Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fifteenth anniversay of the coup. I can't believe it's been that long. One of the most traumatic events of my life, certainly the biggest societal trauma I have experiences... but it seems to have fallen by the wayside, little more than a blip in history. It's still very alive and very immediate for me - somewhat more real with time as the pictures I saw become my own memories, the things I read about become things I experienced. Such is memory, I suppose.

In memorium to those who died, to those who were hurt, to the society torn apart. In memorium to the idea of One Love, which was finally trampled into the ground that day. In the days since then I have lost most of the respect I once had for Robinson, but he was still a far better Prime Minister than Manning could ever be. I cannot forgive what was done, even if the outrage no longer burns the way it once did.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Billmon's story of Iraq is both disturbing and terribly plausible. It really seems to me like a train-wreck, and disaster with no good solution. America has no way out but the coward's...and that is the worst possible withdrawal. So where does it lead?

It's really interesting to read what he had to say about the various parties. I suppose I have always had a certain amount of faith in Iran - faith in democracy, largely due to people like Friedman. I realise that most of the time Friedman is naively optimistic. But so am I - despite experience, I have faith in democracy. But democracy brought Patrick Mugabe and Shrub to power. Well - something resembling democracy, if you can count the Muslimeen, on one hand, and Katherine Harris and Diebold on the other, as part of democracy.

I suppose I have a need to believe that good will triumph over evil, that in the end things will work out. But I just don't know if that is the case. The forces of evil have the upper hand in the world today - in Trinidad, in the US, in Russia. What force exists to hold them accountable? It never ceases to amaze me the way that Americans act against their own interests, the whole What's the matter with Kansas mindset. Saw a really moving documentary on A&E about the working poor in America. How does the richest country in the world ignore such a major portion fo their population? The lack of public transportation, and the way that that lack deprives people of mobility is amazing. If you can't get places, if you are forced to live where you can get the bus, if keeping your car in running order is more important than paying for food...these are problems that are easy to solve. Things are not great in Trinidad, but you can get just about anywhere without a car. You may have to leave home at 5.30 am to get to work, the cost to your quality of life is huge - but you don't have to own a car in order to be able to earn a living.

Which is not to say that things are better in Trinidad than in the US...

Friday, July 22, 2005

Ah, the simple pleasure of working in a coffee shop. There's something about sitting in a coffee shop, near campus, that Borders simply can't match. The added advantage of free WiFi is cool too, though it is a little distracting. Actually that's part of the problem - I can sit here and blog and still feel productive. Ah well...

Can I really call this a post? It says nothing of any significance, it's just an immediate thought, something that comes over you in the moment and you want to save...and, hopefully, share. Is that what blogging is all about? To some people that's exactly what it's about. But I don't want to be the kind of person who sits around writing things that not even their friends care to read.

Writing is a habit - a habit that I have yet to perfect. Ok, I am so far away from it that I can't even talk about 'perfection' - I can only talk about basic and bare competence. It's fun. I can write even when I have nothing to say (like now). But writing should be about something. I'm not trying to re-create Seinfeld - and even that was about more than most of my postings. So why am I writing? Is it to communicate with people I care about? Not really - this isn't the sort of personal blog that people write to be read by their friends. I actually took about a year to tell anyone about it. I have a desire to write, a drive almost - but nothing to say. No great thoughts float around in my head waiting to get out. Well, maybe they are their, but they can't get past the cloud of fuzziness into which my brain has degenerated. How sad. Maybe if I wrote every day I would get better at focus and the thoughts would start to linearise themselves. Maybe, but I won't hold my breath, and neither should you. Wow - probably the first time I have addressed "the reader".

Anyway, time to get back to work...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

So what now? The news is confusing, but it appears that it was a home-made explosive device in a bottle, and the fact that it was in a wrought-iron garbage bin is what made it damaging and potentially deadly. Which means that either the bomber knew what he was doing and placed it in the metal container to create shrapnel, or they placed it in the metal container expecting that the container would hold it in. Umm...thanks a lot to the authorities for providing such useless information. But anyway...I'm sure they're doing their best - like landing a helicopter on a crime scene.

The Guardian seems to think that it was unequivocally a terrorist act - it was intended to create terror. Seems logical. If it had been a prank you'd think it would have been set somewhere less crowded.

The follow-up was bomb threats across the country. Of course, Trinidad being Trinidad, this was entirely to be expected. Of course, if the people behind this had intended to cause fear, they would probably have engineered the bomb threats the following day - it's cheaper and yet still serves the intended purpose. On the other hand, Trinidad being Trinidad, people will expect and discount such threats in the aftermath of the activity.

Makes you think though...for all the bomb threats, I can only think of one bomb, against the Ahmaddiyyas in Marabella long long ago - that one was never solved (though some people blamed the Jamaat). Will this one be solved? I am not all that hopeful.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

How do you distinguish terrorism from mayhem? The cynic's answer is: when it affects you. This affected me. I might be thousands of miles awy, but I might as well have been on Frederick Street. This isn't the same as the coup - in the coup, some people got caught in the crossfire, but for most people they could get out of the way. It isn't gang warfare with innocents caught in the crossfire. It isn't even the same as throwing a grenade into a police car. This is different - the targets were just people - the watch lady outside Maraj. It wasn't strangers - thiw was real. It doesn't matter who the people were - I didn't recognise the names, but it could just as well have been names I recognised. It wasn't foreigners. It was Trinis.

