Archive for July, 2010

July 31, 2010

Up in a puff

The quickly snapped mobile phone pic is of my latest foray into the world of drugs. Nothing sordid I hasten to add, but still interesting. I love smoking and I make no apologies for it. It is a vice I share with many ( if not all) of my literary heroes. But I recognize that, like alpine skiing and other daredevil sports, as one advances in age the odds of coming to an unpleasant end start looking decidedly unfavourable. With that In mind and knowing that chemicals are our friends I asked my doctor for a prescription for Champix ( aka Chantix to our American friends). She ( I have a very cool young female doctor) highly recommended it and told me that many of her hardcore surgeon friends had managed to stop by taking it. I was a bit distressed to hear that some surgeons actually leave their patient halfway through the operation to run outside for a puff – but I kind of understand.

Long story short – the pills actually work. You are supposed to smoke for the first 8-14 days on the regimen but I found that without intending to I had cut my smoking in half by day 4. Heading towards the cutoff date I was told to set I found myself stopping two days ahead of time without planning to. I just stopped. I have now not had a cig for 6 days without so much as a sneaked puff. This is a record for me. Do I feel healthier? Nope. Can I walk longer on my exercise jaunts around the Savannah in Port of Spain? Nope. I never had a problem in the first place. But I will see how the experiment goes and perhaps I will not be smoking for a long time. I know it will make a few people happier and at least one that helped motivate me to take the pills in the first place.

I should note though that Champix has some well known side effects. It has been implicated in hundreds of suicides and serious depression episodes. As someone who suffers from occasional clinical depression I was lucky in that I had no such effects. It also totally screws with sleep and vivid dreams and frequent waking are very common – I have been experiencing this since I started taking them. No nightmares so far and I  quite enjoy the dreams…the waking up – no so much.

The experience has taught me a few things though.

  • Not smoking is not as great as those earnest types tell you.
  • Nothing is guaranteed to make you want to smoke again as much as non-smoking friends telling you to keep it up ( as if I just gave up molesting animals).
  • Many former smokers are a sort of fanatic group similar in many ways to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • Telling me that “I am glad you gave that up…I really hated it” makes me want to say “You are really stupid and I always hated that”.
  • Scotch without tobacco is a pointless exercise.
  • People who tell me that they think kissing a smoker is like kissing an ashtray are stuck in the 80s. Especially when many of them frequently put their mouth on things that would make an ashtray seem like a sterile petri dish.

The best reaction to my experiment ( and it was largely encouraged by the person in question) was “Well Vern I am proud of you and if you slip up a few times I will still be proud of you.”

As I told a few friends recently I will never be a non-smoker. I might, however, be a smoker on hold. It makes me feel better not to be part of the squeaky clean bunch.

July 12, 2010

A tale of two Googles

My love affair with Google has been on pretty rocky ground of late. Ignoring the China business for the moment, though that is important, Google has suddenly turned into Facebook and has started messing around with its design for no apparent reason. The main search page now has a little button on the bottom left  to create a custom background a la Bing. No worries – it is optional and I can live without that. What we are talking about is my favourite news source being screwed  with. As a journalist I tend to be addicted to Google News as it provided a clean interface and I could find the articles that interested me in a jiffy. This is Good Google as seen in the version at the top of this entry.  For those of us who use or , however, this is not the case anymore.

Bad Google, as illustrated in the picture above, has decided that they had to screw the pooch and change this simple and efficient design into something resembling a Facebook wall. I am presented with an incomprehensible roll of completely unrelated articles that juxtapose stories on the BP spill with the latest  on the private life of Kim Kardashian and someone called LeBron James. How this makes sense to them is beyond me. The worst thing is there is no choice in the matter. There is no “opt-in” or “stay with classic Google News” button. They have, however added a handy dandy way to share articles on social networking sites option because apparently dragging that “Share on Facebook”  button to my bookmarks bar was just too complicated for me.

A massive discussion erupted on Google’s forums about the change and when I say discussion I mean a 99% condemnation of the change. But cool Google simply either ignores the response or replies with vague comments that it is meant to help us “personalize the news”.  Personalize the news? That seems a dangerous precedent. People can choose to avoid exposure to news that disagrees with their political or other opinions? That is a sorry state of affairs. The old version gave us news that we could peruse and – shock of shocks – sometimes be exposed to the option of reading a viewpoint or a subject we didn’t know about. News to Google! That is what news is all about exposing us to different viewpoints and sometimes, if we are lucky, expanding our horizons.

If you are living somewhere other than this part of the world be prepared because the change is being rolled out worldwide.  So Google News has alienated me and forced me to look at news as an option. And they might also want to note that there are some new search engines that are gunning for them with cutting edge visual approaches to search. My favourite is which is just downright stunning. Visit it here and prepare to be amazed as you drag your mouse across the page.

