Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Vote of Thanks

No quotes. Just one of a few lines that my indomitable cousin uttered:

‘Always be grateful.’

It is simple and short, like most things uttered in wisdom. But on this Thanksgiving, I really don’t have a choice. Things aren’t perfect but what would life be like if everything were? So here it goes:

Thank you for allowing me to appreciate life so much more. An obscure Sunday evening in November turned into mayhem by an accident that changed so many lives forever.

Thank you for allowing me to appreciate death. You were one of the most generous and genuine souls I had ever met and your death on the eve of Christmas’ own eve made me understand how finite and fickle life can be.

Thank you for being a friend when I thought that I had none. You may not realize it and I have not yet had the courage to revisit that time but your tolerance of me even when it must have been to the point of annoying is something I can never be grateful enough for.

Thank you for willing to be my friend and while I know it has not been reciprocated, it is I who must take the blame for being the lesser person.

Thank you for showing me that I can move on regardless of how bad things get. Your absorption with yourself and the world around you only served as fuel that drove us apart. Maybe it’s too late now.

Thank you for not calling when you came. It allowed me to assimilate things in a different perspective.

Thank you for calling. It was the one call I least expected but was most appreciated since it was one of only a few I received for my birthday.

Thank you for making my life that much more difficult because it brought out a courage in me that I didn’t realize I had.

Thank you for being the selfish, pretentious, untrustworthy snakes that you turned out to be. There can be no excuse for what the three of you did. You are bound to a higher standard. Now, I can recognize insincerity from a distance.

Thank you for listening to my venting.

Thank you for trying to make me be true to myself. It will come in time but you are responsible for starting the ball rolling and helping me to disregard the expectations of conformity from others.

Thank you for being there during the hardest time of my academic life. Your support and concern were not unnoticed and it is partly because of that that I can appreciate fully where I am now.

Thank you for putting up with a far from perfect son. It is almost automatic that you are taken for granted, but it could never be right.

Thank you for your words of wisdom. Never would I have thought that two simple lines would have such profound effect on the way I live my life.

Thank you for putting up with my less than bearable antics. I could have been a much better brother.

Thank you for believing in me. You seemed to be the only one that did or cared.

Thank you for giving me something to believe in. If not in 2007, then maybe in 2012.

Thank you for nothing. You taught me that I should work for what I want most and not expect instant gratification. Now I appreciate it so much more.

Thank you for being my partner in crime. We may be taken advantage of or trampled upon. But our intentions are always true and if one person is genuinely grateful for every ten that walk all over us, it still makes it worth it.

Thank you all for everything that has happened in the last year. It has made me who I am today and while it could have been better, as all things could, I regret not one day of it.

Thank you for life. It is only by your grace that I opened my eyes this morning and will do so tomorrow.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Vive la Revolucion

‘Remember, Remember the fifth of November’- Guy Fawkes Night

Come what may, November 5, 2007 will be remembered in the history books as the day that the electorate of Trinidad and Tobago took a stand. Whether or not history will record that it was the right one is left to be seen. About 700,000 people will let their voices be heard in what could be the most important general election ever to be held in this country.

The incompetence of the PNM and the bacchanal of the UNC-A has not caused, on the face of it, to have eroded their respective bases significantly. It speaks volumes about the maturity or lack thereof of the voters of this country. It makes you wonder whether the poor Laventille grandmother who has had children murdered or the destitute Barrackpore father without an avenue for escaping poverty will have any hope after tomorrow’s election and if in fact, they will be contributing once again to the vicious cycle of electing representatives to prop up a government that does nothing to address their needs, on a personal and national level.

All the crowds were impressive. All the supporters seemed committed. The true test will come once every finger is stained. Then we’ll know whether the country is steppin’ up, having an orange revolution or just movin’. Maybe it’ll have to be a combination of those three but for the second time in our history (other than 1981) T&T will choose from three very strong parties. The only difference is that for the first time, the ‘third force’ may actually win some seats. If that happens, it will have Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini turning in their graves for democracy would have won. And T&T would have grown just that little bit.

The sun creeps above the horizon as the deathly silence is pierced only by a few awakening fowls. This is the calm before the storm. The nation waits with bated breath. The majority of those who I speak with will stain their fingers for the COP, the party representing, to them, the best chance for some semblance of proper government. They represent a new hope. And while they have their fair share of geriatric members, they have also been able to capture the imagination of the youth, a notoriously difficult segment to corner. I, too will be staining that right index finger for the COP. I moved with them on September 10th 2006 at the Centre of Excellence when they were launched and I moved with them on November 3rd, 2007 at their final rally. On November 5th, thousands of us will be moving with them. We will be making a statement, starting a mini bloodless revolution and when the accountants of the election return their report, if the people of this nation have made the right choice, we’ll be moving to the Red House with them.

For too long we’ve searched the barren desert for the ilk of the COP. For too long we’ve clamoured for the strength of a third force to rule the land with a sceptre of equality and justice for ALL. For too long we’ve waited for a party to serve as a responsible guardian of our future. Come what may tomorrow, the COP is that manifestation. And if unelected, the people of this nation must examine themselves and ask why. Why did they let the chance to elect good men slip by? People get the government that they deserve and tomorrow will be no different.

Whether the hunger of the poor, the pain of the sick or the cries of the wronged will be arrested by the party assuming office on Tuesday is left to be seen. But until 6pm tomorrow, the nation waits in hope. And I, for the first time in a very long time, turn my head to the heavens and ask a favour of God. It is one of the hardest things to accept that despite knowing what is good and right, people will let mere animal instincts dictate their voting patterns.

We stand 24 hours away from the opening of the floodgates. All systems are go. The sun will provide the lights, the media the cameras and the citizens the action. And when the editing begins and the final cut is screened, let us hope that we get an Oscar worthy cast rather than a disappointing horror flick. I be movin’ so will at least 51% of the electorate if we are to see our hopes translated into reality. A reality that would have been borne from the frustrations of our people with the hands that they have been dealt in the last 50 years. And come tomorrow night, if I do cry, it would not be because the COP would have lost. It would be because my people would have once again let themselves down by not recognizing that governance should not be measured by who can throw the best picong or concerts. Governance is serious business.

Life will go on. I will be at the hospital on Tuesday even as friends finish up their degrees or start lives in other countries. Change will remain constant and the universe will continue to conspire to give us that which we most desire. But at least, for a little more than a year, the passengers and driver of the COP vehicle gave this not so little boy the hope that we could have done it.

Whether the dream ends tomorrow or a new wave of euphoria washes over T&T as the COP assumes even a single seat in the Parliament, I can say that for once, I have supported a political party and was not, in the least bit ashamed to say so.

Mr. Speaker, I beg to move, and I beg the good people of T&T to move with me and the Congress of the People.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’- Edmund Burke

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

We built this City

The sun rises slowly above the hills of the Northern Range and one by one, the headlights dim as the cars march incessantly into Port of Spain. God, I never thought I’d see the day that I’d be watching the sun rise in the rear view mirror as I head into the smoggy capital city. From two, then three and now about six ‘skyscrapers’ litter the skyline of Trinidad’s finest city, edifices that confirm the monetary wealth of a nation that could be great.

Like zombies, the masses head out before the break of day in a valiant but more often unsuccessful attempt to head off the permanent traffic. Children awake at dream-weaving hours to commute to school. No one feels anything save and except frustration at the time spent in traffic or anger at the guy in front who just gave you a bad drive. But still they soldier on, heading into the big city, hoping to make a day’s wages so that they can enjoy the niceties that T&T has come to offer, whether it’s their after work lime at Ruby’s or their teenager’s lime at Zen or their 12 year old movie at Movie Towne.

They all have their escapes. But from what? And why? And what of the old lady with seven grandkids to mind on a monthly pension that could barely even support her alone? Where is her escape? Or the man who doesn’t want to leave the hospital because his alternative is a lonely house with no one to talk to? We classify them and sometimes blatantly discriminate against them. They’re just ‘social cases’. Not our problem. It’s the government’s problem or the relatives' problem or someone else’s. As long as it’s not ours.

