Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Cherry Tree on a wet weekend


Taken in our backyard by Jennifer with her new iPhone. My daughter's softball tournament got rained out. Some unexpected, unplanned free time!

First blush of spring...Some money plant blossoming on the edge of our woods. We got this from my mother's mother.


The money plant grows beside a rather large patch of ground cover Jennifer transplanted from an old maid that lived near our house known around here as Miss Lucille. Miss Lucille was a quiet but strong and persistent woman who gardened practically until the day she died. We got a lot of various kinds of poppies and other plants from her right after we built our house in 1993-1994.

I can remember seeing her out with her walker in her garden slowly, meticulously hoeing away at weeds with a hoe that was so old most of the blade had been gradually whittled away by the friction of its daily use to little more than a precisely shaped nub.


The yellow bloom reveals that this ground cover is yellow archangel. These plants are very hardy and prolific. They almost died out completely over the last two years of the drought but our winter rain revived them splendidly.

Here's a pic I found recently of Miss Lucille, right, listening to my great-grandmother tell her something. Taken probably at a church lunch gathering in the early 1980's. Both women are long since gone. The 10 acres we live on were once part of my great-grandfather's 1,000+ acre farm.



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When $10,000,000,000,000 ain't enough

A couple of interesting things to consider about the Great Recession:
  • The recent sharp rise in the markets has been the steepest two-week gain since 1938.
  • Such steep rises are indicative of bear market rallies. Between 1929-1932 there were nine rallies of 15% or more, averaging about two-weeks per rally. In the recession from 1937 and 1942 there were another nine rallies of 15% or more averaging almost 3 months each.
So, have we bottomed out yet? No one knows but history would suggest we haven't.

Frontline had another excellent program on last night. This one focused on the national debt, something I've posted about before. As you know, I support President Obama on most of his initiatives but I believe NOTHING is worse for the economic future and social stability of this country than public debt.

The basic story, according to Frontline, is that President Reagan authorized a large tax cut immediately after assuming office in 1981. Only a couple of years later, however, he was forced to raise taxes due the ballooning national deficit. President Bush the First infamously stated: "Read my lips. No new taxes." But he was forced to raise taxes in order to control the federal deficit. This was political suicide and it was a lesson President Bush the W took to heart.

President Dubya proceeded to preside over a skyrocketing rate of federal programs, particularly Medicare Part D, which will cost this country many trillions of dollars going forward. Dubya started not one but two wars. Dubya cut taxes several times without consideration of the deficit.

Now, President Obama inherits record deficits and the worst economic crisis of the last two generations. This crisis began in late 2007, long before Obama was even leading Hillary Clinton in the polls. But, the Obama solution is to run up the largest deficits in history.

According to Frontline, we have only another 8 - 10 years before the public debt crisis dwarfs even our present economic mess.

"By 2017 the national debt is projected to be more than the entire economic output of the country. That hasn't happened since 1947. In ten years, according to the budget plan, the debt will have more than doubled to over than $23 trillion."

This is crazy. In an attempt to keep the financial system from completely collapsing - which it would certainly do if we did nothing - we are going to burden this society with an unmanageable amount of public debt. My opinion is that in the long run this will lead to a far worse situation.

If everything fell apart - largely due to the ill-logical "spend and don't tax or regulate" philosophy of the Dubya Administration - we would likely be in another Depression. BUT, we would be able to come out of the chaos of that without being saddled with a doubling of the national debt.

Instead, to stave off the possible Depression, Obama will mortgage our children's economic future with the hope that we will return to prosperity to such an extent revenues will become positive again and we will reduce the largest deficit in human history. It is a bold gamble. It will result in worse economic times and probably the demise of the US dollar as the standard of world currency.

At that point this nation will no longer lead the world. We have avoided the hard realities of our lazy, soft, fearful, convenience worshipping "American-way-of-life" once too many times. And it looks like Obama will get the bulk of the blame.

