Monday, July 12, 2010

The Bonobo trials - "Lucy" a novel by Laurence Gonzales

On the NPR Saturday morning show, host Scott Simon interviewed Laurence Gonzales about his new novel, "Lucy", about the trials (and tribulations) of a human-animal hybrid. In this case, a Bonobo chimpanzee.

What's that, you ask? Well, this should be interesting.

First, from Laurence's Amazon biography: "Laurence Gonzales has lectured before groups ranging from the Santa Fe Institute to Legg Mason Capital Management and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. His books include "Deep Survival," "Everyday Survival," "One Zero Charlie," and "Lucy." He lives in Evanston, Illinois." Laurance has written a various forms of survival issue type books.

So, what's this about Bonobos?

Bonobo chimpanzees Kanzi and Panbanisha, were discussed in a previous NPR article, where they stated that these two Bonobos understand thousands of words. Once known as "Pigmy Chimps" (now recognized as a separate species) and also as the, "Hippie Chimps" ("Make Love not war") because they settle social disputes with sex, and Chimps appear to fight a lot more; these are the genetically closest primate to Humans.

The book, "Lucy", from all accounts, is a clever, intelligently written novel. But strangely, there is no mention of any fiction precursors to this work. The Kirkus (starred review) says of it: “Masterful… Thoroughly well-written, grounded in science and a sorrowful sense of human nature, this book is utterly memorable.” Entertainment Weekly compares him to the late, great, Michael Critchton.

Laurance's website is:
Deep Surival

But before, "Lucy"....

The 1952 novel, "Skullduggery" (Les Animaux dénaturés) by French author, Vercors (Jean Marcel Bruller, using a pseudonym going back to his Resistance work during WWII). But there was also a movie released in 1970 with the same title, directed by well known director, Gordon Douglas.

Strangely enough, Douglas directed a movie I recorded on Tivo just this past week called, "Bombers B-52". I used to work on B-52's so I thought I'd check it out.

Douglas, also directed a lot of famous movies, starting with "Lucky Beginners" in 1935, to his last, "Viva Knieval" in 1977. In between, he directed moves with James Cagney, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Steve McQueen, and it goes on. I just found it interesting that he should have chosen to do this particular film at the time he did it. Why?

Starring in the movie were Burt Reynolds, when he was still pretty cool and before the "Smokey and the Bandit" franchise started up. Also, a couple of "Star Trek" alums, Susan Clark (that same year she was also in the somewhat more famous film: "Colossus: The Forbin Project" and a later far more famous film: "Porky's") and Roger C. Carmel ("Harry Mudd"). Also in the movie, in the later court scenes, were Edward Fox, Rhys Williams and Wilfred Hyde-White. Although you felt this was a comedy, you also felt that it had a deadly serious moral issue to be dealt with.

Tagline for the film: "The Tropis...Was It Human?...Animal?...Or the Living Descendants of The Missing Link!"
Not to be mistaken for the 1983 movie of the same name and different storyline.

It is a questionable and heavy topic, but handled with such a light hand, it slipped by the notice of most of the public and the conservative (especially, the notorious Religious) Right.

A post on IMDB indicates that the film they saw at a Drive-in was at some point altered, that possibly they saw a screening copy. So, that's the original version of Skullduggery that I remember, too. I also saw it at a drive-in theater. I can only assume the first go around of the film, caused the follow up releases to be edited to "soften" the content, which had many references to race relations and some always delicious biting satire. If that is true, which I have no doubt, its pretty sad. I would like to see the original again.

This editing out (or "dumbing down") behavior is not unlike Brian Eno and David Byrne, having deleted track one, on side two, on their great and seminal, "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" album. They eliminated a beautiful rendition of someone singing a part of the Quar'an (Koran), merely because a single Islamic entity in London, complained the year it was released.

[And a kind thank you to those who pointed out that it was David Byrne and not Robert Fripp along with Brian Eno who did this album. This was just a stupid mistake on my part and no, has nothing to do with "dumbing down" (as that metaphor doesn't quite fit, does it?), as anyone can make a mistake; however, even after the fact, it was stated that they "hadn't wanted to offend anyone" and so, they chose to do something ignorant.]

A brief aside, for Fans of this seminal album:
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts remastered site.
From the site:
"This is the first time complete and total access to original tracks with remix and sampling possibilities have been officially offered on line. In keeping with the spirit of the original album, Brian and David are offering for download all the multitracks on two of the songs. Through signing up to the user license, and in line with Creative Commons licenses, you are free to edit, remix, sample and mutilate these tracks however you like. Add them to your own song or create a new one. Visitors are welcome to post their mixes or songs that incorporate these audio files on the site for others to hear and rate."

And now back to our original program....

Its a fine line, between caving in to commercialism, bowing to show reasonable respect and fighting for free speech, thus increasing World knowledge. But they said that back then they simply weren't interested in offending anyone. Interesting how Islam has scared people leave them along and unchallenged for so long while remaining so insidiously untouched compared to other world religions.

Perhaps if more had stood up to these kinds of complaints sooner, or better exposed their beliefs to the world, perhaps leading to more transparency and better eduction of their own, perhaps some of the more recent events could have been avoided. I would have argued to Fripp and Eno, anyway, "Have some balls."

