Monday, November 19, 2007

True Crime: Arresting Our Most Serious Problem

I used to be a pretty frequent letter writer to the editor but I have slowed somewhat. In most of my letters, I generally focused on one topic, and did so because I believe it is the most important issue our country needs to address. I would hazard a guess that most people believe as I do. That issue is crime.

Since the general election, the media has continued its crime reports as usual but the report that seemed to bring the impact of crime into a clearer context for me was the Trinidad Guardian’s “Sixteen Murders Since Election.” (Trinidad Guardian Sat. Nov. 17, 2007). All this murder occurring within less than two weeks should -yet again- send a shudder down the national spine. If for some reason it does not, it would seem then that we are becoming desensitized and apathetic to a growing depravity has been with us for some time.

To me it is akin somewhat to our adoption of one of our nation’s watchwords: tolerance. ‘Tolerance’ was chosen with good intentions, given we all need understanding and acceptance of each other’s differences. However, our acceptance seems to have gone full tilt, as now we seem to be acceptable of any and everything with all our problems falling into the mix.

When the Keith Noel 136 Committee had its Death March into Port of Spain in October 2005, there were some who decried it as a local ‘west’ and ‘white people t’ing’ where the ‘fairer’ segment of our society was seen as wanting the government to lock down the predominantly ‘black’ areas of Laventille, Morvant and Beetham Gardens. Even if we give this position any merit, the point that remains is that we are all guilty at times, of not having any care for an issue when it does not seem to affect us. For instance, when the floods come in the wet season and ruins the crops of the farmers in ‘central,’ many of us do not come to their support but merely watch on at their plight as spectators. We complain however, when afterward we go to the supermarket to see that vegetable prices have increased with reduced supply.

Given our small size, many issues are easily national issues and crime certainly is one to be so considered, whether, you are white, red, yellow, black or brown; from west, east, south or central; rich, poor or in-between; PNM, UNC or COP. It is ironic that together we can tolerate so much malaise and wrongdoing but when it comes for us to face a problem concertedly as a unified force, we become conscious of our differences again.

Earlier this year, when then Trade Minister, Kenneth Valley, tried to downplay the country’s crime problems by comparing us with the rest of the world: essentially, the bandwagon defence, he was roundly criticised. Admiitedly, according to a UN/World Bank report of March this year, Crime, Violence and Development : Trends, costs and Policy Options in the Caribbean:

“Murder rates in the Caribbean—at 30 per 100,000 population annually—are higher than for any other region of the world and have risen in recent years for many of the region’s countries. Assault rates, at least based on assaults reported to police, are also significantly above the world average.”

So crime indeed is a Caribbean and not just a local problem but then hiding behind agglomerated figures belies the claims of leadership by our politicians, where, when on the hustings, they all seem to have the promised-land in their back-pockets. At a any rate, the report also states for the period 1999-2005 the homicide rate in Trinidad and Tobago more than quadrupled from 7 to 30 per 100, 000 (the same rate for the entire Caribbean).

Our police force, our last defense in the crime fight, languishes in several districts, with police stations lacking vehicles, basic and modern equipment and in some cases, personnel. There also needs to be more police officers on patrol: the police do not have much visibility in many parts of the country except maybe for road-checks. We also need more people trained in crime scene forensics and pathology. The government and business sector need to devise scholarship programmes for study in these areas. Such scholarships could act as incentives for people to take up careers in these fields that are so needed. [Bowling Green State University in Ohio, USA has worked with the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service from June 2006 to improve forensic skills in the service -BGSU forensics expert helps Trinidad and Tobago Police Force].

Perhaps scholarship programs too, should be devised for such areas as architecture, engineering and urban planning and development. This is in keeping with another strategy to combat crime known as CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design). The term CPTED was coined or derived from the title of a book of the same name, by Florida State University criminologist C. Ray Jeffery in 1971. Jeffrey, who had studied the relationship between crime and the physical environment, had interviewed prison inmates about their influencing factors for committing crime and if any related to the environment.

Some key elements of CPTED (Virginia Main Street Monitor, Winter 2003, "Introduce Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design to Your Downtown")

Natural surveillance: is the placement of physical features, activities and people in such a way as to maximize visibility. A potential criminal is less likely to attempt a crime if he or she is at risk of being observed. At the same time, we are likely to feel safer when we can see others and be seen.

Natural access control: is the physical guidance of people coming and going from a space by the judicial placement of entrances, exits, fencing, landscaping and lighting. Access control works by denying a criminal’s access to potential victims. It creates a perception of risk for would-be offenders.

Territoriality: is the use of physical attributes that express ownership, such as fencing, signage, landscaping and pavement treatments. A well maintained home, building or community creates a sense of ownership, which helps deter criminals. [Yes, I know some readers may see this more as an encouragement than a deterrent].

CPTED: With respect to vacant areas in a community

1. Designation: What is the intended use of the area? What behavior is allowed?

2. Definition: Are there physical limits to the area? Are borders
between the area and public spaces defined? Is it clear which activities are allowed where?

3. Design: Does the physical environment safely and efficiently support the intended use?

In 1982 another book on crime and the environment was also published: Broken Windows. This book used the analogy that when a window is left broken in a building it eventually attracts further decay which can spread throughout a neighborhood.

In January of this year at a breakfast meeting on Crime and the Administration of Justice , then acting Chief Justice, Roger Hamel-Smith, also made reference to crime and the environment in his keynote address. In describing crime origins he stated:

“Crime is not the offspring of a particular kind of person, someone, e.g, from a broken home, an abused family, one who has never been taught moral values or right from wrong. No. The epidemic does not begin with such a person but with something environmental. It flourishes when the environment makes it conducive to behave in a particular way. Knowing that the police seldom respond with alacrity, criminals become emboldened and secure in the knowledge that the chances of getting caught are slim.”

With specific reference to the 'broken window' theory he also stated:

“In the seventies, there were eight courts in St George West to deal with such case load. Today there are thirteen courts so that means in the last 30 years we have expanded the court capacity in this district by 60%, but the number of matters entering the system has increased by some 500%. The same applies to the other two districts. This is a big ‘broken window’ that we must repair.”

Hamel-smith went further to highlight the DPP’s (Director of Public Prosecution) office, where he related that:

“At present, I am told that there is a shortage of some 26 attorneys in that office. The department must be stretched to the limit and one thing is for sure, there is no long line waiting outside to be recruited there. The lure and attraction of private practice is far more compelling than public service and that is a main stumbling block to improving the judicial system.” [Blogger's Note: I do not know to what extent, if any, this situation has changed at the DPP's Office]

Whether it be the criminal justice approach or the environmental approach, it seems that we are not implementing all the stops in any timely manner to halt the crime in our midst. If there is not a considerable dent soon in the crime situation, or if the public does not likewise feel a greater level of safety and reliability upon our police service, the next step for some maybe vigilantism.

