Monthly Archives: October 2007

Say What? (part 2)

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(for part 1 click here)

Humanity; what a trip. 

Do you define yourself as “Italian”, Irish”, Spanish”, or “German”? Have you ever thought about why you define your heritage or ethnicity the way you do? Because your parents did? Maybe its where your great-grandparents lived before immigrating to America. I’ll grant you that defining details such as language, recorded history and (ugh) physical traits are natural points of reference. But if your recent ancestors came from Europe, perhaps you should take into consideration even bigger parts of your lineage. 

It just may be that we are all “African-Americans”.

Human fossils have been dated (arguably) to 200,000 years, with some scientists estimating as recently as 104,000 years. But while “modern” humans have been dated back to only 35,000 years, we can safely assume a relatively agreeable age of humanity to be about 160,000 years old. Any of these numbers though are a fractional blip when compared to the age of Mother Earth- 4.5 billion years. 

My curiosity about “deep ancestry” grew after reading about National Geographic’s “Genographic Project“. They tell it like this….

“The National Geographic Society, IBM, geneticist Spencer Wells, and the Waitt Family Foundation have launched the Genographic Project, a five-year effort to understand the human journey—where we came from and how we got to where we live today. This unprecedented effort will map humanity’s genetic journey through the ages.”

It is an incredible undertaking. The information, graphics and multimedia presentation are eye-opening and I was eager to get involved. For $99 I received a very informative DNA test kit. Because I am male I was able to choose which side of the family I wanted to trace back. I chose the maternal side. About 4 weeks later I had the results along with a custom online mini-video summary of Dr. Wells describing my ancestral journey.

My maternal/mitochndrial DNA traced back to the “Mitochondrial Eve”; a woman that lived in East Africa about 160,000 years ago. This DNA grouping, the haplogroup “H”, is the dominant European haplogroup. About 50% of people with European ancestry are members of “H”.

My ancestors were part of the 2nd major wave out of Africa between 45,000 and 50,000 years ago. They entered the Middle East and then migrated north into Europe 10,000 to 15,000 years later during the last Ice Age. As the Ice Age worsened they were forced south to what has been called “Refugia” by scientists; present day Spain, Italy and the Balkans. With the end of the Ice Age, within the last 10,000 years, populations then expanded back through central and northern Europe.

A time line tracing my maternal lineage reveals over 110,000 years of African great-grandmothers, a relatively brief transition to the Middle East lasting about 35,000 years, before “settling” in the new place; Italy for the last 15,000. Oh, and then there’s that sliver of 100 years here in North America- an almost humorous 1/10th of 1% of the time my ancestors lived in Africa.

If these years were chip counts at the WSOP final table, it would barely be a contest. Africa has 3 times the stack of the Middle East and 7 times Italy. North America would barely fit the definition of “a chip and a chair”.

So what is the point of all of this? I assume its self-evident, and I suppose we all have heard about scientific hypothesis that humans are said to have originated from one place. However, my joy comes from not only being a part of the hard science, the facts, the proof; but from promoting an inclusive ideology that ties us all together. We all came from the same place, whether in the physical sense; Africa, or in the profound sense, “The Source”. We are all likely headed to the same place too.

As Paul Harvey would say…

“…and now you know….the rest of the story”. 

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Say What? (part 1)

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I’ve wanted to touch on the subjects of ethnicity, nationality, heritage and race for awhile now so I should thank Nobel Prize winning DNA pioneer, James Watson, for the kick in the pants.

While no one would, could, or should, mistake me as a student of any scientific discipline (outside of figuring poker odds), I am still qualified enough to have my own opinion on his “learned” opinion: He’s a racist. After reading some of the quotes he gave in a recent interview, I am also rethinking my opinion on the Nobel Prize selection committee.

But back to the news surrounding this mad scientist. I don’t know, maybe its just me, but it seems his beliefs do not reflect those of any decent, sane, moderately educated human being.

