to have adopted India as her homeland and the unique perspective it gives of Trinidad. I think I came away learning something but then again I am never in Peggy’s company without learning something. To this day i carry around bits of trivia and even opinions that were planted into my young head many years ago. I am not one to go about admiring people but I am happy to admit that she has played an unusually ( and ,I dare say, unintentionally) large role in shaping my mind.

 

We went to lunch at the Arabic food place near work which she hailed as serving the best food she has encountered on this trip in between befriending the entire Syrian staff…one of whom refused to believe that we are not Arabic. Over our meal she gave me some insights into her next planned books but her mind and thought processes are such that I have not yet quite absorbed all of her ideas and concepts. One does not listen to Peggy and digest what she is saying but rather one stores the bulk of it for later processing. Her mind runs like a Maserati on an Alpine road so it is sufficient to hang on for dear life and then ponder the trip in due time. I don’t think i have the full capacity to follow her thought processes fully as her vast array of talents leads her to think about literature in musical terms, of narrative in visual terms and of reality in conceptual terms. I just sit and talk to people for a living so you can see my disadvantages in that area. She is an accomplished painter, musician, linguist and now writer so I will say that were she not family I would hate her instinctively. 

The only other news today other than road blocking, an 8 year old girl murdered and raped by a family member and more accusations about UDeCOTT was the Prime Minister dismissing the notion expressed by..oooh 90% of the public that he is an arrogant jackass ( ok…I added the jackass part). All I can say is that when you decide to follow some harebrained scheme for becoming a developed country while ignoring human welfare, spending money like a high-rolling gambler on crack and build yourself a palace as a priority when work hasn’t even started on a new hospital  you have to be pretty damned arrogant not to spot your own arrogance.

 

May 25, 2008

Time Capsule

 

Well it was another day of mayhem in Trinidad with five more overnight murders and ( by our count) 194 murders for the year. Between those killings and the latest reactions by the PM to acquiesce to the demands of most of the population for a Commission of Inquiry into UDeCOTT it was a pretty full newscast. After work I made my way home to drop off some groceries I had amassed earlier and then picked up Robin in order to venture beyond the pale to the land beyond the Port of Spain lighthouse. The reason for the trip was to see my cousin Peggy and her daughter Shivani who are staying at my Uncle Clifford’s house and are here for the launch of Peggy’s book Jahajin on Wednesday. Robin was necessary for company and for directions since I am not the best night driver and anything outside of Port of Spain is likely to inspire me with a high level of confusion.

 

As much as I dreaded the drive it was interesting to see my uncle Clifford again as I hadn’t seen him in decades despite the fact i have carried his fine dental skills in my mouth for most of my life. It is lovely to see someone after such a long time and to realize their personality and charm can remain intact despite the passage of years. Peggy was her usual ebullient self and shortly after arriving and the requisite hug and kiss from her and Shivani she was engaged in an animated chat with my Uncle discussing ancestors I never knew I had. I get lost after first cousins and the fact my Great Grandfather had four siblings was news to me. After about 10 names I had never heard of I was completely at sea but I was pleased to see that Shivani shared my bewilderment and she sweetly assured me that she couldn’t keep up either. I will say, though, I was endlessly bemused to hear that two of my family members were named Stalin and Lenny. Apparently a sense of humour is not a rare event in my family history.

 

A little later on we braved the crowds at Movietowne to get something to eat at an odd, loud and garishly lit place called Zanzibar. Normally, any place that seeks to explain its raison d’être via an entire page on the menu would be shunned like a blackened banana in the supermarket but it was 10pm and we didn’t have much choice. The food wasn’t bad. With Peggy flagging and Shivani resigned to having to return at a reasonable hour we made a quick pit stop at Sky Bar to see Alvin ,who also hadn’t seen either of our visitors for a decade, had a quick beverage and then headed past the lighthouse once again to drop them home.

