Sunday, February 27, 2011


Most people take their computer keyboard for granted, if you use it enough it gets familiar enough that you can find the keys without having to hunt and peck. Having learnt to type on a regular typewriter long before I ever laid fingers on a computer keyboard, I can type at many words per minute. As a matter of course using a computer to construct most of my work has become second nature. Like most familiar things I take this skill for granted, until that is, my computer stayed at home this trip and my friend John graciously lent me his laptop. It is a Mac, since I am PC unfriendly, they tend not to like ,e and behave badly. So far so good. Mine is the more heavy duty MacBook Pro, a four year old workhorse, this is a cuter MacBook. Still for me, a blessing. 

Except for one slight problem, John uses a french keyboard which means that the keys are not where I am used to them.  It is taking me forever to find the right keys. For the first time in almost thirty years, I learnt to type quite young okay, I am having to look at the keys while I type which slows me down. I cannot get it through my head that M is now a comma/question mark. Needless to say frustration is getting the better of me. Do you know how many times you use M and A in English? Lots, that's how many! And while I speak some French, I don't write it so there are lots of mistakes.

And it got me to thinking about all those times when we think we know, or get stuck in a rut because it's familiar. We cling to certain things, people or personality types because we are too afraid or too complacent to try to do something different. Because it is hard, because we are afraid to be alone or we prefer to make the same mistakes because it is easy and breaking out requires work.  All of this from trying to get my brain to accept a keyboard. So yes, there will be mistakes but in the end I will have created a new blog post and perhaps, mastered instinct. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Is it right to utilise taxpayer funds to fund a popularity contest? Stupid question right, it’s going to happen anyway and it’s no less stupid than all the other frivolous crap that the taxpayers’ money is spent on. This is the on-going burning question engaging Trinidad and Tobago, oops, no, that’s not quite right. The question is whether Ravi B’s behaviour was not acceptable and it has been the source of police investigation, politician’s attention, just about everybody has added their two cents.  While his behaviour was reprehensible and was up there in the category of sore loser, it is not unusual, and the question remains; should the performer be the target of all this attention?

A small explanation; this year the Chutney Soca Monarch Competition, one of those interminable Carnival related competitions based on popularity more than on content or substance was given two million taxpayer dollars as a first prize.  Ostensibly this was encouraged by the Government as a means of raising the standard of the competition. Perhaps the question that should have been asked by John and Mary Taxpayer, how exactly was this to be accomplished by handing over money without setting some goals or standards? 

Chutney music grew out of the rather bawdy songs that Hindu women sang at their version of a bachelorette party, over the years. With the changing role of East Indian music in Carnival prompted by Drupati Ramgoonai in the 80’s, chutney evolved into its own art form. However, in the last ten or so years what were cleverly constructed songs on a variety of tropics have been eclipsed by misogynistic ethnic stereotyping in  the form and prevalence of  “rum” songs. That is, songs that glorify drunkenness or love of alcohol as an excuse for not being a good husband, for beating your wife, for being unfaithful etc.

And this is where the problem starts. Should the taxpayer be funding an event that glorifies alcoholism in a country that has a problem with alcoholism? Are these the values we wish to be imparting to our youth?  This trend has not been limited to Chutney Soca, indeed while calypso has always been risqué, critical of government and lifestyles there has been a downward spiral into songs that are about mimicking sex. The lyrics a mishmash of random soca buzzwords like “wine”, “jam”, “wave”, “party”, “grind” etc thrown together around a central idea usually involving what one will do with a woman in a fete. You are encouraged to be “wotless”(worthless), to “wine on a tong ting”. Makes you wonder why we are so surprised that there is little respect for women in our society, why youth are so free and loose with themselves and we have so many unplanned pregnancies.

And yet, we all talk about raising the bar, becoming a first world nation, having values. Forgive me but how are these competitions funded at the taxpayers expense doing that?  The quality of the offerings are banal at best, mostly puerile aimed at the lowest common denominator.  People should always have choices, if this is what you choose to listen to, well that’s your decision, should it be state sponsored, that’s another discussion. The widening disparity in popular Carnival music is a good indicator of the level that our society operates. We are supposed to be an educated, progressive, thinking lot, and yet scatological, sexual or alcoholic references are what have the most resonance. Trinidadians are losing their clever way with words and degenerating into a crude, witless, anomalous mass. Sad from the nation that promoted the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener, Earl Lovelace, Vidia Naipaul, Super Blue, Geraldine Connor and a host of other talented folk.

