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Monday, December 15, 2008

The Highest Peak

JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT

A One Act Christmas Play
Dr. Lester CN Simon

Scene: The reception area of a small hotel in Antigua.

Jonathan: It’s another Christmas and we are here again.
Mizpah: Don’t talk too fast. With all the lay-offs, I’ll be home for Christmas.
Joseph: You can plan on me. This will be our last Christmas together.
Jonathan: Don’t be so pessimistic Joseph. Things will pick up in the New Year.
Joseph: If only in my dreams. The world economy is bad enough. When you add to that the easy targets we present to terrorists, I am getting out of tourism.
Jonathan: Getting out of tourism? And do what when your relatives come to Antigua to visit?
Mizpah: They will stay at Joseph’s Inn, or, should I say, at Joseph’s Manger, as they usually do.
Jonathan: Yes Joseph, tourists are not just Americans and Europeans.
Mizpah: Imagine this: On one hand, put all the money American and European tourists spend here and all the money that goes back to America and Europe. On the other hand, put all the money West Indian tourists spend here and all they money that stays here in the region. Which hand is heavier?
Joseph: Are you saying we do not need American and European tourists?
Mizpah: I am saying we must take a completely different look at tourism and the entire service industry.
Jonathan: You and Joseph could do well with some of that reparations money you are always talking about.
Mizpah: You Jonathan, you one king of orient, are in need of an understanding of a few things about reparations. Reparations will benefit all of us West Indian: Black, White, Mulatto, Doughlah, Mixed, Mixed-up, Indian (like you Jonathan), Indigo, Chinese and in-betweens.
Jonathan: Let me hear that glorious song of old again on a midnight clear. All of us are West Indian but some are more West Indian than others. What a complex, racist nonsense.
Joseph: There is no need to get racial. We are all West Indian.
Jonathan: Sure. West Indian nationality includes our beloved Bohemian hotel manager, Wenceslas, who can’t tell when last he and his page boy, Joseph, visited the poor a good league hence.
Joseph: Do you know that poor white prisoners and others like you were sent out here to labour before we blacks arrived?
Mizpah: We did not arrive. Tourists arrive. They were making a list and checking it twice. I saw three ships come sailing in.
Joseph: That is why I ignore this reparation thing. It gets too complicated and philosophical.
Jonathan: So why do you act like white people owe you something, Joseph? Why are you always going home with brown paper packages tied up with strings? Are these a few of your favourite things?
Joseph: Are you the shepherd seated on the ground watching the flock?

The hotel manager enters

Wenceslas: Silent night, holy night. All is calm. All is bright?
Joseph: No Sir. We are concerned about the lay-offs.
Jonathan: And about reparations.
Wenceslas: Lay-offs are real. Reparations are not. When you cannot get blacks in Africa, blacks in England and even some blacks in the West Indies to join the reparations fight, reparations become a lost cause.
Mizpah: With respect Mr. Wenceslas, you are terribly mistaken. Reparations are more than a fight for blacks. We have three battles to wage. The moral battle is easy. The legal battle is hard but our legal professionals are fighting gallantly. The tactical battle is the hardest and it is the one battle all of us have to wage. Those blacks who are not engaged must understand the hotter fire that will come next time if we do not face up now to the divisions between and amongst blacks in Africa, West Indies, Europe and America. As for the West Indian melting pot of races, those of us who ignore the enigma of all of us being West Indian and fail to centralize the importance of black people and reparations will never be free.
Jonathan: Decipher that enigma for me.
Mizpah: The reason why all of us must fight for reparations is not just because the money will benefit all of us. Tactically and truthfully, the message is simply that reparations will take the load off the human soul.
Wenceslas: So is reparation a gift black people are giving to humankind?
Mizpah: No; not at all! We must not be confused. It is not for us to give; again. When I talk reparations I refer to white people making amends for the wrong and the injury they systematically inflicted on black people in building their empires.
Joseph: So why all this talk about all of us joining the fight, including blacks in Africa and blacks worldwide?
Mizpah: Because Joseph, reparation is the quintessential Christmas story. Because of the heinous crime against humanity that was inflected on us, reparation is the conduit of conscience through which whites especially, and all the rest of us will save our souls.
Jonathan: Are you telling me that black people are God’s chosen people to save the world?
Joseph: Look at Antigua and Barbuda. Take a peep; or is it a peak? We now have the mount. The sermon will follow.
Mizpah: When Joseph gets humourous, anything is possible. But put all jokes aside. Reparations will transform us from fear, to fear-not, because that mighty dread of injustice will no longer seize our troubled minds.
Wenceslas: Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.
Jonathan: If reparation is the ultimate Christmas story, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas to all of us.
Joseph: And a Happy New Year for tourism; for all of us.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Gender

THE BIOLOGY OF HOMOSEXUALITY


Dr. Lester CN Simon


With the reaction to homosexuality in the West Indies ranging from militant objection to public ridicule, ostracism and benign intolerance, I have often questioned the biological advantage of homosexuality to the human race. Clearly, it is not genetically reproducible in that homosexuals, by definition, do not naturally have sexual intercourse with members of the opposite sex. Science is beginning to shed some light on the advantage homosexuality might confer on the rest of us.

An article called, The Evolution of Homosexuality, in The Economist, on 23 October, suggests that the genes that contribute to making some people homosexual also make their brothers and sisters highly sexually productive. This enhanced sexually reproductive effect on the non-homosexual siblings is regarded as an advantage to the human race.

The first hurdle a skeptical reader has to overcome is the scientific fact that homosexual behaviour is documented in many species. These include monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, geese, hyenas, whales, worms, dolphins, flamingos, and many others. The simple response to this fact might be to label human homosexuals as animals and insects. But what about the body of scientific evidence that suggests that homosexual behaviour, indeed any type of sexual behaviour, is partly genetic? These studies look at the sexual proclivities of twins, especially identical twins.

There are two different types of twins. One type of twins is called non-identical. These twins occur when two eggs from the mother are independently fertilized by two different sperms from the father. These twins can be of the same or different gender: two boys or two girls or a boy and a girl. The other type of twin is called identical. Identical twins are produced when a single egg is fertilized by a single sperm and the fertilized egg divides into two separate embryos of the same gender: two boys or two girls but not a boy and a girl.

Unlike non-identical twins, identical twins have identical genes (DNA). Notwithstanding their identical genetic status, the traits and appearance of identical twins can vary depending on the environment they are exposed to, both inside the womb and throughout their lives. This variability, even in the presence of identical genes, underscores the basic fact that our appearances and behaviors, including our sexual behaviors, are influenced by genes as well as by our environment. The perennial argument revolves around the extent of the contribution of the genes versus the effect of the environment.

Studies of identical twins (male twins and female twins) show that if one of the twins is homosexual, there is a 50% chance of the identical twin brother or identical twin sister being homosexual. This 50% chance is much higher than what obtains for non-identical twins or for non-twin brothers and sisters. The 50% concordance for homosexuality amongst identical twins of either sex-pair (two males or two females) leads to the consideration of the sexual orientation of the identical twin brother or twin sister when such a brother or sister is not homosexual despite having a homosexual identical twin. After all, they do have identical genes.

Genes explain about 27% of an individual’s gender identity. Environment explains the rest. So what exactly are the genes associated with homosexuality, responsible for in a non-homosexual person? The article in The Economist reports the work by Brendal Zietsch et al of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia. The original work was published in this month’s edition of the journal, Evolution and Human Behavior. The scientists analyzed anonymously completed questionnaires from 4904 twin samples regarding sexual behavior and attitudes.

The arguments of the scientists include the suggestion that if a non-homosexual man has a very slightly feminine personality, it confers an advantage on him when viewed by a non-homosexual female. Despite the female’s desire for a traditional macho man, she is also attracted to the man’s so-called feminine traits such as tenderness, consideration and kindness. Indeed, these kinder, gentler males, despite the boastfulness of the macho male, are said to have more female sexual partners than the typical macho man. In fact, it is said that the judicious display and tweaking of these so-called feminine traits of tenderness, consideration and kindness is a trick some men use (I am told) to appeal to females. Up comes a hailstorm counterargument regarding the definition of maleness and femaleness.

On the other hand, slightly masculinised females who are not lesbians, are said to have more non-homosexual male sexual partners than the typically, highly feminized, non-lesbian woman. This is thought to reflect her increased competitiveness over other women (and arguably some men). Many honest, hardworking, assertive, non-homosexual women are often, erroneously and deliberately labeled as lesbians by both men and women as she supersedes the latter two at work and at play.

It appears that if you combine sexual proclivities and the number of sexual partners, disparate collections of data suggest that the ranking order from top to bottom (no pun intended) might be as follows: dominant male homosexual, non-homosexual twin brother of male homosexual, non-homosexual male, dominant female homosexual, non-homosexual twin sister of female homosexual, non-homosexual female. It is not clear where the non-dominant male homosexual and the non-dominant female homosexual fall. Indeed the ranking order, especially that of dominant lesbian and of non-homosexual twin sister of female homosexual might need some alterations. Ranking may be influenced by male boasting or female bashfulness regardless of the bending of gender.

The study concludes that as long as the combination of genes associated with homosexuality do not push individuals all the way to homosexuality, these very genes that are partly responsible for homosexuality also partly confer advantages to non-homosexuals. These genes arguably make non-homosexuals males and non-homosexual females who carry these homosexual-associated genes, more sexually productive compared to non-homosexual males and non-homosexual females who do not carry these genes. Regarding the advantage to the human race, the self-defining, non-reproducible genetics inherent in homosexuality is arguably offset by the excessive sexual reproductive capacity or fecundity in others.

