Category Archives: Science and Nature

The Bees by Laline Paull

book coverThe Bees is a powerful tale of what life might look like to a hive member. This is not your kids’ Bug’s Life, but a very grown-up, compelling drama that includes both sweetness and considerable sting. There are several elements that might make one think of Game of Thrones Drones. Corruption on high, battles of succession, sinister enemies, both in the hive and outside. Not only must all men die but winter is coming, twice. There is also a lot of religious reference here. This sits atop a marvelous, deep portrayal of a world that is very alien. And to top it off we are led through this journey by a character who, while far from perfect, is a very good egg, or was.

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Bee life cycle

Of course Flora 717 might not have been considered a wonderful egg to those around her. She was born to the Flora caste, a group responsible for, ironically, cleaning up, a sanitation caste, essentially untouchables. But this Flora is a bit different. She is larger for one, possessed of great determination, curiosity, and a capacity for speech that is mostly suppressed among her peers. Still she is different and that is not usually allowed. The police are about to remove her (Deformity is evil. Deformity is not permitted.) when a Sage intervenes. Sages are the priestess class. Their intentions however, are not entirely holy. This Sage takes Flora under her wing, and the story is on. Sometimes it is good to spare the deviants, and experiment a little. We get to see many aspects of hive life through Flora’s five eyes, but also through her six feet, which are able to interpret vibrations in the floor, and her antennae, which she uses to sense scents and for more direct communication with other bees. That Paull can make the very alien sense environment of bees understandable to those of us with only four limbs and no antennae at all (well except for our friends in intelligence) is a triumph on its own. The Hive Mind is considered for its positive and negative aspects as well.

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Laline Paull

Paull tells about the origin of the story on her web site

A beekeeper friend of mine died, far too young. In the immediate aftermath of her death, I began reading about the bees she loved so much. Very quickly, I realized I was exploring the most extraordinary ancient society that was like a hall of mirrors to our own: some things very similar, others a complete inversion, whilst more were fantastically alien and amazing. The more I read the more I wanted to find out, but when I learned about the phenomenon of the laying worker, I became incredibly excited by the huge dramatic potential of that situation.

Her feeling of loss is very much present here. Bees are not the longest lived creatures on the planet, and more than a few see their end here. But there is another element as well, from a recent interview posted here on Goodreads,

Becoming a mother changed me and made me stronger—but evolution is never easy. I didn’t write Flora from an intellectual perspective but in a very visceral way: Motherhood made me a more passionate person—or allowed me to express that innate side of myself much more. So perhaps that’s why Flora works as a character: There’s primal truth in her motivation. She accepts her life one way, but then a forbidden force takes possession of her. Called love.

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Religious nomenclature permeates the tale. The Queen is not only a temporal ruler, but is considered divine as well. This is helped along by her ability to produce pheromones in vast quantity that can soothe her hive family. There are sacraments in this world, a catechism, rituals, prayers, some of which will sound familiar. There are also some virgin births. And what would religion be without a little human sacrifice, or in this case bee sacrifice. It is a place in which religion is joined to politics to generate Orwellian mantras like Accept Obey Serve, Desire is Sin, Idleness is Sin, From Death comes Life Eternal, and the like. And, of course, there is some Orwellian behavior. Life is held cheaply, particularly for those not of the favored groups, and the jack-booted police that enforce the rules are definitely a buzzkill. The death penalty is more the norm than the exception, and it is often applied immediately and energetically.

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Western honey bee

Flora’s explorations of the world are entire adventures on their own, as she encounters not only adversaries like wasps, spiders and crows, but man-made hazards as well. On the other hand she experiences the longing of the flowers, and the expanded internal horizons that result from expanding one’s horizons externally. She has a particular longing of her own, which fires the engines of her determination.

The Bees is a fast-paced, engaging, invigorating tale that will have you flipping pages faster than a forager’s wings. You will come away not only with the warm feeling of having shared a remarkable journey but will find yourself eager to learn more about our buzzy brethren, well, except for Nicolas Cage. And you might even find yourself tempted to get up and do a

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Waggle Dance

======================================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

In Paull’s site there is a photo of a Minoan palace map that informed her hive layout. Worth a look .

The May 2014 GR newsletter features a brief interview with Paull

That buzzing in your ear might be more cause for concern that you’d realized. New project aims to upload a honey bee’s brain into a flying insectobot by 2015

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Religion, Reviews, Science and Nature

Communication: From Pheromones to the Internet and Beyond by Max Swanson

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In Communications: From Pheromones to the Internet and Beyond, Max Swanson, a long-time researcher with Atomic Energy of Canada, and physics prof at the U of North Carolina, offers a wide-ranging overview of communication, from unicellular beasties to complex organisms, from humans to machines, from proximate to distant, from the physical to the abstract, from then to now and from now to the future. Along the way he looks at communication as it pertains to religion, politics, education, government and marketing. He casts an eye on self and spiritual communication as well. He has clearly given the subject a lot of thought and presents myriad ways in which communication occurs, including, but not limited to sight, touch, sound, feel, language and even ways of communication that might not seem obvious, such as DNA. There are significant and valid points raised here. One is the importance of education for females. Another is the danger of concentrating media control in too few hands. Yet another looks at the historical experience of nations that base their education systems on testing to the exclusion of all else.

I had very mixed feelings about Communication. It is unclear to me who the intended audience is. It comes across as equal parts fascinating and obvious. There are plenty of jaw-dropping items, where you are pleading for Swanson to tell you more, tucked in between sections that make one want to wonder aloud “yeah, and?” Here is one of the latter, on the relative merits of information vs misinformation.

Wild swings in the stock markets and the global economy are due in large part to panic or euphoria caused by inadvisable spin of financial news, whether good or bad. On the other hand, timely worldwide flow of information facilitates the realistic evaluation of news, the distribution of goods, the coordination of health maintenance, and timely warnings of disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

Duh-uh.

However, as a springboard for investigation of its composite elements Communication is marvelous. Have a class of 12th graders read this and there is huge potential that each will come across something that stimulates their curiosity. They won’t so much be able to satisfy it here as be prompted to a journey that might lead somewhere exciting, even if they do that search on handheld communication devices, and have to occasionally be zapped with tasers whenever they text someone or resume that game of Angry Birds. Here is one of the fun items:

In Egypt, thousands of years before the Christian era, giant obelisks may have provided a unique and innovative long-range communication system. By striking these obelisks, priests in Luxor and other religious centers could have created resonant sounds heard many kilometers away.

If you are thinking, as I did, that this sounds like a fab idea for an action/adventure novel, sorry, it has already been taken. Damn! Maybe as an element in a video game? And another:

Most humans are capable of hearing sounds with a frequency between 20 hertz ad 20,000 hertz (cycles per second) and volume greater than 5-15 decibels. [Are decibels digital temptresses?] Hearing is best in the frequency range between 1,000 and 5,000 hertz. Some very low frequency sounds cannot be consciously heard, but are accompanied by a vague feeling of unease when in their presence. This feeling may be associated with the phenomenon of ghosts.

Seems like he buried the lead there, slipping in an item we could use a bit more on, but it is off to the next topic straight away.

