Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Newsday managed to capture something that people forgot as well - the fact that the State has not been nearly as good to Noor and Zalay as they had been to the country
For the late Noor Hassanali to be remembered simply as a kind of placid president is to do an injustice to the memory of the man. It is true that he exuded a certain tranquillity but this is a man whose term of office straddled some of the most traumatic moments in the country's post-Independence history.
Among them were the first-ever defeat of the People's National Movement (PNM), the party that had guided the country since its attainment of sovereign independence, the subsequent coming into power of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) in 1986, its sudden sundering and the consequential return of the PNM and the unprecedented 17-17-2 results of the 1995 general elections.
His presidency is remembered as a model of thriftiness, as his household bred their own tilapia in ponds and grew their own vegetables on the grounds of President’s House. Further, in accordance with his religious beliefs, no alcohol was served at President’s House, a move which surely helped the taxpayer. He is also believed to have spent his own money to repair President’s House.One day the full story may be told. I look forward to the biographer who really writes a definitive work on the person I believe to be our greatest President ever.
President Hassanali and Mrs Hassanali served Trinidad and Tobago well. Sadly, however, it can’t always be said that Trinidad and Tobago served the Hassanalis well.
In a story, “All Presidents not equal”, Sunday Newsday on January 29, 2006, reported the hardships being faced by the Hassanalis who had to pay the cost of security, vehicle, and driver, which had otherwise been provided free by the Government for at least one other former Head of State.
One other dark cloud impacting on the Hassanalis was the incident in September 1989 when two gunmen fired three shots at the car in which Mrs Hassanali was travelling. Fortunately she was not injured, although to date no-one was ever convicted for the offence.
All in all we say President Hassanali had a good innings both in his professional and public life and served Trinidad and Tobago well.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
There's a lot of coverage of his death in the local papers. The international press mentions race (first Indo-Trinidadian President), religion (first Muslim head of state in the Americas) and the coup. Factually true, but that misses his main achievements. He was elected President by an NAR government. He revoked Manning's appointment as Leader of the Opposition and replacing him with Panday, he was re-elected President by the PNM government. Despite being President in a turbulent time and with two different governments, he was never criticised (by any side), he never came into conflict with either administration.Possibly the best Pres. T&T ever had.
Possibly? He was the best president we ever had. May he rest in peace.
It's worth remembering that he was the first Indo-Trinidadian President specifically because it was uncontroversial. In 1987 there were a lot of people who were apprehensive about what they saw as an "Indian power-grab" in the form of the NAR government. I'm sure that some people saw the appointment of an Indian President as yet another step in that direction. But if people had reservations, they quickly forgot them. He was a national figure, above politics and above race. He was, I believe, the perfect person for the Presidency. Outside of sports we have never had a national identity, so it's fitting that such an avid sportsman would be the one truly national figure in the world of politics.
Friday, August 25, 2006
There was always something about him that set him apart - a sense of nobility, a sense of being an honourable person, a good person. He was always friendly, always made you feel important. I admired him more than anyone else I have ever met. It was more than the fact that he was family - I think I would have admired him equally if he were a stranger. I always said that being related to the President in no way reflected on me - after all, I did nothing but be born. But knowing a person who was good and honourable, knowing a person who, it seemed, saw the good in people and did his best to do what was right - that was important to me. Long before he was the President he was someone in the family to look up to.
It's been a long time since I saw him. His health has been in decline for a long time. At 88 it's likely that he was the longest-lived person in the family - ever. But while it wasn't a surprise, it was a shock. There was a comfort in knowing he existed. It's a shock to know he's gone.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
To be honest, that's nothing but a series of cliches. It isn't the least bit surprising that summer has slipped away - we departed on the Appalachian trip just days after classes ended; after we got back I was back to teaching almost immediately; then we were off to Michigan, and just over a week later classes start again. The idea of a "break" during summer is an illusion. I suppose I should be happy to have the time off that I do - after all, in the "real world" people have to work longer hours with fewer breaks.