Under such conditions, gold at the current $900+ level might look very cheap.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Music of the 30's

Perhaps in part to honor the Great Recession I’ve been listening to some excellent music from the 1930’s era. The combo of swing, jazz, and big band sounds yield some truly amazing work. Many songs from this period of music, songs like Stardust, As Time Goes By, and The Man I Love, are timeless.

Great clarinet solos, trumpets, saxophones, and pianos take the lead in danceable, often carefree tunes. Some virtuosos, like
Earl Hines or Teddy Wilson, approach compositions of classical complexity.

Earl Hines was a brilliant performer.

As was Count Basie.

Indiana was an awesome tune. (Note: Unfortunately, all I can share with you are mostly videos from the early 60's when the compositions featured are performed with more of a 40's and 50's influence than the more "straight-laced" approach of the pristine 30's.)

It’s difficult to put into words why I like this music. I’ve always enjoyed the music of the 30’s. It is easy, clean, innocent, yet sophisticated in a refined way that might be cliché in the postmodern reality.

But, in most ways I’m hardly postmodern. The music of the 30’s reminds me that things were once slower, hopeful, there was no global warming, there was no harm in smoking, the second world war and the cold war were as yet unknown, there are nice wool suits and gorgeous colored dresses, and there is the promise that you can do what you want - best if you do it with someone else, times being hard and all.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Cheap Populism"

This is a priceless moment for Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show", perhaps the most clever and humorous show on television. It was ultimately brought about by the video I posted in the sentence "Let Rome burn" on February 19. The video that shows the relationship between the two events is here.

A good journalistic overview of this
is featured in Business Week.

Since his duel with CNBC financial whiz Jim Cramer, Stewart has enjoyed a rise in popularity while Cramer has seen a drop in his ratings. People seem to appreciate it when a "Snake Oil Salesman" labels himself as such while they tend to steer clear of those who go on with pretending they are something they're not. But, as Stewart clearly points out, Cramer is not the problem, he's just a symptom of our times.

More stuff...

The NAACP says Blacks got screwed worse in the sub-prime mortgage crisis than whites. If this is true then racism is alive and well in America. If it isn't true, if instead the sub-prime mortgage crisis was a crisis of finance regardless of race then the NAACP is simply perpetuating a victimization without which it cannot define its existence. We'll have to see which is the case. It is more likely, I think, that all the "economically vulnerable" segments of the market were victims, including the young and the old. I'm sure plenty of Latinos and Asians suffered too. The discrimination was beyond race and attempts to limit it to a specific race are in themselves myopically racist. Then again, this is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. My God, can you have a more racist name for an organization?

On another note,
Mark Shields, who I admire, referred tonight to the frozen embryos to be used in stem cell research rightly authorized by President Obama this week as "these little beings". These embryos are not "beings" in any meaningful sense of the word. They are not, in fact, human. They certainly have the potential for humanity, they are the goo of what we can become but they are not aware, they are not expressive, they are not reactionary, they are not even, strictly speaking, alive. They are frozen.

There is no "being" about them and the use of such terms reveals a neanderthal morality. The controversy over these frozen embryos might as well be about whether Santa Claus exists or, as indicated the previous morality link, be about our concern for the safety of a fly - for a fly has more "being" than do these embryos. There is no basis for making this a moral issue. It is a fiction. Attempting to apply "being" to them is simply "human, all too human".

Finally, Richard Russell (among others) feels that there's a good case for a bear-market rally after stocks have remained oversold for weeks. Tonight he writes: "Every movement in the stock market, minor, secondary or primary, is eventually corrected. Corrections in bear markets tend to recoup one-third to two-thirds of the ground lost in the preceding down-leg.

"The bear market peak for the Dow occurred in October 2007 at 14164. The recent low was recorded on March 9 at Dow 6547. This represents a total loss of 7617 points. A one-third correction would take the Dow back to 9086. A two/thirds correction would take the Dow back to 11629. A 50% correction would take the Dow back to 10355.

"Of course, there's no law that says a correction must carry to any of the above 'targets.' The bear market will do what ever it has to to relieve its oversold condition and at the same time lure the greatest number of investors back into its folds."

