gall and gumption

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Real Man

Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns, and Money notices an almost obsessive preoccupation with masculinity in Death in the Afternoon. I started writing a comment and it got away from me and then it was too long for the comment box. Just as well, really. Here it is:

I've never been able to read Death in the Afternoon because accounts of animal suffering give me nightmares. But I can speak from A Moveable Feast, that conversation between Hemingway and Gertrude Stein on the subject of male homosexuality. The men that he professed to dislike were not effeminate; they were even more he-man than himself, the guys who lived and worked in logging camps or on construction projects in the wilds of Michigan. Orwell, I think in Down and Out in Paris and London, has a long passage about how men who are solitary and down and out are invisible to women. They are isolated in this all-male world, lonely and sexually frustrated. As we know from all those awful prison jokes, men so isolated have sex with one another. I do not think you could state this explicity in a book intended for the general reader in Orwell's lifetime: you could only circle around it. That is, the woods and dark alleys and lonely country roads were scary for men for the exact same reason they were scary for women. Unwanted sexual attention occurs. I think in that conversation with Gertrude Stein Hemingway is trying to explain this, referring, obliquely, to encounters he may have had in Michigan.

But I do think that Hemingway's apparent preoccupation with his masculinity is more accurately a preoccupation with authenticity; even Hemingway's admirers often misunderstood this difference, and a whole genre of "hard-boiled" imitation Hemingway emerged out of this misunderstanding. Hemingway spent a good part of his life on the edge of a nervous breakdown. There appears to have been a family predisposition to frighteningly severe clinical depression. Hemingway's father committed suicide, as did Hemingway and one of his granddaughters. You can see it in his novels: his protagonists are drawn to model themselves, or simply buddy up to, people they judge to be more authentic and "whole" than themselves, who are usually so by virtue of their intense involvement in art or sport. (There's real insight in this; these activities demand intense concentration, which is one of the best ways of tricking oneself out of depression, at least temporarily.) Hemingway treats his "inauthentic" characters with unmitigated scorn. And then, his writing style itself, there is a dogged stripping out of all ornamentation, of anything that might appear to have come to him from somewhere else--basically, from other literature tainted with phoniness. Sure, this particular strategy was one theme of the modernism of Pound and Stein and the other mentors, the rejection of pre-war cultural forms etc. But with Hemingway I think there's more in it than that; for me, reading his most "Hemingwayesque" prose is like watching someone chewing their fingernails till they bleed. It makes A Farewell To Arms absolutely unreadable for me.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Have you ever been to Antigua? I first went there in 2000. I arrived there Christmas day, alone. Alone in Antigua Christmas Day? Yeah. I liked it. My mother and stepdad arrived late that night, for a two-week stay at a vacation home belonging to a friend of my mother's. A couple years later, when I was living in St. Kitts I made quite a few trips to and through Antigua. I had a therapist in Antigua for a while. In fact, I spent so much time in the Antigua airport that I nicknamed its departure lounge The Pink Purgatory. In the Pink Purgatory hangs a portrait of V.C. Bird, patriarch of the Bird family that ruled Antigua for some 50 years. The airport is named after him and is sort of a shrine to him, which, under the circumstances, is very fitting. They should have stuffed and mounted him and placed him in there for tourists to marvel at, because, you know, we need to pause and think from time to time, about what one man with enterprise, resourcefulness, and cunning can do, even to in a small country, and that little oil painting really doesn't do justice to the scale and scope of his achievement.