July 12, 2010

Things to do #1,675

I really should upload some more of my interview subjects as many of them have really been  interesting and deserve a bigger audience. Georgia Popplewell is also a friend of mine and the person who got me interested in blogging as I found myself constantly reading her blog at . The interview was done in June of 2009.

July 7, 2010

A thought

( apparently WordPress censors content ( a few words on them in an upcoming entry) but you can just click here:

This defines camp. And the actors include Terence Stamp ( with a long and glorious career), Guy Pearce ( later to do Memento often considered one of the best films ever made) and Hugo Weaving ( to become Agent Smith in Matrix…one of my favourite films). Apparently, being in a camp film is a recipe for success in some cases.

It was a strange film and while drag makes me shudder it even had me very amused. If you have never seen it you should  –  just to see that excess can be just enough sometimes. I normally believe that less is more ( especially in food and decor) but as my Muse Oscar Wilde once said “nothing succeeds like excess”.

P.S. WordPress like the rest of the corporate internet needs to realize that these things encourage people to rent the damned film. DUH

July 3, 2010

This is journalism. And for those who think that TV is the pinnacle of journalism watch what Edward R Murrow does on radio. I came close to crying seeing a true journalist  inform the public.

July 3, 2010

The period before and after an election is is always the most exciting and challenging for journalists. After the recent election here in T&T it was fascinating looking at many of the younger reporters struggling to maintain their journalistic balance. I suppose at times like those it can be useful to have someone like me who has been around the block a few times to help them understand the dangers of charged words and of story placement in a newscast. Journalists have political views just like everyone else but the trick for us is being able to mouth off our views to our friends but not let that interfere with how we do our job. It surprised me also that many younger journalists understood the concepts fairly easily while some others who should have known better were less concerned about the appearance of balance.
Now we are faced with the post-election period in which a largely unpopular government was voted out in a landslide. Naturally, many of the journalists in the country are quite happy with the turn of events but that has also resulted in a problem. One thing that we as journalists cannot ever do is fawn over public  officials and cut them too much slack. I have been seeing a lot of that lately. Part of the problem is the fact that this government has been very friendly and open with the media so far. The picture at the top of this entry is of the previously ultra-secret Prime Minister’s residence which I was actually able to tour on Thursday along with other members of the media. Now that may have been motivated by a desire to show the excess of the previous PM who commissioned it and lived in it but whatever the reason it was opened up for the public to see. Things like that are standard in developed countries and journalists take them for granted but here it seems to make some journalists feel beholden to the administration. Old cynics like me take it for what it is but it seems to make the less experienced feel embraced and all warm and fuzzy.
Thus far I can say that the People’s Partnership has done a good job of being more open to the media than the previous one which approached us as if we were lepers with halitosis. It was a rare day that I managed to snag an interview with a PNM minister ( with a few rare exceptions like Conrad Enill who always came when I asked) and of course they all wanted to be on just before the election. Ironically, the only time the Information Minister ever agreed to come on my programme was right before the election – he lost his seat. Thus far I have had several of the new ministers on including a couple of first interviews in the local media such as Minister Mary King ( in her office no less) but that may be because I have been interviewing these guys in other capacities for years. I should have good reason to cut them a lot of slack but I can’t and I suspect they would lose any respect they might have for me if I did.
As journalists in a small and developing country we need to look at the new government with a critical eye so we can, in the words of Anderson Cooper, keep them honest ( which presumes they were in the first place). We have seen the good things like the PM wading into flood waters, the accessibility to the media, the choosing of a new Commissioner of Police and other good signs but there are things that bother me. Time now for a handy point  list of a few of my concerns:

  • Should the PM have gone back of her promise to move into the PM’s fancy residence when she vowed she would not move into the “Palace”?
  • While opening up the Priority Bus Route to regular traffic may be a good experiment ( and I have said so for more than a decade) how can the Works Minister do that without changing the legislation? What are they going to charge people who have fewer than 3 people in the car with? Surely you can’t just change codified rules on the fly.
  • The Life Fund to pay for overseas operations for kids is surely a good idea but shouldn’t a doctor be part of the process? I have been informed the transverse myelitis – which one of the kids who got $620,000 for her treatment has- was caused by a viral infection and she needs some rehab work to get her walking again. Why were we told she needed an operation? And if she needs physical therapy why does it require a Rolls Royce treatment centre when there are excellent ones in Miami, the UK and Canada? Also, why was the cheque made out to her family when it should have been made out to the institution?

There are many other questions but I just hope the media do what we are supposed to do and ask questions. If the public does not like us for that then so be it. One day they will thank us for it. It took us far too long to ask questions of the previous administration.