 

I am not known for making forays outside my normal zone – especially after a day at work – but it was an entirely pleasant experience. Peggy may have seen a few years fly by but she is still her usual irascible and insightful self and Shivani is turning out to be quite an amazing young woman. So for the next little while the author and the up and coming industrial designer will be gracing our fair shores and I suspect my life will be all the more interesting . I am looking forward to the local launch of Jahajin on Wednesday.

 

May 21, 2008

Back to the future

I am the first to admit that when it comes to technology I am about as addicted as they come. When i am not plugged into my iPods I am tinkering with something and spending hours trying to get the most arcane little system preference just right. I am also typically human and I find that I sometimes get nostalgic for an old movie or, quite often, an older piece of technology. This explains my pleasure in getting Sybil ( the resuscitated dual processor Power Mac I am using to type this entry) to feel as loved and useful in the world of 2008 as she was in 2001 when she was born. She is running OS X Tiger at a speed that is not discernibly different to my G5 machine or my Powerbook ( both running Leopard) and though my benchmarks indicate she is lagging far behind both of them in a technical sense I cannot tell the difference in real world use. Having proven she can run PhotoShop and web surf like a trooper I felt that twinge of nostalgia that led me think back to my many happy days in the original Mac OS before the advent of pretty  UNIX pretending to be a bona fide Mac operating system.

Now I know that my handful of readers are most likely not computer ( much less Mac) inclined but I think there is a bigger picture here. Let me explain. Before the introduction of Apple’s current operating system ( the thing you see when you turn on your computer…not the desktop picture of your cat..the general thing with icons etc.) us Mac users were a blissfully happy lot plodding away on the old system called OS 9 in its last iteration. We did everything one would want to do on a computer, running all the usual programmes and wasting time on the internet, and we were quite fond of our unique machines which we touted ( as we still do) as the best computers on the planet. Sure we had some less than honest moments when we lied to our Windows friends that our systems never crashed – even though they froze more regularly than plumbing in Antarctica – but such  is the job of the evangelist. Then Moses ( aka Steve Jobs) came unto us and gave us OS X ( really OS 10 following on the heels of OS 9) which was based on UNIX which is a serious industrial operating system. It was prettied up ,had bouncy things,useful things like column view and even buttons that  Steve described as “lickable”. To most younger people and Mac owners after 2003 this new crash-proof and pretty thing is what constitutes a Mac.

I have stubbornly refused to get one of the brand new Macs with Intel chips in them precisely because to me a true Macintosh is one that has a different processor namely a RISC processor ( we shall avoid that explanation this time around)  but in the back of my mind I missed our old operating system with all its quirks knowing that it was that OS along with the different internals that truly made using a Mac a unique experience. Now that I have this older machine that can still startup in OS 9 ( as well as OS X) I have spent many an hour getting her to run it perfectly. For the past few days i have been reveling in the joy of using my old OS and I am still amazed by how perfect it was in many ways. It takes up hardly any drive space and uses hardly any memory to the point where I have been unable to get the computer to use even 20% of the available memory when running 10 programmes simultaneously. To be sure she has frozen once in the last two days and OS X has only frozen once on me in 5 years but i found myself sighing in nostalgic joy watching her freeze.  Other than that I have been able to write, surf the net, send instant messages, check email, run Photoshop 6, listen to music and even watch movies. In short, I have not noticed any major difference in my computing life using an operating system that was introduced in 1999 which is an eternity in the technology world. In fact, I can say with 100% certainty that many of the older programmes that were designed to run on machines with far slower specs than mine are faster than their equivalent OS X versions running on my newer machines.

In our endless quest to get the latest and greatest technology we sometimes forget that there was nothing wrong with the old technology we were using. Sure the newer one may be prettier and glossier and even better in some ways but does it make it more useful? I am left to wonder with my latest experience. Were it not for the  fact that I cannot use iWeb to write my blog on the older system and that the older internet browsers have not kept pace with the requirements of modern browsing I don’t think I would have a problem going back to using OS 9 at all.