Getting back to author Laurence Gonzales, I find it hard to believe that this author ("Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why"), could not know of this previous book or the movie. Laurence has also covered survival stories for National Geographic Explorer, Outside and Men's Journal.

Regardless, I find the subject intriguing and worth mention, and thus, here we are. If you didn't know about the Bonobos, they are worth paying attention to.

As to the other two Bonobos mentioned earlier, Kanzi's favorite movies when he was very young are reported to have been, "Ice Man" and "Planet of the Apes". Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, head scientist at the Great Ape Trust near Des Moines has said: "I guess his favorite movie of all time is Quest for Fire."

I would submit, if they showed Kanzi, "Skullduggery", it very well might take over as an all time favorite. And for a really damn good reason. After all, if there's one thing the movie and both books make clear here, survival is at stake.


  1. I can't be the first one to point out that "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" was in fact an album by Brian Eno and David Byrne.

  2. "My Life In The Bush of Ghosts" was David Byrne and Brian Eno.

    Is being factually wrong part of the "dumbing down"?

  3. Of course you are correct and the mistake has been rectified. Funny mistake for me to make too, considering how long I have really liked that album. I should have known better. Thanks.

  4. To quote: "Perhaps if more had stood up to these kinds of complaints sooner, or better exposed their beliefs to the world, perhaps leading to more transparency and better eduction of their own, perhaps some of the more recent events could have been avoided. I would have argued to Fripp and Eno, anyway, "Have some balls."".

    If the reference to "recent events" is directed towards the series of wars by the US (and coerced allies) against Islamic nations, I do not acknowledge that "better eduction" (sic) would have made any difference whatsoever. The series of wars (Afghanistan and Iraq and to a more limited extent Pakistan), soon to include Iran, Syria and others) was mooted by hardline 'neoconservative' D.C. policymakers at least two decades ago. This was when the perpetual war against Soviet Russia, which furnished decades worth of massive, unquestioned corporate welfare for the "defense" sector, finally came to a sudden end, leaving the US without a perpetual enemy which could be used to scare and manipulate the public into supporting the bloated military budget: A new enemy was required, and ASAP.

    Throughout the Clinton Administration, a period of economic good times and relative international calm, the defense budget was dramatically scaled back. Bases were closed, weapons programs were downsized, as the US military was readjusted to meet a *publicly perceived* greatly diminished threat. This downsizing was met with anger and frustration amongst right wing DC hardliners, then in the political backwaters during the Clinton years. As a result, a series of think-tank studies were quietly published, including the "Project for a New American Century's" notorious landmark essay, "Rebuilding America's Defenses", released on September 10, 2000. This paper called for a gargantuan increase in the US military budget, supporting the ability to conduct simultaneous wars in multiple theaters, targeting as many as 12 named Muslim nations, the development of space-based weapons, and even R&D into biological weapons targeting "specific ethnic genotypes" (in other words, dark skinned mid eastern peoples of the Muslim faith). The signatories to this war program included many people who were appointed to top positions in the Bush Administration of January 2001, including Cheney, Perle, Rice, Wolfowitz, Feith, Abrams and many others. They did, however, admit that this extreme agenda would have been impossible or very slow to materialize, absent a "catastrophic, catalyzing incident, like a New Pearl Harbor".

    Although the R.A.D. paper languished in obscurity after the 2001 Bush administration ensconced themselves in the White House, the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan were the first items on the agenda, plans being drawn up within *one week* of President George W. Bush's inauguration.

    The Neocons comprising much of the Bush admin. were handed their greatest imaginable windfall on September 11, 2001, when a former CIA operative named Osama bin Laden, (allegedly living in a cave in Afghanistan) and 19 rookie kids, none of whom apparently could fly, ran rings around the most sophisticated military-security-intelligence ever assembled in human history, for 1.5 hours, without a single solitary attempt on the part of the US military to defend the nation. And, as a result, we are now at war with the entire Islamic world, with the US public, much of the West, and the entire corporate media firmly behind the neocon agenda, now eagerly embraced by the current Obama team.

    The Muslim world is either really good at shooting itself in the foot, or they have a morbid addiction to being the recipients of mass slaughter, pillage, looting, and a carpet of bombs and bullets. Tres bizarre.

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  6. As was previously stated (and corrected) Robert Fripp (one of my guitar Heroes) was not a part of this project as were Byrne and Eno.

    You do have, in what you stated and quoted, some very relevant points that I don't have time to address here.

    It should be interesting to note that 1) the Twin Towers terrorists studied take offs but not landings (red flag?), 2) on 11 Sept 2001 CIA Director George Tenet turned to someone and allegedly said, "I hope it's not those guys in the flight schools in Minnesota."; 3) this was a turning point in that terrorists used to hijack planes and land them, now they just turn them into missiles; the next time this happens, I do seriously hope not to be on that plane because I suspect the US Air Force will have a different set of engagement rules to fly by.

  7. Also, it should be noted, most Muslims are peace loving. The few, have hijacked the majorities' religion. That fact that religion has led to many such atrocities over History, is perhaps here, beside the point.