Sunday, December 12, 2010

HIV - If It Walks Like Genetic Engineering...

So I was reading this book of facts on planet earth. Although it’s a kiddie book, it’s a good book with information on history, science, politics, geography… pretty much a synthesis of some of the more interesting stuff that kids learn in their first 8 years of school rolled into one 144 page book. It’s called Don’t Know Much About Planet Earth by Kenneth C. Davis – put it on your kids’ summer reading list. One highlighted article in the book showed the effect that AIDS was having on Africa. It said that by 1999, 84% of the 16.3 million AIDS deaths worldwide were in Sub-Saharan Africa. I know that the situation has only gotten worse since that time, since I’ve seen the stats updated and reprinted every year. Scenes from Save the Children came through my mind, and I felt my usual disgust with our inability/inattention dealing with this issue.

As I ran the computer known as Dwane T.’s brain through a myriad of questions and scenarios on the issue, I came across one of my favorite conspiracy theories; one that I am absolutely sure is true. AIDS was genetically designed as a way to slowly get rid of Black folks. Now, of course I don’t believe this will ever happen, because in the true Bae-bae Kids tradition, we don’t die, we multiply. Unfortunately, while we do multiply at a greater rate than we die, AIDS is definitely killing us globally.

After a few moments, the internal computer landed on something I had read years ago. Back in my cancer treatment days, while sitting in the hospital getting some outpatient blood transfusions, I came across an article in Scientific American magazine that I felt almost single-handedly proved this theory true. It was an article about whether race actually exists. I remember at the time thinking, "boy, this is sure going to open up a Pandora’s Box of research and expose’s". But after seven years… nuttin’. I thought I remembered it was in the December 2003 issue, so off to the internet I went; and this is an excerpt of what I found:

Genetic variation also plays a role in individual susceptibility to one of the worst scourges of our age: AIDS. Some people have a small deletion in both their copies of a gene that encodes a particular cell-surface receptor called chemokine receptor 5 (CCR5). As a result, these individuals fail to produce CCR5 receptors on the surface of their cells. Most strains of HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, bind to the CCR5 receptor to gain entry to cells, so people who lack CCR5 receptors are resistant to HIV-1 infection. This polymorphism in the CCR5 receptor gene is found almost exclusively in groups from northeastern Europe.

Several polymorphisms in CCR5 do not prevent infection but instead influence the rate at which HIV-1 infection leads to AIDS and death. Some of these polymorphisms have similar effects in different populations; others only alter the speed of disease progression in selected groups. One polymorphism, for example, is associated with delayed disease progression in European-Americans but accelerated disease in African-Americans. Researchers can only study such population-specific effects--and use that knowledge to direct therapy--if they can sort people into groups.

Does Race Exist? Scientific American, December 2003

Okay, so it doesn’t say that AIDS is a weapon of biological warfare. But if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and attacks your immune system based on your genetic make-up like a duck, it must be a genetic killing machine of a duck. This is not like the Sickled Cell developing in Africans as a way to combat Malaria, and eventually leading to Sickle-Cell Anemia. That developed over thousands of years. The basic argument for the development of AIDS is that it came from being bitten by, or having sex with, a monkey. Africans were getting bitten by monkeys for thousands of years without getting AIDS, and if they were having sex with monkeys in the late 1960’s they were probably doing them for thousands of years before that too. But the research shows that African Americans are higly suscesptible, European Americans are highly resistant, Northern Europeans are immune, while native Africans are being wiped out. For a disease that supposedly came into existence in the last 40 years to be that strongly defined along racial lines is the best case of racial profiling since Jonnie Gammage. By the Laws of genetic adaptation, for Northern Europeans to develop immunity to AIDS, it would have had to exist there for many generations, and a few million people would have died while that adaptation was taking place.

