Sunday, February 18, 2018

Jacks of all trades

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SOME persons have expressed surprise that the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) issued a statement in defence of Austin Jack Warner. But it's perfectly logical: what else would an organisation with that acronym do in relation to bribery allegations against the country's most successful black man, if not to insist that it ent Jack?

What surprised me at first was the part of their press release which read, "NJAC finds it very difficult to accept that a man of such intelligence and experience would allow himself to be compromised, as alleged." Yet this is an organisation whose members have absolutely no difficulty accepting myths about geometry being discovered in Egypt instead of ancient Greece; or the Dogon tribe discovering the Sirius B star before anyone else; or combs being invented by an African. Then I remembered that it's impossible for any African person to do anything wrong; and Africans who cheat, murder, or wear shoes only learned to do so from the white colonialists since Africa was perfect before the Europeans came, saw, and died from yellow fever.

Jack himself has often invoked the racial bogey when accused of wrongdoing. He did so 22 years ago in a television interview when he allegedly oversold tickets to the 1989 T&T-USA World Cup qualifying match; and he did it again in an Anna Ramdass report in the Sunday Express this week, saying, "I am in FIFA for 29 consecutive years. I was the first black man to have ever been in FIFA at this level... I must be the envy of others." So maybe it's not coincidental that the allegations of bribery against Warner started in England, for that country has a lot of anti-Jack poetry, which small children learn by heart. Lord Triesman himself must have grown up hearing that Little Jack Horner sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie, he put in his thumb and pulled out a plum, and said "What a good boy am I."

The great British critic Ford Madox Ford pointed out that this rhyme, seemingly innocuous, addresses fundamental questions of good and evil, including whether pie is proof that God exists, or proof that a baker exists, or proof that God is a baker. "If Jack were a good boy," wrote Ford in his classic work The Symbolism of Buttered Parsnips in 17th century English Poetry, "why was he sitting in a corner?



Moreover, the premise on which the protagonist declares his own moral status is dubious, even admitting that extracting a plum with one's thumb requires no little manual dexterity." And when Triesman came to Trinidad, he may have learned that being a horner meant a lack of fidelity, which would have further deepened the negative connotations, though not to a Trini man.

When one considers the many other canards against Jack, it's a wonder that he was even allowed to become a FIFA vice-president, unless he was really expected to be a vice president. Perhaps he was helped by the perception that Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick. No doubt, when Warner got this post, he thought he'd hit the jackpot if not, he certainly wasted no time in creating one. But, as a former history teacher, how could Warner not know that this rhyme, first published in 1798, referred to a pirate named Black Jack, who was notorious for escaping from the authorities in the late 16th century? Then again, maybe he did. As for the tradition of candle-leaping, this originated from an old game of jumping over fires, where people would compete for the entire day and in the evening feast on roast testicles.



Which brings us to Jack Sprat who could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean, so between them both, you see, they licked the platter clean. This is another rhyme which maligns Jack. Why would peasants in the 17th century, when this rhyme originated, wash their wares with their tongues, especially given the moral strictures of that time? Also, since English surnames were based on a man's job, one has to ask what profession a sprat followed. Whatever it is, it doesn't sound very respectable. So when, last Tuesday, Warner sent out a letter urging Caribbean Football Union representatives to support the unopposed presidential candidate, every man jack who's been brought up on these nursery rhymes must have interpreted this as an attempt to lick the Blatter clean.

All this is not to say that Warner is without fault in this imbroglio, After all, "Jack" isn't even his first name, and he decided to use that name instead of the small British car his parents named him after. He had grown up in a world where blackjack is a game in which the player who overplays his hand gets busted: and, having done so, Warner is now in danger of becoming a Jack in the box.

kbaldeosingh@hotmail.com