Small wonder some homosexuals reportedly do not see what all the fuss over their sexual orientation is all about. We say we do not understand them and they say they do not understand us. They fail to understand us because some non-homosexuals who attack them (both within and without the dancehall lyrics), and who ridicule and ostracize them, will otherwise skillfully maneuver small aliquots of some of the very traits homosexuals have, to a personal advantage and to the advantage of the human species.

It might be argued that the homosexual male and female involuntarily or voluntarily simply push the envelope containing sexually related genes and environmental sexual determinants farther, to the extreme even; and, some would say, too far.

Monday, November 3, 2008

They Shall Inherit

BLESSED ARE THE POOR

Dr. Lester CN Simon

The poor must be the luckiest mass of people on earth if only because almost everyone else, particularly politicians, talk about them so much and set themselves up as champions and voices of the poor. Have you ever noticed that strange, universally unique, almost becalming (some would say stoical) countenance on the faces, especially in the eyes, of those who have really suffered and whose spirits have been broken and laid bare? It is as if they not only underwent something we did not, but that they will forever know something that we will not. It is as if they are on the verge of inheriting a new kingdom, for their lives will never be the same again.

Whenever words like race, slavery, black people, plantation, racism and poor people come up, we must slow down the initial horrid rush of blood to the head and think for a minute. It is always worth recalling that historically, it was economics first and slavery second, and not the other way around. It is worth repeating that it was economics first and slavery second, and not the other way around. It is also worth noting that slavery did not start with Africans transported to the New World, with about 95% of the millions of African slaves coming to the Caribbean and only about 5%going to North America.

In a recent article in this newspaper, Dorbrene O’Marde candidly outlined the meaning of racism. To call a black person racist is not the same as when a black person refers to another as, “de black, black gal”. Calling a black person racist is to make an indefinable collusion of words and history, exposing one’s ignorance of the meaning of racism. It is worse than a rapist calling his victim cruel because, in self defense, she sprays mace into his eyes whilst trying to escape to freedom. There is a very bad word to be used for black people disliking white people before black people have emancipated themselves collectively to a moral high ground, but that word is not racism. And by the bye, reverse racism is an oxymoron chanted only by self-constructed morons.

Clear thinking about our past is an essential, practical guidebook for our future. It means that after saying mama and dada, the next word the children of descendants of African slaves should say is “economics”. It seem logical that if African slavery and its attendant evils, such as racism, arose out of economics, then economics might just be the way out of slavery since that was what got us there is the first place, followed by some clever and despicable marketing called racism.

The Ghanaian economist, George Ayittey, makes the tipping point that there are six institutions that Africa (and Antigua and Barbuda) need, to move from dysfunctional, poor states to functional, rich ones. The only problem with his prescription is that Ayittey is saying, “Give Africa these six institutions and Africans will do the rest of the job”. These institutions cannot be given. They must be molded by us. Sometimes, like now, the process will necessitate the use of outsiders as a calculated, deliberate, interim measure to start the journey or to pick up the fallen baton (an emotive word); but the race (a pun for my dear friend Dorbrene) must be completed by us.

One of these institutions listed by George Ayittey is an independent and free media. I feel saddened when I hear Winston Derrick and others clamour for the Privy Council. The fact that Observer Radio came out of the Privy Council does not mean we must go back there. In fact, going back to the Privy Council might be seen as a signal failure of Observer Radio, if it is indeed the true Voice of The People in registering and nurturing. Our institutions must be fought for by us with tooth and nail as well as with marching feet and bellowing voices, until the impregnable walls of justice come down pregnant with justice, done and seen. The other five institutions on Ayittey’s list are, an independent Central Bank, an independent Electoral Commission, an independent Judiciary, an efficient Civil Service and, as we all are presently and painfully aware, a neutral and professional Security Force.

One of the remarkable things about poor people is that given the opportunity to get rich they will do so readily, avidly and successfully. These opportunities can be given in a slavish way or they can be given fairly, with the sole proviso of measurable performance for the ultimate good of the nation. Based on our history, we, black people, in particular because it started with us, and all other West Indians, should know more about economics than any other people on earth. It is our only earthly salvation. So when our leaders and our own West Indian people of any ethnic group, (hold strain on the white people for a paragraph or two), arrange our economics so that we become new slaves, it takes us back to that familiar look of the truly poor in spirit.

It is the familiar look of being enslaved again. But the poor must honestly recognize their condition to really possess that particular look, that particular encapsulation of history in their portal eyes; eyes that make the onlookers search within themselves. It is when they have lost all, not just material things, but the death of a loved one, a husband, a wife, a way of life, their dignity and self respect, their homeland; it is when they are so knowingly emotionally naked or poor in spirit that the blessed poor can do nothing else but harness all their hopes and inherit some of the rich kingdom of heaven, on earth.

The Music of Independence

THE INDEPENDENCE OF MUSIC


Dr. Lester CN Simon


Shakespeare was wrong. Music is not the food of love. Music is the food of life. Since music is the universal language, we can learn a lot about life and people by understanding some of the basic tools that are used in music composition.

There are many tools available to the composer of music but when we regard the basic ones used for two instruments or two voices, these tools fall into easily definable categories. The relationship between the two instruments or voices of a duo is conceptually similar to the way two persons or groups of people communicate. With the diverse groups of nationalities in Antigua and Barbuda, we might learn something from understanding the basic tools deployed in composing music for a duo.

Imitation is one of the primary devices composers use to blend two voices. A theme or motif is stated in one voice and it is repeated by the second voice. This requires space and time. It is as if a master and an apprentice are at work. The apprentice has to carefully observe the master and be prepared to repeat the master’s theme in the right space and at the appropriate time. Whilst the repeat is taking place, the master may be waiting by playing a prolonged note or simple phrase or he may create a new, more complex theme that the apprentice will have to repeat as well. Many visitors imitate what they see the natives do. We have to be careful that we are not wrongly blaming non-nationals when they are simply imitating us.

Another way in which two voices can merge is by parallel motion. In this method, the voices move in the same direction. The primary voice is higher than the secondary one and both voices are separated by the same interval throughout the theme. This is similar to the realization by non-nationals that the primary focus is on the national, at least until they, the non-national, have become equipped to carry the primary melody.

The third way to write music for two voices is to use contrary motion. In contrary motion, the two voices are moving in opposite direction and the degree of separation is variable. At this stage, the secondary voice is striving to be unique but this uniqueness must be predicated on the ability to master the imitation and parallel modes of expression first, before stepping out on the more difficult contrary motion.

The fourth way is called oblique motion. In oblique motion, one voice stays on the same level or pitch while the other voice moves up or down. This is a testing period in which the primary voice can remain on the same pitch to allow the secondary voice to show its motion. It is the most crucial stage in preparation for the fifth and most complex form of composition or interrelationship between two instruments, voices or groups of people.

Finally, we come to counterpoint. This is the most complex form of composition for two voices because each voice is carrying an independent melody and yet when both melodies are put together, they ring out a beautiful and wholesome harmony that constitutes the oneness of the music. Diversity, yes; but separation and oneness, at one and the same time, must attend a single song.

We are familiar with many songs that use these compositional tools. We recall singing a musical form called the round in school in which everyone sings the same melody but we start singing at different times. There are many serious types of music that use this compositional tool but the tunes most familiar to us include: Row, Row, Row Your Boat; London’s Burning; Three Blind Mice. Some may initially classify these rounds as imitations but since different parts are being sung at the same time, the independent effect and the overall oneness are essentially the defining fundamentals of counterpoint.

If the different voices must attend to a single, national tune, why on the sacred earth on my native land must my tax dollars pay for the news on our national television station being read in Spanish? Why do patients at Holberton hospital need a Spanish dictionary to understand not just what the Cuban doctors and nurses are saying but also to comprehend what our own Antiguan and Barbudan doctors who were trained in Cuba are quixotically encouraging?

And why, in 2008, just a few days shy of the commemoration of twenty seven years of independence, do I have to gesticulate by pointing to a moving vehicle and to my stranded garbage bags in my vehicle to ask a Spanish cleaning woman emptying the garbage from the bins at the corner of St. Mary’s and Cross Streets, if the garbage truck has passed by already? Because she does not understand English. Rubbish. Because she watches the television news in Spanish and she has been to Holberton, without a dictionary. More rubbish. Remember the time when some unfaithful national went up his fundament and precipitated my exit by conducting part of our independence service in Spanish? And why, just to give the Spanish a break, do I hear more Jamaican music than our own music in Antigua and Barbuda?

We have to determine what defines us as Antiguans and Barbudans. It seems to me that we are known for two things: welcoming people and migrating. Not only must non-nationals be taught and be exposed to the history and culture of Antigua and Barbuda, we must know our own history and culture first. We must foster links between us and our overseas, estranged and prodigal Antiguan and Barbudan brethren.

When myriad voices of nationalities sing the independence of counterpoint without a defining, wholesome song, music becomes noise, the food of nothingness. Shakespeare would have been dead wrong and bitterly disappointed.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Punishment

THE TUNES OF THE LANGUAGE

Dr. Lester CN Simon


I deliberately stayed away from the last music recital put on by The Music Society of Antigua and Barbuda. And I will continue to stay away until the members show some sign of being seriously interested in the development of music in Antigua and Barbuda. Truth to tell, I wanted to say this since the second recital. I hope I can exercise them into action by saying so in print and in public.