Vigilantism though, is also the first stepping stone towards anarchy and this is certainly not a milepost we want to include on our route to a better Trinidad and Tobago.

Crime/Police Resource Links

Police Complaints Authority

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Quo Vadis Trinbago?: Taking Ourselves Forward

The elections are over. Hopefully there will soon be a cleanup of all the campaign posters pasted up on every lamp-post and wall available. My wish for such a clean-up is not only literal but also symbolic. This is not to say that now we get to resume our affairs with a clean slate. It is simply that an election, like every transition, natural or contrived, in human affairs, marks a time when we can try to take a step outside ourselves and make assessments of where we are and where we ought to go.

Of course, some of the answers to these questions should have come up during the campaign season. Needless to say, for the incumbents, the PNM, we were doing fine and moving on to further glory. For the challengers, the UNC-A and the COP, we were in a sorry state, with the way to sure glory being attained only by the removal of the PNM. And somewhere betwixt these two divergent views lies the truth.

We all know now that the status quo has prevailed. The incumbents have returned to office; the opposition remains… well…the opposition. And what about the promised glory? It should be instructive to us that the term utopia, that ideal and perfect place conjured up in the mind of Sir Thomas More, was derived from the combination of two Greek terms meaning respectively ‘no place’ and ‘good place’ and was an island. I guess with a bit of wry wit we can wonder then, whether our promised glory is some ‘no good’ place: but then that would lead us to a dystopia, a place on the other end of the spectrum of mythical worlds, where surely none would like to go.

We are just over a decade from the PNM’s destined date for us of achieving ‘developed status.’ But what really is this concept of developed status that we seek? According to the WTO (World Trade Organization) there are no definitions for the terms ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries for its member nations. Members have the prerogative to declare themselves as any of these descriptions as they wish.

However, under the Agreement to Establish the World Trade Organization, developing countries are singled out as targets to be the beneficiaries of international trade. So if in just over a decade’s time we declare ourselves 'developed' this is one privilege we will lose. Although arguably some may ask, “What privilege?”

Also without a ‘developed nation’ definition, the OECD's (Organization for Economic Development ) Glossary of Statistical Terms (last updated Oct. 2005) simply presents the well known list of developed countries as:

“Japan in Asia, Canada and the United States in northern America, Australia and New Zealand in Oceania and Europe are considered “developed” regions or areas. In international trade statistics, the Southern African Customs Union is also treated as a developed region and Israel as a developed country; countries emerging from the former Yugoslavia are treated as developing countries; and countries of Eastern Europe and the former USSR countries in Europe are not included under either developed or developing regions.”

Glaringly absent from the 'developed' list is China, which was listed as the world’s fourth largest economy according to a Reuters Sept. 2007 report.

But development as we all now recognize, is not essentially about money but about people and the quality of life they enjoy; hence the HDI or Human Development Index, a "way of measuring development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a composite human development index." ..."The HDI sets a minimum and a maximum for each dimension, called goalposts, and then shows where each country stands in relation to these goalposts, expressed as a value between 0 and 1." (Trinidad and Tobago ranks at number 57 out of 177 nations on the UNDP's - United Nations Development Programme -world HDI lisitng).

Some of the 'quality of life' bugbears that are on the top of our list include the high crime rate, the need for more and improved health facilities and traffic congestion. Surely there are others, but perhaps tackling at least these three in a thorough fashion can put us on a firm footing on the glory road to development. For development, a thriving economy with money overflowing from our tills and pockets, is untenable, if we are constantly ever fearful of bandits and kidnappers. Development is untenable, without healthy citizens, healthy in mind and body. Development is untenable, if we are all choking from the exhaust fumes of our vehicles on equally choked roadways.

We should all start thinking of what we want our ‘developed status’ to look like and perhaps establish some district repositories for citizens’ ideas for later retrieval and implementation by our local and central government leaders . This seems akin to what the Community of Democracies (CD) countries is about. “The CD is an intergovernmental coalition of democracies and democratizing countries with a stated commitment to strengthening and promoting democratic norms and practices worldwide” (Trinidad and Tobago is a member of the CD) and whose theme for its Fourth Ministerial Conference to be held in Bamako, Mali, November 14-17, 2007 is Democracy and Development.

One of the more recent and acclaimed books on development is Societal Learning and Change: How Governments, Business and Civil Society are Creating Solutions to Complex Multi-Stakeholder Problems, by Canadian author Steve Waddell. (Of course, I have ensured to include the book's subtitle here to make the point of my mentioning it more self-evident) Mr. Waddell’s thesis is essentially that through change in ourselves as individuals, and change in the way the three key systems that make up our societies — the political system (government), economic system (business) and social system (civil society) function, there can be a new framework upon which change can be initiated and flourish.

The book makes the argument that for change to come about “The critical contribution is creating new relationships between people and organisations that traditionally would not interact but in fact have common interests.”

‘Change in ourselves’ and ‘creating new relationships’ certainly seem like good starts toward 'developed status.' And while we choose governments and rely and look to them to help take us to such a level, these are activities we can each commence for ourselves, without awaiting new and recurrent promises of roads toward glory, every five years.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Worldspeak: Wha' Allyuh Say?

The local blogosphere, like the mainstream media, is already awash in post-election coverage (and so I may turn to such in my next posting).

However, we must all congratulate ourselves for still maintaining a generally peaceful transition process. And regardless of which party you supported, the PNM (People's National Movent) has emerged on top and so we must all throw our support behind the administration. Of course, we should not turn a blind eye to any foibles it may commit.

The UNC (United National Congress) is again in opposition and must accept that position and proceed with its work without wallowing too much in the bitterness of defeat.

The COP (Congress of the People) failed to gain any seats. This is a new party, albeit not consisting of political newbies. Nonetheless, just as in the corporate world where competition usually works to the benefit of the consumer, more political voices should help to keep the administration on its toes for our benefit.

So let us move onward and remember that democratic participation does not end after election.

And now on with today's post.

I have decided to place a Babel Fish translator on this blog (toward the bottom of my sidebar), in the hope of reaching even more people across the globe. Or perhaps some English speakers may also just be interested in seeing how the blog reads in another language. I cannot vouch for how well the translation is done and this is not to take away any credit from Babel Fish, but simply acknowledging the fact that language is probably best translated by a person (as opposed to a program) actually listening to or reading what is to be translated and that person too, needs to understand all the nuance, slang etc., being used.

Language is fluid, dynamic and in some cases individualistic, e.g. I cannot think of a translator program being able to translate ‘firetruck’ and ‘firetrucking’ in any of B.C. Pires’ articles.

My inclusion of the translator is also for us to remember that with the global reach of the Internet, use of English alone certainly is not adequate.

Sites such as Gobal Voices “a non-profit global citizens’ media project founded at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a research think-tank focused on the Internet’s impact on society” (About Global Voices), are committed to translations of blogger content from other languages into English and via its Project Lingua has translators that translate content from English to other languages.

