Archive for August, 2008

August 30, 2008

Gone with the wind

 

 

It is that time of year in the Caribbean again when the winds of change and the bluster of politicians are upstaged by the power of nature. Hurricane season normally puts most Caribbean residents on edge as the nature of our territory lends itself to being vulnerable to the raging power of one the the greatest forces in nature. Generally, we are small islands dependent on agriculture and with an infrastructure that is usually fairly rickety. Of course, as with most things here in Trinidad ( and to a much lesser extent Tobago)  we think we are an exception to everything. We are fond of saying that “God is a Trini” and pointing to the fact that we never get hit seriously by any of the storms that sweep through. That is not entirely true as though direct hits are a rarity it is more a matter of lucky geographic location than divine intervention.

 

Right now, as most readers will be aware, we are in an unusually active period of disturbed weather in our region. Hurricane Gustav has pounded Jamaica, the Caymans and Cuba and is now setting its sights on the Southern US having reached Category 4 strength and with all indications it will strengthen even further. A measure of the power of this storm is that Katrina ,which devastated New Orleans in 2005, came ashore as a CAT 3. To make our region even scarier we also have Tropical Storm Hanna malingering to the North just behind Gustav and another weather system forming in the Eastern Atlantic. This may not be a pretty season for our region and we can only hope nature and the atmosphere conspire to help things improve.

 

In other news last night was the final night for Alvie’s nighclub Sky. For three years it has been an oasis for all manner of people who needed a place to call their own ( and a convenient place for me to have conversations with Alvie) but as with all things it ran its course. I attended last night as I have had some involvement over the years helping with logos, flyers and the like. It was a strange experience with a huge but motley crew of people belonging to every imaginable race, orientation and age. Every time I turned my back to talk to someone it seemed that another throng entered until it reached the point I wondered if there was going to be enough oxygen available. 

 

It is always sad seeing a groundbreaking idea come to an end and Sky certainly was that – a dream that turned into a social phenomenon. I salute Alvie for his vision and know that he will soon be allowing another of his ideas to take wing. Sometimes I am just so darned proud of my friends and then I realize I chose them well.

August 24, 2008

Mind games

 

I am the first to confess I am not the biggest sports fan on the planet. I am not even the biggest sports fan in my office. Truth be told i fail to see the point of musclebound fools running around a field/court/track while chasing a ball/shuttlecock/nothing whatsoever. To me the only reasons for running swiftly would involve fleeing from a knife-wielding maniac or getting tickets for the Backstreet Boys version of La Boheme. Nonetheless, I usually make a little time every few years to watch the Olympics and pretend the world has actually come together even for such a spurious reason as sport. This Olympics has been something of a letdown and only partly because the local rights were obtained by TV 6 which carried a bad signal from NBC and dreadful commentary from a CMC team that must have been plucked from a remedial broadcast school somewhere.

 

More than that, though, I have come to realize that despite all the smoke and mirrors of the Opening Ceremony and the pretense that sports is somehow aloof from the realities of life the games are something of a shameful event. Here we had an Olympics held in a country that has a dreadful record of human rights and we are all supposed to pretend that things are hunky dory. I cannot and will not forget the number of dissidents China has locked up, its treatment of the Tibet issue and its shameless contempt for international law as witnessed by its collaboration with the authorities in Sudan. Patting them on the back and saying “what a well coordinated show” hardly serves any useful purpose. Even beyond that the Beijing Olympics lacked anything resembling the exuberance of previous games. The danger of hosting the games in a totalitarian state is that the fun factor is excised and all you are left with is a display of pyrotechnic efficiency. Can’t blame the Chinese completely  though, they are just being themselves it is the IOC that is to blame for ignoring the obvious and pretending all is great while heading back to Zurich or wherever with their lucre jingling in their pockets

 

As a Caribbean native I am happy the region has won so many medals especially given our small population but i find it hard to cheer too much for Jamaica. Firstly, logic tells me that other people running fast is no reflection on me so it doesn’t make an iota of difference how fast they run as my running will stay the same. The concept of a nation celebrating because a sports team has achieved something will never click in my brain. Is it supposed to mean that if Jamaica or ..i dunno..Sweden had a national run-off Jamaica would win? I doubt it. Even if they did what difference would it make in the scheme of things? I am also aware that Jamaica’s dismal record of human rights especially when it comes to gay people is hardly worth celebrating. Like China I am not willing to get all starry eyed because they won a sprint or  two and forget the reality of what a percentage of their population has to face every day. It was only a couple of years ago that they won this unenviable title

 

Yes, it is nice to stop and think about the nebulous notion of a brotherhood of man but in my book it should never be at the expense of reality. I am, however, willing to entertain the idea that i am just out of step with 99.9% of humanity.

