Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Chimpanzee Politics" by Frans de Waal

If you believe that chimpanzee thought is much more limited than human reasoning, then this book will "rock your world".

Frans de Waal, the author of "Chimpanzee Politics", is one of the most respected primatologists in the world. Dr. de Waal is the C. H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University, and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center.

"Chimpanzee Politics" was written in 1980, early in Dr. de Waal's research career. However the information that he presents is as relevant today as it was 27 years ago.

In this book, Frans details the power struggle among a group of chimpanzees that were living on an island at the Arnhem Zoo. This Zoo is located in the Netherlands. His data covers many years.

The story centers around the struggle for alpha male supremacy among a small group of males, which included Yeroen (the grizzled old veteran), Nikkie (the hot headed upstart), and Luit (the calculating politician). Each chimpanzee had a different method for seeking power. However they employed many similar techniques, that could be observed and predicted with a significant degree of certainty. Included were:
  • When an alpha male was deposed, he would form an alliance with the other member of the triad who was not in power. This partnership would then seek to undermine the influence of the leader.
  • The alpha male would seek support among the females. The "pretenders to the throne" would do the same. The females had a great deal of influence over who became the leader - and how long that leader stayed in power.
  • Grooming was extremely important in resolving conflicts. Dr. de Waal's statistics showed that chimps who challenged the leader also groomed with that leader more frequently than at other times. Grooming appeared to be a way to reduce tension, and to re-establish an emotional bond among sparring chimps.
I was surprised by the complex group dynamics among these three chimps. Some campaign strategies took place over months, and involved a degree of planning and sophistication that I previously thought was limited only to humans. Many times, while I was reading this book, I felt like I was reading the chronicle of a U.S Presidential campaign. Machiavelli's book "The Prince" also came to mind.

The data collection methods of Dr. de Waal and his research team were scientifically sound, and rigorous in their execution. This gave me confidence that anthropomorphism did not have a significant role in the book's conclusions.

When I finished reading "Chimpanzee Politics", I had a great deal more respect for our closest animal cousins, and was inspired to find out more about chimpanzees. This book was also "a good read". The prose flowed smoothly, and was not overly inundated with technical jargon. As a result, I was able to finish the book in three days.

Whether you are a devoted follower of primate science or are simply interested in chimpanzees, I believe that you will find reading "Chimpanzee Politics" to be an enjoyable and educational experience.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Emma and Jackson Get Adjusted to Their New Home at Chimps Incorporated

Emma and Jackson continue to make an excellent adjustment to their new home at Chimps Incorporated in Bend Oregon. You can see more pictures at the following two Shutterfly websites:

Emma and Jackson at Chimps Incorporated - Picture Set No. 1


Emma and Jackson at Chimps Incorporated - Picture Set No. 2

It costs more to house and care for a chimpanzee than a teenage girl (including the cell phone bill), so any contribution that you can offer to this worthwhile organization would be very much appreciated You can donate at:

Donate to Chimps Incorporated.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Monkey Movie Review - "Shooter"

This afternoon, my wife, my sister, and I went to see "Shooter", Mark Wahlberg's new movie. I would describe it as - a guy movie - with intelligence.

The plot is smart, fast moving, and believeable, with enough twists and turns to make you feel like you are driving a Formula 1 racer at Le Mans. Mark Mancina's gripping sound track ratchets up the level of suspense even more.

Wahlberg plays Bobby Lee Swagger, an ex-Marine sniper, who is recruited by Colonel Issac Johnson (Danny Glover) for what Bobby thinks is a mission to prevent a Presidential assasination. He subsequently finds out that he has been set up as the fall guy for the assasination attempt. The story then winds through a number of chase scenes (as the government tries to capture Bobby) and counterattacks (as Bobby tries to clear his name, and take revenge on his tormentors). It's tough to tell the good guys from the bad guys in this movie, which increases the dramatic tension even more.

Danny Glover plays the consummate evil doer in an organization of shadowy government figures and hired thugs. He is so evil that you want to reach through the screen and strangle him as he carries out his dark missions and his persecution of Bobby Lee. That's the sign of a really good performance, when an actor can make you hate his character so much.

A suspense story wouldn't be complete without "the girl". In this flick she is Sarah Fenn, who is played by Kate Mara. Kate's simple beauty is hypnotizing, and her performance - as the widow of Bobby Lee's Marine sniper partner - is dynamic. Kate's character displays a vulnerability that makes her beauty even more compelling. Sarah helps Bobby Lee to recover from his injuries after the bad guys attempt to kill him following the assasination attempt. She figures centrally in the story from that point on. Kate also played the role of Alma Jr. (age 19) in Brokeback Mountain.

Michael Pena
contributes an vigorous performance as FBI agent Nick Memphis, who inadvertantly becomes Bobby Lee's partner, after he recognizes that the official government story of the assasination attempt is "shot full of holes". Michael also played the unforgettable role of Daniel, the locksmith, in "Crash". His daughter "saving" him in the shooting scene is one of my all time favorite movie moments!