Any of those target numbers would be nice. I've held on to those DIAs I bought back in January. Maybe I'll sell them for a profit after all. I might even buy some more if a short-term play presents itself. We'll have to wait and see.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

*F7*

On Friday evening my daughter lost her fancy, text messaging machine of a cell phone. Her world went suddenly mute. We searched for it, me several times and once by desperate flashlight. She was already upset with herself when I decided she was getting a little sloppy mentally. Last year she lost her digital camera. We get nice equipment. She might be a bit spoiled. But, I don’t like financially paying $300 every few months just because she can't keep up with her shit.

So, I made some rules and forbid her from using Jennifer’s laptop, which she uses all the time, more than Jennifer. She asked: “Why?”

In explaining this to her I expressed a dissatisfaction on her level of maturity. She was a lazy ass. She almost teared up.

The next morning she was to sign up for high school, apply for special classes she wanted to take. Electives. She got to meet some of her would-be teachers and look at textbooks, talk about examples of classes.

Her travel fastpitch softball team was opening the season the same day. My daughter missed the first game of the tournament applying for high school but we all made it in time for the start of the second game. Driving separately, I got some Saturday morning chores done and met them at the tournament.

She played leftfield in the tournament and generally batted 8th in a 10-player line-up. At the plate she has basic, sound batting skills but has yet to learn to consistently drive the ball, although she does it more now than she did last year. When she does drive the ball she tends hit it out of reach over second base, she bunts well, she is slow but she makes consistent contact. She did not strikeout the whole tournament. She puts the ball in play.

For the tournament, she missed one game and sat out one game. The team played 6 games that day, 3 back to back to back. She had 1 RBI, 2 sacrifice bunts, and she was safe on a fielders’ choice that yielded no out, all runners safe. She hit the ball hard a couple of times and once she hit a fly out to leftfield.

You score that an F7 when scoring a fastpitch game. Which is what I was doing while she played.

The first person I saw when I walked up to the second game was our top pitcher’s father. He’s a really nice, laidback genuine guy. He’s the team’s pitching coach and he signals pitches out to our catcher and pitcher during the game.

He was also keeping score during the first game and “insisted” that I keep score the next game. I refused. He insisted in a good-natured way. Hell, I like keeping score. I’m nerdy enough to be that kind of guy. I have my own system for some things, but I adhere to the basic scoring of position numbers on given at bat. You can keep decent stats off my scoring.


The problem for me is that I get so into the game as a fan that I sometimes forget that I’m keeping score. I’m a sloppy score keeper because I yell so much at games that I’m hoarse for a couple of days afterwards. So my scoring suffers. I miss recording a couple of pitches. I get into big plays and then have to set down and try to remember what all happened on the play because instead of watching everything I was watching the ball and screaming.

I am a vocal fan. Many of the parents are. It’s part of the fun of the game, to be so into it as if it were a professional level of play because it is quality play most of the time and these are our children. They want to win. The parents want to win. This is about fun but its about playing the game well too. No sloppy play.

Mostly I yell for good plays and for encouragement. Sometimes I yell because blue has made of very bad call. I have learned when I yell at the umpires I turn my back to the field and scream out away from them. They never get on to me for that. But, we had some critical bad calls go against us.

When my daughter hit the ball that was scored F7 it was a bright cloudless Saturday in early spring. The sun was gentle though. There was a light breeze. It was almost dreamy being in this fastpitch space. All around were other games. The place was a vast, open flurry of athletic activity and fan activity too. I had a couple of hot dogs with a Coke. That’s required for me to validate my existence, watch ball being played and eating a hot dog. People were everywhere talking about everything. Some into the games.

When she hit that F7, mechanically, she lowered her shoulder. She didn’t stand tall and drive the ball. It’s something she needs to learn to do as a hitter. When she does it line drives are the result. But, she lowered her should and got under the pitch slightly, it may have fooled her a bit. Pitchers are of a great quality at this level, many of them knowing a wide variety of pitches. Rising fast balls, drop balls, curves, change-ups, lots of different locations, and wicked screwball pitchers.