August 23, 2008

And the rains came.

 

 

It rained today and by rain I do not mean a few piddling drops of dampness but a full-fledged rainstorm that would lead anyone to drag out their nearest cubit measuring stick and start thinking about livestock. The cause of this day long deluge is a system moving slightly to the North of us that might or might not turn into a depression and then a hurricane. No stranger to tropical depressions ( or temperate ones for that matter) myself I can just enjoy the sound of rain on the tin roofs and thunder reverberating off the shrouded Northern Range.

 

Trinidadians are able to party till they literally drop and consume alcohol at levels that would have a Russian wrestler reeling but when it comes to weather they are a particularly effete lot. While North Americans and even Europeans will slog to work through metres of snow and sleet Trinis get quite weak when faced with even a slight dampness in the air They will call in sick or late to work, complain of ague and generally mope about. If they happen to be at work during a rainfall there will be early sniffling and a request to leave work early with dire mutterings along the lines of “see you tomorrow..depending on my health…I got wet…so you never know”. 

 

Another strange phenomenon in these parts is that traffic might be moving along at a fair clip but once water hits asphalt it is a guarantee that gridlock will result. The cause of this is not certain and it may well be an interesting exercise for scientists. One thing is sure it can’t be safety because that is a word that doesn’t cross the mind of the average Trini driver.

 

Here at work I have just been subjected to viewing a tape of the Prime Minister attempting to sing to students and giving them a lecture on the bible and his views on Christianity. How such a thing can happen in a pluralistic and ( nominally) secular society is beyond me. Bet your bottom dollar that if that had been a PM espousing the many virtues of Allah all hell would break loose. Such is the nature of this strange land.

August 19, 2008

Plausible deniability

I am not fond of coined expressions as they are often nonsense and simply euphemisms for some nefarious activity. Think only of “collateral damage” that unfortunate substitute for hurting innocent civilians or damaging their infrastructure and the danger of such glib expressions becomes all too obvious. Militaries use the expression to soft sell needless death to the public since there is nothing like dehumanizing casualties to make the whole thing more palatable. Surgical strikes, enemy combatants, smart bombs, rationalizing of the workforce  all make me cringe. For some reason I cannot explain, though, plausible deniability rolls off my tongue and brings a smile to my face. 

Of course, plausible deniability is the stock in trade of politicians, military personnel, spies and any number of other professions. For many spouses it is the way of escaping a good tongue lashing or even divorce. I think I like the expression because it succinctly captures an aspect of normal life. To some extent we all try and cover our tracks ( which ultimately is what it means) or at least separate ourself from responsibility sufficiently to taint the chain of evidence. I am generally either too honest or too unconcerned to avoid responsibility but looking back in my life I can see that paying more attention to PD might have saved me quite a few anxious moments.

I have no internet at home this evening or cable to I will happily wend my way home from work to bury myself in a good book while being washed over by the passionate sounds of YoYo Ma on his cello. I shall regard it as a form of network deprivation ( you saw the expression here first folks) . Other than that not much else to report from the elysian shores of T&T, the homicide count stands at about 340 for the year, the PM is now talking about jetting about ( no doubt in a private jet)  to recruit new members to his “All Welcome at the Trough” Club of misguided Caribbean leaders and dengue fever is the disease du jour.

August 14, 2008

Unnecessary Evil

 

Never a nation to pass up a chance for excess the PM has , of late, been indulging in a veritable orgy of entertaining. We are not just talking about a few cocktail parties for visiting dignitaries we are talking about oodles of taxpayers dollars being spent on actually encouraging the heads of various economically important states to visit. We have had the President of Ghana here because obviously that is a big economic powerhouse nearby that we simply must pin down so as to even out our balance of trade.

 

More recently we have had the PM of Barbados, the PM of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and as of this writing the ever important Prime Minister of Grenada. Apparently, the PM is fearful that we will be short of nutmeg with the Yule season so fast approaching. Acting in the National Eggnog interest he threw caution and our money to the wind and sent a rented private jet to get PM Tillman so as to ensure he is comfortable on the arduous 20 minute flight. There was a guard of honour, a grand banquet , the usual cultural events and the requisite  meeting at the Hilton. Now only a silly pragmatic person would note that Grenada is not even important in the Caribbean and of no economic or cultural importance to the rest of the known universe. In short, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem on why women need men – we need them like a fish needs a bicycle. 

 

A more cynical soul would think all these state visits are simply there to make our PM feel even more self-important – though that would be hard to imagine. Late tonight we learn that he has announced that Trinidad & Tobago will be in a union with some of these small economic solar panels by 2011. The Guardian reports:

 

“Trinidad and Tobago and three other Caribbean states—Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia—last night signed an agreement to achieve economic integration by 2011 and political integration by two years later”. 

