Broken Contracts

Break FreeThere are contracts between people, and there are contracts between lawyers – the latter existing because contracts between people are fragile.

One of the reasons  I haven’t been writing was because I was negotiating a contract – a business deal. It started with a handshake, as so many business deals do. This was a contract between people, between men – me having something someone else wanted, he wanting something I have. The deal was for a certain amount, the deal to be completed by lawyers the next day.

The next day never arrived – instead, I got another representative of the company and family. And, right before Carnival here in Trinidad and Tobago, I was given a downpayment for a price for roughly 70% of the original handshake. I smiled and laughed, knowing I wouldn’t accept that offer, and returned their downpayment after Carnival. I simply showed that I understand the value they placed in shaking hands by returning the favor. I think they got the point.

Now I know how they do business and I can say that they don’t really respect contracts between people – I won’t name them, there’s really no need to. It’s no more than an attempt at a reverse bait and switch maneuver, as basic as that – and what I found was that once I got past that, they had nothing. So I raised my price, and they said they wouldn’t buy – and called me the next day, still trying to get me below the price of our original handshake.

“Do you think you can get that price from anyone in Trinidad and Tobago right now?”, I was asked churlishly. I responded in a firm tone, “Do you think I care?” 

And I laughed, putting it in the hands of someone the next day to deal with. I’ve seen too many contracts broken over the years – more than most, less than a few – to really care that much about a broken contract. I put it in the hands of someone else; I have no patience for people with money saying that the price is too high. Clearly, the value is not – pay the price or move on. 

It’s as if they do not matter to others, as if one’s word doesn’t matter, as if a promise is so easily broken. Trust is not something understood – Honor and Commitment are Gordian knots to be sliced.

And it’s not just business.

Social Contracts

 

There was a time when social contracts were more valued – we find pockets here and there among the rubble of civilization where they are still valued, where a promise or a handshake means something. When someone’s word meant something, when they were careful what they promised.

Now, we gamble on people’s greed in things more and more – not just financially but otherwise, be it emotional or otherwise.

And one thing I have learned over the years is that a world where one’s word is worth something is becoming smaller every year. Marriages, divorces, political promises, government reality, and so on. And because of that we do not trust.

And a civilization where we do not trust is not really a civilization.

A person’s word should mean something. Should. But now, unless you get a witness and everyone signs, it’s empty – expended air lost to the atmosphere, needless noise. And even with lawyers…

We are surrounded by broken contracts.

Granted

A Parting in the SeamI know we all die.

That jarring reality came early in life. The world, the cultures, everything is designed so that you aren’t supposed to think about it, but if you manage to fit into one of those cracks – the widening cracks – you realize the finality of mortality. Poets, authors… have written so much about it. Religions offer sanctuary from it. Maybe you’ll come back, maybe you’ll go to a better place.

But isn’t there always a better place? Someone always trying to sell you real estate of some form or another? Cash is easy, tears are real.

I’m intelligent. I’m not supposed to be confused. I’m the one people come to when they are confused. I have no faith that reaches further than the tips of my fingers, my toes, and where my mind can go.

I’m confused. The anger has come and went, as it’s supposed to. But it’s not so much ‘went’. There’s a surprising amount of anger there below acceptance.

One woman loved me more than I was comfortable with, and she’s gone. Another woman fought with me because… she loved me more than I was comfortable with. And she, too, is gone.

There is a rhythm there. A pulse, a silent rage that thwacks at reality now and then despite my best efforts. It’s cynical. It’s sarcastic. It seems to feel no pain, and yet it cannot exist without it.

I know we all die.

I plan for it – the unmentionables that people do not discuss. I planned for it years ago, and I may end up planning it years into the future.

But I did not plan for them to die. I should have, I suppose, since I know we all die.

Yet I failed to plan for them to die. One even told me, told me how, and I nodded my head quietly, thinking she was venting. Hoping she was venting.

She wasn’t venting. I failed. It haunts me.

Another died of the flu. How? Had I been there would something else have happened?

There is no solace here. But there is a silent rage at the world, at myself, and those who take it for granted.

 

Except Billionaires.

Captive SkyYesterday, I wrote a post on my other site that challenged a World Economic Forum post – as people should. Part of that post dealt with this thing we call freedom.

I love freedom, yet every time I become slightly more free I am reminded that I am not allowed to be in one way or the other. Breathing is a compromise of freedom. We Americans that dominate the social media and social networks in our own vacuums tend to believe that the United States is the only nation with ‘freedom’, when really most of the world has it and some nations are arguably more free (step out of your vacuum). As a multicultural, I get to see the world a little differently – but in the end, we know what freedom is and what freedom isn’t.

We know that in a capitalist society – and this is no smear against capitalism, it’s all I really know – that if you have more, you have to protect it. If you have something of value that you want to keep, you have to fence it, protect it, have an army of lawyers to protect your intellectual property, have a firewall on your systems (or better, air-gap them). Suddenly, by simply having more than someone else, you are less free.