But the same sun still rises above each of our heads every morning. And like a neat cross section, the city provides an insight into the inner workings of the country. The flashy neon lights of the night and the newest BM-double Vays serve only to betray the poverty that the nation embraces daily. More than 300,000 souls who will go hungry today, who went hungry yesterday and who will go hungry tomorrow, even as the fat cats feast on the largesse provided by their well connected friends and family.

One day, one night, one moment,
my dreams could be, tomorrow.

Or it could never come. But I know this: If I don’t try it’s a lock that it’ll never come. So I’ll keep on trying. Even when it pains most. Especially when it pains most. Because if I’m to believe in the probabilistic, then things just might work out.

One step, one fall, one falter,
east or west, over earth or by ocean.
One way to be my journey,
this way could be my Book of Days

If you want it enough, the universe will conspire for you. I’ve learnt that. But it won’t happen by just wishing. You’ve got to get up and become involved. So instead of sitting by and letting things happen, we have to go out there and make the difference, first in our lives, so that we gain respect for ourselves. It is only when we gain a respect and love for ourselves that we could even hope to help others. And while each person’s journey will inevitably different, we all want to reach the same destination: Happiness.

And while I don’t profess to be the Happiness Guru, one sure way of being happy is by making others happy, as the old chorus goes.

No day, no night, no moment,
can hold me back from trying.

I can’t remember when it did become my journey, but it did. And because of it, I’m more patient and more understanding. I appreciate more of what I have and I appreciate the problems that people have. I appreciate people more and am thankful for those who’ve stuck by me all this time, even if they number in the low single digits.

And I wonder what it will take for more and more people to appreciate others. Yes, they have their jobs and their kids, their wives and lovers, mistresses and husbands, but can’t we all just take a collective breath and look up from that piece of paper or computer screen to just take in the scene around us? Let’s pretend for a moment that a world exists beyond our noses and get involved in making our environment a product of who we are not vice versa.

It’s grandiose a thought because it hinges on the belief that the majority of people can be selfless and spare a though for others or the things around them. But if enough do or at least try to, then maybe we can get back on track and drag the others with us.

The sun sets in my rear view mirror. Sixty skyscrapers litter the Port of Spain skyline, each indistinguishable from the other. The masses flick their headlights on, looking to home to escape from their day. An old lady begs with her husband at the side of the road, their shriveled frames belie their strength. Countless others await the fate this night will bring. We have gone nowhere fast. May heaven have mercy on our souls, for we did not. We are safe, none of us.

This way became my journey,
this day ends together, Far and Away.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Painful Practice

Medicine has long been regarded as a noble profession and its practitioners respected as men and women of honour and integrity. Lately, however, it seems as though doctors have become the target and reason for everything that is wrong with our health system. The myth, perpetrated by none other than the Minister of Health himself, that the reason for poor healthcare in this country is as a result of incompetent, lazy and selfish doctors has caught steam with the general public, justifiably frustrated by the worsening manner in which health care has been delivered under this administration.

Minister Rahael cannot continue to use isolated incidents involving a few doctors to paint the entire profession with a brush that taints all. This is especially true when dealing with a profession, such as medicine, where reputation is essential in obtaining the trust and respect of your patients. If we are to use his yardstick, then we will be justified in painting all politicians as corrupt, including Mr. Rahael, himself, who came under scrutiny recently over the establishment of a nationwide pharmacy chain linked to his immediate family.

There has been a slew of controversies within the last five years that has led one to conclude that the government is determined to deal with doctors in a confrontational manner, unbecoming of the profession. Whether that has been over salaries, working conditions, questionable hiring and firing practices by the Ministry or the claim by those in government that the entire medical profession is sympathetic to the cause of a political party opposed to them, it is clear that doctors and medical students in this country have had to deal with more than their fair share of mauvais langue from the powers who claim to have the health of the nation as a primary concern.

It has become almost cliché to say that basic amenities have not been addressed even after the expenditure of close to $200 billion dollars in the last six years. There has not been the construction of a single general hospital. Instead, there has been the premature abortion of one in Tobago, while the rest of the nation contends with three under-staffed, poorly-equipped institutions that continue to run only on the dedication of their staff and the grace of God.

Surely, Mr. Rahael must be accountable to the nation when it comes to answering questions regarding the reasons why there are not enough dialysis machines or functioning Intensive Care Units (both adult and neonatal) or proper quarters for doctors and nurses at our hospitals. Are doctors responsible for the purchase of these machines? And then there is the question of drugs. Why are the pharmacies at the hospitals always woefully short of some medication at one point or another? Is it that there is a vested interest in forcing the public to go buy these drugs at private establishments, such as the one owned by his son?

Then there is the issue of admission criteria at the University of the West Indies, Medical Faculty. Why has this suddenly become an issue and why is race being considered as a factor? Is the government suggesting that the doctors produced over the last 20 odd years from Mt. Hope have failed the nation when it comes to providing adequate care? If so, then are there proper statistics or research to back that claim? Where is the current research that shows that a single ethnic group is being favored over another for admission into the medical school? And who exactly is in charge of making decisions regarding health in this country? Is it the Ministry of Health and their experts or is it the Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education? Under whose jurisdiction does the University fall and how can, with one fell swoop, the Government mandate change without proper research and consultation? And, if admission criteria need to be changed, then when does it take effect? If it takes effect immediately, then doesn’t that place, at a significant disadvantage, those students currently entering 6th and 7th years of secondary school who would have taken certain subjects on the premise that that was the acceptable criteria?

As if all that was not enough to frustrate even the most experienced of professional, there is the issue of hiring and firing practices by the current Minister and his cohorts. There was the claim that there was a shortage of doctors in the system and therefore the need to hire foreign doctors to meet the needs of the populace. Again, was any research conducted to determine the extent of the shortfall and therefore the number of doctors required to fill the void? Was consideration given to the fact that approximately 120 doctors graduate every year from Mt. Hope, so that contracts given to foreign doctors should be on a diminishing basis to account for the incoming new doctors?

There was the recent firing of two nurses at the Mt. Hope Maternity Hospital after an incident where a newborn was burned with a hot water bottle. By all accounts, published in the press, this directive came from the Minister himself. Apart from wondering whether the Minister has better things to do than to micromanage the hospitals, isn’t there something to be said about having a proper inquiry into the circumstances surrounding this horrific incident? As professionals, who would have spent a significant amount of time and expense training to become nurses, aren’t they entitled to a hearing where they would have been allowed to give their side of the story? Perhaps a hot water bottle was used to keep the newborn warm because the incompetent administration of the hospital and by extension, the Minister, were unaware that there were an inadequate number of incubators at the hospital and that the baby would have died, had he not been kept warm. But these stories never come to light. It’s easier to fire the nurses because it’s good Public Relations. The rabid population calls for blood and the Minister obliges, disregarding totally, the rights of any he may have trampled on.

In addition, we now hear of the firing of 30 recently graduated, local doctors from the hospitals. Is it that the chronic shortage is now over? If so, then why are our wards still heavily populated with foreign labour? If the excuse is that the doctors were not under contract, then perhaps the disingenuous perpetrators of that excuse would like to see all those doctors currently not under contract justifiably walk off the job, since they have no right to be on the wards. The exodus would be astounding and then the Minister would have yet another opportunity to posture himself on national television and accuse doctors of endangering the lives of their patients.

Mr. Minister, the system is broken badly and getting worse. Serious change needs to be made with respect to the proper administration of Health in Trinidad and Tobago. The report of Gladys Gafoor following the Commission of Inquiry into the Health Sector should be made public and its recommendations heeded. Instead of antagonizing the very people who have to provide health services to this nation (doctors, nurses, attendants, drivers etc) why don’t you expend more time and implore your Prime Minister to spend more money to properly upgrade the woeful facilities that currently exist?

