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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Big People


Dr. Lester CN Simon

As we approach the noteworthy milestone of 25 years of independence, we may look back to see how far we have come, or we may look ahead to see how far we have to go. The one view is not independent of the other. We all have eyes in the back of our heads; that’s where the vision area of the brain is located.

Independence begins in the mind. It must constantly run through and around our thinking. It should be manifested in our actions. We become an independent nation when the sum total of our individual, independent actions makes us exponentially bigger and better and, ironically, dependent on each other. In short, independence means that we can choose our dependencies.

Reflection on the basic elements of an independent nation requires, firstly, serious consideration of citizenship. This reflection is occurring at a time of collision between seemingly unlimited immigration and emigration and seemingly unlimited demands for salaries and other newly found rights, such as the right to be respected in trade negotiations. This multiple accident is threatening to diffract Antigua and Barbuda into a rainbow of independent and mismatched colours.

Citizenship is firstly about what we owe Antigua and Barbuda; not firstly what Antigua and Barbuda owes us. To be a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, we have to firstly meet a sacred set of obligations to fellow citizens, to the law of the land and to the nation. Any benefits, including education, free school meals, medical benefits, roads unpunctuated by potholes, etc. must come after meeting these obligations. We have to put in to take out. That is why it is better to give than to receive. Simple arithmetic says that receiving is predicated on having given something first.

However, we must be very careful about unequal and unfair practices of giving and receiving, lest we end up with each endeavoring and only some achieving. Worse, an entire nation can become subsumed under the personas of a few or the enigma of a maximum leader. This leads us to the need for a fair and dispassionate consideration of the second most enigmatic citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, the late, premier (as in first) Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. Sir Vere Conwall Bird Snr.

Tim Hector referred to the phenomenon of V.C. Bird. It would be useful but too lengthy to recount the details of his writings. Those who have Outlet will read and those who do not will either borrow or wait for the library. Tim noted that like all great men of history, there were positive and negative attributes to V.C. Bird. It was written that V.C. Bird was his own worst enemy, his own worst contradiction, and that he negated himself. It is this enigmatic idea, not the persona of V.C. Bird, but the V.C. Code, that we have to come to terms with in order to move on for at least another 25 years.

The concept of role models and national heroes can be a dangerous one unless we accept the V.C. Code. Role models and national heroes are phenomenal figures that show us, or allow us to see and accept their positive and negative attributes. They teach us to accentuate the positive and reject the negative we see in them and try, as only we can try, to do the same with what we see in ourselves.

An economist Professor, Robert Rowthorn observed that a nation is a community of mutual obligation that is based on a shared history. What then does it mean to be an Antiguan and Barbudan? What is our codified set of mutual obligations? It seems that an old nationhood is drifting away and a new one is berthing.

The divisive politics of the past and the present suggest that we look to another medium or institution to
define our evolving, new nationhood. The single most important institution for the guarantee of civil society is the family. We cannot choose our family and there are some family members some of us wish we never had. However, despite all its frailties, marriage is the best institutional context for raising and nurturing children. It should be the nucleus of the extended biological and social family and the simple but profound idea and ideal at the center of nationhood.

Without falling prey to the victim culture of slavery, we, the West Indians, black and white and all races of Antiguan and Barbudan must regard our shared history of transplantation to these lands and the historic decimation of the family. This will lead us to realize that incentives for marriage and maintaining the family should be our foremost priority and the basis of our civil society and nationhood. Many of us were called bastards, stigmatized and ostracized from civil society. As painful as that memory is, we must accept that we too must see that all relationships and all family types are not equal; or at best, some are more equal than others. Rewarding single parentage is a recipe for perpetual fatherlessness and motherlessness.

As we celebrate our silver milestone through our rites of passage to a truly independent nation, we must register and testify our hypocrisies, our paradoxes, our frailties and, most important, our common strengths. We must decipher and understand the V.C. Code to set us on the right path for the next, fiftieth, golden anniversary. At that time we may be ready to use the V.C. Code and other parameters to decipher the foremost enigmatic and exemplar citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, the late master, headmaster and teacher, Leonard Churchill, “Timoshenko” Hector. May his soul rest in peace as the soul of our nation finds the peace for which he struggled all his life.

Monday, October 2, 2006

The Lost Tribe


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Everyone who carries a knife, a gun, or other implements of violence should take a course in human anatomy. They should know the precise location of the heart; that it is on the left side of the chest and so close to the chest wall they can feel the beating hearts of their victims if they embrace them. They should know that a knife with a long blade is not necessary because to get to the heart you simply have to pierce the skin, the fat beneath the skin and then the muscle, including the muscle covering the space between neighboring ribs.

Those who walk with knives should know that the heart and the beginning of one of its major blood vessels, the aorta, are surrounded by a protective membrane called the pericardium. The space between the pericardium and the underlying heart is called the pericardial sac. They should know that a wound to the heart or to the invested root of the aorta can cause profuse bleeding into the pericardial sac. This blood can seal off or plug the wound to the pericardium so that the blood leaking out of the beating heart does not escape from the sac.

However, as the pierced heart continues to beat, blood escaping from the heart is trapped inside the pericardial sac. The end result of this is that the bleeding heart is crushed to death by the weight of the blood. This plug of blood which was intended to plug a leak and ended up squeezing the heart to death is called a cardiac tamponade. In some ways, it acts as a tampon. A cardiac tamponade must be a metaphor for craziness when it occurs in a young female who has just started to acquire experience in the use of tampons for menstruation.

We know all the causes of violence. We can rattle off the solutions as well. In all this clatter we still fail to make a serious dent in the problem. Maybe we should rethink our strategy. Putting the blame on the parents is right and proper but there are two types of parents in this regard. Some parents will circle the wagons around their children and the children of their extended family and friends. Other parents and their children will be locked outside like a posse of wild West Indians. Mentoring is part of the solution but who will set this up so that the mentor can be a mentor and not an organizer of the mentoring programme? And how will we really know what lies in the dark minds of some mentors. Moreover, those most in need of mentoring will be left out.

Regardless of what we do at home, it is at school that children come together. But we have a problem here as well. We need well trained teachers who can teach their subjects well and who can make teaching fun and exciting and teach the children outside the classroom. Everyone recalls their schooldays and talks glowingly of the things they did and did not do. Do not listen to those liars, except for one fact: Remember the days when teacher was absent from class and how the rudest, most misbehaving child commanded the class (even better than the teacher)?

Children must be given exciting things to do. They are bored stiff and if we do not rectify this they will be bored stiff (if you pardon the pun). We have to arrange the school day and the time spent in the community so that children can take charge of some of their activities, with parents acting as linesmen (not as referees) as in a football match.

Children know that the economy of violence acts dictates that they do not kill two birds with two stones when one stone will do. As they gain experience and perfect the art and science of violence they know that it is uneconomical to kill two birds with one stone when they can set the birds upon each other. Children will always challenge each other for all sorts of reasons. We did it; they are doing it and it will always happen. We must prepare and present the environment in which they live and learn and play so that they can challenge each other in exciting but non-fatal ways.