Oh Goody.

 

I was just praying that our oil and gas rich country with a strong industrial sector would be able to avail itself of the many benefits that would accrue from joining with other states that barely have economies, suffer from high unemployment and are stuck in a time warp. Now we can look forward to being aligned with an island that is famous for nutmeg, another famous for bananas and the third that looks like Dolly Parton doing the backstroke.

 

Strangely, based on the European example and several others I always thought that such sweeping changes required the consent of the population via a quaint little process called a referendum. I wasn’t aware that one man would just take it upon himself to enter into  agreements that fundamentally change our economy and society but I suppose, as we learned in Germany and Italy not that long ago – we should always trust our leaders to make our decisions for us. Father , after all, knows best.

August 7, 2008

So you think you can blog?

 

Well I survived my Minshall interview(s) and apparently the feedback indicates it made for excellent TV. It is never easy interviewing someone you have known for a long time and who you know is not just a local creative genius but a creative genius who has made the world gasp in wonder. 

 

I chose to wear black knowing that he would too and when I picked him up to drive to the station ( forgetting the station vehicle shutting down on me) he was, in fact, dressed in his trademark black. I assessed his mood as he can be rather mercurial and determined that I would allow him free reign. Minsh can either hold back and force you to pull things out of him or he can just be in a mood to express – this was an expression day and there was no way i was going to get in his way. As it turned out he hadn’t said all he wanted to say after the first interview so we immediately decided to do a second interview. They basically consisted of me introducing Minsh and asking a question or two and the rest was just pure Minshall. I am not one of those interviewers who thinks it is essential to make my presence felt every minute by jumping in with interjections for no good reason. People tune in to hear what the guest has to say and since Minsh is not involved in spending public funds or causing suffering by poor management it was fine to let him talk. What ensued, upon looking at the broadcasts yesterday and today was akin to an extemporaneous performance of King Lear done by Olivier. Minshall is gripping on camera.

 

In other news, as shallow as it may seem, I have been addicted to So You Think You Can Dance on Fox for the entire season. I watch each episode zealously and end up crying several times because I love dance and when it is done well as it often is on the show it moves me deeply. From the very beginning I picked an unlikely favourite – Joshua. He is a street dancer with little training, his butt is too big for a dancer, his body is not a dancer’s body but he had spirit , an incredible gift and tremendous power. Joshua did jumps that seemed impossible and did presses and catches that seemed to have been accomplished by computer graphics. He is a brilliant dancer and left me breathless several times. Amazingly, this evening he won the competition and i felt like an Apple stock investor again.  I assumed a cute white boy would win the vote based on the masses of white suburban girls voting but I was wrong. Apparently in this case democracy worked. I am still not a complete fan because G. W. Bush has been President of the U.S. for two terms..but I had a moment of doubt this evening.

August 5, 2008

Minshall redux

And since I will be interviewing him tomorrow here is a Fashion TV piece on him that gives a good quick overview of some of his achievements.

 

August 5, 2008

Minshall

I have just discovered that an old documentary on one of this country’s greatest artists – Peter Minshall – is available on youtube.com. Well worth a look.

August 3, 2008

Take me back

This is sort of a meaningless entry but it relates to things that provide me with hours of amusement – the internet and Law & Order the TV series. I was watching, as I usually do, the newest episode of Law & Order CI when one of their computer forensic guys managed to find a deleted page on the web by using the Wayback machine. How amusing, I thought, a clever reference to Rocky and Bullwinkle ( one of my favourite childhood cartoons and still a guilty pleasure today). But since Tinkerbell, my trusty powerbook was in front me and my WiFi 15 meg signal was beckoning me I Googled it.

 

Turns out there actually is a site that offers a Wayback Machine that takes snapshots of the internet to record a legacy that is highly ephemeral in nature. When I think about it the concept is pure genius. We are all hooked on the net to some extent but pages come and go with no hard record. That is a first for humanity since we always tend to be able to look back at our communication media. Magazines and newspapers exist from their genesis and even TV and radio programmes are archived..but not the internet…the most powerful tool we have invented in generations. Billions of pages of information have vanished as they are updated. I think this is an excellent project and I am fully in support of it. 

Typically for me I have spent hours turning back the clock and surfing to sites as they were over a decade ago. I have noticed a few things. Early sites apparently existed without much input from graphic designers as they were almost universally more garish than they are today. Sites were also much simpler as they existed before high speed access and before Flash. I was also traumatized to see that horror of the early internet age – frames.  

As with all things human we tend to improve as we go along but it sure is interesting to look back in time and remember the early days when we were still feeling around in a new medium looking for a way to harness it.