Chapter 6 – Enter the Duffphets

Photo by Nafise Motlaq
Photo by Nafise Motlaq

What on earth are “duffphets”? Never heard of such a term? That’s understandable since it’s a coined-term and has yet to be inducted into English dictionaries. Notwithstanding, words like “vacay”, “twerk”, “merch”, “duff” and a slew of other coined-terms have been on the “inclusion waiting lists” at one time or another. In hindsight when “collateral damage” first surfaced, many saw it as a bold attempt at word and mind-play. Most of us seemed to have previously and erroneously thought that “collateral” had actually meant tangible security and inanimate objects. Little did we expect humans were also to be included as collateral and damage simply means obliteration.

A term like “collateral damage” would befit bankers more and to describe situations with real estate collateral held by banks; and collateral damage could have been a term used to refer to loan defaults or damage to property caused by fire, adverse weather, vandalism or any other untoward reasons. Then, what about the term “friendly fire”? That’s quite baffling too since fire is fire – no matter which direction it’s coming from. Hostile fire and friendly fire have a lot in common and little difference because either way, you would be on the receiving end. Both friendly fire and hostile fire are meant to main and kill. So there can be nothing “friendly” in killing or injuring or in getting killed or injured. We the common folks have a word that embodies such situations. We unambiguously call them “fuck-ups”

Then came the confusing “homicide bomber”. As far as we know, all bombers that kill are murderers. Murderers commit murder and murder is homicide. So it becomes altogether superfluous. You can refer to them as “indiscriminate bombers”, “random bombers”, “coward bombers” or even “cunning bombers” but hardly “homicide bombers”. When a bomb kills, everybody screams “bloody murder” regardless of where the bomb comes from and it’s just a matter of who the victims are. Their side will surely accuse the other of murder. By the way, are there any “righteous bombers”?

Then there was the all-time baffling “extraordinary rendition”. We the common folks quite understand what “rendition” means which could be presentation or deliverance. We also understand what “extraordinary” means – which is more-than-ordinary. So what actually happened to good old-fashioned expressions like “kidnapping” or “abduction”?

With economics and business some wise chap discovered the word “overhang” which was previously meant to describe something hanging and jutting out above our heads. Then the auto guys used it to refer to the back of the car jutting out from the rear wheels. That was fine. But to use “overhang” to describe a “glut” or “saturation” might be stretching it just a little too far. Whatever happened to customary and traditional words like “overabundance”, “over-supply”, “surplus” and “excess”?

The political, commercial and creative worlds have a propensity for coining befitting deviational terms and they also seem to possess special talents to make bad news sound pleasant and confusing; or simply to sensationalise.

Duly and from a non-religious context, who can actually be considered a “prophet”? With words, there are synonyms and antonyms. Therefore, what should be an antonym for “Prophet”? This is where the appropriate, befitting and descriptive “duffphet” has been coined. Should there be any glorification or justification in the personification of a “prophet” in a non-religious context, then it should be a person whose contributions have helped shaped and changed the world or even a grand section of humanity; and of course, in positive and gainful ways. One has to be mindful that when one contributes goodness to humanity, one contributes to godliness.

Let’s take a glimpse into various notable lives from the many that had contributed colossally to world-change. They have impacted many lives – some in good ways while others in bad or mixed ways. The glimpses do not end with this chapter but rather, starts from here.

Many people, particularly Jamaicans regard the late reggae icon Bob Marley as a “prophet”. His music, lyrics and wisdom have spread onto many lands and many hearts. Hardly anywhere in the world that you go to, you would hear his song being played and sung. He is perhaps the single most potent force to have brought reggae into global prominence and ultimately, universal appreciation. Though he died aged 36 over 3 decades ago from cancer, yet in his brief passage through our world, his contributions were great even by any simple or rudimentary measure.

Marley in concert in 1980. Photo – Ueli Frey
Marley in concert in 1980. Photo – Ueli Frey

Nesta Robert Marley was born February 6, 1945. His father was a 60 year old Jamaican European named Norval Marley and was of British-Syrian descent while and his mother was 18-year old Cedella Booker and was Afro-Jamaican. Taught the guitar by Joe Higgs who was part of a vocal act known as Higgs & Wilson, Marley first recorded his 4 songs in 1962. Then in 1966 he married Rita Anderson (Rita Marley) and moved to Wilmington, Delaware where he briefly worked in DuPont as a lab assistant and at Chrysler’s assembly line. Although a Catholic, he was drawn to Rastafarianism in the 1960s and formally embraced it when he returned to Jamaica. He then began to grow his ubiquitous deadlocks.