Perhaps there is a life lesson in my experiment that we should not dismiss the effectiveness of the tried and true or perhaps the true lesson is that you never forget your first love.

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May 19, 2008

The Salmon of Wisdom

Crested Oropendola nests, Maraval

 

In my studies of Celtic culture at U of T I was always fascinated by the whole concept of the salmon of knowledge or the bradán feasa ,if you prefer, which  forms part of the Fenian Cycle. Sure, the christian world had the forbidden fruit but it takes much more imagination to come up with a fish that bestows unlimited knowledge because it ate from the hazelnuts that fell into the Well of Wisdom. That sort of creativity doesn’t grow on trees ( though the hazelnuts did). Sure, there are those who might wonder why not forget the damned salmon and eat the nuts directly but that would be to miss the whole magic of the thing. I can tell you that if I could get my hands on such a marvelous creature I would have it braised in a bit of parsley and butter and in my mouth faster than the nuts could hit the well. Working in my field and even just living in general makes me wonder how we even manage given the bits of information thrown at us when we have no sense of how they all fit into the bigger picture.Of course, they may not fit at all but even knowing that would be helpful.

 

This weekend passed generally uneventfully. I had Peter and Naz over for dinner on Friday and despite feeling a bit unwell managed to rustle up Peter’s preferred main course of roasted Cornish game hen and pureed squash. I also managed to make some Vol-au-vents filled with cheese, mushrooms and chopped shrimp and even made a spinach salad with walnuts, blue cheese  and  mandarins. As usual dessert was beyond me so I just bought some cheesecake which was quite nice.  The weekend news was fairly easy as there were quite a lot of stories and no need to “creatively append “ to what stories we had. Sad that a 14 year old girl has now been kidnapped and , once again, I  find myself fearing for the safety of a stranger and imagining the trauma the family must be experiencing. The murders continue and we are now well over 180 for the year. There is no point commenting because the murder count, the dismal detection rate and the even poorer conviction rate are there for the authorities to see but, being idiots, they seem incapable of any action whatsoever. I had Professor Ramesh Deosaran on the programme again last week and he echoed a sentiment I have voiced here in this blog. When I asked him why, given this government’s obsession with achieving “developed country status” ( whatever the hell that means) we don’t seem to be emulating countries such as the UK, Canada or even Singapore in dealing with crime, he responded that people in those government’s have shame which we lack. It really comes down to simple things like shame and humility both of which are sadly lacking in this regime and, even more apparently, in the opposition.

 

At times like this the only recourse for me seems to be to grab my Collected Works of William Shakespeare and fall into the magic of his writing. At least I can take some comfort in knowing that while I spend far too much time railing against storms there is zero danger of all my progeny dropping dead as I don’t have any.

 

 

May 15, 2008

In the mouth of madness

 

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of time. Now that I have that out of my system I can proceed with the rest of this entry. I am typing this on my newest Mac…now known as Sybil because she has more than one processor. Funny how the thrill of typing on iWeb on a different keyboard and screen and overlooked by the gimlet eye of Ophelia the iMac can give me such a thrill. I feel like I am cheating but the excitement is undeniable and the repercussions will undoubtedly be far less messy than if she were an actual person.

 

Today I had Conrad Enill, Minister of Energy and Energy Industries on the programme. He is also Leader of Government Business in the Senate and so i was able to ask him questions about the recent decision to stop televising the hearings of the JSCs live. He says the broadcasts were in violation of the standing orders but swears the government has no problem with the concept of airing them and is looking at changing the legislation. I am not sure if I believe that line but he said it earnestly so who am I to doubt…just a mere taxpaying citizen. He also discussed the situation with development in the country and for our energy security in the future all of which was most interesting. He is one of the few Ministers that I could happily enjoy talking to for hours off the air as he is conversant with a number of things relevant to the energy and financial sectors. I actually told him I find him far more straightforward than most politicians and any Minister…best to be honest ahead of time.

 

I also discussed a few documentaries I plan to do with Tony who was most accommodating and eager to get them off the ground. I love news but sometimes creativity is best served by adding some other challenges. My first attempt will be to look at the Lapeyrouse Cemetery in the heart of Port of Spain which I think provides a tremendous insight into the history of Trinidad & Tobago.

 

As much as I am concerned about the perils of climate change and saving the planet I have noticed that , while not exactly an energy pig, I am hardly a good example of living a life of carbon neutrality. Generally speaking I am not really neutral on anything ( except possibly a fondness for ecru) but I have come to realize  I have something of a Sasquatch footprint when it comes to carbon. Despite living alone my fondness for electric appliances, air conditioning and several power hungry Macs means my average power bill is about double that of an average family. My Mondeo, god bless her, is a good size and comfy but at 5 km to the litre she is not exactly sipping gasoline as I realize when I pump 25 litres to fill a quarter tank every week or so. The latter situation is destined to get worse as I have decided I will indulge a childhood dream by planning to import a 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV into the country within a year. the 22 foot long beast ( pictured at the top of this entry), weighs 6,000lbs and ( apparently) gets 5.5 mpg or about 1.5 km per litre. Still, the thought of this car makes my heart skip a beat and I am not going to live forever so why not own the road-yacht of my dreams? I know such slaps to the face of Mother Nature will hardly be counteracted by my feeble attempts to turn off lights I am not using and recycling plastic bags but then, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

 

Off to sleep to dream of 7.5L V8s.

May 12, 2008

Tender is the night

The funny thing with blogging, or at least my version, is that I sometimes take longer thinking up an entry title than I do actually writing the entry itself. I realise, given the quality of some of my entries, that this might not come as a surprise to most readers but I still find it interesting. Why I chose to use the name of one of my favourite F. Scott Fitzgerald novels is anyone’s guess but I just sort of liked the sound of it. I love reading but there are few book titles that really capture my attention – Tender is the Night is one of them, as is The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White ( though I am not as crazy about the content of that one). Speaking of blog entries ( and I was) I got an interesting comment from ( apparently) Nawab Ibrahim Ali Khan Shish Mahal related to my previous entry entitled Days Go By. I am very glad he took the time to post a comment and when I have time I will certainly respond to his invitation to gather more information about he intrigue surrounding the real claimants to that particular title.

It was a pretty normal day at work today and I confess I spent much of it tinkering with my newly adopted Power Macintosh G4 533 Dual Processor that Richard passed on to me so as to give it a happy home. I really don’t need another Macintosh in my place but with me and Macs need always takes a back seat to want. I got the old girl working this afternoon and I will buy a couple of extra hard drives and a new monitor for her during the week to get her fully up and running. I must say for a 7 year old machine she seems to be able to hold her own in terms of speed with my newer and ostensibly faster Macs. I really must stop anthropomorphising Apple products it is turning into a money pit for me and results in me being surrounded by more bits of technology than I could conceivably ever find good use for. I might donate her to an orphanage or seniors home once she is fully kitted out.

I was very happy to learn this morning that Philippa Talma was finally released by her captors after 9 days in captivity and the trauma of her kidnap ordeal. We have been told she is in good shape but I am sure that if she managed to escape physical harm the mental anguish will not be any easy matter to deal with. I understand that money may have been paid to the kidnappers ( we were told it amounts to $60,000 ) but nothing close to the $3 million demanded. It is all well and good for the authorities to say that the family should not give in to the demands of kidnappers and I understand the concept of what they are saying but if it were my family member I would do anything to get them back. I don’t know what her family situation is like but I hope she and her kids pack their bags and get out of this country as soon as possible. I don’t say this because I believe we should throw our hands in the air and give up but I truly feel it may be better for the recovery process if they deal with the aftermath in a totally different environment.  Speaking of which, there were three more murders overnight bringing our count for the year to just under 170. Has the government immediately expressed their horror at the current state of affairs? Nope. They will continue to build countless tall buildings no doubt under the assumption that if we keep looking up we, like the PM, will not be troubled by whatever dirty business is going on at ground level.