I am sorry to report that much of Communication reads like a text book, and is sorely lacking in the sort of humor that someone like Mary Roach brings to science to grease the intellectual in-ports. But there are also many fun items to be found here, no question. The issue is balancing the delight of taking in the juicy bits with the not-so-exciting other elements. Bottom line for me is that I am glad I read it. I learned some new things, which is like heroin to me, and that made trudging through the rest an acceptable cost. It might be for you too.

Posted April 11, 2014

I received this book through the GR FirstReads program.

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Filed under Non-fiction, Reviews, Science and Nature

My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

book cover Scott Stossel has a problem, anxiety. Big-time. Had it all his life. Think decades of therapy of the talk and chemical varieties. But, he has also had a successful career as a journalist, and is currently the editor of the Atlantic magazine.

Anxiety, when it’s not debilitating, can bring with it certain gifts: a heightened awareness of your environment; more sensitive social antennae; a general prudence about risk-taking; a spur toward achievement. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard believed that the greater the anxiety, the greater the opportunity for growth. I think there’s definitely something to that—though when my anxiety is at its worst I’d trade away the opportunity for growth in exchange for the anxiety dissipating. (from the Bookpage Interview)

Just what is anxiety? What causes it? What are its effects on individuals and society? How has it been viewed historically? What might be done about it? Stossel sets out to look at these and other questions. The wrinkle here is that he uses his personal lifelong battle with anxiety as a lens through which to examine the various understandings that have been put forth about this condition and the treatments that have been tried over time. The historical and analytical elements are fascinating reading, but relating the information to his personal struggle makes Stossel’s a very human approach.

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Scott Stossel

If getting definitive answers to questions is important to you, and not getting such answers makes you uncomfortable, anxious even, you probably should pass on reading My Age of Anxiety. If, however, you enjoy the mental stimulation of seeing the history of how medical science and society at large has viewed what we, today, call “anxiety”, then this significant work should offer you the palliation you require.

So, what is anxiety? Stossel’s response reminded me of Tevye’s, in Fiddler on the Roof, to the question of why the Jewish people maintain certain traditions. “I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition.” Stossel does not break out into song, but offers a comparable explanation, at least to begin.

If Freud himself, anxiety’s patron saint, couldn’t define the concept, how am I supposed to?

Even contemporary investigations with the highest of tech have not been able to pin it down definitively. There are even different schools of thought over where the primary cause of anxiety lies. Is it in the electromagnetic functioning of the brain, or in the swath of chemicals that also make up our biology. Charmingly, these two camps are referred to as “Sparks” and “Soups.”

Is anxiety genetically determined? There really is a thing that researchers call the Woody Allen gene.

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From Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex

Anxiety has offered fodder for cinematic investigation, both serious and satirical, an area that did not receive much attention here. But one could be forgiven for believing that Hollywood product seems to exist, in large measure, in order to instill fear in the population. book cover “Be afraid. Be very afraid.“ The release of Jaws certainly gave many an unwarranted fear of being slurped down by a mega-fishy. There is both the Hitchcockian treatment of acrophobia and Mel Brooks’ somewhat lighter take, depending on whether you prefer your anxiety high or low. And of course newspapers do all they can to flog fear as a means of pushing product. book coverThere are enough cop, medical, serial killer and zombie programs on the tube to provide plenty of fodder for nurturing our nervousness. Maybe it is the minority of us who are immune to this constant barrage of market-driven promotion of paranoia. Is it any wonder people are so afraid of so many things?

Do drugs and the ad campaigns of big pharma create more anxiety? Stossel looks into this possibility. Despite the real benefits of some of the products made by large pharmaceutical companies, maybe big pharma is something we should be frightened of.

Lest one think Stossel has written a completely dry, scientific, or at least reportorial investigation, you should know that in talking about one of his primary personal miseries, emetophobia, or fear of vomiting, he does seem to take on a bit of a Mary Roach persona while describing some very painful and embarrassing personal experiences. My scatologically-inclined inner twelve-year-old was giddy at times.

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An out of body experience

When Stossel writes of shyness and stage fright, I was whisked back to my early youth, kindergarten or first grade. A school performance. I stood at center stage and recited, “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater…” I got through the words, but by the time I walked off stage, my trousers had acquired considerable extra moisture. It got better. I had battles with anxiety over the years as an adult as well. Not nearly to the degree that Stossel did. There was a time when I was so burdened with anxiety that my armpits would become viciously inflamed. Not exactly something that might land one in a hospital, for sure. But pain-enforced arms akimbo is not a normal way to present oneself to the world this side of a workout vid. It jars when one is in a suit and tie. It does not matter what caused this somatization. No one turned me into a newt. It did get better. This pales before the travails endured by the author, nearly bolting from his own wedding out of terror that he would boot his lunch, throwing sports matches just to get off the court and stop worrying that he might toss his cookies in public. His anxieties did not make for a happy adolescence in the already terrifying world of dating. (There is plenty more. Read the book to find out just how fortunate you really are.) But I do understand at least a bit, on a very personal level, how anxiety can be physically debilitating. So the book held definite appeal. I imagine that many of us have suffered from anxiety of one sort or another, in varying intensities. It can’t hurt to learn a bit more about where this particular form (or more properly, range of forms) of misery originates.

One of the treatments Stossel looks at (and experienced himself) is a thing called exposure therapy. Basically one must confront the thing one fears most over and over until one internalizes the fact that the thing one fears will not do the damage one imagines. It is Mary Roach territory again when he writes of his own exposure therapy treatment, and its effect on those treating him. I can imagine, however that this might not be a particularly helpful approach were one’s fear something like, say, emasculation, or being hit by a car.

He writes of the fascinating connection between the brain and the stomach. Those who suffer from anxiety also have issued with control-freakishness. It was news to learn that there is even a standardized scale for measuring this. That it is called Rotter’s Locus of Control Scale does not give one great confidence in the intent of its designer.

There is a wonderful section on blushing. Those of us who are always on the lookout for Darwinian understandings of human behavior will definitely perk up at this. And speaking of Darwin, his is one of many household names Stossel cites as prolonged and acute anxiety sufferers. There is also an enlightening passage on how we get the word panic from the Greek god Pan. You will learn a bunch of nifty new words, well, probably new to you. I know a lot were new to me.

Fox News troll John Stossel is Scott’s uncle, so it is clear that there is definitely something sinister swimming about in the family gene pool. At least that particular strain does not seem to have afflicted Scott. His younger sister, Sage, an artist, not only suffers considerably from anxiety, she also just published in December a book that deals with it, Starling. Thanksgiving must be interesting at Stossel family gatherings.

I have one particular gripe about the book and it has to do with physical format. The volume I read was an ARE, so formatting may be different in the final, hard cover edition. But in the volume I read, the page count comes in at 337. No big whoop, even if it is a dense read, and it can be. But the sheer volume of footnotes at the bottom of pages is such that it felt much, much longer. (Maybe call them feetnotes?) There are pages that consist of three lines of actual primary text and what seemed vast, unending streams of subsidiary material in print that seemed to call for an electron microscope. I became almost phobic about turning the page. God knows how much more footnote was lurking there, determined to triple the time it would normally take me to completely read a page. And it should be pretty clear that one of my personal tics is a need to read all the footnotes. And they are definitely worth reading. What I wish though, is that the author had found a way to incorporate that very interesting material into the text of the book itself, at a human-friendly font-size, and let us know up front how long the book really is. It felt like a bit of a cheat to me, stuffing so much material in through that particular back door. If it is really a five or six hundred page book, fine, I’m a big boy. I can handle it. But don’t tell me it’s 337, then cram in another 200 pps of material. Grrrrr. That said, if you do not share my footnote-reading compulsion, it will be a much quicker read for you, but you will miss out on a lot of fascinating stuff. So maybe the solution here is to just tell yourself that the book is maybe 50% longer than the page number indicates and adjust your expectations accordingly.

