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Thursday, October 29, 2009



Dear Editor

We are often warned not to discuss religion and politics. Sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, should probably be added to the list. When religion and homosexuality are combined, as in the article, “Homosexuality: When The Jealous God Retaliates” by Shelton Daniel, in the Daily Observer of Thursday, October 29, we should probably not discuss his article at all. But we do not just observe The Daily Observer.

There are probably enough homosexuals here to defend themselves without any assistance from me. However, I find Shelton Daniel’s argument worthy of comment. He posits and quotes scripture to show that homosexuality “is a punishment from God upon those who have chosen to reject him”. He also refers to persons flaunting their celebrated homosexuality in self-delusion as a “liberated personal choice”.

For an all-inclusive discussion of homosexuality, it is good to seek the opinions of homosexuals. And who better than the celebrated comedienne, Wanda Sykes? Just before we get to Wanda; the way is which homosexuality is regarded in many parts of the Caribbean, forcing homosexuals to hide or literally be stoned to death or be killed in any other way, suggests that homosexuals are fighting a serious battle. And let’s not think we can win the war on HIV/AIDS without discussing, at the very least, all forms of sexuality. So let’s not cloud the issue. If homosexuality is God’s retaliation, them leave it at that (with its corollary, noted below) and leave out the “liberated personal choice”.

The argument from Wanda is this: Homosexuality is not a choice. If it is, then maybe sexuality in all its forms is all about choice. In which case, imagine a man saying this to his wife or girlfriend: My dear, you know what? I really feel like having sex with a man; but I choose, I choose to have sex with you instead.

Maybe we should not just compare homosexuality to other forms of sexuality, we should also compare sin to sin. The idea that homosexuality is a punishment from God should be extended to point out all those other forms of punishment God metes out to those who have rejected him. According to the same first chapter of Romans that Shelton Daniel quoted, these other sins would include: “unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,” etc.

If we call homosexuality a sin, all of us are not homosexuals but all of us are sinners. Hence all of us, not just homosexual, must repent according to the epistle of Shelton Daniel to the homosexuals. In this regard, homosexuals might just realize that they have no choice (liberated or otherwise) but to think that they are just like the rest of us sinners. This is not a “liberated” view. To me, the concept of a homosexual marriage is an oxymoron. Call it something else. But we must follow the logic of Shelton Daniel’s argument, even if it leads to the conclusion that, in some ways, in our many sinful ways, the homosexuals and the rest of us are all in the same den.

Thank you
Dr. Lester CN Simon

Tuesday, October 27, 2009



Dr. Lester CN Simon

Can it be that after twenty eight years of independence, we suddenly wake up to the realization that independence is not a single, ceremonial night of becoming, not a boisterous walking away from England, not an annual celebratory event, but rather, a gradual process of extracting and filtering a way of life that on one hand, makes us different from others, but on the other hand, makes us establish and cherish an amalgam of values, common to all humankind?

Consequent on the recent passing of the last matriarch of my maternal family, I have been rediscovering pathways and places in my village that I had long abandoned and forgotten. After the funeral, I was forced to park so close to the yard where I grew up, a wave of nostalgia almost blew me over. This reconnect has taken me from nursery-school road to primary-school ground, from family and friends I took for granted, to villagers whose names had become uncomfortably unfamiliar, but whose familiar faces collectively painted a landscape from which I had exited with indecent haste and improper and impolite closure.

It is not enough to say you are independent of a noun (a person, place or thing) if you have just walked away, even if you said goodbye. You have to return. Going back ensures that you are truly independent because it pitches the memory of things past, against the reality of things present. It brings to quick attention, and into sharp focus, an understanding of living that is different in its method from the past, but an understanding nonetheless, that is identical in outcome. It simply says that these are my people, my tribe. As different as other tribes and villagers may seem, we all come to a singular state from myriad roads and all roads lead to the one homeland we call the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

Recently, there have been all kinds of talk about native Antiguans and Barbudans versus non-nationals. Some have even gone as far as to talk about xenophobia. Talk is cheap. Hence I take my expensive time to write and say that, yes, there will be unwanted and unwarranted excesses in the claiming and re-claiming of nationhood after long periods of unchallenged quiescence. This is not xenophobia. I will call out these occasional excesses but I will not genuflect and offer exuberant excuses for them, anymore than I will offer guests at our home the appropriate excuse for the torrents of rainwater that flood our yard after a long drought.

You cannot come into a country, you cannot even sleep in a house or stand at the bus station, for a short time and claim knowledge and familiarity. Such instant familiarity is deeply contemptuous and is a registration of mockery. Worse, is the vulgar and wanton disrespect for our culture and blind deference for yours as if you are a peninsular of non-nationals jutting out from a mainland of nationals. That can’t work.

