Fifty-five years on, Jane Goodall’s famous chimps still surprise us

Fifty-five years on, Jane Goodall’s
famous chimps still surprise us

by Soni Methu

Every week, Inside Africa takes its viewers on a journey across Africa, exploring the true diversity and depth of different cultures, countries and regions.

Finding the most famous chimpanzees in the world is a task that would test the most intrepid of explorers.

Reaching the picturesque hinterland of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania is just the start.

A two-hour boat ride across the vast waters of Lake Tanganyika follows. Finally, we disembark and begin to trek through the dense forests of Gombe for a further hour before the chimps in question are finally glimpsed.

Peering through branches towards the canopies, we spy a mother and her two young boys feasting on palm nuts.

It was close to this spot in 1960 that the Jane Goodall, the British primatologist widely regarded as the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, began her near 55-year study of one specially selected chimp family.

Goodall, now 80 years old, would sit for hours and observe the complex social structures and interactions of her subjects.

The research of that one family and the subsequent generations it has spawned continues to this day, providing ever more fascinating insights into the behavior of the closest living relatives of human beings.

The Magic of Gombe

“The magic of Gombe is two factors,” said Emily, a post-graduate student here to study the chimps.

“It’s the opportunity to be here with a well-habituated group of chimpanzees, to come into the forest every day with knowledgeable field assistants. It’s (also) the long term data, because Jane Goodall started this study in the early 60s.”

“We have this incredible opportunity to know the chimps here now, and also their mothers and fathers and their grandmothers and all this incredible information that we have on them.”

Researchers like Emily come from all over the world to study the chimps at Gombe.

There are an estimated 100 chimpanzees there today, broken up into three different communities. The group Goodall studied has the most, with around 60 members.

Meat eaters

Even after 50-plus years, researchers are still surprised by what they learn. Before the program began, chimpanzees were thought to be herbivores but Goodall saw them hunting monkeys and eating meat.

This is a trait we observe as we watch a group of chimps track Colobus monkeys swinging in the trees above them. We also see another industrious bunch fashion tools to try dislodge termites from beneath a mound.

According to senior researcher at the Jane Goodall Foundation, Dr Anthony Collins, activities like these display a high level of intelligence.

“They’re so much like humans. There are so many similarities in what they do, the relationships they have to each other, just all kinds of ways, there are subtle communications between them,” Collins said.

He points to the example of how chimps will look to reconcile and embrace one another after a fight or confrontation. “They have reassurance and forgiveness of things which go wrong,” he said.

Human threat

Despite the behavioral and genetic similarities, however, the chimps proximity to rural human settlements can often be problematic and detrimental to their own well-being.

“In some places that they live, there are lions, leopards, pythons. But on the whole, probably their main enemy is something like me, humans,” Collins continued.

“(Some) people hunt chimps for eating, some places they get bits of chimps for cures, even witchcraft, and for a while there was a trade in baby chimps for their medical research and things like circuses and zoos.”

In the dense forest and woodlands of Gombe, chimpanzees and other species are protected from the most destructive aspects of human behavior.

But that’s not always the case in other sectors of the Tanzanian bush where large swathes of land have been transformed for agricultural purposes.

This has resulted in a huge number of trees being cut down that would otherwise offer shelter for communities of chimpanzees. Sadly, the best habitats for chimps are often also the best habitat for the likes of nomadic herders.

Sustainable farming

Recognizing these problems, the Jane Goodall Institute is working to teach the local population about sustainable farming so the forest is preserved.

Through the Gombe-Masito Program, they aim to show villagers that sustainable agricultural techniques can bring both more income and a more vibrant habitat for all species.

Preventing deforestation also has the knock on effect of ensuring sediments from the forest continue to run into Lake Tanganyika, maintaining the finely balanced ecosystem beneath the water and the trade of the fisherman in lakeside communities as a result.

These deep environmental connections are enough to convince some that chimpanzees are key to the future of rural Tanzania.

“In my opinion, chimps are important for the country’s economic growth,” said Aristides Aloice Kashula, a Gombe-Masito Program forest officer. “They can be used as a national symbol for tourist attraction into this area of Tanzania, generating income which should later be used for sustainable development of the communities.”

“They are also important in that their habitat, if well conserved, can act as good vegetation covering for the forest.”

“But also again, chimps are a global species, so they have to be kept for generations and generation to come.”

That’s a sentiment that Jane Goodall herself would be sure to endorse.

Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid

Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Violence works. Nonviolence does too.

In a recent dispatch from Ferguson, Missouri, Jelani Cobb noted that President Obama’s responses to “unpunished racial injustices” constitute “a genre unto themselves.” Monday night, when Barack Obama stood before the nation to interpret the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, he offered a particularly tame specimen. The elements of “the genre” were all on display—an unmitigated optimism, an urge for calm, a fantastic faith in American institutions, an even-handedness exercised to a fault. But if all the limbs of the construct were accounted for, the soul of the thing was not.

There was none of the spontaneous annoyance at the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, and little of the sheer pain exhibited in the line, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” The deft hand Obama employed in explaining to Americans why the acquittal of George Zimmerman so rankled had gone arthritic. This was a perfunctory execution of “the genre,” offered with all the energy of a man ticking items off a to-do list.

Barack Obama is an earnest moderate. His instincts seem to lead him to the middle ground. For instance, he genuinely believes that there is more overlap between liberals and conservatives than generally admitted. On Monday he nodded toward the “deep distrust” that divides black and brown people from the police, and then pointed out that this was tragic because these are the communities most in need of “good policing.” Whatever one makes of this pat framing, it is not a cynical centrism—he believes in the old wisdom of traditional America. This is his strength. This is his weakness. But Obama’s moderation is as sincere and real as his blackness, and the latter almost certainly has granted him more knowledge of his country than he generally chooses to share.