It took a lot of work and a lot of guts for Stossel to expose his personal struggles to public view. Reading My Age of Anxiety may not do anything to remove your particular fears, phobias, neuroses or anxieties, but it may at least offer some comfort from the knowledge that one’s difficulty is unlikely to be unique, that anxiety, like death, taxes, corruption and bloody-minded stupidity has ever been with us, that one suffers in the company of some of the greatest minds humanity has ever produced, that there is likely some relief to be had chemically, and that there can be real personal and social benefit from having at least some anxiety. Unless your fears have to do with reading very informative looks at widespread human problems, works in which the reportage incorporates the personal to illuminate the universal, you might want to risk taking a peek at My Age of Anxiety. There is nothing to be afraid of.

==================================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

NY Times article about Scott and sister Sage publishing books at the same time, about the same subject, although very differently

Bookpage interview

This was named one of Oprah’s 17 books to pick up in January

Stossel on Colbert, a fun interview.

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January 20, 2014 · 10:37 am

Eels by James Prosek

book coverYeah I know, there are two reactions to the notion of eels. First there is fear when one thinks of large, oceanic moray eels popping up out of some hidden coral niche to snatch a chunk out of your leg as you swim by. Second is “eeewww.” This is for the slippery guys who inhabit rivers, streams and extreme restaurants. Get over it.

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James Prosek – from NPR

James Prosek’s Eels is a fascinating look at an unappreciated creature. Did you know that scads of eels migrate from freshwater streams and rivers to mid-ocean to spawn? The location of the Pacific spawning ground is still unknown, (or at least unrevealed) but they head for the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic. The author attempted to keep eels once, but their wanderlust resulted in them damaging themselves trying to escape. The urge to get back to the sea can also result in the major YouTube wet dream of giant eel balls (no, Beavis, not oversized fish nads, but masses of intertwined critters, cavorting in a movable orgy) rolling their way over dry land to get to the ocean. It is probably a good idea to step aside.

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from fishermensvoice.com

Prosek offers wonderful profiles of people for whom the eel is a major part of their lives, scientists, eelers, eco-warriers, South Sea Islanders. Ray Turner is a back-woods sort in Pennsylvania who makes a living as an eeler from a year’s worth of work and a few nights of harvest. A large part of the book looks at the significance of the eel in Maori culture. This is quite eye-opening. Think buffalo and Plains Indians. He writes also of how the Japanese regard the eel and manages to find a flight to the very remote Micronesian island of Pohnpei, mentioned to him by a few of the people he interviewed for the book. It is a place of great significance in eel legend. Eels are reputed to be able to make sounds like barking dogs and crying babies, and are ascribed magical powers beyond that. Way cool. He also looks at the activities of conservationists who are trying to spare these remarkable creatures from extinction.

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a Moray eel from howstuffworks.com – not just another pretty face

Catches of eels are plummeting worldwide, the result of dams, overfishing, and the usual human fouling of natural waterways, increasing the need for information about the eel life-cycle so that this important fish (yes, eels are fish) can be preserved.

Prosek’s book is, in short, great fun. By the time I finished I could honestly say, “I’ve been slimed,” but in a good way. This book was released in 2009. It is definitely worth your while trying to locate a copy and when you do, don’t let your chance to learn about these fascinating creatures slip away.

Review posted on GR in June 2010 – updated December 2013

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

Prosek’s web site

There is a video on PBS featuring Prosek, The Mystery of Eels that is definitely worth a look, although it is refreshing to see that there is something that this renaissance man, (yeah, he plays music too, in addition to being an accomplished artist and scientist) is not great at, voice-overs. The content and visuals more than make up for Prosek’s stolid delivery.

12/3/13 – Gillian Anderson, in full eel attire, promoting conservation – must see

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Filed under Non-fiction, Reviews, Science and Nature

Among the Great Apes by Paul Raffaele

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…through the observations in Africa and Southeast Asia of scores of primatologists spawned by Fossey and Goodall, we have discovered great ape species each have their separate character. The orangutans are introspective loners; gorillas laid back and largely undemonstrative; the bonobos gleeful hedonists; and chimpanzees the thugs, by far the most destructive and murderous…from the Prologue

But, to varying degrees, and for diverse reasons, they are all disappearing from the wild.

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From the Universitad Pompeo Fabra in Barcelona

The author wanted to see what he could of them in their native haunts while there was still the opportunity. He looks at gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, the first three in Africa, the last in Borneo. What he finds is both fascinating and alarming.

Paul Rafaele is a certified character. In 2007, he was interviewed by Peter Carlson for The Washington Post. Carlson characterized him as

a professional adventurer, perhaps the last in a long line of popular writers who ventured into wild places and returned with electrifying tales of fearsome animals and strange humans.
“He’s the last of a breed,” says Carey Winfrey, Smithsonian magazine’s editor in chief. “I don’t want to use the word ‘throwback,’ but he is a throwback.”
He’s a throwback, Winfrey says, to such 19th-century British explorer-writers as Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke and to the American writer Richard Halliburton, who traveled to Devil’s Island and swam the Sea of Galilee and followed Cortez’s route through Mexico and wrote about it all in countless articles and best-selling books in the 1920s and ’30s.
“He has a childlike curiosity and enthusiasm for people and places,” Winfrey says. “His world is a world of infinite possibilities and infinite heterogeneity. It’s the world as seen through the eyes of a 16-year-old schoolboy

The last apes the Aussie adventurer reported on in book form were the naked variety, and he was looking into the predilection of some for feeding on their own. Not so much with our furrier cousins.

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This image graces the inside rear flap of the book, and does as good a job as any of portraying the author

Gorillas

Diane Fossey made the world aware of gorillas, but not all of them. Turns out there are several sub-species. She specialized in the mountain variety, the largest of the four. There are eastern and western lowland varieties and the one you almost certainly never heard of, the Cross River gorillas, which are undoubtedly the most endangered of them all. Sorry, none from Skull Island or any other islands for that matter.

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The best known gorilla of all time

Raffaele interviews a host of field experts and fills us in on how gorillas live. We get a look at their family structure, group interaction, diet, child rearing, and the problem infants face should troop leadership change hands. We also learn that gorilla vocalization includes higher-pitched tonal calls, similar to humans humming and singing, favored by younger troop members. Can’t you damn kids keep it down? (toga, toga, Toga, Toga, TOga, TOga, TOGa, TOGa, TOGA, TOGA) Sometimes the musicality spreads. Raffaele quotes gorilla expert Amy Vedder:

One individual would start a low rumbling sound, breathing in and out in a modulated tone. This might remain a solo performance, and last no more than a minute. Often, however, others would join, adding gender- and age-specific basses, baritones, tenors and sopranos in a mix. The result was a chorus of entwined melodies, rising and falling in a natural rhythm that might continue for several minutes; a gorilla Gregorian chant in a Virunga cathedral.