It is very hard to sit idly by and see the young musicians of the Antigua and Barbuda Symphony Orchestra go through the same, terrible mistakes others went through decades ago, with even more dire consequences today. The way to develop young musicians in the West Indies to play classical music, or any type of music, well, is to expose them to what Derek Walcott refers to as “the tunes of the language”. He minted this phrase in the October, 2008 edition of Gramophone, self-described as, and arguably, the world’s best classical music magazine.

When we refer to the tunes of the language, which tunes and which language are we talking about? Walcott notes that melody in speech in the Caribbean is very strong; so strong at times, he posits, it can become incoherent. Yes, we talk with tongues and we can talk in tongues. Walcott makes the fundamental point that in the Caribbean, we often parody the melody of our speech in our music. We do this simply by following the tunes of the language. If you didn’t know before, now you know the reason why some of our calypsos sound very inorganic, aplastic and artificial. We seem to get lost sometimes, not knowing which language and syntax to use.

The cardinal point about leaning to play music well is that there has to be a clear, direct, constantly provoked and nurtured connection between the language we speak and the music we play. For far too long, rhythm has been closeted as the underlying, regular, repeated pattern of the music. We are ignoring the rhythm of the melody, despite the lessons learnt by the bass players in early soca music. This is partly due to the misguided escape from or freedom from structure but it is also because of a wanton disregard for the rich melody of our languages, dialect and English. The central task of West Indian artistes is to wade through the melodies of our dialect and the English language separately and then alarm themselves and others with the similarities, connections, conjunctions and annexations.

Simply put, the dilemma of the young West Indian musician is that of trying to grasp the technique of the instrument as well as the technique of the music language, at the same time. The young artiste is in a straight jacket during music practice because the language of the music being played is markedly different from the music of the language showering down outside. This is not a request for solitary immersion in dialect. West Indians speak English but even when it is grammatically correct, it is still different from the sound of the languages of the Anglo-Saxons.

We must use the rhythms of the languages that the young musician speaks, dialect and English, as prototypes for short musical phrases. We then extend these motifs to build larger musical blocks. These become the cementing tools to grasp the rudiments of music. Then, the relative familiarity of the musical language will allow more concentration on the unfamiliar physical techniques required to play the instruments. Indeed, groups of young musicians will soon be able to converse musically in toto, or in tandem in response to a central caller.

It is very dangerous and counterproductive to assume that all the qualities of life come out of or are registered within just one type of music, classical, jazz, calypso, fado, or whichever. Young musicians should be decently bombarded with all forms of music, and associated languages, to see the simple and complex elements of life manifested in all cultures. Some may ask about a slower, more reflective, instrumental type of calypso, for example, to help nurture our more sedate or pensive moments. If our music is lacking in some regard, professional musicians must be relieved of the constant, sterile jamming at hotels and bars just to make ends meet and commissioned to compose new bars of music that we will make us meet, measure and treasure.

One of the serious problems stifling the young musicians is the blind arrogance of some of their music teachers. Walcott refers to the absolute need for structure and he notes how adherence to structure is seen by some students in “advanced” cultures as being old fashioned. So now, someone will break out and, according to Walcott, they will put two squiggles on a canvas and call it a painting. Gesundheit! Or, as we know from the brutally loud, unstructured sounds that pain our inner ear, some so-called musicians will knock up a few words and declare the airwaves pregnant with a song.

It gets worse. Whilst some music teachers are loose and carefree to a reckless degree, others are so old fashioned and steadfast to a fault, they see structure and form only in classical music. It is as if a person’s entire wardrobe, from hat to shoes, tops to bottoms and undergarments were all of a single colour with only varying hues or dyes. A nice, modal concept yes, but other and different niceties add flavour and richness. Even the blues do not have to be blue. Someone once remarked that after a scintillating musical performance, when he tried to don his hat he could not find his head. We must go one step further such that there are no other heads amongst the exiting, wondering audience to fit the wandering hat.

The way out for West Indian music teachers requires going back to our rich, manifold roots. Walcott warns that going back to your roots is not an academic notion; it is a real thing. But herein lies a peculiar West Indian trap. West Indian roots are heterogeneous with black, dicotyledonous taproots. We still have an appointment with reconciliation amongst ourselves before or even as our different languages and music are stripped of the bows and arrows that are used to defend the archers and offend targeted others. And those who serve up classical music only, and its attendant language, as dominant high culture are seemingly afraid to abandon their security blankets and present the full diversity of classical music with reference to the collage of musical colours from progressive, classical composers, traditional and contemporary.

Walcott is important not just because he is a Nobel Prize-winning poet. He was important to us long before that. His understanding of Caribbean ancestry and the path he has skillfully negotiated between being Caribbean and conquering the English language is the prototypic journey for all West Indians. Walcott says he is writing his first opera. He is interested in the outcome of joining great language with great music. He refers to the poetry in music and the music in poetry. We must invite him to our annual calypso opera on carnival Sunday night.

The need to remain rooted in the local whilst soaring all over, which is the essence of music, can lead to collusions and collisions of images that will exercise and exorcise your hats, socks, garments, and undergarments even. Imagine, if you will, a devastating hurricane that destroys many homes arcing the western and northwestern shoreline areas of the city. Imagine further, one such hapless, homeless person standing amongst the ruins contemplating the future. Until the uplifting arms of music can come to the rescue and signal a future, the only response to this widespread devastation will be: “What’s the point? Not a single villa left. Not even a farm. Just an empty, opaque, colourless bay”. So many uniquely local musical motifs that we can identify with can be composed and translated. There are so many tunes in all the languages we speak. The calypsonian is right: Play yourself.

And. Last lick. If they are barefaced enough to respond and attack me, my response will come chapter and verse from Shadow, Sotto con brio (subdued, with spirit): “I didn’t mean to treat them rough. But they punish me (and the children) enough.”


Note: There are communities around the city called, The Point, Villa Area, Grays Farm, and Green Bay.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lions in Loins

GIRD YOUR LIONS


Dr. Lester CN Simon


So much. So much has happened over the past few days. It was as if we came face to face with who we really are and realized that we would and should never be the same again. The power outages were bad enough but the disinformation, and the disrespect for friends, foes and especially for holders of high office, drove many of us away from the media, electronic and print. We confined ourselves to the gloom of our lonely rooms and the darkness of our empty selves from which we quietly emerged with a solitary want: to know what is intrinsic to our way of life that forces us to become such rude and unruly cannibals.

Turning off and away and tuning in to BBC, I heard Mugabe suggesting that democracy might not be the best system for Zimbabwe. Say what you want about Mugabe (and there is much to be said against him), he is aware that the Mandela solution for South Africa was not really a solution but rather just the start of a journey with bigger and more dangerous battles ahead. Indeed, it can be argued that Mandela’s road to victory was relatively easy in light of the long march forward. To his eternal credit, Mandela realized this and walked away knowing that the next steps must be walked and championed by others. Mbeki is aware of his own limitations and that he is just one of the many links in the chain of leaders to come. He knows that Mugabe has his faults but he is also painfully aware of the limitations of both the path travelled by Mandela and by Mugabe.

It occurred to me that democracy, as currently attempted, might not be the best system for us either. It is not that we are intrinsically unable to govern ourselves along democratic lines. It is that our practicing of democracy has three requirements, which are reduced to one: Either we allow and engage the same long passage of time and turmoil that others endured in order to arrive at a workable, pragmatic constitution, or we learn very fast at warp speed, or we fashion democracy in light of the fact that we do not have the long passage of time to wait and that all of us cannot learn at warp speed and practice what we learn. Reformation is the way forward.

If we agree that “No man is an island”, can we agree on how many people it takes to run a country along democratic lines, as inherited from England? I do not think seventy or eighty thousand people qualify. Size and history matter. The link between business and government can lead to disastrous consequences in a small society because of the monopoly of big influence with little or no counterbalance. It means that a limit to political campaign finance contribution is of crucial and fundamental import in our small developing state. Reformation is the way forward.

There has been much talk about patriotism with reference to our national anthem, asking us to gird our loins and join the battle. We are prepared to join the battle only if the battle involves committing ourselves to really building a true nation, brave and free. In this regard, we have to take a long and hard look at how we govern ourselves. We must amend our constitution such that no one person can be prime minister for more than two consecutive terms. Any modern political party that cannot put up two different leaders or prime ministers for two consecutive terms is not concerned about succession planning and is not worthy of membership. Limitation on the terms of the prime minister would allow political parties to breathe and breed and help to abort the long term stranglehold big businesses have on some politicians. Reformation is the way forward.

We are verging on a state of inertia where people become disillusioned about the way we govern ourselves. The UPP is a single stepping stone away from darkness into light. We cannot go back to the blind past and we must not go along blindly with the UPP, as presently constituted, simply to avoid the past. We have to let politicians within and without the government know that when the anthem refers to all enduring to defend the liberty of Antigua and Barbuda, we must define firstly what is that liberty. The recent darkness has forced our imperfections into light and dictated that we gird our lions first, before we gird our loins, lest we chant the charge of the light brigade.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Health Insurance

ON THE ROAD FOR A BETTER ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA

Dr. Lester CN Simon


I wish to suggest to you that by departing from its annual health expo to a road show, the MBS in exposing us to a paradigm shift not just in the way it functions but also in the way patients and health officials come to grips with healthcare delivery.

My premise is based on my understanding of the term, “moral hazard”. I came across this term in an article, The Moral-Hazard Myth, in 2005 in The New Yorker Magazine, by one of my favourite writers, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point. In fact, this address owes a great deal to the article by Malcolm Gladwell, a very insightful writer and thinker. Moral hazard is a term used by economists to describe the notion that insurance can change the behaviour of the person insured.