Off to bed now as I actually went out with Alvin, Binky et al last night and ended up crawling into bed after 4am abuzz with diet cokes. There’s much to be said for alcohol as opposed to aspartame. Still, I had a good time and caught up with some old friends while meeting a couple of interesting new acquaintances. .

May 9, 2008

The Ministry of Shame

Nosferatu  - F. W. Murnau

Another day another blog entry. Make that several days but I have begun to think it is better to build up something to say rather than just saying things for the sake of filling space on servers. There are a few things that have been on my mind lately and they really have no connection to each other. I am still very perturbed that Ms Talma is still being held by her kidnappers. This is the first time this year ( to my recollection) anyone has been held for more than 2 days. While being held for 2 days is horrifying enough I can only imagine what trauma the poor woman must be enduring after almost a week. It stands to reason that the sort of scum that would perpetrate such an act are probably not exactly concerned about her comfort. Her kids and the rest of her family have probably not had a night’s sleep since the ordeal began. The police are doing their usual thing arresting people and releasing them but as far as I can gather have made little progress in her recovery. I am sure we can expect the usual twaddle from the ersatz National Security Minister at some point as he explains that this is just another minor glitch  and the country is, in fact, safer now as we implement his “crime plan”. If I am ever held by unspeakable elements and Joseph is in charge I think my best bet would be to pray for a cyanide pill.

I have spoken to a number of people and the consensus ( if 100% counts as a consensus) is that were they a minister with his track record the PM wouldn’t have to fire them as they would step down in shame. Then again, the PM put him there and seems perfectly content with his performance despite an out of control murder rate, kidnappings and the fact it is much easier to get drugs than water in many parts of the country. I imagine the idea of stepping down in shame is fairly meaningless when those in

question seem to have a limited quantity of that particular commodity.

Rather than let me blood pressure reach clinically dangerous levels I have been trying to think about  other subjects for the last few days. A few of these, however, have also had a deleterious effect on my BP. The government recently announced it was stopping live broadcasts of the Joint Select Committee meetings. These meetings/hearings were designed to ensure that there is oversight in the operations of certain state corporations. Seeing the heads of these corporations such as Calder Hart  of UDECOTT being questioned about how they spend our money was an excellent example of a healthy democracy. Apparently, though, the discomfort of some of these officials in being grilled has been deemed more important than the public’s right to see accountability in action. Sure, the media is ( apparently) still allowed to cover the events but the live broadcasts allowed the public to see the proceedings without having it filtered through the media first. If someone is being paid a handsome salary from the public purse and is spending a lot of tax money in order to do something on our behalf they should certainly expect to be asked questions in full view of the public. This is a great step backwards in transparency and not a good sign for the future. I am not sure what precedent there is for a government allowing proceedings to be public and then changing the rules of the game but I would love to know.

On a different note, I went to the gym today, ostensibly to do a little cardio but really because I was running low on Haagen Dazs Chocolate, Chocolate Chip ice cream  and MetroMint Water, and I was marvelling at the ethnic mixtures in this country. Of course there are people of African descent and Indian descent but it was the mixtures that really caught my attention. Men and women with unusual and often beautiful features whose ethnicity would be almost impossible to guess. I certainly tried to see if I could figure some of them out but given the sheer number of groups in T&T the possibilities left me totally frustrated. The best I could manage was “well African and maybe Spanish..but there might also be a hint of Chinese or Carib in there”. It is amazing the things one does to ignore the fact one is running like mad and not actually getting anywhere – allegedly in the name of health. After a couple of post-gym cigarettes I was much better able to handle my inability to make definitive guesses.

