Posts Tagged ‘lions’

Circus Maximus

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

hattybirfday

Clowns drawing by Todd

“I remember in the circus learning that the clown was the prince, the high prince. I always thought that the high prince was the lion or the magician, but the clown is the most important.” Roberto Benigni

After over a hundred years as the premiere circus in America, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey will present their final performances in May of 2017. High operating costs and declining ticket sales made continuing the massive operation unprofitable. With the phasing out of elephant acts due to ferocious criticism from animal rights groups, ticket sales dropped dramatically.

Elephants, it seems, were a big draw. As a boy, I was in awe of those huge animals, but I especially liked the acrobats and tigers, and most especially the clowns. The last time I went to the circus, the aforementioned Ringling Brothers etc., I was in my late twenties and the clowns were bad, save for one. Bad clowns are like bad movies. Intolerable. But a good clown, a great clown, is definitely the high prince of the circus.

In the circuses I attended, clowns were mainly used as filler between acts—emotional relief from the tension of worrying about performers falling and breaking their necks or being mauled by lions. As the lion tamer and her big cats departed, the clowns came running into the ring to keep the audience distracted while the trapeze artists climbed to their swings high above.

Sometimes the clown acts were full of slapstick and pratfalls, sometimes they featured adorable dogs doing things to confound their clown masters, and once per performance, the alpha clown would perform a longer scene, not filler, but a star turn.

That last time I went to the circus, the alpha clown was a big fellow wearing an old floor-length coat, his face painted to express overwhelming sorrow. He entered dragging a rickety little wagon in which there stood a massive book with a black cover, nearly as big as the clown. And trailing behind the rickety wagon was an old hound wearing a little clown hat, his face as sad as the clown’s; and this hound was dragging a long rope at the end of which was tied an enormous pencil, four-feet-long and as thick as a man’s leg.

The audience laughed when the clown and dog and book and pencil first appeared, but as the clown and dog made their slow and ponderous way to the center of the ring, the audience fell silent. At last the clown stopped, and with what seemed to be every ounce of his strength, he wrestled the massive book out of the wagon and opened the heavy cover to reveal a blank page. Then he trudged past the pitiful hound to the pencil and dragged that pencil to the book.

Then he began to scan the audience, and after a short infinity, his gaze fell on me in the fifth row. I held my breath as my girlfriend nudged me and whispered, “Why is he looking at you?” Then my brother elbowed me and said, “He’s looking right at you.”

And then the clown hoisted the pencil onto his shoulder, placed the tip of the pencil on the blank page of the book, and made a gigantic check mark. Then he dropped the pencil, closed the cover, lifted the book into his wagon, and slowly dragged the wagon out of the ring, with dog and pencil following.

“We’re all going to die, all of us; what a circus. That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities. We are eaten up by nothing.” Charles Bukowski

Speaking of circuses, OxFam recently reported that eight men, most of them Americans, have more wealth than half the people on earth. Eight men have more wealth than 3.6 billion people. A billion is a thousand million.

“Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.” H.L. Mencken

And still speaking of circuses, Donald Trump is now President of the United States. There were hundreds of events around the country protesting his inauguration. At many of these anti-Trump demonstrations, people carried signs saying Trump Is Not My President. What did those people mean by that? Were they from countries with presidents other than Donald Trump? I don’t think so. I think they were saying Trump was not their president because they didn’t vote for him and they don’t like him.

“Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.” P.T. Barnum

I think there is something dangerous about denying that Trump is our president, just as I think there is something dangerous about portraying Obama as something he was not. The eight years of Obama’s presidency set the stage for the election of Donald Trump, and the details of that stage setting are what we need to investigate in order to effectively react to the enthronement of Trump.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, in 2016, Obama approved the dropping of 26,171 bombs in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan. And every Tuesday, according to the New York Times, Obama selected the targets—men, women, and children—to be executed by missiles fired from drones.

Under Obama, more than 14 trillion dollars of public money was transferred to the coffers of Wall Street. Fourteen trillion dollars. A trillion is a thousand billion. A billion is a thousand million.

I think if that 14 trillion had been spent on improving the lives of all Americans, rather than enriching the top few percent, Trump would not be our new president. I think if Obama had pursued peace as aggressively as he pursued war, Trump would not be our president. And I think if Obama had really been the environmental president and vigorously promoted solar and wind and wave energy production rather than funding coal and oil development, Trump would not be our president.

But until further notice, Trump is our president.