After being quoted in The (London) Sunday Times saying that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”, Dr Watson added that he hoped everyone was equal, but that “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true”.

Anybody else feel like they need a shower after reading that? Yuck, gross. I’ve always had trouble wrapping my brain around most scientific concepts anyway, but forgive me if I hold my nose and keep this one at arm’s length like a dirty diaper.   

Watson, in London to promote a new book, was subsequently forced to return to New York after his longtime employer, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, relieved him of his duties because of his apparent views.

Afterward he did engage in some damage control, a little backpedaling, with a dash of denial; you know those out-of-context mis-quotes.

I would like to think that foul viewpoints like his are going the way of the human bodies they occupy- eventually cremated or buried six feet under. However, even with the demise of those, “that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been” old-timers, there still seems to be more than enough racists to go around. Subcultures of myopic prejudice and “they don’t look/act/live like us” paranoia are prevalent enough to encounter almost every day. 

As an unwilling spy in their midst, I have learned to maintain my composure while seething with protective anger or sighing with dumbfounded incredulity. I’ve had people who considered me a friend tell me things about their own belief systems that I detest. Apparently they think I am part of their “old boys network” and let their guard down.

But they need to get a clue. Before they spew the hate, they need to look at me and know that………. my ancestry is African. And then they should look in a mirror…….because so is their’s.

Reggae Musician Lucky Dube is dead

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I was completely shocked today after reading that Lucky Dube had died during an apparent car-jacking attempt. He was just here last month and performed at the Mesa (AZ) Convention Center. Losing him is on the scale of Bob Marley’s death from cancer. Both of these artists, along with Fela Kuti, were struck down in their prime. But they were beyond artists. They were poets/prophets who fought injustice, corruption and exploitation wherever it was found. They risked their own freedom and safety to get their message out…………. 

He had been dropping his teenage son off in the Johannesburg suburb of Rosettenville on Thursday evening.

Police say three shots were fired through a car window killing Mr. Dube.

Alongside Bob Marley, he was thought of as one of the great reggae artists – singing about social problems.

He was also one of the apartheid regime’s most outspoken critics.

Correspondents say the killing has shocked South Africans who are already accustomed to one of the highest murder rates in the world.

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Reggae superstar Lucky Dube will be remembered for musical genius and efforts to create a better world.

Mr Dube was born in Ermelo on 3 August 1964. After a few failed pregnancy attempts by his mother Sarah, Lucky came into the world. Giving birth to a boy was considered a blessing and his mother considered his birth so fortunate that she aptly named him “Lucky”.

This luck followed him for decades as he accumulated an incredible 21 albums under his musical belt, and proved himself one of not only South Africa’s, but also the world’s greatest reggae according to the Gallo Music Group.

His recording company said he was “a man with superb musical taste and genius, an artist with a message, with a reason and a rhyme behind everything he does”.

“As one can judge by listening to his music, he has a message on every album. His songs are based on three main things – political issues, social issues and personal issues – things that play an important role in everyone’s lives.”

When asked what inspired him Mr Dube answered: “People! Looking at people, watching people’s movements, the things they do. My songs are based on real life situations and experiences.”

He released his first reggae album in 1984 and toured the world sharing the stage with Maxi Priest, Sinead O’Connor, Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, Seal, Ziggy Marley, Celine Dion, Sting, amongst others.

He also won over 20 local and international awards for his music and videos and his hits Taxman, Prisoner, The Way It Is, Victims, Trinity and many others will be remembered by people all over the world.

Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan described the violent death of Mr Dube as not only a family tragedy but a monumental loss for the nation and the music loving people of the world.

“We in the Ministry of Arts and Culture are saddened and stunned at the manner of his death. It marks a sad day in the history of our country,” said Mr Jordan.

He said that Mr Dube was not just a global ambassador for South African musical talent, music and heritage but also a world-renowned African composer, singer, band leader, cultural activist, visionary and performer.

“We hope and pray that his family, friends, relatives and fans throughout the world will have the strength to let his spirit rest in peace,” he said.