Some--not all--you can read in this report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. [It's a PDF] If you're pressed for time, just read the section about the Bird family and the one titled "Systemic Corruption." You can only wonder how so much crookedness can fit into such a small geographical space. The story of the airport is there. And the story of how the Bird government (under papa V.C.)--the government of a black, Commonwealth country--was caught transshipping arms to the apartheid government of South Africa in violation of the embargo in place at the time; of the arms shipments from some skeezy Israeli arms dealer to the Medellin cartel; Ivor Bird, the youngest of V.C. Bird's sons, boarding a plane for the U.S. with a briefcase containing 25 lbs of cocaine; the smuggling into Antigua of a 1932 Rolls Royce that had belonged to Robert Bradshaw, the late Premier of St. Kitts (the rumor persists that the Rolls was packed up with drugs); steady attacks on civil liberties and on the trade unions; a cheerful lack of curiosity about the provenance of the money that was pouring into the offshore finance sector (regulated, to all intents and purposes, by Stanford); journalists systematically harassed with lawsuits and newspaper offices destroyed in mysterious fires; the most brazen electoral corruption you could hope to see anywhere--they even forged documents on OAS stationery when the OAS was observing the elections. And this list doesn't include the continuous petty corruption, the very essence of the Big Man political culture that is the curse of Caribbean life, the rule of bootoo, the complete lawlessness at the very top, that had ravaged the country. The Birds were not going anywhere, they were entrenched. The CSIS report was written in 1999. Stanford had been in Antigua for 10 years. What do you suppose he was doing there in those ten years? Playing dominoes?

Before moving Stanford Investments to Antigua, he had been in business for 15 years in Montserrat, which is about as close to Antigua as you can be without being in Antigua. Stanford left Montserrat before the 1995 eruption of Mt. Soufriere that buried the capital city, Plymouth, which had been one of the best-preserved and picturesque colonial cities in the Caribbean. Like the other remaining British possessions in the region, Montserrat does offshore business. There is a peculiar charm to the culture of these places. They are very conservative, really rather Victorian, and they still have all these little quirks that remind you of the old ways of colonialism--little Britishnesses everywhere, and a certain quiet stodginess that, you may be startled to discover, is altogether genuine. It's the sort of place where on Sunday everybody is in church and not at the beach. Money deposited there would be--resting, I suppose, in this unhurried gentle environment, a sort of nursing home for your money, where it would be well-looked after by people with charming accents, quaint, old-fashioned Victorian manners. Perhaps when you went and visited your money, it would smell like lavender, floor wax, and freshly ironed linen, or whatever legitimacy, propriety, authenticity, and exclusivity and secure empire smell like. Whatever it smelled like, I'd like to suggest that Stanford got a whiff of it in Montserrat.

Because the very first thing that meets your eyes as you exit the V.C. Bird International airport is the Stanford International Bank, a spick-and-span, imposing Georgian-style building, that manages to be both imposing and discreet. It is impossible, arriving in Antigua, not to ask, "What is that building?" If you visit Antigua and have never heard of Stanford before, this is probably how you will learn of his existence. Why, here is something very large and important that you didn't even know about! Shows how "with it" you are! And then, you see, most offshore operations are really discreet. They don't have a big building dominating the entrance to the airport. One office with a little doorplate, a receptionist at the front, half dead with boredom.

You are not five minutes out of the airport--you don't really feel you've left it--when the next thing you notice is a great big cricket pavilion that looks like no other cricket pavilion on this earth as it is a sort of eruption of Postmodern Ugliosity, vaguely evocative of those really big Chuck E. Cheeses, the ones with the giant mouse in the glass bubble embedded in the wall. This is the Stanford pavilion. You may begin to wonder whether everything in Antigua is named after Allen Stanford. In places like Antigua the airport is a source of national pride. And here is Stanford just crowded up into prime real estate next to it. And what an odd place for a cricket ground. But nobody seems to think there is anything strange about this. And you listen to the way people talk about him and you start to feel as though he has done Antigua the great favor of colonizing it and making it live up to standards. And you don't know what it is about the whole idea that bothers you, and you don't want to think about it because it's not your problem, you're always so cranky and negative, and so you quickly come to regard Stanford as the Great All-Seeing Bore of Antigua,

Or perhaps the Great All-Eating Bore of Antigua.

He ate the offshore sector. He then set to work to devour the government. He did this by lending them money and taking payment in land and who knows all told what other concessions. He seems to want to eat the media. During the period of the Medical Benefits Scandal, in 2000, Lester Bird tried to shut down the two independent and courageous media outlets that in the face of all sorts of intimidation were reporting on the corrupt doings in that complete disaster. This was real journalism. Tim Hector, who founded and ran the Outlet, and the Derrick brothers, are among my journalism heroes. You can read a little about them here. And you may well ask yourself, after you get to this little tidbit--

Yet another legal case involved the firing of two top editors from The Antigua Sun, Louis Daniel and Horace Helps. The firing took place around the time of the 1999 election, in which Prime Minister Bird was returned to office. The paper's owner, R. Allen Stanford, has close ties to Bird. Daniel and Helps were fired when they staged a sickout to protest the spiking of an article that contained critical comments about the prime minister. On December 21, 2000, the Industrial Court ruled in favor of the journalists. Stanford was ordered to pay a total of 72,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars (US$26,000) in compensation and had a month to do so, Daniel told CPJ.