Your Inner Bushman

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2011)

“The five groups of San or Bushmen are called the First People. Most call themselves Bushmen when referring to themselves collectively.” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas from her book The Old Way

I wanted to open this article with that quote from Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a great friend of the Kalahari Bushmen, so I would not be accused of using a derogatory term when speaking of the people from whom all humans on earth are descended. One of my favorite scientific discoveries of the last few decades is that every human being currently alive on the planet can trace his or her lineage directly to the same Bushman woman who lived in Southwest Africa 172,000 years ago.

The gathering of pertinent genetic data from around the world, as well as the complicated figuring that went into determining the identity of our great Mother, has now been duplicated by multiple scientific teams, and there is today universal agreement among physical anthropologists and geneticists (though not among members of Congress) that Eve, as the European-centric researchers have named her, was, indeed, a Bushman. The name I prefer for our Very First Lady is N!ai, the exclamation point indicating a loud click made by pressing the tongue against the top of the mouth and popping it down simultaneously with the sound ai (I).

Among the many groovy things about tracing our collective beginning back to N!ai is that until the 1950’s there were still extant bands of Bushmen in and around the Kalahari Desert living very much as they had for tens of thousands of years, and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and her parents and brother were among the first and last non-Bushmen to gently interface with these people and to record in great detail, in writing and film and sound recordings, how our Neolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors lived. Thus we know, in a tangible way, from whence we came.

“Interestingly, no anthropologist wanted to join us, although my father tried hard to find one and would have paid for his or her salary and all expenses. However, unlike the modern Kalahari, where the anthropologist/Bushman ratio often seems to be one to one, in those days (1950’s) no anthropologist took an interest in our project.” from The Old Way

The first book I ever read about Bushmen was The Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurens van der Post. What a great adventure story! I was sixteen and intent on becoming an actor and a musician, but I was so thrilled by van der Post’s book I decided if I had to go to college to avoid going to Vietnam, I would major in the study of Bushmen. I subsequently devoured the sequel to The Lost World of the Kalahari entitled The Heart of the Hunter, and then I found Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s The Harmless People and read it twice. By the time I matriculated at UC Santa Cruz in 1967 with a major in Anthropology, I had read virtually everything there was in print about Bushmen.

Upon my arrival at that bucolic campus, and much to my dismay, I was informed by my snooty professors that Laurens van der Post and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas were to be ignored in regard to Bushmen because, heaven forbid, neither was an accredited anthropologist, and thus their data was suspect and I was a fool for admiring them. Nevertheless, their books introduced me to Bushmen and I have subsequently been privileged to correspond with Elizabeth Marshall Thomas about many things, most especially about the first people.

“What determined the size of our groups? Water was the single most important factor—water and the food supply around it.” from The Old Way

This may come as a surprise to you, but there was no pasta in the diet of the first people. Indeed, the so-called hunter-gatherer diet now being hailed by avant-garde nutritionists as the healthiest possible diet for most human beings contains no dairy, no gluten, no wheat, almost no grain, and very little sugar. I know several people currently reveling in newfound health since making the shift away from a grain-based diet to one composed largely of fruits, vegetables, nuts, tubers, and…wait for it…meat. And why is such a diet so good for most humans? Because, quite simply, our metabolism, our inner Bushman, if you will, evolved over hundreds of thousands of years eating what our hunter-gatherer progenitors ate and not much else.

I cannot recommend highly enough Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s book The Old Way to anyone interested in his or her origins. Ms. Thomas published this remarkable volume in 2006, nearly fifty years after publishing The Harmless People, having decided to revisit the copious notes she made while living with the Bushmen in the 1950’s, and to tell a new story imbued with experiences and insights accrued over her long life of study, exploration, and contemplation. I have loaned my copy of The Old Way to several people, and every one of them reported that the book inspired a profound and positive shift in their perceptions of themselves and the world.

For those who prefer fiction to non-fiction, as I generally do, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has also written two great novels—Reindeer Moon and The Animal Wife—of what may ultimately be a trilogy of interconnected sagas focusing on a group of hunter-gatherers living somewhere in the northern hemisphere at a time when mammoths still roamed the earth, and when lions and tigers were much more likely to kill people than vice-versa.