With a global world (excuse the tautology but I am sure the point is taken) there is no point in being Anglo-centric. According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) as at 2003, English as the language of use, led the other major languages (by a remarkably wide margin) in online content.

English 68.4%
Japanese 5.9%
German 5.8%
Chinese 3.9%
French 3.0%
Spanish 2.4%
Russian 1.9%
Italian 1.6%
Portuguese 1.4%
Korean 1.3%
Other 4.6%

However, in languages actually spoken the world over, Mandarin Chinese, given the sheer number of the population of China, leads the world. Here is the top ten list taken from an August 2007 article "Most Popular Languages" on by Matt Rosenberg, who states that his primary source for this list was the CIA World Factbook.

1. Mandarin Chinese - 882 million

2. Spanish - 325 million

3. English - 312-380 million

4. Arabic - 206-422 million

5. Hindi - 181 million

6. Portuguese - 178 million

7. Bengali - 173

8. Russian - 146 million

9. Japanese - 128 million

10. German - 96 million

So as Trinidad and Tobago seeks to move forward in the world, let us -particularly our education professionals- keep in mind the importance of learning other languages (as well as retaining our own local dialect) for extending whatever impact our country has and can continue to make in a world of of ever increasing cultural, people and ideas exchange.

Apart from the opportunity of learning Spanish or French in our secondary schools, here are some links for language classes and resources in Trinidad and Tobago.

Alliance Fran├žaise de Trinidad & Tobago

Center for Language Learning (CLL) U.W.I. (University of the West Indies) St. Augustine. CLL's offering include Arabic, (Mandarin) Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Yoruba. English as a Foreign Language is also taught to international students and professionals.

Government of Trinidad and Tobago Secretariat for the Implementation of Spanish

Thanks to the Trinbago Forever Voters

Thanks to all who participated in the Trinbago Forever ‘elections.’

In all there were 30 votes: 19 (63%) for the COP (Congress of the People), 6 (20%) for the PNM (People’s National Movement), 4 for the UNC-A (United National Congress Alliance) and one for TUF/DAC (Tobago United Force/Demoratic Action Congress).

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Vote Here: Trinbago Forever Election Poll

Well, better late than never. I have put up a poll so we can all guage how the election results might turn out on Monday. See the survey in the sidebar.

And please, just as on election day, do vote only once.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Trinbago to de Bone: Two Islands One Nation

One of the main reasons why I gave this blog the name I did (maybe more appropriately, this should have been an earlier posting), was to make sure to incorporate the complete name of the country Trinidad and Tobago (pronounced toh-bay-go). For those of you who still do not know where to find us, see the red rectangle to the top left of the map of South America above (taken from the World CIA Factbook) with a clear view of the country in the map below. The country is just off the coast of Venezuela.

I once lived in Washington State (not Washington D.C.) in a town called Bellingham, on the US Pacific Northwest -a most beautiful part of the US, very scenic, with very friendly, civic-minded, welcoming people- where, when I applied for my driver’s license, for “Place of Birth” I, of course, filled in "Trinidad and Tobago." At my turn at the counter, the clerk said to me, “Which is it? Make up your mind. You can’t be from two places.” Whereupon, I explained to him that that, was the name of the country and I went on to provide some brief local and Caribbean information. He then smiled broadly and thanked me for the quick geography lesson, saying he’d always dreamed of traveling to the Caribbean but never did.

The US northwest, unlike the US east coast, does not have large populations of Caribbean people. Indeed, there are Trinbagonians and other Caribbean people living out in the US Pacific Northwest as you find us scattered anywhere, but there, we are much fewer and farther between. And so, knowledge of our part of the world is less known to people in that part of the US, unless perhaps they frequent Vancouver Canada, where there is a huge Caribbean population and an annual summer Carnival put on by the Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Society of British Columbia.

My point still though, is to always keep in mind that we are two islands but one nation and this is a point I think that some of us fail to present or remind ourselves and non-nationals about. I guess this is typical where you have two distinct regions within a country, one larger than the next, with the larger having more infrastructure and is also the seat of government. Whereas for many people in Trinidad, Tobago comes to mind as a place to go for the long Easter weekend, the Heritage or Jazz festivals, I believe many people in Trinidad forget that many people in Tobago need to come over to Trinidad to purchase goods, obtain specialised healthcare, conduct business etc. So there is, I believe, a general marked difference in perception of how people from the two islands look at each other.

My last posting dealt a bit with constitutional matters. Here, let us follow-up a bit with putting Tobago into some focus. For our constitution, there is, in a matter of sorts, two major aspects to consider. One, is the overarching constitution, as it relates to all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. The other is the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Act, 1996 (with the latest amendment, Act No. 17, enacted in 2006 increasing the number of departmental secretaries from five to seven), which stipulates how the governing body of Tobago, the THA, governs that island and its relation to the central government in Port of Spain. For years, there have been public fora and discussion in the media about the administrative relationship between the two islands. One recurrent theme in relation to this has been the granting of more autonomy to Tobago, or what is more commonly know as the Tobago internal self-government movement.

A major proponent of this movement has been Mr. Arthur Robinson, who was born on the island and is a former Prime Minster and President of Trinidad and Tobago and the leading architect of THA Act, 1996. Even with the current election hustings, the question of preserving the autonomy has been broached again. In a Newsday report ("Sinister Plan for the THA," Friday Nov, 2, 2007), Dr. Jeff Davidson, a member of the Tobago United Front/Democratic Action Congress (TUF/DAC) Steering Committee, was said to have raised the issue at a public meeting in east Tobago, last Saturday. According to the Newsday report, Dr. Davidson stated that the question was relevant, given the recent establishment of an office of the Ministry of Local Government at Plymouth, Tobago.

Despite all these efforts by those in Tobago for consolidating their autonomy, what we typically have in Trinidad and Tobago is always a movement of power remaining and being pulled toward the centre. This is evident in what passes for local government in our country, where local election candidates are characteristically proxies for the major parties and the elected MPs from the general election. Similar to Tobago in the region, is Nevis in the unitary state of St. Kitts and Nevis, which also has long been seeking greater autonomy. The extreme end of these arrangements in these situations is, of course, secession and the middle ground and more widely proposed suggestion being some sort of federal arrangement as exists, say, in the United states and Canada (Canada, people should remember, still continues to deal with a similar situation with Quebec).

Dr. Ralph Premdass, Profesor of Public Polcy at the University of the West Indies (U.W.I.) St. Augustine, in a paper titled "Self-Determination and Decentralisation in the Caribbean: Tobago and Nevis, " (July 3, 2000) writes that:

"The claim to sovereign autonomy in a separate state runs into a series of doctrines which both affirm and deny that right. The United Nations Charter seems to do exactly this. The self-determination principle has become firmly enshrined in Article 1 of the United Nations Charter: "All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development"."