Bet ya didn’t see that coming. We learn a bit about the differences among the subspecies. The Cross River offers the most unique experience of the four gorilla habitats. No, our furry friends are not punting back and forth across a waterway on bespoke rafts. Their particular brand of gorilla is named for the Cross River, where they live. It took greater effort for Raffaele to get to them than it did to reach any of the others. He was not exactly a kid when he headed out there, a trek that included significant life-threatening passages. It is particularly exciting to read of that leg of his adventure. The Cross River gorillas are the least interfered-with of any gorilla population. The animals are not at all habituated to humans, and their protectors want to keep it that way.

The plusses and minuses of habituation to people come in for considerable discussion here, for all the species under review. All the gorilla sub-species face enormous challenges. Eliminate near-constant civil wars, locals setting traps by the thousands in gorilla habitat to catch bush meat of various sorts, corrupt officials selling off protected land for logging and making charcoal, and our cousins’ chances of surviving into the 22nd century would skyrocket. If wishes were horses, though, a lot of these folks would probably kill and eat them. The fear is quite real that someday in the 21st century, because of greed and corruption, when we think of gorillas in the mist, the only thing remaining will be the mist.

Chimpanzees

If Kong was the prototypical image many of us had of gorillas, there is a chimpanzee of comparable familiarity, although of much more modest dimensions.

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Doctor Zira in Planet of the Apes (1968)

No, but nice try. There was a much earlier representative of the species, one that remained in the public consciousness long after the films in which he appeared had become quaint. I speak, of course, of a matinee idol.

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Why, Cheeta, of course, ever helpful, ever reliable, Jungle Man’s best friend

The reality of chimpanzee life in the wild is not quite so comforting. Raffaele learns about how culture is transmitted from generation to generation, relative educability of male and female young, age-based mate preference by males (it is not what you might expect), their use of medicinal plants, including A. pluriseta, an abortifacient. They are also quite willing to form gangs and murder members of their own troop. They show a decided predilection for violence. Chimpanzees are clever, and use their intelligence for dark ends.

Bonobos

Bonobos are very similar to chimps in appearance, seeming to be a slightly smaller version. But there are significant differences between the species. Carston Knott, keeper of great apes at the Frankfurt zoo, told Raffaele,

I tell new keepers that if you throw a screwdriver in with the gorillas, they wouldn’t notice it for weeks on end unless they sat on it. The chimpanzees would use it to destroy something within minutes, but the bonobos and orangutans, within thirty minutes, would figure out how to use it to unlock the cage door and escape.

Considerable differences are noted here between chimps and bonobos, the latter being the closest ape to humans, DNA-wise. It is summed up nicely in one simple statement: Chimps are from Mars, bonobos are from Venus. Well, one aspect of their existence anyway

Chimpanzee females come into heat for only a few days a month, and so competition for them among the males can be fierce, with the dominant male granting more mating rights to his allies. But bonobo females are receptive to the males for most of each month, and that means there is hardly any fighting by the males for their favors.

The lively sex lives of bonobos is not restricted by age or gender. Monkey business is just fine for bonobos, whatever their age, with partners of both genders, with plenty positional creativity being applied. Another element that differentiates bonobos from chimps is that bonding with mom persists for a lifetime. Chimpanzee maternal bonds are a lot more fragile. Unlike their larger ape cousins, bonobos do not kill other bonobos.

Orangutans

The orangutan is the largest arboreal creature on earth. Unlike their African cousins, orangutans are primarily solitary, slow moving creatures. They do not really need to get anywhere in a hurry. The orang habitat is under considerable assault, as the government clears large swaths of native forest in order to plant palm oil trees to satisfy a growing international demand. Raffaele picks up a bit of intel on the orang sex life. It includes oral. He spends some time looking at an operation in Borneo that aims at rehabbing orphaned orangs and returning them to the wild, paying particular attention to some serious problems with the program. One unusual feature about orangs is that there is dimorphism among males. The leader of the pack grows large and sprouts those facial flanges that look like rubber add-ons. Should the big guy slip on a banana peel and take a header, the vacuum will indeed be filled. And the successor will sprout the same extra bits.

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Clyde’s seems an appropriate response to the eco-vandalism the Indonesian government is committing against the orangutans’ habitat

Raffaele does take breaks from his extended nature travels to stop in at facilities doing relevant research in various parts of the world. These outings are quite interesting. He is not a fan of zoos, but does acknowledge that the finer institutions of that sort do offer real potential benefits to the species with which they work. He also has a riveting conversation with the head of a tribe whose members, he says, can transform themselves into gorillas and back again. Very Castaneda.

You may or may not go ape for Among the Great Apes, but you will certainly want to hoot and holler for all that you will learn on this journey, and might even want to thump your chest a bit when you are done, thus letting those around you know just how big and powerful your brain has become. And as for the 800 pound gorilla in the room, it is probably two gorillas inside an over-sized gorilla suit. Real gorillas only grow to about four hundred pounds. It night not even do them much good were they to begin growing to double their natural size. The challenges all the great apes face are unrelenting and deadly. The long-term prospects for all the creatures addressed here are far from great. But you will learn a heck of a lot following Raffaele on his quest, or I’m a monkey’s uncle.

======================================EXTRA STUFF

PR on Facebook

PR on Twitter

Interview with the Washington Post

The Smithsonian page for Raffaele includes links to several articles he wrote for them over the years. The information reported in several of these were incorporated into the book

Ok, I really tried to figure out how to get this image into the body of the review, but I just could not force it in. So, in a fit of self-indulgence, I am dropping it down here. Any look at a book about apes, and yes I know this is not supposed to be an ape, but a Homo Sap predecessor, seems incomplete without it.

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If you do not recognize this, you may have more evolving to do

April 26, 2016 – Just came across this sad news piece by Rachel Nuwer in the NY Times about some simian cousins – New Gorilla Survey Supports Fears of Extinction Within Decade

September 10, 2016 – An interesting piece in the NY Times about bonobo girl-power – In the Bonobo World, Female Camaraderie Prevails by Natalie Angier

November 8, 2016 – A video item in the NY Times reports on research showing similarities between human and bonobo vision – The Aging Eyes of Bonobos

December, 2016 – National Geographic Magazine – Inside the Private Lives of Orangutans – By Mel White – Photographs and Videos by Tim Laman – Pretty interesting stuff

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A Sumatran orang branching out – from the article

September 2017 – National Geographic Magazine – The Gorillas Dian Fossey Saved Are Facing New Challenges – By Elizabeth Royte

October 2017 – National Geographic Magazine – How Jane Goodall Changed What We Know About Chimps – by Tony Gerber

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Flint was the first infant born at Gombe after Jane arrived. With him she had a great opportunity to study chimp development—and to have physical contact, which is no longer deemed appropriate with chimps in the wild. – photograph by Hugo can Lawick – Image and description from article above

October 24, 2017 – Wild and Captive Chimpanzees Share Personality Traits With Humans – by Karen Weintraub

November 2, 2017 – NY Times – New Orangutan Species Could Be the Most Endangered Great Ape – by Joe Cochrane

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An orangutan from the Batang Toru region of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, which researchers say is a distinct, third species of great apes. Credit Tim Laman
Text and image from the NY Times article above

November 4, 2017 – NY Times – Smuggled, Beaten and Drugged:The Illicit Global Ape Trade – by Jeffrey Gentleman