“We lived in groups; we could dig roots; we could find water; we could catch grubs, snails, tortoises, porcupines, and other small animals that were not fast runners (sometimes called “slow game”); some of us could run down large antelopes; and we had fire. We had lived on the savannah for a million years.” from The Old Way

We lived in groups, and we dined in groups, and we shared our kills and harvests with friends and loved ones, which brings to mind our dear friend Juliette White, globetrotter, cellist, and patron of artists and friends, who died a little over a year ago. She was, among many things, the hostess of wonderful spontaneous meals devoured by lucky last-minute invitees to her cozy cottage a couple miles inland on Albion Ridge Road.  I met Juliette three years before she died. Her gift to me at the end of our first meeting was her blessing to marry her good friend Marcia, which I did. Thereafter, I was invited to a number of spontaneous dining soirees in Juliette’s commodious cottage; and some six months before she died, Juliette asked me to help her write her obituary.

So one morning over a breakfast of buckwheat pancakes bursting with huckleberries plucked from bushes growing in the forest surrounding her house, I interviewed Juliette about her long and multi-faceted life, and quite unexpectedly she said, “That was the year we went to Africa and lived with the Bushmen.” I nearly fell out of my chair. But it was true! Juliette had gone to Africa and made the long and dangerous trek by land rover into the Kalahari Desert to live for a time with the same Bushmen people that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas lived with and wrote about; and Juliette had several gorgeous photographs of those Bushmen people to prove it.

I then had the pleasure of sending copies of Juliette’s photographs to Elizabeth, who then wrote to Juliette and told her that she recognized the people and was glad and very touched to see them again.

And that story reminds me of huckleberries, which Juliette loved, and which the hunter-gatherers in Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s novels are frequently saved by in the absence of water or any other food as they trek across the rugged earth seeking food and safe shelter and, with any luck, dry firewood.

This past fall the huckleberries were thick on the bushes that grow around our house on the edge of the redwood forest. We picked several quarts to freeze so we would have berries through the winter and into spring, and this morning I made gluten-free pancakes with some of those huckleberries, and I thought of Juliette and Elizabeth and of the hunter-gatherer diet, and how chocolate is not on that diet, but honey is, because Bushmen love honey. Oh, yes we do.

There is a bird that lives symbiotically with the Bushmen of the Kalahari, a brave and beautiful bird called the Honey Diviner. And this Honey Diviner comes to the Bushmen camp singing, “Hello my friends, I bring tidings of a big tree where the bees have amassed a great store of honey that is at this very moment oozing out of the hive and crying to be harvested. However, I do not have hands to get that honey from the bees, but you do, and I know you love honey as much as I do, so…”
And so the people follow the Honey Diviner to that big tree, even if it means running many miles across the desert, for they love honey as much as they love meat. And when they have braved the stings of those angry bees and filled their ostrich-shell bowls with honey, the people give the Honey Diviner a generous share of the sweet ambrosia, for without her they might never have found the hive.

Tiger Bunnies

Monday, December 14th, 2009

On this rainy December day, we cannot resist tying together the feeding frenzy on the carcass of the icon known as Tiger Woods, the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, the extensive media attention awarded a woman in Arkansas for giving birth to her nineteenth child, the so-called jobless recovery, the so-called healthcare debate, and our collective denial of what actually going on here on spaceship earth, circa 2010 (Christian calendar).

Ukiah Blog Live, a culling of thought-provoking counter-mass media internet essays provided by the estimable Dave Smith of Mulligan Books, has been rife of late with articles about the impending worse-than-ever economic collapse, vegetarianism versus the eating of mammalian flesh, and our inevitable return (as a species) to a genteel version of the Dark Ages (if we’re lucky) in the aftermath of peak oil and the bursting of various noxious economic bubbles. These reports are countered hourly in mainstream media mouthing government/corporate propaganda with happy news that things in general are getting better even if they seem to be getting worse in the majority of specific cases. The jobless recovery, reports The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, will soon create new jobs because, well, it just will.

The climate talks in Copenhagen have everybody buzzing about the billions of dollars to be earned through not releasing carbon into the atmosphere. That’s right. If you can prove you’re not being bad, Daddy will give you some money. How will you prove you’re not being bad? You will pay some scientists (with bona fide college degrees, mind you) to say you are being good. Won’t that be nice? How about that for some job creation?

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, a very rich and famous golfer and salesperson for several powerful multi-national corporations, has been having copious sex with expensive prostitutes for several years, but the news just recently leaked out to the mass media, so Tiger is currently being publicly flayed for popping the noxious bubble about the what why who he never was.

Also meanwhile, Michelle Duggar of Arkansas just gave birth to her nineteenth child, and Michelle’s husband (reputed to be the actual father of the nineteen kids, one of whom just had a baby, too) told the adoring media, “We will continue welcoming children as long as Michelle is able to have them.”