Around the world, while there may be less poverty, there are more clear striations between haves and have-nots. In the Global Income Inequality post(which, oddly enough has the same citation as the optimistic post on the World Economic Forum I originally responded to: Max Roser), data seems to indicate it’s on the decline but is still high.

Who is more free, the person that has and needs to protect it or the person who does not have and cannot get it legally? Where is the freedom?

Around the world, people do what they can to be free. As individuals, we all have seen the people who plod and plod without getting ahead, those stable people that society depends on to keep us from sliding into the abyss of our own humanity and lack of it. We see those aspiring to do better, maybe working their way through college – maybe getting a job afterwards to pay off any debt incurred, maybe not. We see members of the military sign up to defend ‘freedom’ come back with lost limbs, or worse, with the scars that cannot be seen – and how much more freedom does anyone have, and how much freedom would someone have lost?

The chains of yesteryear became the financial chains after the abolishment of slavery – indentured servitude being the start, and de facto indentured servitude continues. To become more free, we collectively believe that we should accrue more financially, and when we do so we are limited by the very thing we thought would set us free.

“Except billionaires”, we might think, and yet how free are they?

Conspicuous Effort

conspicuous effort
Every now and then someone posts something of worth on Facebook; the comments on this image are worth checking out.

I have thought a lot over the last 3 years about the differences between ‘productive’ and ‘busy’. The two have become so synonymous in anglophone culture that it’s difficult to distinguish between the two. Apparently, Robin Hanson found a better way than I have in doing so in his book, ‘The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life‘.

If you read beyond the highlighted text, you’ll get to the phrase – the ‘conspicuous effort’. Where doing things is done for appearances, to demonstrate that things are being done – regardless of how useless or even damaging they are.

We’ve all seen this so many times; few of us seem to understand it. In the Navy, we talked about ‘busy work’ – never be idle when Master Chief is walking by because as squared away as you think you are, Master Chief will find something for you to do.  So we made a conspicuous effort. Better to be doing something than have Master Chief find something for you to do.

Later on in life, with a few decades of work experience behind me in the corporate world, I was focused on my productivity. To be productive as a software engineer, running through permutations in my mind of how something I was fixing or creating would be used and what could go wrong, I would go for walks. My manager at the time caught hell from the executives about seeing me walking around the parking lot, they thought I should be at my desk and hammering things out because that is how they measured productivity. By conspicuous effort.

Meanwhile, I was more interested in doing it right the first time, and with few exceptions, I typically did. Only one thing I wrote actually broke things at that company and it was such a reach that no one understood how my code could have broken anything (it was a compiler problem that I traced in assembly, but to explain it to them). Everything else was solid. The fact that I wasn’t the one getting mentioned all the time for writing buggy code was something that they didn’t notice; the walks in the parking lot were something they saw as being unproductive. If only they knew, or could understand.

I’m surrounded by people who are making conspicuous efforts even now – and some think I should be making a conspicuous effort. Someone will tell me that I need to do this or that with my land immediately, expending effort and resources to simply look like I’m doing things. They’ll look at the pickup covered in mud and dirt and think I should be washing it every day (when I know it will get dirty the next day).

We have a finite amount of time on the planet. We have a finite amount of energy in our bodies – when we’re young, we think otherwise. There’s only so much we can do.

Wasting it on useless conspicuous effort… is wasting it.  And it can do more harm than good.

Be productive. That keeps you busy enough. Trust me on this.

2018: Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Begins.

UntitledA lone drunk walks down the trace where I live, shouting, “Pay the devil jab jab” at 3 a.m. this morning – lost from a J’ouvert somewhere in South Oropouche, I’m sure, where WASA water flows more slowly than puncheon rum. Where WASA, in fixing things, inordinately breaks something else.

It’s the start of Carnival 2018. There are plenty of people out there right now enjoying all the festivities, and there will be many more. Celebrities like Trevor Noah are around, giving local performers their 15 seconds of fame in the Internet age.

It’s not my thing. To say that out loud, or dare write it, is seen as a travesty by some. But really, it’s not my thing. I haven’t enjoyed Carnival since the late 1980s as a young man full of hormonal energy – not that I haven’t tried, or others have not tried to have me do so.

Right now, photographers I know are out there getting brilliant shots of Trinidad and Tobago’s greatest event. One, Sarita Rampersad (unrelated), even took even more pictures of people on mobile phones, which you can see in an album properly titled (Dis)connected Mas. Global Voices interviewed her in 2016 about the same thing – we can see that it hasn’t had much of an effect on what people do. This year, they went with her ‘Steups emoji‘ which – and Sarita knows this – I see in a different way, as do a few others, but it is something. And a steups is appropriate when selfies and phones are disconnecting people from the most extroverted event in Trinidad and Tobago.

