CodeLetter boxes Dept.

Phil, a crossword maker

I submit crosswords to the New York Times in my spare time (and usually get a very nice rejection from Will Shortz a few months later). The industry standard software is Crossword Compiler, which is expensive and Windows-only. Until now, I used CMFC, an iPad app. But while at Recurse Center in NYC, Raph Levien and I built Phil, a free and powerful HTML5 puzzle-maker.

Phil imports and exports .PUZ, uses a high-quality custom dictionary, and generates a solvable PDF or NYT submission with one click.

CodeCard-counting Dept.

Anna, a kalooki scorecard

Kalooki is the most popular card game in Jamaica, a staple of family and social gatherings. My aunt Ann Marie, who passed away in October, loved the game. I have many, many fond memories of her kicking my butt.

Anna is a kalooki scorecard and leaderboard. Easily add players, enter scores, “bend the board”, and see exactly how far behind first place you are.

CodeAlliteracy test Dept.

Gary, a game for alliterates

My wife and I love word games — crosswords, Boggle, Scrabble (our set is 25 sq. ft). We both grew up in Jamaica, where a common after-school activity is ‘Boy, Girl, Place, Thing’.

Gary is an alliterative game for 2 or more players. Throw up a card, and scribble answers to the 12 categories before time runs out. To score, eliminate duplicate answers and count the rest.

It’s free, open-source, and easily localized, so you don’t have to learn any US state capitals.

DesignCard choices Dept.

Little Black Deck

Inventing and designing adult playing cards.

DesignStock symbols Dept.

macOS Folders

Custom iconset.

How to change folder icons in macOS

Download iconset

DesignRoom and board Dept.

Jumbo Scrabble

Designing and crafting a wall-mounted Scrabble set.

DesignNew Jersey Dept.

San Francisco Fireballs

Redesigning the kit for my softball team.

DesignMoney talks Dept.

Caribbean Policy Research Institute

Visual rebranding (print, digital, on-site) for the Caribbean's largest think tank.

OpinionTreaty with Contempt Dept.

We should have met Obama with caution, not celebration

From the way we carried on, you’d have thought it was Tessanne Chin inside the blue-and-white Boeing.  President Obama’s two-day visit in April, for him an expediency, was for us a brush with divinity.  Reflecting the mood, this newspaper became a cover-to-cover paean to the quiet American, with rhapsodies from correspondents and columnists, academics and ambassadors.  Devon Dick wanted us to rename a highway.  The state-run JIS released a YouTube video titled ‘Barack on the Rock’, as if we were hosting the lead vocalist from a boy band instead of a man with nuclear launch codes.

Our hero-worship springs from Mr Obama’s mixed-race ascendancy to the Oval Office and his picture-perfect family life — smart wife, solid marriage, sweet daughters.  His unlikely achievements, along with his good looks, make him an easy role model for a former slave colony with one in two absentee fathers.  But the danger of adulation, as in all religions, is not the light on the pulpit but the shadow behind the altar.

Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding, Mr Obama commands the most active military in the world, who makes sure that what America wants, America damn well gets.  A ‘working visit’ from the US president is like a friendly visit from your boss — only one of you gets to relax.  And like an Arnett Gardens helper hosting her Cherry Gardens employer, it happens infrequently (once every 30 years) and requires new curtains (hence the re-paved streets and displaced street vendors).

Mr Obama commands the most active military in the world

Seems wasteful, but we misstep at our peril.  Mr Obama’s foreign policy disregards the developing world, killing Pakistani, Afghani, Somali and Yemeni citizens in the name of freedom.  The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates 50 people were killed by US aerial strikes in May, with a total ticking towards 5,000.  That number may not impress, originating a hemisphere away, where we think terrorists proliferate.  But many of the people being killed aren’t soldiers, they’re civilians like us — farmers, teachers, women, children.

How similar are the victims to Jamaicans?  Momina Bibi, a 67-year-old midwife, was picking okra from her garden when an American drone strike scorched her from the earth in 2013.  Only some of her nine grandchildren were injured by shrapnel, but all of them have been scarred for life.  “I no longer love blue skies,” said Zubair, 13.  “In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.”

Yes, the United States has created a world where brown-skinned children worry the sky will fall on their heads.  And if you think, hey, the leader of the free world is a busy guy, he might not have heard this story, think again — Zubair was testifying before the US Congress.  There has been no apology.  Through thousands of deaths, the commander-in-chief has maintained a culpable silence, broken only when an Italian and American were targeted, which prompted his “profound regret”.

This double-standard isn’t a failing of Mr Obama per se; it’s a prerequisite for the presidency.  Americans believe, as they tell us ad nauseam, that they’re “the greatest country on earth”.  Naturally, their leaders share that exceptionalism.  They can’t elect someone who considers Jamaicans as equals any more than we can elect someone who thinks gays deserve the right to marry.  Mr Obama’s drone warfare is no better or worse than George W Bush’s torture prisons or Bill Clinton’s sanctions, which UNICEF estimates killed 500,000 Iraqi children.  (For perspective, 3,000 Americans died on 9/11.)

Were these leaders from anywhere else, they’d probably appear in front of the International Court of Justice.  But no one wants to risk America’s wrath.  Symbolic gestures must suffice, as in Berlin last year, when the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights asked the German government to charge Mr Bush as a war criminal.  History has a weird sense of humour.