In the case of Michael Brown, this is more disappointing than enraging. The genre of Obama race speeches has always been bounded by the job he was hired to do. Specifically, Barack Obama is the president of the United States of America. More specifically, Barack Obama is the president of a congenitally racist country, erected upon the plunder of life, liberty, labor, and land. This plunder has not been exclusive to black people. But black people, the community to which both Michael Brown and Barack Obama belong, have the distinct fortune of having survived in significant numbers. For a creedal country like America, this poses a problem—in nearly every major American city one can find a population of people whose very existence, whose very history, whose very traditions, are an assault upon this country’s nationalist instincts. Black people are the chastener of their own country. Their experience says to America, “You wear the mask.”

In 2008, Barack Obama’s task was to capture the presidency of a country which historically has despised the community from which he hails. This was no mean feat. But more importantly, it was not unprecedented. And just as Léon Blum’s prime ministership did not lead to a post-anti-Semitic France, Barack Obama’s presidency should never have been expected to lead to a post-racist America. As it happens, there is nothing about a congenitally racist country that necessarily prevents an individual leader hailing from the pariah class. The office does not care where the leader originates, so long as the leader ultimately speaks for the state. On Monday night, watching Obama both be black and speak for the state was torturous. One got the sense of a man fatigued by people demanding he say something both eminently profound and only partially true. This must be tiring.

Black people know what cannot be said. What clearly cannot be said is that the events of Ferguson do not begin with Michael Brown lying dead in the street, but with policies set forth by government at every level. What clearly cannot be said is that the people of Ferguson are regularly plundered, as their grandparents were plundered, and generally regarded as a slush-fund for the government that has pledged to protect them. What clearly cannot be said is the idea of superhuman black men who “bulk up” to run through bullets is not an invention of Darren Wilson, but a staple of American racism.

What clearly cannot be said is that American society’s affection for nonviolence is notional. What cannot be said is that American society’s admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. increases with distance, that the movement he led was bugged, smeared, harassed, and attacked by the same country that now celebrates him. King had the courage to condemn not merely the violence of blacks, nor the violence of the Klan, but the violence of the American state itself.

What clearly cannot be said is that violence and nonviolence are tools, and that violence—like nonviolence—sometimes works. “Property damage and looting impede social progress,” Jonathan Chait wrote Tuesday. He delivered this sentence with unearned authority. Taken together, property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. They describe everything from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to lynching to red-lining.

“Property damage and looting”—perhaps more than nonviolence—has also been a significant tool in black “social progress.” In 1851, when Shadrach Minkins was snatched off the streets of Boston under the authority of the Fugitive Slave Law, abolitionists “stormed the courtroom” and “overpowered the federal guards” to set Minkins free. That same year, when slaveholders came to Christiana, Pennsylvania, to reclaim their property under the same law, they were not greeted with prayer and hymnals but with gunfire.

“Property damage and looting” is a fairly accurate description of the emancipation of black people in 1865, who only five years earlier constituted some $4 billion in property. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots. The housing bill of 1968—the most proactive civil-rights legislation on the books—is a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after King was killed. Violence, lingering on the outside, often backed nonviolence during the civil-rights movement. “We could go into meetings and say, ‘Well, either deal with us or you will have Malcolm X coming into here,'” said SNCC organizer Gloria Richardson. “They would get just hysterical. The police chief would say, ‘Oh no!'”

What cannot be said is that America does not really believe in nonviolence—Barack Obama has said as much—so much as it believes in order. What cannot be said is that there are very convincing reasons for black people in Ferguson to be nonviolent. But those reasons emanate from an intelligent fear of the law, not a benevolent respect for the law.

The fact is that when the president came to the podium on Monday night there actually was very little he could say. His mildest admonitions of racism had only earned him trouble. If the American public cannot stomach the idea that arresting a Harvard professor for breaking into his own home is “stupid,” then there is virtually nothing worthwhile that Barack Obama can say about Michael Brown.

And that is because the death of all of our Michael Browns at the hands of people who are supposed to protect them originates in a force more powerful than any president: American society itself. This is the world our collective American ancestors wanted. This is the world our collective grandparents made. And this is the country that we, the people, now preserve in our fantastic dream. What can never be said is that the Fergusons of America can be changed—but, right now, we lack the will to do it.

Perhaps one day we won’t, and maybe that is reason to hope. Hope is what Barack Obama promised to bring, but he was promising something he could never bring. Hope is not the naiveté that would change the face on a racist system and then wash its hands of its heritage. Hope is not feel-goodism built on the belief in unicorns. Martin Luther King had hope, but it was rooted in years of study and struggle, not in looking the other way. Hope is not magical. Hope is earned.

 

Silicon Valley Needs Counseling for Its God Complex

Silicon Valley Needs Counseling for Its God Complex

By Mike Elgan

NEWS ANALYSIS: Silicon Valley Internet companies are all too willing to monitor, manipulate and experiment with their customers, displaying God-like indifference to their human rights and privacy.

You heard about the most recent Uber scandal, right? The San Francisco-based ride sharing service has been plagued by accusations of anti-competitiveness, user privacy violations, driver exploitation, sexism and more. The most recent controversy started when Buzzfeed reported that Uber senior vice president Emil Michael was quoted as saying at a Silicon Valley dinner that Uber should hire researchers to investigate journalists in general, and to specifically expose something he claims to know about Pando Daily founder and journalist Sarah Lacy, who had been critical of Uber. His message to journalists was that they could expose “your personal lives, your families” and do to journalists what he believes journalists do to people in the industry.
Michael later said he regretted his comments and that they don’t represent his or the company’s views. He was probably joking or venting and believed the comments to be off the record.