You have to become foot soldiers. You have to walk for affirmation and walk again for confirmation. You have to walk to, and through places in this land, taking instinctive pictures of nouns, and then go back, after a time, to see the transformation of these persons, places and things. It is this distraction, this voluntary separation and distinction over time, between the past and the present that helps to create a view of life that is truly independent, because it tests your affirmation.

This is why we can never say we are independent until we revisit our separation from England over long periods of time, such as twenty eight years. We will come to the realization that as much as we disliked many things English because of our history, the differential of time tells us an independent fact. There are just so many ways to do anything. There are just so many ways to ride a bicycle; and even the number of ways to skin a cat is not infinite. There are just so many ways to unite people. We must have a regional radio broadcasting service before we have a Caribbean Court of Justice, or at least have both at the same time.

Indeed, some ways are not particularly English; some ways are simply human. But this independent thought and associated action can only come with proper closure of our servile, historical links with England and other colonial states, and opening of a relationship rooted in the common values and virtues of humankind. This is why reparations are as inseparable from independence as our future is inseparable from our past.

It is in returning to our places of growing up and measuring our growth that we establish the notion that whilst we no longer speak as children, and even though we have put away childhood things, the charity that we display as adults is actually the very same charity (probably less now) that we displayed as children; only now, as adults, the method of distributing that common charity (greater than faith and hope), is simply different.

The next time you hear non-nationals talk about their instant love for Antigua and Barbuda, ask them a few questions; and ask some Antiguans and Barbudans the same too. How many trees have you seen grow? How many children have you witnessed and helped pass through the rigors of life? How many roads, byways and pathways and buildings have you seen altered or transformed? How is your view of today, in this land, different from yesterday, to allow you to arrive at a viewpoint of our present, if you do not know our past? How can you help us surge into the future if your view of our future is dependent only on what you see and hear today?

Some things in life take time. Independence of thought, word and deed takes a long time. You have to get up, get out, and walk about all over this country over periods of time and mingle, to know it and its people. So the next time anyone says they know Antigua and Barbuda and Antiguans and Barbudans and they want to share our independence, ask then to show you the motion and emotion of their long walk for more than a mile and a half around this country. Ask then to show you their feet.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Know Teacher, I Know!


Dr. Lester CN Simon

This is a joke. It might not make you laugh but it’s a joke worth sharing. For the next few minutes, you and I are going to help to solve the financial problem in this country. It’s not very difficult. All we have to do, is to follow the main arguments from the experts, and take them (the arguments, not the experts) to their logical conclusion. So, let’s get to work, and think. Yes, we can work and think at the same time.

Let’s start with the statement by the president of the Antigua and Barbuda Employers Federation, Patrick Ryan. He called on the government to cut public sector jobs, whilst warning that the private sector was not prepared to absorb any laid off workers. Almost immediately, members of the Antigua Labour Party chided Ryan for talking about the laying off of workers without offering a solution. Obviously, Ryan thought he had done precisely what the ALP had not done: offered a solution. What do we learn from this? The problem is not the lay off. Government can lay off as many workers as necessary, if we have a solution to the unemployment problem created by the lay off.

You lay off workers because they are in excess of the money available to pay them. They are bloating the civil service and many of them are unproductive and contributing to poor work ethic and low morale in and out of the workplace. Following this same rationale, of cutting the excess fat, let us consider what else we have in this country that is in excess that we can cut, lay off, utilize better or sell.

Not the beaches. The best ones are occupied. Not the off-shore islands. Are any spare ones left? Not the ubiquitous “cassi” bush that nobody wants to buy. Don’t even dream about the non-nationals. Many Antiguans and Barbudans, including politicians, on both sides, will leave with them if we send them home. What about a reduction in the excessive numbers of government vehicles? Many persons have called for this.

This leads to another question. Why stop at government vehicles? Why not look at all kinds of vehicles on the island, public and private? We have far too many. If we can only find a way to lay off government workers and utilize our vehicles better, we might be able to solve a large part of our financial problem.

Here is the plan. We swallow the bitter pill and lay off the excessive and unproductive government workers. But we continue to pay them a small fraction of the wages and salaries they used to get. Apart from numbering amongst the excessive workers and being unproductive, any laid-off worker must own and operate a vehicle, or must be able to drive, or they will be sent to learn to drive.

We draw an imaginary ring around St. John’s and include the popular roads that are tributaries into the city. We levy a toll to enter and leave the demarcated areas from Monday to Friday, 7.00 AM to 5.00 PM. The laid-off workers will form fleets of taxis. Only these taxis and the already established bone fide taxis will be allowed free access into and out of the toll areas.

All other drivers must pay the heavy toll or utilize the taxi service, paying much less for riding in the taxis than the toll for their private vehicles. These new taxis will be so efficient and cost effective, many of us will leave our vehicles at home until the evening and weekend. It will be a dream come true: A reliable and cheap (and quiet) transportation service. But what about the government vehicles?