Moral hazard refers to the paradoxical and hazardous effect insurance can have by inducing risky and wasteful behaviour. It is not peculiar to insurance at all. You are insured and driving a car with all the appropriate insurance so you may drive faster and rougher. You are using a condom so (with all the appropriate “insurance”), so, to repeat the phrase, you may drive faster and rougher.

The “moral” part of the term, moral hazard, is derived from the fact that mathematicians studying decision-making in the 1700s used "moral" to mean "subjective". But we may simply understand moral hazard, as noted, to be the increase or new risk and wastefulness associated with the insured. It is felt that moral hazard arises because an individual does not bear the full consequences or costs of his actions, and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than he otherwise would, leaving another party (like the MBS) to bear responsibility for the consequences of his actions.

According to Gladwell, it is the fear of moral hazard, the potential increase in risk and resulting wastefulness from insurance, that prevents the expansion of health insurance in USA. Hence some 45 million people (and counting) in USA are without healthcare coverage. One way to diminish moral hazard is co-payment in which the client pays a part of the cost, or deductibles. The insurance company assumes that through co-payment or deductibles, the patient will use the healthcare system more responsibly and hence moral hazard is reduced.

The crucial point Gladwell posits is that the problem with moral hazard is that healthcare is not like other types of insurance; nor is it like other waste-prone products. If the government were to give us free water or electricity, or both, the moral hazard argument is that we become irresponsible and wasteful since we do not have to pay. However, barring a very few pretenders or hypochondriacs, most people do not eagerly run to the doctor just to look at the doctor’s face. People seek health care because they are sick, or at least because they feel unwell. I am painfully aware that some clients do go to doctors to buy sick leave that they are not entitled to but that is another topic for another road show. I know some of my colleagues will come at me for saying this but I can defend my position.

Gladwell gets to the meat of the matter in The Moral-Hazard Myth by regarding the fundamental function of insurance. One model is to equalize the financial risk between the healthy ones in the country on one hand and the sick ones on the other hand. He refers to this as a sort of social insurance. We pay because we know that when we are sick and cannot pay, someone else will subsidize our healthcare delivery, as we subsidized others when we were well and paying. This is the form of health insurance practiced in large part in Canada, Germany, Japan and most industrialized nations with universal healthcare. This is not so in USA. The other model is the actuarial way in which we pay according to our actual individual situation and history, like care insurance, for example.

By putting the MBS on a road show, it begs the question: Where is the MBS going? Do we go forward by putting more of the cost of healthcare on the individual consumer by way of private insurance? In so doing we will reduce the redistributive element of the social insurance model. If the future of health insurance will be more along the lines of socialized (MBS-Style) as apposed to, or to a greater extent than, privatized health insurance, we are making fundamental assumption according to Gladwell. We are assuming that the more equally and widely the burdens of healthcare are shared, the better off the population as a whole is likely to be. In my opinion, this noble assumption can only hold in practice if we also assume and make real that the other burdens of the good life and not just the burden of healthcare are shared as well in word and in deed.

This is why I referred to a paradigm shift that the MBS road show is exposing us to. In fact, the MBS is exposing itself and all of us and asking us to consider not just the social insurance sharing of healthcare versus confined, private health insurance. It is forcing MBS and all of us to regard also the conjoint social aspects of education, crime and violence, immigration, general taxation, public health, etc. Indeed the MBS road show will drive us to the tipping point to regard all aspects of the way we live. Sadly, it took another killing for some of us to realise that it is not just tourism that is everybody’s business.

And so, with this exposure to the reality of sharing the wider aspects and burdens of living together, and not just healthcare, I am proud to be part of this noble effort as we join with the MBS to not only, “Get on the Road for Better Health”, but to get on the road for a less unequal and a more just and modern Antiguan and Barbuda.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Commissioner

PICK SENSE FROM SENSATIONAL

Dr. Lester CN Simon

Having written when the four Canadian police officers arrived, I feel compelled to have my say on the departure of Mr. Nelson. To all those who have been hurling blame at the government, I urge them to put on their thinking caps and consider what motive this government would have at this time to fire Mr. Nelson.

Some of the callers and critics who were calling for earlier and more detailed disclosure from the government, might not have had the misfortune of having to fire someone and might not be aware of the proper procedure, including official, written notification. Moreover, if the aggrieved party goes public, the right to know and hear from the government must be balanced by attention to official procedure and the responsibility to safeguard not only national security but the reputation of the aggrieved party as well.

Many of us pretend that we do not understand that the desire to reform an organization, even with, and especially with, the best of intentions, can lead to problems that compound the very problem that existed in the first place. We know many workers in government and in private service who are very friendly and who appear to get on well with the public and who seem to get the job done. And yet some of these admirable workers might be using processes and procedures that are counterproductive to the overall running of the organization. Indeed, these hardworking workers may be blind to the effects of their methods on the other workers because they are genuinely trying very hard to solve wrenchingly, complex problems.

Without having any information on the problems and internal struggles that led to Mr. Nelson’s departure, I can only regard Mr. Nelson’s own remarks and those of the prime minister on Observer Radio. In reference to crime fighting, Mr. Nelson said a few weeks ago that a particular crime-stop initiative was either being assisted by or pursued with the help of a civilian, who happens to be in the tourist industry. The extent of the involvement of this or any other civilian was not stated. Is this the way police business is carried out, even if it is done in concert with conscientious civilians, and especially when reform is the order of the day?

Mr. Nelson also freely and publicly gave out his phone number to at least two persons who called into a radio program on Observer Radio. They had called because of difficulties they had with police procedures. Interestingly this was on the day before the melee started over his departure. One caller was concerned about the delay in obtaining personal firearms legitimately. Now, nothing is wrong with the police commissioner disclosing his telephone number in public; in fact it is a welcome act, if only because we may have to call him as a last resort. And therein lies the problem. Mr. Nelson should have directed the caller to the appropriated police section or police officer first, especially at this time when reform is the order of the day.

As trivial as these examples might seem, I wonder how many more serious departure from protocol, in trying to sort out the beleaguered force, contributed to his departure. I know of one relatively minor situation in which his eagerness and honest desire to do good and assist others fell a touch short, forgivingly, of the 37 years of high ethical standards he speaks. He is human. And by the bye, we are familiar with high ethical standards too.

I am left to think that it was probably neither the difference in cultures that was at fault, nor the attempt to import a foreign solution. Mr. Nelson might have become too colloquial in his earnest desire to reform the force and was probably going down one of the very same roads many of the previous commissioners had traveled. It is all so very sad. Things can only get better as we learn and move on.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Cross

CROSSOVER

Dr. Lester CN Simon


I have to tell you about one of the most remarkably effective pieces of advice I have ever heard given to a friend. He was addicted to watching X-rated movies and the advice was delivered very, very slowly one day when he was avidly and actively engaged in watching one of his favourites. It went something like this: Be very careful of admiring all the exciting and enticing things the woman (or women) is doing to the man because excessive and extensive admiration of the woman will one day lead you to want to do precisely what she is doing to the man. The movie came quickly to an abortive end.

Strangely, I recalled this effective advice a few days ago when a radio announcer expressed alarm that thieves tried to rob a man by impersonating policemen in dress and in action, in little Antigua, in broad day light. There are many stories about bad people becoming good after rejecting and fighting against the good and the right. There are also many stories about good people becoming the type of person they despise. We should try to fathom the psychological forces at play and the requirements for this crossing over or transformation. Understanding how these forces and principles work might help us in our attempts to reform criminals and to prevent good people from becoming bad in the first place.

In a few days, the nation will be engaged and engrossed in a half-day holiday set aside for fasting and prayer. The government consented to a request from the religious leaders for the holiday in order to address the issue of crime and violence in the country. I earnestly and honestly hope all of us know what we are getting into because prayer is a very powerful force and we may get what we pray for and what we need.

When we look at the detailed planning and skills many criminals deploy to carry out their activities, we are forced to conclude that the notion that these people are poor in education, spirit and skills and cannot find employment is largely false and even laughable, at least to the criminals themselves. Many are asking what motivates criminals and many easily conclude that they must be on drugs. We seem to ignore that, even though the causes are complex, many criminals are bolstered by the joy from getting something for nothing, like most of us, and the elation from undertaking risk and overcoming fear, like most of us. They simply take these natural urges and pleasures to the extreme, regardless of the consequences to others.

Studies by economist such as Rob Fairlie have shown that the characteristics required to become self-employed in a legitimate business are largely identical to those required for self-employment in an illegitimate business such as crime. In a review of this association between good guys and bad guys, Scott Shane, a professor of entrepreneurial studies recorded these common business traits to include independence, a willingness to disregard rules and convention and a strong belief that they can own more working for themselves than working for others. This is in keeping with the conclusion from another economist, William Baumol, years earlier, that it is the lack of (“poverty” of) incentives for legal, productive entrepreneurship that drives some people with the entrepreneurial spirit, desire and the talent into crime. I would add to that a ton of greed and the relatively easy entry into the illegal drugs industry.

When we begin to understand the causes of crime, we may begin to understand what to pray for on the holiday ahead. We should start by trying to answer what Jesus would do if he were literally walking the streets of Antigua and Barbuda at this time. We have to be very careful and watchful here because with criminals impersonating policemen they might have no compunction in fooling people into thinking they are Jesus. Whilst their well-placed accomplices are working amongst the crowd, robbing people blind, they will brazenly pretend to perform miracles, especially the one in which Jesus fed a multitude of five thousand with five loaves and two fish. The criminals may try to succeed at this by cutting off the ends of the loaves and the head and tail of the fish and proclaim to all: Look. See. Eat. Endless bread. Endless fish. The danger with this type of blasphemous impersonation is that the hungry mob might rush forward with buckets of nails, piles of wood, gallons of vinegar and, deceived by the fiction, cry out: Endless crucifixion.