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But then it got interesting. In conveying Michael’s regrets, an Uber spokesperson relayed that it’s against Uber’s company policies to look at journalists’ travel logs, saying that “access to and use of data is permitted only for legitimate business purposes.” That last comment brought the public’s attention to an article written by Forbes’ Kashmir Hill a month earlier. In that piece, Hill exposed Uber CEO Travis Kalanick entertaining tech people at a party with something Uber calls “God View”—a view of all the Uber cars and waiting riders in any city. One attendee says she had seen at one party in 2011 the names of all the customers in God View—she recognized some of them and even texted entrepreneur Peter Sims, telling him she knew where he was. Sims reportedly freaked out and quit using Uber. It also raised questions about the nugget of personal information about Sara Lacy that Michael’s claims to know. Did he learn it by tracking her on Uber’s God View?

I’ll leave accusations of privacy violations and speculation about what else “God View” is being used for to others. In this column, I want to look at the mindset of successful Silicon Valley people. Do they have a God Complex? Since the launch of the app Whisper, hardly anyone thought much about what the startup was doing with information it knew about the location of users. Whisper is an app that lets you send messages to your friends anonymously. They know it came from someone they know, but they don’t know who. A controversial story in The Guardian claimed that Whisper actually tracks users and acts upon that information in ways that should alarm users. The paper also said Whisper developed an in-house mapping tool that enables staff to pinpoint messages to within 500 meters of their send point, and also track an individual’s location over time. Call it “God mode.” Why not?

The publication further revealed that messages are never deleted, and in fact are sometimes shared with the Pentagon, the FBI and MI5. Whisper, in fact, has a news organization that monitors newsworthy users, tracking their movement and activity on the app. They’ve publicized news based on monitoring Whisper users about Gwyneth Paltrow and American Apparel founder Dov Charney. They tracked Israeli soldiers in the Gaza war because they could easily identify them due to their location plus their comments. Whisper defended itself in this Medium post. There’s some disagreement between The Guardian and Whisper about what Whisper actually does, and total disagreement about the ethics of what Whisper does. But it’s clear that Whisper has had an Uber-like God complex for some time, watching users, divining their activities, intervening in life-and-death situations (like war, crime and suicide) and that all the while, users thought their locations were secret, their messages deleted and their behavior invisible. Facebook has always had a God Complex. At an unusual town hall style Q&A session, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that only about 10 percent of your posts on average are delivered to your family and friends. Likewise, you see only about 10 percent of what they post.

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As people increasingly rely on Facebook to maintain their relationships, Facebook is in the position to decide who you keep up with and who you forget about. Facebook’s criteria for deciding who you’re close with are a tightly held secret. You can’t know why you never hear from your old friend or why that person you barely knew in high school now dominates your News Feed. Those reasons are best left to a higher power (Facebook’s pantheon of engineers). There are many examples of Facebook’s God Complex. One emerged in June when the world learned that Facebook conducted a psychological experiment on about 700,000 users. The experimenters deliberately manipulated News Feeds to make users sad or happy to see if they would post accordingly (they did). Facebook’s God Complex makes them comfortable manipulating people’s personal relationships and mucking with their moods.

Cupid was a God—the Roman god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. Now there is a company named OKCupid that behaves as if it was a capricious God of Roman times.
Back in August, OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder openly bragged that: We experiment on human beings! (OKCupid is a data-driven dating site.) In one experiment, the company deliberately lied to its users and matched people when their own algorithms showed them to be incompatible just to see what would happen. The loves and lives of those little people down below exist to satisfy the curiosity of the Gods on Mount Olympus, apparently. The valley is also turning its God-like attention to replacing nature with new food creations. As I wrote in this space in October, tech entrepreneurs are working on creating “meat grown in a lab from cow stem cells, artificial salt, 3D-printed fruit and beverages that can nutritionally replace all solid foods.”

Google announced last month a project to embed nanoparticles configured to detect diseases in the bloodstream of human beings. They want to heal the sick by upgrading blood itself. The idea is that a pill would contain special nanoparticles, which would bind themselves to bodily cells and scan for problems. A wearable device would collect data from the particles as they coursed through your bloodstream and provide that data to your doctor. It’s clear that Silicon Valley companies have a God Complex, by which I mean they tend to boldly assert a deep influence on, control over or to monitor of the public in a variety of ways without a shred of humility or sense of trespass.

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People are often viewed as mere mortals to be trifled with or exploited with no feeling of obligation to ask permission or inform. But my belief about why they do this is probably the opposite of what it appears to be. Rather than feeling omnipotent, I believe Silicon Valley companies tend to feel small and obsessed with the fear that they may have no lasting impact at all. Every one of these companies began as a startup, one among many with the odds stacked against them. Each laboriously applied huge effort in small teams to discover some idea or set of ideas that could be implemented in a way that would impact people in ways that help them make money. Companies like this can grow big and powerful almost overnight. It all moves so fast that these teams continue to see themselves as scrappy underdogs even as they succeed. They trust themselves or their motives and genuinely feel they have no ill-intent. Meanwhile, they’re pressured from all sides to “push the envelope” in whatever way will give their company an advantage. It all adds up to something that feels to outsiders like a God Complex. So my advice to all tech companies is this: Come down from your illusory Mount Olympus and treat your users, who are sometimes called customers, as fellow mortals who deserve your humility, respect and consideration. Technology may give you God-like power. But the public is the real power. And if you don’t treat users and others with respect, they will smite you.

Homophobic Mall Santas Are Furious at a Documentary That Features a Gay Santa

Homophobic Mall Santas Are Furious at
a Documentary That Features a Gay Santa

By Mike Pearl

There’s a new documentary out, I Am Santa Claus, about how mall Santas do their jobs and what they get up to when it’s not the Christmas season. It features WWE wrestling superstar Mick Foley transforming himself into a Santa and is actually a surprisingly touching movie about a bunch of guys who are really dedicated to creating little moments of magic for kids, and not in any way a controversial film.

Oh, but one of the Santas,  Jim Stevenson, is gay.

