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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Gender


Dr. Lester CN Simon

With the reaction to homosexuality in the West Indies ranging from militant objection to public ridicule, ostracism and benign intolerance, I have often questioned the biological advantage of homosexuality to the human race. Clearly, it is not genetically reproducible in that homosexuals, by definition, do not naturally have sexual intercourse with members of the opposite sex. Science is beginning to shed some light on the advantage homosexuality might confer on the rest of us.

An article called, The Evolution of Homosexuality, in The Economist, on 23 October, suggests that the genes that contribute to making some people homosexual also make their brothers and sisters highly sexually productive. This enhanced sexually reproductive effect on the non-homosexual siblings is regarded as an advantage to the human race.

The first hurdle a skeptical reader has to overcome is the scientific fact that homosexual behaviour is documented in many species. These include monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, geese, hyenas, whales, worms, dolphins, flamingos, and many others. The simple response to this fact might be to label human homosexuals as animals and insects. But what about the body of scientific evidence that suggests that homosexual behaviour, indeed any type of sexual behaviour, is partly genetic? These studies look at the sexual proclivities of twins, especially identical twins.

There are two different types of twins. One type of twins is called non-identical. These twins occur when two eggs from the mother are independently fertilized by two different sperms from the father. These twins can be of the same or different gender: two boys or two girls or a boy and a girl. The other type of twin is called identical. Identical twins are produced when a single egg is fertilized by a single sperm and the fertilized egg divides into two separate embryos of the same gender: two boys or two girls but not a boy and a girl.

Unlike non-identical twins, identical twins have identical genes (DNA). Notwithstanding their identical genetic status, the traits and appearance of identical twins can vary depending on the environment they are exposed to, both inside the womb and throughout their lives. This variability, even in the presence of identical genes, underscores the basic fact that our appearances and behaviors, including our sexual behaviors, are influenced by genes as well as by our environment. The perennial argument revolves around the extent of the contribution of the genes versus the effect of the environment.

Studies of identical twins (male twins and female twins) show that if one of the twins is homosexual, there is a 50% chance of the identical twin brother or identical twin sister being homosexual. This 50% chance is much higher than what obtains for non-identical twins or for non-twin brothers and sisters. The 50% concordance for homosexuality amongst identical twins of either sex-pair (two males or two females) leads to the consideration of the sexual orientation of the identical twin brother or twin sister when such a brother or sister is not homosexual despite having a homosexual identical twin. After all, they do have identical genes.

Genes explain about 27% of an individual’s gender identity. Environment explains the rest. So what exactly are the genes associated with homosexuality, responsible for in a non-homosexual person? The article in The Economist reports the work by Brendal Zietsch et al of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia. The original work was published in this month’s edition of the journal, Evolution and Human Behavior. The scientists analyzed anonymously completed questionnaires from 4904 twin samples regarding sexual behavior and attitudes.

The arguments of the scientists include the suggestion that if a non-homosexual man has a very slightly feminine personality, it confers an advantage on him when viewed by a non-homosexual female. Despite the female’s desire for a traditional macho man, she is also attracted to the man’s so-called feminine traits such as tenderness, consideration and kindness. Indeed, these kinder, gentler males, despite the boastfulness of the macho male, are said to have more female sexual partners than the typical macho man. In fact, it is said that the judicious display and tweaking of these so-called feminine traits of tenderness, consideration and kindness is a trick some men use (I am told) to appeal to females. Up comes a hailstorm counterargument regarding the definition of maleness and femaleness.

On the other hand, slightly masculinised females who are not lesbians, are said to have more non-homosexual male sexual partners than the typically, highly feminized, non-lesbian woman. This is thought to reflect her increased competitiveness over other women (and arguably some men). Many honest, hardworking, assertive, non-homosexual women are often, erroneously and deliberately labeled as lesbians by both men and women as she supersedes the latter two at work and at play.

It appears that if you combine sexual proclivities and the number of sexual partners, disparate collections of data suggest that the ranking order from top to bottom (no pun intended) might be as follows: dominant male homosexual, non-homosexual twin brother of male homosexual, non-homosexual male, dominant female homosexual, non-homosexual twin sister of female homosexual, non-homosexual female. It is not clear where the non-dominant male homosexual and the non-dominant female homosexual fall. Indeed the ranking order, especially that of dominant lesbian and of non-homosexual twin sister of female homosexual might need some alterations. Ranking may be influenced by male boasting or female bashfulness regardless of the bending of gender.

