Club Soda and Salt

No more stains

Leader before Party before Country

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on January 7, 2010

So the UNC is apparently about to have an election, and we’re meant to pretend that the result will matter, despite the fact that KBP has been a Panday lackey for years. Whatever – let’s pretend. The fun part is that the illusion of a competitive election process has led to a lot of people registering to vote:

Over the past month, there have been 10,000 new applications for membership in the United National Congress, says party vice-chairman Vasant Bharath.

But it’s not all good news! You see, these new voters might just be part of a dastardly conspiracy!

He added that the recent NACTA poll, from his understanding, predicted that Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar would win the UNC leadership by a landslide because of the support from former COP members.

So, to summarize, the reaction to thousands of people deciding to come back to the UNC fold is not, “This is excellent! The party is growing,” but instead, “OMG! This means Panday might not win!!!!” It’s pretty revealing of the mindset of people who run politics in Trinidad – party before country isn’t craven enough for them, they even put the cult of personality of their “leader” before the good of their party.


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In the family

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on December 30, 2009

Via the N-Judah Chronicles, I came across this chart purporting to show the impact of shopping at a local business rather than a chain.

I’ve never been one for chain-hating, and I can’t say that I find this chart all that compelling. Perhaps it’s fairly accurate in Grand Rapids, where the chart’s creators are based, but in a large metro area like San Francisco or New York, many of the ways in which money “leaves” seem wrong to me. For example, why do business services necessarily need to be sourced outside your community? And why is it that only the local business uses local supplies, while the chain apparently resorts to “factory farms” – compare Whole Foods to your local corner store on that last point, and you’ll see how silly it is.

Small local business have plenty of advantages over chains – they are often easier to get to, they generally have better service for regulars, they generally have some charm, and they don’t generally come accompanied with giant surface parking lots like the big boxes. And chains often behave badly, particularly in an urban context. That said, this sort of broad brush analysis helps no-one – sure, you can hate Wal-Mart, but that Subway down the street is probably a franchise run by a local entrepreneur who has just as much interest in your community as the guy who runs the saffron shop. Frankly, the way you get to the store and the products you buy there probably have more of an impact on your city than what’s on the storefront.

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Squeezing a handful of sand

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on December 30, 2009

I don’t remember who said it, but it’s looking more and more like that’s how you could describe our counter-terrorism efforts (at least those that don’t involve covert and overt ops in countries near large oil and gas deposits). The debacle in Detroit involving the underpants gnome of terrorists (Step 1: cover detonator with blanket) gives us a nice illustration:

Mr. Abdulmutallab, who has been linked to the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, came to the attention of the American authorities when his father went to the embassy last month to report that his son had expressed radical views before disappearing.

The embassy sent a cable to Washington, which resulted in Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name being entered in a database of 550,000 people with possible ties to terrorism.

I don’t get why we are even keeping a list with 550,000 names. How is that at all helpful? You simply cannot track such a large number of people. And this is part of the larger problem of too much information collection, too little actual analysis. Customs and Border Control alone must collect millions of fingerprints a year since the US started fingerprinting all us scary furrners at the border… who wants to try to argue that that database will ever be used? Let’s not even get into all the idiotic forms you have to complete to apply for a visa. Too little information is a problem, but so is too much – it clouds your view of facts that are actually valuable.

But of course, collecting as much information as we can is the order of the day, all in the name of “being safe”. That’s why we’ve got TSA agents spending inordinate amounts of time sifting through freedom baggies to make sure that bottle of shaving cream is less than 3 ounces, or telling you to take off your shoes, or swabbing your laptop because you forgot to take it out of your bag, instead of spending that time and attention and energy looking for things that are actually a threat. When “better safe than sorry” is your only mantra you only end up being the latter.

And of course, there are the racist conservatives who think the answer is to collect even more swathes of useless data by using racial profiling. First off, I don’t get this conservative nonsense about how we don’t profile. Has Newt Gingrich never been to an airport? Is he unaware of NSEERS and special registration? Racial profiling is both common and blatant in American security procedures. But that aside – it’s a terrible idea to use such a broad brush. Even if you ignore the obvious ethical concerns, it’s just way too much information about way too many people; that’s how you end up with a list with 500,000 names in which the name of a Nigerian kid with a lot of red flags can get lost.

But who cares about actually protecting America? The DHS has an ass to cover, and Republicans have political points to score on the backs of brown people (same as it ever was).

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Blind to irony

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on December 1, 2009

Just saw on TPM that, like any decent political movement, the teabaggers now have their own documentary. Congrats, guys! Oh, but, while you attend the premiere in DC, you might want to have a big think about what made the venue possible:

At the time it was built, the Ronald Reagan Building was the most expensive federal building ever constructed, at a cost of $768 million. As a federal office building, it is second in size only to the Pentagon. Its naming was controversial, because Ronald Reagan was considered to be a champion of small government and the building was seen by some as an example of "big government" and government waste.

