Friday, September 26, 2014

Compare the threats

by Jack Reeves

The Ebola virus and fear of it are much in the news. This year there have been some 6,263 cases, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 2,917 deaths.

For perspective, in 2012 there were 207 million cases of malaria and 627,000 deaths. Every minute a child in Africa dies of the mosquito-borne disease.

Cholera, also mosquito-transmitted, takes a great toll on health and lives. There were 1.4 million to 4.3 million cases last year and as many as 142,000 deaths. Haiti led the world with 58,809 incidences and nearly 600 deaths. (All statistics from the World Health Organization.)

I’ve had both: malaria twice, cholera once. The latter brought to mind Samuel Johnson’s words: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

From Jack: Terrorism. New to us but not the US

by Jack Reeves

The Middle East conflict and its religious roots seems novel. However, our history is replete with religion-driven violence.

The Revolutionary War was fought over opposing religion and politics. American preachers fueled the War of 1812.

Manifest Destiny: Belief that God willed Americans conquer the continent, to include Canadians and Native Americans.

The South believed that religion justified slavery, the North abolition.

The Spanish-American War reflects conceiving international relations in a missionary fashion, like spreading democracy.

WW I: The Great and Holy War.

Lenin established "godless communism"; the godly had to oppose.

WW II: Deified Emperor Hirohito inspired Japan's bloody rage. Nazi terrorism aimed to exterminate the Jews.

The Korean War was between communism and religion-based capitalism (natural right to liberty and property).

The Vietnam War is traceable to conflict with Catholicism.

Terrorism: Use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims, e.g., ISIS/ISIL, Sherman's burning of Atlanta and destructive March to the Sea.

Not novel.

From npr: Killing Comes Naturally To Chimps, Scientists Say

A full-grown male chimpanzee carries a stick at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya. The sanctuary is the work of primatologist Jane Goodall.
A full-grown male chimpanzee carries a stick at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya. The sanctuary is the work of primatologist Jane Goodall. Jean-Marc Bouju/AP 
For years, there have been two main theories about why chimpanzees, our closest evolutionary cousins, sometimes kill each other. One theory blames human encroachment on the chimpanzees' native habit in Africa. Another says that (male) chimps kill in the normal course of competition with rival groups.

A new study published in Nature appears to support the second theory. In short, it found that the numerical makeup of chimpanzee communities is roughly proportional to the "chimp murder rate."

"Variation in killing rates was unrelated to measures of human impacts," the authors, Michael L. Wilson, Christophe Boesch, et al., write in the abstract. "Our results are compatible with previously proposed adaptive explanations for killing by chimpanzees, whereas the human impact hypothesis is not supported."

To be sure, the knowledge that chimps will occasionally carry out organized killings on groups of rivals is nothing new. As early as the mid-1970s, researchers in Tanzania's Gombe National Park observed gangs of a half dozen or more male chimpanzees conducting lethal raids in neighboring territories.

As The New York Times wrote in 1988: "For some time after the pioneering studies of Jane Goodall and others, it was thought that chimps were generally peaceful, playful, sophisticated and easygoing. ... Then, from Ms. Goodall's own work, and in particular from her associate Richard Wrangham, it became evident that chimpanzee males engaged in active killing of other chimps and other primates."

Still, the question of how common the behavior was and why exactly it occurred remained open to debate.

In an article in 2011 published in Psychology Today, University of Notre Dame professor Darcia Narvaez summed up the argument for human impact. She noted that in the first 14 years that Goodall and Wrangham observed chimps at Gombe, "aggression patterns were no different from other primates (peaceful and unaggressive)."

Then, the behavior suddenly changed: "With hindsight, it turned out that human feeding of the chimpanzees, with its restrictions and control, deeply affected the behavior and culture of the chimpanzees, such as keeping large groups of animals near the feeding site, which promoted increased fighting among the males," Narvaez wrote in Psychology Today, citing The Egalitarians: Human and Chimpanzee, a 1991 book by Margaret Power.

In a rebuttal to Narvaez published soon after in Psychology Today, Kevin D. Hunt, an anthropology professor at Indiana University who had Goodall colleague Wrangham as his doctoral co-supervisor, concludes:
"[There] is irrefutable evidence that the threat of lethal violence has exerted a strong evolutionary force on chimpanzee nature, and its effects are visible on a minute-to-minute basis in chimpanzee society. It is the origin of the very unusual social bonding among male chimpanzees — they must hang together to protect against extra-group murderers."
As bleak as this sounds, Wrangham — although he adheres to the chimps-as-natural-born-killers theory in the book Demonic Males — finds cause for optimism when it comes to the ability of humans to change their own violent tendencies.

In observing bonobos (the closely related but less-violent cousins of chimpanzees), Wrangham observed peaceful communities based on a power-sharing arrangement between males and females. Chimps, by contrast, live in patriarchal groups where dominant males run roughshod over compliant females.

The reason for the difference, he concludes, is sex selection. Female chimps select aggressive males as mates; female bonobos don't.

"The example of the bonobos reminds us that females and males can be equally important players in a society," Wrangham is quoted in Harvard Magazine as saying. "And by giving us a model in which female action works in suppressing the excesses of male aggression, the bonobos show us that in democracies like our own, women's voices should be heard more than they are."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Immigration Reform: Sorting right, wrong

by Jack Reeves

The president says he will delay executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections. Politics.

But immigration is basically economics and ethics. U.S. farms heavily rely — almost 80 percent — on low-wage foreign workers, mainly Mexican. Half of these workers are undocumented. This cheap labor helps keep down food prices, particularly for labor-intensive fruits and vegetables.

The major objection to a path to citizenship is that it would reward unauthorized immigrants who broke the law.

However, farmers who hire millions of these individuals don't seem interested in their status — arguably, breaking the law.

And aren't those who purchase and consume foreign-worker grown, picked and packed fruits and vegetables, including me, accessories to crime?

Many who disparage unauthorized immigrants and oppose the Dream Act base their opposition on their contorted definition of right and wrong — perhaps while enjoying an avocado with some wine.

I eagerly await the president's executive action in a couple of months.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Long Labor Day Weekend at the Mt. House (Photos)

With Sylvia and Roy, Jenny and Bill, Ann and Garth, Dottie and Bill and Bo and Cate . . .