When we pray on that fateful day, we may come to understand that we are taking the wrong approach to crime. We may be forced to move away from the present, Old Testament, retributive justice system to a New Testament, restorative, justice system. In the current retributive system we lock up the criminal knowing full well that the prison is a cesspool of criminality, a den of dehumanization, and the home of forced homosexuality. The same righteous and zealous Christians who will engage in prayer on the holiday will blissfully call the radio station a few days after and call for the death penalty (“endless” hanging) for all murderers at any age, including seventeen year olds, as one fine Christian lady recently proclaimed one morning whilst I was driving and could have got be killed as the hanging-Christian contradiction almost commandeered my vehicle off the road.

When we take on the New Testament, restorative justice system, we will finally understand the rights of the victims and hence the pathos and the bathos in the voice of the mother, whose son was killed by a shot to the head, when she said on Observer Radio, “Somebody has to tell me some-thing”. Restorative justice tells us that any crime is a crime against the community, whether the victim is a national, non-national or tourist. Professor Bernard Headley contrasts the two justice systems in his essays on crime and the politics of Jamaica in his book, A Spade is Still a Spade. We move from retributive justice to restorative justice when we move from blame-fixing to problem-solving; from imposition of retributive pain to restoration and reparation; from focus on offender with victim ignored to victim’s need being central; from action by the state to the offender with offender being passive to offender given a role in solution, etc. Incidentally, retributive justice was contributory to the actions of some Africans in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Restorative justice must be overseen by trained and experienced experts. We cannot permit untrained Christians pastors and other untrained professionals to encourage abused women or children to prematurely and foolishly forgive their abusers, even if the abuser is a pastor or a high class professional. Prison will also be part of restorative justice and so the new type of prison will be a reflection of the new type of society, in some regard. We have to take on board the profound statement by professor Headley, in his book The Jamaica Crime Scene: “The cause of all street-level crime and violence must be found in the nature of society itself, not in the mental or emotional states of its citizens”. These societal causes are complex and warrant thorough, scientific studies.

Those Christians who favour the death penalty and other aspects of the Old Testament, retributive, justice system over and above the New Testament, restorative, justice system should probably ignore the admonition of the prime minister, go to the beach instead and not attend the holiday of prayer. After steadfast and earnest praying and fasting we may have an epiphany on the New Testament, restorative way of Jesus.

We may finally start to understand our crime problem, and truly come face to face with the solution to our deep desire and our natural, survival instinct to cleanse the nation of criminals and protect ourselves from harm and danger. The new, Jesus solution will demand that after we pray and fast on the holiday, we deliberately and actively transform the nature and soul of our society, not in some otherworldly, spiritual way, but simply that we truly cross over from one earthly, retributive justice system to the earthly, Jesus system of restorative justice. Beware of the consequences of prayer.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Extraordinary Things

ORDINARY PEOPLE

Dr. Lester CN Simon

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things; like smash world records in front of millions of people, or shoot someone dead in the head and hide amongst people who know them. How do you contrast the emotions that attend an athlete who breaks world records and a murderer who destroys lives? It is easy to understand the way of the athlete through proper training and preparation, even though we marvel at the results. We have immense difficulty comprehending the way of the murderer because, unlike the athlete who prepares to win the event and is thrilled to break a record, the typical murderer does not leave home with a gun prepared to commit murder. We have to understand what happens later.

It is time to tell angry, young, black males in particular and many black people in general that the world does not owe them a living. The transformation from social and political protest against authority (colonial, neocolonial and native) to the admission of personal and collective responsibility is a guided transformation that many of us older ones owe angry, young, black males. All those years we have allowed this country to bolt like a runaway train are now catching up with us. It is not so much the lack of education or sports facilities or even the lack of good parenting. It is a cockeyed notion of payback time because we are owed.

As good as the Antigua Grammar School was in the 60’s, we had to attend classes at the Princess Margaret School and the St. Joseph’s Academy and survive teaching ourselves. When people talk of the good old days I want to sew their lying lips tight using the needle and thread of a shoemaker. They are walking around and deliberately falsifying the past just to make the present looks like badness just born or badness just came into style and fashion. A one-handed man could have counted, on one hand, the families in my village with good parenting skills, especially when stand pipe opened after a long drought.

The central cause of the poor work ethic, or no work ethic at all, amongst angry, young, black men is the notion that it is “black man time now” and that the world owes us something that we must extract at all cost. Hence we can borrow and don’t pay; and we are entitled to get blue vex and curse and see red when we are gently reminded to pay or dues or taxes. You can’t owe people and pass them by without saying respectfully saying howdy. We gleefully did this to the so called first world and we extended this irresponsibility to ourselves, including our university. We showed no respect . But we know about respect.

Criminals understand respect. In criminal gangs the first, cardinal rule is that no member can disrespect the boss, and live. They also understand that notwithstanding all the virtues of Rastafarianism in addressing and redressing the consciousness of black people, the call for the chanting down of Babylon must also extend to the chanting down of ordinary people when they do extraordinarily, evil things. Babylon is a manifold beast in many guises and Rastafarianism cannot be selective in its chanting. Also, a religion that has the smoking of an illegal herb as an important sacrament (which illegality is aided by seemingly colluding lawmakers and lawbreakers) plays perfectly into the hands of high class, white collar criminals who concoct the deadly joint of marijuana, cocaine and guns for effective distribution and marketing.

We should read the Joint Report by the United Nations on Drugs and Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean (Report N0. 37820, March 2007). It lists narcotics trafficking as the strongest explanation for the high rates of crime. This single activity compromises and corrupts the entire society and all its institutions at all levels. We can blame the police, because they deserve it; so too we can blame politicians, and the untouchable big wigs that operate the trade from unreachable, withering heights. But then, a Trinidadian friend explained me something (as he so beautifully phrased it). He told me about a place in Trinidad where the drug problem was so awful, taxi drivers refused to go there, until the army had pitched their tents there to commandeer the place. Then the taxis returned. But the ordinary mothers of the area protested against the army because they were now going through economic hell due to the lack of the essential drug money.

We have to admit that the drug trade has corrupted the entire fabric of our society from top to bottom. Admission is the first step towards healing. The corruption is worse in a small island where we are all family, friends and neighbours. No wonder we falsely refer to the good old days when we knew or neighbours better and how the recent foreigners are committing the crimes. How many more natives and tourists must die before we admit that Antiguans and Barbudans have the potential to become and have become violent people just like other, seemingly ordinary people, with no assistance from outsiders?

When we talk of reparations we must be clear what we are talking about and we must be clearer about the mixed signals we are sending. Can it be that the modern-day slavery we are engaging in through the corrupting effects of the drug trade is comparable to the Atlantic Slave Trade? Or do we have to wait another 200 years for a fair comparison? In any event, we cannot continue to chant down Babylon, turn a blind eye, go along to get along and expect reparations for the Atlantic Slave Trade. We have no moral authority to demand what we rightfully deserve when we cannot demand that we do better with what we have. It would be like a drug addict withdrawing money from his own bank account to blow on another fix.

So when an ordinary, black youth leaves home with a gun, just to intimidate, not to kill anyone, and he meets resistance, he is reminded that the whole world, including his own, poor, suffering neighbour or a tourist, owes him a living and he is actually appalled, overwhelmed and angry and will extinguish a life because someone can be so unbecoming, so mean, defensive and so downright disrespectful to refuse to hand over, without an attitude, what was owed to him in the first place.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Return

THE RETURN OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

Dr. Lester CN Simon

Of all the rundown, forgotten offices in town, she had to stumble into mine. The one with the rotten, twisted sign. The partially opened, creaky, wooden door ushered her into a constrained, rhomboid waiting room dimly lit by a solitary energy-saving light bulb that had seen brighter days and thinner cobwebs. No sign of a receptionist; neither a plant nor a flower, real or artificial; just a few jaded, screw-face magazines and a small, ancient book on the floor in a corner; three benches outlining the complete unevenness of the floor; three strangulated pictures on the walls depicting the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria; a signed seaman certificate dated 1492 and a pinup 2008 almanac. She no doubt thought the sign outside must be wrong. This could not be the office of a private investigator. But it was.

She turned to leave as I waltzed through the door apologizing for the absence of a receptionist. It’s awfully difficult getting good people to work these days. Everyone, including the criminals, is working three or four jobs to get money to meet needs and wants, including taking a cruise. Taking a cruise. Queen Isabella! If only I had a mite of what they have when I started out.

She came to see me because her son was killed. I told her she should go to the police. She told me that would take forever. Trying to relax her, I pointed out that the police was not too far away, as if taking forever meant the time it would take her to get to a police station. She smiled and reminded me that of the four strapping policemen who came in from Canada, two of them, thus far, went back after they realized they would have to live here forever to make even a small impression on the police force. And it seemed I had come well recommended. After all, a man who discovered one new world while trying to find another and who was reincarnated as a private detective to discover more things, more than five hundred years after his maiden transatlantic voyage, must be good. He asked about my retainer.

I told her I had returned for many reasons. Some of my people, the tourists, could not understand how this continent and chain of islands had become so corrupt. After all, I had to remind her that the author, Charles Mann, had correctly written in his book, 1491, that the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets and was larger than any contemporary city in Europe before 1492. I explained how the Americas had started genetic engineering by creating corn. There were black people here before 1492. How else did the banana, of African origin, end up in Peru before I came here?

