TODAY FROM THAILAND:
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THAILAND:
Preparing for departure on a trip is a dead time in one’s life.
Cordt arrived in town last night interrupting the tedium for a few hours. He invited me to have dinner with him and Scott. Scott, originally from the Bay Area, now lives in BKK and works as an executive for the Bangkok Post the main english language newspaper in Thailand. Scott was SWAC’s first husband, but now is happily married to another Thai woman and has two daughters.
LM and I joined them for dinner at a place called Bourbon Street, a restaurant that features Cajun food. I ordered blackened catfish that although it was quite good was neither blackened nor catfish.
Bourbon Street was originally in a section of BKK called “Washington Square.” During the Vietnam war that area had been favored by the CIA and Air-America operatives. Both Scott and I knew a number of these aging spooks and soldiers of fortune who still live around there. They are slowly dying off now and taking their stories with them.
Later we went up to the top floor lounge where we had a drink and talked a lot about music. Both Scott and Cordt are accomplished musicians who had played with professional bands now and then during their past lives.
After drinks, Scott and Cordt wanted to see one of the cabaret type sex shows at Nana Plaza, the red-light entertainment district near my apartment. LM and I joined them.
The show itself was a pale copy of what could be found in any stripper joint in the US. A few simulated sex acts followed by the meat-market of go-go dancers staring at themselves in the mirror as they slithered around the poles. There were no darts puncturing balloons on the walls, ping-pong balls shot into the upper galleries, razor blades, frogs and similar things appearing from where they should not be and no Marlboro smoking vaginas. The management seemed to have chosen performers who had not yet had breast implementation surgery so they all looked like long-haired pre-adolescent boys in bathing suits. Scott and Cordt called one of the women over to sit with us. She was very pleasant and mostly naked. I wondered if it was easier or more difficult to be pleasant when one was naked. LM and I left soon thereafter and returned to the apartment where I continued on with my departure preparations before retiring for the night.
B. NEWS STRAIGHT OR SLIGHTLY BENT:
1. Soap Opera madness.
A new scandal in Thailand has erupted over cancellation of a popular soap opera on Thai television. The soap was about a likable, incorruptible Prime Minister and his exceptionally corrupt deputy. No one knows for sure why the show was cancelled beyond vague whisperings from the station hosting the show that there were political considerations involved in the decision. Representatives of the minority political party have alleged that the deposed fugitive prime minister living in exile, Thaksin the Terrible, was behind the cancellation. Spokespersons for the deposed fugitive ex-prime minister living in exile responded that he does not own a television that gets the soap opera where he currently resides and that he would never watch it anyway.
2. Saving the Environment.
In other news several, several officials of the Thai governmental agency responsible for forestry, resources and the environment have been reassigned to other posts after their wives complained that they were keeping mistresses, sometimes as many as three or four. When agency representatives offered to fire the errant husbands, the wives objected. It seems they did not want to lose their livelihood but only to remove their spouses from their current temptations and one would assume, extra-marital expense obligations.
Creation myth update #3: Maybe we are not in Mr Rogers’ neighborhood anymore Toto.
Before returning to the story about the genetic history of humanity described in some of the recently published books on the subject I have read during the past few months, I thought a slight detour would be appropriate.
While most people who study the subject generally agree that a small group of anatomically modern humans, probably about 20 or so, left Africa sometime between 60,000 to 45,000 years ago and populated the rest of the planet, for many years it was assumed that except for an odd Neanderthal or two, the world outside of Africa was unpopulated allowing Homo Sapiens Sapiens to walk in and take control of the vast open spaces of the earth. After all, the only creatures that walk upright, use tools and talk on earth today are we Homo Sap Saps.
Alas, recent paleontological and genetic discoveries seem to indicate that the huge landmass called Eurasia was chock full of upright walking, tool using, trash talking hominids most of whom were bigger and stronger than the puny creatures that made up that forlorn little band containing the ancestors of most of us that had left Africa about 50,000 years ago.As far as can be determined by anthropological, paleontological and genetic discoveries so far, our band of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Very very smart people) faced not only Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and Denisovians who we discussed last chapter, but also Homo Erectus (upright people), Homo floresiensis (sometimes referred to as the “Hobbits”), maybe a few Homo heidelbergensis (people from Heidelberg who auditioned for “The Student Prince” and have scars on their cheeks.) and possibly others we do not know about yetThat is a lot of people whose neighborhoods H Sap Sap was about to invade. Some of them like the Neanderthals and the Denisovans had larger cranial capacity (bigger heads) than HSS and may very well have been smarter. They all could speak, use fire and appear to have developed languages. Also they all used tools similar to those used by HSS and lived in small hunter-gatherer groups. Finally, except for the Hobbits which were pygmies living in Indonesia, they all were larger and a heck of a lot stronger than Sap Sap. Here is a comparison between a Neanderthal skeleton and a fully modern human one:
Neanderthal skeleton on the left and modern human on the right.
