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Friday, March 23, 2007

Up, Up and Away


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Mirror, mirror on the wall, how do you teach teenagers anything when they are thinking of sex, sex, sex and nothing else at all? The mirror shook violently until it was thrown about in many tiny pieces in all directions. It serves me right for asking a rhetorical question.

Writing meaningfully and truthfully about sex and teenagers is almost always difficult because most adults see teenagers having sex as an interrogative pronoun. Teenagers are having sexual intercourse because it is prohibited, dangerous, powerful and exciting and it makes adults angry. Many teenagers think that everyone else is doing it all the time.

If we want teenagers to stop having sex and being so demonstrative about it we must find other activities that are just as dangerous, powerful, exciting and demonstrative. I can think of one such thing: music. But there are many others. By the time you become a teenager you should have discovered, or have started to explore, or know from watching others, that you can find something (other than sex and drugs) that you feel so passionate about you would live and die for it. No wonder someone said that John Coltrane had the whole of life wrapped up in B flat.

I was terribly disappointed listening to the Trinidad and Tobago Panorama Finals 2007 DVD. Once again, there was very little difference between the first and second placed large bands and the arrangements were formulaic and sterile. The music did not reflect our Caribbean landscape, our rich variety of flora and fauna, our heritage and the range of human emotions. After all these years, is someone saying that all we can do at carnival and panorama is jump and wave like we are jumping from a slave ship? Who dictated that calypso rhythm on steel pan was synonymous with a constant, blazing tempo? And thank heavens they have all stopped the token decrescendo in the middle of the arrangement.

Music, like sex, has become very easy to make. But music, like sex, exists on many levels. The highest form of our music should be played by an orchestra comprising the four instrumental families of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. The percussion family includes steel pan and piano. It requires a large mass of well trained musicians playing various instruments with distinctive timbres. When they interplay musical lines and passages, they make thematic statements and restate them with masterful and even jocular variations. All of this requires more than the foreplay of the usual three-minute pop song. Our musicians must reflect and direct our attention and attitude to each other and to the world around us. When we see and hear the resolution of dissonance and the expression of the full range of human emotions from such a large, diverse ensemble it sends the most powerful and practical signal on earth that we the audience can resolve our problems too.

The classical music magazines are buzzing with the idea that the future of classical music will be in China because of the huge mass and high quality of young musical talents there. It might be tempting to imagine or consult the mirror on the wall again about Chinese musicians teaching music to our children and a local orchestra performing at the Sir Vivian Richard Cricket Stadium which was built by the Chinese. But life and music do not work like that, like magic. They require hard work that starts simply and grows into something as beautiful as it is wonderful and awesome; like sex, a teenager might say.

Incidentally, the Internet records that Bluetooth, the technology used in mobile phones to spread the pictures of school children having sex, was the code name given by mobile phone engineers to honour a tenth-century Viking king, Harald Bluetooth. King Harald was credited for unifying Denmark and bringing order to the country. Bluetooth, to teenagers, is simply the new, unifying chatterbox, in living colour and digital sound to boot.

The time has come for us the adults to go back to school. Choose your primary or secondary school and simply ask the head how you can help. That’s all it takes. Go back to school. Or choose a school if your alma mater is overseas. You might even recall going up and over the same hill that Jack and Jill are climbing. And you might be thankful that mobile phones with camera and Bluetooth technology were not then invented. In our own small ways, like an orchestra actually, we can change teenagers’ views of sex from being a demonstrative pronoun and a gerund to a transitive verb worth waiting for.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Knock Them Dowm


Dr. Lester CN Simon

One of a rare breed of black professionals, an astrophysicist, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, has written a very intriguing essay called The Perimeter of Ignorance. He writes about how easily we call on God when we reach the boundaries of our understanding and forsake Him when we feel certain about our explanations. I am not one to argue with the brilliant and ebullient Dr. Tyson. However, I stand within the boundaries of my understanding, far from my perimeter of ignorance and I do feel absolutely certain and rational about one thing right now. There is a divine explanation for the hosting of the Cricket World Cup in the West Indies whilst we are regarding 200 years since the passing of the act, on 25 March 1807, to abolish the British Empire Atlantic Slave Trade (B.E.A.S.T).

C.L.R James observed that cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. If drama reflects life and history, the next time you witness an exquisite cricket stroke and someone says, “Not a man move”, spare a thought for our ancestors crossing the Atlantic. According to Hilary Beckles, this game we love and play so well….. “Was introduced into English West Indian society and promoted as part of the ideological armour of an aggressive English cultural imperialism”. Like all epic battles, weapons can be forfeited and used to destroy the original holder. Been there. Done that.

All sporting activities have a central, common value. If you are true to the game and to yourself, in addition to finding out how great a sport you are involved in, the game actually discovers you. It draws you out and shows you what life is all about. C.L.R. James also told us that cricket belongs with the theatre, ballet, opera and the dance. In short, cricket is pure music, a universal language.

It is in this context of what cricket is and that it embodies the concepts of fair play and gamesmanship, that the quest for reparations for the B.E.A.S.T and its consequence and legacy must be pitched. In addition, we must understand that the empire does not strike back unless we strike it. Hence, we must know that capitalism begot slavery in that the reasons for slavery were not moral but economical circumstances. Hence Eric Williams’ book is called Capitalism and Slavery, not Slavery and Capitalism. Eric Williams also recorded that “Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery”. The battle started on the economic front and it will end there as well, with a moiety of morality thrown in for good measure to help those who ‘fraid shame and whose conscience needs a cushion to rest on.

Reparations demands that we be true to our ancestors, ourselves and our children. This was part of the golden text of the sermon at the ecumenical service on Sunday evening past. The reverent banished all those who see reparations as payment of monies to individuals. Such idle and red-herring-type chatter must disappear when we contemplate and devise community-building reparation programs. In this context, the misbehavior of school children pictures on mobile phone of them having sexual intercourse and being involved in other lewd actions must sicken the memories of our ancestors.

Alfred L. Brophy defines reparation to include, “Truth commissions that document the history of racial crimes and the current liabilities for those crimes, apologies that acknowledge liability, any payment to settle those accounts.” Cleary, the act of reparation is a self discovering act. It is a process that Europe and America must undertake. They must say yes to the fact that the transatlantic slave trade created the bedrock of the modern capitalist system. We West Indians can proclaim in many parts of Europe and America: We built this city. On dock, block and sold.

When you have committed wrong or you have gained from the commission of wrongdoing, the act of recognizing the truth, offering valid apologies and payment is a constitutive part of the English game of cricket. In cricket, or any other sport, repairing damages can help you discover who you really are. Sir Vivian Richards did that after the debacle in the Antigua Recreations Grounds when we was a young, effervescent and arrogant cricketer. What do Europe and America fear? Themselves? Self-discovery is an integral part of life and nation building. We West Indians know this because Christopher Columbus did not discover the West Indies, the West Indies discovered Christopher Columbus.