In further explaining, Dr. Premdass goes on to inform us that:

"While part of the UN Charter seems to legitimize the right of a people for statehood, another part, Article 6, argues for the preservation of the territorial integrity of the state: "Any attempt aimed at a partial or whole disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations". The matter of defining precisely what is a people, homogenous or diversified, in a particular territory, small or large, with or without economic self-sufficiency and viability, had been a source of much debate historically."

Whatever is the ultimate solution in all this, remains to be seen and is to be determined by the citizens. As a people though, we do need to start raising and discussing these matters with more regularity rather than, if at all we do, every five years. Moreover, exposure to such matters of local civics, should have its inception in our schools and youth clubs.

Questions relating to the configuration of our nation are far too important to be repeatedly set aside, for they go at the very heart of who and what we are: to ourselves and to the world.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Courting the Constitution: Dictating Freedom

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."
Thomas Jefferson (1743 -1826)

A major item in international news last week was that Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Awng-Sahn-Soo-Chee) was freed - albeit only for a short period - to hold talks with the ruling Myanmar (Burma) junta. For the uninitiated, Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the world’s most renowned political prisoners, an advocate for nonviolent resistance and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1991). Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in Myanmar elections in 1990 which the ruling military junta refused to acknowledge and she has lived mostly under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years (in the full 18 year period she has also been imprisoned and has been in and out of house arrest). San Suu Kyi’s temporary release, was the latest development in reconciliation and reform efforts by the United Nations in Myanmar, following a bloody pro-democracy crackdown that took place in the streets of Yangon, the nation’s capital, in September.

By now, (given that you are still reading this post), you are probably wondering “What does all this, happening half a world away, have anything to do with Trinidad and Tobago?” The connection is one of how much do we value our freedom and are vigilant enough about preserving it. What do we and how many of us, know of our own civil rights? How many of us know and are willing to stand our ground and assert our rights when we perceive or know they are being infringed?

This is not to imply that Trinidad and Tobago is anywhere near to what exists in Myanmar, but with the ongoing election campaigns, these are some of the concerns that should arise in the minds of voters. Some may argue that these concepts are too philosophical and far removed from ‘bread and butter’ issues like crime, jobs, healthcare, housing etc. but as basic as these issues are, they all still are borne upon the underlying issues of individual rights and freedoms: the fundamental tenets of a liberal democracy. In a liberal democracy, where the primacy of the individual is recognized, we each possess authority upon which we can make petitions upon the state with regard to some of the very ‘bread and butter issues’ mentioned earlier.

One topic that has arisen during this election and which goes at the heart of the freedoms for everyone is the anxiety about dictatorship. Admittedly, the way this concern arose, coming from Trade and Industry Minister, Kenneth Valley, when the Prime Minister rejected his bid to return as the Diego Martin Central MP for this election, seemed disingenuous. Nevertheless, I would tend to agree with Trinidad Guardian columnist Tony Fraser ("Is Valley Right About Manning?", Oct. 17, 2007) who has stated that the motive for Mr. Valley’s utterings are “in a way” irrelevant given that:

“Outside of whatever is driving Valley, the incontrovertible evidence indicates that for six years while he has been Prime Minister and while there has been robust debate on constitutional reform, Mr Manning has stayed far away from having either his government and or party put forward a coherent set of proposals for discussion on the constitutional reform that is needed.”

and …“So beyond the few isolated comments he has made, mainly about an executive president, the body politic is not aware of PM Manning’s thinking and that of his party on this central element of our democracy.”

One aspect about communication, is that omission is also a means by which a message is communicated. Given this, such an omission of comments as regards the constitution has not only been committed by the Prime Minister and the PNM (People’s National Movement) but by the other political parties as well, for as Mr. Fraser again writes:

“None of the major political parties contesting for the vote has advanced a cogent set of views on reform. The conclusion must therefore be that they are all harbouring the notion of achieving the special majority to make unilateral changes [about the constitution] or that they do not consider constitutional reform to be a significant enough issue to be addressed.”

Notably communication by omission is linked also to the concept of lies by omission, or, expressed another way, typically 'those who hide nothing, have nothing to hide.' And this essentially is the source of the warning against political ulterior motives in Mr. Fraser’s statement.

With respect to omission, political (and corporate) speak have come some ways over the years. No longer or seldom now do we hear the replies of “no comment” in response to pointed questions. Now, the general strategy developed, is that replies are in fact given but none that answers the questions. We should not however, rely solely on the media to ask pointed questions. We, the people, need to ask as well: to think and challenge our politicians on their positions, principles and strategies. And of course, when unclear or equivocating answers are given, we can draw logical conclusions from such.

Typically when we think of dictatorships, we think of some regime coming to power and taking our rights and freedoms by force. What some do forget however, is that rights and freedoms can also be given away. As I referenced in an earlier post (Ideas: Do Our Politicians Have Any?) about Plainclothes' calypso We Laughin,’ we are a society that eschews weighty matters. We never seem to ever get serious enough about matters that require our utmost focused sobriety. A case in point is the 1990 attempted coup. It is true that during those tension-filled days people needed relaxation more than usual but that period became noted for its coup parties as well.

As such, it seems understandable why weighty topics such as the constitution have never enjoyed considerable response for public fora discussions and so more must be done, as I have made the point earlier, to show that the constitution underlies the bread and butter issues that we tend only to focus on. And whether it be sheer ignorance or deliberate, our politicians constantly fail to make this connection to the populace.

An absence of a clear understanding of how the constitution affects us individually, as well as our basic needs, is thus a sure recipe for the giving or taking away of our rights and freedoms. Consequently, our focus of any anxiety about a creeping dictatorship, should not only be upon our politicians but should also include ourselves.

Commendably, with reference to the opening paragraph of this post, there is the song In Burma sung by David Rudder. I found this song on the De Cooler: Soca News blog.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Taking on the Superbugs: Engaging in Hand-to-Hand Combat

Headlong into this election season, one concept that may readily come to mind is the ‘doctrine of clean hands.’ This concept though, belongs to the legal profession, where it refers to the rule of law that a person coming to the court with a lawsuit or making a petition, must approach the court without previous wrongdoing with respect to the matter at hand, i.e. the person must approach the court with ‘clean hands.’

The doctrine of course can similarly be applied to politics where candidates coming to the ‘court’ of the electorate with their petitions for votes, must likewise do so with ‘clean hands’ and must not have committed any wrongdoing. Here though, the matter at hand is quite open and it refers to candidates generally having to be of ethical character. Additionally, by law, a person who has been previously convicted of a crime is debarred from seeking public office. The use of the phrase ‘clean hands’ also conveys good imagery. After all, it is with a handshake that we acknowledge each other and ‘seal the deal,’ and who wants to do that with anyone who has soiled hands?