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On our latest white elephant

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on November 13, 2009

One thing that seems to me to distinguish good governance from bad is an understanding that cities and countries are built on communities, not on buildings. Infrastructure is essential, of course, but investments need to serve people, not egos, and therein lies the trap for a poorly governed and generally insecure nation – providing people with water and electricity and telecommunications and efficient transportation and public spaces that invite rather than exclude isn’t sexy business, and rarely produces spectacular results that you can easily point to. And that’s how you end up with Sydney Opera House look-alikes in a country where 600 people are killed every year, and where only a lucky (and rich) few have a 24-hour water supply. Because opera houses are sexy, even if only a tiny portion of the population will even get to see the inside of this monstrosity.

And the media coverage just makes me more depressed. Instead of calling out the corruption and labour abuses that were behind this building’s construction, we get fawning articles interviewing easily-fooled bystanders, like this from the Express:

Citizens from all walks of life flocked yesterday evening to the National Academy for the Performing Arts at the Princes Building grounds, Queen’s Park West, Port of Spain, where they looked on in awe at the massive structure.

Many of them milled around the compound with their families looking on at the ’dancing fountains’ which moved synchronously with the music that blasted from speakers outside the building.

There was an air of excitement all through the evening and generally people seemed pleased with what they saw. Some expressed the view that their tax dollars had been well spent.

Really? Tax dollars well spent when people still don’t have water, and the police still don’t have cars? Are these people mad? I hope they at least had the decency to cringe when they read the article the next day. And don’t tell me that this is about investing in the arts either:

[Manning] teased the ’doubting Thomases’ in the country who he said, never believed that they would live to see such a ’magnificent structure’ in Trinidad and Tobago.

Click through and read the article, and count the number of references to actual uses of the building, rather than boasts about the building itself. This is about egos, not art. And again, I don’t know whether the Express is full of sycophants or just plain ignoramuses, but this had me doing a spit take:

There was vindication over his strategy of using UDeCOTT, its executive chairman Calder Hart and Chinese contractors, such as Shanghai Construction Group, in pursuing Government’s massive construction programme; and pride over what this has accomplished thus far.

Vindicated by what? A pretty building? Fountains? Are they serious? I wonder if the indentured labourers living in 19th century conditions in Caroni who we forced to build this feel vindicated too?

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On dining alone

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on November 3, 2009

Frequent travel builds up a lot of skills, and perhaps the one that I have honed the most over the last few years has been learning to dine alone. It’s not as easy as it seems – I have memories of wandering the streets of Barcelona or Paris feeling too self-conscious to take a meal at a proper café, and instead subjecting myself to terrible fast food options. It was a sad state of affairs, one that I suspect afflicts all too many people, especially the casual traveler on his or her first solo jaunt. The good news is that I’ve managed to get past all that. I now boldly eat wherever I please, and have learned to really appreciate those solo meals. So the next time you find yourself in a culinary capital needing a table for only one, here are some thoughts on how to beat that nagging feeling of being quietly judged.

  • Confidence is essential. And really, there’s no reason for you not to have it – despite silly social judgments and conventions, there’s nothing _wrong_ with lone dining. So ask for your table for one with timber in your voice.
  • Bring a book. My preference is something engaging, but also a little demanding. David Foster Wallace rather than Snowcrash. I also enjoy reading the local English-language daily to get some flavor for local controversies.
  • A notebook is also a plus. Eating alone gives you time to think, what with being freed of the obligation to make conversation, and you should make the most of it. Where do you think this got written?
  • I’d also suggest leaving the laptop in the hotel room safe. A laptop is just too attention-grabbing and makes it unlikely that you will spend any time making observations. Take your notes on paper. A nice bonus is that this makes you look more intellectual and less like a hipster.
  • You obviously shouldn’t be drinking yourself into a stupor, but a glass or two is OK by me. There’s no reason to subject yourself to meal after meal with water and soda, and almost anywhere will have local wine or beer that’s worth checking out.
  • Choose your spot wisely. You don’t want to be eating alone at the Cheesecake Factory. I suggest tapas and the like – places that will give you small portions (so you can sample a lot of things) and have some atmosphere.
  • And finally, I’ve always found that a good way to forget about being silently judged is to spend time silently judging others! People smoking near their kids (harder to spot in the US, but easy elsewhere), fellow tourists ordering in boisterous English or demanding that their food arrive “rapido”, or just plain old ridiculous hipsters – the possibilities for looking down on others for fun are endless.

Now you can go forth and eat alone, and never worry about having to cower in shame in a McDonald’s in Shanghai.  You can thank me later.

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Estonia is not the melting pot you think it is

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on October 4, 2009

I happen to be of the opinion that being black can make time in Europe more interesting. Sometimes, it’s the bad type of interesting – the (very occasional) dirty look, the certainty that the polizei boarding the train at the border will want to see your passport – but sometimes it makes for a pretty good story.