Back to the earlier issue, at the root of the Ravi B ‘controversy was that the competition was decided by people texting in their favourite. That means this competition was not judged on merit but on how popular your persona was. It also means that it was probably decided before a note was sung. While the performers were aware of the rules up front and should abide by them it must be very disappointing to put out the effort to be put down on the basis of popularity over performance.  Then there is the disparity in prize money, two million first prize, and one hundred thousand dollars second prize? This makes sense how?

It may be a novel idea to some, but instead of investigating Ravi B the powers that be should be questioning their use of the taxpayers dollar at a time when they are also moaning about the state of the treasury.  Because when Carnival is over we might all remember those things that need fixing. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marvel at the crowd

It is 12:26 on Wednesday and the windows of my office building are shaking in time to the music coming from Woodford Square. We are close and high up enough to experience the full blast of “B Square”, a series of free concerts put on by a mobile provider every lunchtime this week for office workers. Every day features another hot “star” of the Trinidad Soca scene. Today it is the King of  Soca Machel Montano, from early droves of workers filed up the road to the Square. Trinidadians routinely call in sick etc when it rains, they can’t come to work. Despite the overcast skies with intermittent rain, armed with their umbrellas they’re all out there.

It is a testament to Mr. Montano’s popularity that he can command the numbers that throng the Square today. More power to him and his crew.  A visiting foreigner could be forgiven for thinking that we had a civil protest given the proximity to the Parliament Building and Hall of Justice.  But no, it is not. Even while we see the news images of the protests in the Middle East, the dismantling of dictator states, the ending of 30 years of a state of emergency in Egypt and 19 years in Tunisia; even as we commiserate with our fellow man in New Zealand, and even as we rail against the vicissitudes of crime, pay issues etc here at home, it is apparent, nothing will stop the Carnival.

It is instructive that Trinidadians were putting up black squares on their Facebook and BBM profiles in mourning for Daniel Guerra, the eight year old who was abducted on his way home from the shop, were every news outlet, social networking site etc was filled with outraged comments from persons from all walks of life and yet, the hot story was the Ravi B, a soca chutney performer, was a “sore loser” after his behaviour at the Chutney Soca Monarch Competition.  While one thing has very little to do with the other, our sense of proportion is unbelievably lacking.  Yes, his behaviour was egregious, but it is sign of how farcical most of these so-called competitions are, is it warranting the level of attention, you can judge.

While I have nothing against the concerts in the Square, I was once a participant, it just underlines what our priorities are and it certainly is that we can party hearty! We would never have a situation like that in Egypt, Trini would grumble, get vex and then hit a rum shop/bar/pub or wherever else and say, “later for dat”.  I almost hope that the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism holds fast to his promise to tax imported Carnival costumes just to see whether all those people who vex now going to refuse the inflated prices next year; my guess, not at all. The cost of fete tickets have been escalating every year, looking at the pictures, there does not seem to be any fall off in attendance and judging from the amount of calls from people looking for tickets, well, nuff said.

In two weeks this will all be over, the remnants of costumes swept up, the glitter packed away, the soca stars will go on to their next destination, the sheds around the Savannah dismantled and what will we be left with? 

Sunday, February 6, 2011


As my more erudite colleague Paolo Kernahan stated in his column yesterday, I too had not considered adding my comments to the situation in Egypt. Frankly, as a Trinidadian, my experience with large groups standing up for anything is more likely to mean a few thousand people packed together in a makeshift party location with deafening music and few toilets than anything to do with principles. No wonder I am loath to comment.  