You have had six years in government. Can you honestly face the nation and tell its citizens that the system, not incidental accomplishments, but the system as a whole is better off now, even after the most prosperous economic times that this country has seen? What is our life expectancy now, compared to five years ago? What is the infant mortality rate now compared to five years ago? How has the health system been able to cope with the rise in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cancer? How has our economy and productivity suffered because of inadequate or improper health care? If these questions cannot be answered at the drop of a hat, Mr. Minister, it is you and your government that has failed the people of this country when it comes to providing health care.

There are surely many other things that can be done to address the state of our hospitals than finding scapegoats in the very individuals who keep the sinking ship of health barely afloat by their dedication and compassion for their patients, rather than vindictive discrimination or the love of money. It wasn’t doctors that got whopping increases in salaries since you took office in 2001. I hear the Salaries Review Commission is meeting again soon. No doubt at least 67 parliamentarians will be better off following their recommendations. What about the rest of us?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Flourish, Exeunt

Oh, the torment bred in the race, the grinding scream of death and the stroke that hits the vein, the haemorrhage none can staunch, the grief, the curse no man can bear.

But there is a cure in the house and not outside it, no, not from others but from them, their bloody strife. We sing to you, dark gods beneath the earth.

Now hear, you blissful powers underground-answer the call, send help. Bless the children, give them triumph now.

The Libation Bearers- Aeschylus [JK Rowling- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows]

And then it was midnight, or 7:01pm in Trinidad. I had never stood in line, as I would for food or a movie, for a book. But all that changed on the night of July 20th, 2007. I was fully caught in the hype for the final installment of the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry Potter may mean different things to different people, but for the last 10 years, it has been to me very much what I suppose Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was to my parents.

Ever since I could remember, I have read or been read to. I don’t know if my father remembers, but I remember, at 3 years old, clambering into bed with him and my younger brother, and being read the classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and many, many more. I never forgot them and as I grew, it was evident that those evening spent discovering the enchanted lands of fantasy and escape had laid the foundation for a lifetime of reading a myriad of books.

Finishing 400 page novels at nine and ten years old became norm for me. Then, as I started high school, there emerged from obscurity a British writer, who, on good account had created this series about a boy, who lived amongst Muggles but who was really the lone survivor of murder and who had vanquished, as a baby, the most evil of all Dark Wizards. And so, binding the planet with her tale of Harry Potter, Rowling’s spell evolved from a battle between good and evil to a battle between Harry and himself

Harry faces his greatest challenges, but as we read, he learns to overcome them using love, trust, friendship and restraint. His quest to recover the Horcruxes is akin to Frodo’s ‘precious’. He grapples with the loss of many of his closest allies in a bloodbath filled novella that answers all questions, ties up the series wonderfully and brings a sense of bittersweet closure to his legion of readers.
He longed to discover the truth about his past and forged the strongest of friendships whilst courting danger under the watchful eyes of Headmaster Dumbledore at Hogwarts. We walked alongside him, whether recovering the Philosopher’s Stone or understanding Quidditch or participating in the TriWizard’s tournament or acing the Potion’s class using the text of the Half Blood Prince.

We were captivated, drawn into the magical fantasy of Harry’s world, vacillating between love and hate for Snape, becoming impatient with Hermione or just feeling sorry for Ron. The books became increasingly longer and more popular, as Rowling narrated every detail, from the shade of the drapes in the Gryffindor hall to the elusive Snitch to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself.

She has served, not only to entertain us, but to allow us, especially those in our mid twenties, to live our own lives through the lives of her characters. Talking about Hogwarts is as nostalgic as talking about your old school. The non-magical tribulations faced by the gang while doing their OWLs is easily relatable and their stuggles with relationships is as human as ever. Rowling made sure never to cast Harry as a superhero. She ensured that he wasn’t perfect and it was that fallibility that accorded him a degree of humanity that so many of us could attest to. He needed people to trust, friends to confide in, teachers to guide him and was the subject of taunts and antagonisms. Were he not the Chosen One, he would be a regular boy. And it is that connection that had millions lining up at midnight to get their hands on the final installment to discover for themselves whether Harry’s fallibility would end in death or if the merchants of good would defeat the Dark Lord and his disciples.

Rowling imputes resounding political themes and lessons are learnt about absolute power and domineering government control. From the various Ministers of Magic to Dolores Umbridge herself, the latter books are wrought with warnings about allowing freedoms to be systematically undermined without a definitive uprising against those taking away those freedoms.

Reading the final book finally put a realization that as each page turned, you were one page closer to the end, with no Book 8 to come. As things were explained and understanding dawned, tears flowed freely, if not for those who died, but for the selflessness of some, the utter sacrifice of others and the loyalty of even more.

There will never be another Harry Potter. In twenty years, perhaps, another novelist will come along and take the world by storm. Whether the next great author can top Rowling as history’s best selling non-religious author remains to be seen. It would be a great day when another 400 million books can be sold, captivating from kindergarteners to pensioners, especially now in an age of TV, Internet, iPods and movies.

For now, we are left with seven of the most magical books ever conceived from one of the most creative minds ever to bless this earth. JK Rowling has showed that people are willing to read, if they are given something that they want to read. Her formula is not easily duplicated and, dare I say, will never be replicated. And as the first 12 million copies literally fly off the shelf as if enchanted by the Accio! spell, we can take heart that Rowling does not abandon her progression into darkness and death and that the aptly named Deathly Hallows is a final reflection of life and the importance of living not only for yourself, but for the general upliftment of others and society

Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.- William Penn (More Fruits of Solitude) [JK Rowling (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)]

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Death Becomes Him

On Monday we added another name to the already alarmingly long list of young people we’ve lost. I don’t know if the number is par, but personally, it seems that too many recent graduates or students of my alma mater are meeting their demise.

The latest, Shastri Sooknanan, decided that there was no longer a reason to continue his existence on earth and proceeded to swing himself from the rafters of his home. I didn’t know him personally, but even those who did couldn’t come up with a reason that would explain this seemingly inexplicable event. Being in the midst of severe tribulations, I can understand how easy it is to hide things. Not one of my friends has a clue as to what is transpiring in my deeply personal life. None of them know how close I, too, have come to being the subject of a story similar to Shastri’s.

I ponder as to the reasons and chillingly, I even admire his courage. I could never go through the process of actually attaching a rope, pulling a chair and following through with the actual act. Perhaps it is a reflection of a sickening mind, but I don’t blame him for the action that he took. I don’t view him as a coward nor do I think he may have been unjustified. We simply do not know the circumstances. We can only guess as to the exact event that broke his back and made him systematically plot to carry through with this mere minutes after his sisters were the last people to leave the house that fateful Monday morn.

What I do know is that he spent seven years at Presentation College and another five years attaining his medical degree. And after twelve years of intense studying, it took only two weeks in the workplace before something triggered him to complete an act so reviled by others that the Bible itself ensures its punishment as condemnation to an eternity with the Angel of Darkness himself.

Perhaps it is a failure of the system not to recognize and offer assistance to those amongst us who are truly in need of counseling, even when we ourselves recognize the need for it and are actually crying reddened tears for it. More so, it is an indictment on ourselves as humans that he didn’t, as far as we know, find a single individual whom he could have turned to confide in. A person whom he knew genuinely cared for his story and was willing to listen to him. And perhaps more than that, just a single true friend who would not glibly dismiss his sentiments as insignificant in the wider scheme of things.

We all have our stories, our secrets and our pains. Every so often we need a person in our lives to share, confide in and acquire advice. Whatever drove Shastri to the deep end, never to be rescued should not be allowed to repeat itself. But that statement rings hollow when I know that the only outcome of this would be a memorial service with a high-faluted dean, who pretends to care for the well being her students, addressing the rest of us as though she knows our stories and cares for the well being of our existences.

While some of our worlds come crashing down worse than America in Die Hard 4, no one seems to have an answer as to why so many choose to end it rather than fight it. Perhaps, it’s because all the fighting was done already. The challenges became insurmountable and the fight no longer held up. And boxed in, with no one and no where to turn to, the only reasonable decision seems to be ending it all.

The lamentations will continue for a few weeks, months perhaps, but in time to come, there will be a repeat because we would have failed to learn from our pasts. The fragile souls on the edge would have taken the leap into the unknown, in the fleeting possibility that they may, in fact, be finally saved from the machinations of a world designed to extricate from them only the darkest and most sorrowful aspects of their existences.