--what did Stanford want to own a newspaper for? Not for freedom of the press, apparently. Tim Hector is dead (whose Outlet archives should be required reading for anyone reporting on Stanford or the Birds), and the one surviving independent newspaper, the Observer, has no resources. I mean, what does Antigua have for a press right now? Stanford could afford to run his newspaper at a loss, or simply wait out the defeat of the competition. But why? Why does there need to be a Stanford newspaper?

What did he want to own an airline for? If you traveled in the Eastern Caribbean during all these years you were having an experience that made no sense. Among regionally based carriers, two dominated the market (That is, I'm not talking about the big ones like American Airlines or American Eagle): LIAT, which had been around since the early 1970s and was owned by a consortium of regional governments (wait a minute--was that socialism I just smelled?), and the Stanford airlines, Caribbean Sun and Caribbean Star (which we might as well consider as one, just for simplicity's sake). They competed for routes, and no matter how low LIAT's prices went, the Stanford fares went lower. LIAT was struggling to keep its planes in the air on the reduced fares that it was charging just to keep within sight of Stanford. So his airlines had to have been losing money. Nevertheless, when LIAT was finally so hard pressed as to have to seek a buyer, he magnanimously stepped forward and ate it. It was a rather peculiar arrangement:

Meanwhile, the Liat, Caribbean Star merger is said to be on track along the same lines as previously announced with the parties to the merger of hope to sign on the dotted within a few days, according to a joint release from both airlines.

The governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines, which are primary shareholders of LIAT are said to be reviewing an agreement for Liat to purchase Caribbean Star, is expected to be completed by the end of April 2007.

In order to allow the new entity to start debt free, in a separate transaction from the purchase agreement, the Stanford Financial Group will lend US$55 million to the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The loan is to allow the governments to provide funds to liquidate LIAT's financial liabilities, as well as to provide working capital. The joint release noted that US$11 million out of the total sum has already been advanced.

The loan is on commercial terms and has been guaranteed by the three governments. It is expected to be repaid to the Stanford Financial Group from the proceeds of an Initial Public Offering of LIAT stock.

Well, I am not brilliant at deal-making, but it looks to me as though Stanford owns that new merged airline until the regional governments and the employees pay off the note. And I notice, too, a resemblance to another deal, Michael Ashcroft's eating of the entire telecommunications infrastructure of Belize; bones guest appearances by WorldCom and Jeffrey Prosser. None of the details of this sale, or much about LIAT's history, are mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for LIAT, where we learn, however, that at least Stanford bought the airline in time for Antigua Sailing Week! He had eaten this prestigious international sailing event some time before.

On April 10, 2008, in celebration of the 41st anniversary of the Stanford Antigua Sailing Week, sailboats will be travelling the skies. As a Silver Sponsor of the Stanford Antigua Sailing Week, LIAT has replaced the usual white fuselage on one of its Bombardier Dash 8 300 aircraft with a brightly coloured, nautical themed livery featuring sailboats on the ocean, as well as the Stanford Antigua Sailing Week logo. The aircraft that was painted is registered as V2-LFU. This happens to be LIAT's first and only special schemed aircraft.

Thirty years of history serving the Eastern Caribbean, and the great thing is that the plane will have some sort of harmonic branding convergence.

[[AQ: Do you mean to suggest that it's been Stanford Antigua Sailing Week for 41 years?]]

What was this about, really? Does it begin to seem even a little crazy to you?

He also owns a sizable chunk of golf, and some soccer, and a charity polo match played at Sandhurst, the British army officer training college.

And how he found room to eat cricket, well, I don't know, but he ate that too. He buys into cricket because of its traditions and then immediately changes the rules of the game and the manner of awarding prizes--that is, dispensing with the traditions that are supposedly part of its appeal to him--arriving on the cricket field in a helicopter, and showing off his own personal plexiglas viewing stand, which (I can't help myself) I envision as some sort of variation on the Chuck E. Cheese thing.

