Stories from Quick Reads and Caribbean
After one national newspaper published the contents of murdered Trinidadian attorney Dana Seetahal‘s will, public relations expert and blogger Denise Demming is more concerned that five months later, no-one has been arrested:
As the days pass and the likelihood of laying charges against the perpetrators of this crime recedes, I wonder how our first female Prime Minister feels. Is the Prime Minister now numb to the callous murders which occur daily or does she see them as just hard luck. [...] Dana must not simply be another statistic. The popular view is that this was a planned hit, designed to snuff out a voice of reason.
Demming suggests that the crime was more than a murder; it was an assault on the country's democracy. She stated emphatically:
When our mistrust of the state and the institutions designed to protect us is eroded, we are near to anarchy.
Today's lead story in one of Trinidad and Tobago's most popular newspapers was the contents of slain Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal's will. Seetahal was gunned down five months ago in Port of Spain; no one has yet been arrested for her murder.
The blog Wired 868 could not understand the rationale behind printing such personal information. In a post titled “Will and No Grace”, Mr. Live Wire thought that the daily “pushed the boundaries of good taste”:
At a time when the Budget, a brazen attack on the Besson Street police station, gay rights, Trinidad and Tobago’s stance on ISIS, a missing police file on Junior Sammy’s son, Sean, and the accidental shooting death of 17-year-old Ricardo Mohammed by a lawman all cried out for further probes and analysis; the Express opted to rummage through Seetahal’s gifts to her family, friends and staff members instead.
Did Seetahal leave all her earthly possessions left to former insurrectionist Yasin Abu Bakr? Was there an autographed picture with former Iraq President Saddam Hussein? Or maybe a book on conflict of interest bequeathed to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan?
Then how could Express justify this invasion of Seetahal’s private space?
Blogger and public relations professional Dennise Demming is disillusioned with Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who claims to “listen, learn and lead”, but then takes action to the contrary. Demming first cited the example of the country's recent Constitutional Amendment Bill, with which, “despite popular objection, the Government manoeuvred their way and got the Independent bench to support this unpopular change to the constitution.”
Now, she wonders why the government has not listened, learned and led when it comes to the Highway Re-Route Movement. Environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh has undertaken a second hunger strike in protest over a portion of proposed highway that will displace a community and could also have a negative environmental impact. Amidst ongoing construction work on the highway, the Prime Minister has, thus far, refused to meet with Kublalsingh to discuss alternative routes. Demming says:
Re-routing the highway is a reasonable request by a credible group of activists which has come together under the leadership of the PM’s one time friend Dr. Wayne Khublalsingh. I salute this man who is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in defence of the environment. No matter how this hunger strike ends, his blood is staining the hands of each member of the PP [People's Partnership] Government.
Referring to English art critic Sir Herbert Read‘s book Education Through Art, Carmen Dragman, via Srananart's Blog, looks at the value of art in education, suggesting that the current Caribbean model is shortchanging students by not recognising the power of art as a creative outlet and learning tool:
Teachers and policy makers often actually know that art education is important for each individual, but don’t actually realize as yet how important the subject is. These lessons are mostly seen as ‘means of relaxation’ but not as means of support. Surely not before tests and examinations…
Dragman believes in learning through doing – movement, games, modeling, play – and gives several examples from her own teaching experience that are testaments to the success of this approach. She explains:
If expressive education is given correctly, the cognitive, socio-emotional, sensitive, motoric, affective and creative development of the child will be stimulated. It is therefore very important that this subject be not only presented as an isolated subject, but be also integrated in the other school subjects.
Corporal punishment has, for a long time, been ingrained into the fabric of Caribbean societies, with some making the connection between the region's harsh colonial history and its modern day bent towards violence. In many cases, the recipients of such beatings are the most defenseless members of society – children.
In Trinidad and Tobago, this year alone, there have been two high-profile cases in which videos, one of a mother beating her daughter with a belt and the other of a mother repeatedly hitting a child with a shovel, went viral, prompting a national discussion on the fine line between discipline and child abuse.
Discipline, in its truest sense, is nothing more than an opportunity to teach, and judging from the findings of modern scientific research, you can't connect with children – or anyone for that matter – when they're scared, because the fight or flight instinct takes over.
In reality, though, it can be difficult for parents to walk away from old ideas, especially if the rod was not spared during their own childhood – which is why it was especially refreshing to come across this blog post by a Trinidadian father, living in the United States, detailing exactly how he came to change his mind about corporal punishment:
I used to think spanking a kid was okay – necessary, even. I come from a culture where it is accepted, even expected. I no longer think that it is any of those things.
If you think that a stronger, more physically powerful person hitting a woman is wrong under all circumstances, then you must accept that hitting a weaker, much less powerful human being is equally as wrong – if not more so.
The idea that ‘well, I got hit as a kid and I turned out okay’ is, I think, a fallacy. Because I think that if you think that hitting a kid is okay under [insert circumstances here], you, in fact, did not ‘turn out okay'.
Hitting a kid, especially a young kid, is pure laziness. It’s ‘I can’t be bothered to understand what’s driving my kid to do X so I’m going to revert to my base instinct and lash out.’ It’s lazy, and it is wrong.
I was spanked as a kid. Not often [...] but I got spanked. I love my mom, and she is my hero for how she brought us up – but on this, she was wrong [...] If I am half the parent to my children that my mother was to us, I’ll be an excellent parent. But I will never hit my kids. That’s one thing that stops with me.
Jamaican author Marlon James’ new novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, has been released to such fanfare that even hard-hitting literary critics cannot use enough superlatives in their reviews. Michiko Kakutani, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for The New York Times, described James as a “prodigious talent”, calling the novel “epic [...] sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex.”
Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul apparently beat international mainstream media to the punch, however. In this post, Paul reveals that she kindly took down an initial interview with James so as not to “[break] the [US] national embargo on information on Brief History and its author”.
The plot of “Seven Killings” uses the real-life assassination attempt on reggae icon Bob Marley a few days before he was to perform at the free One Love Peace Concert in Kingston in December 1976, as a jumping off point from which to discuss issues of race and class in Jamaica, as well as the entangled political relationship between the United States and the Caribbean region.
In her “exclusive interview” with the author, Paul talks to James about his process, admires his seemingly effortless use of Jamaican patois “in a way that outsiders can grasp” and wonders if there might be a sequel. Read the whole interview here.
As the United States-led international coalition forges ahead with its fight against ISIS, the Al Qaeda offshoot which has come to control large parts of Iraq and Syria using brutal and violent tactics, Bermudian blogger catch a fire shares his thoughts about this “new war”, which he believes will only compound the problem:
It [...] seems rather hypocritical that the West is suddenly taking action against ISIS, but failed to take any actions against Israel with their recent war crimes, but I digress…
Waging a new war only creates new martyrs, fertilising a while new generation of extremists who bastardise Islam. It does nothing to address the causes of this extremism in the first place – a lack of hope, economic and social collapse and the lack of democracy [...] If we really wanted to defeat ISIS [...] we need to address these root causes; we need to address poverty and stop supporting authoritarian regimes on the basis of Western interests.
The post goes on to list a number of alternative ways in which to handle the situation.
Esta Vida Boricua [This Boricua Life] is a digital storytelling project which explores the past and present of Puerto Rico through the collection of experiences of people from all walks of life and all ages. At its most basic level, it is “a place to share stories,” as explained in their “About” section. Elaborating on that thought, they write:
Thus, the stories herein are a journey. They offer splashes of color and texture, shades of shadow and light as well as fragments of shape and depth to the existing Puerto Rican mosaic. They unravel the stereotypes and biased images of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture presented in the media and beyond. They speak of a generation of young people struggling under the uncertainty of colonialism —and a backlash from the slow cultural genocide that has taken place since US occupation after the Spanish-American War and the advent of modernism.
The content, which can take the form of writing (in either Spanish or English), video or audio recordings, is entirely produced by volunteers, most of whom are students from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, on the western coast of the main island. Poets, musicians and writers are also welcome to contribute original content.
Once the video of Ray Rice (the American football player for the Baltimore Ravens) hitting his wife went viral, Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella couldn't get the incident out of her mind. “The video where he spits and hits the woman who would go on to be his wife, where he knocks her unconscious and drags her out of the elevator,” she says, “It’s enough to give you nightmares.”
She was also not impressed by the public's response, citing distasteful hashtags on Twitter that made light of a distressing situation and a general bent towards blaming the victim. The blogger, Patrice Grell-Yursik, expressed her concern for the plight of Janay, Rice's wife, and their daughter – but in her effort to understand her situation, she realised that Rice is one of many women stuck in the cycle of domestic abuse:
The more I [...] considered this story [...], the more I kept thinking about my best friend from childhood. Her name is Carys Jenkins, and she works as the manager of the independent domestic violence advisory service (IDVA) at RISE. She’s been working closely with women dealing with domestic violence for years and years. When I mentioned how sick seeing the Ray Rice video made me, she simply responded, ‘I see lots of videos.’
Jenkins shared with her the “cycle of abuse” and the psychological tactics women use to survive. The post also offered practical advice to women who may be contemplating leaving an abusive union, with the blogger noting that “one of the few good things to come out of this story is the sharing and honesty by people who have experienced domestic violence themselves [...] For anyone who’s stuck in an abusive relationship, please know there’s a way out. Please know that a healthy, loving relationship isn’t one that diminishes you as a person or threatens your health and happiness. You can break the cycle of abuse.”
As the Trinidad and Tobago government, in anticipation of national elections next year, serves up a massive budget, two political bloggers take the country's leaders to task.
Afra Raymond, whose blog keeps a close eye on politics, corruption and transparency, provided some disturbing financial context:
The Minister of Finance has just met cynical expectations by announcing Trinidad & Tobago’s largest-ever budget for 2015, with estimated revenue of $60.351 Billion in support of estimated expenditure of $64.664 Billion. This expenditure is $4.313 Billion more than the expected revenue, with 2015 being the sixth consecutive year of deficit budgets with a nominal total of just under $34 Billion in excess expenditure in that period.
While Raymond was not surprised at the “high-stakes election budget”, he maintained that there were a few key issues to be considered – the importance of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property law being passed, the government's exclusion of a billion dollar water recycling project in the country's accounts, continued ambiguity about the specific output of the state housing programme and the issue of campaign finance reform, to name a few.
Over at This Beach Called Life, the blogger had additional concerns, such as the intolerable traffic situation between south and north Trinidad (most corporate offices and state agencies are concentrated in the island's capital, Port of Spain, with nothing being done to alleviate the problem), as well as the government's latest controversial crime-fighting gimmick, the purchase of armoured vehicles that has been one of the hot topics of discussion on social media, with many netizens getting the sense that the concept of community policing has been traded for an approach that could potentially endanger civilians. The blogger summed up the situation this way:
Naturally, Kamla’s [Persad-Bissessar, the Prime Minister] amusing and often childish sounding chant ‘serve the people, serve the people, serve the people’ can no longer be heard as the Government buys fifty two armored vehicles to ‘blow up the people’ should they step out of line. Are we a nation on the verge of revolt?
Yes, a revolt might be near simply because when the Government [...] removes the unsustainable subsides on gasoline, water, electricity [...] all hell will break loose in paradise and whether party financiers get their contracts and the appropriate kickbacks paid will be the least of the Government’s concerns.