When tourists referred to these countries, pejoratively, as a banana republic, how much had I and my people contributed to the endemic corruption she has to endure? Caught between the poor cocaine producers in the south and the rich consumers in the north, these islands have become nothing but transit points. Lives in these in transit terminals become shorter and shorter as trafficking increases more and more. In protest, I hear many a Rastaman have ceased smoking herb, or they are growing their own, since the shippers now marry marijuana, cocaine and guns in one all inclusive package for optimal distribution.

I recovered the little book off the floor and explained to her that evil had long inhabited and nested itself in the fabric of these parts. I quoted from The Devastation of the Indies by Bartolom√© 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”. The twisted irony is that these charming islands are so beautiful, the beauty hides the ugliness; but then again, good and evil have always walked together, even in Eden.

Then I told her I would accept her case under one condition. She and her family and friends must petition the government to deploy a reformed army with crystal clear rules of engagement. You cannot have a group of women talking about taking back the night when criminals are in charge and soldiers are waiting for an invasion that has already happened. The reformed army must pitch tents in real and present danger areas as well as areas of potential danger. A reformed army is the primary and principal force best suited to assist the police in winning back the confidence of the people in the security forces of the state.

Those who see the army as a traditional army should visit the website of the Regional Security System (RSS), www.rss.org.bb. It underscores the changing roles of the RSS, which comprises both military and police personnel. “The threat of external aggression or destabilization, once seen as a problem, is now almost non-existent and Member States are no longer concerned with the threat of external aggression from any of its neighbours, but rather with the more pervasive influence of narco-trafficking, terrorism, crime and their consequential impact on civil society. The increase in crime is aggravated by the influx of criminal deportees from…….and by the availability of firearms…” They changed the role of the army on the web and left the old army marching aimlessly on the ground. Move from at ease and come to attention, our attention!

And so I concluded, the government cannot continue to refuse to permanently reengineer, reform and deploy the army, with crystal clear rules of engagement. The government cannot take blind refuge in citing (inciting) the image of the country in the eyes of tourists and wait until tourists are killed to pull out all the stops. Tell them I sent you. I am the original tourist and I am scared stiff living and working here. If they still refuse, warn them that if a man more than 500 years old can see the way to stop the immediate haemorrhage, whilst other long term measures are put in place, and they cannot see the way out, then they have long passed their expiry date. And so, it is time for all of them, as I close my office and bid you goodbye forever, to sing with me, altogether now, “Garn Ah Guassa”.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Taste The Music

THE FUTURE OF MUSIC

Dr. Lester CN Simon

If you think Jamaica dancehall and rap music have a deleterious effect on young people today; that they are responsible to a large degree for antisocial behaviour and that you have seen the worst, kindly allow me to disabuse you of your ignorance and inform you that what you see today is like a children’s choir, maypole song and dance, or the quadrille, compared to what is around the corner.

To understand what is in store, you have to recall that you possess five senses: Hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching. In the future, you will not only be able to hear music and see it performed, you will be able to touch, smell and taste music. Utter nonsense, you say. Actually, there are people among you today who regularly experience these multiple sensations when they hear music. These otherwise normal people are said to have synesthesia (syn-es-the-sia) and they are called synesthetes (syn-es-thetes).

Synesthesia comes from the Greek root syn, meaning “together”, and aesthesis, meaning “perception”. It refers to the blending of two or more senses. About one in two thousand people are affected. Scientists are busy studying these cases and once the mechanisms involved are clearly understood, someone will exploit this new knowledge for practical purposes and huge financial gains.

Synesthesia is the theme of an article by Ramachandran and Hubbard called Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes in 2003 in Scientific American. Dr. Oliver Sacks devotes an entire chapter to synesthesia in his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and The Brain. The basis of synesthesia seems to lie in cross wiring in the brain. The sensations from the five senses are registered in the brain in a number of stages and places or stations. Whilst there are different stations for all the five senses, some of the stations are very close together. Changes can occur to cause connections between brain stations that are close but usually functionally separate. It is also possible that these stations were once connected and in normal development they separate. Hence improper separation of the senses may be the cause of synesthesia.

Synesthetes experience various colours when they hear music. Some may see blue when they hear the note C sharp. Musical notes, intervals and chords evoke unique colours. In some, different numbers have different colours. The days of the week or months of the year elicit colours. Monday might be green, Wednesday pink and December yellow. Is Ash Wednesday ashen? It is suggested that everyone has some capacity for synesthesia, the mixing of the senses. We use metaphors and similes. Touching food can evoke a related taste. When you think of a cat, you think of it as fluffy (touching), having a certain shape (seeing), a particular odor (smelling) and emitting meows and purrs (hearing). It is the conjoining of these senses that occurs when you think of a cat, according to Dr. Ramachandran, a former Reith lecturer.
Dr. Sacks writes that this hyper-connectivity of the senses is thought to be present in primates and other mammals during fetal development and early infancy but it is normally reduced or pruned weeks or months after birth. This theory lends credence to the idea that a child in utero can sense music playing ex utero. Dr. Sacks references an earlier text in which a man was described as wearing a C-sharp minor coat with an E-major collar. He also relates the story of a child who became upset after receiving a box of coloured letters of the alphabet. They were the “wrong” colours. The mother agreed with the child. She was also a synesthete. But mother and child disagreed on which colour was correct for each letter.

An incidence of one synesthete per two thousand means that we have about forty of them. Assuming only twenty of them take part in carnival, be prepared to see some people display unusual reactions when the carnival music hits them. In the braver, newer world of music festivals and concerts, in addition to the visual displays to augment the music, there will be professional dancers in the audience to help you feel the music as you listen and watch the performance. All sorts of seemingly innocent, huge, scented candles will lightly perfume the air and special, scented plants positioned for you to smell and associate with the music. You will be served small, wafer-thin bits of exotic foods to help you enjoy the taste of the music.

In the future you will be able to go into a supermarket and buy a bottle of music of your choice. On the shelves there will be tubes of soul music, jars of jazz, sachets of golden oldies and classics, boxes of reggae, cans of calypso and soca, drums of steel band music and plain plastic bags (scandal bags, as Jamaicans say) of rap and dancehall music. You will be able to drink and eat music not only to your heart’s content but to the content of all your five senses; hearing, seeing and feeling the music as you enjoy the smell and taste of the musical beverage. It will be just like “the freshness of a breeze in a bottle”….until you realize that your music not only tastes like Limacol; it is Limacol.

Postscript: Let us have a safe and happy carnival. Our entire history says that we are carnival, which is the exponential conjoining of entertainment, economics, welcoming, creativity, survival, intellectualism, and so much more: Our culture.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

As You Like It

MIDSUMMER NIGHT DREAMS

Dr. Lester CN Simon

At least once during this carnival you will see one or two persons or a group of revelers, on stage, in the street or in the tight confines of a dancehall, doing a dance that can only be described as adulterated, virtual sex. You will look and continue to stare so you can tell your friends just how awful and disgusting it was, especially with children looking on; so you can wonder if people really go through all those and even more elastic contortions, in the privacy of their homes. But the primary reason you are taking it all in, is to try to understand philosophically why normally sane, decent individuals would engage in such an exercise of erotic exorcism in public. It’s carnival.

We cannot continue to pass off gross, indecent revelers as being simply vulgar and obscene. That is easy. We have to try to understand why. And please do not tell me it’s an African thing. Even if it were, there are innumerable African things we can do without. It might help if we acknowledge that whilst the outlandish behaviour is more pervasive in recent years, extreme forms of erotic display during carnival are not new phenomena, contrary to the hypocritical claims of those who have upgraded their carnival status from vagabond revelers to hoity-toity onlookers.

I recall some of the stern rebukes and threats of lashings I got as a child from mere friends of my grandmother for the most minor infractions. Subsequently, I would stare open-mouthed in disbelief at their wanton and vulgar displays during carnival in the middle of High Street miles away from sleepy New Winthropes village. I had to conclude that their frantic calls to poor little me to join them in the big bacchanal were guilty acknowledgements that the punishments I had received were pointedly not for the actual infractions but for not knowing when and where to misbehave.

We may refer to those who display lewd behaviour during carnival as exhibitionists, and the onlookers as peeping Toms engaged in public voyeurism. We can then begin to move the discussion to a higher level similar to that on which some academics discuss postmodern, social relationships such as exist through reality television shows. These range from the mild What Not To Wear to the racy, exorcism of Jerry Springer. In both of these reality shows, as in all of them, the participants and the viewers undergo varying degrees of mutual, eschatological pleasure.

One of the remarkable rewards from peeping at the exhibitionists carrying out their disgusting behaviour is that peeping seduces the onlookers to project their inner feelings of disgust on to the exhibitionists. This is turn allows the peepers to satisfy their insatiable appetite to see the badness in others relative to the goodness in themselves. It is a form of guilty pleasure that the peepers get. They claim in infinite, storytelling details to their respectable friends, that their revelations from their precise observations of the exhibitionists were so awful, they would (not could) never in their wildest dream behave like that, even in private, let alone in public. On the other hand, the exhibitionists enjoy shocking the public peepers. The stares and cries of disbelief from the peepers spur them on to more and more excessive, indecent behaviour so they can qualify for their ten minutes of fame. They desperately and despicably need each other.