Hey, you have to give the evil scientists who created this thing credit… what better way to kill off a people than to poison the process by which they create life. It reminds me of an experiment that I learned about in Freshman Biology, where they tried to get rid of the roaches in Miami. They used female roach pheromones to lure the males in, then sterilized them and released them back into the sewers. They thought they were making babies, as did the females… so the roach population dropped. Unfortunately, the rat population started to grow from the extra food, and they had to reintroduce the roaches to keep the rat growth down. Anyway, my point is I would be a fool to believe that the concept of killing an entity by contaminating the procreation process began and ended with that experiment three decades ago. And as a man of preponderantly genetically African decent, I can’t afford to be that foolish.

I know that people of all races are susceptible to HIV... I've had family/friends across the board that died from it. But the reality is that HIV is one of the only sexually transmitted disease that leads to the death of its host (without treatment), and that is transmitted to the child ***prior*** to the natural birthing process leading to the death of the child. By the process by which it kills, the spead at which it spreads, and it’s resistance to “cures”, had the HIV virus existed even 100 years ago, medical science had not evolved enough to prevent the possible extinction of mankind. Scientist had identified which genomes were exclusive to which groups decades ago. Science is not perfect, and governments know that you sometimes have to sacrifice your own in a war of attrition. The Tuskegee Experiment showed that our government has no problem using sexually transmitted diseases to kill off African Americans. Why wouldn’t they, or some other First World country do it now . Basic war strategy is to identify a weakness in the enemy and exploit it. In this case, I guess my weakness is my CCR5 receptor cells.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Mended Fence… More than an Apology

Of my many jobs throughout my life, I still trip on my first job “on the books”. I worked as a carpenter and roof repairman in a summer youth employment program. Yes, back in the “old days”, summer youth workers didn’t file and make photocopies... we worked. I spent many a day in 90+ degree heat on hot tar roofs trying to earn my $2.65/hr. thinking, “I don’t know what I’m going to do for a living, but however long I have to stay in school I’m gonna make sure it’s inside”. I didn’t like the roofing part (fear of heights), but I did like the carpentry part. I like building and fixing things, and mending porches, doorways and fences was right up my alley.

I always thought the phrase “mending fences” was an interesting way to look at people fixing a relationship. I looked at it from a couple of ways. One way I looked at it was a fence being different parts with different purposes that have to come together for a reason that is bigger than the any of the parts themselves. In freshman psychology class we learned that was Gestalt theory: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. So the people involved realize that they are better together than they are apart, and focus on the good rather than the bad. Another way I looked at it was the process of working on a fence together. People can often work out their issues when they focus on a mutual interest rather than on the relationship. Then the conversation can ease into and out of their issues as they feel comfortable talking about it, but as long as the fence is being mended they feel something is being accomplished, and they don’t feel the pressure of the focus being about them.

There were a couple more ways I saw it, but as I thought about them, my mind got to the point where I was preoccupied with the damage to the fence, and does mending the fence sometime gloss over the damage done. So much of mending fences comes down to one or more of the parties involved apologizing for something they said. Once the apology is given and accepted, things move on. But it is often the case that an apology is not enough. Looking at the fence as an example, if someone drove a nail in a fence in a place that it didn’t belong, it would damage the stability of the wood. You could pull the nail out, but it will still leave a whole. You can paint over the nail hole and it will look like new, but the damage to the wood still exists underneath. After a time, the stability of the fence as a whole may be weakened by that point in the fence, and may break down the line despite the fact that “things look fine”.

And so it is with hurtful words and the apologies that are given to correct them. Every time you hurt someone, it’s like driving a nail through wood. The apology then becomes like pulling the nail out; while the action to apologize/pull the nail is done with an honest effort, there is still a hole left behind. The person receiving the apology can choose to put a new coat of paint on the hole, and they may function as strong as a freshly painted, freshly mended fence. But deep inside, whether they ever show the effects or not, the damage is there. Many people look at relationships they have with people that have overcome rocky times, and they are happy about it. But for some reason it seems like despite the fact that the other person says everything is alright, they “have changed”. The truth is, they didn’t change, they “were changed”, by the nail that was driven into them.