Neanderthals had massive, broad shoulders, about 8% larger than their modern human contemporaries. Their pec muscles were enormous, up to twice the size of today’s average human. Neanderthals had shorter, wider muscular upper arms. The bones in their forearms were actually bowed from muscles that must have powered a grip that could crush stone. Neanderthal fingers and thumbs had upwards of twice the strength of modern humans. All of this upper body musculature was anchored on a solid foundation of massive quads that specialized in explosive power and side-to-side movement. Neanderthals were probably better at throwing than their modern contemporaries (It has been suggested that some Neanderthals escaped extinction and have been recruited by professional football and rugby teams around the world).
So, given that they were bigger, stronger, perhaps even brighter than our ancestors and possessed comparable technology, how did our ancestors manage to get rid of them all and take over the world?
Some theorized we dazzled them with our technology. The problem with that is we all began with about the same technology – rocks. At some point we made our rocks a little sharper edged than they did with their rocks, which some argue shows that we were really smarter than they were. On the other hand, our ancestors initially lived by combing the beaches where they probably used shells for scraping and cutting things. The edges of shells are pretty sharp. It is just as likely that we were used to sharper tools and formed the edges of appropriate rocks to mimic them. There is no need to postulate an act of genus when most people in fact try to hold on to favored technologies as long as they can. In any event, the neanderthals adopted the new technology pretty quickly anyway. And, certainly simply wielding a sharper edged stone tool was not going to make the difference in a fight with someone who was capable of bringing down a giant mastodon armed only with a rock and who could break your bones with his bare hands.
Some others say we were physically better able to handle the extreme climate changes of the time. Unfortunately for this theory, these various hominids had been dealing successfully with even greater climate shifts for hundreds of thousands of years before they ran into HSS.
Another theory is that we out-competed them for food. This makes no sense to me because if we killed all the game we would die also.
There must have been other reasons why the last few of the Neanderthals ended up reduced to sitting in a cave in Gibraltar chewing on uncooked seal meat waiting patiently to expire as a species.
The guests are gone from the pavilion high,
In the small garden flowers are whirling around.
Along the winding path the petals lie;
To greet the setting sun, they drift up from the ground.
Heartbroken, I cannot bear to sweep them away;
From my eyes, spring soon disappears.
I pine with passing, heart’s desire lost for aye;
Nothing is left but a robe stained with tears.
Li Shang-Yin, ninth century BCE
Consider this, although the remains of the other early hominids often show broken bones and other injuries from their incredibly hard and difficult lives, it is rare that their remains are discovered with their head crushed in with a rock, or with a spear point up its rectum or tied up, beaten with clubs and thrown into a bog like is only too often found among human remains.
I think perhaps at least part of the answer, lies in understanding the difference between our nearest non-hominid cousins the chimpanzees (pan troglodytes) and the bonobos (pan paniscus). The bonobos are a pretty peace-loving, although by even human standards a stunningly over-sexed, species. The chimpanzees, on the other hand, seem to be the only species other than HSS who kill for the hell of it.
Like a rotten log
half buried in the ground –
my life, which
has not flowered, comes
to this sad end.
Minamoto Yorimasa, 1104-1180
(Part 2 of Mister Rogers Neighborhood to be included in next post.)
MOPEY JOE’S MEMORIES:
Joe Montana could have become my friend:
I, and I assume others when they reach my age, sometime think back over our lives and speculate about what may have been or what it is we really regret. With me there are many things such as the death of loved ones or pain I have caused others that bring me sadness or fill me with remorse. But, in almost all of them, although I wish they never happened, I do not see how avoiding or reversing them would have altered my life all that much. There was, however, one event I recall that I am convinced may have made a difference.
