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Sunday, November 19, 2006



Dr. Lester CN Simon

And it came to pass in the land where the sea rolls gently onto 365 inlets, a din rose up upon the utterance of St. Michael. For in Parliament he spoke as bespoke a man seeing within and seeing without. Lo, there can be no greater speech than when an orator espies himself in the words and syntax he hurls at others. For is it not written by the famed author, P.D. James, in paraphrase, that St. Michael was incapable of passing a mirror without that moment of narcissistic stillness?

Verily, the callers to the wireless Observer, the Voice of the People, were rent asunder. And yet, divided, they rejoiced in measure for measure in their own division. In one camp they hoisted the message and ignored the messenger. In the other camp they observed the obverse. Woe be onto a people who cannot see two sides (let alone all) of one subject or object with their two eyes.

Behold, the days of rejoicing and reckoning cometh after we the people wondered in our own wilderness for 28 years. For it is written that there shall be no rejoicing without due reckoning. But alas; some of my dear good people are short of sight and shorter yet of memory. For in the new dispensation they have not yet come to understand how the victory over the 28 years of wilderness was won. It is as if many of them have become but vegans and know not the meaning of a pound of flesh. And yet, some do say, quietly and in camera, that they do know that a pound of flesh must be taken but, “for crying out loud”, without the drawing of such a large moiety of national blood.

How silly and simple are those who know not that the enemy is best defeated by its own ways and means. So now they rant and rave and misbehave because they truly believe that all the glamour and all the glitter for all the campaign came out of the barren sky and not from the golden coffers of men like unto the one whose place was (and some say, still is) on the road to the first, old town of Parham.

And the children of schools gaily said that St. Michael laced heavily into the Honourable Member of Rural East with darts of vigour and shards of pepper and vinegar that would make Susie proud. Nay, he was neither courteous nor curt in the court of Parliament. And he pushed and pulled and tugged and swayed him all over, even to the far off land of Italy. For he said the people wanted to know the role of the good, merchant Senator in the Italian debt forgiveness, and if more pounds of national flesh would be forfeited as in the softness in the hard rocks at Bendals.

And even though the loan and forgiveness bond with Italy had been spoken to many times before, as many times as the travels of Marco Polo, the tirade was ravenous and juicy to the rapacious crowd. So that when those who had gathered wrongly assumed an ebb and break in the tide, St. Michael roared and soared again and waxed lyrically and mercilessly into the potted holes of the man who was once in the lion’s den. This he did with gnashing teeth and weeping willow, pouncing upon him as children were wont to do in “dolly ketch a man”. Little Sally Walker, sitting in a saucer. Rise Sally, rise. Wipe your weeping eyes. Turn to the east, Sally. Turn to the west, Sally. Turn to the APUA that Sally loves the best.

And when it was all over and the people had laughed their bellies full and joyfully cried their eyes dry over the vocal massacre, the Tax Collector spoke softly and gentlemanly. Whencesoever, he wondered loudly, St. Michael could have so much stomach (wherefrom did he not lose some), stamina and gumption and be so boldfaced as if the hardest thing was to know. Yea, the time for combat had not yet come. For a wise warrior knows when to strike and when not to strike. Thus the people look forward to the second coming of the combatants in political Armageddon with Power Point, hardware and all in the lower house on the hill.

Who amongst them in our Parliament will come to us and speak of true forgiveness and mercy. “The quality of mercy is not strained” because it requires no force. “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven” for it is the very quality of God himself. Verily, verily, we mortals are closest to God when we temper justice with mercy. But mercy and forgiveness for national wrongs cannot be offered lightly and unknowingly. If the princes of light have forgiven their named princes of darkness, that offer of forgiveness must be in the sunlight and not in the shade of a tent.

Forgiveness comes easily, much too easily in this blessed, Christian land. For when forgiveness is too freely had, there is but little or no point in doing right. This land will never be at peace until true forgiveness is as transparent as the dazzling sunshine. True forgiveness is much more than ceasing forbidden actions, regretting wrongdoing, confessing through Jesus before God and resolving never to repeat those actions. This entire Christian act is simple and easy.

True forgiveness for wronging the nation demands that you make it up to the nation. If you stole from the nation, you must return the stolen treasure. If you caused national pain you must placate the nationals (and non-nationals, in English ) to achieve true forgiveness. Wherefore was this laughing dagger dragged across our throats with sounding brass and tinkling cymbals in our Parliament? Was this the Day of Atonement and reconciliation offered to us in cheap, finger-pointing and khus-khus perfumed talk?

If forgiveness and mercy have been proffered by deed or by default so that wanton speeches make vulgar mockery of us all, the people must be told; for true national forgiveness is a public act. Or henceforth, in this land where the people hunger and thirst for righteousness, all politicians on all sides, in the lower and upper houses and in no houses at all shall be branded forever and ever as merchants of menace, unfit to be heard, unfit to be seen and totally and decidedly unfit to rule over us. Rise Sally, rise!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cause and Effect


Dr. Lester CN Simon

When you stab or shoot someone in Antigua and Barbuda, are you planning to run and hide in the mountains to escape from the police? There are no mountains here. With all those antennas on top of Boggy Peak, the highest hill, you might think, quite wrongly, that one of them will expose you. Notwithstanding the problems in the local Police Force, the act of committing seemingly senseless murder in a small country like Antigua and Barbuda must be driven by unique motives and circumstances.