Stanford's facade of respectablity and genteel colonial discretion kept slipping, revealing the leer of the power-drunk vulgarian. To your left, the Georgian building; to your right, Chuck E. Cheese Cricket Pavilion. He becomes Sir Allen Stanford. My first reaction when I heard of his "knighthood" is that the honors system had really gone to the dogs. And then an American just looks like an idiot sporting a title anyway, you're just embarrassed for them. But it is an Antiguan knighthood, and he may well be the only person in the world to possess such a thing.

There were the two newspapers, one in Antigua and one in St. Kitts, launched apparently with a view that serious good journalism was that which supported Allen Stanford and all whom he blessed with his smiles. Any other function of a newspaper--provided it did not conflict with the primary purpose--was simply the overflowing of his bounty. It was all about controlling appearances while corrupting the original thing, the concept of what a newspaper could or should be expected to do. And it never seemed to cross his mind that Antiguans might deserve better than this.

Outside of the region it was impossible to see these things over the years. I mean, if he said he was a descendant of Leland Stanford, why not believe him? Why bother to check it out? You don't check out billionaires.

He was investing in prestige, which all tended to the creation of the appearance of legitimacy that would hook the sort of rich customers he wanted. It was the duty of Antiguans to support his credibility. They had an interest in believing it or at least helping to sustain it. How much choice did they have? Not everybody had Tim Hector's courage. If it turned out that the people of Antigua could not look within the institutions of their own society for justice and truth, well, that was the free market for you. If you didn't like it, you could leave your Stanford-created job and sit at the side of the road and eat breadfruit. This is the context in which it is necessary to view Stanford's charitable activities and all his purported benefits: when a person cheats you of justice, you do not owe him gratitude for charity. Charity is his way of paying less than he owes, and the more noise he makes about his goodness to you, the greater the discount he is taking.

But there's this other dimension; these activities are his self-expression, the creation of an identity as a benign Big Man who enjoys the finer things in life (airlines, golf, cricket). Looking at his career you are looking at the howling chaos of that peculiarly American characterlessness--of people who are driven to manufacture themselves out of prefabricated materials, who seem to be fleeing some horrible knowledge of the self that must shun the light of day. Just as he believes that freedom of the press exists if he owns a newspaper, so he believes that he his self exists if he can read his name on the side of an an airplane. You don't know whether it is just ignorance or the grossest cynicism; maybe it's alternating layers of both.

When I was in St. Kitts he had what appears to have been a falling out with Lester Bird. The Medical Benefits Scandal had been very damaging to Bird. Stanford announced that he was going to move his airline and real estate operations to St. Kitts. Stanford bought prime lands next to the Robert Bradhsaw airport, just outside of Basseterre, paying pennies on the dollar for them. This land happened to be the playing field for the village of Conaree, just past the airport, but of course the playing field would have to go. Government would get them a new playing field. Stanford needed the airport lands and he needed them now. You did not dilly-dally with a billion dollars. Why should Antigua have all the benefits? Odd, isn't it, how you have to keep giving and giving and giving things to the man who has a billion dollars. What if you just stopped? What if you just said, "No, go away, we don't need it, piss off." I left St. Kitts and Nevis in 2004. Shortly afterwards, Stanford apparently came to an accommodation with Bird, who issued a statement denying there had ever been any problem, but he lost the elections that year anyway. The newspaper in St. Kitts kept going (though I don't know what their fate will be if he can't continue to subsidize them), but the offices on the Conaree playing fields were never completed. The landscape of the Caribbean is littered with the ruins of such follies.

Like Little Nut, he had begun using his own product--not just the investor cash that he was burning up, but the fiction about what he was doing, and the myth of identity that he went to such lengths to create.

There may be yet a third dimension.

But independent banking consultants said Stanford mainly tempted clients with the promise of outsize returns that in fact created risk with two sister companies taking in clients. Francisco J. Faraco, an economist who specializes in the Venezuelan banking system, said Stanford had done brisk business in the last two years by luring Venezuelan depositors with dollar-denominated certificates of deposits from Antigua.