My daughter wouldn’t speak to me at the beginning of the tournament. Earlier that morning, before she registered for school Jennifer and I requested that she get there about 10 minutes early. My daughter, still cell-phoneless, screamed that “we didn’t understand” that they would not let us in a moment before our appointed schedule. She slammed the door and started walking in her softball uniform and socks – nothing else was on her feet – down our 300 foot driveway toward the rural road that runs against our land in front of our house.

I yelled at her first, prompting the explosion. It was a low moment for good parenting, a failure of it. But it happened. I was pissed at her and she was pissed at me. I was dressing when I yelled. It was a quiet Saturday morning. The leafless trees were plentiful with birds and their unabashed callings in our open, rural space.

I hear Jennifer asking her not to walk down the driveway, she will ruin her socks. Suddenly, I am outside running at her down our driveway, shirtless, in the morning dew, growling. She runs down the driveway, away from me. I chase her about 75 feet when Charlie, our puppy, comes storming past us down the driveway, toward the road.

I realize this is very bad situation here and I stop. My daughter stops about 50 feet in front of me. I tell her to stop running. She says she is going to get Charlie. She retrieves Charlie and returns. I talk forcefully to her about whether she’s going to act mature about things or as a baby. I had taken away her laptop privileges, which made her muteness assured and road her ass back up to the house.

So she wasn’t speaking to me at the start of the tournament. But, as the day worn on, out of necessity of asking for money if for no other reason, we started to talk in short, sharp sentences.

Jennifer watched a couple of games, enjoying the day and then headed back home to check on Charlie and our other dogs and do some gardening on the beautiful afternoon. We communicated by cell phones, so my daughter and my wife stayed in touch.

While gardening Jennifer found my daughter’s cell phone outside in our back yard. I must have combed that area at least twice and didn’t see it the night before.

This brightened my daughter’s outlook tremendously and diffused the situation. She could forgive me enough to smile with me again. And we cut up a bit in the sometimes long waits between play.

We were in the semi-finals. We played a team from a small town about 40 miles away. They had a very good pitcher. But, we had our best pitcher starting and she struck out the first three batters she faced. Ordinarily, she isn’t a strikeout pitcher. She’s a “junk” ball pitcher. She doesn’t walk many, stays around the plate, and has picked up decent speed on her fastball since last year.

She was pitching a shutout and we had managed to score one skinny run off the opposing pitcher. But, one’s all you need and we were up 1-0 late in the game. The opposing batter drove the ball fairly deep into left-center field. My daughter moved quickly to her left to make the catch, our centerfielder also attacked the ball without either girl calling for it.

My daughter timed it perfectly and made a nice running catch. It was the defensive play of the game. But, then the jaw of our centerfielder crashed into my daughter’s left shoulder. The side she catches with. My daughter went abruptly down, our centerfielder staggering to the outfield wall and holding her face in her hands, crying.

My daughter rolled to the ground, her knee having collided with our centerfielder’s knee. She rolled three times. She did not let go of the ball. She kept it in her glove when they collided, all the way to the ground and during two out of three rolls on the ground. As my daughter rolled the third time, she loosened the grip on her glove out of pain and the glove came off her hand. Maybe since her glove came off it wasn't a strictly legal catch, but the ball was in the glove and she was able to take it out of the glove and give it to an umpire.
The ball never touched the ground.

We were silent. The coaches and umpires ran to the outfield. Our third baseman started yelling “she’s got the ball, the ball’s in her glove” repeatedly. I stood, ink pen in my right hand, score book in my left. They checked my daughter, a few more running to our centerfielder. Time moved slowly.

There, laying in deep in the outfield, was her glove with the ball sitting in it, not touching the ground. The glove was perfectly flat, the ball snagged in it. The batter was out.

What made that so important was that if my daughter had not caught the ball that batter would have been on second base at least. The next batter came up and got a hit off our pitcher. That hit would have gotten the run home and at least tied the game. But as things happened it was a victory taking us to the championship round.