Judgments will flow from the experts and non-experts alike. They will be crucified, even in death and remembered, not for the great lives that they lived, but for the death that they chose. In the end, it is perhaps best not to glorify death. It is sick to be obsessed with it, as it is sick to be obsessed with anything I suppose. But unlike most other things, death is irreversible. A mark left forever in the sands of time that will demarcate the cessation of your time on earth. And for those who leave their footprints on their own terms, rather than on the terms of nature, accidents or God himself, the living is forever indebted to them for the actions that they failed to take to save a life.

Rest In Peace:

Shastri Sooknanan (Class of 2001)
Dewan Suren Ramberran (Class of 2003)
Garnet Lalla Maharaj (Class of 2001)
Gerard Bertrand (Class of 2002)

“Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
- Shakespeare

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Opposing Forces

The opposition in general should serve as an alternate government.

The UNC of 2002, when the final nail was pounded in the coffin that sent them to another 5 years in the Opposition grave, should have used the opportunity then, as articulated by its leader, to reorganise itself into a party post Basdeo Panday. The reality of the situation is that Panday is not immortal, and whatever he's done great or fallen short of for this country, the UNC needed to start moving quickly towards a post-Panday era if they were to attract any sort of new support or support from the Independent/Non Voters in T&T, while maintaining their base.

Given that they did, in fact, have internal elections and Winston Dookeran won the post of Leader, it showed that Panday's thinking was either that he was more of a liability to the party or that he wanted to move on to a life not as heavily set in politics (a retirement of sorts). The fact that Dookeran ran unopposed is immaterial. If anything, it showed a great vote of confidence in his ability to lead the party after Panday.

This is where things got messy. Instead of engaging in a divisive war that undid whatever goodwill there was, Panday should have helped (not dictate or unilaterally made decisions) his party, in Opposition to position itself as a viable, serious alternate to the PNM by the following:

1. Formation of a shadow government with its 16 MPs and 6 Senators that tracked each of the actual ministries and held ministers accountable; liaising with the Permanent Secretaries in order to ensure that policy was implemented and undue governmental pressure was not exerted on individuals or companies. To their credit, they did attempt to do this, but it fell apart quickly, even before the internal elections.

2. To provide effective representation to their voters and the wider population that did not support the election of the party in power. They needed to ensure that they were present at their constituency offices to serve the people that elected them and bring the issues facing the average person to the fore. Coming in from the government, they, more than any other group should have been well attuned to the issues facing people on a daily basis. Sure the simple, basic problems that existed 6 years ago when they demitted office still exist, but what proactive solutions have they proffered to combat these problems? They may not have the resources to implement the suggestions, but having documentation suggesting that an effort was made puts the onus on the Government as to why they didn't accept a possible solution. This is clearly seen with the immense pressure the GOTT has taken over the crime situation and now, with elections looming they are forced into consultations etc. Where was the similar pressure from the Opposition about Utilities, Economy or Health and Education? Imagine the leverage they could have had going into this election had they simply done their job.

3. Instead of bringing all these motions to the House as 'Urgent Public Importance' which were summarily dismissed by the Speaker (justifiably or not), why not use political maneuvers to have these motions tabled properly and force the GOTT into a debate even if the Private Motion would have been voted down by the majority of the government? The Democrats in the US pushed their bill through on the Iraq War Funding even though they knew that the President would veto and they didn't have enough support in either House to override the veto. Such a strategy would have forced the Parliament into voting or debating the motions and people would have seen for themselves how the response from members were. Instead, what we had were MPs like Partap, Nanan, Singh (Ganga) and Wade Mark seeking confrontation in the Houses when nothing at all was being done, except for a 2 min clip on the news that night. Not a single matter of urgent public importance was ever addressed!

4. Bargaining for what you want. Instead of withholding crucial votes and frustrating crucial legislation, they could have struck deals and ensured that some Opposition agendas were fulfilled. That way, they could have come to their supporters with some sort of proof that they actually engaged in a degree of decision making in the Red House. Ironically, the only time I remember in the life of the current Parliament that this ever happened, was when the COP gave conditional support for the Bail Bill in return for debate on the Equal Opportunity Bill. When the GOTT lapsed and the COP threatened not to renew the Bills, they tabled the bill, which is currently being debated. Had they not had that yolk over their head, do you think they would have given that Bill the time of day? And that's just a singular example of how the Opposition could have been more effective.

5. Call the bluff. There have been so many reports, rumors etc of wrong doing with the current administration. Why didn't the Opposition try to unearth as much as they could have with regard to these? There was much talk of Panday being singled out for prosecution under the Integrity Act. Why didn't the Opposition compile a list of similar offenders and remind the Integrity Commission that those persons were also in violation of the Act. Inundate them with letters and calls for action against the others until something happened. Instead, the Opposition went all wishy washy, caught up more with selling the (flawed IMO) point that there was a direct vendetta against, not only UNC supporters by the GOTT but against Indians on the whole. Where has that strategy gotten them? Won't it have been much more worthwhile to have organised their members to send in letters of complaint, organise protests (rather than the THREAT of protest) etc until some sort of decisive action was taken to ensure 'equality' before the law. But no, Panday chose to sell himself, selfishly, as a martyr. (of what, exactly is unclear, since there was damning evidence , provided by his own AG that he had an inappropriate account in London)

Those are just a few things that would have made for a stronger, more effective opposition in T&T over the last 6 years. We've spent the better part of the last 3 years seeing the UNC fall apart, while we spent the better part of the first 2 years seeing them try to get their act together.

A party cannot rely on people voting for them solely because they want to paint their opponents as monsters or proclaiming that anything would be better than them, if you don't have the track record to prove it. To harken back to the golden days of the UNC in the mid to late nineties needs a realisation that the UNC of 1995-2000 no longer exists, replaced instead by a shadow of a party (more like a committee of individuals seeking their own political survival) that has done very little in the preceding 6 years to demonstrate that they are competent to serve as the next government of T&T.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Dutty Wine

Last night I sat eating my reheated dinner. It was leftover from lunch, and like most leftovers, it was a small task to fully complete its consumption. I flicked on the TV to look at the first National Debate for the Democratic candidates for the 2008 US Presidential election. Characteristically, I switched to the local news to see what new and exciting stories had captured the imagination of the press that day.

The lead story was that of Zen having their license revoked and now in an indefinite state of limbo concerning the status of their reopening. As I tried to reconcile the reasons why Zen should have their license revoked, I came to the conclusion that Trinidadians are a fickle bunch whose opinions change with the wind.

In the recent uproar over Danah Alleyne and her antics at Zen, the myriad of opinions show just how willing we are to be distracted by non issues.

Make no mistake. Zen was wrong in allowing admittance to an underage patron. There should have been better systems in place to check IDs. However, even the best systems contain flaws and having a rigorous system in place would not have prevented someone from slipping through the cracks. Zen’s responsibility is great, but it ends there.

People, for some reason are not willing to speak out and ask necessary questions of the other parties involved in this mess. Let’s start with the main culprit, Danah herself. She has admitted that she lied about her age to security to get through. She has admitted that she had a third party acquire the tickets for her and she has admitted that she lied to her father about her whereabouts that night. It is evident that she was determined to get into Zen, come hell or high water.

Having got past security, and probably thanking her lucky stars, she volunteered herself to go on stage in a public display with Akon. So we have at least four errors in judgment on her part. Danah is not as innocent as her father, brother and Manning would like us to believe.

The next party to this is her father. Akon’s performance did not start until 2 am. Was Dave not aware that his daughter had not yet returned home from an 'ice-cream' trip? In an age of cell phones and kidnappings, did he not call to find out about the whereabouts of his daughter after she had been missing for such a long time? Why was an alarm not raised? There are two very simple answers to this. The first is that Danah and Co. conspired well enough to keep her father in the dark, or Pastor Alleyne knew where his daughter was that night. Zen cannot be held responsible for ineffective parenting and the resulting fallout. The parent of a 14 year old is very much responsible for her actions.