What would a "real workd" job be like? I have no idea, and no basis against which to judge. My only "real" job was the time I worked in the Herbarium in UWI, and even then I was supposed to be writing my dissertation when I got home, and doing consulting work on weekends. I have such an idealised view of the work world - on one hand, the idea that you are working continuously all day, pretty much tied to your desk for eight hours, and on the other hand, the idea that you can drop what you are doing at the end of the day and just be done. One seems to be torture, the other a luxury. But neither is realistic, I suspect.
So what is the "real world" like? Whatever you make it, I suspect. Just like life in academia.
Friday, July 28, 2006
As the anniversary approached there were the usual calls for a special commission to look into it. And, as usual, it was ignored. The coup is the last issue for the NAR, and only NARites (whatever party they support) care about it any more. Both the PNM and the UNC have been in bed with Bakr, so it isn't in their interest to have people look too carefully at the issue.
I have a hard time thinking of any day as the anniversary - in a certain sense it's with me every day, or almost every day. The anniversary is just another day (or rather, set of six days) in which to remember what happened. It's hard to summon additional intensity for something that is ever-present.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
The summer has flown by. I don't know how it is that we are in the final week of summer classes. I am at a loss to figure out where the time has gone. In a sense I am glad to be almost done with teaching, but in another sense I'm unhappy with all the things I didn't get done. We may go the Michigan next week, which means that I will have even less time available to get things done. In the next couple of days I have to put together the visa stuff before we run out of time.
Then there's the Israel-Lebanon war. War is always terrible, and yet I find it impossible to tear myself away from it. CNN shows that it's the network for war coverage, but as Atrios point out, why aren't they covering the Iraq war with this level of enthusiasm. Granted, Iraq is a lot more dangerous for journalists, but there's also a virtual media blackout on Iraq. Much like some of the wars in Africa, it has become a forgotten war. Maybe it's not a matter of the networks bowing before the Bush administration's desire to forget the toll of the war - maybe it's just that the public doesn't care about the civil war/quagmire.
I have mixed feelings about the Israel-Lebanon war. On one hand, I find Israel's actions despicable - bombing hospitals and ambulances, but also waging war against civillians and infrastructure. On the other hand, I also find Hezbollah's actions despicable. So when both sides are acting despicably, do you seek moral equivalency and say "well he started it"? I can't do that. It doesn't matter who started it. It doesn't matter who had the moral high ground to begin with. As it stands now, both sides are barbaric. War is barbarism, but equivalent military units engaging one another at least has some send of symmetry (not that I have ever seen a war like that). Once one side has the might in firepower human nature is to cheer for the underdog. It's difficult when you realise that the underdogs aren't people you can support.
People say "what is Israel to do after 6 years of rocket attacks". Does that mean that once this is over Lebanon is entitled to do to Israeli infrastructure what Israel has done to Lebanon's? Does that mean that, once you tally up the dead, that Hezbollah can kill x Israelis to even things up? Of course not. Just as Israel is not entitled to count the rockets attacks as justification for this war.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
It was great to see them play at the World Cup. It was great to see Latas play. There's a beauty in his play, skill and grace. "The Little Magician" - less than two months short of his 38th birthday. What would it have been like if we had made it to Italy in 1990. How would things have been different if we would have had a coach like Beenhakker in 1989? In a real sense I believe that the disenchantment that began after the USA match in 1989 was the first stones slipping down the mountain that ended as the avalanche that was the July 1990 coup attempt.
Would the world have been different if we had made it to the 1990 World Cup? Would I have been different? It's unknowable.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
I was really amused by the idea that, yes, here's real "controversy" in evolutionary biology - someone questioning Darwin on sexual selection. Just the sort of thing that the Discovery Institute is talking about in their Teach the Controversy campaign. Right? I can really see them calling for high school children to be taught that homosexuality is normal (or as the article puts it "[a]t last count, over 450 different vertebrate species could be beheaded in Saudi Arabia.")