It was during the early Nineties. I was visiting Rome Italy and it was as hot as it gets in that town towards the end of Summer. The city was mostly deserted, the Romans had left town for their annual holiday at the seashore and most tourists remained in their air-conditioned hotel rooms awaiting the cooler temperatures of evening. I was standing in line with my then wife Denise to buy tickets to visit the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum. There was only one other group ahead of us braving the burning sun; a family made up of man and a women with four strikingly blond pre-adolescent children in tow. The woman was about six feet tall, also blond and movie star attractive. The man was even taller, sandy-haired and athletic looking. Suddenly I recognized him. It was Joe Montana, the legendary American football quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. I guess you can say I was gobsmacked to see him there in Rome standing so close to me.
In addition to the victories and the statistical records that most sports aficionados use to judge excellence and without which all else is almost irrelevant, what I admired most about Montana was his preternatural grace and his gamblers instincts. I recall once watching him play in one of the Superbowls, he had just thrown a pass that the receiver eventually caught for a touchdown. Nevertheless, it was not the touchdown but the fluidity with which Joe leapt into the air and threw the ball that enthralled me. He was every bit as graceful as a ballet dancer; not tutus and en pointe ballet graceful but something more masculine and forceful.
I used to attend performance of the New York City Ballet when I lived in the Big Apple. The principle male dancer at that time was, Jacques d’Amboise. When standing at rest on the stage he looked a lot like a champion body builder after he had just put down his barbels. When, however, he moved it was as smooth, graceful and beautiful as drops or water slowly dancing in the sunlight. Balanchine, the choreographer for the Company then, believed that the male ballet dancer was little more than a mobile post upon which the ballerina was displayed, exalted in all her lithe sensuous feminine glory. Nevertheless, when d’Ambiose lifted his partner up and carried her across the stage everything else on that stage disappeared except the image of his power and grace. So it was for me with Montana on that pass. I felt as though I had achieved satori. Everything else on the field dissolved from view but Joe when, as though in slow motion, he pushed off with one leg, rose into the air and in perfect synchronicity arced his arm across his body as he released the ball.
His gamblers instincts were not those of a risk-taker but of someone who knew the probabilities and above all the psychology of the game. At one time during an interview, I recall him describing a drive, probably in one or another of the Superbowls. He said something like, “I was driving them crazy, dinking and dunking (throwing short passes for 3 or 4 yards) them here and there, until they began to lean forward and inch in eager to stop what we were doing, and then I threw it over their heads for a touchdown.”
“He possessed an almost mystical calmness in the midst of chaos, especially with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. While others saw turmoil and danger after the snap, Montana saw order and opportunity. He was Joe Cool, the unflappable king of the comeback.”
Larry Schwartz, ESPN
So there he was, in Rome, that day, standing about a foot away from me. One part of me, delirious with excitement, wanting to say something, something like “Joe! Joe Montana, what are you doing here in Rome?” while another part terrorized me into silence at the realization of how stupid that sounded and how embarrassed I would feel after saying it – especially if he ignored me.
I thought about mentioning to Denise that Joe Montana stood in the line in front of us. Denise was a woman of legendary assertiveness with a tongue as sharp as the edge of a Samurai’s sword. Although she would not have known Joe Montana from Bozo the Clown, she was much more likely than me to strike up a conversation, lacking the shyness that comes with awe and idol worship that I was feeling. Alas, I could see that she was already annoyed at how long it was taking them to buy their tickets and well on her way to flinging some insult at them as only she could. So, I hesitated saying anything fearing that she would offend them and I would lose my opportunity to meet Joe and maybe become his friend.
They eventually got their tickets and passed through the gate into the Forum. We got ours and followed. Right behind the gate we came upon them again. The children were sprawled on various broken bits of Roman History complaining bitterly, as children often do, about the heat and whining about why they had to be here and not back in the hotel at the pool. I could see that Joe Cool was at the edge of losing the legendary calmness that allowed him to bring Notre Dame from 22 points back in the fourth quarter to win in the Cotton Bowl. He snapped back at them, probably a lot like any other parent in a similar situation would when being harassed by whining children “You can’t. You have to learn about culture. There is a lot of culture here.”
I knew that I could step in and help out. Over the years I virtually haunted the Forum. I knew more about it than any guide. I knew the history, the gossip, even what was traded in the market that was set up in the swamp between the hill the future rulers of the world lived on in somewhat upgraded caves and the larger hill on which the more respectable Sabines resided and from whom their wives and daughters were reputed to have been carried away by the Romans in the dead of night and upon the fecundity of those stolen wives and daughters built an empire. I had crawled into places few are allowed to go or for that matter ever went or even would want to go. I knew which toilets were the cleanest. I knew where to find shade and the location of the coolest water. I knew I could keep the children entertained and enthralled and that Joe and his wife would like that and we might become friends.