Soiled hands though, do have real and serious consequences and societal impacts. One leading negative impact of soiled hands is staph (staphylococcus) or MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) infections, as has been highlighted by the spate of such infections in the United States within the last few years: the latest victim being a middle school student in Canarsie, New York City who succumbed from a staph infection last week. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), MRSA caused more than 94,000 life-threatening infections and 19,000 deaths in the United states in 2005. Trinidad and Tobago, has also had a rash of reports of staph infections in our public health institutions within the last few years.

Conspicuously though, a most basic activity that may prevent the incidence of this grave infection is hand-washing. This is the most elementary of hygiene practices which we are all taught from about the time we learn to talk. It is clear here though that we all are being taught one of the most familiar of life-lessons: never forget the basics. Humankind has achieved such advances in science and technology it seems utterly foolhardy that we ignore what has long been the hallmark of basic human hygiene: clean hands. It seems that with our modern and busy lifestyle, many people have discarded or forgotten the importance and benefit of an age-old simple practice.

The Mayo Clinic in an online article “Hand Washing: An Easy Way to Prevent Infection” reminds us that

“Infectious diseases that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact include the common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as infectious diarrhea.”
… “Inadequate hand hygiene also contributes to food-related illnesses, such as salmonella and E. coli infection.”

The advent of these superbug or antibiotic resistant staph infections, also has many people pointing their fingers at doctors’ over-prescribing of antibiotics and the agribusiness sector, where it has been found antibiotics are used too extensively to ward off diseases in livestock, being administered intravenously or as an additive in the feed. However, the antibiotics from livestock do not make their way to us only through meat consumption. Antibiotics also leave the livestock via waste, enter the natural water supply and so becomes part of the food chain. Notwithstanding all this, hand-washing is still undoubtedly the most elemental way we can stave off the danger of coming into contact with these pernicious pathogens.

While having all the latest technology in our health institutions is something from which we can all benefit, we cannot hold fast to the belief that having state-of-the-art facilities is the singular factor in delivering good health care. Importantly, all medical personnel must be vigilant in the simple practice of hand-washing, as they should all know, far better than the rest of us, about the increased potential for infection in health instititutions.

We should all remember and go back to the basics, like washing our hands and keeping our rooms neat and tidy. People in Trinidad and Tobago, of my generation and older, can remember of having to hold out our hands for them to be inspected every morning by the teacher before entering class in primary school. Hands had to be clean and fingernails absent of dirt and neatly trimmed.

Modernity while good, has perhaps also made us too reliant upon everything external to ourselves, where people reach for a pocket calculator for even the most basic arithmetic problem. Prescriptions are available for almost any ailment or in the least, we are encouraged to ask our doctor whether drug X “ right for you?” We seem to forget that we are no more or less human than people living centuries ago. We must remain appreciative of our own instincts, and senses and also recognize the obligation and basic need we must all fulfill in following basic human hygiene.

And so, we must all approach each other with clean hands: reflective of our character and our cleanliness. Clean hands are therefore not only a requisite for public office but for the office of life which we all occupy, sometimes hugging, shaking or just holding hands as we go along.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Election Update: Manifesting Manifestos?

In my posting Ideas: Do Our Politicians Have Any? (Friday October 19, 2007), I lamented the lack of availability of manifestos from the political parties for the upcoming general election. Notably, the Trinidad Guardian in its editorial of Monday Ocorber 22 “Lack of Manifestos an Insult to Voters”, basically shared the same view as this blogger with respect to the absence of such key political documents.

However, from a posting on "COP 2007 Election Manifesto Online," (Oct. 25, 2007), I have learnt that the COP (Congress of the People) has made its manifesto available for download on its Web site. reports that this is probably “a first in national politics,” and as far as this blogger knows, it would seem that this assertion is perhaps well-founded.

So now, contrary to my earlier piece, I have now learnt that the COP does have its own Web site and now too, has made its manifesto available to the public. One down, two to go. Here is the link for the COP Web site. Again, I place here the links for the PNM (People’s National Movement) and the UNC (United National Congress) Web sites, so that people can check and recheck them periodically to see if they will follow suit in placing their manifestos online for download, or at least to see if/when they announce when such documents will be available.

But remember there is no point in just downloading without reading and forming your own opinions about these manifestos. Yet, politicking operates in an arena where personality always seems to trump policy, or in our media age, this may be better put by saying that, “image trumps the issues.” Truly personality and image do matter but as we all know, courting anyone purely on looks without consideration for their beliefs and actions will make for a meaningless and empty relationship.

Following our parties or political personalities like Pied Pipers, without question of what they really stand for and the means by which they seek to accomplish their -if at all- stated goals, can only eventually lead us to the same fate of the famous Pied Piper’s furry followers.

Casting Our Net: The Caribbean Web Presence

It was not intentional to have two technology based postings follow one after the other, but over the past few days I have been pleasantly surprised to learn of two Caribbean based tech-themed blogs, Caribbean Web Development and Silicon Caribe. These are two blogs which cater to web development and general technology education, development and trends in the region. I learnt of these two blogs from the Caribbean Blog List posted on KnowProse a well-known Trinidad and Tobago based blog.

Since I started blogging, I have been fascinated learning of all the variety and wealth of information available about Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean on local and Caribbean based blogs. As an avid web surfer, one disappointment I have always had was the dearth of online content available on anything Caribbean apart from tourism based content. Surely I found the news sites, newspapers and radio stations, and regional bodies like the ACS, CARICOM (I have even found out that there is a CARICOM blog as well) the ECCB etc. but apart from such sites, I could hardly find any websites, say on Caribbean academia or professional and community associations etc.

Let me emphasise, I am not saying that there were not or are not any such sites but simply saying that by way of content outside of tourism, there was and is, still truly a lot to be desired on Caribbean based information by way of traditional websites. Many Caribbean based sites that I have found too are by travelers to the Caribbean who have set up Web sites describing their stay in the region. While I have no objection to non-Caribbean folk writing about and promoting the region it surely is refreshing to discover the blogosphere of Caribbean people writing about themselves and their region.

We have long sought to shed the perception of us in the Caribbean of being only about sand, sea and sun and the complementary motifs that go with these three S’s, rum, reggae, calypso and limbo. While we are and should be proud of these our cultural markers, we do need to escape the pigeonhole that many non-Caribbean people still place us in. Unfortunately now too, that hole has now incorporated the negatives of our high crime rates and HIV infection levels. Despite our many academics and college graduates spread far and wide across the globe, our achievements in sport, and the selling of our products on supermarket shelves abroad, I have had to spend many a time in my travels trying to present a more multifaceted view of Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean than the typical narrow perceptions that many non-Caribbean persons still have of us.

The local and Caribbean blogosphere has truly added a new facet of the region for us and others to look at. My still lingering thought though, is how much of a readership do these blogs enjoy. This is especially so, given now there are so many competing channels of information and entertainment available, with watching cable television at the forefront, taking up so much of our time. Just as there is the Pew Internet and American Life Project that tracks Internet usage in the United States, there should be similar local or regional bodies that do the same or at least one to track the readership of this parallel press which is not visible or available on any street-side news-stand but requires the purposeful clickings of a web surfer.

