Thursday, June 28, 2012

Human/ape hybrids: what they don't want you to know

Oh yes. Damn dirty apes. Why do humans have such a complicated relationship with them? We love them and fear them, for they represent our shadow side.

I just finished a post speculating on a theoretical and long-discussed human/chimp hybrid species called a "humanzee". The more I explored this topic, the queasier I got, because it just seems so bloody obvious to me that this is something that could be done: in which case, if it hasn't been done by now, it will be.

I watched a snippet on YouTube in which a primatologist insisted that there would never be a human/chimp hybrid, "not in the wild anyway", unless some "mad scientist" put one together, "and no one would ever fund such a project."

Indeed. My feeling is that she overestimates human morality and underestimates human greed.

I think that when faced with this ghastly possibility, denial is the usual response. Oh, surely not! It couldn't happen, could it? But with more and more disparate creatures being smashed together any-old-how, creatures with grotesque and demeaning names like liger and pizzly and wolphin, this potential horror becomes more possible and even more likely with every passing day. We seem to love to step into the God role and create brand new species, but as Mary Shelley tried to warn us, such hubris can be fatal.

It's a common belief that "we evolved from chimpanzees", and because I possess a little knowledge (which is always a dangerous thing) from taking anthropology courses, I know this isn't the case. Humans and chimps had a common ancestor in such remote antiquity that it's hard to pin down exactly where, when and what. (The name ramepithecus springs out at me for some reason, but as with so much in this field, new information is constantly cancelling the old).  At some point, a single species of primitive ape branched. Why it branched is anyone's guess. Why we continued to evolve into humans (though I sometimes believe we are devolving) is a mystery.

It's all a little grotesque. This ape-creature branches off, begins to walk upright (for bipedalism came long before the brain developed significantly), but remains incredibly primitive for uncounted millennia. The variations of proto-humans form a dense branching tangle which is hard to sort out, with numerous evolutionary dead ends. But accurate reconstruction of faces is now possible from the skulls anthropologists have collected in the field.

These are not just eerie: they should contain a warning. The following pictures may be disturbing to some viewers.

It's that squeamish combination of ape and human: and in this case, literally so. The australopithecines (given that strange and bulky name for reasons that confound me) roamed around and grunted and hunted and reproduced in so many different forms that it's hard to keep track of them all. Their big hairy faces and tiny skulls have disturbing human attributes, the mouth a little different (which made it possible for us to speak, along with a larynx set lower in the throat), and the eyes - well, I don't need to tell you about the eyes.

If we take a close look at these reconstructions, might we get a glimpse of what a humanzee might look like? This would resemble the "backbreeding" experiments the Nazis undertook during World War II, in which they tried to resurrect extinct species through selective breeding (with, as far as I know, no success. . .but hey, there's always room for another conspiracy theory).  If there were some way to fuse together and reunite the two species that split so long ago, might an australopithicine suddenly spring out at us again after thousands and thousands of years of extinction?

Well, what do you think? All I can tell you is. . .

If this guy knocks, don't answer the door. He's no Jehovah's Witness.

I think this is the origin of the term "lowbrow". Don't let him in either, not even to use the bathroom.

The gangsta humanzee (IQ about the same as a human one). Outfit by House of Capone.

The Indiana Jones of the hybrid set.


This fellow's a charmer. A sort of hybrid Maurice Chevalier.

Looks a little like E.T. But why so sad? In another 200,000 years or so, he'll be

destroying the planet.

All I can say about this one is: RUN!!!!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Animal hybrids: monsters in the making

I know, I realize I shouldn't get into these things, these creepy things, these creepy things that make my flesh crawl, these creepy things that make my flesh crawl and also make me realize that humanity has no idea what it's doing.

What awfuls me out about this short video isn't the mammoth size of this freak animal, nor even the casual way they putter around him in total denial that he could kill them with one swipe of his gigantic paw. No doubt they think he's "sweet", no doubt they think he's "tame", no doubt they call him one of their "babies" (an ever-present symptom of the malignant disease of keeping exotic animals as pets).

I want to write more about this whole mess later, when I get a chance to see a documentary called The Elephant in the Living Room. I saw the last half of it on National Geographic Channel and spent the half-hour with my mouth open.

The cases in this documentary weren't the worst, but they were bad enough. Keeping exotic animals as pets often goes completely unregulated, sometimes with disastrous results. It wasn't just the utter degradation of seeing glorious jungle animals kept in wire cages (with one male lion slowly, agonizingly electrocuted by faulty wiring on a freezer): it was the emotional abyss at the core of the people who were keeping these "babies". "He's like my son," claimed the lion's owner before the disaster,"one of my kids." Why is it I have this feeling his real children never tapped his heart in the same profound way?

All that unfathomable sickness aside, I soon got on to the topic of animal hybrids and was pretty astonished at what I found. Astonished, and freaked out. There has been an awful lot of tampering going on behind our backs: I didn't realize the well-known liger is three times the size of a normal lion, weighing close to a thousand pounds and resembling some prehistoric beast on an unimagineable scale. All this has been engineered, folks - we made it happen - and we made it happen without the slightest knowledge or concern that the resultant creature would be so grotesquely proportioned.

From the liger and the smaller tigon, often afflicted by dwarfism (not that such an insignificant thing will stop them from being bred), I fell into the dusky world of the wolf dog, which some people own for the same reason they'd get their bodies tattoed over every square inch: look, I'm a social rebel, I own a dog that's half-wolf! Look, I take a huge risk every time I take him out of the wire cage!

Does anyone stop to think what is going on in the mind and biology of an animal that has been created from spare parts, cobbled together in God-knows-what sort of way just on a human whim? Might there be some sort of internal conflict at the most fundamental level? Might that animal not know who he/she is? Or are those kinds of concerns not on the table, so long as we satisfy our "let's try this and see what happens" impulse?

Oh, but it got worse, a lot worse! Zebroids, including a zorse, a zonkey, and a zony. A cama, fusing together two species that are, well, close enough, aren't they? Except the llama genes seem to cancel out the camel's hump. But who needs a hump anyway?

When I came to the grolar or pizzly, I began to feel sick outright. But bears are bears, aren't they? Does it even matter if they're brown or white? Then why do I feel so nauseated? Never mind that these grotesque and ridiculous names insult their animal dignity and wouldn't even suit a toy. Hey, the leopon is just a spotty lion, right? And the wolphin. . .

I stop at the wolphin. I stop at the wolphin because I know whales and dolphins are so intelligent, and I honestly wonder what sort of genetic clash might make these sea geniuses go completely mad.

What set all this off - I mean, after the National Geographic documentary, which I have ordered on a DVD - was stumbling upon something that nearly made my hair stand on end: the humanzee. I didn't like to think that it was possible, that we've come that far, that we might just want to try this out for a lark or out of scientific curiosity: but haven't we been told over and over again how genetically close we are to chimps?  

This is a weird story that has been officially discounted, and now that I look at it a little more objectively I can see why. A couple claimed to have captured a baby chimp "in the wild" in 1960. Oliver had some pretty strange traits, the strangest being walking upright without the weird staggering gait of most chimps. He also had a strange-looking face, hairless and sort of flat, though hardly human. His ears creeped me out however, as they didn't look like chimp ears at all. They looked like human ears that had been grafted on.

Other chimps shunned Oliver, who seemed to prefer human company (and even mounted his owner's wife, causing them to eventually sell him). He smelled different, not like a normal chimp. These were all little question marks that added up to a very big one: did Oliver have human genes, and if so, how had this happened?

Back in 1960, the assumption was that some man had had sex with a female chimp "in the wild", the chimp had become pregnant, and little upright-walking, flat-faced Oliver was the result. He quickly became a sensation, dressed up in a tux and encouraged to smoke and drink for the crowd. This reflected the hilarity of the times upon witnessing animals "acting like humans". (Remember the Marquis Chimps on Ed Sullivan? I hope you don't.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to fame. People lost interest. The whole thing looked a little bogus. Oliver was sold again and again, each time falling a little deeper into the hole, and ending up in a small square wire cage in a laboratory.

Decades later, Oliver's original owner (perhaps wondering if there was more money to be made) tracked him down and eventually settled him into one of those chimp retirement homes. He didn't walk upright any more - too much trouble - and by this time he just looked like an old chimp, a very relieved old chimp, relieved he didn't have to wear a tux, smoke cigars and drink brandy for the crowd. He died only a couple of weeks ago, in fact, probably about 55 years old. Certainly he had served his time.

But it hangs in the air, doesn't it - weirdly, and sickeningly. Camas, pizzlys, zorses and wolphins. Why not humanzees? At the end of his life Oliver was genetically tested, and it was officially announced that he was "100% chimpanzee", so that was that. (If he hadn't been, what would they have said? The genie would be out of the bottle for sure.)  