The thing that really made me think was the comments about how biologists tend to react to homosexuality in other animals - as a curiosity, as animals "just having fun". I must admit that I have never been too quick to embrace the idea that, because homosexuality if widespread in other animals, that it is natural in humans because I couldn't find a good adaptive explanation for the behaviour. Sure, the "gay uncle" theory is plausible - that non-breeding relatives add survival value and contributing to the survival of your siblings gives you just as much fitness as raising your own offspring. Still, it makes a lot of sense that the adaptive value of homosexuality is in its contribution to social cohesion. Which raises an interesting point - does our modern definition of homosexuality, in which people who are gay do not reproduce, amount to selection against homosexuality? Are the homophobes, who would rather homosexuals remain in the closet, actually acting against their own interests (by increasing the chances of gays reproducing)? Interesting thought.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
At the same time, I can't ignore the negatives. My style of lecturing leaves still leaves some to be desired. Of course, I also need to lecture less. I get off to a good start with interactive/inquiry teaching, but I have a hard time keeping it up. I think that this class is going well and people are learning, but I find myself standing around with not enough to do. I need to get back to requiring myself to talk to every student, individually, every couple of days. It's easy to interact with the interested ones, but it's a lot harder with the ones who avoid eye contact. Something I have to work at.
Monday, May 08, 2006
I always loved the intensity of matta season. It really made me feel alive to dedicate whole days to studying, to sitting alone and working through a year of notes. At a good time it was as intense a tunnelling experience as I have had. So different to watching finals here, where people have a pile of 3-credit courses, many of them with non-cumulative final exams. Matta season was a time to synthesise, to see all the information together at once, to try to make a whole of it.
And that thought takes me back to 5S, when Hoosanie made Lit synthetic, when he put together Julius Caesar into a whole. It also brings me back to GP, when I finally learned how to write. In many ways A Levels was a waste of time - we spent one year learning the material, and the second year learning how to pass the exams. We could easily have covered 2-3 times the material. On the other hand, it was in A's that I learned how to write, I learned how to put ideas together, how to synthesise knowledge. The most important step towards writing a dissertation was probably A Levels. It always bothers me the way that we gloss over things in intro biology or botany classes.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Having lived though an attempted one, I tend to fixate on that word a little bit. To me it isn't just a throw-away phrase - to me it means blood in the streets and men with guns, social unrest and widespread looting. To me it means the picture of Police Headquarters in flames, a picture in which you can see a separate set of flames coming, probably, from the police constable on sentry duty who was run down and killed when the Jamaat members stormed the building and blew it up.
So what does coup d'etat mean in a US context? Is it just hyperbole? The idea of changing the government by non-electoral means seems far-fetched. Unlike with Nixon, Congress isn't going to impeach Bush. The Republican majority is far too closely tied to him. Even if "The Generals" are pushing for something, I can't see the current set doing anything like that. I've seen the US President removed from office twice on 24, and I assume it will happen again this season. But I don't see "The Generals" having the leverage to get Cabinet to remove Bush. So what do they mean? Probably nothing. But emporers changed in Rome when an army fighting somewhere out in the provinces revolted, proclaimed its general emporer, and marched on Rome. As the new Rome (mired in unwinnable conflicts in Mesopotamia, much like the Romans tended to be), is the US susceptible to direct military overthrow? I hope not. As much as I dislike Bush, I can't say that the prospect of that sort of a regime change appeals to me in the least.
Still puzzling over coup d'etat. Probably just an internet meme...
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Last week we joined a gym. It was great to finally do so. We visited three of them, and picked the first one, as usual. Linz calls me an impulse buyer, but quite frankly, since so much of what I come across isn't "right", once I find something that feels right, I know it. Which reminds me of the day before we joined the gym when I had to buy shoes. That wasn't fun - and it was a lot less fun for Linz than it was for me. I hated most of the shoes I saw. Granted, that's my normal feeling. Once I have to buy shoes I realise how ugly I find most shoes. But that isn't anything new. I like very few shoes, but generally once I find a pair I like, I like them. The problem, in this case, was that I never saw a pair I liked - I only saw shoes I either disliked or disliked intensely. In the end we went to a running shoe specialist, where the guy knew what he was talking about and was able to recommend a pair of shoes which weren't too ugly and, far more importantly, suited my feet - probably better than any pair I have owned.