And since I mentioned shopping I have been examining my food shopping habits of late. As someone who has grown up..as they say..elsewhere…I tend to go to ridiculous lengths and spend far too much money to get certain things that I consider essential. The other day I found myself spending the equivalent of $9 US  to buy two parsnips. To be honest they weren’t even healthy specimens but they are so rare here that I felt it a reasonable price to pay. Never mind the fact I could have bought a bushel of them in Toronto for that price I just knew I had to have them and , frankly, the aroma of them boiling brought back so many memories it was well worth the price. Somewhere I also developed an obsession for Metromint Water ( www.metromint.com) . This is something I cannot explain. The good people who make it describe it as “pure. Simple. Mintwater” as if it  is something that occurs in nature and they just harvested it from a mint spring that emerged from some vast underground mint water aquifer. Basically it is purified water with a bit of natural mint ( or spearmint ) flavour added. It is beautifully packaged in a tall cylindrical bottle but it also costs twice as much as the local bottled water or even Gatorade. For some reason I cannot get enough of the stuff which is only sold in a few shops here ( and only one in Port of Spain). I have been known to grab the entire stock on the shelf and gleefully rush to the cash register waving my debit card. It has reached the point where visiting friends express concern about the row upon row of mintwater in my fridge and even my gym trainer  is wondering if it has some narcotic properties I am not telling him about. I suppose there are far less healthy taste obsessions to have.

May 4, 2008

The Fear Factor

 

Apparently I have been rather derelict in adding entries to my blog. It is amazing how quickly time can elapse when the everyday distractions of normal life get to work. I suppose this society lends itself to distraction of one form or another as the average citizen tries to do everything but actually think. I have personally eschewed the usual feting and drinking in favour of conquering the various hurdles of Zelda, Twilight Princess on the Wii and catching up on some reading of various sorts. 

Crime is a current that underlies most aspects of living in this country and ,though it is sometimes possible to ignore the perils that surround us, we are always brought back to the reality of the situation. While the government and ( especially) the so-called Minister of National Security dither about and  spend a great deal of time saying things are improving – the reality is somewhat different. This need to be wary was brought home again in the last couple of days when Philippa Talma, the daughter of the widely respected Professsor Julian Kenny, was kidnapped while closing up her boutique at 6:45 in the evening. She was not doing anything unusual and was certainly not out and about in the wee hours of the morning to make herself a target. She was simply doing what   thousands of business people do at the end of each day and then she was snatched and thrown into a car. Her whereabouts are still not known and it is now reported that the kidnappers are asking for a million dollars for her safe return. Quite apart from the fear she must be experiencing goodness knows how she is being treated by the scum that have committed this evil act. The horror of the act is even worse when one stops to think what her kids and family must be going through for the last 48 hours.

This is not the first kidnapping we have had and, sadly, it will not be the last. There seems to be a class of people that regard the crime as a sort of industry. How this can happen in a country that is not large by any stretch and how the police cannot manage to capture these criminals is beyond me. I can understand why the police are powerless to stop gang slayings and domestic situations that go bad because of the nature of these sorts of crimes but kidnapping is an organized business and the police should have an organized response. The situation is made even more maddening when rumours abound that some police officers are complicit . 

While all this happens we are seeing a major exodus of business people who, in my view quite rightly, see little point in hanging around when they or their family members may be taken at gunpoint and held pending a ransom payment. Those business owners who choose to stay live lives surrounded by security arrangements and usually send their family overseas for safety. The rest of us are told that we should take measures to ensure that we are aware of our surroundings at all times and not place ourselves in situations that would make us easy targets. I am not sure exactly what this means as people have been kidnapped while in their homes, while walking to their cars in broad daylight and even while attending class. My life consists of leaving home, looking around while I open the gate to get to my car, locking the car doors the second I get in, varying my route to work slightly every day, looking around when I get out of my car to get to work and generally assuming anyone walking on the street wants to do me harm. All of this is not the ideal situation when it comes to having a normal quality of life. I do these things even though I am not even in the kidnap-worthy category although several people who are just middle class by any assessment have been kidnapped in the past. I cannot even imagine what someone with money must go through as they try to live their daily life.

It find it ironic that the average person in New York, Toronto or London has good reason to feel safer than i do living on a small tropical island. Then again, they have police services that work.

 

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