Most people refrain from doing something wrong or evil if they know there is a very good chance of getting caught. Yes, there have been many unsolved murders here for many years. However, over the past two to four years or so, most of the murderers have been caught. So why is the crime rate rising? Some writers believe that poverty and joblessness are responsible. I beg to differ. To be unemployed in Antigua and Barbuda to the point of stark hunger would be like successfully keeping your hair completely dry and free from sand at a picnic at one of our 365 beaches. Antiguans and Barbudans would not recognize abject poverty if it came up to us at high noon on moko jumbie stilts in the middle of the Antigua Recreation Grounds and spat in our faces. I posit that wealth and empowerment by illicit and licit means are at the root of the crime wave.

Think about it. Power and control generate emotive forces that are extremely hard to supersede. Raw power and control by any means necessary may be at the root of the crime wave here. These causative factors do apply worldwide as well but they take on accentuated forms here, when other factors, like escaping and hiding out, are reduced by geography. Obviously, the lack of trust between the community and the police adds to the ease of escaping capture, but it is not the predominant, causative factor.

The first paycheck I got as a teenager fresh out of school saw me stuffing myself at the Kensington restaurant on St. Mary’s Street. I ate and drank to my heart’s content (and later to my body’s relief). Yet, to this day I cannot recall precisely what I ate although it must have been chicken or lobster, and lots of lime squash and Coca-Cola. This is because the type of food I consumed was immaterial. It was the power of having my own hard earned money in my pocket that I remember. I still recall the sensation of ordering the meal, sitting in the canopied chair, waiting to be served and listening to the music. In those days we had small and large bottles of Coca-Cola. I sat back, relaxed and, having practised to perfection, proclaimed to the waitress, “Go thither to yon vendor of effervescent beverages and purchase me a taller member of the Coke family”.

Some of us also remember the power and control we felt when we were the only one to solve the math or physics problem in school. All of our friends and some of our enemies gathered around as we dictated who would be privy to the solutions.

The rise in crime after the “freeing up” of the country since the last general elections might also be part of the “talk as you like” newly found freedom. If this is true, the slowness to meaningfully empower people in legitimate ways relative to their expectations, might lead to the shunting of empowerment in other, pathological directions.

In a recent book, The Challenge of Affluence, described as sparkling and provocative, Professor Avner Offer opens his tome with the sentence, “Affluence breeds impatience and impatience undermines well-being”. You know you are in for a very good read when he prefaced his opening with a 1955 quote from Robert McNamara, the then general manager of Ford Motor Company, who prophesied that the test of this generation will not be how well it stands up under adversity, but how well it endures prosperity.

There are many parts to the whole solution to crime and violence but understanding the root causes will help us to find the right solutions. Preventative action must be centered on education. We have to direct the young towards the all powerful and embracing emotions of the joy of discovery and the enchantment of possessing and utilizing real and useful knowledge. Youths must be groomed to realize the self-defining, authentic and enduring satisfaction that comes from positive social interaction in contradistinction to short term self-indulgence.

There will be at least one unintended consequence of creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. Those who want to move from the informal to the formal economy will have easy, hopefully one-way avenues of transition. History is replete with stories of crooks who became philanthropists This would be similar to other enabling environments that allow an exit from prostitution, drug addiction, sex addiction, overeating, smoking and other modern ills, with all the frustrations from varying degrees of failure.

The solution is not to remove the affluence since affluence to an extent is desirable. When affluence reaches the level where short term rewards take over from long term objectives, we are, as now, in deep trouble. Hence the conjoining of the impatience from affluence and the impatience from unfulfilled political and social desires put us in a state in which senseless and brutal crimes conspire to overrun us.

A key part of the long term solution is to prevent the problem from worsening. We have not yet reached the stage where the illegally empowered have passed on so much of their wealth to so many of us that we have dons, drug lords and war lords who are ardently protected by grateful members of civil society. We will know when we get to that stage. The demand for soap, detergent and bleach will rise. My maternal grandmother was right in reminding me to always wash my hands after handling money.

The reason why we do not see crime and violence as by-products of affluence, with
its attendant power, control and impatience, is because some of us want to deny the relative affluence in Antigua and Barbuda compared to real, abject poverty elsewhere. Alternatively, those who make the connection between affluence and crime and violence refuse to talk about it. Why? Because they would have to admit that affluence also existed under the former government.

Friday, November 3, 2006

The Outlandish Knight


Dr. Lester CN Simon

There is a quote in The Devastation of the Indies by Bartolomé De Las Casas that says, “……for in the beginning the Indians regarded the Spaniards as angels from heaven.” Some years later, Las Casas described butcher shops that sold human flesh for dog food: “Give me a quarter of that rascal there,” one (Spaniard) customer said, “until I can kill some more of my own”.