The gym was a different matter. I really didn't know what to do, didn't know where to start. I find gyms intimidating for a number of reasons. One is that I am in such bad shape that I fear people will laugh at me, or worse yet, feel sorry for me. The treadmill was ok, and we played around with the machines a little. It was ok. Then on Saturday we got someone to show us around, suggest a routine, and help figure out weights and reps. It was great - and empowering. And we haven't gone back since. Yesterday the weather was too intimidating - we got into the car and the wind was buffetting it around, and then we heard a tornado warning for Logan County. Not knowing where that was relative to us, I thought it best that we go home and find out. And once we got home, of course, we never left again. Today we had a valid excuse for not going - Linz is feeling unwell - but it still means that we are not going. I am afraid of breaking my stride again. But not that worried - I feel confident that we will be back as soon as Linz feels well enough. I am looking forward to it, I want to go back. And, for a change, I was able to pace myself in such a way that I felt like I was getting something done without overdoing it.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
As far as Carnivals "in exile" go, this was by far the best. The weekend was far better than the actually days themselves - it's difficult to stay in the mood while you have work to deal with, while you are embedded in a matrix of people who really have no interest or awareness in what's going on. Still, it was nice listening to the radio from home, listening to people who were worked up, were in the mood for it all. In that regard 101 was more effective because they have several djs who are less professional - not the slick radio presenters, but people much like people you know in real life.
Anyway, it's over. 101 is back to Filmi, it would appear. Haven't had a chance to check the others yet. Does Lent still bring more sombre music?
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Friday, February 24, 2006
It's so difficult to not be home for Carnival. Sure, not being home for Christmas sucks too, but there is so much more to Carnival. It's the high point of the year, and no matter how long you spend in exile, no matter how many Carnivals you miss, I can't imagine it not being the high point of the year. Listening to a flood of chutney soca only makes it more intense. Kaiso is something I feel strongly about, but I don't feel the sense of "ownership" of kaiso that I do of chutney. Still, no matter how much of a sense of immediacy the radio can give you, it will never be the same, and it will never fill the sense of longing, the knowledge of what you are missing.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Monday, February 20, 2006
So what do I find myself listening to? Filmi on 103.
I remember when I used to hate this kind of music. It was just too inaccessible to me. It didn't seem musical, it seemed terribly discordant. Now, hearing it for the first time in so long - I can't imagine anything better. Ok, I would probably prefer chutney, I would probably prefer dub. But other than that...and yeah, this one is about as inane a film song as I have heard (because the chorus is in English - I wonder how some of this stuff would suck the rest of the time if I could understand it).
In a general sense, listening to music in a language you can't understand seems strange to me. It's one thing is Spanish, where I can still figure out a good few words, here and there if not everywhere. Hindi is another issue. I know the odd word here and there, I know a number of other words that I don't understand...but for the most time I have no clue what they are saying. And yet the music still says something to me - there's the music, the sound of the words, and the intonation of the singing.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
The issue now is how to make that into a useful pedagogical tool. Rather than working against your strengths, can you work with them? Anyway, first exams are today. Let's hope they do well.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Awake! (not Greece - she is awake)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake
And then strike home!
It seems a lifetime ago that I lived for Byron's words, when poetry was the thing that brought me to life. I wasn't even sure, as I sat down to write, whether this was the correct year; and it wasn't until I sat down to write something while anticipating my 36th birthday that I even remembered the poem.
Reading Byron was like waking up from a dream. To read the start of the poem is the feel a rush of life into you - to feel something that you haven't felt in maybe a decade - since the depression grew so deep that it drowned out the poetry. I left my books behind when I went to Michigan - no more Byron, no more Yeats. Somehow, without realising it, my workd grew smaller. All that remained was Christy Brown - and eventually even his words faded and were forgotten.
And after the depression had been pushed back, I no longer cared. I stopped writing - I didn't have the passion, I didn't have the hurt. But it was so much better than what had gone before that I did not mourn what I had lost. I still do not mourn it - it was a more than fair trade. But until this moment, until I clicked on the Google link and read the words: 'Tis time my heart should be unmoved, Since others it hath ceased to move:
To read those words was to feel something come alive - and yet it was a chance to appreciate the beauty and the sorrow without letting it overwhelm me. Before, when I read those words they were true, I read the poem and I became it. I read Yet, though I cannot be beloved, Still let me love! and I knew that it was true, that no one could love me, that I would never be loved. Now I know that it isn't me speaking, it's Byron. Then I did not know the difference.
