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Monday, February 23, 2004

Air Head


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Why is it that some people do not join organizations or become diehard members of political parties? To answer this question, I turned to an excellent book by Loretta Napoleoni called Modern Jihad and subtitled, Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks.

I am not aware of any terrorist organization in Antigua and Barbuda. Nonetheless, all organizations, legal and illegal, have to abide by their own code. There is discipline among bands of thieves and even in the blazing depths of hell. Napoleoni said she wanted to know how her best friend had become a terrorist and why she had never tried to recruit her (Napoleoni). Her friend explained her motivations and revealed that Napoleoni was judged to be too independent and single-minded to join an armed organization.

Our concern here is not with armed struggle. Our concern is with the basic fact that some people are simply too independent and single-minded to join any organization. This is not to say that political organizations do not have independent thinkers. They do.

Nowadays, a rising level of expression of independent thought is staggering through this country. It can only be good for Antigua and Barbuda. Many of us are caught up in the rapture of the election campaign but we know that it is a time for critical thinking. Then this barefaced, mamaguy, samfie, Solomon O' Gundy, ginal pollster comes and tells us that all of us know, that all of us know (mark you) that general elections are won or lost in the 2 to 3 days before the election. Who is peeping the cards? Who is playing mas? Skylarking!

I have a big problem with anybody, politician or non-politician, trying with their entire academic might to pull wool over my eyes. However, it is quite another thing when a Brer Anancy pollster tries to shear a whole flock of sheep in front my face;
sans humanite, as they say in Trinidad and Tobago. Hear this brother man: Our carnival is in July and August, ah telling you!

So how is something as crucial as a general election won or lost just 2 to 3 days beforehand? Turn the whole Ides of March into one big fete, man. After all, it will still be a party, even though not a political party any more. Have we learnt our lessons so well from our erstwhile masters that we cannot resist the penchant to destroy ourselves? Or is our unmentioned, conniving, ancestral fungus then in West Africa, still infesting us?

Critical thinking should show us that blind obedience is not good for the eyes. Unquestioned obedience is always confined to a solitary answer. “Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them…Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do or die: Into the valley of death rode the six hundred”.

The staggering sense of independence is straightening out more and more people. What’s the use of getting drunk on cavalier nonsense when you can get plastered with a mount gaping with common sense? This means that the patriotic looser can now rest assured that the country will forever be in safe hands. These are not the grasping hands of any politician. They are the critical minds of independent thinkers. These are the ones that will shine the light towards the right part and party.

But wait a minute! Following the independent thinker is not real independence. Everyone must follow one’s own lodestar, from incandescent fluorescent to iridescent flambeau. This disparate light brigade will atone for the desperate, idiotic Charge of the Light Brigade 150 years ago. Welcome to our second, true-fu-true Independence, where we will be strong and firm in peace or danger to safeguard our native land.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Ones of a Kind


Dr. Lester CN Simon

It is a truth, universally accepted, that sickness and health are attended unequally by luck, money, common sense and good governance. Doctors struggle to square this trapezium. We try to keep up with dazzling advances in medicine and to fulfil the needs of our patients.

So what’s the fuss about the milestone news on cloning and stem cells? Let’s start with fertilization. This is the process in which genetic material in the sperm from the male unites with genetic material in the egg from the female.

Except for egg cells in the ovary in females and sperm cells in the testis in males, all other cells in humans have 46 genetic materials. Egg cells and sperm cells contain only 23 genetic materials. When the egg and the sperm combine during fertilization, the offspring will then have the full complement of 46 genetic materials.

Cloning is an attempt to create cells that are genetically identical to an original cell. This is a radical departure from natural fertilization in which the offspring is not genetically identical to the mother or the father but rather it is a genetic composite of both parents.

In cloning, the egg is manipulated outside the body before the sperm is introduced. The sperm is not used at all. The 23 genetic materials in the egg are removed. These are then replaced by 46 genetic materials from other cells which already have the ready-made 46 genetic materials. The egg does not realize that the new 46 genetic materials did not come from the natural combination of 23 from the egg and 23 from the sperm.

After this false fertilization by manually inserting into the empty egg, the ready-made 46 genetic materials, special chemicals called growth factors and others are added. The egg is fooled into growing and developing as if a normal egg had been fertilized by the sperm.

With nuff respect to the women of POWA in particular and to all women in general, the indispensable role of the egg should be underscored. After removing the 23 genetic materials from the egg, the egg is still essential for the implantation of the ready-made 46 genetic materials from another cell. In effect, a female’s empty egg can be falsely fertilized by the 46 genetic materials in cells from herself, another female or a male. The male’s sperm cannot perform this receptive, nurturing function.