Take, for example, my visit to the fairly small and definitely very white city of Tallinn, Estonia. While there, I had the good fortune to pop into a place called “Vale Bar” on the edge of the medieval old town, a cozy establishment whose main attraction was that it seemed to have a higher proportion of locals and a lower proportion of prostitutes than your average Tallinn pub. We had just settled into some free spots at the bar and were happily talking to some German air force pilots*about Bavaria when we (well, I) caught the eye of an Estonian who had clearly had a lot to drink. At first, his particular interest in me wasn’t obvious – he asked the usual questions about where we were from, etc. My response (California**), however, made him noticeably more animated. “You?! California? You?!” Well, yes. I mean, I’m not from there originally, but it’s where I live now and besides – there are plenty of people in California who look like me.

Hopes of not having to converse with the deeply inebriated quickly faded, and the following happened:

– After being informed that I was drinking Jameson whiskey, he responded that Scottish whiskey (nb: Jameson is Irish) was “shit”, and that I should be drinking Jim Beam or Jack Daniels, or, and this was confusing, something Irish (?!).

– He then followed through on this request/demand by buying me multiple glasses of Jack Daniels. While free alcohol is always nice, this meant I needed to continue intermittently answering his shouts. Now I know how women feel when they have drinks bought for them.

– It also meant that I felt obliged to indulge his request for a photo with the two of us. The photo request has happened before, and though I think it is really very very rude unless you have just given me directions or we have been chatting happily for a while, I usually don’t mind doing it. In this case, though, I might have refused if not for the drinks, since I was seriously worried about being vomited on given his state.

– I’m glad I indulged him though, because once the photo was taken, he announced excitedly that he had “another one”, and proceeded to show me a picture of him with some other random black person. Because he is apparently a collector, which is of course awesome.

– Then he gave me an incredibly disgusting shot involving tabasco and ouzo, and also spent a lot of time informing a nearby Englishman that one of his (the Brit’s) body parts was quite tiny and flaccid. He also grabbed the breasts of a neighbouring woman whom he did not seem to know, but who also had literally no reaction (??), so… there was that. As far as I was concerned, this series of events absolved me of any obligation to purchase drinks in return – not only was he clearly already far too drunk, but he was also being a total asshole.

Soon after all this, we left the bar and headed to a different pub, satisfied that we had gotten a good dose of Tallinn flavour. And that’s what travel’s all about.

* – One of whom we would later see heading out of a different bar with one of the aforementioned prostitutes.

** – When I’m not in the Anglosphere, I generally answer the “where are you from” question with where I live, as explaining Trinidad’s existence/location over and over again is exhausting, especially to non-English speakers. One exception is with people from India, who are generally familiar with Trinidad due to cricket.

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Accidental truth in advertising

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on September 21, 2009


Originally uploaded by EMParillon

Through the magic of Dutch, Axe reveals their target market.

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I went to Barbados with a camera – #4

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on August 30, 2009


Originally uploaded by EMParillon

Decided to do one more of these.

On our last full day on Barbados, Jen and I decided to drive through the southern half of the country, visiting a few rugged beaches and taking in the seemingly unending fields of sugar cane. The highlight, though, was Hackleton’s Cliff. We only ended up there because I randomly saw a sign pointing to it, and vaguely remembered it from maps I’d looked at as a child. We followed the signs, and after a series of winding roads and blind corners, came to what appeared to be a dead end. The road petered out into some bushes, and other than a slab of concrete and a short wire fence on our right, and some chattel houses to the left and behind us, there was nothing to be seen.

Given that we were expecting a cliff, this was something of a disappointment, and we weren’t really sure what to do. I noticed a sign on the fence, and so I ran across the small patch of grass to read it. Upon reaching the fence though, I saw what you see here – a breathtaking view of almost all of Barbados’ east coast. It was some of the most impressive scenery we’d seen on our entire trip, and was made even better by being able to appreciate it completely alone – no tour buses or other tourist mobiles ventured this far. The surprise of a stunning view – you can’t see it _at all_ from the road – behind a totally unremarkable fence only enhanced it. One of my all-time favourite discoveries, and a great way to end a visit to Bim.

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No bombs in the seatback pocket

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on August 30, 2009

If you’ve bought a ticket to London recently, you know that the Brits are choosing to fight the emissions caused by flying by levying pretty big taxes on each flight. In the US, we’re going with the approach of making flying completely intolerable instead:

The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that airlines whose flight attendants had been telling passengers that no personal items of any kind could be placed in seatback pockets were “following our guidance, if they are enforcing this with travelers.”

The agency’s response came after numerous inquiries following a flight I made from Denver to Tucson operated by SkyWest Airlines, on which the flight attendant announced before takeoff that, as a safety measure, nothing could be placed in seatback storage pockets — no eyeglasses, no ticket stubs, no iPods or bottles of water or magazines.

This is obviously a big hassle for over-electroniced passengers like me, but it’s also yet another example of a total failure to understand opportunity costs. While the flight attendant is busily looking to see whether you’ve snuck an iPod into your seatback pocket, he or she is unable to spend that time doing things that might actually enhance safety, or, God forbid, improve the enjoyment of your flight. Thanks, FAA.

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