"Shooter" was directed by Antoine Fuqua. His transformation of Stephen Hunter's novel "Point of Impact" into this movie is masterful. He also directed other thrillers - "Training Day" with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, and "Tears of the Sun" with Bruce Willis. It is obvious that Antoine has learned well how to create a cinematic experience that is visually compelling with a riveting plot.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this movie was the cinematography, which was directed by Peter Menzies Jr. There are many breathtaking panoramic shots of snow covered mountains as well as cityscapes that give this movie a grand sense of scale.

"Shooter" also contains some of the best napalm blasts that I have ever seen. That - combined with some terrific helicopter explosions - runs the needle off the end of The Guy Movie Scale.

Although this is definitely a Guy Movie, there is something for the ladies as well. In one scene, Mark Wahlberg takes his shirt off to tend to his gunshot wounds. His well muscled torso had my wife and sister drooling in their seats.

From a primate perspective, this is definitely a guy chimpanzee movie. Violent behavior is not uncommon in chimp groups, especially among the males. I am certain that Bobby Lee's attemps to unseat the alpha male (Colonel Johnson) of the shadow government organization would appeal to the Young Turks in chimpanzee societies.

Summary: I give "Shooter" 4 bananas for excitement, story line, and compelling imagery.

The Monkey Prose Movie Scale goes from no bananas (It sucks.) to 5 bananas (It is one the best movies in human history!)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Monkey Movie Review - "Reign Over Me"

In the past few years, Adam Sandler has been making a transition from comedy to serious roles. His performance in "Spanglish" was powerful. However, in his new movie, "Reign Over Me", Adam "hits one out of the park".

This is one of the 10 best movies that I have seen - ever. Sandler's performance goes so far beyond today's typical Hollywood role that they should create a new Oscars category for it.

Adam portrays Charlie Fineman, a man who loses his wife and three daughters in the 9-11-01 tragedy. He is a shell of a man, who blocks out the horror in his past by limiting his life to video games, Bruce Springstein, and vinyl records from the 70's.

I was stunned by Sandler's portrayal. Adam presents such a depth of emotion that we see into the very core of a man who has suffered more heartbreak than any human being can endure. I can't remember another movie that affected me so deeply.

Don Cheadle plays Alan Johnson, a dentist with a successful practice and a loving family, but whose life has lost the spark that makes every new day interesting. He is bored and feels restricted by his wife Janeane (Jada Pinckett Smith) who has every minute of his day planned out.

When Alan runs into Charlie - his old college roommate - and sees his condition, he feels compelled to help him. In the process, Alan discovers that his rescue mission gives him some of the freedom and novelty that he has been seeking.

Donald Sutherland contributes a short, but commanding performance as Judge Raines, who is required to decide on Charlie's fate (mental hospital commitment or freedom) - after Charlie has a meltdown and tries to end his life. I believe that the title "Reign Over Me" referrs to the Judge's decision. Sutherland says my favorite line in the movie. When a lawyer for the State acts in a despicable manner during Charlie's sanity hearing, the Judge takes him into his chambers and says "If you ever do anything like that in my courtroom again, a hardened criminal will be using you as a dress up doll!"

Excellent performances are also presented by Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon, who play Jonathan and Ginger Timpleman, Charlie's estranged in-laws. Their struggle to bond with Charlie after the tragedy only pushes him away, because he doesn't want to associate with people who remind him of the past. The Timpleman's pain then turns to anger towards Charlie, which results in one of the most poignant scenes in the movie. You may remember Melinda as the little boy's mother in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

This movie was written, produced, and directed by Mike Binder. Mike also has a role in the movie as Bryan Sugarman, Charlie's friend and accountant. That's a lot of work for one person. I am guessing that Mike took on these multiple responsibilities because he wanted to retain creative control over this project. Based on the results, I'm glad that he did!

From a primate's perspective, I believe that this movie will appeal most to orangutans. While they are slow moving and not particularly demonstrative, I think that this is because orangutans feel things more deeply and internalize many of their emotions. This makes them more sensitive to stories that are filled with sturm und drang and catharsis.

Summary: I give "Reign Over Me" 5 bananas. I highly recommend it, but don't forget your Kleenex!

NOTE: The Monkey Prose Movie Scale goes from no bananas (It sucks.) to 5 (It is one of the best movies in human history).

"Space Monkey" by John Prine

John Prine has been one of my favorite songwriters since the 60's. His gritty voice and the raw honesty of his lyrics have profoundly affected many listeners, including myself.

I recently ran across the lyrics of a song that he wrote called "Space Monkey". The lyrics are listed below. You can find this song on John's "Live On Tour" album - Release Date: 04/08/1997, Label: OH BOY, Catalog No.: 120015.

You can hear a sample of this song on the Barnes & Noble website at Space Monkey.

You can access the John Prine website at John Prine Website.