Naturally, the ubiquitous YouTube goblins latched onto the gay thing, offering  ​comments like, “So, Santa Fag makes his film debut? How disgraceful! We, as a society, have become TOO accepting of immoral lifestyles. Fags need to be shamed not paraded around.” No surprise there. YouTube comments are the dingleberries of the internet.

A prominent Santa (name redacted) reacting to the movie

What was unexpected was that prominent Santas denounced the film publicly. They took to Facebook, calling it things like “an abomination to real bearded Santas.” One wrote, “Only in American (sic) can you make a mess of Santa and get away with it, they are all on my very, very, naughty list and they won’t be getting off of it anytime soon either. Very bad writers, directors and actors as well, bad very bad!!!”

The homophobia reached all the way to Mick Foley’s personal Facebook account. He told ​the Mary Sue, “The hate I was getting from Facebook started to cancel out the joy I should have felt from the film.”

I talked to director Tony Avallone about the ugly reaction to a film that was only meant to give you something to watch with your parents during the holidays other than Home Alone.

 

VICE: Hi Tommy. Why’d you make a movie about Santas?

Tommy Avallone: Me and my wife were walking around the Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey one day and we saw Santa Claus and I was like, “I wonder what life that guy goes home to.” Like, what family is waiting for him December 26? And that was the seed that I needed to start the movie.

How’d you find them?
​ We found that Santa Clauses exist on Facebook and we would send a message to them like, “Hey, you look pretty interesting, what would you think about being in this documentary? We’d love to talk to you!”

So the big homophobia blow-up happened when you released the trailer. What were they saying?
[The Santas] couldn’t actually say what they were upset about, because they didn’t want to seem like blatant homophobic people, they would just say they don’t feel that we should “ruin the magic” of Christmas. We got called the armageddon of Santa World, we got told we were going to be on the “very naughty” list and that we would stay there for a very long time.

And then the harassment got pretty constant?
I’ll post something that like, “Hey check out I Am Santa Claus on iTunes! DVD! Blu-ray!” and this one Santa from New York was like, “Don’t waste your money!” and I’m like “Aaand, delete!”

You didn’t engage, or try to argue with them online?
​ These guys are older men that don’t quite understand the technology of Facebook and sometimes they like to fight, and I don’t fight.

Not to stereotype older people…
​ No. Our Santa Claus who is gay is 73. It’s all about where you’re from. Where he lives in Dallas, they’re very open to everything.

And he’s also a bear. Are there a lot of bear Santas?
I just think a bear is usually a hairy, heavy man, so it’s likely that some of them would want to play Santa. I don’t think it’s a thing though.

Negativity wasn’t the only reaction you got from Santas, right?
Oh, any Santa Claus who actually took the time to watch the movie loved it. Because what we do is show that these are real men. We never said we were going to make a movie about Santa Claus. We’re going to make a movie about the people who portray Santa Claus.

At the end of the day, they’re grandpas and they’re good people.
They just have strong opinions.

I Am Santa Claus can be streamed on ​Netflix, downloaded off ​iTunes, or ​purchased in a hard-copy format.

This Is The Dystopian World We Are Leaving For Today’s Teenagers

This Is The Dystopian World We Are Leaving For Today’s Teenagers

by Ari Phillips

A new report from the World Bank has determined that warming of around 1.5°C (around 2.7° Fahrenheit) by mid-century is already locked into the atmosphere but that further warming beyond 2°C — and some of the worst projected impacts — is avoidable with immediate action. The report also warns that without coordinated efforts to transition to low-carbon energy sources, there is an increasing likelihood that temperatures could rise by 4°C or more “by the time today’s teenagers are in their 80s.” This would have drastic consequences on many of the developing countries where the World Bank operates — many of which have very young populations.

“The good news is that we can take action that reduces the rate of climate change and promotes economic growth, ultimately stopping our journey down this dangerous path,” said Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank. “World leaders and policy makers should embrace affordable solutions like carbon pricing and policy choices that shift investment to clean public transport, cleaner energy and more energy efficient factories, buildings and appliances.”

Prepared for the World Bank Group by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, this is the third such report focusing on climate impacts in areas where the Bank operates, including Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Called “Turn Down The Heat,” the report warns of a “new climate normal” that will create a world of increased risks and instability. This will add substantially to the already daunting challenges of global development and poverty reduction, as crop yields would decline, water resources dwindle or shift, ocean acidification accelerate, and sea levels continue to rise and disrupt heavily-populated coastal regions.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, these heat extremes and changing rain patterns could lead to a 70 percent fall in soybean crop yields and up to 50 percent for wheat by 2050 without further adaption efforts. In the Caribbean, tropical storms and sea level rise will impact everything from tourism to security.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, scarce water resources will be further stressed, which could increase the outbreak of conflicts in the already fraught region. Similar challenges with water availability and food production are expected in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“The report makes crystal clear that we cannot continue down the current path of unchecked, growing emissions,” said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change.

The Bank is backing up these statements with a policy that avoids funding coal-fired power plants except in circumstances where no other baseload power sources are economically viable.

“It will only be in circumstances of extreme need that we would contemplate doing coal again,” said Kyte. She went on to say that the Bank’s focus is on accelerating lending for all forms of renewable energy, including “everything from all sizes of hydro through to wind, to solar, to concentrated solar, to geothermal.”

The Bank is encouraging country leaders to do away with fossil fuel subsidies that create unnaturally low prices for oil, gas and coal.

A major global report in September found that governments can grow their economies and reduce their GHG emissions at the same time. This is especially true in developing economies where energy systems are not locked-in and infrastructure investments are rapidly growing. The New Climate Economy report found that by 2030, about $90 trillion will be invested in cities, agriculture, and energy systems across the world. If this financing is directed toward low-carbon projects, it could mark a major turning point in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

World leaders will gather in Lima, Peru next month for a major round of negotiating sessions before next year’s U.N. climate summit in Paris where hopes for a new global agreement to reduce carbon emissions are high. There have been several promising developments in recent weeks, including a U.S.-China pledge to limit emissions and a G20 communique demanding efforts to reduce GHGs and fund clean energy.