“Welcome. You will be in bed number twenty-two. Here’s your meal card, your blanket, your pacifier, and your cell phone. Try to be good.”

Why, I wonder, are we celebrating one American woman having nineteen children when there are millions of women around the world (and in America, too) having more kids than they can adequately feed? And why is over-population not the number one topic of discussion and emergency planning at the Copenhagen climate talks?

Recent studies by bona fide universities and scientists with actual college degrees have proven conclusively (and this even got a mention in the Press Democrat) that the most effective way, by far, to reduce carbon emissions in the world is to spend money on birth control. By far. Seven dollars spent on birth control saves something like four trillion tons of carbon emissions. Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but I wanted to get your friggin’ attention.

There are nearly seven billion people on our beautiful little planet (that’s not an exaggeration). The regenerative carrying capacity of the planet, depending on which bona fide scientist one speaks to, seems to be somewhere around a billion of us, give or take a few hundred million. Regenerative Carrying Capacity refers to what a particular eco-system can support without necessarily suffering any damage to its health and viability as a system. Put another way, there would be plenty of everything for everyone forever if we would thoughtfully reduce our population and stop being so violent and greedy. As soon as possible.

Why don’t we do that? Why do nations in Europe go into panic mode when their populations begin to finally decline due to falling birth rates? Because capitalism (otherwise known as a big old pyramid scheme) is founded on, runs on, exists because of, continuous growth coupled with continuous consumption. Which explains why the official verbiage from the Copenhagen climate talks goes something like this, “Please reduce your carbon emissions, once you’re born, but don’t not get born because we need the system to keep growing.”

What does Tiger Woods have to do with over-population? For all his fooling around with high-class hookers, Tiger and his official wife only have two children. So far. Well, but, see, Tiger likes, apparently, to have sex many times more often than his one wife wants to have with him. (Oh, maybe not. Maybe she’s ready to go twenty-four seven and Tiger just longs for variety.)

Now listen up, boys and girls. Tiger is not some oversexed stud. He’s a normal healthy young man with a normal healthy sex drive and average sexual capacity. Nature, over millions years of evolutionary tinkering, designed human males to function exactly as Tiger functions (physically). Remember: it has only been in the last few dozen human generations that we tasty animals have been much more than easily caught snack food for gigantic carnivores, otherwise known as lions and tigers and bears. We got eaten as fast as we could breed. Thus male humans evolved to be capable of (and desiring) lots of sex, while human females evolved to want sex, too, while being capable of getting pregnant every month as opposed to only once or twice a year, as is the case for most other large mammals. Mice and bunnies, it should be noted, not deer and whales and lions and tigers and bears, are the procreative peers of humans.

We wonder if the previous paragraph about human sexuality made you, dear reader, uncomfortable, or even somewhat anxious. Have we broached a taboo subject? Heaven forbid. Perhaps a few minutes of watching television or surfing the Internet or leafing through the newspaper or skimming a fashion magazine will ease your anxiety. You won’t have any trouble finding some psychosexual stimuli to feed your cognitive addiction to titillation. Sex, sex, sex. Watch it. Hear about it. Click on it. Be assured you can get it if you really want it (or some facsimile thereof.) Be pharmaceutically supported in being able to perform adequately should the golden opportunity arise. But whatever you do, don’t connect your fantasies of sex with shortages or pollution or urban sprawl or economic disparities or starvation or the deaths of thousands and millions of superfluous humans in China, India, Iraq, America, Brazil…

Thank goodness the phony healthcare bill they’re about to force on us (a bill that will make it a crime not to buy inadequate usurious insurance from organized criminal organizations) will allow a woman to have an abortion. Hallelujah. A great victory for women and polar bears, we are told. And jobs will be created. In the insurance industry. To process all the new folks being forced to buy inadequate usurious insurance.

I’d go on, but I’m itching to watch the Victoria’s Secret Anniversary Runway Show featuring twelve of Tiger’s thirty-seven mistresses wearing almost nothing and promising everything as they strut and jiggle their impossibly perfect bodies to electronic sex music. And then I may catch a little of the Bangladesh flood coverage and that great new documentary about the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers, source of most of the water for most of the people on earth.

I used to belong to an organization named Zero Population Growth, but they were forced, yes, forced by popular demand and funding impasses, to change their name to The Population Connection because so many otherwise reasonable people were offended by the very idea of zero population growth.

How we survive big cats

and long winter

we no have many baby?

Aye, there’s the rub.

Todd is currently writing the sequel to his novel Under the Table Books. His web site is Underthetablebooks.com.