I imagined that since I had lived in Rome for a few years and knew interesting places to go and appealing places to eat that Joe and his wife would never otherwise know about or go to, we could go out some evening and have dinner together. I knew that Denise with her bottomless reservoir of humor and behavioral oddities would amuse them and we would become friends.
But I did not do anything. I just stood there. Then Denise irritably called out, “Hurry up, its hot.” and I went on. For a while, as we made our way through the rubble of an empire, I would see them prowling through other parts of the ruins. Then they were gone.
Since that day, now and then, I think about what could have been. Even as I write this now, I am convinced that if Joe Montana had become my my friend, my life might somehow have been better, happier even. Some of my other friends might even have become jealous. I would have liked that.
A. Reader’s comments:
I am always pleased to transmit something interesting written or said by one of my “This and that…” correspondents. The following briefly discusses a book about Winston Churchill. On the whole, I am not as big a fan of the bigoted, overweight, cigar smoking, alcoholic, trust fund baby as are many, but even I must agree that it is doubtful that anyone else in England at that time would have been so cocky and self-assured as to be able to lead the world through those very, very dark days. The interesting thing about the piece is its take on Hitler’s potential winning hand and Churchill’s role as the little boy with his finger in the hole in the dike:
“I’m reading the third volume of “The Last Lion” “Defender of the Realm” Paul Reid’s (filling in for William Manchester) biography of Churchill 1940-1965.
Now there was a man who had absolutely no reason to win, no logical way out; but win he did. He did it by surviving just long enough to allow his enemies to make stupid mistakes: invade Russia (Hitler) attack the US (Japan) and, of all things declare unprovoked war on the US (Hitler).
The biography makes clear that had Hitler turned south (not stopping in Greece but on to Suez and Persia) in 1941, rather than east (Russia), he would have dismembered the British Empire and cut off the Home Islands from the Dominions and India, leaving Britain a ruined hulk, to which America might have had great pity, but was in no mood to go to war for.
Had he done that he could have persuaded Japan to attack, not Pearl Harbor, but Singapore and Bombay, grabbing all the resources Japan needed and avoid war with the US. It was a flat-out winning hand which Hitler’s Admirals, and Army General Staff pleaded with him to do. Why, pray tell , didn’t he do it. Because he was really only a talented huckster, with no real strategic sense and a WW I enlisted man’s brain, able to comprehend only land war against those he, in his deranged mind, saw as inferior beasts not capable of beating the great Germanic race.
The human race really lucked out, (like in the Cuban Missile Crisis) one more time.
I’m struck by the sheer luck of the draw that Churchill was there to plug the dike long enough for fate to take its course. Kennedy was there to prevent Curtis Le May from launching Armageddon. There must be a God. But if the Pope is not his vicar on earth (which he clearly isn’t), Churchill and Kennedy certainly were. I really do wonder about “The Force” in large human affairs.”
The above was sent to me by Terry Goggin. In addition to serving in the California State Legislature, Terry also was an instructor at West Point in military history and the role of politics in military affairs and has written a book on the same. He is now a restaurateur in Manhattan.
B. What “Occupy” is all about and what it really wants:
1. Milton Friedman is a poo-poo head.
Although the above is a blatant oversimplification, grossly misleading and proof that liberals can be as superficial as conservatives, I post it here only because it allows me to bring up a rant about Milton Friedman.
Milton Friedman is the economist who popularized what is sometimes referred to as conservative economics. He was trained as an actuary which perhaps explains his inability to recognize human motivation and social aspiration as a factor in economic analyses, If Friedman were alive, I suspect that, as I have seen him do in similar situations, he would insist that the impulse behind the actions of both individuals in the above graphic was the same: self-interest and greed. Gates did what he did only because it made him feel good and therefore Friedman would argue was simply another form of greed. That he was unable to recognize the difference, in my opinion, even though he clearly made significant contributions to statistical analysis in economics, it still puts Friedman right up there among the greater malefactors in human history.
2. Republicans and European Austerians are dead wrong on the economy
In the International Monetary Fund working paper entitled “Growth Forecast Errors and Fiscal Multipliers,” Messrs. Blanchard and Leigh calculate IMF and European economists underestimated the euro-for-euro effect of cutting government budgets. While economists expected that cutting a euro from the budget would cost around 50 cents in lost growth, the actual impact was more like 1.50 per euro.