I yelled “way to hold on to that ball out there” and I hollered her name and cheered. Some of the other parents laughed at me. Some applauded both our girls. It was a great catch. Neither girl was hurt. Both could play on though they did take the centerfielder out. My daughter stayed in the game.

I scored her F7 in my own method. In the batter’s box of the score card, after I calmed down enough to actually write, I place an asterisk on both sides of the F7, to denote a big play. I do this with all big plays I score. The asterisks don’t interfere with the interpretation of what the scoring is but they do say there is something special about it. So…*F7*.

After her great catch I walked into the dug out to check on the centerfielder, one of our most athletic players. She was fine and would be able to play the next game. I then walked up to my daughter, high-fived her, locked fingers in the high five, and she slightly squeezed my hand. I very forcefully said, “Awesome friggin' play!"

We lost the championship game but finishing runner-up in a tournament of good teams is not a bad start to the season. Our team looked very solid overall. It should be a fun year.

At any rate, the time changed this weekend and we found ourselves playing the championship game at 11:00 in the evening (which was really midnight, but not just yet). Everyone was tired. My daughter was happy and talkative knowing she’d played pretty well and that her mother was taking care of her cell phone. A clear half-moon was overhead. Few people stuck around for the championship game. They leave when they’re beaten.

My daughter and I drove back alone. We had normal chit-chat conversation about this play or that play during the tournament, what she heard someone say on the field, mundane things like that. At some point, I realized that the cell phone had ramped the karma of everything up and now finding it had ratcheted things down again. Maybe we were just tired. We talked about how the day started, chasing each other pissed down our quiet driveway, yelling, myself half dressed and both of us with just socks on our feet. There was a heavy dew, the grass was wet. (Unfortunately, the cell phone took on moisture being out all night. But it seems to be evaporating and the phone seems to work.)

We laughed. Two extremes. Neither of us pissed at anything right then at all.

She slept. We got home about 1:15 which was really 2:15. I was very tired, having kept myself going by my intense interest in the game and chocolate to augment the hot dogs. I sent my daughter off to her bedroom. By 2:40 I was in bed but it took awhile to fall asleep.

Jennifer woke up beside me. I whispered in my already hoarse voice a recital of the day’s events since she had left. We thought about that glove just laying so perfectly out there with the ball clearly in it. We laughed and settled down and went off to sleep.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

New Slogan Suggestions

Jennifer scratches her head and asks "Where does all the money go?" Hell if I know.

Poof.

Five major stocks (and their bullshit web sites):
Price on 3/5/2008 - Price Today...
General Electric: $33.55 - $6.66
Slogan: "Imagination at Work."
My suggestion: "Imagine if I had Work."

Bank of America: $37.55 - $3.17
Slogan: "Bank of Opportunity."
My suggestion: "Desperate for Opportunity."
General Motors: $22.97 - $1.86
Slogan: "Leadership of Tomorrow Today."
My suggestion: "Pray for
the Volt."
CitiBank: $22.15 - $1.02
Slogan: "Banking the way it should be."
My suggestion: "We put the CASH in CrASH."
American International Group: $44.61 - $0.35
Slogan: "Moving Forward."
My suggestion: "Over the Cliff."

This is, as of today,
the second worse stock market crash in history with a 53.4% loss to date, bumping the 1937-38 crash's 49.1% loss. The number one spot still belongs to the 1930-32 crash with a whopping 86% loss. Don't you feel special?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Just the (recent) historic facts

There are a lot of things I'd really enjoy writing about. I want to do a piece on spring training for the Braves, on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have another blog that is my personal experiment with the biography of the life and ideas of Fredrich Nietzsche which I need to tinker with, there's a book on psychology I'm reading that I've love to share with you, my daughter is starting her new fastpitch travel ball season soon, and there's even a fourth part to our trip to Alaska last summer (see the first entries of this blog from 2008) I've outlined to write about.

But the fact is nothing - absolutely nothing - overrides the present historic global economic circumstances. Personally, I haven't felt the "hard rain" of these economic times (except for a very hard hit to my 401k). Most of my friends haven't felt it. All that is subject to change, of course. This Great Recession is not going away anytime soon and it could be the demise of the infantile Obama administration before it even starts.