Marley went through numerous line-up changes to his group and performed all through his rise to global prominence in the mid-1970s until his death in Miami in 1981. Officially he sold some 10 million records but these numbers are a fraction of what are actually Marley’s recordings in possession and circulation. His most impacting influence was during the 1970s. Even Eric Clapton chose to record his song “I Shot the Sheriff” and helped to propel the tune to higher universal prominence. In 1977 however, at the height of his music career, he was diagnosed for malignant melanoma under a toe. Urged to treat it, he however and citing religious reasons, shunned amputation. That may very likely have shortened his life drastically and he died four years later – 11 May, 1981 and aged only 36.

Marley performed and rendered his songs with philosophical aura, individualism and profound spirituality. Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga declared in his eulogy: “His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds. Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation”.

Marley lives on and his following has broadened further from the epitome of his glory when he was alive. His music keeps on delighting the hearts and minds of countless millions and is still the thrust and mantra of those opposing political persecution. Though only 36 at his time of his passing Bob Marley left 11 children and a few others who claimed he was their father.

Marley statue in Kingston. Pic by Avda
Marley statue in Kingston. Pic by Avda

One can’t but only imagine what level of greatness and music he would have had materialised and rendered had he lived on. Incidentally, this also brings to mind the 27 Club with great musicians and vocalists dying young at 27 – and sadly too in the peak of their careers. Names such as Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and 40 others have somehow robbed the world of irreplaceable and life-impacting talents.

Firstly, in definition, a prophet is one who can foretell the future. However, fortune-tellers and psychics can do that but they do not impact humanity as how we conventionally view prophets to. Moreover, his or her influence should preferably not be localised but international.

So could the late Mother Theresa, for instance, be considered a prophet or a saint is more fitting? Howbeit, her greater works were concentrated in Kolkata, India. She had arrived there from her land of origin – Albania.

Hence, what about Alexander Fleming then? Indeed perhaps so, since his discovery of penicillin helped save millions of lives, thus preserving life and sustaining humanity while it was used all over the world. His discovery and subsequent use of penicillin also served as a prelude and impetus to the founding and production of other forms of life-saving antibiotics as what we have today.

Bacteria have already been first described by Antoine van Leeuwenhoek as early back as 1683 but it wasn’t until only late in the 18th. Century before Louis Pasteur confirmed that they cause diseases. One morning in September 1928 and just fresh from a family vacation, Alexander Fleming a bacteriologist, had a chance discovery from Petri dishes that he had put aside in his haste, probably to go pack for his vacation. To his amazement, the mould contamination appeared to contain a potent antibiotic.

Sir Alexander Fleming – Photo: Imperial War Museum
Sir Alexander Fleming –
Photo: Imperial War Museum

Penicillium fungi or mould appeared to kill Staphylococcus aureus. The mould that had contaminated the experiment turned out to contain a powerful antibiotic and Fleming decided to call the antibacterial agent penicillin. Still, it wasn’t until 1940 – a year after WWII broke out that this discovery turned into a miracle drug.

That year, two Oxford University scientists named Howard Florey from Australia and Ernst Chain, a German refugee, furthered the discovery and produced it into a brown powder that extended its potency and shelf-life for far longer than the mere original few days. This went on to save countless lives during the war and proceeded to treat a myriad of diseases including tuberculosis, pneumonia, syphilis, diphtheria and gangrene. All three scientists received the Nobel Peace Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 and Fleming was formally credited for having discovered penicillin.

Then, how about William Gilbert, Samuel Morse or Alexander Graham Bell? They changed our lives through the discovery of electricity and the telephone. Why not, since their contributions and creations helped to create paradigms that eventually gave humans the total convenience of our modern lifestyle and speed of communication that eliminated distance? We can’t imagine our lives to be without electricity and instantaneous communication, can we?

Electricity was discovered in the Elizabethan Age by William Gilbert, a natural philosopher and physician to the Queen. He published his treatise De magnete, Magneticisique Corporibus (On the Magnet) in 1600 which was printed in Latin and delved into his research and experiments on electricity and magnetism. He invented the term “electrica”. That inspired other famous researchers such as Otto von Guericke, Charles Francois and Stephen Gray to further on his discovery.