“But, above all, we wish to express our heartfelt thanks for his life. He was one of the most important and relevant reggae voices to come out of this country in the 20th Century.”

The minister said that Mr Dube’s death was made more painful because it happened at a time when government has renewed the pledge to forge a partnership with people, communities and their institutions to fight crime.

“We state it categorically that crime is everybody’s problem in this country. Of course, as Government we are not just concerned by its prevalence but doing something to address it,” he said.

“Thus we condemn this senseless and violent killing of an artist who nourished our souls as a nation, articulated the experience and aspirations of the people and used his talent to give us our identity, musical heritage and culture.”

Mr Jordan said that for the last 30 years, Mr Dube had been single-mindedly focused on being a cultural activist and musical visionary who used reggae as an instrument to highlight the plight of the oppressed and call for transformation.

In the 1980s, he was inspired by legendary Bob Marley and Peter Tosh to use his unique voice as a tool to boost self-love and the assertion of African self-determination, identity and heritage.

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Counsel

“The fish in the water that is thirsty needs serious professional counseling.” (Kabir)

It is likely a paraphrasing or translation into contemporary verse, but the above line, credited to Indian poet Kabir 500 years ago, has much to say about current conditions.

How prolific our society is in seeking professional help to perform adequately in our daily lives. Counseling groups, weight loss groups, psychologists, life coaches, nutrtionists, psychiatrists, physicians all standing by to help us (and prescribe meds) to deal with our stress, our kids, our parents, our careers, our vices, and of course, our “significant others”.

Its safe to assume the “coaching industry” is a multi-billion dollar institution in our culture. It may be difficult to know how much is well-spent on actually learning new information.

In a lot of cases, people already know what the answers are. To require a therapist, clergy, or government agency to direct your values and lifestyles is to ignore what you know to be true already.

But I get it. It’s easier to rely on someone else’s advice before acting; to have someone to blame if things don’t work out for the best.

I think most of us have an inner conflict. We want to be in charge of our own lives, free from the influence of others. But deep down we may also enjoy that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from submitting our will in exchange for accountability.  

John Hancock Commerical

Does anyone remember the “controversial” commercials John Hancock Financial ran before and during the 2000 Olympics? I don’t either. But while doing some research for this post I see they stirred up the political-correctness pot with some so-called provocative subject matter.

If I can trust my sources, because as I mentioned I don’t remember any of this, the commercials showcased true-life situations:

  • A man considers a nursing home for his father.
  • A recently divorced couple struggle with personal issues.
  • A single mother contemplates marriage.
  • Two women adopt a baby from Asia.

Guess which one made the fuss way back in ’00?

Okay, I didn’t tee up to play that course today. I’m not taking on the subject of same sex adoptions but instead focusing on their current promo.

Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe like me, it didn’t register a blip on the attention meter because it appears quite innocuous. But a closer look reveals why I find this to be such a sad commentary on society.

The setting is a typical upscale corporate American office. There the CEO/President/Founder sits facing the camera, exuding grandfatherly warmth and professional contemplation. He reflects on the struggles he overcame to get where he is today; parents that could give him nothing but their moral support, etc.

Then he says…

“This company is who I am.”

Really.  

But that’s not all. He goes on to say how he’s doing this all for his daughter, so she can have a company, and….

“That will be who she is.”

Really.

I’m not sure if anyone besides me is disturbed by this kind of thinking. Besides the insinuation of raising an emotionally abused child, it is so very superficial to equate your occupation as being who you are. It’s a cheap shortcut to self-esteem, but it’s also an easy route to all kinds of self destructive behavior and abuse, along with emotional insecurity- and even suicidal tendencies.

Do we really want to define ourselves, and measure our self worth and success, by corporate metrics, bank statements and Hummers?

One of the most profound questions to ask yourself is, “Who am I?”

It’s a good excercise if you can omit societal, cultural, and occupational labels.

And I’ll bet your answer will not be the name of a company.

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