Can Tarzan of the Apes Survive in a Post-Colonial World?

Can Tarzan of the Apes Survive in a Post-Colonial World?

by Ted Gioia

One hundred years after Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first Tarzan novel appeared, the
famous ape-man has turned into an awkward symbol of political incorrectness.

Old heroes never die. They just get remakes and sequels.Almost every fictional hero of my childhood has come back to life on the big screen in recent years.  Sherlock Holmes is a new millennium sex symbol with books, movies, and TV episodes introducing him to a new generation of fans. Comic book heroes are even hotter—Spiderman and Batman probably earn more money nowadays than Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Gandalf and Aslan refuse to die. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are ready for a comeback. Even Godzilla, the ugliest star attraction of them all, is bigger than ever, both at the box office and in sheer monstrous height.

 

But then there’s poor forgotten Tarzan.

2014 marks the hundredth anniversary of the first Tarzan book, but you would never guess it from the lackluster celebrations. How far the mighty ape-man has fallen! He once was a huge star—in the 50 year period from 1918 to 1968, 14 different actors played Tarzan in around 40 films. These grossed more than $500 million dollars.

But nowadays Tarzan is out in the cold. When Constanin Film released its 3D computer-animated Tarzan feature last year, it booked no theatrical showings in the U.S., and the film went straight to the DVD bin. Warner Brothers’ forthcoming Tarzan movie has been stalled for more than decade, and even if it reaches theaters next year, I am skeptical of the response.

I suspect that the new Tarzan will run into the same problems that beset the recent Lone Ranger remake. This film tried very hard to adapt the character Tonto to modern sensibilities, but this had about as much effect as a Washington Redskins logo redesign  in averting criticism. It was revealing that protests began even before the film was released. This might stem partly from the decision to cast Johnny Depp (who “guesses” he is part Native American, but is vague on the details) in the role, but I suspect reasons for opposition ran much deeper. Many critics probably felt they had seen enough of Tonto in the past, and found something inherently offensive in any portrayal of a loyal “Indian sidekick” to a masked Texas Ranger.

How can we expect Tarzan to fare any better? In case you’ve forgotten, this hero is the son of an English lord raised in the jungle by great apes. But genes trump everything, even parenting by furry primates. Below his rough surface, Tarzan is still a noble Caucasian, destined to bring paternalistic wisdom and white man’s justice to everything he surveys. Think of him as a kind of Cecil Rhodes in a loincloth and with bulging muscles.

Frankly, Tarzan’s relationship with the ladies is just as likely to raise hackles nowadays. No, he never actually said “Me Tarzan. You Jane!” in the original Edgar Rice Burroughs books, but the relationship between this famous couple has evolved into a familiar symbol of dysfunctional marriage, a pop culture glamorization of the subservient wife and domineering husband. When journalist Helen Franks published a book on the role of men in a post-feminist world, no one needed an explanation of why she had entitled it Goodbye Tarzan.

I say all this with a heavy heart. Around the age of 12, I was a Tarzan devotee. I owned all 24 Tarzan books authored by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and read them with enthusiasm—although also reluctantly because I wanted to keep each copy in pristine mint condition. I watched Tarzan movies and the short-lived Tarzan TV series. I bought Tarzan comic books, and even had a few issues of ERB-dom, a mimeographed fanzine devoted to the works of Burroughs. I never actually tried to swing from tree vine to tree vine, but I did consider it.

Even today, I find much to admire in these books. By any measure, Burroughs ranks among the finest adventure story authors of modern times. He took the techniques of H. Rider Haggard and Jules Verne and brought them into the 20th century. His stories were constructed with ruthless narrative efficiency. Conflicts and resolutions were staged with the skill of a chessplayer working out new endgame strategies.  I am reminded of the kind of propulsive storytelling that Steven Spielberg brings to his action films, in which heroes may be little more than stick figures, but they possess a double dose of stage presence and charisma, and we get to know them via an endless series of daredevil exploits. Burroughs was doing all this a century ago, only in print form. More than anyone he set the stage for the dazzling dominance of genre narratives in our own time.

But all this skill can’t hide the fact that Tarzan is the odd man out in a post-colonial world. There’s no way of sugarcoating passages such as this one from The Jungle Tales of Tarzan, which describes the ape-man’s encounter with an African tribe:

“These black fellow danced and sang … Tarzan never tired of spying on them, and from them he learned much more than he realized, though always his principal thought was of some new way in which he could render their lives miserable. The baiting of blacks was Tarzan’s chief divertissement.”

Can Tarzan ever recover? Is there a 12-step program for politically incorrect protagonists? Certainly I can imagine ways of giving this jungle hero some up-to-date progressive attitudes. He could be remade into a defender of the environment, a preserver of habitats and champion of rainforest ecology. In fact, the original Burroughs books possess a clear “green” streak that now seems quite prescient. Or a modernized Tarzan might lead African miners on strike against unscrupulous multinationals. He could even decide to stay at home with Boy (in case you didn’t know, that’s his son’s name in the Hollywood movies), and let Jane swing on the tree vines for a change. Cast Angelina Jolie in that role with Brad Pitt as the cave hubbie, and maybe we have a blockbuster in the making.

But I fear that it may be too late for a Tarzan makeover. He’s like Tonto—we know him too well. A leopard doesn’t change its spots, and an ape-man doesn’t change into a postcolonial hero. But I don’t expect Hollywood to give up on the effort, if only because there’s more than sense and sensibilities at stake here, namely a mega-million-dollar brand franchise. He’s still a sexy beast, isn’t he? And in the context of a film industry that loves cashing in on old heroes, the upside of turning Tarzan into a 21st century fox may just be too tempting to resist.