This may or may not lead to another depression, it has already led to a lot of finger-pointing between
opportunistic conservatives that want to blame President Obama for the mess (it's not his fault...yet) and uppity liberals who think that the President Bush administration's deregulated environment let greed run wild and gave us capitalism at its worst.

There's plenty of blame to go around as I have posted before. "There are no innocents" as
Russell Crowe says in Body of Lies. And this is true.

Unfortunately, I just don't know of anything more important than history as it happens. I want this blog to be about more than just my introspective, personal experiences. I want it to contain my (often amatuerish) impressions of historic events in the making. Two generations of Americans have never seen anything like what is happening now. I feel compelled to capture the gravity of it all. This is not just another bout of "doom and gloom".

We're in a world of shit here and it fascinates me.

So let's take note of a couple of things, for the record...

  • On October 10, 2008, an incredible 92.6% of the 3130 stocks traded hit new lows. No trader has ever seen anything like that. If we see a number like that again we will be in a Depression.
  • On November 20, 2008, the Dow confirmed the bearish action of the Transports by recording a new low. This was a major bear market confirmation. One that has not been off-set by any bullish action since that date.
  • On February 20, 2009, the Dow closed below 7470, which is the halfway point between the beginning of the Great Bull Market of 1982 - 2007. In other words, the Dow took 25 years to build its highest point of valuation and we lost half of the valuation from October 10, 2007 to February 20, 2009 - about 17 months.
  • The week prior to February 20 jobless claims in the US hit an all-time high.
  • February 2009 was the worst month for the Dow since 1933.
  • For the past few days the Dow and the Transport average have been plunging to new lows simultaneously. Reconfirming the bear market on a daily basis.
  • Financial mega-giant AIG has now posted the largest corporate loss in US history.
  • We are in uncharted territory. That's not "gloom" that's reality. Having violated the 50% Principle on February 20, there is a very real chance that we could see the market eventually retest the beginning of the Great Bull Market which is at 776.
That's 7-7-6 or about 6,000 points further down from today's close. I'm not sure what an America looks like under those circumstances. Clearly, the Obama Administration will be perhaps even more unpopular than the Bush Administration if that happens. Rush Limbaugh for president?

T H E R E I S N O S U P P O R T.

The fact is, for all the new technology and new economic theories,
pure Dow Theory has shown to be a great gauge of what we are now experiencing.

Historically, we know that every bear market ends in
capitulation and a new bull market rises out of the that. So, all is not lost.

No one has made more money during the Great Bull Market than Warren Buffett. According to Buffett, though things a pretty bleak now (and will likely remain so for awhile yet),
a rebound is on the way.

Well, it doesn't take a genius to know we will rebound - someday. The question is from where?

The best one-stop overview of the Great Recession that I have found anywhere is offered by the New York Times. It covers just about every angle on just about every aspect of the crisis and also has a splendid overview and history. It is updated daily.

My hunch is this market is going lower than anyone thinks. My intent is to amass as large a cash position as I can (maybe buy some more gold). I think we'll eventually
have great values in stocks and it will be a great opportunity to buy.
But I'm not a fool to think that just because prices are low they ARE values. That's bullshit.

What are "great values" historically?
Richard Russell knows. He wrote on February 18, 2009: "According to Dow Theory, neither the duration nor the extent of a bear market can be predicted in advance. However there are some useful hints. Most major bear markets end with stocks at 'great values' or as some Dow Theorists put it, 'below known values.' This has meant in the past that price/earnings ratios for the Dow and the S&P have fallen to single digit numbers. It has also meant that dividend yields have moved into to the 5-6% zone.

"According to the latest Barron's, the P/E ratio for the Dow is now 18.62, 17.90 for the S&P. The dividend rate for the Dow is now 3.98%, for the S&P it is 2.78%. These are hardly the kind of figures I'd expect at a great bear market low. "

Russell continues to believe that when typical dividend yields reach the 5-6% range things should start looking up. (And this will possibly occur when one ounce of gold buys one share of the Dow, ie., Gold at $2,500 the Dow at 2,500 - for example.)