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A female bonobo feeding fruit to her baby at Lola Ya Bonobo. Since 2005, United Nations investigators say, tens of thousands of apes have been trafficked or killed. – Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times
Image and text from above NYT article

April 27, 2018 – NY Times – Stand up and pay attention. Researchers may have found a clue in a particular population of chimps that helps explain how humans began to walk upright – Hints of Human Evolution in Chimpanzees That Endure a Savanna’s Heat – by Carl Zimmer

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Early hominins might have used some of the strategies documented in Fongoli chipmanzees, like staying near water. Humans have skin glands that let us sweat much more than chimpanzees, and the origin of our upright posture might have been an adaptation to stay cooler.CreditFrans Lanting/lanting.com – Image and text from above article

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Fevered by Linda Marsa

The Heat is On

As the planet gets hotter, we’ll live sicker and die quicker

All change is a matter of degrees. Up or down, a bit here, a bit there. And in time, with persistence, you really have something. In the Broadway and later film musical, Pajama Game , the cast sings of the accumulating impact of a small change, in this case literal small change. And so it is with global warming. A fraction of a degree here and there, and what with adding that small bit over and over, the overall amount grows significantly. When we think of warming, we tend to think of what is going into the air, water and land right now. When the fact is that we have been making carbon deposits into our environment for a long time, and are beginning to see the result of that. If you will allow another dip into our musical theater history, the show Mary Poppins, offers a lesson on the value of compound interest. In the case of our planet however, the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in question has grown far too large, its holdings are increasingly comprised of toxic assets and it threatens us all with more than just a fiscal meltdown.

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The author with a ring-tailed lemur in Sarasota, Florida

Global Warming is a hot topic. When we think of the medical impact of global warming it is usually in terms of coping with personal temperature management, keeping cool in the hot weather. We might think of shrinking polar caps, maybe rising sea levels, more energetic hurricanes and the like. But there are very concrete health impacts that might not be so obvious. What if the breeding season of disease-vector mosquitoes were to be extended? More mosquitoes = more illness. One effect of shifting weather patterns brought on by warming is desertification. Dust storms increase in frequency and severity. While one may think of dust storms as a health threat due to the danger of airborne particulates making their way inside our bodies, such storms also carry fungus spores, and the diseases they can cause. There are many such effects we can look forward to as the short-term focus of corporate and political leaders ensures that our long term is hotter and in need of medical attention. In projecting the likely result of any ongoing situation, the devil is in the details, and the author has collected enough of the pesky horned guys together to raise the global temperature even more.

Science writer Linda Marsa, whose previous book, Prescription for Profits , addressed the impact of corporate culture on medical research, has offered compelling details about how a warming planet will, hell, is already affecting our health. A lot of what she reports will surprise you. I am no stranger to the subject, and found that I was being regularly alarmed at what I had not known or suspected.

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Superstorm Sandy

Elements of warming that will affect our health include wider extremes and gyrations in weather,

Hot air holds more water, so we will have more torrential rains, more ferocious hurricanes, and, conversely, more dry spells as a result of heat-induced changes in rainfall patterns. Rising temperatures could trigger pestilence, drought-induced food shortages, raging firestorms, massive migrations, political instability, and wars, even the return of the bubonic plague…In the near future, millions might perish and millions more might be sickened by the litany of medical conditions caused or exacerbated by living in a rapidly warming world: heart disease, asthma, severe respiratory infections, heatstroke, and suicidal despair.

faster global spreading of disease with the growth of global access and increasing interconnectivity,

The explosion of international travel on a hotter, wetter planet—more than 60 million Americans travel abroad every year, and an equal number visit the United States—has created the perfect conditions for the increased transmission of lethal pathogens from the tropics to industrialized nations. Hitchhiking parasites and infected individuals carting microbes that can be passed on by mosquitoes can now go anywhere in the world in less than 24 Hours and deliver reservoirs of malaria, dengue, or chikungunya fever, a particularly nasty infection that causes arthritis-like joint pain, to newly temperate regions…These two factors—global movement and changing global weather—are what enabled the West Nile virus to become entrenched in North America.

assaults by air pollution on our ability to breathe,

One component of pollution, diesel fumes, delivers a double whammy for health. The diesel exhaust emitted by factories and big rigs not only damages the lungs, but also makes an excellent transport system for fungal spores, which proliferate in hotter, carbon-enriched environments. They attach themselves like glue to the tiny diesel particles, which scatter them in the wind in a “nasty synergy,” to use a phrase coined by the late Dr. Paul Epstein, a pioneer in environmental health at Harvard. The fungi lurking inside the spores can be lethal… [causing Valley Fever]

Dust storms may exist
By By Quinn Dombrowski

persistent exposure to hotter temperatures,

After 48 hours of constant exposure to temperatures in excess of 90°F, the body’s defenses start to break down. Consequently, the swiftness of the public health system’s response to heat-related illnesses can literally mean the difference between life and death.

and the stress of exploding demand on existing infrastructure:

[re New Orleans post Katrina]…the mental health care infrastructure—which had been inadequate before—was virtually nonexistent at a time when the need couldn’t possible have been greater. At one point there were only 22 psychiatrists in a city of 200,000. Within a year after Katrina, five doctors became so despondent they took their own lives. “It wasn’t just the destitute poor who had no hope, but professional people who didn’t leave New Orleans and who stayed in the middle of it.

It would be easy to look at all the dark sides of our current warming crisis and start looking for a convenient bridge from which to end it all. But wait. There is plenty more between the covers of Marsa’s report. In fact, she goes into some detail about actions that can be taken. Progress is already being made to reduce our carbon footprint, particularly via smart urbanization. She also shows how we can learn from pioneers in confronting the impact of warming, folks in the Netherlands and Australia specifically, who are learning the lessons of coping at the bleeding edge of climatic change.

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I do not have any gripes about Fevered. Well, ok, maybe a very small and irrelevant one. I am of the opinion that most written work is made more palatable with a dose of humor. I know most of you are not exactly looking for comic relief in a book on global warming, and that is where I happily concede that this is a purely personal bias, and probably needs to be ignored. But the book could have used a smile or two, maybe a Far Side comic, something. But really, feel free to ignore the man behind this paragraph.

Marsa is a seasoned pro who has done her homework and whose experience as a popular science writer is on full display here. Which is a long way of saying that is it an easy-to-read book, rich with information, without being dumbed down.

It is probably the case that folks who are of the rightist persuasion would not bother picking up any book on global warming that did not feature conspiracies and reassurance that nothing is really wrong. Why confuse ideology with facts? But that leaves two thirds of us. For readers with minimal familiarity with warming, Fevered is a good introduction. The audience that will gain the most from the book, I suspect, consists of those of us who have read and studied enough to know just how bloody real this event is, and can always uses some more specifics, both for use in fending off zombie hordes of deniers and in thinking about where public resources should best be directed to cope with the impact.

Hopefully we can apply some heat of our own, get fired up and light a match under the appropriate representatives, senators, mayors, governors, council members and CEOs. Along with us they share responsibility, to a large degree.

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Global Warming – It’s hee-er!