What about those who acquired the ticket for Danah? Were they not aware that Danah was underage and not allowed into the nightclub? They are as culpable as anyone else in aiding and coercing her to attend the concert.

Akon's performance isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea. But he was there to entertain those who had paid to see him. He would have been under the impression that this was a consenting adult.

Now, there is a huge outcry from prominent individuals. The issue has turned political, since her brother, Ian, was screened by the PNM for the Caroni East seat and is a member of the Arrive Alive campaign. Manning is now trying to save face by pleading for forgiveness of Danah. How convenient is the plea for forgiveness by these bigots, Pastor Winston Cuffie included, when just two weeks ago, they were silent on the call by another pastor from Tobago to ban Elton John from entering the island, based solely on his sexual orientation? Does forgiveness only apply to certain people? I would have thought that an all forgiving God would see no distinction in forgiving any of his flock. It seems as if these pastors are more hard line gods than God himself!

But Trinidad needs to take a serious look at itself. We allow ourselves to be blinded and brainwashed by people who claim to be cut from the cloth of God. It includes Pastor Manning, parading as the Prime Minister, Pastor Cuffie, who is more intolerant that most, Pastor Alleyne, whose daughter is a prime example of how not to rear children, Pastor Terrance Baynes who believes that homosexuality is a transmissible disease and the jewel in the crown, Pastor Vishnu Lutchmansingh, who claimed to have inherited from one obscure individual more than the GDP of the entire European Union.

And now, the thousands of other patrons of Zen are left to pay for a misbehaving teenager and her ineffective parent, while Zen themselves get their house in order. The most esteemed Defender of all things Moral, Manning, has seen it fit to drop every other issue plaguing this country since his ascension, to comment on what is effectively a matter involving a private establishment and law enforcement.

The only good that can come from this is that there should be stricter controls on who is allowed to enter nightclubs in this country. However, if the same Manning and Pastors Cuffie and Alleyne fail to do their part in addressing the social decay of this country, requiring IDs at entrances will serve only as a bandage over a gaping wound. A new industry of fake IDs will be set up and it will only take time before another 14 year old is made the clown in another media circus.

'A characteristic of the normal child is he doesn't act that way very often.'

Monday, April 23, 2007

The King and WI

The high backlift. The crashing down of the blade and the perfect shot through the covers to the boundary. The Oscar winning performances ascribed to his name, even as the supporting cast failed to garner so much as a nod of approval.

He walked when he knew he was out. Sometimes, he had to walk when he knew he wasn’t. Now he has walked, pushed by the very hands that once applauded him. But that was the man. A gentleman and a sportsman on the field. The world of cricket had never seen and will never again see an incarnation of the great man. And it will be poorer for it.

The motivation of the man despite the negativity is something he will always be remembered for. His decorum and statesmanship was nothing short of that expected of the best diplomat.

As the salty tears streamed from his face on the fateful final day, his legions bowed before him and celebrated him. They acknowledged his status of Entertainer Supreme. He was the last of the old guard, from the era of greatness. A transitional soul that played at the heady heights of the early nineties to the dismal doldrums of the new millennium.

And as the indigenous orchestra played its farewell tune to its most celebrated son of the soil, realization was slowing sinking in that a void had been created that could never be filled.

He wasn't perfect, but it was his flawed genius that made him a legend. His off field antics and sometimes stubborn battles with administrators and sponsors served, not to blemish his legacy but to create it. The manner in which someone takes so much pressures without flinching takes much understanding.

Perhaps, fittingly, his imperfection is meted out by his 299 ODIs and 11,953 Test runs. Perilously close to unchartered territory. But then again, this was a man who discovered new heights and conquered them. These trivialities would have served only to affirm, rather than confirm his greatness.

In his final masterstroke, he has defied his detractors and ensured that he left on terms dictated largely by himself and no one else. He was a gentleman first, and a sportsman after. Others will be remembered for what they have done. He will be remembered for who he was and what he meant to the game. A greater compliment could not be paid.

Yes, we basked in his glory and cried at his feet. He was our man. He was our love. He was our Lara. And now, he is gone. The poet of great memories had written his final verse, without so much as a proper goodbye. And while there will be those who accuse me of elevating you on a pedestal, I rebut by saying that there is no harm in speaking the truth and no truth is more resounding than that which you have created for these islands in the last 17 years.

So thank you Brian. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for the 277, the 375, the 213 and the 153*, perhaps your greatest ever. Thank you for the 400* and the 501*. Thank you for being the Atlas for your nations. Headley would have been proud.

But thank you, Brian, for making the choice to leave when you did. For the ignominy of playing for those who do not deserve you superseded any more accomplishments that would have been added to an almost infinite list. You had nothing to prove and you proved that by exiting with your head held high and your dignity intact.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dying to Live

'The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.'- Ernest Becker

The complexity of our individual lives is as surprising as the interplay between us. We can play it like a song, a Shakespearean dramedy or even a movie. We can write our happiness, tragedies, achievements; even our jealousies and rage. Sometimes we are scripted, other times we ad lib. Most times we play a character that isn’t a representation of our true selves.

If we’re lucky, we grace this earth for about seventy years; the ancient biblical threescore and ten. Some of us manage to live past a century while others tragically fall during what should be the most prolific years of their lives. One thing is certain. We, most of us, are not aware of the hour at which we shall obtain our demise.

We only get one shot at living; a single passport at life. Some will swear that by fortune or by the grace of God, they have been given more than one chance at life. It is these who are most appreciative of life thereafter. They are the ones who grab the opportunity to live.

What would you do if you were given the chance to experience death and return to tell the stories? Many claim that they already have. Their near death experiences (NDEs) are tales of happiness and terror, confusion and disbelief. They all agree that there is some sort of life after our term expires here on earth. How then, do we rationalize our living? After all, no one has died and live to tell the tale! I believe that we must live to be happy.

Ill health transports us to a place that most of us choose not to visit. It unleashes upon our repressed souls the notion of our mortality. Having yet to extract the elixir that will grant us life ad infinitum, we grapple with the reality that one day we shall rejoin the soil from which we were first extracted. We shall become nothing more than the carbon, proteins and dust that formed our structure. We will no longer be sentient beings, if indeed, we were in the first place. Our veins shall run dry and, for the vast majority, the memories of our existences will crumble faster than the bones in our graves.

Happiness is defined by one’s own personal derivation of it. It is not universal in its attainment. It isn’t a do-as-you-please exercise. But true happiness can only be achieved when one is honest with oneself and can then charter a course in life toward successfully achieving it. For some, it will be a short, clear course, while others will navigate choppy waters. In the end, if you find the way to live every day as though it was your last, then you have done better than the most successful academic, sportsman or stockbroker.

Obstacles such as health may serve to detract. It is especially so if you have managed to initially overcome these woes. It is a torture because you think that every pain or strain may be an indication that your condition is returning or worsening. You live in perennial fear that you may once again have to face challenges that you never envisioned. You think that you cannot face another round of scourging. You think of the worst outcomes even before a proper diagnosis is made. You spend weeks pondering the results of the latest scans or bloods. I know you. I was you.

Don’t for one minute allow it to overcome you. I have come to realize now that regardless of the state of things around or within us, we must ensure that we live life fully. It is surely easier said than done, but the crux is that we live our lives until we die. To wallow and mope unnecessarily in the misgivings of our current realities is to allow death to have a premature stranglehold on our souls.

You can hope for a better reality post mortem, or you can simply ensure that the one life that you are certain exists, is justly served with the maximum amount of life due to it. And if, perchance you find happiness along the way, then does it really matter if there is a life hereafter? After all, once we are born we only hold a one way ticket to death.

April 12th, 2007

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Covenant

Let us not deceive ourselves. Politicians are in the business of obtaining votes. Few admit to it but, to his credit, Basdeo Panday has made it clear on many occasions that his business in politics is simply in obtaining power. It was, after all, the motivation behind the now infamous Crowne Plaza Agreement of 2001 which failed so miserably that one must wonder what more it must take for supposedly experienced politicians to get their act together for the good of the country. And it is only then that you realize, or more accurately, it is consciously imposed on you that our politicians hardly ever have the interest of the country at heart in devising their political shenanigans.