So how do you really mend the fence? For an actual fence, there is always wood filler. If you fill the hole in with this simulated wood product, it returns the original integrity to it. Sometimes it even becomes stronger than the actual wood around it. In the absence of the wood filler, the hole can fill up with water, insects, or some other thing that will begin to hurt the good wood around the hole. When someone experiences hurtful words: false accusations; unfair or untrue characterizations; constant negativity, disrespect, or degradation; etc.; they are weakened by them… just as the nail weakens the wood. Sometimes, even after an apology, the hole becomes filled with anger, or insecurity, or sadness, or an uncaring attitude, or sometime just an empty feeling. What began as a small thing can eventually affect other non-related qualities of the person, and even their spiritual strength and health. So the hole must be filled with what was taken away by the nail. If you falsely accuse someone of lying, you need to compliment their honesty. If they were hurt by being told they can’t do something, they need to be reassured that you have confidence in what they can do. If you tell a child they are ugly, you need to repeatedly tell them they have a special kind of beauty. The bottom line is, you need to fill the hole. And what if there is not damage left after the initial apology? Actually, that is usually the case. Usually, there is no further need to address the situation. But then again, you can’t go wrong reinforcing something good… as long as it’s attention and not overkill.

Fixing the damage to the fence helps the carpenter as well as the fence. Isn’t it good to know that you care enough to make sure you don’t leave a damaged situation behind. Guilt over doing someone wrong is a tough thing to deal with, but not nearly as harmful long-term as an attitude that “what’s done is done”… or “oh well...” or “deal with it”. When your mind and heart become as calloused as a carpenters hands, it makes it just as hard to show gentleness… or to have that gentleness accepted when you do show it. You should always apologize when you’ve wronged someone, but when possible you should also make “amends”. It is good for both parties. And if the person isn’t ready to accept the apology, give it time and come back again (the key is not ready to accept vs. not willing to accept). Sometimes wood filler works better after the wood dries out a little.

I’m into chain link fences now, so it’s a lot harder for me to damage them. But while I may deal with different people, people are still the same. When damaged, they still need mending. But I also know that the best way to avoid having to mend a fence is to watch what nails I use and where I place them. As for people, the best way to avoid having to mend them is to watch what words I use and how I say them. Old ones or new ones, you can’t go wrong mending fences.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Piece O' Man

“Don’t nobody want no old ‘piece o’ man’.” That’s something the older women in my family, and other older women used to say when I was a kid. Of course, when you’re five or six years old you don’t have much to say, so you just listen. I remember one time at that age, hearing them talk about men so badly that I began to cry. I never wanted to be like those people they talked about, but I didn’t think I had a choice since I knew I had be a man someday (…and yes, there will be a post someday about the negative things little boys hear around women that speak their future manhood issues into existence). Thank God my mother had a different perspective of men, and it was her view of what kind of man I would be that I tried to grow into. She thought I did an incredible job… I think I did alright… I’m definitely a piece o’ work.

I’ve heard other things that reminded me of the piece o’ man thing over the years. I had a secretary whose grandmother told her she really didn’t want to marry her grandfather but couldn’t find another man, and “half a loaf is better than none”. Her grandmother said that for the rest of her life she had what she asked for, because he was never better than half a loaf. When my mother told my grandmother that she was marrying my father, grandma asked her, “did you ask the Lord for a husband?” When my mother replied, “no ma’am”, grandma said, “well you’re not gettin’ one, you’re just marryin’ a man.” They definitely didn’t have the greatest relationship in the world. I’m glad my father had a better relationship with my step-mother.

My original social networking hangout was Black Planet back in the day. I found an interesting pattern to the pages of some of the sisters who wrote me. They let me know in no uncertain terms that:

  1. The were strong
  2. They were totally independent
  3. They made their own money
  4. They had there own house/apartment
  5. They paid there own bills
  6. They didn’t need a daddy for their children (if they had any)
  7. They paid their own way when they wanted to do something
  8. The had their sh*t together.
  9. They didn’t need a man, because there is nothing a man can do for them that they weren’t already doing for themselves.