Posted 8/26/2013

========================================EXTRA STUFF

The author’s website . There is one video in particular that sums up her expectations for the future, in the blog page of the site

Wiki on Valley Fever

It is hard to find an example more directly relevant to Marsa’s thesis than this one, Pollution Costs California Hospitals Millions of Dollars by Gina-Marie Cheeseman – March 23rd, 2010

The September, 2013 issue of National Geographic is focused on Rising Seas. This is MUST READ material, very accessible, very alarming.

More to come…

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Gulp by Mary Roach

Mary Roach’s Gulp goes down easy

When it comes to literature about eating, science has been a little hard to hear amid the clamor of cuisine. Just as we adorn sex with the fancy gold-leaf filigree of love, so we dress the need for sustenance in the finery of cooking and connoisseurship…Yes, men and women eat meals. But they also ingest nutrients. They grind and sculpt them into a moistened bolus that is delivered via a stadium wave of sequential contractions, into a self-kneading sack of hydrochloric acid and then dumped into a tubular leach field, where is it converted into the most powerful taboo in human history. [no, not wearing white after Labor Day]

If I had my own university I would see to it that Mary Roach received an honorary doctorate in Scatology. She does seem to have a predilection for investigating elements of human functions that would be considered indelicate in polite company. Of course, to my not-so-inner-Beavis, this is mother’s milk. (Oh, god, no. Is she going to look into that next?) So far, Ms. Roach, a science writer, has managed to process information and squeeze out books on dead bodies (Stiff), the afterlife (Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife ), some of the more personal elements of space travel (Packing for Mars) and sex (Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex). In Gulp, Ms. Roach looks into the details of how, during our corporal existence, we fuel the engines that allow us to scoot between planets or partners, and which make it possible to contemplate what should be done with our remains.

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Mary Roach – image from The Reading Lists

Mary takes us on a lively cruise down the alimentary canal, which lies somewhere between Love Canal and Root Canal, but with more jokes. Really though, a canal is what we are. Stuff in, stuff out, and an increasingly complex control mechanism to make sure it keep flowing. Philosophy? Religion? Civilization? Whatever. Feed me. Let me poop and pee and the rest is gravy. Because, you know, if you can’t or don’t eat, everything else is moot. (Insert anorexic model joke here) If you can’t get rid of the final product, everything else is really nastily moot. So, while our trip with Captain Mary may lack the derring do of the good ship Proteus, (and the wooden leg of that other well-known cruise) it is a fantastic journey from here to there, and most definitely not back again.

As with any sightseeing outing, your tour guide will point out the structures along the way that are considered to be of interest. All ahead full and pay no attention to those white particles dangling from the tree roots along the side. We begin our look inside by examining how smell affects the way things taste to us. If you smell a rat, it might be because of its diet, of which more later. Our first stop is the nose, along with our sense of smell, which functions as the body’s TSA, with its own list of items that may not be brought aboard.

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Hold on for a bit as the captain steers the boat into an unexpected cul-de-sac. While there, you will pick up some info on the food you get for your cats and dogs. Ok, backing out and here we are, looking at the appetite for organ meat in various places and cultures, what is good about it and how many of us consider it nasty. It is in this chapter that we discover that Narwhal skin turns out to be rather tasty.

Around the bend and down the hatch, Ms. Roach spends some time pondering the question of whether, like one jaw-weary fellow in 1903, we might believe that by chewing one’s food very, very thoroughly, one can gain greater nutrition from it than someone could by chewing it a more typical number of times. And while you are mulling that over, Roach goes poking into the strange case of Dr. William Beaumont, the researcher, and Alexis St Martin, his personal guinea pig, the proud possessor of an ill-healed and surprisingly non-fatal gunshot wound to the torso. It scarred up oddly and left the enterprising Doctor Beaumont direct access to Mister St Martin’s stomach. Let the testing begin, and go on and go on. Hey, come back here. I’m not done. For a feature length look at this, up that tributary on the left, you might poke your nose into Open Wound: The Tragic Obsession of Dr. William Beaumont by Jason Karlawish. Next, Captain Mary points out the surprising relationship between spit and laundry detergent, actually between spit (there are two kinds, neither of which is called warm) and a lot of things, and why we like our foods to be crispy and crunchy. And if you were wondering if this little excursion included the risk of being devoured by large living creatures, Roach can fill you in on the odds of surviving inside a leviathan’s stomach.

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From Heidelblog.net

There are plenty more sights to be seen on this journey, subjects like ways of eating oneself to death, the explosive danger of intestinal gas,

(“I know a case, this was fifteen years ago, where the man ate a huge meal and then took an inordinate amount of Alka-Seltzer.” [Dyspepsia expert Mike] Jones made an exploding sound into the telephone. It was like that Monty Python sketch, the Wafer-Thin Mint, where the guy is gorging himself and finally he goes, “I’ll just have this one wafer-thin mint…’”)

 Animated Gif on Giphy
From GIPHY.COM

and the booming field of flatulence.

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From Flixter.com
(I bet you thought I was gonna go with the infamous bean scene from Blazing Saddles. I am much too classy for that. You will have to go there on your own. Just click this.)

And did you know that it was not only possible to ignite farts, but are some people who have flammable belches?

Roach gets to the bottom of the practice known as keistering, and hooping. Prison is a likely lab for such research into the use of the rectum as a cargo hold. The storage capacity is impressive, to the point that one inmate was referred to as OD for Office Depot, for his hooping capacity, actually used for keistering office supplies. I’m not using that stapler.

And you will be amazed at how much of a rat’s diet consists of material that…um…emerged from the rat. So on spotting a certain rodent in Orlando, try to stop yourself from asking what it is in that taco he is toting. And you do not want to be downwind of that breath.

The colon comes in for considerable examination, and figures in a surprising theory for the cause of death of a king. She comes clean in a look at the history, reasons for and abuses of enemas. And, of course Mary lets loose when she gets the scoop on pooping. She even notes a chart that delineates the seven different types. You know you want to see it.

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Ok. Time to squeeze yourself off the boat. Be sure to tip the guide.

Roach always delights in reporting on names that are particularly apt.

my gastroenterologist is Dr. Terdiman, and the author of the journal article “Gastrointestinal Gas” is J. Fardy, and the headquarters of the International Academy of Proctology was Flushing, New York.

I suppose the academy might be better off in Richmond, VA, in the neighborhood called Shockoe Bottom, or maybe in Proberta, CA.

A couple of minor gripes. This book could really have used an index. And the chapter on feeding Spot and Fluffy, while interesting, seemed a bit of a digression from the main journey.

That said, reading Mary Roach is akin to the pure joy one experiences from things like Ripley’s Believe It or Not, with the benefit of knowing that there is no smoke and mirror involvement. Reality is soooooo weird. And we have Mary Roach to thank for refilling our occasionally dwindling mental storehouse of disturbing images, (You will never think of Elvis quite the same way after reading this book) and fascinating scientific facts, like the possible origin for the belief in fire-breathing dragons or the medical efficacy of fecal transplants.

There is never a doubt that Mary Roach will make you laugh and teach you things you never knew before. What could be better? Ok, I mean aside from the Blazing Saddles clip.

===================================EXTRA STUFF

Here is the full vid of the wafer thin mint bit, aka Mr. Creosote. Don’t even try watching this if you get queasy easily. It requires a very strong stomach or a very weak mind.