The toll charge will also be levied at government vehicles. Moreover, to set an example, all ministers of government, including the Prime Minister, will have to use the new taxi service. No monies from the government treasury (or from any statutory agency) will be paid to private drivers (and private advisers) of government ministers. In fact, the toll charge on government vehicles alone, will be set so high, it would be cheaper to hand over the tax payers’ vehicles at the toll and walk, than to pay the toll charge. Brilliant!

We would have finally found a way to take back the government vehicles, which can then be leased to those laid-off workers who can drive but do not own a vehicle. Many of the laid-off workers might have some difficulty at first, in driving at the normal speed, since they are not accustomed to operating at a normal pace. In fact, many of them will show a penchant for driving on one way streets and going round the roundabout round and round and round, initially.

Think of all the advantages of this revolution. We will have fewer cars on the road during the workweek. Riding in the taxis, we will get to know each other better. We will get to work and back home on time. We will walk more in the city and be healthier for it. When the toll is lifted in the evenings, we can drive our private vehicles. But we will be too tired in the evenings because we will really be working during the day, having discovered real work, in the absence of the laid-off bloaters. On weekends, we can embrace our private vehicles and go to church, visit friends and drive to the beach.

We will save a whole ton of money and we will make a pile of money too. The laid-off bloaters will feel better about themselves. We will love them. All of us will love our little country more. We will ride, in the new taxi cabs, happily into an incandescent Antiguan and Barbudan picturesque sunset. There is only one little problem. This is a joke.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

May I Approach The Bench?


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Whenever you hear West Indians object to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) becoming our final court of appeal because it will be influenced by politicians, you must laugh. Laugh out loudly and hysterically, pointing a finger at them (at a distance), as if mocking them.

In an attempt to escape from history, including our West Indian history, and probably because we have had so much English history shoved down our throats, we sometimes forget or disregard the struggle the English endured to get where they are today. We neglect our own noble struggles and confuse our sterling contribution to English history with that made by the English themselves. And hence we assume we can just latch on to England forever and ever without embarking on our own path or reconnecting to our own history to evolve a modern state. This is as true for agriculture as it is true for the CCJ.

Our eminent lawyers and historians should tell us that what we call the Privy Council is really a committee of the Privy Council and that we are really referring to The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Moreover, they should tell us that the practice of politics interfering in law was the genesis of the King’s Council which gave way to the Privy Council, a body through which some monarchs used to rule without turning to Parliament. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret". The ancient Privy Council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors.

The historical struggle from the primal and ancient Privy Council in the Middle Ages to the highly regarded Judicial Committee of the Privy Council formed in 1833 and modified over the ages even up to today, must be underscored, including its recent relocation from Downing Street to the new UK Supreme Court building this very month.

The history of courts is crucial because it is that very West Indian history that is fuelling the objection to the CCJ. This is a crucial debate for all West Indians because it throws up a very important and fundamental question. When we seek justice between each other, between ourselves and institutions or against the powerful, rich or famous, we can go to court. What then do we do when we seek justice against the court or what do we do when the court’s procedure, proceedings and verdict are clearly, self-evidently and simply not fair?

The matter of the acceptance of the CCJ is historically, fundamentally and inescapably tied to our relationship to everyday law and order. It is not just whether we think the process or the verdict of any court is right. It has to do with that long arm of the law that is so far removed from society, it seems to be, and we have grown accustomed to it being, not of us but other worldly or alien.

This is not just a layperson’s view. The appeal judge’s judgment in The Observer case spoke of The Observer group knocking and disturbing “the sanctity of the constitutional door”. Our Constitution is the supreme law of Antigua and Barbuda. It was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that rebuked the appeal judge and proclaimed that, “With respect, the image of the Constitution as secluded behind closed doors is not one which their Lordships adopt. Nor would it be right to think of the Constitution as if it were aloof or, in the famous phrase of Holmes J., “a brooding omnipresence in the sky.”

Antiguan and Barbudans might add that our Constitution, sacred as it is, must be like the Antigua Recreation Grounds, or much less encumbered and away from a prison and a roundabout, like that area between the former Parliament building and East Country Pond.

We must engage our parliamentary representatives concerning matters of law and order and the courts. Without resorting to mod rule, civil society must hold its feet to the fire of the pavement when it is displeased with the law and the courts and peacefully protest by marching, and marching again, if necessary. How could we have stood and sat idly by when our lower courts were long in waiting for renovation and for proper toilet facilities. Surely, if a magistrate cannot pass a good motion in peace and quiet on the seat, how can proper judgment be passed on the bench? Shucks!