Then they went onto say they were just looking for that missing piece… that special someone to share their time with. I’ve been looked at as that missing piece in the past, and it wasn’t the best spot to be in. I’ve had my clothing style, my career path, my spiritual journey, and other highly personal things mapped out for me by sisters who barely knew me in an effort to make me into the person they thought I could be. When I didn’t think the changes made sense and/or were beneficial, I was being ungrateful for the love and effort they put toward making me a better person. When I suggested some changes they could make as well, I was accused of being threatened by a strong/successful woman, or not loving/accepting them for who they were. Anyway, how dare I not want to conform to their image of what they thought I should be; I was lucky they were dating my old, short, skinny, broke a$$ anyway. And besides… (see #9 above).

It seems just a little contradictory to look for a “complete man”, and then relegate him to the status of a “missing piece” (while looking down on a piece o’ man for being incomplete). Maybe a missing half if you look at it technically, or missing whole if you look at it scripturally, but not a missing piece. My belief: in a relationship you have to leave room for growth together as well as separately. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving up or ignoring what you have, or what you’ve achieved, but it does mean that you have to be open to compromise (both of you give up something until you reach a point where you can be both self-reliant and interdependent). Iron and carbon combine to make steel, which is significantly stronger than the other two alone. But it takes a lot of heat to convert them, and afterward neither the iron nor the carbon will ever again be what it used to be . So it is with relationships. Once you’re married, you can never be unmarried again. You are separated, widowed, divorced, or re-married… altered states of marriage. You can be as strong as steel, but you first have to be willing to change…. and then be willing to stand the heat.

Partner connotes equal, piece connotes lesser; if you don’t order what you really want from the menu it will leave a bad taste in your mouth. If you’re willing to compromise who you are with someone who is willing to compromise who they are so that two (wholes) can become one (whole), go for it… God will bless your effort. But hey, if you’re complete as is, and you just want that missing piece to go to movies with, have sex with, attend concerts with, eat dinner with, or any other recreational activity, but don’t want to deal with any growth/sacrifice/compromise, then it shouldn’t matter whether you do those things with just one man or rotate ten men… in fact, all you’ll really need is a piece o’ man.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Relay Race - Race

As an old Hempstead High School alum, I have a great respect for track and field events. For the last 30 years, my alma mater has had nationally ranked track stars. So… what was the secret? Is it in the food? No... Is it in the water? No… Is it that good Long Island air coming off the Atlantic Ocean? No... It’s the building itself. Hempstead high school has three buildings and plenty of stairs. Just going to class builds strong leg muscles on even the laziest kids. A special secret is our ability to train indoors in the winter time. The oval shape of “A” building allows students to run on all three floors like running around a three-tiered track. And for basic training… we just did the stairs. With year-round training, our track team always had great camaraderie. So it was a logical progression that we specialized in relay race events. Anyway, I never did join the track team because I was born velocity challenged, but I did learn a lot from watching the training and the meets.

As I like studying about greats of the past, I found myself reading about one of the greatest track events ever held. It was an amazing race because the rules for the race weren’t actually established before the race began. Just watching how the race unfolded gave me great insight into how people interact in the real world. The members of the visiting track team ran into problems right away. One of the runners hurt his foot and never made the trip. Because the bus was old and run-down, another runner got car sick and couldn’t compete. When they reached the event site, the remaining runners found that they had to compete at alternate event sites, so they could not all compete together. Then things got interesting…

The remaining group of runners was told that their race would be a relay race, and rather than the winner being the team that finished a designated number of laps in the shortest time, it would be the team that completed the most laps in a designated time. Also, each team would be required to hand-off the baton every 40 seconds. The first two opponents lined up, and got ready to run. Then the judges came out and told the visiting runner that he had to run with a ball-and-chain on his leg. Flabbergasted and confused, but ever the competitor, he lined up ready to give it his best effort. And… they were off!!!

Both athletes did their best, but the ball-and-chain made it not just impossible to keep up… it made it painful to try. After forty seconds, the racers made their first handoffs to the next runners, with the new runner for the visiting team also pulling a ball-and-chain. After about three minutes of exchanges, the host team had a sizable lead and some of the judges began to question the rules. After debating the rules and seeing the need for a change based on the problems of the ball-and-chained runners, the race was stopped at the 4:07 mark. The ball-and-chains were cut off, and the racers were restarted from the spots where they were stopped.