For twenty-nine years, the people of Egypt since the assassination of Anwar el Sadat, have had Hosni Mubarak, a former Head of the Air Force as their supremo ruler. Mr. Mubarak has survived six assassination attempts and has been re-elected on four occasions though this has less to do with popularity and more to lack of opponent due to a dodgy restriction in the Egyptian constitution which was of course, crafted by his party. Essentially, as in most Arab countries, Egypt has a passing acquaintance with Western style democracy; their elections are not based on a popularity contest where parties go out and campaign, throwing millions of dollars into advertising and who has the whitest smile. However, as with most of those Arab regimes, there has been unstinting support from the poster child of democracy, the US, for the incumbent.  As one commentator from the Middle East wryly pointed out, how can you expect ideals of democracy from someone who has basically ruled as a dictator for thirty years?

But all good things must come to an end and it would appear that Mr. Mubarak’s ride might well be over despite his last desperate attempts to cling to the status quo. It is reminiscent of the movement in East Germany, also driven by the economic imperatives that brought down to Berlin Wall. It would seem, that at some point, as a leader, you will be made to live up to your rhetoric; at least in some places. For the last three weeks, like everyone else in our shrinking global village, watching with awe as throngs of people show up everyday in Tahrir Square to support their cause I’ve remembered what having a cause means.  My view of the world is coloured by early formative memories of seeing other protests in first black and white and then the magic of colour TV and of course, even various coups etc here in the West Indies. People of my generation and earlier know what it is to have principles and to stand up for them and commit to a cause.  

Once again I’m taken back to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, referred to in much of the world as "the Tiananmen Square massacre and in Chinese as the June Fourth Incident (in part to avoid confusion with two prior Tiananmen Square protests), were a series of demonstrations in and near Tiananmen Square in Beijing in the People's Republic of China (PRC) beginning on 14 April 1989. Led mainly by students and intellectuals, the protests occurred in a year that saw the collapse of a number of communist governments around the world."  The iconic images of tanks rolling over university students was particularly poignant as I too was a university student and questioned whether I would have the nerve to do as they did. Fortunately, like most people in my part of the world I’ve never had to find out but given my internal knowledge and past experience, my participation would be guaranteed.

And so, applying the example of principles to the current state, though there is no repressive government here, we enjoy the democratic popularity contest of free elections; our problems are caused more by lackadaisical attitudes and poor decision-making. Trinidadians complain all the time, about crime, about the aforementioned poor decision-making etc. And yet, our willingness to do more than complain is tempered by two choruses of “wine to the side” or “ I is a Trini” while being exhorted to move left or right while waving a hand in the air.  Social scientists have long posited that due to the Trinidadian propensity for treating lightly with important things and reducing all our references to the national festival Carnival, we escape the responsibility of taking an active role in addressing our problems. Take for example the crime issue. If crime were so serious and we felt so bad, perhaps we would consider giving up Carnival for two years while powers that be devote all the time energy and resources to making tangible inroads.

What you say? Is now you want Trini to riot! No all-inclusive fetes! No costume in Yuma or Tribe!  No banal, inane, barely literate entertainer exhorting you to do something faintly obscene while throwing in a few patriotic references to make you feel less ashamed. Before you think me a Carnival hater, it is quite the contrary, far from it.  Frankly, I used to love the energy, the constant activity, the innovativeness and wonder of design, the people watching.

However, our willingness to constantly find distractions instead of facing the hard decisions and preparing for the long haul is really driving me nuts. My ability to enjoy a fete is tempered by worrying about my car being broken into outside, whether I’ll be safe getting into my house, whether someone will get shot or robbed or whether some drunk person is driving down the highway with me. Lest you think I exaggerate, listen to the Parliament channel; the crime issue is constantly referenced there.  

Average spent on Carnival activities: $650 per person per fete, fete outfit -$450 (a top!), costume -$3,500 (regular section), gas money, “vex” money, etc. Add it up, people take loans to cover Carnival which by the way, happens every bloody year with the same parties, the same music, pretty much the same everything, heck, even the costumes look the same due to extreme laziness on the part of the so-called designers. But yet, we continue to shell out and then spend the rest of the year complaining about how bad it is.  Government resources are expended including those of the much-beleaguered police force. Is it really worth it? I suppose those who make their revenue off of Carnival would say yes.

It would be extremely poor of me to compare our situation with that of the people in Egypt. They have legitimate reasons to demand a change and have stood by the courage of their convictions. But is it so wrong for me to wish that people here would become a little more serious, grow a spine and approach our issues with the single-mindedness that they party?

(photo from the Huffington Post more images can be found at: