Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Old Truths Must Be Preserved!

My brother Art & my sister-in-law Diane recently got back from a trip to western Germany, where, among other things, they were digging into the Olbert family tree (Diane’s been doing a lot of research into family history over the last few years).

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Baboon Butts

Years ago I read about an interesting aspect of baboon social behavior.

The males have a variety of rituals they go through when they are trying to assert dominance…but if one male baboon moons another, it always ends up in a teeth-and-claws fight.

Now, I’m not sure of the provenance of this information, so it may be inaccurate (I tried searching online, but while I turned up a lot of interesting information about baboon butts, I didn’t find a reference to this particular assertion).

But the author who made this observation in a novel was making a point that goes beyond our hairy primate cousins: sometimes you have to use training, intelligence and adaptability to overcome one’s built-in wiring. You can’t always operate on instinct. Which should be obvious…but often isn’t.

This all came back to me as I watched what’s developing between the US and North Korea. Here’s hoping the Glorious Leaders involved in this pas-de-deux think about the Lesson of the Baboon’s Butt.

But I’m not sanguine about their doing so. Because I have my doubts about their collective training, intelligence and adaptability.

Sigh

One of the odder things about getting older is the unexpected — and unanticipated — systems failures you get to experience along the way.

For the past few years I’ve been pretty diligent about going to the gym, at least four times a week and often every day except Sunday. That’s kept me in reasonably good shape, and, in fact, made it easier to do stupid things, like weeding the garden from a stooped position. In fact, I didn’t even think about what I was risking by doing that. At least up until something would give out in my back.

Even with being a slow learner about such things, I eventually realized it’d be better to go back to the “old ways” and sit on the ground while weeding. Problem solved!

So you can imagine my consternation yesterday when, while sitting on the ground weeding, I pulled some grass out and did something so awful to my lower back that even today I’m having trouble with walking, let alone anything more strenuous. And it wasn’t even a deeply-rooted clump of grass!

Sheesh. Where’s the warranty on this thing??? 🙂

RIP, Jerry Pournelle

I just read that Jerry Pournelle, one of my favorite sci-fi authors, passed away. Unlike many of his compatriots, he wasn’t an engineer or scientist. Instead, his background was in political science and psychology, coupled to a deep knowledge of history. If his libertarianism got the better of him in his old age he remained a great storyteller.

While he will probably be known for the books he co-authored with Larry Niven — among them Inferno, about a sci-fi author dealing with coming back to life in Dante’s Hell, The Mote in God’s Eye, about first contact with aliens, and Footfall, about an alien invasion of Earth — I’ll always remember him for the stories set in a world which could’ve evolved out of the 1970s.

It was one where the US and the USSR came to realize the only thing they feared more than either of them beating the other was some third power rising up to replace them. Thus was born the CoDominium, a world empire maintained by two nations who hated and feared each other. 

It eventually failed, as all human institutions fail. But in preserving an uneasy peace it bought time for a number of interstellar colonies to be founded, so that when resurgent nationalism in the US and the USSR brought about a long-delayed global thermonuclear holocaust, the species had a shot at surviving.

The price of maintaining that peace was high. From a dialog between a young Marine who’s just seen part of that price tag and his more experienced superior:

“You asked what good we do. We buy time. Back on Earth they’re ready to start a war that won’t end until billions are dead. The Fleet’s the only thing preventing that. The only thing, Hal. Be as cynical about the CoDominium as you like. Be contemptuous of Grand Senator Bronson and his friends — yes, and most of his enemies, too, damn it. But remember that the Fleet keeps the peace, and as long as we do, Earth still lives. If the price of that is getting our hands dirty out here on the frontiers, then it’s a price we have to pay. And while we’re paying it, just once in a while we do something right. I think we did that here.”

Even if you strip out the admittedly romantic view of the military present in that speech, I think something important remains: sometimes the best you can do is just hold on, and take whatever minor victories come your way. Because if you hold on, there will be a tomorrow. And who knows? Maybe it’ll be better.