But I had a funny feeling about it all. I had a funny feeling about it all because that was over 50 years ago. I had a funny feeling about it all because that was over 50 years ago and, by God, now it is not only possible but bloody well likely we could do such a thing, "cross" a chimp with a human and come up with a whole new sort of species.

At the embryonic level, this has already been attempted and perhaps even accomplished. We want stem cells and new organs and all that sort of thing, necessary spare parts salvaged from throwaways, and we don't seem to care how much we ravage the natural balance in order to get them.

But an actual humanzee, a hybrid? Is it illegal? Would it be funded? Who cares. Money comes. It follows curiosity. I am beginning to get this sick feeling, this prickly feeling that we're going to see this, and sooner than we think. The trouble is, no one will know what to do with this wretched thing, this product of strands of DNA twisted horribly wrong:  kill it now? Watch it suffer, or, perhaps worse, thrive?

What will it look like? Can you see it in your mind? Will it maybe resemble its human parent: "Doesn't little Johnny look just like his Dad"? Will it walk upright like Oliver, or scooch around on its knuckles and swing from the trees?  Talk, perhaps? Have thoughts, opinions, needs? But who cares about needs at a time like this: who thinks of needs except OUR needs, our whims, our wretched inability to leave things alone and appreciate a fragile, unforgiveably damaged wild world that is committing suicide right in front of our eyes.


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The United Church: a study in decline

Further reading:

Mysteries of Old Hollywood

This is what I write about when I can't think of what to write about. This ghostly image, as seen through a shivering square of nitrate or a dark lapping curtain. I don't know who she is, but she has an awfully big head, which is the key to success in Hollywood. Name six small-headed actors.

The predatory female. Dead now. They're all dead, did you ever think of that? All. Like my grade school teachers, like too many of my friends. It's creepy. The hard-eyed look is sad and weary and ruthless. And I want that big fat jewel pasted in the middle of her forehead.

The patent-leather hair must have been a turnoff. Or not? Things were different then. People took one bath a week and wore natural fibres which must have stank to high heaven, and almost everyone smoked. So much for the mystery of Hollywood.

This picture is sweet in a misty sort of way, though very posed. "Now hold up that magazine and pretend to read it. That's it." At least it's not upside-down. And those furs they wore! Looks like a slice of ermine jellyroll.

Like a 3D cutout or one of those Stereoscopes my grandmother had. The dog fairly walks out of the frame.

Rory Calhoun? Rory Calhoun? I'd say it's Charlie Sheen and a very young Alec Baldwin, before all those fits on the airplane.

The shroud of Turin, Hollywood-style.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Was Hermann Goering a transvestite? You decide

It's waaaaaay too late, and I am waaaaaaay too sick with this flu-thingama-jiggy to even be out of bed right now. But just a short time ago, while looking for something else, I came across a couple of pages that fascinated me. In fact, it made my jaw drop. It was an account of someone who had special duties during World War II: to keep Hermann Goering supplied with lacy panties, silk stockings and all the latest Paris creations so he could dress his chubby frame in elegant satins and high heels and parade around in front of the mirror. Just for the sake of comfort: those stiff Nazi uniforms do chafe in some very private places, don't you see?

The only trouble is, though I remember parts of this information in excruciating detail, probably more detail than I want, I don't remember which book it was in! This is worse than Mary Astor's diary (which I finally found in a really filthy book called Hollywood Babylon, not that I actually have a copy). I went through both David Niven books (again, because I really did think it was in there: it's the sort of story he loved to tell in his memoirs, very Carry-On/Catch-22-ish military stuff).

It's not there. Not in the Babble-on book either. So what does that leave? What have I been reading lately? Is it in my book of medical myths (when you sneeze, does your heart stop? If you cross your eyes will they get stuck that way?) or somewhere in the Marion Meade biography of Dorothy Parker, one of my favorite books in the whole wide world? Doesn't seem too damn likely. Dorothy Parker liked men who were men (in spite of the fact that she repeatedly referred to her effeminate husband Alan Campbell as "a fawn's ass").

So I don't have the hard evidence I was hoping for, but these photos do offer compelling hints of those private passions which he practiced behind closed doors. So it's up to you to decide: WAS Hermann Goering a transvestite? Was one of the most vicious human beings who ever lived just a strutting, primping, mascara-slathering, boa-swishing drag queen?

(Does Bullwinkle wear green gloves?)


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look