I remember when 36 was ancient. I thought that Byron's death was perfection - he was old enough to have lived, but still young enough to care. While it really sets into stark relief my own lack of achievements, to compare my life to Byron's, it also serves as a kick in the ass - it serves to motivate me. But it does so in a good way, not in a hopeless way.
Turning 36 is still a big deal. I wish I didn't have to teach. Not because I feel I shouldn't work on my birthday - actually it's a fine day to work - it's ok to go to work on a day over which you feel ownership - you, Andrew Ridgely and India. What I would have liked is a little quiet time for reflection right around 11 am. Well, maybe I should take into account the time difference, and celebrate 9 am instead of 11 am. If I get ready early enough I'll have a few minutes to reflect.
I always get an itch almost, over the first 25 days of the year. My age is the year. So to be 35 in 2006 feel wrong, and it only feel right when my birthday finally arrives and I, too, and 36. Like a racehorse, my "true" birthday is January 1. But at the same time, it's always a little weird to get a year older.
Monday, January 23, 2006
The first excuse that comes to mind is both simple, easy and lazy. "Oh, it must be because he gets to teach classes on exciting, controvertial topics", or "oh, he has an upper level class with a more engaged student body". And then you think about last semester, and you realise that no, it's your own fault. You had the chance, and although it was your first semester (for one of the classes), you just didn't get into the things that would have really engaged them. Sure, if it were my class I could make it more exciting...
Well, I pretty much "own" my sections of General Botany. How do you make cells and cell division exciting? How do you manage to engage them? Well, let's see - what is tomorrow all about? Cells and microscopy. Not very exciting, you say. And you are somewhat correct in the position. But that's really just lazy thinking. You need to ask the question "what can I do to make the material more exciting?" But there I am stumped. How do I excite people about plant cells? Simply being excited about the material isn't really good enough.
What is the consistency of a cell? Solid, liquid, gas, solution or colloid? Not very exciting - but you can make it engaging. Cytoplasmic streaming is always cool, if I can get them to see it clearly enough. And how does vinegar affect the cell? Well, it denatures the protein. So I need to introduce them to the idea of proteins, and how pH affects the structure of a protein. I suppose that might be the right place to start - after I get them looking at the Elodea leaves, hopefully.
So I suppose I have learned a thing or two about interactive teaching. I can't be someone other than I am, but I can do a decent job of acting. An effective, engaging teacher needs to be something of a performer. It isn't just a part of their personality. While the great ones are quirky, you can be good without needing to be great. Right now, being "better" is a good starting point. If I can be better, then eventually I can be good. My personality and my way of speaking are a challenge, a hindrance, but they are not insurmountable obstacles.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Not that I would read NRO's corner, google took me there, but still...
HURRICANE ROGER [Rick Brookhiser]
Neither the Transit Workers' Union nor its leader Roger Toussaint has won many friends. The tabloids are on the warpath against them, but they are following the popular mood as much as shaping it. I'm hearing disgust in unexpected places: Ed Lover, the hip-hop radio host, was mocking Toussaint's accent. Out of the blue, my trainer called him a typical Trinnie (Trinidadian). "What do you mean by that?" I asked. "He's been here for years, but he still talks like a Trinnie; he probably eats in the same restaurant every day." (My trainer is from another island.)
Seems like New York is suffering from Hurricane Roger.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Saturday, January 14, 2006
My job hunt seems to be going nowhere. That after spending all that time with Bob revising my cover letter and c.v. I'm still hopeful - while the pickings are a lot slimmer than they were, there's still a flood of ads on the Chronicle every Monday, and there are still ads with deadline dates scattered across February and up to March 1.
And now onto classes. The semester starts on Tuesday (Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day), and I have two sections of Intro Bot and the Appalachian field trip class. So far I have already gotten a scheduling-related email from a student (a little bit last minute, to see if you can switch classes at this stage...good thing I check my email on weekends). On one hand, I am excited for classes to start back; on the other, I am not so thrilled. I do have to put more effort into fixing what's wrong with my teaching - that's both a challenge (and thus motivating, since it gives me a chance to play at a role of being someone other than I actually am, maybe someone more interesting than I am in reality) and a bother, since I will never be good enough, and if past experience is anything to go on, I won't succeed. I suppose that while success is a good thing, the real motivation is the challenge of trying to figure out how to do it.