By putting their money in such securities, Venezuelan investors are believed to have both contributed to the capital flight that has weakened the local currency — the bolívar — and profited from it, transferring hard currency back to Venezuela on the black market to acquire some goods denominated at the official exchange rate.

Mr. Faraco estimated that as much as 30 percent of Stanford International Bank’s $8 billion in reported assets last year came from Venezuelans.

It was the second time in five months that Stanford was embroiled in intrigue in Venezuela. In late October, agents with the Military Intelligence Directorate carried out a raid on Stanford’s headquarters here. In statements to state television, government officials said the raid was related to suspicions of espionage by three Stanford employees.

They also claimed to be searching for information on offshore accounts held by Manuel Rosales, a prominent opposition politician who ran against Mr. Chávez for the presidency in 2006. Mr. Rosales is currently the mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second-largest city.

“They were seeking information on some former employees of the bank who were under investigation in an espionage case here in Venezuela,” Ms. Hernández, the Stanford spokeswoman, told The Times. “The case did not advance.”

Stanford has also previously drawn the gaze of law enforcement officials investigating money-laundering activity in the region.

Someone, no doubt, is watching over him.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kia's House of Horrors Advice Bleg

OK this is going to sound funny but if you were here maybe you wouldn't think it was so funy. About a week ago I got a new cell phone, and it is much louder than my previous cell phone. I have to hold it away from my ear. Also it has this really annoying alert that goes off when someone has left a message.

The phone is keeping Sweetie in a state of terror. When it rings she trembles violently and tries to hide--under my desk or behind the pillows on the bed. She dislikes the message alert, of course, and has quickly learned to associate it with me talking on the phone. So even if I make the call, the mere fact that I am on the phone means for her impending terror. Also possibly she hears the squeaking of the other party's voice and may be frightened of that too. What she'd really like to under this onslaught is bolt from the vicinity. That cannot happen of course, as we are in our nice secure apartment. But I can see the effects already spreading throughout her "lifestyle" if you will. She is starting to dislike being in the apartment, is reluctant to come inside when we get home from a walk, if I make a move toward the door she is there before me, and if I go outside for a few minutes she greets me on my return as if I just rescued her from a shipwreck. Yesterday she tried to claw her way out through the screen in the window, and somehow managed to scrape some skin off the side of her nose. And then of course aside from these more sensational manifestations she is miserable, not her usual high-spirited self.


Monday, February 09, 2009

buckner: Latest Post-Post

Please forgive this one last “post-modern” sighting. For the past two years I have worked as a translator of Italian art catalog criticism and interviews. It is very tedious work; art criticism in general is some of the worst writing in the world, and I’d say the Italian variety is up among the most intolerable. Even the guy I work for, when I complain about the thickness of the writing says, “It’s writing about art. Who reads it? Five people!” In a perfectly serious review I translated yesterday I found this (my translation of the Italian):
The result is binding; the nervous and convulsive drawing of the traversers, in blacks and reds, that plants seeds of disorder in the calm and meticulous scene, is not the latest citation in the history of painting, but rather a new, energetic, and very provocative proposition, which could be called post-post-modern.

Al Stephens saw this coming.

Monday, February 02, 2009


It may have flashed on your screen for a second or so that a man was hanged for murder in St. Kitts on Dec. 19 -- the first execution in 10 years.

The execution closed out a year in which St. Kitts-Nevis saw 22 murders. The last killing of 2008 was particularly brazen and outrageous: a drive-by shooting on Nov. 30, outside of a nightclub in a village called Cayon. Two people were killed and four were injured. When you consider that the island's population is about 40,000, then you can appreciate that 22 in one year is a very high murder rate.

When I was in the Federation in 2002-2004 gun crimes were much less frequent, but the gang problem was in evidence. On Friday afternoons work sort of coasts to a halt in Basseterre, and people come out of offices and shops and linger about the street to socialize. Vendors sell treats and a local calypsonian sets up a speaker box and a mike and sells CDs of his own music. Some people hit the downtown bars for a beer or two, sitting at the outdoor tables or on the balconies, it's all very social and pleasant. But that's among the grownups. Walking among them are De Yout', small groups of young men from their early teens into their early twenties, on the same sidewalks at the same time. The two groups, the older workers and the troops of De Yout', don't really interact. They share the physical space but each group inhabits a social space remote from the other. Two parallel universes. Well before dark most of the workers and businesspeople will go home, some to rest and dress for the real "lime" that actually starts after ten, at the beach bars and nightclubs. And then later that night you heard that police had to break up a bottle-throwing war on those exact same respectable downtown streets.