Samuel Morse was born in 1791 and a son of a Congressional minister and scholar. He attended Yale at 14 and was tutored by Benjamin Silliman – Professor of Chemistry and Jeremiah Day – Professor of Natural Philosophy. This was to play a pivotal part in his discovery of the telegraph – the precursor to the “harmonic telegraph” or telephone. Morse was an accomplished artist and as surprising as it might seem, art was his first love. He was at a time commissioned by New York City to paint a portrait of Lafayette who was visiting Washington DC then.

Morse self-portrait 1812 – National Portrait Gallery
Morse self-portrait 1812 – National Portrait Gallery

Midway through that portrait in 1825, he received news of his wife’s death in New Haven. She had delivered James, their third child. What irked and moved him was the slow speed in getting news to him. He then decided to explore on long-distance communication. He returned to Europe in 1829 to study art and on his voyage home to America in 1832, he met several scientists and discussed on electricity. That was the turning point. Nevertheless, it was only in 1847 that Samuel Morse received a patent for the telegraph.

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847. It had already been some 30 years since the telegraph had been around when Bell was experimenting with electrical signals and he was competing with another inventor Elisha Gray. But Bell got his patent for the telephone in the 1870s barely a few hours ahead of Gray’s attempt – which resulted in a legal battle. Bell won. The telephone was born March 10, 1876 and simply known then as the harmonic telegraph. He was helped by his devoted assistant Thomas Watson.

On the other hand, how about say, Einstein and Oppenheimer and the invention as well as detonation of the atomic bomb? In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt stating that Nazi Germany was applying efforts toward purifying uranium-235 and that it could be used to produce an atomic bomb.

That gave birth to The Manhattan Project and consequentially, the atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer headed the project from conception to completion but his team of scientists who developed the bomb comprised of David Bohm, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, Otto Frisch, Rudolf Peierls, Felix Bloch, Neils Bohr, Emilio Seagre, James Franck, Enrico Fermi, Klaus Fuchs and Edward Teller. Yet apart from Oppenheimer, most of us never heard of these names – much less can remember them.

Einstein & Oppenheimer – US Govt. Defense Threat Reduction Agency
Einstein & Oppenheimer – US Govt. Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Over $2 billion – a sum which was unfathomable in its era – was spent between 1939 and 1945. A huge uranium enrichment plant was constructed in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and after years of development, the weapon named “The Gadget” was finally tested July 16, 1945, in New Mexico. It shocked everyone that witnessed it. Isidor Isaac Rabi – one of the physicists, retorted that he “felt that the equilibrium in nature had been upset as if humankind had become a threat to the world it inhabited”. Oppenheimer uttered “I am become death” and the test director, Ken Bainbridge muttered “now we are all sons of bitches”.

Atomic cloud in Nagasaki after detonation - Hiromichi Matsuda
Atomic cloud in Nagasaki after detonation in 1945 – Photo by Hiromichi Matsuda

In shock and awe, many of them signed a petition not to unleash this civilization-annihilating destructive power but hardly a month later, Hiroshima was bombed. The 4.5 tonnes uranium bomb named “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima August 6, 1945. That killed an estimated 70,000 people with just as many injured. It was a 10-kiloton bomb. Three days later, August 9, 1945, a plutonium bomb named “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki killing 40,000. Within the first 2 to 4 months, some 80,000 to 166,000 people have died in Hiroshima and 60,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki. Countless more were stricken by radiation sickness and suffering the prolong damning effects.

It’s always going to be a case of one’s hero is another’s villain. Some misdeeds are seen as necessary evil to combat a greater evil. Whether they are justified or serve as mere excuses can be left to fierce debates. However, it’s recommended that we accept the fact that not only does the Devil wear Prada, he adorn holy robes from time to time too. Or what about those nasty and devious leaders – those “villains” who were proponents of carnage and destruction committed in the guise of “Peace and Freedom”? Many are well and alive today. In our brisk walk through fairly recent history, the next chapter would be touching on earth-shaking Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong and Adolf Hitler – those cults of personalities of the 20th. Century.

How you view them and the roles they played in shaping the world is your prerogative. One thing remains undeniable though and that is they were all prominently impacting and caused the deaths of a probable total exceeding 150 million human beings. That’s wholly mindless!



Author: J. Sam Barr

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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