In terms of Trinidad and Tobago's technological transition, there is a project of the National Information and Communicatrion Technology (NICT) Plan by the government, set up to, as it says for “transforming the country into a knowledge-based society by 2008.” (There are NICT generated reports available on the NICT website). Yet clearly the country, at least on the government’s part and the manner in which, in the main, it provides public services, is in no way in keeping with the buzzword description of a knowledge based society, particularly too with 2008 just months away.

The thing we tend to forget in the region too, is that in terms of world presence we are still so small. With almost any type of global statistical presentation there is almost always an agglomeration of the figures for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even in terms of academia, with a look at North American and European university courses on the region, the focus is again almost always 'Latin America and the Caribbean:' we are seldom, if at all, given any singular distinction on our own.

Everyday, increasing amounts of people are using the Internet for their primary source of information and entertainment. Internet World Stats puts the current figure as just over 1.2 billion. The Internet now also includes network television and radio. New electronic appliances and gadgetry seem all to be configured assuredly with some Internet access included in their makeup. The leading search engine company, Google, is undertaking a massive effort to digitise perhaps as many as 30 million books to be made available online.

It thus seems incumbent upon us to go on generating online content about ourselves, to tell our stories and present our own vision to the world. And this is what must always be kept in mind: once you have content online your audience can be anywhere in the world. And for this, we must be more aware of maintaining a level of quality for what we present. There must be an adjustment too for being more culturally and globally aware. The Internet presents the world to us on a platter and likewise we, when we place content online, are made so easily available to the world as well.

Let the world enjoy us for the spiciness and flavour which we all savour so well in our cuisine. Let us spread our recipes of creativity and energy and leave a pleasant aftertaste of ourselves with the world.

Monday, October 22, 2007

TNT in TnT: Web 2.0 for Trinbago Development

As a newbie blogger, my awareness of the amount of Trinidad and Tobago online content has been increasing, particularly so, of course, with respect to blogs. Incidentally, the first TNT in this posting title is not an abbreviation for ‘dynamite’ but my own abbreviation for ‘The New Technologies’ and their attendant applications -or apps, as techies refer to them. Such apps and activities include web site feeds, wikis, podcasting, blogging (albeit blogging has been around for some time but has grown in extent and influence in the past few years) and the use of social network sites like Facebook, MySpace and Second Life. Of course, there has been an explosive global growth of such technologies and activities within recent years, so perhaps my TNT abbreviation is right on the mark.

All such technologies fall into what has been coined as Web 2.0. This term refers to, and is inclusive of, all the aforementioned technologies and applications that facilitate greater personalisation and collaboration among web users. The ‘2.0’ descriptor is reflective of this development as a perceived second generation or evolutionary phase of Internet development, emergent after the success of the companies came to their demise via the tech bubble bust in the early 2000s.

One trait that has long been applied to the Internet is its ability or potential to be a societal leveler: to increase the possibilities of everyone with access to an Internet connection by increasing their ability to acquire and share ideas and knowledge, express opinion, and facilitate the formation of social networks and participation in collaborative projects. One notable book greatly endorsing this Internet leveling theory is The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.

Many people, global organizations such as the UN (United Nations) and its satellite agencies, governments and notable individuals such as Nichloas Negroponte the co-founder of MIT’s (Massachusett's Institute of Technology) Media Lab, who has launched the global initiative of One Laptop per Child (OPLC), have accepted or acknowledged this power of the Internet and have sought ways to facilitate and keep track of its growth.

One such measure is the ITU’s (International Telecommunication Union) DOI (Digital Opportunity Index) which measures countries' information technology and telephony access for their citizens. The DOI 2005/6 report saw South Korea leading the rest of the world (181 countries were surveyed) as the most ‘wired’ nation, where about 94% of its internet users have access to broadband: a result of the government of South Korea’s determined effort of using technology as a development strategy for the country. Trinidad and Tobago ranked 59th on the report.

If Web 2.0 can live up to its touted benefits from social networking, its usage among our citizens could conceivably have some positive effects on our social conditions. If in addition to exchanging photos and posting video of friends and relatives or of de lime at de fete on YouTube and Flickr, more of us can exchange and collaborate to come up with solutions or ideas to address some community needs or aspirations: we could perhaps better see and enjoy the beauty in empowering ourselves.

An increasing number and diversity of local bloggers and podcasters is an increased potential of citizen journalists that can provide more news, information and opinion on issues. Increased possibilities and abilities via technology should probably and logically lead to more citizen action with more pressure and increased official and unofficial stratagems for rating accountability in the public and private sector.

Like South Korea however, we still need to rely on the government to provide or facilitate the improvement of our info-telecom infrastructure. Government too, should provide improved and increased e-services through the various ministries, which would be a virtual decentralisation of government services that should somewhat alleviate -but not remove-the need for the long ignored calls for the actual physical decentralisation of such services from Port of Spain. The government can take example of all the mas camp web sites, where people can purchase Carnival costumes from anywhere in the world, long in advance of their arrival for the national fete.

One key aspect about development and people’s faith of achieving success in their own country is the actual or perceived level of opportunities or possibilities. When people see or perceive these as existing, increased or increasing for themselves, they can and do begin to dream, with dreams increasing in size in direct proportion to the actual or perceived level of opportunities or possibilities. We must use Web 2.0 though to bolster and complement and not to supplant our actual face-to-face connections. Technology can be used not just as a means to widen our familial and social connections but also as a means to deepen them: to establish more understanding among us in our increasingly busy and distracted lives.

Technology is not just about 'a rise of the machines.' It is a rise of the people; but it is not a panacea. Nonetheless, the evidence is there that the information age has been and is a boon to the lives of many across the globe. Surely, this is no different for us in our country.

Let us ride this second tech wave, Web 2.0, toward a shore of our collective increased opportunities and benefits. As great as riding the waves at Maracas or Toco can be, they can never provide a chance of making our future look so good.

See my blogrolls and site links in the sidebar., is a local online content blog. It also rates local blogs and maintains a listing of the top ten local blogs (I hope with time this blog will appear on that list).

Caribbean Connector A blog by a Trinbagonian librarian: this is a good source for further information on Web 2.0. applications.

Learn more about computer technology and activity in Trnidad and Tobago at the TTCS (Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society) website (they also have a blog to click to on their site).

Mark Lyndersay’s BitDepth column in the Trinidad Guardian (Tuesdays), is also a good source for technology news and information. His columns can also be found on his web site at Lyndersay Digital.

Finally, there is the ICTS (Information and Communications Technology Society) of Trinidad and Tobago, which caters to professional development of IT professionals in the country.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ready to Read: Ready for the World

"He that loves reading has everything within his reach."
William Godwin, English novelist, philosopher and writer(1756 - 1836)

I am a bit of a bibliophile (although I find myself not reading much of late) and thought to at least make mention of a few recently published history and political economy books on Trinidad and Tobago. The presence of these books here is essentially for informational purposes and do not reflect any endorsement on the part of the author of this blog.
- Clicking on a book cover image will take you to its Amazon listing.