One of the earliest editorials I wrote as a newspaper editor in St. Kitts deplored a trend I noticed in the gang attacks (some fatal, some not) that were occurring on the island. It was common for several attackers to jump on one individual. When David "Grizzly" Lawrence was killed in 2002, for example, it was five or six young guys who chased him out of a nightclub and stabbed him to death with knives and at least one ice pick. One of the accused said they attacked him because Lawrence had bumped into him while dancing.

But here's something about Lawrence. He had been a bodyguard and who knows what other functionary for Charles "Little Nut" Miller. It was Lawrence who was charged with killing the police officer Jude Matthew, who was helping the DEA keep an eye on Miller. Lawrence was tried three times for killing Matthew, and each time there was a hung jury. But in 2002, with Miller in federal prison in the U.S., Lawrence was a guy who had run with the biggest gangster, who was supposed to have killed a police officer, who had walked away free from three trials for murder, and who might have been enjoying political patronage, of the kind that Little Nut or Vivian Blake had enjoyed in Jamaica.

If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.

When the guys (six at first, but two were released without charge) who allegedly attacked Lawrence were arrested and charged, there were cheering crowds at the courthouse, their fans. The court reporter at the paper told me this, She didn’t like court reporting; her real interest was fashion and music and the “youth” beat. She asked me if she could refer to the suspects in her story as “The Fantastic Four.” I don’t know when I’ve ever taken so much satisfaction in saying, simply and bluntly, “No.” At subsequent court appearances of the Fantastic Four, the cheering fans faithfully attended.

Well, it would be worth doing what I have no means to do now: look at the number of convictions and the types of sentences that are given over the last 9-10 years, and – this is important – who keeps turning up in connection with some of these serious crimes, and the web of family relations and political allegiances to which they belong.

After the Nov. 30 shooting in Cayon, the Prime Minister, Denzil Douglas, made a very angry speech about violence and values in his weekly radio broadcast, "Ask the Prime Minister." People were not raising children with the care that they had when he was a boy, etc. Then there was a flurry of activity -- a "national consultation" and the hiring of a crime consultant, a former FBI agent, among other things -- and then, out of a clear blue sky, a notice of execution posted on the wall of the prison barely 24 hours before the deed was to be done.

The man who was executed was Charles LaPlace, aged 40, from the village of Fig Tree. He had killed his wife, Diana, in a fit of rage, the kind of rage that you see in, say, the tragedies of Euripides. There were witnesses, the neighbors who tried unsuccessfully to stop him.

That was one of a few what I guess you could call "monster" killings--as distinct from "gangster" killings that have occurred there. An enraged spouse or boyfriend attacks the woman in his life. I would not be surprised to learn that these crimes are the end of a pattern of domestic and relationship abuse. If you really wanted to prevent that kind of crime, you'd have domestic violence shelters and you would have maybe an educational campaign telling women to leave if they are physically abused, and then you'd have strong domestic violence laws and actually enforce them.

It was reasonable for a man under sentence of death to expect that the sentence would not be carried out, either because the sentence would be thrown out, or simply because a sort of inertia in the country’s justice system was tending that way. Even Jamaica, with its violence and extrajudicial killings and its recent re-endorsement of the death penalty, rarely carries out executions. Now, clearly, that state of affairs doesn't guarantee that someone won't be executed. But it does open the question of what a government is up to when it suddenly bucks its own trend.

That’s why I was struck by the abruptness of the proceedings in the hanging of Charles LaPlace. Later on Dec. 19, Dr. Douglas referred to the execution during the budget debate in Parliament.

“Another life taken. It is a human life, but we have to be certain that there is a deterrent among our people in taking another man’s life. We have a resolve to deal with the issue of crime and violence in this country,” said Prime Minister Douglas in the National Assembly during debate of the 2009 Budget for the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

But if you wanted to use the death penalty to deter people from committing gang crime, why not execute a person who committed one of those? Why hang a 40-year-old man who killed his wife in a fit of homicidal rage? Why kill a man who was not, whatever else he might have been, a gangster?