"Space Monkey" by John Prine

Space Monkey, Space Monkey
What you doing out there?
Why it's dark as a dungeon
Way up in the air.

Come gather round me
You little monkeys
And a story I'll tell
About a brave young primate
Outer space knew him well.

He was born at the top
Of a big old tree
Way back in 1953.

He could swing through the jungle and hang by his toes
Till they took him to Russia cause they could I suppose.
They dressed him up in a spacesuit and it started to snow.
Shot him off in a rocket where no man would go.

Space Monkey Space Monkey
What you doing out there?
Why it's dark as a dungeon
Way up in the air.

There'll be no one to greet you
When you get back home.
No hammer or sickle
You'll be on your own.

He had plenty of Cuban bananas
And loads of Spam
But he found great difficulty trying
To open the can.

One day he slipped on a banana peel
And the ship lost control.
It spun out of orbit
And shot out the black hole.

It's been four decades now,
That's nine monkey years.
That's a long time for a Space Monkey
To confront all his fears.

Space Monkey Space Monkey
What you doing out there?
Why it's dark as a dungeon
Way up in the air.

There'll be no one to greet you
When you get back home.
No hammer or sickle,
You'll be all on your own.

Space Monkey, Space Monkey
It's time to get real.
The space race is over,
How does it feel?

Cold War's had a heatwave,
Iron Curtain's torn down.
They've rolled up the carpet
In Space Monkey town.

Now Leningrad is Petersburg
And Petersburg's hell.
For a card-carrying monkey
With a story to tell.

The Space Monkey was reportedly last sighted
About a half a block off of Red Square
In a karaoke bar
Having a few drinks with some of his friends.

There was the dog that flew Sputnik
And a blind red-headed, one legged parrot
Who had done some minor research
For Dow Chemical.

They were drinking American Vodka
Imported all the way from Paducah, Kentucky
And reportedly had their arms around each other's shoulders
Singing."Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end".

Space Monkey, Space Monkey
There's nothing to do,
But it's better than living
In a Communist zoo.

There'll be no one to greet you
When you get back home.
No hammer or sickle
You'll be all on you own .

First in Space

"This April, Oni Press will join the space race by releasing the all new original graphic novel FIRST IN SPACE by talented newcomer James Vining, winner of a 2006 Xeric Award. Set in the early 1960s and extensively researched, FIRST IN SPACE tells the true adventures of Ham, America’s first chimpanzee launched into space by NASA." - quote from Monkeywire.

You can read the whole story at First in Space.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tiger and Orangutan Babies Become Friends at Zoo

A pair of month-old Sumatran tiger twins have become inseparable playmates with a set of young orangutans. You can read this Associated Press story at Tiger and Orangutan Babies Become Friends. There are some great photos that accompany this article.

Thanks to Carrie McLaren of Stay Free Magazine and Monkeywire for this story!

Alexis Barbot's Monkeys

I have a young friend in Vancouver, British Columbia named Alexis Barbot. Here is Alexis's monkey collection.

Alexis has created some animated cartoon which are quite sophisticated for someone so young (10 years old). You can view one of them at The Monkey (Jougo) and The Beast. Alexis has even created a website - Jougo the Monkey. That's pretty impressive for a 10 year old. At that age, I could barely operate a can opener!

I was in Montreal, Quebec in February of this year. It was -20 degrees F when I visited. That is c-c-c-c-c-cold! I don't know how people can live in a place that gets so cold. But I guess that you get used to it. When I came back to New Jersey, 30 degrees F seemed like a heat wave.

I wish Alexis continued success with his animation career!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pictures of Emma and Jackson in Their New Home at Chimps Incorporated!

Here are Emma (left) and Jackson (right) in their new home at Chimps Incorporated, which is located in Bend, Oregon. Both chimps appear to be adjusting well to their new environment and the resident chimps are expressing interest in them.

Emma and Jackson can now look forward to a wonderful life in a loving and supportive environment!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

No Chimp Left Behind - Emma and Jackson Arrive at Their New Home!

Emma and Jackson, the two chimpanzees rescued by Chimps Incorporated, have arrived at their new home in Bend, Oregon!

They are healthy and seem to be adapting well to their new home. You can see a local newscast of their arrival at: – just click on VIDEO ON DEMAND - VIDEO ARCHIVE/SEARCH (in the middle right of the page). Then, when the next screen comes up, type “chimp” in the search box. You can then click on the video title and watch the video. (Sorry about the commercial, I couldn't figure out how to eliminate it.)

These are two very lucky chimps, because they will now be living in a supportive and loving environment. They will also be able to interact with other chimpanzees. If you are a chimp, it doesn't get much better than that!

It costs Chimps Incorporated $14,000 per month to feed, house, and care for their chimps. You can help to support them at Chimps Incorporated Donations.

Your contribution will be very much appreciated! Please mention Monkey Prose if you do.

Thursday, March 01, 2007