As things stand currently, there will be a massive splitting of votes in the upcoming General Elections that will see the incumbent PNM win a majority of House seats quite comfortably. The population stands on the cusp of some serious decision making. No election in the history of this country has ever been more important. It is truly damning that Patrick Manning’s approval rating in Trinidad and Tobago is worse than George W. Bush’s in the USA, yet the major polls predict a landslide win for his party.

This is an overwhelming indication of the potential that vote splitting has in the First Past the Post system of elections. There can be no doubt that there is a desire for change. There is also no doubt that the population has become increasingly apathetic, fed up of 51 years of the same type of politics. There is a leadership vacuum with no clear heir to assume the position. In Medieval England, this would be solved by war, with the ascension to the throne of a new Royal Line. Our democracy, however, places us in the quagmire of returning spent forces to our legislative chambers and creating political dinosaurs.

Perhaps what is needed is a benevolent dictator to pull us out of our current predicament and set this country back onto a solid footing with a relatively efficiently functioning judicial, financial, health and education systems. But that is not even a viable option at this stage.

The solution lies not in Panday’s call for unity or Winston Dookeran’s rejection of any form of dialogue. Even though they may possess dichotomous personalities, their respective decisions and strategies simply culminate in a recipe for a PNM victory in the upcoming polls. One can be Machiavellian and adopt Panday’s pragmatic approach or settle for the inevitably futile method of Dookeran. Or one can compromise.

A compromise is not an alliance or an unification. It is not a repeat of 1986 or 1995. It lies in this middle aged Republic taking yet another step toward political maturity. We must come to embrace politics as if it were run like a corporate entity. If the Opposition forces are serious about unseating the incumbent, then they must negotiate a method by which they themselves contest the election against a single party rather than against each other as well as the incumbent.

The only verdict is that the warring factions must come to the table, not in an attempt to merge their parties or compromise their principles. There is a reason that the two parties are now separate, and it is no coincidence that much of that has to do on differing views on principles and integrity. However, an agreement concerning the contesting of seats in such a manner that no constituency proffers more than two viable candidates, the incumbent and the negotiated opposition candidate is perhaps the most vital of any in the hope of mounting a serious challenge. Following this agreement, and prior to the election, agreements must also be made on which party nominates the positions of Prime Minister, Attorney General, Minister of Finance, Minister of National Security and Minister of Foreign Affairs, subject to success at the polls.

This method seeks to bring bout some semblance of respectability to the process while allowing for the will of the people to be expressed in such a way that people are not felt cheated in the final outcome. It also allows the parties to maintain their identities without being drowned in a soup of conundrums if a merger were to take place. It also allows a simmering of suspicions between the organizations since there will be no attempt to dissolve one or both, in the name of forming a new entity.

Our only hope for a change of government at this point is a coalition, a covenant if you will, of the separate parties of the UNC and COP, not an alliance or unification.
The people will unite on their own volition, not on the manipulations of politicians. The politicians’ jobs are simply to ensure that the will of the people is manifest adequately at the highest levels of administration in the country, whilst maintaining integrity, accountability, transparency, decency and honesty.

It is perhaps the best solution to a situation that has no good solutions.

‘Don't sacrifice your political convictions for the convenience of the hour’- Edward Kennedy.

Sun Apr 08, 2007
03:16 A.M.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

A New Day

‘Let the rain come down and wash away my tears, let it fill my soul and drown my fears.’- Aldo Nova & Stephan Moccio

It’s 4 minutes into the new day and I find myself on the internet. Facebook to be exact. It has become more of an addiction than the distraction that it once was.

I flick the light switch off and come to bed, my blanket pulled to my chest. It's worn threadbare now, a relic of my childhood but the source of most of my warmth and comfort during those trying and sometimes unbearable years. Like an old, faithful pup, it has continued to keep me company though its best days have passed.

The rain falls as it has been for the last four hours. The drops on the roof sound garbled and every so often a cold wind blows that lifts the ceiling tiles and drops them back down, in a well choreographed dance. A colder breeze blows and the blanket reaches my neck. I know one day it will fail to offer me protection. But for now, it is my only refuge.

As I lie here contemplating, I wonder when exactly I grew up, making that transition from boy to man. It was probably around 8 or 9, a full hand of years before puberty. We make our judgments on rigid timetables set for us by our biologists. Hardly ever do we acknowledge that we place in the minds of our children the tasks of adults. Physically, the body bears it, but the mind is forever changed, in ways so profound, that we can never truly recover the simplicity of our childhood, however short it may have lasted. What I can’t place is that time I became hardened, frigid and cynical.

Life tests us. Whether it is a designed assessment to achieve a higher end or simply happenstance, we find ourselves caught in a web, trying to extract only that which can adequately and safely nourish us, but sometimes being forced to consume poisons such as hate, jealousy and criticisms for actions that are inherently private and no one else’s concern.

That is why I no longer attempt to please everyone. It’s why I now try to live as freely as I could without depending too much on others. And it’s why I am now trying to break this mould that has set for years. But it is an exercise in isolation to continue along this path. For there will always be the desire for being needed and loved. To intertwine one’s fingers with another’s. To close your eyes and know that you can completely trust. To love without castigation and hate. But most of all, to simply live, without having to kill your true self.

‘How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.’
- George Washington Carver

12:27am Tue 03/27/2007

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Moment in Time

December 13, 2006
1:43 pm

Life is about moments they say. Exactly who 'they' are, are people I've never come to known.

At this moment I'm sitting in the med sci library looking at people go about studying. I probably should be as well. It's an important exam. I know that. I just feel out of place. As though I shouldn't be here. I know that I want to be a doctor. I think.

Countless people have told me that I will be good at it.But medicine isn't something you should ONLY be good at. It should be something you genuinely have a passion for. I never bargained to be around so many motivated and driven people. Socrates and Aristotle would be mortified to see the herd ingesting what they are told, regurgitating it, in exactly the same way that they swallowed it. No intermission for questioning.

It's quite laudable that there is such diligence and committment, especially from people who will have others' lives in their hands. But they are so immersed in a little world. Calmly taking breaks going to Rituals to buy their $22 chillers so they can be seen to part of an imaginary elitest establishment. They forget there's a bigger picture. A real world where people struggle to survive on a daily basis and where the rivers and seas dont run rich with milk and honey. They stand at the top of Everest already, not knowing the travails of those who actually had to climb the slopes, some rocky, most slippery.

I'm no expert, far from. I have had many experiences with different people in the quagmire of life. I have experienced some of the best and the worst. But I am thankful for all, since the litany of debris that I have collected along the way has made me a better, stronger person.

For all the bad that may have come and is yet to come, I am contented with my life. I am not ecstatic about most things, but introspectively, I am happy that I have reached this moment. Things could have been better, much better, yes. But then they wouldn't have been as interesting.

The point of life is not to become a doctor or to be a millionarie or to be president. It is simply to be happy. To achieve a sense of purpose and contentment without obstucting others from a similar bourn.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What a Tangled Web We Weave

"This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

No more was this evident than at Monday's hearing of the Chief Justice's criminal case against the State on charges of attempting to pervert the course of Justice. It has been claimed that everything that transpired was within the realm of law. Unfortunately, the law is not always within the realm of justice.

This piece is not to ascribe guilt or innocence upon the CJ. That is a matter for a court or tribunal. What is troubling is the process by which this matter has unfolded. In this particular instance, an allegation was made by the Chief Magistrate that the CJ had attempted to influence the outcome of the now infamous Basdeo Panday trial. A file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions and an arrest warrant issued. The CJ was successful in obtaining a stay of the warrant, even while a vanload of officers was at his door attempting to take him into custody.