The legal (and the medical) professions have a lot of work to do. Professional bodies in capitalist and especially developing societies are predicated on the basis that they give back to society some of what they have earned and what society originally gave to their members. This is not just in the form of pro bono cases. It demands establishing an umbilical connection with society, very early and naturally in our professional careers (we might get a peak named after us). This community engagement should not just be during our twilight years, when we can wax eloquently and comfortably about all the rights and wrongs, and suggest all the answers.

In the absence of this umbilical nurturing between law and society, there is no need for a politician to influence judges, the influence is already nurtured. A well known and paradoxical parallel here, is the case where a drug don simply has to wish someone dead, and one of his subjects, wishing and thinking like the boss, does the job without being asked. Remember those dark days when we were sick because Massa was sick?

Most of us laypersons see our constitution the very same way our appeal judge saw it; as “a brooding omnipresence in the sky”. That’s the nurturing the legal profession has planted, cultivated and reaped. And then we talk about law and order?

So we can talk about the independence of the CCJ until the court comes home. It will never really work until simple law and order and the police engage society and civil society engages the police and the lower courts. Then the path to justice will not be “a brooding omnipresence in the sky”, but a constitutive, enveloping part of us, that will naturally lead to this correct and inalienable response to the CCJ: Objection overruled.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Six Of The Worse


Dr. Lester CN Simon

It was hard, backbreaking work on a sweltering, breezeless day almost fifty years ago. The seawater’s edge was idle all the while we assembled, adjusted, dissembled and refitted on site an entire set of beach beds ordered by a hotel. Probably because he thought tourism should begin at home, or more likely, because he was simply exhausted, one of the workers all at once sprawled himself off on one of the beach beds. The rebuke from the boss was so precise, immediate and coarse, it ordered the seawater’s edge out. Always one with a good retort, the worker walked away embarrassed, and muttered, “I was just viewing the view; for the tourist”.

The debacle surrounding the US 6 tourists says volumes about our concept of tourism, how we relate to each other, how we treat our guests and how we should behave when guests pass their place. Somebody has to shout out that tourism can never operate successfully and sustainably in any country in which the people do not know and exhibit their understanding of their history and their view of the future.

Writing in Last Resorts, The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean, Polly Pattullo noted that, “Antigua’s disregard for its own identity is perhaps more acute than anywhere else in the Caribbean”. Reasons cited by Pattullo include our smallness and the largely foreign-controlled nature of our tourism, dominated by expatriates and investors. Regarding the reasons cited, Pattullo missed the boat. She missed the entire ocean.

It seems fundamental that a nation of people made up largely of the descendants of slaves, as well as the successors of slave masters, varying combinations of the two, and others, must first come to terms with our history of slavery and its disguises as well as our future, before we can honestly welcome a tourist to our island.

A friend put it very simply. He said that a black woman must go through the epiphany sequence from understanding why she hated her nappy hair, to loving her nappy hair, afro, locks and all, so as to be able to do anything with her hair, including what she used to do before her understanding, in order to wear a wig (or is it a weave?) comfortably.

An understanding of the glorious past of our ancestors as well as realizing that economics, not racism, was the primary imperative for slavery (racism was the subsequent marketing tool), will afford us many advantages at this time. We would realize just how much of the world we built. Looking at ourselves from Africa to the entire black diaspora, we will come to terms with just how brilliant, noble and despicable some black people can be. We will arrive at the fascinating conclusion that we are just like other people.

I am reassured whenever I see black people behave badly and run afoul of the law. It not only tells me that all black people are not the same. It also tells me that some of us are so beholden to tourism that we do not know when to tell the tourists, black, white or indigo, to go back where they came from (and stay there).

Tourism should make us proud and proud to serve but not servile. Tourism can never empower us socially and psychologically if it is not liked to our culture in all its complexities and contradictions. And the greatest avenue to cultural realization is not music (as I used to think) but agriculture. The word bespeaks itself.

Subsidizing agriculture has relatively little to do with courting votes at elections or even providing for a family without any other means of production. Agriculture must be subsidized because the proper running of our agriculture should be predicated on this simple and often overlooked fact: It is humanly impossible to till the land, to get dirt on your fingers, to hold national produce in your hand, to taste it, and not feel the national pride that germinates within the farmer and consumer. Priceless, way beyond any Master card.

It is the presence of this national pride that informs us firstly and informs the tourists instantly about the way we relate to each other and the way they must relate to us. It also tells us what to do and say when six of the worse of America parade their true selves here and go back home and pretend to be sweet things.

We must never again allow another set of Christopher Columbus to come here, misbehave and we become afraid that we will not survive when a ship turns in the opposite direction. We will conduct our due process. Then we will go to Spain and tell Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand that whilst we welcome tourists here, alas, some tourists will never discover our beautiful paradise. They will discover our police.