In reference to carnival, Derek Walcott refers to the culture of loss or denial followed by rediscovery through mimicry, and then extensions into inventions, as noted by the Walcott critic, Otto Heim. He goes on to document that the banning of African drumming led to the use of the garbage can cover and the birth of the steel pan; calypso evolved as an expression of satire by way of parody; and carnival costumes can be seen as an improvisation on sculpture. Where then do we place the despicable carnival slackness we complain about with bitter remarks but also with seemingly inexhaustible and salacious enthusiasm?

Slackness exists in many forms of popular culture, ranging from Jamaican dancehall lyrics and dances, to the almost primitive exhibitionism at some American and European music festivals. It is written by Carolyn Cooper in Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large, that Lady Saw (who reportedly makes Yellow Man at his worse seem like a Boy Scout), defended her dancehall slackness thus: “Slackness is when the road waan fi fix…...when government break them promise…when politician issue out gun…..And let the two Party a shot them one another down”. Lady Saw will mesmerize you by first offering welcoming advice on safe sex and then explain in graphic, anatomical detail (that would turn Yellow Man from yellow to black) the physiological reasons for her penchant for a particular sexual position; all in song and dance.

Suffice it to say that according to the queen of dancehall slackness, slackness has decidedly taken over when the Hobson’s choice is between the slackness of physical death by the gun and the slackness of moral decay, decadence and spiritual death by a cavalcade of vile lyrics and public, sexual exorcism. Escaping the gun consigns you to Styx, where the sole staple is endless cavorting in a banal and lifeless community comprising only all-inclusive, exorcistic dancehalls.

Beenie Man’s claim to slackness is less accusatory and more historical. He makes the point that popular reggae music was finely sanitized for uppity people from rustic, raw Jamaican music. Hence his slackness music and that of others, especially in its incomprehensibility to uppity people, has strong umbilical and historical ties to authentic Jamaican music. It seems that the devil has driven away David with his psalmic harp and he now walks alone between the banal “syn-copation” of some of our music. So now, you can understand my initial pleasant surprise and subsequent utter disarray on hearing Warrior Queen sing praises to the heavenly Father for his gift to her. In the chorus I discover that the gift resides in the endowment of her mate and his climactic effects on her.

The destructiveness of musical and dancing slackness is that it is so common, it spawns a way of life that objectifies the human form in general and the female body in particular. It passes from being a stimulant (like alcohol in small doses) to a depressant (like alcohol in large doses). Some artists claim it is all an act and say they are completely different off stage. Unfortunately, some of the ardent followers wonder why they should bother to repair to the tightness of other people’s normality when they are almost constantly in the sweet normality of slackness.

Dancehall slackness, which is seeping into carnival slackness, has been very badly bruised in the battle against what it defines as the ultimate slackness: homosexuality. This is largely because of the influence and financial power of the metropolitan homosexuals. However, it boggles the mind that the cries to kill homosexuals are loudest in Jamaica, where the national death rate is unacceptably high. Or maybe it should not boggle the mind at all. Tolerance of lifestyles and behaviours and consequent moderations and modifications for public consumption might be the answer. Indeed, some dancehall DJs have already tempered their lyrics and it has been argued that Jamaicans should be allowed to arrive at their own level of local tolerance of homosexuality rather than have tolerance shove down their throats by metropolitan, homosexual imperialists.

If we use Walcott’s model or principle of creation emerging from denial or lack, we may be forced to suggest that the persistence and pervasiveness of carnival and dancehall slackness in the form of erotic exorcism, speak to the denial, lack and repression of normal, healthy sexual attitudes, behaviours and relationships in the community. We therefore end up with a classic, calypso irony: Far from hinting at enjoyable, healthy, raunchy, sexual activity in private, the erotic dancing and sexual mimicry on display in public, during carnival and inside the dancehall, is probably a reflection of the very opposite, in private. The masses put on a naked mask to “play mas” and act out unfulfilled sexual fantasies far removed from their private, boring realities.

Now be honest. This explanation must make you feel less resentful of them and so much more morally superior to the exorcising, carnival vagabonds. You are not a public peeping Tom. You are quietly and studiously regarding and researching the carnival bacchanal for no reason other than unadulterated, academic and philosophical insights. That explains why you need the towering, vantage height of the sky-walking moko jumbie who is able to see and foresee all danger and all evil. After all, even in your self-righteousness and pompousness, you are carnival.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Our Imperialism

THE ENGLISH PATENT

Dr. Lester CN Simon


We remember those days in school when the teacher would ask the class a very difficult question and some seemingly insignificant pupil at the back of the class would raise his hand time and again only to be ignored time and again until, one day apparently for cheap amusement, the teacher decided to point at him and the whole class erupted in raucous laughter even before he uttered a single word.

The question is about the possibility of West Indian integration. The reply from the unassuming pupil is that regional integration is only possible if we read comic books. When the laughter stops, the additional requirement is that we must also read English history, with a little bit of French, Spanish and Dutch history thrown in for good measure, which is a roundabout way of saying we must know the history of the making of the West Indies. Knowledge of the history of the uniting of the states of North America would also help.

People cannot be integrated by benign invitation. Integration can only come by force. Force by war or force by famine or force by necessity or force by clever, seductive marketing; but by force and force alone. Economic development or economic ruin must precede and herald the force of integration.

When we sneer at regional integration by recalling the failed West Indian Federation and remind the large islanders that they did not want us then when they were up therefore we small islanders do not want them now when the tables are turned, we do not understand the economics of turning tables.

The best time to argue for integration and get the terms you desire is when you are on top. Antigua and Barbuda in particular and the OECS in general must not make the same mistake the Greater Antilles made decades ago. Saying one from ten leaves naught on two separate occasions decades apart is not a claim of knowledge of special mathematics. It is the claim of clowns and mimic men. Now is the time to develop the OECS and the region on our terms before the tables turn again and bring back the days when, on landing in Jamaica in 1970 and going to a bank, I was told that my dollar from Antigua and Barbuda was worth thirty seven (or was it thirty eight) Jamaican cents. Small island people had small money. Now big island people spend big money for small things.

We understand from our English lesson that imperialism works best when imperialists profess, and some actually believe and would swear to the heavens, that their mission is to civilize the natives and deliver them from evil unto Christ and into the kingdom of heaven. We know the tools that are usually used in imperialist conversions; tools that were not invented by the English although they, as we might say, took the cake, the cake pan, the oven and the entire kitchen and held the patent; tools that were as obvious during the Stone Age as they are useful today in the USA.

The central and quintessential fighting tool of culture, as noted recently in Antigua by George Lamming, has been reduced to the singularity of entertainment with vulgar disregard for intellectualism and other elements of our culture, which is the sum total of the way we see and represent ourselves. The singularity of entertainment as culture is particularly obnoxious given our colonial history.

Here is one simple English lesson on integration from the history of the British Empire: “This is London calling…”, a station identification mantra during and after World War II of BBC broadcasting to occupied and colonized countries. So now, if Britain can seek and find ways to unify millions of people separated by wider seas and oceans than we are separated by in the Caribbean sea, where oh where is our Caribbean Broadcasting Service (CBC)? CBC is a government-owned media corporation located in Barbados. Its stated mission is, “To provide consistently, superior quality educational, informative and entertaining programs and services that inspire and enrich our Caribbean peoples' lives……” According to their web site, CBC operates a television station and three FM radio stations. None of the CBC radio stations can be picked up in Antigua and Barbuda under normal circumstances and, I am told, they cannot even reach as near as Trinidad.

We cannot begin to dream, let alone talk or hold meetings, about regional integration in the absence of regular, constant, daily and hourly broadcasting of a single, unifying, regional radio station throughout the Caribbean, even if we foolishly continue to reduce our culture to the most vulgar singularity of cheap entertainment, as Lamming lamented.

If the central dogma of imperialism is the extension of a country’s influence through acquisition of colonies and dependencies, I am compelled to posit that Antigua and Barbuda is a de facto imperialist nation in denial. The colonies and dependencies are already here in the national matrix. We are in the perfect, pole position to embark on the development of this country and by extension the development and integration of the region within and beyond the OECS.

But there is a self-defeating danger native and natural to all imperialist nations that we can only try to diminish and must always seek to control. It is the schizophrenia of belonging. I recall in vivid colour seeing on television in London in 1987 a Barbadian elderly gentleman with characteristic Bajan accent espousing in London the virtues of England because, “The English do things right”. Why then was he so stark raving mad on the cold, lonely streets of London? Because, my Windrush friend, having admired the party, heard the wonderful music and dressed up for the dance, when he got to the door of the dancehall, someone told him he was not invited.

The debate on CSME and the virtues of Caricom must be broadened and deepened because the glass of Caribbean integration is not half empty, it is half full. This must be manifested and topped up to the brim by using the modern technology of radio broadcasting. I know imperialism through radio broadcasting works because when I was a child and did not want to speak as a child and sought to put away all childish things and look for all the exciting things young virile and feral boys look for, BBC’s radio drama sparked my imagination. I am not ashamed to report that since my secondary school days in the sixties, unless I am very tired, I cannot fall asleep unless my radio is tuned to BBC.

Worse, England’s most popular patriotic song, Jerusalem, with words by William Blake and music by Sir Hubert Parry, is usually sung on the Last Night of the Proms. In my mind, it echoes the pastoral days in primary school when our favourite teacher would take us outside the concrete jungle of the classroom and sit us down on the grass. “...I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand: Till we have built Jerusalem, In England’s green & pleasant Land…..”
By the bye, the very first time I landed in England, I experienced immense difficult falling asleep, not because of jet lag but because it took me almost all night to find the real, imperial BBC World Service instead of the local BBC stations and when I did, it was not at all the same but I still managed to fall asleep.