The study concludes that as long as the combination of genes associated with homosexuality do not push individuals all the way to homosexuality, these very genes that are partly responsible for homosexuality also partly confer advantages to non-homosexuals. These genes arguably make non-homosexuals males and non-homosexual females who carry these homosexual-associated genes, more sexually productive compared to non-homosexual males and non-homosexual females who do not carry these genes. Regarding the advantage to the human race, the self-defining, non-reproducible genetics inherent in homosexuality is arguably offset by the excessive sexual reproductive capacity or fecundity in others.

Small wonder some homosexuals reportedly do not see what all the fuss over their sexual orientation is all about. We say we do not understand them and they say they do not understand us. They fail to understand us because some non-homosexuals who attack them (both within and without the dancehall lyrics), and who ridicule and ostracize them, will otherwise skillfully maneuver small aliquots of some of the very traits homosexuals have, to a personal advantage and to the advantage of the human species.

It might be argued that the homosexual male and female involuntarily or voluntarily simply push the envelope containing sexually related genes and environmental sexual determinants farther, to the extreme even; and, some would say, too far.

Monday, November 3, 2008

They Shall Inherit


Dr. Lester CN Simon

The poor must be the luckiest mass of people on earth if only because almost everyone else, particularly politicians, talk about them so much and set themselves up as champions and voices of the poor. Have you ever noticed that strange, universally unique, almost becalming (some would say stoical) countenance on the faces, especially in the eyes, of those who have really suffered and whose spirits have been broken and laid bare? It is as if they not only underwent something we did not, but that they will forever know something that we will not. It is as if they are on the verge of inheriting a new kingdom, for their lives will never be the same again.

Whenever words like race, slavery, black people, plantation, racism and poor people come up, we must slow down the initial horrid rush of blood to the head and think for a minute. It is always worth recalling that historically, it was economics first and slavery second, and not the other way around. It is worth repeating that it was economics first and slavery second, and not the other way around. It is also worth noting that slavery did not start with Africans transported to the New World, with about 95% of the millions of African slaves coming to the Caribbean and only about 5%going to North America.

In a recent article in this newspaper, Dorbrene O’Marde candidly outlined the meaning of racism. To call a black person racist is not the same as when a black person refers to another as, “de black, black gal”. Calling a black person racist is to make an indefinable collusion of words and history, exposing one’s ignorance of the meaning of racism. It is worse than a rapist calling his victim cruel because, in self defense, she sprays mace into his eyes whilst trying to escape to freedom. There is a very bad word to be used for black people disliking white people before black people have emancipated themselves collectively to a moral high ground, but that word is not racism. And by the bye, reverse racism is an oxymoron chanted only by self-constructed morons.

Clear thinking about our past is an essential, practical guidebook for our future. It means that after saying mama and dada, the next word the children of descendants of African slaves should say is “economics”. It seem logical that if African slavery and its attendant evils, such as racism, arose out of economics, then economics might just be the way out of slavery since that was what got us there is the first place, followed by some clever and despicable marketing called racism.

The Ghanaian economist, George Ayittey, makes the tipping point that there are six institutions that Africa (and Antigua and Barbuda) need, to move from dysfunctional, poor states to functional, rich ones. The only problem with his prescription is that Ayittey is saying, “Give Africa these six institutions and Africans will do the rest of the job”. These institutions cannot be given. They must be molded by us. Sometimes, like now, the process will necessitate the use of outsiders as a calculated, deliberate, interim measure to start the journey or to pick up the fallen baton (an emotive word); but the race (a pun for my dear friend Dorbrene) must be completed by us.

One of these institutions listed by George Ayittey is an independent and free media. I feel saddened when I hear Winston Derrick and others clamour for the Privy Council. The fact that Observer Radio came out of the Privy Council does not mean we must go back there. In fact, going back to the Privy Council might be seen as a signal failure of Observer Radio, if it is indeed the true Voice of The People in registering and nurturing. Our institutions must be fought for by us with tooth and nail as well as with marching feet and bellowing voices, until the impregnable walls of justice come down pregnant with justice, done and seen. The other five institutions on Ayittey’s list are, an independent Central Bank, an independent Electoral Commission, an independent Judiciary, an efficient Civil Service and, as we all are presently and painfully aware, a neutral and professional Security Force.

One of the remarkable things about poor people is that given the opportunity to get rich they will do so readily, avidly and successfully. These opportunities can be given in a slavish way or they can be given fairly, with the sole proviso of measurable performance for the ultimate good of the nation. Based on our history, we, black people, in particular because it started with us, and all other West Indians, should know more about economics than any other people on earth. It is our only earthly salvation. So when our leaders and our own West Indian people of any ethnic group, (hold strain on the white people for a paragraph or two), arrange our economics so that we become new slaves, it takes us back to that familiar look of the truly poor in spirit.