The Turkey Hunger Games

The Turkey Hunger Games

by Zachary Crockett

Every November, deep in the White House’s rose gardens, the President of the United States selects a lucky turkey, raises his hand above its head, and gives it a Presidential pardon.

The act ensures the bird a life free from the shackles of Thanksgiving dinner — a life of aimless roaming, gobbling, and other turkey activities.

But the “tradition” comes with a dark side. Pardoned turkeys are bred from birth to be especially obese for the cameras. They’re sent through a rigorous media boot camp, preparing them for flashbulbs, large crowds, and stressful situations — and all the while, they’re treated like small, feathered kings. Then, as a result of their priming, they die at tender ages, a shadow of what they once were.

The tradition’s unofficial roots extend back to Abraham Lincoln, who, in addition to being our nation’s sixteenth POTUS, was a fanatical animal lover.

Lincoln maintained a healthy stable of White House pets, and he treated them like royalty. His two goats, Nanny and Nanko, routinely joined him in the Presidential carriage. Once, after being scolded by his wife for feeding one of his cats with an ornate utensil, he stood at the dinner table and proudly declared, ““If a gold fork was good enough for former President Buchanan, it’s good enough for my Tabby!

This enthusiasm didn’t wane when it came to turkeys.

In November 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln officially proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a national holiday. Shortly thereafter, he selected the annual White House turkey — a brilliant, broad-breasted white bird. Lincoln’s son, Tad, was instantly smitten, and named the creature “Jack.” After the two inevitably became best buds, the boy begged his father to grant the turkey a stay of execution.

When Lincoln got word of his son’s temper tantrum over the Jack’s impending slaughter, he ducked out of a cabinet meeting and issued the bird “an order of reprieve,” sparing Jack’s life.

Over the next year, the turkey became a member of the Lincoln family — and an endless source of entertainment for the President and his cabinet. On Election Day 1864, there were voting booths set up in front of the White House for soldiers to cast their votes; suddenly, the ever-cocky Jack strutted into one of the booths.

“Why is your turkey at the polls? Does he vote?” Lincoln asked his son, after observing the scene from his office.

“No,” replied Tad. “He’s not of age yet.”

Starting in 1873, with the Grant administration, it became a customary tradition for the president to be presented a turkey. For nearly 45 years, one man — a Rhode Island poultry farmed named Horace Vose — was responsible for “selecting the noblest gobbler in all that little state” for the White House. In 1947, the National Turkey Federation became the President’s supplier; today, it retains the duty.

For some time, historians surmised that the official pardoning tradition began with Harry S. Truman that same year. In a famous photo, he lingers over his fowl with a smile, seemingly granting it immunity from the dinner table. But archivists at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library say the photo was nothing more than a publicity stunt for turkey farmers.

Harry S. Truman greets his turkey

Lyndon Johnson, thinking
about cranberry sauce

“The Trumans,” a historian told The Washington Post, “were not animal people” — and it’s likely that his look of adoration here is nothing more than him fantasizing about slathering the bird in cranberry sauce and stuffing his face.

When the ever-gracious John F. Kennedy was presented with a rafter of turkeys in 1963, he pointed to the largest one — a 55-pound whopper — said “we’ll just let this one go,” and send it off to a petting farm in Washington. But, like Lincoln’s sparing 100 years earlier, it was a one-off: subsequent Presidents didn’t seem to maintain any compassion for the meaty fowl.

So, when did this “timeless American tradition” officially start? Not long ago, it turns out.

Standing before the monstrous bird presented to him on November 14, 1989, President George H.W. Bush became the unintentional father of the turkey pardon. “He looks understandably nervous,” joked Bush, “but let me assure you (and this fine tom turkey) that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table — not this guy. He’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” The bird was sent off to a Virginia farm, presumably to live the rest of his life away from the spotlight.

After Bush’s joke, subsequent Presidents carried on the custom — most expressing total disinterest in the act. “They bring me a big turkey and we let one go so we can eat all the others,” Bill Clinton told the press in 1999.

And they certainly brought a big one:

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama started a new trend: pardoning not one, but two turkeys — though often begrudgingly. “Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate,” Obama said in 2009, “[But its only] thanks to the intervention of Malia and Sasha – because I was ready to eat this sucker.”

The Life of a Pardoned Turkey

The turkeys selected for Presidential pardons aren’t just your run of the mill birds — they’re bred from birth to fit the role.

The National Turkey Federation typically selects around 80 newly-hatched turkeys to be considered for the ceremony. They’re then fed a “grain-heavy diet of fortified corn and soybeans” to bulk them up, with the end-goal in the 50-pound range (more than the weight of most dog breeds).

Priceonomics

From there, the flock is narrowed down to the “20 largest and best-behaved,” and they embark on their next phase of training: preparing for fame.

A pardoned turkey must be well-attuned to the rigors of the spotlight, and must handle its 15 minutes with grace and regality, so they are put through an extensive course of scenarios — flash photography, large crowds, and loud noises — to gauge their behavior. Usually, it comes down to two birds, ultimately hand-picked by the White House staff.

Leading up to the ceremony, the two turkeys are royalty. This year’s cluckers, two birds from Ohio named Mac and Cheese, were treated to their own room at Washington’s Willard InterContinental Hotel to the tune of $350 a night. The floor was caked in wood shavings, grains, and feathers as the goliath fowl gobbled their way between the queen sized beds and in-room bar.

But life after the pardon — when everyone’s forgotten them — is historically grim.

Lights, camera, turkey: 2013’s
pardoned turkeys prepare for
their close-ups

Obama pardons Popcorn in 2013
(he died 7 months later)

For years, they were sent to aptly-named Frying Pan Park in Virginia; in 2005, they were shipped off to Disneyland Resort in California, or farms in Virginia, where they became a spectacle for incredulous tourists. When ABC News visited one such farm in search of past pardoned turkeys, they learned the disappointing truth: “we usually just find ‘em and they’re dead,” a breeder told the crew. “Their flesh has grown so fast, and their heart and their bones and their other organs can’t catch up.”