There's no one to focus your anger on. There is no al Qaeda, no Jamaat to hate... Without a single focus you feel like you could strike out an anyone. Not strike in a physical sense, of course, but strike nonetheless. It's hard to have such nebulous anger - how do you focus your anger if you don't even know whether this was an assault on society or a prank.

In the grand scale of things this was trivial. No deaths yet, two seriously injured who still have the challenge of surviving the medical system. Fourteen injured, so most reports are saying. But it's such a small place. It's equivalent to 5-600 seriously injured people if it were the US. It's a small place, it's not the type of place that things like this should happen. If someone had blown up a pipeline crossing the VM I would have been less surprised - hitting Trinidad to hurt the US has strategic value. Hitting innocent people in Trinidad, hitting random Trinidadians - well, it's terrorism, I suppose. It just didn't make sense to me before. Now it does. We need familiar concepts upon which to build knowledge. Frederick and Queen Street, Maraj Jewellers, the lady selling watches (or at least the display of watches) - these things are real, far more real than the stuff that surrounds me here, exiled in a foreign country...

Monday, July 11, 2005

The idea of job hunting is getting closer. Jobs for Fall 2006 are appearing on The Chronicle. It's a little scary - on one hand, I don't feel prepared enough, on the other, I hate the fact that I have to thro wmy hat in the ring now for jobs that won't become reality for over a year. Sometimes I think that the fear of success is as great as the fear of failure - not only is there the fear that you won't get a job, there's the fear that you will accept the wrong job, and then, after you have accepted it, a much better job will come along.

There's still a part of me that would rather postdoc than take a real job. Take another year or two after this one and try to find something that will allow you to dive full-time into research. The truth is, not only am I too old for that, but I don't want to drag Linz to another town for 1 or 2 more years, only to have to relocate again. She needs stability if she is going to figure out what she is going to do with her life. Although I joke that she can be employed anywhere that there are people, if we follow my job opportunities hers will be more limited. Life, eh?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

It never rains but it pours. So they say, so I seem to live. And since I am up past my bedtime with far too much work still undone - well, I will blog. Maybe this time I will get the hang of it and I will actually get into the habit. Maybe, but I suspect that's highly unlikely. One can always hope, of course.

They say that the way to your blog noticed is to develop some topic which is important to you, and become the place that people come for news about the topic. That idea would work well for people with one or three good obsessive interests, but for a dabbler like me I doubt it wouild get anywhere. What truly fascinates me? Knowledge, history, politics and community ecology. Of those, only in the latter area can I claim any level of expert knowledge. And sadly, that "expert knowledge" has me convinced that I know basically nothing. Oh well. Obviously, if I have a sense of how little I know I have the beginning of wisdom (with regards to that one area). But the "beginnings" of wisdom are to true wisdom what a single hair is to a wig factory.

So now you must blog. Write about nothing and nothingness, about the experience of attending the Fourth of July fireworks show in Norman. I found myself thinking about battlefields, mortars and shelling. I wondered what it would have been like to sit in your village and watch the front lines light up. I suppose if you were secure in your knowledge that the fighting was not going to come your way you could sit there and enjoy the show. But who is ever really sure enough about where battle will go. I was reminded of last year's footage of the first siege of Falluja, the one that the Americans were forced to lift. Sure, they came back a few months later and levelled the city. That story reminds me of Grozny...

Monday, July 04, 2005

Apologies to my legion of expectant fans, but this is not actually a blog posting, despite the fact that it looks much like one. It is simply a post to update the date on the blog. After all, it's been almost 3 months since I last updated this thing.

While I could blame that lapse on a number of things if I so chose, I can't say I have a good reason for not blogging. Nor do I have a reason for blogging. The resignation of Sandra Day O'Connor might be reason to blog, the to-be-hoped-for downfall of Karl Rove...but that's all been done before. I could complain about Tom Cruise. Yep, that would be a good one. I suppose you could say that's what happens when you realise that you have spent $360,000 to hear about "Xenu", the galactic tyrant who stacked hundreds of billions of his frozen victims around Earth's volcanoes 75 million years ago before blowing them up with hydrogen bombs and brainwashing them with a "three-D, super colossal motion picture for 36 days" (from the Wikipedia article). It was funny, in a sense, to realise that I had talked to that very same person, in different guises, so many times in bars. It was such a typical example of the fanatic...the person convinced that they have "hidden knowledge" ("You don't know about psychology Matt, I know about psychology"). Hidden knowledge is, of course, not available to use mere mortals. That's why you have to pay so much money to get it.

Perhaps that is why I am so attracted to the epistemology of science - because the tools for knowing are out in the open. If someone says X is the case, they have to back it up with evidence. Is science the only way of knowing? No. But it is one of the few ways of being certain (or rather, of being able to specify your uncertainty, which is much more interesting.