History of Tobago by H.I. Woodcock (2007)

Trinidad and Tobago: Ethnic Conflict, Inequality and Public Sector Governance by Ralph Premdas (2007)

La Magdalena: The Story of Tobago 1498-1898 by David Phillips (2004)

Politics in a Half Made Society: Trinidad and Tobago 1925-2001 by Kirk Meighoo (2004)

The Mechanics of Independence: Patterns of Political and Economic Transformation in Trinidad and Tobago by A.N.R. Robinson and Dennis Pantin (2002)

I have always wondered whether we are a nation big on reading, whether there are any or many book clubs etc. dotting the country. My suspicion is though, that we are all so busy trying to improve ourselves in other ways or just otherwise caught up in so much other more ‘necessary’ activities, that we generally see reading as a luxury of time which relatively few of us seem able to afford.

In the absence of conducting any surveys or having statistics from NALIS (National Library and Information System Authority of Trinidad and Tobago) on library loan circulation or book sale figures from the major local bookstores, I at least decided to check the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Human Development Report 2006 for Adult Literacy in Trinidad and Tobago.

Under the heading Adult Literacy Rate (% ages 15 and older)
Trinidad and Tobago is ranked at number 57 out of 177 countries (Norway is at number 1 and Niger completes the list).

Countries in the region that came out ahead of us included:

Barbados (31)

Costa Rica (48)

Cuba (50)

St. Kitts and Nevis (51)

Bahamas (52)

Mexico (53)

The ranking of regional countries coming after us included:

Antigua and Barbuda (59)

Dominica (68)

St. Lucia (71)

Venezuela (72)

Grenada (85)

St. Vincenet and the Grenadines (88)

Suriname (89)

Dominican Republic (94)

Guyana (103)

Jamaica (104)

If you are interested in finding out anymore about literacy in Trinidad and Tobago, or you think you might know of someone in need of bringing his/her literacy up to a considered acceptable level, or you wish to become a volunteer reading tutor, then ALTA (Adult Literacy Tutors Association of Trinidad and Tobago) is one organistion that you might think of visiting.

Read on my people!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ideas: Do Our Politicians Have Any? One most unfortunate political tradition we have come to live with in this country is the absence of the battle of ideas. The most we ever get from our political combatants is a battle of picong, nothing more. While we cherish the fact that we are a people who are good at such exchanges and it is good, to some degree, that we maintain a sense of levity where we never take ourselves too seriously I, nonetheless, believe we embrace this somewhat sophomoric trait too endearingly.

It is this trait, of course, which was the basis for the calypso We Laughin’ sung by Plainclothes some 25 years ago (if anyone can find the lyrics to this calypso please send it to me). In it, Plainclothes’ central thesis was that we are not a serious people: for everything no matter the gravity, we laugh, in some sort of knee-jerk reaction of avoidance instead of facing our issues head-on. We are said to have a Carnival mentality. And albeit our Carnival is one of our and arguably also one of the world’s greatest festivals, too much frivolity outside of it can never be a good thing.

With US presidential campaigns, there are slew of debates where the electorate can hear the differing views of the candidates on various issues. Why is there little or no such similar fora in our country? We have such a thriving media environment where talk shows abound, it would be nice at least to hear candidates from differing parties appear on the same program to debate issues or present themselves as to why people should vote for them and not another.

Notably, there was a youth forum held at the Hotel Normandie recently (October 17) but regrettably there were no representatives from the major parties like the PNM (People's National Movement) or UNC-A (United National Congress Alliance) present. From press reports, only Winston Dookeran, leader of the COP (Congress of the People) was present to receive a manifesto of what were the youth concerns in the country.

And speaking of manifestos, it would seem that these are few, hard to find or non-existent. Why are such documents not circulating in abundance for people to examine and compare? And when I say manifesto, I do not mean some document containing broad lofty objectives on which any reasonable person might easily agree, e.g. equality for everyone, eradicating poverty, reducing crime etc. I mean outlining of specific strategies, with projected expenditure, timelines etc. as to how the party seeks to accomplish what it says.

We live in an age now where via the power of information and communication technologies the ‘power of the idea’ has become magnified a million-fold compared say with the period of the renaissance or even more recently to the industrial revolution. And speaking of technologies, while some political parties do have web sites, (I was able only to find sites for the UNC and PNM) there are no detailed strategies of their intentions to be found on them: only lofty and deliberately vague objectives upon which there can be no objective assessment. The concept of a creativity quotient (CQ) is now seen as significant for measurement as the traditional intelligence quotient (IQ). Creativity, innovation and problem-solving are the hallmarks of our era and for the future. Why are we here then looking forward for our country with the same old strategies and moribund approaches being used by many of those seeking to lead us?

Sad to say, our political leaders for the most part, appear to me to be more fabulists than fabulous. Notably, the very stem of the word candidate implies that those seeking office should at least be just that: candid. And this is not only with reference to being truthful but additionally to being open and clear with their ideas. providing some framework to some vision, if at all, they possess any.

The time of decision draws nigh. And yet, we await ideas.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blog Action Day: Environment Trinbago

FreeFoto.comToday, Monday October 15th, I am publishing this post in solidarity with over 15,000 blogs worldwide, commemorating this day being denoted as Blog Action Day. This is an inaugural event and the chosen theme for this first Blog Action Day is the environment. The environment has had much global media coverage of late, particularly with all the concerns of global warming. Additionally, there has been the impact of the film An Inconvenient Truth, the corollary of former US Vice President Al Gore’s environmental crusade, for which he recently received the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing it with a United Nations network of scientists known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Blog Action Day and its environmental theme has the endorsement of UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme.

Coincidentally though, one aspect of Trinidad and Tobago which I believe does not get much coverage or is not given enough consideration by the public at large, is the environment. Some notable environmentalists/journalists who have done well to make the populace more environmentally aware are Dr. Julian Kenny, Eden Shand and Anne Hilton (please forgive me for omissions of other notable personages, which I am sure I have committed here).

Trinidad and Tobago along with the rest of the Caribbean islands have traditionally been heralded for their natural beauty. Yet somehow, in our developing status, we seem or are somehow forced to think much more of what might be deemed as more serious concerns, on issues such as economic development, crime and serious health issues like HIV/AIDS. While addressing these concerns are indeed critical and necessary, our environment, the very earth upon which we walk, air we breathe and water we drink, if ignored, we undoubtedly do at our own peril.

While admittedly there are environmental organizations and efforts in the country which are to be lauded, regrettably I do not see a widespread infrastructural approach to environmental issues and management in operation locally. For instance, while SWMCOL (the Solid Waste Management Company) boasts of its recycling programme, the average household in the country throws out all trash at home. Are our citizens in possession of any recycling bins for sorting bottles, plastics, paper etc? Walk through Port-of-Spain, go to any public or private agency or even at U.W.I. (University of the West Indies) and there are no receptacles for sorted trash.