It’s a sad truth. Because pardoned turkeys are bred to be robust showmen, they often live incredibly short lives. Their complications are not unlike those encountered by obese humans — heart disease, joint damage, respiratory failure — and they rarely reach the five-year average age of their wild counterparts.

Of the past eight turkeys selected for pardoning, seven met their end less than a year after the ceremony.

Though celebrated as a kind-hearted gesture, the Presidential turkey pardon is something of a Hunger Games-esque nightmare for the fowls involved, where the “winners” aren’t really winners at all.

On that note, Happy Thanksgiving!

Ancient Egyptian ‘Handbook of Ritual Power’ decribes love spells and exorcisms

Ancient Egyptian ‘Handbook of Ritual
Power’ decribes love spells and exorcisms

by Owen Jarus

Researchers in Australia have deciphered an ancient Egyptian handbook, revealing a series of invocations and spells. Among other things, the “Handbook of Ritual Power,” as the book is called, tells readers how to cast love spells, exorcise evil spirits and treat “black jaundice,” a sometimes fatal bacterial infection that is still around today.

The book is about 1,300 years old, and is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language. It is made of bound pages of parchment — a type of book known as a codex.

“It is a complete 20-page parchment codex, containing the handbook of a ritual practitioner,” write Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, who are professors at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney, respectively, in “A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power.”

The ancient book “starts with a lengthy series of invocations that culminate with drawings and words of power,” they write. “These are followed by a number of prescriptions or spells to cure possession by spirits and various ailments, or to bring success in love and business.”

For instance, to subjugate someone, the codex says, you have to say a magical formula over two nails and then “drive them into his doorpost, one on the right side (and) one on the left.”

Researchers believe that the codex may date to the 7th or 8th century. Many Egyptians were Christian during that time, and the codex contains a number of invocations referencing Jesus.

However, some of the invocations seem more associated with a group that flourished in Egypt during the early centuries of Christianity and held Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, in high regard. One invocation in the codex calls “Seth, Seth, the living Christ.”

The opening of the codex refers to a divine figure named Baktiotha whose identity is a mystery, researchers say. The lines read, “I give thanks to you and I call upon you, the Baktiotha: The great one, who is very trustworthy; the one who is lord over the forty and the nine kinds of serpents,” according to the translation.

“The Baktiotha is an ambivalent figure,” Choat and Gardner said at a conference before their book on the codex was published. “He is a great power and a ruler of forces in the material realm.” Historical records indicate that church leaders regarded the Sethians as heretics, and by the 7th century, the Sethians were either extinct or dying out.

This codex, with its mix of Sethian and Orthodox Christian invocations, may in fact be a transitional document, written before all Sethian invocations were purged from magical texts, the researchers said. They noted that there are other texts that are similar to the newly deciphered codex, but they contain more Orthodox Christian and fewer Sethian features.

The identity of the person who used this codex is a mystery. The user of the codex would not necessarily have been a priest or monk. “It is my sense that there were ritual practitioners outside the ranks of the clergy and monks, but exactly who they were is shielded from us by the fact that people didn’t really want to be labeled as a ;magician,’ ” Choat said.

 

Baktiotha: The Origin of
a Magical Name in P.Macq. 
 
by Korshi Dosoo

Many authors in the area of ancient magic, have, for good reason, pointed to the dangers of attempting  to read meaning into the obscure names and formulae which often appear in ritual texts. With a little creativity it is possible to find and justify many possible meanings for a single word, but there is no guarantee that any of these is the ‘correct’ one. The word might have come from a lesser-known or lost language, or it might have been distorted beyond recognition from its lexical root. It might have have been created merely as a euphonious collection of sounds, whose meaning the original or later scribes who recorded it never considered or knew.

 Despite this cautionary note, it is sometimes irresistible to speculate on the origins of a magical name, and such is the case with ⲃⲁⲕⲧⲓⲱⲑⲁ and its variants, which appear in a single invocation attested, in slightly differing versions, in three Coptic manuscripts: P. Macq. I 1, P. Berl. 5527 and P. Lond. Copt. I 1008. In their recent edition of the previously unpublished Macquarie codex, Choat and Gardiner list four possible etymologies, and it is my intention here to add yet another.
 

Before discussing this new etymology, it is worth briefly summarizing the sections of the invocation which relate to Baktiotha. He is described as being both ‘great’ (ⲛⲟϭ) and ‘very trustworthy’ (<ⲛ>ϩⲟⲧ ⲉⲙⲁⲧⲉ), as being lord over 49 kinds (ⲅⲉⲛⲟⲥ,ⲫⲩⲗⲉ) of serpents who are servants (ϩⲉⲙϩⲁⲗ) to him. These serpents are described as being in the abyss (ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲛ) and the air (ⲡⲁⲏⲣ), deaf (ⲕⲟⲩⲫⲟⲥ,ⲕⲟⲩⲗ) and blind (ⲃⲉⲗⲉ), seeing and hearing, known and unknown; his fear is over them all (ⲧⲉ[ϥ]ϩⲟⲧⲉ ⲧⲉⲧϩⲓϫⲱⲟⲩ).
 

Despite the brevity of this description, it is clear that Baktiotha is an important figure within these  texts, and part of an elaborate mythic schema.


The Serpents
The decans were a series of 36 stars or constellations located close to the ecliptic whose risings, or later, transits, served to keep track of hours, ten-day periods, and ultimately years; the decans were positioned so that a new one rose or transited at intervals marking the hours. During the period in which they served to tell the hours of the night they were said to be ‘working’, thus earning them their designation, ‘those who work’. Twelve such hours would typically pass each night, and over a period of ten days each decan would rise and transit one hour earlier. The whole cycle would take a year to complete, beginning once more with the heliacal rising of the decan Sothis (Sirius), signalling the inundation.