Some relationships start badly and end well, others start well and end either well or badly, and yet others start badly and are destined to end very badly. The celebration of 25 years of independence was a bad joke; a masquerade. The badness started with the Spanish interlude in recognition of the growing Hispanic community at the Independence Church Service. That threw me for a Sir Vivian six out of the Antigua Recreation Grounds. Somebody really went up their fundament.

The farce continued with three female politicians meeting the Prime Minister of Jamaica in honour of gender politics whilst the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda was on island. Mrs. Portia Simpson-Miller should not have been met on arrival at the airport by three merry and sympathetic ladies-in-waiting like three Nerissas attending Portia in the Merchant of Venice.

The tragicomedy ended with a deeper division of the people of this country on independence day. Someone must tell us the criteria for becoming national heroes and Sirs. They must offer suggestions on what national heroes do afterwards and how they cope with the burden of receiving this maximum elevation at age fifty something.

It is very often a good and wise thing to allow controversial persons to talk so they can explain themselves and remove the controversy. Everyone knows that the dictionary defines an investor as someone who expends money or effort in something from which a return or profit is expected. Simple arithmetic works out for us when an investor is given the equivalent of, say, 10 million dollars and he gives back 1 million dollars, he has given back 10% of what he got.

The same simple arithmetic also works out for us when “picky head people” (as some are wont to say) give back 50 cents out of the miserly 1 dollar they received, they have given back 50%. And 50% is proportionately more than the 10%. There are many 50% people in Antigua and Barbuda. The abject failure to recognize the 50% people, including past and present members of the Antigua Labour Party, bespeaks a national blindness that is historic, slavish, self-humiliating and self-destructive.

The elementary point must be made that there is not a single person, family or investor in this country whose wealth in this country is independent of the government and people of Antigua and Barbuda. None.

When an investor defies definition and tells us on our twenty fifth anniversary of independence that he is not here to make money; that he comes with his own money to develop the country in the name of the people, notwithstanding what our government says, beware of Greeks bearing gifts and reincarnated Columbus bearing trinkets, my dear good people. It’s like onto a man telling a woman that he does not want to have sex with her; he just wants them both to get naked and lie down so he can invest in her and watch her develop.

Such an independent woman should jump out of the bed, turn on the lights, freshen up, put on her national dress, fix her hair, powder her nose, slowly apply her lipstick smacking her lips together, look him straight in the eye, hands akimbo, and exclaim, “Sir?”

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Spanish Everyone?


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Have you ever been so upset you go to bed and wake up still upset? Imagine yourself at a national church service to open the celebration of 25 years of independence. I am at the Antigua Recreation Grounds (ARG). I am no ultranationalist; not because I am running from the label that says patriotism is the last bastion of scoundrels. It’s just that I loath extreme positions; yet I love this country the way I love my family and close friends even though they upset me from time to time.

I am enjoying the national independence service. The pastor is carrying on far too long but I can do with a little (or a lot of) extra prayer. Then when he is through, I am invited to listen to some part of the service in Spanish in recognition of the growing Spanish community. Well, who tell him to say that? I am incandescent with rage and I throw myself for six out of the service by walking out of the ARG. In this country the official language is English. The misguided pseudo-national who engineered this nonsense must be joking, in Spanish. This is the mark of separation. I draw the line, not in some “wishi washi” sand but in indelible ink and lambent lights in the blue skies over this land. The official language of Antigua and Barbuda is English.

I love Spanish people and many things Spanish. It is said but unproven that the Simon families in Antigua and Barbuda derive from four brothers who came here from Venezuela. In the good old days when BWIA stopped in Puerto Rico en route to Antigua from Jamaica, I danced to Spanish music so well one night, you would think I was the joker of Seville, and all I wanted was mucho más (much more). I love the music of Willie Bobo (Puerto Rico), Manuel de Falla (Spain), Juan Luis Guerra (Dominican Republic) and virtually any music from Cuba. I love to hear Spanish people talk. I have at least 30 books and cassettes and compact discs on the Spanish language. I think all of us should learn to speak at least one, preferably two foreign languages, including Spanish. But the misguided national who decided that part of the independence service should be in Spanish must apologize for the nonsense he started and vouch never to repeat it. Otherwise I will seek residence on Redunda lest I become redundant in this adagio, moko jumby land.

We seem to be collapsing and losing our national nerve, leaving a gaping void to be filled by whosoever will speak and speak in their own tongue. I wish to remind the lento, misguided national that the first time there was such an open defiance of common sense and confusion over a common tongue for communication, the work on the Tower of Babel was halted and the people were scattered. Let this first time be the last time we disgrace Antiguans and Barbudans like that, or someone will have to find a tower high enough to disappear into his own fundament. The official language of Antigua and Barbuda is English. No comma, no semicolon; full stop.