From a purely charting perspective tonight, we are due for some sort of bounce/rally. The Dow is way
oversold. We should have an up day or two soon. But, no one really knows, right?

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Ape in the Mirror

When I bought our HDTV after Christmas I decided to throw in a Blu-Ray disc set with the deal so I could see exactly what my PS3 could do with the latest video technology. The Blu-Ray I purchased was a splendid nature series narrated by David Attenborough and produced by the BBC entitled Planet Earth.

Each episode is filled with incredible photography and surprising information about our precious habitat on this pale blue dot of a home. What the viewer sees is often beautiful but sometimes it can be terrible as well. Nature does feed off nature, after all.

At the conclusion of the episode on "Jungles" there is a segment that made a tremendous impression on me. In the rain forests of Uganda, we saw a group of 150 male chimpanzees organize themselves and attack a neighboring territory. Their object was to drive the native chimps out and overtake their feeding grounds. Several were killed in the successful attack. Among the dead was an infant, its frail, limp body passed around from chimp to victorious chimp and eaten - almost ceremoniously - down to the skeleton after the battle was over.

I was shocked and amazed. I have never seen anything more "human" in the animal kingdom before.

As we were watching the attack I kept saying to Jennifer over and over: "This is just like 2001! The Dawn of Man! This is just like the way 2001 begins!"

And so it is. Apes fighting over control of scarce resources due primarily (we think) to the pressures of localized overpopulation.

Sound familiar? Not only is this exactly the way Kubrick chose to begin his magnificent film, it is precisely what we have observed in many primitive human tribes faced with similar situations.

Researching the topic after the episode I discovered that anthropologists and primate experts have been studying this behavior for a number of years. There is an intense disagreement about what it means and about what - if anything - it might suggest about the origins of war in humanity.

Pacifistic scientists are inclined to see the events as isolated incidents and certainly attributable to the need for resources due in no small measure to the encroachment of human development. They argue that there are important examples of cooperation among the chimpanzees as well (though I'm not sure this is between groups). Less apologetic scientists see it as a reflection of a deep-seated aggressiveness in higher forms of conscious culture.


No less a primate specialist than Jane Goodall has made note of a "four year war" among the primates of Gombe.

For me, nothing seems to adequately explain the cannibalism of infants captured and killed in such attacks, however. There is no "necessity" in this act. It seems to me to be entirely cultural, suited to an unstated need in the psychology of the chimpanzees themselves.

I am someone who believes war has always been with us. That war is as natural an expression of our humanity as, say, belief in deities or our need for love. Our expressed violence is a deeply rooted, possibly genetic, part of who we have been for countless generations.

Whether the chimpanzees of Uganda consciously choose to kill another group for the sake of killing or whether they do it out of a instinctual need to meet their basic needs for food and territory, the act of killing becomes something they come to know. And that knowledge cannot help but affect the culture of the group as it continues to struggle for existence.

To some degree it defines who they are.

I could pose the same questions about humanity. Surely, we are at the point where we can consciously choose not to go to war. We can negotiate. We can find other means not available to the chimps. But does that elevated awareness clearly possess any kind of ethical or moral high ground over the fact that almost everything about human history has been warlike?

Rational minds, we like to think, can reason through the need for war. But that has not been the case in the history of western civilization since the Enlightenment. Our wars, if not more numerous, have taken on unprecedented levels of death and destruction thanks to the inventions of rational minds.

Diplomacy and atomic bombs are all alien to the chimpanzee, but both are products of who humanity is. We reason among ourselves but we also pull the trigger.

Perhaps what we see in these Ugandan chimps is not the tragic behavior of an isolated group of primates. Perhaps it is a mirror in which we see not the savage beast of some irrational lesser evolved creature. Rather, it could be the familiar face of the highest primate of all - the one that sings and dances and makes policies of "preemptive wars" in the name of protecting a perceived, mythic liberty.