The decans accumulated a great deal of mythological associations over the centuries, and from the Ramesside period an iconographical development took place whereby they began to be depicted as leonine, or more commonly, serpentine deities. This connection between decans and other astral deities, and serpents, is most explicitly stated in the
 Book of the Heavenly Cow, where it is said that “the souls of all the gods [i.e. the stars] are in the snakes.”

 Closer to our period, we find hundreds of amulets depicting the decan knm.t (Χνουμη etc.) as a lion-headed serpent.
 That this association between the decans and serpents carried on into Coptic times is suggested by a passage in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ , in which the sons of Death are described as decans ‘in the form of winding serpents. 

See the entire article unabridged at the link below:

http://www.academia.edu/2446533/Baktiotha_The_Origin_of_a_Magical_Name_in_P._Mac._I_1

A Sex Researcher At A Furry Convention

A Sex Researcher At A Furry Convention

By Neuroskeptic

A report in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour describes an unusual field trip made by Canadian researcher Debra W. Soh – to a furry convention, expecting to witness some kind of sexual free-for-all (or free-fur-all).

Soh opens by saying that

I couldn’t wait to meet a furry, someone who adopts the identity or persona of an anthropomorphized animal in social – and often sexual – interactions.

Since first discovering their existence two years ago while working as a research assistant in a sexology lab, whenever people ask me what I do, I respond with a question of my own: “Have you ever heard of furries?”

Thus, she went to Furnal Equinox, an annual Toronto furry convention, along with over 900 other attendees.

I hoped to learn as much as I could about ‘‘the fandom’’ and uncover the answers most sexologists are dying to know: Is it a genuine paraphilia [sexual disorder]? Or are the media exaggerating? Is it even about sex at all?

Many of the convention-goers were dressed in the elaborate fursuits that make their community famous, but Soh was in civilian attire; she says that

I had thought about renting a fursuit of my own, but with one day’s notice, and no idea where I could rent such a thing, I decided to brave it in my usual streetwear.

Soh says that upon walking into the hall, she had expected to find herself in a dimly-lit orgy “filled with couples – or groups – of costumed folks engaging in kinky sex” but she saw nothing of the kind. In fact, she saw nothing sexual at the whole convention except some erotic anthropomorphized fan art that was on sale.

Instead, the furries were chatting, playing board games, smoking, and so on. And showing off their fursuits:

I learned the most popular choices were foxes, wolves, and dogs. More recently, the selection of animals had evolved to include hybrids that did not exist in reality, including those blended with mythical creatures (e.g. a dragon mixed with a wolf)…

There is an important distinction between fursonas and fursuits, as almost all furries have a fursona, but only a small proportion wears a fursuit.

Why do they do it? Soh concluded that Each member of the community felt they had something that made them different and ill-fitting in mainstream society, such as Asperger’s syndrome or a facial tic.

They found some aspect of childhood, such as cartoon characters or stuffed animals, to be comforting, and this appreciation continued on into their adult lives. The fandom gave them a safe venue in which to express themselves and to feel accepted by others who feel similarly.

She even met a furry neuroscientist. One attendee observed that “there is a large proportion of furries studying the hard sciences.”

Soh concludes that the furry community is about much more than just sex and praises them for being so open and welcoming to a non-furry.

The second author on the paper is James M. Cantor, known for his research on paedophilia and transsexuality. This is the second paper about furries in the biomedical literature. The first furry PubMed hit was this one from earlier this year, which studied ‘Biological essentialism in a stigmatized fan community’. Google Scholar, which includes a wider range of sources, reveals dozens of hits.

 

Colosseum To Come Alive Again 2,000 Years After The Gladiators

Colosseum to come alive again
2,000 years after the gladiators

by Nick Squires

Italy’s culture minister gives the green light for cultural
events once again being held within the historic arena

Two millennia after sword-wielding gladiators fought to the death on the blood-soaked sands of the Colosseum, Italy’s culture minister has given the green light to cultural events once again being held within the arena.

Dario Franceschini has thrown his weight behind a proposal to rebuild the wooden floor that once covered the arena and provided the setting for wild animal hunts and gladiatorial combat.

Currently only a small portion of the arena is covered by wooden boards, with the rest exposed to the elements – visitors are able to peer into the labyrinth of narrow tunnels and cramped stone cells that once housed caged animals and gladiators before they emerged into the arena via a network of lifts operated by slaves.

There are no plans to recreate mock gladiatorial battles or fights with lions, leopards and bears.

The minister said that only concerts and other cultural events would be held, insisting that ancient Rome’s monuments should not be turned into a cultural Disneyland.

Occasional concerts are held inside the Colosseum but the rebuilding of the arena’s wooden flooring would allow more frequent events.

“I’m convinced that with the intelligent reconstruction of the arena in the Colosseum, the monument that is a symbol of Italy could become even more attractive to tourism,” Mr Franceschini said at a press conference in Rome on Friday.

He knocked down previous suggestions that football matches could be held in the ancient arena.

Instead there would be classical music concerts and plays. “We’re not going to be hosting a match between Roma and Bayern Munich,” he said.

It was a project that would require “resources and vision”.

“It’s not something that you can do in two minutes. But the debate is open and it’s going to be very interesting,” he said.

Italy could increase tourism by “adding value” to its unparalleled cultural heritage, he said.

Ancient monuments needed to be “brought alive” for visitors from around the world.

The idea of restoring the arena was first mooted during the summer by an archaeologist, Daniele Manacorda, from Roma Tre university.

Some cultural heritage experts have criticized the idea, saying it would cheapen the monument and could damage its stone structure, which has survived earthquakes, pilfering of its stone for other buildings and traffic pollution.

But many of Italy’s other ancient monuments are used for concerts and opera performances, including the Baths of Caracalla in Rome and Verona’s Roman amphitheater.