America can’t treat us as equals, because they’re convinced they’re exceptional

None of this is to suggest we should burn rather than hoist the American flag — that would be equally silly.  But until we behave with restraint, and then self-respect, we shouldn’t expect it from others.  Opening his UWI town hall, Mr Obama referenced Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce.  “There’s a lotta people out there.  And they’re the fastest,” he joked, all but leaning forward and playing peek-a-boo.  China produces Olympic weightlifters the way we churn out sprinters, but none of the president’s trips to Beijing have included a shout-out to Lü Xiaojun or Zhou Lulu about how “they’re the strongest.”  Why?  Because that’s how you talk to your middle child, not the Middle Kingdom.

Being small and poor doesn’t have to mean being a doormat.  Last year, economists at Harvard and Dartmouth created an easy metric of global influence: for each country, they simply divided their share of United Nations personnel by their share of world population.  Sweden, staffing 4% of the UN Secretariat with 0.2% of the world’s people, took the top spot, followed by Norway and Finland.  Guess who was No. 8, way ahead of the US?  That’s right — Jamaica, with ten times as much sway as our size would suggest.  The good news is we’ve got a lot of time to learn dignity from our diplomats — the next visit from an American president won’t be until about 2045, via secure teleportation.

A version of this article appeared in The Jamaica Gleaner in print on page G3 on 14 Jun 2015.

OpinionRetired hurt Dept.

The significance of Shivnarine Chanderpaul

In a perfect world, it would have been his swan song.  Two home games against archrival Australia, echoing the India tour only eighteen months earlier, in which he and the sporting world said goodbye to Sachin Tendulkar.  On recent evenings, he might have recalled the electric joy and sadness that filled Wankhede Stadium, and allowed himself a similar daydream — the cameras, the press, the handshakes, the interviews, the guard of honour led by Michael Clarke, and above all the cheering, jeering, gyrating crowd in Sabina Park, all gathered to witness his final walk from pavilion to pitch.

It was not to be.  The West Indies selectors did not pick Shivnarine Chanderpaul against the men from Oz, creating a rather harsher exit for the 40-year-old veteran — dropped from his team, with all the ignominy and inadequacy of an aging spouse left holding the alimony cheque.  When the glint of the axe appeared, Chanderpaul texted his old teammate and new coach Phil Simmons, requesting clemency.  There was none.  “Unfortunately,” Simmons replied, “length of service is not a criterion for selection.”

Were Chanderpaul regarded with the reverence accorded George Headley, Garry Sobers, Vivian Richards or compatriot Brian Lara, such a blunt coda would be inconceivable.  But where those batsmen displayed panache and grace at the stumps, the elfin Guyanese has only ever had a kind of awkward utilitarianism to offer, full of quirks and oddities.  We enjoy when great players make success look easy; Chanderpaul, from start to finish, revealed cricket to be hard work.  And his Indian heritage made entry to Windies sainthood difficult, since it is unfairly reserved for the more Afrocentric (witness our undying pride in the heroes that ‘blackwashed’ England in the 1980s).

Unlike other greats, the elfin Guyanese plays with a kind of awkward utilitarianism

Moreover, his dismissal seemed to fit one of the ur-stories of sport — the elite athlete, singularly focused, deaf to criticism and blind to his declining powers, who must finally be ushered off for his own sake as much as ours (see Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong et al).  But Chanderpaul deserves better, if not from the WICB then from us, the unwashed masses.  He is likely gone from the international stage, but we can at least remember him well, and for what he was — the last of the great West Indian juju-men.

Of the 3,000 souls to ever play Test cricket, only 35 have retired with a batting average over fifty, only 24 have survived two decades, and only eight have done both, among them Headley, Sobers and Chanderpaul.  Even that illustrious company belies his unique contribution, because no one in those shortlists — which, lest you forget, contains the greatest batsmen of all time — remained unbeaten at the wicket more often (18%), a fitting crown for the man who Shane Warne complained “you need[ed] to crowbar away from the crease.”  The Guyanese ‘Tiger’ earned his stripes in 164 Tests, more than anyone else in a maroon cap, as many as Chris Gayle’s and Marlon Samuels’s entire careers combined.  He was, in brief, the most reliable batsman in history.

What the numbers cannot divulge is that Chanderpaul was also the last West Indian with that special mystique, the last one who knew the pungent linseed-oil smell of dominance firsthand, who felt an unbroken lineage of calypso custodians behind every cover drive, who could conjure the spectre of defeat in his opponents simply by padding up.  His disappearance marks the dying breath of the greatest dynasty in sport, from 1978 to 1995, when the West Indies ruled the world.  All that’s left now are a bunch of orphans, scrounging for scraps at the foot of the ICC rankings table.

Shiv’s disappearance marks the dying breath of the greatest dynasty in sport

To be fair, the decline in Windies cricket is a misnomer, more accurately described as stagnation amidst a rise elsewhere.  Just as sabermetrics upended baseball, creating new winners and losers, so cricket transformed itself in the 1990s from a game of talent to a game of training and technology, a change that benefited richer nations at the expense of the poorer.  Thus Australia, England, and South Africa have batted the top spots between them since 1995, while Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the West Indies (alongside newcomers Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) continue to struggle.

This more precise, more demanding, more lucrative sport has less room for anomalies like the boy from Unity Village, whose crab-like stance, unorthodox shuffle-step and overall eccentricity would now be excised in the name of efficiency and an IPL contract.  (Plus, you can’t take your guard with LCD light-up bails.)  For better or worse, the game has moved on, rejuvenated for a new century, with restless impatience for nostalgia.  All the old generals (Jayawardene, Kallis, Tendulkar) have fallen.  The last man standing — as always, as it should be — was Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Correction: The version of this article which appeared in The Jamaica Gleaner online and in print on pages G1 and G6 on 7 Jun 2015 contained the mixed metaphor ‘ignite the spectre of defeat’. The sentence has been amended.