What I believe this means is that by cutting government budgets so that the rate of return expectations for financial institutions like banks are preserved reduces the amount of money in the economy available for the rest of us by a factor of three to one. In other words, the only reason to cut governmental budgets in this economic environment was to preserve confidence in the financial community that they would receive 100% of their expected profits when those debts become due. The cost of that assurance required the rest of us to earn less money now by a factor of three to one in favor of the banksters’. Or to put it a third way, in return for something that produced nothing other than a feeling of confidence among bond holders a lot of the rest of us had to lose our jobs.
C. Fun in the labyrinth or giggles in the heart of darkness (Chapter five: At the airport with no place to go – Part 3):
So, I followed her, ever hopeful that this time it would all work out. She led me to Airport security. After I passed through the usual minor strip-search, I looked around for the woman. She was gone leaving me confused about what I was supposed to do next. I decided approaching the two uniformed passport officers I had seen her speaking with was the most reasonable thing to do.
I walked over to the counter they sat behind. Told them my story while waving around the increasingly wrinkled, sweat stained and forlorn piece of paper. I handed them my passports. They leafed through them knowingly. Spoke to each other. Then looked over at me and spoke to each other again. Finally one of them took possession of the passports turned towards me and told me that he would handle it. I was elated.
“Give me your boarding pass,” he demanded. I plunged into depression. With my voice rising with my hysteria I said, “No, no you do not understand” and I began to tell my story again and wave the little piece of paper around, at which point a younger man in a darker uniform with a bit more ribbons and braid arrived. Spoke to the passport officer. I repeated my story again and showed him the piece of paper.
“No problem,” he said. “Come with me”
I followed him through the passport review post and into an office that contained two desks behind one sat a similarly uniformed officer and behind the other he sat down. He leafed through the passports. Just to be sure, I explained everything again and showed him the piece of paper one more time. “No Problem,” he smiled and turned to fiddle a bit with his computer. My happiness level began to rise one more time.
Finally he finished whatever he was doing, satisfied he turned to me and asked, “Now where is it you are traveling to today?”
(Unfortunately, to be continued.)
D. Apologies, Regrets and Humiliations:
His Story – Her Story:
Ruth pointed out that in the 1970’s “Herstory” was a common term in Woman’s Studies programs and the like. I explained, “Alas, the Her Story boomlet of the 1970’s, like so much of the optimism of that happy and somewhat stoned time, was crushed in the reaction of the 1980’s that, as we know, swept even some of those closest to us into darkness once again.”
“The pipes of our organs are broken
Our harps have lost their strings that were tuned
That might have made the great lamentations of Ireland
Until the strong men come back across the sea
There is no help for us but bitter crying,
Screams, and beating of hands, and calling out.”
Lament written by an Irish Priest during the “Time of Troubles.”
The issue of wether recent climate changes have shown a marked warming trend or whether human activities have have had a significant effect on them is well settled. It is true, however, that so called “natural” influences on climate have been going on ever since the earths atmosphere was formed. Since humans have been on earth they have had at times a moderating influence of these natural variations, making their effects a little better or a little worse, usually in a particular local setting. For example, if there were a “natural” dry period causing increased desertification in a particular locality and humans overgrazed on the margins of the desert thereby increasing it, it could be said the humans made the climate induced desertification worse.
In about 1950-60 this all began to change. Human influence on the climate at least in so far as its accelerating warming trend began to dominate the changes and any “natural” influences essentially only moderating effects. It is for this reason that those who, for one reason or another, oppose any conclusion that human induced climate change exists, are able to point to periodic “natural” events that halt or even for a brief time reverse the general trend of escalating global temperatures as evidence that the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion regarding climate change is wrong.
For example, I have seen it asserted in emails from several of the usual suspects and in various anti-climate-change blogs, that from 1940 to almost 1980 world temperatures actually declined therefore global warming is a myth. Similarly, I seen it argued that from about 1980 to 1997 the rate of increase was slowing down. Alas, many people accepted those assertions at face value having nothing to go on but the naïve belief that the person making the claim would not lie to them.
I am not generally a fan of Feinstein. I have had too many dealings with her to be so. But on this issue, banning assault weapons, she has, for almost 20 years, not only been right but consistent and forceful.