It is the familiar look of being enslaved again. But the poor must honestly recognize their condition to really possess that particular look, that particular encapsulation of history in their portal eyes; eyes that make the onlookers search within themselves. It is when they have lost all, not just material things, but the death of a loved one, a husband, a wife, a way of life, their dignity and self respect, their homeland; it is when they are so knowingly emotionally naked or poor in spirit that the blessed poor can do nothing else but harness all their hopes and inherit some of the rich kingdom of heaven, on earth.

The Music of Independence


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Shakespeare was wrong. Music is not the food of love. Music is the food of life. Since music is the universal language, we can learn a lot about life and people by understanding some of the basic tools that are used in music composition.

There are many tools available to the composer of music but when we regard the basic ones used for two instruments or two voices, these tools fall into easily definable categories. The relationship between the two instruments or voices of a duo is conceptually similar to the way two persons or groups of people communicate. With the diverse groups of nationalities in Antigua and Barbuda, we might learn something from understanding the basic tools deployed in composing music for a duo.

Imitation is one of the primary devices composers use to blend two voices. A theme or motif is stated in one voice and it is repeated by the second voice. This requires space and time. It is as if a master and an apprentice are at work. The apprentice has to carefully observe the master and be prepared to repeat the master’s theme in the right space and at the appropriate time. Whilst the repeat is taking place, the master may be waiting by playing a prolonged note or simple phrase or he may create a new, more complex theme that the apprentice will have to repeat as well. Many visitors imitate what they see the natives do. We have to be careful that we are not wrongly blaming non-nationals when they are simply imitating us.

Another way in which two voices can merge is by parallel motion. In this method, the voices move in the same direction. The primary voice is higher than the secondary one and both voices are separated by the same interval throughout the theme. This is similar to the realization by non-nationals that the primary focus is on the national, at least until they, the non-national, have become equipped to carry the primary melody.

The third way to write music for two voices is to use contrary motion. In contrary motion, the two voices are moving in opposite direction and the degree of separation is variable. At this stage, the secondary voice is striving to be unique but this uniqueness must be predicated on the ability to master the imitation and parallel modes of expression first, before stepping out on the more difficult contrary motion.

The fourth way is called oblique motion. In oblique motion, one voice stays on the same level or pitch while the other voice moves up or down. This is a testing period in which the primary voice can remain on the same pitch to allow the secondary voice to show its motion. It is the most crucial stage in preparation for the fifth and most complex form of composition or interrelationship between two instruments, voices or groups of people.

Finally, we come to counterpoint. This is the most complex form of composition for two voices because each voice is carrying an independent melody and yet when both melodies are put together, they ring out a beautiful and wholesome harmony that constitutes the oneness of the music. Diversity, yes; but separation and oneness, at one and the same time, must attend a single song.

We are familiar with many songs that use these compositional tools. We recall singing a musical form called the round in school in which everyone sings the same melody but we start singing at different times. There are many serious types of music that use this compositional tool but the tunes most familiar to us include: Row, Row, Row Your Boat; London’s Burning; Three Blind Mice. Some may initially classify these rounds as imitations but since different parts are being sung at the same time, the independent effect and the overall oneness are essentially the defining fundamentals of counterpoint.

If the different voices must attend to a single, national tune, why on the sacred earth on my native land must my tax dollars pay for the news on our national television station being read in Spanish? Why do patients at Holberton hospital need a Spanish dictionary to understand not just what the Cuban doctors and nurses are saying but also to comprehend what our own Antiguan and Barbudan doctors who were trained in Cuba are quixotically encouraging?

And why, in 2008, just a few days shy of the commemoration of twenty seven years of independence, do I have to gesticulate by pointing to a moving vehicle and to my stranded garbage bags in my vehicle to ask a Spanish cleaning woman emptying the garbage from the bins at the corner of St. Mary’s and Cross Streets, if the garbage truck has passed by already? Because she does not understand English. Rubbish. Because she watches the television news in Spanish and she has been to Holberton, without a dictionary. More rubbish. Remember the time when some unfaithful national went up his fundament and precipitated my exit by conducting part of our independence service in Spanish? And why, just to give the Spanish a break, do I hear more Jamaican music than our own music in Antigua and Barbuda?

We have to determine what defines us as Antiguans and Barbudans. It seems to me that we are known for two things: welcoming people and migrating. Not only must non-nationals be taught and be exposed to the history and culture of Antigua and Barbuda, we must know our own history and culture first. We must foster links between us and our overseas, estranged and prodigal Antiguan and Barbudan brethren.

When myriad voices of nationalities sing the independence of counterpoint without a defining, wholesome song, music becomes noise, the food of nothingness. Shakespeare would have been dead wrong and bitterly disappointed.