This, remember, is the man who holds the third most powerful office in the land, after the President and the Prime Minister. Evading arrest, an injunction was filed that was taken all the way up to the Privy Council, where it was dismissed and the way was cleared for Chief Justice Sharma to be arrested. He was, and soon after, Roger Hamel-Smith was appointed by President Richards as a 'caretaker' CJ. Meanwhile, the other issue of a tribunal against the CJ seemed to take less precedence as the criminal matter continued. It should also be noted that the Privy Council had, at that time, stated that a continuation of BOTH matters would be oppressive against the CJ. One can only assume then, that the state was heeding the advice of the Privy Council by not continuing with the tribunal and instead focussing on the criminal case.

Fast forward to the last week or so. The defence in the case requested that the first witness to take the stand be Chief Magistrate McNicholls, the man on whose allegations the proceedings came into being in the first place. This request was made around February 21. Around the same time, and quite innocuously, the PM also announced the recommencement of an effort to initiate a tribunal. The Chief Magistrate failed to show on Mon 26, citing a case that he was presidding over and again on Wed 28, this time with no reason given.

Finally, appearing in court on Mon Mar 5, 2007, the prosecution dropped a bombshell. McNicholls had informed the state that he was not willing to provide evidence in the criminal case against the CJ. A criminal case where he was expected to be cross examined by Senior Counsel Pamela Elder. Interestingly, it was also a case where the PM was slated to be cross examined as well. After months of legal wrangling, the arrest of the 3rd most powerful man on the allegations of this same man, with the drop of a hat, the case had been dismissed on the refusal of the witness, a Chief Magistrate no less, to provide evidence.

Pertinent questions of the separation of powers and political influence in the judiciary must now be addressed. If the Chief Magistrate was not compelled any longer to give evidence in the criminal proceedings, then why was that not communicated to the court on the previous two dates that he was expected to testify? Why was the case even allowed to continue if the Chief Magistrate knew that he was no longer interested in pursuing the matter. All that was needed was a letter from him to the DPP, informing the DPP that his testimony would no longer be forthcoming.

Indeed, more troubling are the utterances since. The Chief Magistrate has now said that he is willing to give evidence in the Tribunal. One now has to wonder why the change of heart and indeed, how a WITNESS, can wield so much power over the conduct of an investigation into the CJ. It is indeed frightening to think that a single man can make an allegation, withdraw from testimony, present himself again for testimony at a place HE deems fit and the DPP, Prime Minister, Attorney General and others just play to the strains of his flute.

Indeed, the perception is that there is extensive collusion between those that seem to have a vested interest in the removal of the CJ. This, after all, is a man who was appointed, not by the incumbent administration, but by its predecessor. It is, symbolically, the final estate to fall from the legacy of the UNC administration, what with the changing of the President, PM, Attorney General,Commissioner of Police and the DPP. It would complete the royal flush, so to speak, should the administration be allowed to appoint someone deemed sympathetic to their causes as the head of the Judiciary.

What has been the relationship between the Chief Magistrate and the Prime Minister, Attorney General and the DPP? The PM has claimed that he is taking a hands off approach, but by the very nature of proceedings, he has stuck his hand, many believe too far into the cookie jar already. HE was the one that instituted proceedings for the establishment of a tribunal. HE met with BOTH the CJ and the Chief Magistrate. HE has written to the President and the CJ. HE was the one that stood up in Parliament and announced that HE gave an ultimatum to the CJ to resign or face prosecution, a power that he did not have and more so a perversion of the course of justice itself, if ever there was. And it will be foolhardy to believe that his chief legal advisor, the Attorney General, did not direct and was privy to these actions.

Indeed, one wonders at the timing of the abortion of the criminal proceedings and the announcement by the PM that he will again be looking into the establishment of a tribunal. With the criminal case already proceeding, and the CJ out on bail, would it not have been prudent to stay the tribunal hearings until the criminal proceedings were complete?

Too many questions have been raised. The CJ is as good as free since one would believe that testimony from McNicholls would be shaky, at best. His credibility has been irreparably damaged and with it, the credibility of the ENTIRE judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

"Empires are broken down when the profits of administration are so great, that ambition is satisfied with obtaining them, and he that aspires to greatness needs do nothing more than talk himself into importance. He has then all the power which danger and conquest used formerly to give; he can raise a family, and reward his followers."- Samuel Johnson: Letter to John Taylor, (January 24, 1784)

Monday, March 5, 2007

A God Forsaken Land

"When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do." - William Blake

It has become a sadistic ritual to even glance at the news. I wonder when the nightmare will end. Indeed, I wonder when it began, for it seems that the abyss of our current existences has infinitely no beginning and no end.

The soil of our land is turning red with the blood of the innocents. It is a land forsaken. Forsaken by its people, forsaken by its leaders, forsaken by its gods. We turn our eyes and bury our heads in the tainted sands. We can no longer bear our reality. We have become like the very ones we promised we would never imitate. We have become a people of silence, a spirit broken, cowering in fear.

Our lyricists have gone silent. Subservient to the powers, more imperialist now than fifty years ago. Yet there are those who will claim that such utterances are cloaked in hyperbole.

The truth, running at its lowest ever approval ratings, has become a precious commodity. It is like gold. One must dig through torrents of mud to find a speck. But unlike gold, that speck fetches such a devalued price that one wonders if it was worth finding it in the first place. It is not helped by the fact that as one digs for more specks, thousands fold more mud is poured in a valiant and many times successful attempt to keep them hidden.

Yet there is hope, for there must be. Though broken, there are a few who still remain with a resolve, steadfast so, that the truth be uncovered. While some remain with their heads in the sand and others exploit it for whatever they can get, still, there are others who insist that the innocents must be avenged. And they dig through the sands for the truth, despite the machinations of the imperialists.

We seek a leader. No. Not the romantic notion of a saviour, but a true leader. A leader of his people, not of his bankers. But first, we need the people to awake from their slumber and find within themselves such a person. For it is within the people that change must come. It must come with a fiery desire and an unmasked ambition for that which is better.

But, like the abyss aforementioned, no end is in sight and one harkens back to the stark reality of the present. Realising that, though personal opinion may be strong, it has not manifested into a collective movement. One can only hope that that movement will not come at too late a time to save the few remaining pillars of the nation that are still worth saving.

I say hope, because I no longer say pray. Indeed, like those who have left the shores of this once paradise for lands deemed safer it seems as if God too has decided that he has had enough. What more can be deduced, when millions of prayers every week, in our churches, temples and mosques go unanswered. When men of the cloth become men of the prisons or martyrs in the streets? We look upon God, even our leaders call his name, but, out of earshot, no response comes. Yet, like children who don't know better, the flock returns every week to beg for an intervention, trusting instead an abstract deity to save them rather than dealing proactively with a reality that has manifest itself more terribly now, than ever before.

"The belief in God is not therefore based on the perception of design in nature. Belief in design in nature is based upon the belief in God. Things are as they are whether there is a God or not. Logically, to believe in design one must start with God. He, or it, is not a conclusion but a datum. You may begin by assuming a creator, and then say he did this or that; but you cannot logically say that because certain things exist, therefore there is a God who made them. God is an assumption, not a conclusion. And it is an assumption that explains nothing."- Chapman Cohen

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ganges meets the Nile?

Trinidad and Tobago is on a precipice. It's not a scare tactic or attempted hyperbole. The truth of the matter is that, for the better part of the last six years, T&T has experienced unprecedented times, with respect to crime, the economy and government. It has also showed up our citizens as willing pawns in a political game.

A deeper understanding of the motivation of people's support for politicians in T&T is needed. There seems to be an almost lamb to the slaughter approach when election time comes around and people are asked to support a particular political party. Many times, support for any given party is usually based on hereditary voting patterns or ethnic voting patterns. Very rarely do people take issues and debates into account and make a conscientious decision on Election Day as to which party will be fortunate enough to receive their support.

It is this wonton waste of democratic rights that has fuelled the arrogance of our political dinosaurs since Independence in 1962. Never has T&T has a Prime Minister who has genuinely had the people's interests at heart. On at least three occasions (1986, 1995 and 2001/2), the country had been false started into believing that change would bring about the yearning for a clean political scene. A scene devoid of the petty bitterness that has led to the collapse of governments, resignations of Ministers and MPs and years of feuding between rival politicians, all claiming to be on the side of the people.