With the ball-and-chain gone, the visiting runner began to make up ground quickly. Having worked so hard with the weight on his leg enabled him to move that much more quickly with the weight off of him. The judges, all coaches for the host team, quickly halted the race after only 31 seconds. It was decided that the first change was too drastic, so the visiting runners could continue without the ball-and-chain but they could only run in the outside lane. Again the contestants began running. Running in the outside lane, the visiting runners stayed even on the straight-aways, but continued to lose ground on the curves. During this segment of the race the judges were still conferring. After another minute (actually 58 seconds), the race was stopped again. The judges accepted that they had overly favored the host team and told the visiting team they could again run on whatever part of the track they wanted to. Ten seconds after the runners began running again, the judges decided they needed to give the visiting team a chance to make up for the problems resulting from the previous rules. So they gave skates to the visiting team and started them off again. The next scheduled baton pass came not long after this, and the new runners gave it everything they had, with the host runner running normally and the visiting runner on skates.

Looking at his competition flying around the track, the runner for the host team ran to the judges’ booth after just 14 seconds. He told them it wasn’t fair that he had to run in sneakers while his opponent used skates. Some of the judges explained that it was to make up for the unfair advantage that his team had in the beginning of the race. But the host runner didn’t care because he wasn’t running then. He only wanted a fair race now, while he carried the baton. Some of the judges agreed, while others still differed. While the debate continued, both teams stood on the track and waited.

This race may seem crazy… and that’s because it is. This relay race has been run for several hundred years in America. While this story is a representation of what has actually happened, everything is it actually happened. If you let your mind allow seconds to become years, it will become much easier to connect this relay race with our beloved “rat race” of life in America. The visiting runners are the Africans who were brought here as slaves, and the host team are the colonists that brought them here. The runner who was hurt and didn’t make the trip was the African who was killed during the slave hunt. The runner who got sick during the trip was the African who died along the middle passage. The runners who were sent to participate at other sites were the Africans who were sent off to Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands. The forty second intervals between runners were the forty years of each generation. Now we have a framework through which to see “the race-race.”

While Blacks and Whites had lived as both free men and indentured servants in American going back to the beginning of the fifteen hundreds, the arrival of the first slave ship at Jamestown in 1618 represented the beginning of slavery as a generational institution. The 4:07, or 240 seconds, that the visiting runners ran with a ball-and-chain on their legs represents the 240 years that slavery existed before the Thirteenth Amendment ended “race-based” slavery in 1865 (the “end of slavery” issue is a story for another day). The 31 seconds after the ball-and-chain period represents Reconstruction. This period ended for the runners when the visiting team was required to run in the outside lane. Like the Supreme Court decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896, it was done with the belief that you could be Separate But Equal. But the way the rules were introduced in both situations was such that separate was inherently unequal. Thus after 58 seconds race time, or 58 years historically through the Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruling in 1954, separate but equal was abolished. Ten seconds/years later, the Civil rights Act of 1964 was introduced, and socio-economic skates were given to African Americans in the form of Affirmative Action laws. This lasted only another 14 seconds/years before a host team runner named Allan Bakke filed his suit with the Supreme Court on the basis of “reverse discrimination”.

This is not a pro or anti Affirmative Action piece, because I have pros and cons of my own on the issue… too many to discuss at this point. But like I said, I know track, and I know how to survive in our rat race of American life. I understand the concept of fair play, hard work, and living by the rules. I also know enough about American history to know that whether you divide your demographics by race, religion, gender, age, indigenous, immigrant, or enslaved, Americans have always worked hard as individuals, groups, and as a whole. Still, while the time frames between acts and actions, and the ability or inability to benefit from the systems of rules and laws in the United States for the past four hundred years can be debated, one comparison stands out: 240 years with a ball-and-chain vs.14 years with skates. Now that the baton is in our hands, we really need to decide what is fair and get “the judges” to move on it. But in the meantime, we need to run our own individual races… and run it like we respect and appreciate the people who had to run with a ball-and-chain on their legs for 240 years, and in the outside lane for 58 years. They ran with those impediments so we wouldn’t have to, which makes them winners in my book.