Because that’s what extroverts do these days, too. Where is the line between extroversion and narcissism? There isn’t any; there’s just overlap. It’s also odd to explore in the context of what we decide to share of ourselves. I’m neither, yet I share plenty that I wish to. There is room for exploration here, introspection, and some thoughtfulness.

But it’s Carnival – seen by some to be the antithesis of thoughtfulness. I know better. There are very thoughtful people out there, the vast majority, keeping things fun and real – which should be the focus. It’s escapism that comes from new found ‘freedom’ – a debatable topic if you look around Trinidad and Tobago and the financial chains that burden so many, where the hand that you hold is more often than not the hand that holds you down. That’s global, though.

Yet the news, even internationally, talked about the squelching of a terrorist threat – locally you can see the smoothing over of it; Newsday, Trinidad Express, Trinidad Guardian. The facts are lacking; now 7 men have been held last I checked. One target was allegedly the U.S. Embassy (how original) – internationally, CNN covered the story and put the U.S. military on top of things. Local police are saying otherwise, smoothing that over, while I first read about the potential threat from a British source. It’s anybody’s game. In the end, though, nothing is actually publicly known except how many were held – and one has to wonder why it made the news in the first place until one considers that it creates fear, uncertainty and doubt. That spread like wildfire on WhatsApp groups.

But T&T has short term memory loss, which leads to not being able to remember much in the long term. Until something happens. Or happens again. And then short term memory loss happens again – even in local media. Trevor Noah showed up. What terrorists? How is this not on Global Voices yet?

Never fear. The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service are keeping everyone safe and secure from 8,000 lbs of Venezualan dasheen. The guns and drugs come from the very same place, but the dasheen problem is real enough to local farmers. Unfortunately, because of the lack of dealing with drugs and guns – people have theories on why – the Minister of Agriculture was mocked for supporting the police here even though violent crime isn’t his jurisdiction.

We’ll all sleep better with that contraband dasheen off the streets.

It’s a comedy that writes itself into tears. We won’t even get into ‘tiefing a wine‘, a strange thing given the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, where outfits for Carnival get smaller every year and costs for them go up. Where suggestive dancing is encouraged; where some say only men ‘tief a wine’. We know better. Yes, it can be construed as assault.

Don’t hug me without consent, by the way. With an accusation, I can get you sent to jail for assault.

And until Ash Wednesday jail, Trinidad and Tobago will forget all of this. As it should.

But on Wednesday, will it remember?

Forest and Trees

why hello thereShifting focus is a necessary part of being human – to be able to see the forest and the tree in the forest as needed. Deciding when to do that is a sign of education, discipline and experience. It’s also something that truly creative people can do easily.

Some people see forests, some people see trees, few people see both. Few people can understand a singular tree, how it works even in the most basic of principles – photosynthesis is a rote answer, misunderstood, osmosis is a concept that only can be learned through a permeable membrane. Nutrients, soil types, root types… all are lost if they are not found, and so a person can be limited only to the patently obvious, the growth above the ground.

And then people will look at a forest, not understanding the complex interactions with the pollination vectors, the mycorrhizal networks,  the air flow and the concentrations of different gases during parts of the day when photosynthesis takes place – and when it doesn’t. How the shape of leaves can affect not just how much photosynthesis happens but how water flows through the forest before it even hits the ground. How just as cattle have the cattle egret to keep them clean, there are creatures that keep the plants safe – and then there are creatures that do not, little microcosms of life and death happening at any given moment, an awkward balance shifting in real time. A cycle. Alive in it’s own right, a body of systems, perhaps even a consciousness of sorts that we cannot understand. Religion and fiction have played with this subject.

So, when we look at a problem, we have to understand the tree – each tree. And we also have to understand the forest, the complex interactions between trees and the other flora and fauna around them.

To often we have specialists that do only one or the other; we need people who can do both.

Whole

Beware Pinheaded Smurfs with CoffeeLet that feeling
Born in shadow
Let it make you
Make you strong

Let the demons
You got to carry
Carry you on and on and on

‘Cause all these things, all these things are yours
All these things, all these things are yours
Oh oh, all these things, all these things are yours

– “All These Things Are Yours”, Dopamine,
Third Eye Blind (Jenkins Stephan Douglas),  June 16 2015

That anger, that sadness – all those things you feel and do not understand are a part of you, for better and worse. They are tools in a world that defies the definitions others have given the world long before you were born.

There are truths. Then there is society. Sometimes they’re incompatible – not all the time, and some of the rules are pretty good – not killing, not stealing, (violence is generally a bad idea) etc – and even when others do it legally, ‘within the rules’, you can see the cracks in society – the lies.

And all you can do is apply truth vigorously, live it… and the first part of that is being true to yourself, to who you are.

To allow yourself to be whole. To recognize your flaws, your faults, and fix them as best you can as you own them even when the world might suggest otherwise.