Today, following the victory of the People's National Movement (PNM) in the 2002 polls, Trinidad and Tobago stands at the mercy of murderers, kidnappers and big business. Yet, we are constantly being told that the crime rate is really not that bad, kidnappings are on the decrease and smelter plants are good for your health. The (and to an extent, correct) belief that 1962 politics can swim with a 2007 population is as sad as it is scary.

The Opposition is in disarray. The UNC, fractured by a clique of self serving executive members. The spin-off, Congress of the People, started promisingly, but seems to have been losing most of its steam from its heyday, just 6 months ago when it drew a crowd of 15,000 to its launching and had polls citing 40% national support. That support has now dwindled to less than 9%, though its leader remains the most popular choice for Prime Minister of the Republic.

Where do we go from here? If we are to believe the latest polls, one of which has proven quite reliable (NACTA), then the PNM should handily win the next election, possibly with a constitional majority. Meanwhile, the old fox himself, Basdeo Panday, never one to miss an opportunity for division, has reclaimed the reins of the UNC and almost laughingly, in a Ghandi-like attempt, has called for a reunification of the Opposition forces. This, less than one year since he launched a calculated bid to rid the UNC of his then annointed successor, Winston Dookeran. Panday has paralleled Dookeran's refusal to respond to his call to a covert attempt at (Dookeran's) supporting the PNM's return to power. What's more is that his supporters have taken the bait and have begun to characterise Dookeran as a traitor (to what or whom is still unclear), perhaps not willing to delve further into an analysis of why Panday has had such stormy relations with so many of his previous comrades.

Quite simply, Panday's call for unity is hollow. Unity for the sake of removing the PNM is not what this country requires. This country needs unity for the sake of the country. Unity in the opposition forces was a reality a mere 12 months ago. Given his track record, there must be a genuine concern about whether or not Panday can truly lead a united front into a sustainable government.

Unity must be organic and honest, not pragmatic and selfish. There comes a time when one must move away from doing what is pragmatic and realise that the country needs to wake up and do what is right. Unity is right, but political unity does not equate to national unity. Panday and his cohorts can spout as much as they want but his track record is there for all to see, from NAR 86, to NAR 95 to Ramesh et al in 2000, Crowne Plaza in 2001 and most recently, Dookeran in 2006.It is fools gold to believe that Panday, at 72 will change his ways. He is a demagogue to his supporters and nothing more.

The right thing to do is for people to call the government to account. To not sit in business meetings or Chamber meetings and allow the Prime Minister to run riot while you complain about crime and the effect of wonton spending. Imagine a PM admonishes the business community on their own turf, and you can still hear a pin drop in the room.

It is time that people take responsibility for their actions. If you choose to waste your vote over representatives who do nothing for you, that is, fortunately, your democratic right. However, when things continue to go down the abyss that they are, those same people must understand that they contributed to the problem, and by then, it may have been too late to do anything about it.

Notice that, unlike others, I did not say that they should not complain. They are, after all entitled to do so. However, it is a testament to the mindset of many, that they vote for these same representatives, get the same results, proceed to complain, but do nothing substantive to change the status quo when elections are held.

Humans have the ability to learn from mistakes, but like a brainwashed bunch, there seems to be very little dynamism when it comes to the selection of representatives when elections are held and it is an indictment that our politicians fail to foster an educated electorate.

An electorate that should understand that Government is not a prize to be won but a serious responsibility to be entrusted with.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Democracy in T&T

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.

Recognise that poem? It was first published in 1976, more than 30 years ago. It remains as pertinent now, as it was then. The translation is at the end. By then, you'd probably have hazarded a good guess on what it is.

In a functioning democracy, it is usually the will of the majority that prevails. For whatever reason, be it constitutional insufficiency, citizen apathy or political arrogance, Trinidad and Tobago seems to be emerging as a democracy of only titular significance. There have been numerous examples of citizens’ calls for changes in policy at the national level, all of which seem to have been falling on deaf ears.

George Bernard Shaw once said that ‘Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.’

Our elected representatives and governments are proxies to function on our behalf. Practically, I do not believe that there could be consultation on every minor issue or that it is indeed plausible that citizens can have a direct say on every issue. (even though Cantons in Switzerland show that it can happen) However, when our representatives act contrary to the will of the people and especially when they do so in the caviler and arrogant manner of late, they must be held accountable. That accountability could come in the form of calling for the sacking or resignation of such representatives, but in our Westminster system, it really only comes once every five years when we have the opportunity to vote.

What sense then, does it make for people to continually vote for the same representatives when it is evident that that vote counts for little more than reinstalling someone who views his voters as a mechanism to retain 5 more years of an MPs salary and if he is lucky, a ministerial salary?

It screams of a political immaturity on the part of the majority of Trinbagonians when they cannot summon the courage of their convictions to make decisions that benefit themselves. With apathy abounding, a negligence to participate in the institutions that support our freedoms only serves to benefit those masters of spin who come begging cap in hand every five years to return them to power, only to neglect the very people who put them there.

It is only when the people demonstrate the will to actively engage in a movement for change that the politicians will sit up and take notice and realize that they no longer have a free ride to a seat in Parliament. It is only when people begin to take mature and objective perspectives on the issues that democracy can truly flourish.

Gandhi once said: ‘The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.’ People must take the initiative and realize that they have the right to speak out regardless of who tells them to ‘Shut Up!’ They must let their views be heard so that it cannot be said that they were silent when things were going awry. Regardless of who tries to suppress them, remember that ideas are indeed bulletproof and that if they manage to suppress one or two or ten or one hundred that there must be thousands more willing to protect the very foundation on which this country purportedly came into being, that of democracy.

While our politicians meander along a path towards the next General Election without care for dealing with issues currently at the forefront of the public’s interest, let us take the initiative to deal with the issues. Let us set the agenda and say that WE want to talk about the rising cost of living or the unacceptable murder figures or aluminum smelters. Do not let the politicians set the agenda for us.

That is the potential of a democracy. We must begin to effectively use whatever little power that we have and show the politicians that the most important office in a democracy is indeed that of the citizen. Interesting indeed will be that day when the Trinidadian politician must display humility, gratitude, accountability and those other aspects that citizens not only demand, but deserve.

Should we fail, there is no question that we will surely rue the day that we did not speak and act when we had the opportunity.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
- Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Happy New Year

Created: December 31, 2006

So here we are. 365 days from where we were last year. Don’t know about you, but it doesn’t seem as though much has changed.

Counting upwards of 370 murders. Politicians still playing us for fools. Us, allowing ourselves to be played for fools.

Politicians being hanged. Wait, that one wasn’t so bad. They should be more encompassing with that one.

A kidnapped businesswoman who’s probably already dead. Money flowing like water, but water not yet flowing through our pipes.

Prices raising like Hef on Viagra. Well, maybe not. Hef’s been in the business so long that he’s probably permanently risen.

Back to school in a week.

So what are my New Year’s Resolutions? None. Oh wait, I have this doctor thing I’m trying to do. I should probably try to do that well. That’s not so much a resolution as much as it’s necessary.

Usually I have a couple, but this year, I’m just being honest with myself. May as well have none to break than feel lousy next week about breaking them all. (Cynical meter just went through the roof)

Seems like the more things change, the more they remain the same. Somebody already said that. Well, the more things change, the more I wish they won’t. Or at least, changed differently.

I have real issues with Darwin. This adaptation thing hasn’t been too good for me. Maybe I’ll expire soon from failure to adapt. Either that or bring down the rest of the species with me. Now, there’s a thought.

Happy next 365 days. Just happens that it’s 2007 years after a kid was born in a barn in Israel.

But before that, just have a good day tomorrow and a good week next week. And somewhere in there, do something good. So that 365 days from now, you can look back and say that you made a difference and people and things were better for it.

Then, maybe, cumulatively, you might just have that great year. No guarantees or refunds on that, eh.

Cheers. Oh, and pour me another.