The May 2013 issue of Smithsonian Magazine features an article by Roach, The-Gut-Wrenching-Science Behind the World’s Hottest Peppers and there is another piece in that issue that may be of interest, Why You Like What You Like by Tom Vanderbilt. BTW, the articles are named differently in the magazine and on the web site.

Other Mary Roach books we have enjoyed
—–2021 – Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
—–2016 – Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War
—–2010 – Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
—–2006 – Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
—–2004 – Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Town Hall Seattle has an excellent audio presentation by Roach

Mary is interviewed on NPR

And in the New York Times

There is a wonderful interview with Mary on The Daily Show, a two parter. Here is Part 1 and here Part 2

Janet Maslin’s NY Times review

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Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff

book coverWinter is coming.

Mitchell Zuckoff seems to be making a habit of looking into the travails of crash victims. His prior book, Lost in Shangri-la , followed three survivors of a WW II era plane crash in New Guinea. They faced the usual sorts of dangers, a step back to the Paleolithic, and a diverse assortment of possible ways to die; cannibals, elements of an enemy army, all sorts of predatory and/or poisonous critters, microscopic invaders that could ruin your day, and help see that it is your last. The whole world was watching and cheering for their safe return.

Reversing his orientation a bit this time Zuckoff, in his latest WW II opus, Frozen in Time, has substituted brutal cold, and a particularly unwelcoming landscape for those other hazards. I’ll take the cannibals every time. (with a nice Chianti) In this instance, the whole world was unaware of the events until well after they had come to a conclusion. Upping his game, Zuckoff deals not with a single crash, but with several, in a cascade.

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Mitchell Zuckoff – image from the author’s site

I suggest that if you have a choice between death by the fire of a predatory jungle or the ice of an arctic wasteland, you would do well to choose the former. You’d have a better chance of making it. At least you would not have to worry so much that the ground on which you were standing might open up and swallow you whole, that you might lose body parts to the relentless cold of Arctic winter, that you might lose your mind waiting to be brought home, while blizzard-driven snow seeps into your shelter. And of course there is always the danger of becoming a GI-sicle for a prowling polar bear. There are survivors of this experience who lived through 148 days worth of cold days in hell.

Douglas : C-53 : Skytrooper

There is a saying that bad things come in threes. It might have been nice if that had been the case in Greenland, in 1942. Greenland seems to have the same effect on powered vehicles as the Bermuda Triangle. There were at least a dozen crashes there in 1942. The trouble under scrutiny here began on November 5, when a military cargo plane, a C-53 Skytrooper, [above] the equivalent of a civilian DC-3 airliner, was returning to its base from Reykjavik after a “milk run” delivery of war materials. It was carrying a crew of five.

Shortly after the plane reached the southeast cost of Greenland, a location that defined the edge of nowhere, disaster struck: …the Skytrooper went down on the ice cap. By some accounts, the crash occurred when one of the plane’s two engines failed, but other reports were silent on why the C-53 experienced what the military called a “forced landing.” The official crash report declared the cause “unknown and no reason given in radio contacts.” A handwritten notation added, “100 percent undetermined.”

The air over Greenland was a busy locale in those days, with dozens of flights transporting men and materials to the war every day, then returning home to do it again. But Greenland is the largest non-continental island on Planet Earth so, even with a lot of planes searching, locating a downed aircraft was no simple task. Here are some comparisons:

California – 163,696 sq miles
Texas – 268,820 sq miles
Alaska – 663,696 sq miles
Greenland – 836,302 sq miles

In other words, big frackin’ haystack.

On November 9 a B17F, a “Flying Fortress” redirected from its mission in Germany to participate in the search, ran into trouble

When they reached the end of Koge Bay fjord, [the crew] saw that everything outside was the same frightening shade of whitish gray. They couldn’t tell where the sky ended and the ice cap began…When the true horizon disappears in the Arctic haze, a pilot might as well be blind. Pilots fortunate enough to survive the phenomenon describe the experience as “flying in milk.”

It did not end well, and nine more servicemen were unwillingly grounded.


On November 29th, desperate to evacuate members of crews what had been stranded in an arctic wasteland for weeks, a pontooned Grumman seaplane know as a Duck, assigned to the Coast Guard ship Northland was making a second daring run, having already rescued some survivors.
It went back for more. But a storm blew in before the Duck could make it back to its base. The pilot was flying blind. The plane crashed into the ice. This is an image of the very plane, taking off. Not a lucky ducky.

image shows on my blog, see bottom

There is more, but these are the big three bits of awfulness of this tale.

Frozen in Time tells the stories of how the crash survivors fared, how the rescue operations were planned and how those worked out, or didn’t. These stories are both fascinating and chilling. There are many examples told of MacGyver-like creativity on the ground among the crash-ees, among the rescue teams and, decades later, in an expedition looking to bring ’em home. This last is a parallel tale that is given much less than half the book. Not all the men and not all the planes made it back in 1942. The author becomes involved with people who are looking to find and repatriate the remains of the crash victims who did not survive. There are a lot of personalities in play here and a fair bit of politicking. It is not as interesting as the core survival tale, but it is informative. A recovery mission does indeed take place, in 2012, and the author is a full participant in that.

It’s tough enough finding a 60+ year old wreck that stands still, (not counting myself) but in Greenland the ice sheet is a very large moving target. Drop a flag on point A and when you return it could be at Points E, Q or X. And then there is the accumulation of more than half a century’s worth of compacted snow.

Imagine searching for a diamond chip buried deep beneath a frozen football field; your best tool is a straw what makes tiny holes into the ground, through which you peer down to see what’s below; if your holes miss by even a little, you’ll miss it; and you have a brief window to explore ten potential locations before being kicked off the field.

The story of the attempt at recovering remains is certainly interesting. It is no surprise that there are sundry parties at Department of Defense meetings who offer a chilly reception to the contractor who was looking to undertake the mission. We get to be a fly on the wall for a few of these.

But the meat of the story is the tales of survival, how these men (all the crash-ees were men) contended with such a hostile environment, what they did to create livable living spaces, how they coped with hunger, as well as cold, and fear. Some fared better than others. It is a bit frightening to learn that a plane landing on a glacier is in danger of getting frozen to it, like a warm tongue to a frozen pipe. There are uplifting items as well in this dark tale. You will learn about the “Short Snorters Club,” if you are not already a member, and the purpose of a Snublebus. You will also expand your vocabulary a tad with some arctic terms.

You will learn as well, about the dedication of the military to bringing home every reachable service member, and about some of the after-effects of the stranding experience on those who made it out.

Spencer’s family knew him as warm and funny, and they’d remember him as a man who bought toilet paper in bulk long before warehouse stores. When his younger daughter Carol Sue asked why, Spencer explained: “I have been without toilet paper,” he told her, “and I am never going to be without toilet paper again.”

Not Scarlett O’Hara perhaps, but a telling indication of the permanence of the crash experience on the survivors. Many found themselves with increased susceptibility to cold. Not everyone had the luxury of such discomfort. One poor bastard survived a crash in the B-17 only to succumb to another as he was being flown away from the bomber in a rescue plane.

There are several crews to keep track of and I think it would have been useful for there to have been a section listing them by vehicle, rather than, or in addition to the straight alphabetic list provided in an appendix. That said, the volume I read was an ARE so there may be a difference or two between what I saw and what is in the final hardcover edition. Just in case it is not provided there,here is the crew list by craft.