A few years ago I remember going to Toco with a group of friends on the day after an extended holiday weekend and was sickened at the extensive and gross amount of trash that was strewn all over the beach. Hordes had enjoyed themselves at the beach and just left it in a disgusting state. The long and still ongoing battle between environmentalists and the government’s plans to build aluminium smelter plants in this country shows at least that we do not have a dormant or docile environmentalist movement.

Given the relatively sheer small size of Trinidad and Tobago and the other Caribbean islands, one might assume that we should more easily be able to manage our environment. Yet, our small size also merits that we should be even moreso conscious of protecting it.

Kudos to all the community organizations and individuals that help to promote awareness, action and protect the environment of our precious Trinbago. We who are here now and generations to come, are in your debt.

Short List of Community-based Environmental Organisations in Trinidad and Tobago

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No Village Idiots: The Importance of Community

If you were to look up synonyms for the word idiot on Merriam-Webster online, some of the results you would find are: blockhead, cretin, dolt, dope, dork [slang], dummy, dunce, fathead, ignoramus, imbecile, jackass, moron, nincompoop, pinhead and simpleton.

With all these synonyms it would seem that the lack of respect for idiots knows no bounds. Just as virtue is said to be its own reward, stupidity, it seems, is its own folly. However, when one looks up the etymology of the word idiot from ancient Greece, a curiosity arises. Therein we find the term ‘private person.’

It is said that among the Greeks who reputedly attached great significance to citizen participation in public affairs (although despite such credit given to them about their love for and practice of democracy it is known all women were excluded from participation; Greek society also had slaves who were likewise excluded from participation), a private person was one who did not participate in the public affairs of the state. In the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, which looks at the erosion of the American society and laments at the withering of American community life, Putnam makes note of the idiot etymology as a starting off point for his thesis.

He essentially makes the point that people were becoming [in my words] ‘too private,’ each seeking after their own interests and thus reducing the social interaction among them and as a result reducing the social capital available to the community. Social capital as Putnam defines it, “refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.” Putnam in his book mentions that one of the reasons that the historian Tocqueville was so impressed with America, was its proclivity for creating associations. Tocqueville himself marveled at the level of equality that he found in America, which he saw as a derivative of the social interaction among the people.

Of course, it can be said, be it historically or in present day, that the United States is by no means a perfect example of equality and social life but undoubtedly, it can hardly be gainsaid that the principle of building social capital through social interaction is beneficial for stronger communities and thus a more equitable and content society. We should do well to ask ourselves why Trinidad and Tobago has reached to the level of crime, fear and anxiety that pervades our society. The point here though is not to imply that civic engagement is a panacea to solving our crime situation and other social ills. Nonetheless, with our citizens and particularly from a young age, being encouraged and becoming more aware of the contributions they can make via community involvement, such activity can at least do no less but be of benefit to our social conditions.

While every five years we look to see who can provide us with all the answers we seek to move our country forward, we should do well to remember that much power and answers also reside within us, the people: to organize ourselves and help to take charge of our communities, to make Trinbago the place we all want and know it can be for us all.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Letters to the Editor: One Means of Exercising our Citizenship

FreeFoto.comThe information provided here, I am sure, is generally well-known by most, but my target audience for this post is moreso for a younger school-age audience, who I encourage to start writing letters to the editor and letting their voice be heard on whatever issue they choose. Maybe many of them have never written a Letter to the Editor before or may have only done so as a school assignment for an English or Social Studies class.

Letters to the Editor are just one of several ways where, via the medium of a free press and our constitutional right to freedom of speech, we exercise our citizenship. We let our voices be heard on whatever issue that concerns or has affected us. We all want to see our country become a better place but it cannot become so unless we, the citizens, do our part to make it so: to participate in the public sphere in whatever way we can.

Letter to the Editor Guides

Adhere to Maximum Word Limits: It is not only you who wants to be heard. Many others want to be heard too and a newspaper has so much space it can offer. If you do not adhere to word limits, the Editor may of course cut your letter or may choose not to publish it at all. Having a tight restriction on how much you can say also forces the writer to become more skillful, more concise.

Watch Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation: One way of getting good notice for your letter is to already have it well-written. Be kind to the editorial personnel who already have a lot to do. Submitting a well-written letter means less corrections having to be made to your letter and so this means less tedium for the editorial personnel. A well-written letter also shows a level of respect for yourself and what you are doing and also conveys respect to the editorial staff: respect for all the work they have to do. Taking your time to proofread your letter before submission thus not only conveys respect but will earn you respect as a writer as well.

Present a Cogent Argument: For the most part, many letters are persuasive pieces. However, you would be more successful at persuading anyone if your postion, at the core, is well-reasoned.

Appeal to Reason as well as to Emotion: While reason should be the foundation for any argument, you should remember too that as humans, we also have an emotional side, where we are stirred by love, fear, anger, guilt, pity etc. Also Make use of imagery and metaphor to paint a clear picture of what you are trying to say

A Letter to the Editor is not a Personal Letter: This is not a personal letter to the editor at the newspaper. The editor is only to be your specific audience in so much as you may wish e.g. to point out some error of fact that was published previously, but apart from that the newspaper serves just as the medium by which you get out what you have to say to a wider audience.

Make Recommendations: While for the most part people seem to write letters to the editor to complain about something or someone, it should be noted that it may also be a good idea to include some suggestions to improve the situation as well. In life we all can complain or look on and see what is wrong with some situation or the other but we do a lot more when we can offer well-thought out and usable recommendations as to how to make something better.

Letters to the Editor for the Trinidad and Tobago Express should be sent to:

Letters to the Editor for the Trinidad Guardian should be sent to:

The Trinidad and Tobago Newsday has an online submission form for Letters to the Editor at URL:

Write On to Help Make Things Right!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Welcome to Trinbago Forever!

Hello and welcome!

Thank you for viewing my blog. This is my attempt at providing some well-thought out opinion and analysis on issues regarding Trinidad and Tobago. Hopefully it will also stimulate thoughtful discussion about issues in our country as comments will be more than welcome.

A nation is as great as the strength and character of its citizens and communities; perhaps the more we look into ourselves and see ways to contribute to make our country one to be proud of, the better it shall be. The young and an educated populace are keys to our future and here there will also be content for students and lifelong learners and links to other Trinidad and Tobago blogs, news-sites and articles.

Any resources that I provide here will not only be from some Trinidad and Tobago or Caribbean source but rather from anywhere the information seems useful. I tend to be very universal and eclectic in my approach to issues and so my approach in putting together this blog will be no different.

My only constant and underlying focus, is for the betterment of Trinidad and Tobago:

Trinbago: Two Islands, One Nation - Trinbago Forever!