In the landmark study just published, the ready-made 46 genetic materials were provided by the same female that provided the egg. The researchers also tried to clone male cells by using cells from the ear lobe. They were unsuccessful. With all respect to the eminent scientists, a woman would have told them that since men just don’t listen, they should have taken the 46 genetic materials from some other part of the male’s anatomy! Any suggestions?

Stem cells refer to cells that give rise to other cells. They do this after fertilization, throughout pregnancy and for our entire life. All types of cells in the body are derived from stem cells. These include blood forming cells, heart cells, nerve cells, etc. Stems cells that are made soon after fertilization are more potent than those made as we grow older.

In many diseases, the underlying problem is a fault with the stem cell and this fault is passed on to the regular cells, which become dysfunctional. Such diseases include sickle cell disease, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and brain diseases, among others.

The value of manufacturing stem cells is that it is hoped that stem cells may one day be injected into patients to replace the deranged stem cell that caused the disease. This is referred to as therapeutic cloning since the idea is to clone cells only to harvest the potent stem cells early for the treatment of diseases. Alternatively, reproductive cloning refers to cloning an animal or a human being by allowing the cloning process to go all the way after implanting the falsely fertilized egg in a woman’s uterus.

There are many ethical and legal issues about cloning. Regarding reproductive cloning, take a look in the mirror. You should like what you see but do you really think we can tolerate another one exactly like you in this world? When in a fit of rage you tell your “what-ever” daughter that you wish she will have children just like her, do you really want your wish granted?

Concerning therapeutic cloning, it is a truth, locally accepted, that we are struggling to walk like moko jumbie to see a new hospital on the hill while we are crawling like ground lizard to barely see to Holberton hospital on the plain.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Call and Response


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Sometimes in our lives, we get lucky. It is said that good luck is when preparation meets opportunity. So being lucky does not necessarily mean winning large sums of money. It can come from hearing a few bars of wonderful music, seeing a beautiful painting, or catching an overwhelming feeling in church. These moments seem to be in perfect harmony with nature. They represent a flash flood of ethos that causes the mind to become awash with respect for the limitless potential of the human spirit.

A few nights ago, preparation and opportunity collided when I heard the broadcast of an ALP political meeting in which a member of the audience urged the speaker to, “Talk as you like!” Most listeners have been concentrating on the words of the speaker and his superhuman feat of building a tamarind tree. My concentration was on the response of the audience. Taken together, the broadcast was a case of call-and-response that sits right up there with any fine piece of music that I would call simply classical.

In the opening pages of Calypso & Society, the author, Gordon Rohlehr referred to the work of the ethnomusicologist, Dena Epstein who wrote about the characteristic West African nature of the call-and–response musical form. Rohlehr noted that this musical element exists in Calypso and in folksong throughout the Caribbean. Indeed it has influenced Blues, Jazz, and other forms and styles of black music in the United States and the Caribbean. Some regard it as a defining feature of all black music.

Call-and –response is a musical style in which a leader sings a line (call) and a
chorus sings a line (response) alternately. At political and other meetings and in some churches, the response takes on the artful task of punctuating the speaker. The speaker has to be very mindful of the fact that he or she is the one in charge. If the speaker loses sight of this basic fact, the responding audience can become the caller, and the caller can be thrown out of rhythm, rhyme and reason.

The call-and-response interplay of the Tamarind Tree speech resonated because it was a classical involvement of the audience. This nexus between the audience and performer is the soul of our music. The music becomes participatory. You cannot watch this music from a distant, double-decker pavilion. Almost like little children clamouring for attention, fine music must be seen, not just heard.

When I listened to the political broadcast, I thought, here was a politician on the government side, organically involved with his audience in the very participatory way that the opposition party claims as its battle cry. Talk as you like! You have more words than he!

Some writers suggest that the interplay of call and response has been around for a long time. They claim that it might have been the first form of human dialogue and the derivation of language. Other writers see the concept of call-and-response as part of the drama of life. By this they mean: What life asks of us, and how we respond.

We are all currently engaged in the fervour of a very crucial call-and-response build-up to a general election in Antigua and Barbuda. Please be careful. Bob Barley said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”. In the heat of the political battle, you may feel you are on a Sauline road to conversion. What with all the dazzling, bright lights!

When you think you are doing the calling, you may in fact be responding to the real call from Jah, Rastafari. Do you really think that you have more words than He? Alternatively, your call may be a response to being led down the garden path of the forbidden fruit by the real serpent, Beelzebub. And please do not blame Eve simply because it is evening time.

If you talk as you like, you may not like what you talk. But if your heart is right, your mind is pure and you really and truly love this beautiful country, all you have to do without fear is open your mouth and : Talk as you like!