C-53
Captain Homer McDowell, Jr
Lieutenant William Springer – co-pilot
Staff Sergeant Eugene Manahan
Corporal William Everett
Private Thurman Johannessen

A brand new B17F – radio sign PN9E
Pilot – Lt. Armand Monteverde
Co-pilot – Lt. Harry Spencer
Navigator – Lt William “Bill” O’Hara
Engineer – Private Paul Spina
Asst Engineer – Private Alexander “Al” Tucciarone
Radio Operator – Corporal Loren “Lolly” Howorth
Mechanic – Private Clarence Wedel 35,
Tech Sergeant Alfred “Clint” Best and
Staff Sergeant Lloyd Woody Puryear

The Grumman J2F-4, aka the Duck
John Pritchard
Benjamin Bottoms
Corporal Loren “Lolly” Howorth

You are on your own keeping track of other planes, ships and ground-based rescue teams that come into play in this story.

If you liked Lost in Shangri-La, it is a good bet you will find it worth the effort to search for a copy of Frozen in Time and bring it home. Read it in a warm place.

========================================EXTRA STUFF

The author’s web page

The author’s FB page for this book

Harper Collins promo video

Video of the downhole camera. (2012) Uncomfortably similar to a medical scoping

A Coast Guard page on an earlier attempt to locate the Duck

North South Polar – Lou’s site

List of crashes – 1942-44

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Among the Cannibals by Paul Raffaele

book cover
What could be worse than a dog eat dog world? Oh.

I was of two very different minds about this book.

Australian Paul Raffaele is a feature writer for Smithsonian. He has covered many parts of the globe in his work for that venerable institution. And he travels far for this work, looking into that darkest of human activities. He investigates special meat-eaters in New Guinea, India, Tonga, ancient Mexico, and Africa. We have a certain image in mind of what cannibals might look like. I mean in the real world, not the dark imagination of Thomas Harris or the psychosis of some of our more aberrant criminals. They would probably live on Pacific Islands, or remotest Africa or South America, use primitive technology and have acquired a taste for missionary over easy. Mostly, but not entirely the case.

Cannibalism of one kind or another had been common around our globe through the millennia, and yet the classic Western image of cannibals is a terrified white Christian missionary in pith helmet crouching in a large outdoor cooking pot, the logs burning fiercely as wild-eyed African warriors in grass skirts dance about him shaking their spears. Their glinting eyes show their eagerness to tuck into their human meal. In truth there is not one record of a missionary ending up in an African cook pot. The cannibals invariably ate one another.

The book offers interesting, surprising, and very disturbing information about a practice most of us (certainly me) thought had vanished from human behavior. The reasons for chowing down on such forbidden fruit vary. High on the list is to degrade and strike fear into one’s enemies. Another is to honor close relations. Some even consider eating human flesh a form of religiousity. The Korowai people of New Guinea justify their practices by maintaining that victims had already been killed by evil spirits and it was only the evil spirits that had taken over the body that was being devoured.

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Kilikili says he has killed no fewer than 30 khakhua (male witches) – from Smithsonian.com

The practice is supposedly a thing of the past in New Guinea, but I would not like to place too high a wager on that. Raffaele’s looks at the practice in Tonga and Aztec Mexico are more firmly planted in the past. Unfortunately, there are still people-eaters today. There is a Hindu sect in India, the Aghoris, whose holy men chow down on you-know-what “as the supreme demonstration of their sanctity.” They even sit atop rotting corpses as a show of devotion and Raffaele reports some particularly unspeakable acts in which they engage, that I will not report on here.

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An image of this cheerful Aghori is sure to help you sleep at night – image from Dharma Keng

And no, wiseass, it is not a self-portrait. I cannot really fold my legs like that for any length of time, and I keep my hair and beard much shorter these days. But there is worse to come. His report on the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army of northern Uganda takes the eating of human flesh to whole new level of depravity, a true heart of darkness. This information is the stuff of nightmares. Very disturbing.

I have a major gripe with the book. The cover is sprightly. It shows a hand reaching up out of a large cooking pot writing the book title. Lower down on the page is an icon that repeats inside as a section divider, a skull and crossbones in which the crossbones have been replaced with a knife and fork. One might get the impression that the information contained within would fulfill the silly graphics. We know that even such darkness can produce smiles. Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (the stage version, not the very disappointing film), for example, is probably the only Broadway musical to have cannibalism as a central focus. Devouring scenery does not count. And while my personal favorite all-time Broadway show was rather dark, it still maintained a significant level of humor.

Todd: What is that?
Lovett: It’s Priest. Have a little priest.
Todd: Is it really good?
Lovett: Sir, It’s too good, at least.
And of course it don’t commit sins of the flesh
So it’s pretty fresh
Todd: Awful lot of fat
Lovett: Only where it sat
Todd: Haven’t you got poet or something like that?
Lovett: No, you see the trouble with poet is how do you know it’s deceased? Stick to priest.

And so on…

The light touch promised by the cover art for this book does not deliver as promised. There is nothing at all amusing about children living today who are forced to eat human flesh under pain of death. In that way the book offers a bait and switch, promising a light touch, but delivering a deep gouge.

I also found the author at times personally off-putting. While in Tonga, he felt it necessary to comment on his translator’s physical attributes in a way that came across as salacious.

Waiting outside and holding aloft my name printed in marker pen on a pad is a round-faced, bright-eyed girl who looks to be in her early twenties. She is clad in a Congo-style ankle-nudging cotton dress that fits tightly about her neatly rounded thighs, and a short-sleeved top printed with a spray of red orchids that clings to her firm high breasts. She has woven her hair in to strands festooned with colored beads. Unlike most of the women at the airport who are laden with fat and boasting the enormous bottoms that most African men are said to lust for, she is sleek and silky.

Either his editor was not doing a good job, or the author exercised an ill-advised veto.

Raffaele does not come across as a particularly deep thinker and this is not a scholarly investigation of a very dark side of humanity. There is only passing mention of the Catholic sacrament of Communion, in which practicing Catholics consume the body and blood of Christ. There is even less on the sundry cannibalistic psychopaths who have come to public notice. Are there any studies indicating when and where it might have begun? Raffaele does note that it existed in prehistory. Records go back at least as far as Herodotus (well before Soylent Green) of such culinary preferences, and it lasted into the 19th century, at least. How about a comparison with other species? How widespread is the practice in the animal kingdom. Are we really different from what we consider lower orders? For a more analytical look at the subject you might consider Carole Travis-Henikoff’s book, Dinner With a Cannibal: The Complete History of Mankind’s Oldest Tabboo. An NPR interview offers a taste of what she has to offer.

Among the Cannibals definitely offers new and intriguing information. Be forewarned that you will need a strong stomach to get through it all. But, because it was so much not what was expected, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

To remove the taste, you might consider taking in a bit more of Sweeney. Another gem from the vaults is a song by Sheb Wooley that was actually a #1 hit when I was a tyke.

If you get an invitation to the Donner Party, I would pass.

And of course, every abomination must have an advocate, so you might want to see the modest proposal the folks at Zebra Punch offer, while humming their particular version of Barbara Streisand’s classic tune, about why we should
eat people.

There is an interesting item on cannibalism in Wikipedia

Raffaele’s article for Smithsonian Magazine, Sleeping with Cannibals, was the basis for the book

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