LaPlace had apparently not exhausted his appeals; he had missed the filing deadline. How was that possible?

Dr. Douglas, who is also Minister of National Security, disclosed that a Notice of Appeal was later filed with the Court of Appeal but was dismissed on the 29th October 2008 for being filed out of time.

LaPlace did not have a lot of money. Fig Tree is not a village of rich people. And where in other cases, family and friends might be tapped for help (not just money but influence) I think the revulsion that people felt at the crime they witnessed put that out of the question. In effect, he had been abandoned.

Second was possibly the reasonable assumption that justice would be considered served if LaPlace stayed in prison—that there was no urgency in the case, that the death sentence was in effect a sort of formality that would, in due course of time, be commuted to life, and since it would not be carried out, one could go about appealing it in a rather desultory way.

The third theory is that LaPlace’s lawyer was completely incompetent.

When a thing should not be done at all, it’s a moot point whether it can be done well or for right motives, but even if I were not completely and unreservedly opposed to the death penalty, I should consider this execution a sin against LaPlace and against justice.

LaPlace was considered disposable; his life could be made use of to send a message totally unrelated to anything he did. He could be made use of in this way because no one would mind. It was a sort of economical thinking at work, macabre, really. Make a statement against crime but make it cheaply, with minimum political cost.

What makes it even worse, to me, is that the “economy” of it is so narrow, the point to be gained so trivial and small. It was throwing a bit of red meat to that portion of the electorate that wanted red meat but didn’t want to pay for it. And in order to do that you had to cheapen the idea of human life and to deny Charles LaPlace his dignity – steal it from him. Because his dignity was his right to stand—even with the hangman’s noose around his neck--as a human being, and not as the object of small political calculations.

Amnesty International protested the execution, of course, and the government reacted with the usual windy, empty defensiveness--part bluster and part whining--with which Caribbean countries meet criticism of their human rights practices. So that was handled.

Worse was yet to come.

If you hang around me for any length of time sooner or later you will hear me use an old Jamaican word, butu. What is butu? Butu is the term you would use to describe a person completely unaware of how disgusting his own actions are until he happens across a three-page account of them in the pages of the Daily Mail, and sees those actions for the first time, not in the context of local, small political calculations, but as a narrative of squalid, callous fecklessness, laid before the eyes of the world: the prison guards playing cards and drinking, within earshot, while LaPlace lay in his cell, weeping and calling for his mother; the hangman a beach gigolo hired for the job and paid EC$1800. It just never occurred to anybody to preempt criticism by ensuring that the whole thing was conducted transparently with a dignified, thoughtful, and appropriately solemn sense of the occasion.

The people of these islands are painfully sensitive to criticism from outside. By which I do not necessarily mean they listen to it and learn: they just let loose the crazy. The Prime Minister responded, though he could hardly be said to offer a substantive refutation of the details.

“Executions are never supposed to be something that one celebrates no matter how many individuals or organizations can defend this act. Executions are serious; they are sober acts and should be treated as such and that is exactly how this was treated here in St. Kitts and Nevis last month -sober, reflective, serious.”

Douglas asserted that the January 10 “sensational submission to a sensationalist tabloid” could not dictate how the people of St. Kitts-Nevis are viewed, despite it being circulated to over two million people on its date of publication.

“That tabloid cannot define us as a people. We in St. Kitts-Nevis have accomplished a great deal, as did those who came before us. Let us bear that in mind as we continue to calmly move our great country forward…and [that paper] does not have the power to determine who we are and what we are.”

The local response to the article and Amnesty International’s condemnation of Laplace’s hanging has been considerable, with many individuals calling for the executions of other death row inmates to be expedited.

Indeed. Why let some newspaper do what they can do so well for themselves?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

This Time I Really Mean It

Temperatures in the 50s today, sunny, blue sky, the sight of the bare trees all along the lake, like a little teasing reminder of how nice spring will be...

And so help me God:

If you ever happen to hear me propose that it will be nice to take the dogs along on a landscape painting expedition, just take the car keys away from me.