Some fundamental lessons in life are by definition universal. The best way to honour George Lamming and the memories of our heroes and realize our potential is to smash the old Caricom gramophone record Lamming referred to and use regional radio to redefine and broadcast our culture to solidify Caricom and herald the CSME. Some English lessons must be learnt, studied and practiced even if we do not like the teacher and even if we run the risk, which we must minimize, of some of us getting all dressed up and ending up at the wrong dancehall door.

Monday, July 7, 2008

For Friendship Assurance

YOUR CALL MAY BE MONITORED

Dr. Lester CN Simon

I didn’t know she was dead. I didn’t even know she was ill. There I was pulling out from the traffic lights when someone shouted out that one of our mutual school friends had died and had been cremated and her ashes were here. Friend turned into ashes? So much dust cannot be inhaled and digested in the twinkling of changing lights. Unlike the final call, green light does not mean go. It means proceed if able. Accidents are made of this.

Appropriately, I was passing by my primary school and immediately I imagined her going home from her secondary school in her tall, navy blue and white uniform with her straw hat coroneted with navy blue ribbon, walking as if the streets belonged to her. Never in a hurry, she always carried herself in a silent way with constitutive effortlessness. The dead tell tales.

In those days many of us from and around St. Johnston’s village and Sutherlands would walk to school and measure our times and paces regarding one another. Eventually most of us migrated to greener pastures in larger grounds; and contacts between us were as few and far between as the homecoming visits and distances apart. But on meeting up or calling up back home, we would talk about friends and family and work, in that order, and reminisce a bit about what we now call halcyon school days.

The last time I spoke to her was over the phone on a very busy day at work and I said I would pass by to say hello as usual. But somehow I just did not get around to it. So then, distal from the traffic lights, I recall her usually untroubled voice over the phone last year and my unkept promise to see her before she flew off to the far north again, when she would have told me that the dreaded cancer, the one most feared by all women, had sunken its claws into her. Driving along and trying to come to terms with so many decades crushed into seconds, I could only recall someone musing the results if one were to translate the Bible into dialect and realizing that the shortest verse would become, “Jesus put dung wan piece a bawling”.

Where did she go? Back to the beginning and back to a stream of consciousness that will sometimes and forever flow through us as if by happenstance; telling us to cherish friends and family through the little moments of nuggets we share; telling us to rest down the blinking phone sometimes and go and hug someone. It might just be the last, earthly embrace.

I can only imagine that before the beginning of the end, as would be typical of her, she reflected on hope for us, and found some solace for herself as can be found in the melancholy, contralto voice of Kate McGarry in the song, The Target (Miracles Like These).

In this song, we can regard this dreaded cancer as the target, ourselves as the archer and our dear, departed friend as one of the streams and rivers.

Can the target straighten the eye of the archer
And strengthen his arm
Can the target will the arrow into the center of its heart
If miracles like these are possible

Can the ocean comfort the streams and the rivers
As they journey home
Will the secret finally be told that they can’t be kept apart
If miracles like these are possible
If miracles like these are possible
There is hope for me to meet you Lord


May the soul of Tracelyn Thomas rest in peace.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Posing at the back of Medpath Lab for Carnival Magazine 2008

To Be and To Be, That Is The Answer

WEST INDIAN IS NOT AFRICAN


Dr. Lester CN Simon

It started that fateful day in third form when the late school master, Tim Hector opened my head with a top-spin cuff and poured in the words of the poem, Creation, by James Wendell Johnson. I did not know black people wrote poems, despite the many recitations I had performed in church and primary school. The greater lesson from Tim was that I did not know that a big, strong, strapping man like Master Hector could be associated with a poem. I started to think.

Sadly, I must confess that I was short sighted when considering what it means to be a West Indian. For all these years I made the mistake of assuming that since black people were the predominant people in the West Indies and had paid such a high price to build these island states, being West Indian must be in some sort of way related to being people of African descent or to an offshoot of thinking African, whatever that nebulous offshoot thinking meant. I was wrong.

Black West Indians have to understand that we have two battles to fight. One battle is for the sense of self and our relationship to Africa, which Joanne C Hillhouse outlined in her illuminating four-part series in this newspaper. The other battle is to find common ground with all other West Indians to define what West Indian means. The battle for West Indianism cannot be subsumed under the battle by black people for realizing our Africanism. I have to put up my hand and testify that I have made this fundamental error for over forty years. The other West Indians may be accusing us black West Indians of romantic apartheid. Perish the thought.

When I suggest that the plantation is the commonality for all West Indians (and Caribbean peoples), I understand that all of us from diverse origins look to our glorious origins as points of reference and departure. We, black West Indians have a glorious past and it is not the inglorious plantation. It lies in Africa. It is more difficult to accept that a common ground for West Indianism cannot be Africa and can be the plantation. After all these years of trying to grapple with this dilemma, I have settled on the plantation as a point of commonality not by situating West Indianism within and concentrating on the life within the plantation, but by using this inglorious plantation past as a point of departure to a less imperfect future.

This to me, is what West Indian and Caribbean mean and it embraces all who came before as well as during and after the plantation. It means we know what we do not want to be and hence we have some semblance of what we ought to be. The notion that West Indian is an offshoot of thinking African is largely responsible for some non-black West Indians smiling at black West Indians celebrating and entertaining while these same others continue to be the drivers of the black engines of growth. I jumped sky-high for joy when, in Jamaica in the seventies, it took a celebrated economist to remind the uppity merchants that they themselves used to be selling on the same pavement just like the black people operating the bend-down plazas outside their uppity stores.

Until we settle this plantation blight by examining it, undertaking the inevitable reconciliation and seeing it as a point of departure, related to but also separate and distinct from being African, we will never have a true West Indian Identity. Moreover, those who came after the plantation can buy into not a plantation genesis but a plantation exodus as we march away from hell to a better place.

Maybe the best way to make the point that being West Indian is not the same as being African is to settle for the old, oftentimes misused adage that black people always have to work at least twice as hard as other people. One work is for Africa. The other work is for a commonality amongst all West Indian and Caribbean people. The two battles are not the same.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

HOW YOU COULD WINE SO?

THE ANATOMY OF A GOOD WINE

Dr. Lester CN Simon


Some people can wine better than others. The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage defines wining as “erotic or provocative dancing with vigorous swinging and gyrating of the hips”. It goes on to make a link between wining, carnival and vulgarity.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, vulgar means “making explicit reference to sex or bodily functions”. But the dictionary also notes that the word vulgar comes from the Latin word for “common people” and hence it also means “characteristic of or belonging to ordinary people”. I want to propose that wining says a lot more than being vulgar.

To understand the anatomy of a good wine you have to discover the different kinds of movements made by each joint of the body in isolation. For example, the hip joint can perform six different movements all by itself. It can bend forward, backward, rotate outward, rotate inward, move outward with no rotation and move inward with no rotation. Examine for yourself the different movements of the spine and the knee separately.

The art of wining requires combining some or all of the movements of the joints to create a smooth, flowing, orchestrated movement. This leads to my proposal that persons who are adept at multitasking in any activity should make good winers. When you consider all the disparate activities women have to undertake from dawn to dusk and beyond, it is no wonder that they generally out-wine men.

But sadly, there are many women and men who seem to be good at multitasking who cannot wine at all or wine very poorly. There are reasons for this. Some persons who appear to do many things at the same time are really not very efficient although they look very busy. Others, who may multitask very efficiently, fail to bring the art of multitasking to the fine art of wining.

Being able to distill all the possible movements of the joints into a good wine ensemble is no different from cooking a good meal and wining and dining your party guests as a good host or hostess. Good wining is also a reflection of expert negotiating skills, especially at carnival time when you have to jostle between the Carnival Development Committee, the myriad groups and troupes, associations and demanding, uncompromising audiences.

It should not surprise you that wining is regarded as vulgar, if by vulgar we refer etymologically to the common people. Common people have to multitask all the time to make ends meet. They simply carry over the art of everyday living to the art of wining. Even high-society women are now common (vulgar), expert winers because they realise that they too have to multitask regardless of their high-status vocation. Many men are forced to multitask like their womenfolk to make ends meet at home. This can only be a good thing for the family and for conjoint wining between consenting men and women, some of which is best confined to the privacy of the home, far away from the stage and street at carnival time.

As you look at wining dancers during this carnival season, try to determine how well they combine the various, possible movements of the spine, the hip and the knee. Look out for those winers with additional, unusual or unique movements which may include holding their head, hands or feet in positions that embellish the central movement. The central movement can be in many different planes. It is commonly clockwise or anticlockwise. Is this dependent on the person being left or right handed? It sometimes resort to elementary arithmetic and illustrates the number 8 or 888 with seemingly infinite, hypnotic recurrences.

One knee or both will be at a particular angle, contributing to the overall wining geometry. Your ankles should be supple and yours shoes should have good traction. The overall architecture should be stable and aesthetically (not necessarily ecstatically) pleasing. Discover and document the different skills that are deployed in wining while standing compared to wining while sitting or walking.

Finally, do not be fooled or be overly enamoured by those wanton winers who are wining all over the carnival stage or the street, explicit to the extreme. Empty vessels not only make the most noise, they make uncoordinated, purposeless movements and distract attention from the really good, smooth, flowing winer, like the one looking back at you in the mirror.

So when the carnival is over and your family, workmates and friends remark how much better you can multitask at home, work and play, proudly and honestly tell them it was all because of the wining, which taught you so well how to make ends meet.



Note: This article is scheduled to be included in this year's carnival magazine. It is a partial rewrite of an article by the same name published in The Daily Observer newspaper in 2006.