By Jefferson Flanders

With a doffed cap to Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me but…

SOCIAL ANIMALS, ESPECIALLY PRIMATES, employ varied reconciliation techniques after a fight. Frans de Waal tells us in his latest book, “Our Inner Ape,” that primates have different ways to “kiss and make up”; golden monkeys hold hands, bonobos have sex, chimps kiss and homo sapiens have their own rituals.

For the American homo politicus it’s the joint photo-opportunity. So, after a stinging defeat in the mid-term elections, President Bush sat for Oval Office photos with new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Pelosi accepted the defeat of her candidate (Jack Murtha) for House Majority Leader by posing with the winner, Steny Hoyer (who was claiming there was “no bad blood” between them). Both scenes were strained, to say the least.

An even more fascinating example: the reconcilation between Connecticut’s Senator Joe Lieberman, who won as an independent in his race against anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont, and Democratic Senators who, post-election, greeted him like the prodigal son. What may have made the welcome a bit warmer: long-time Democrat Lieberman had suggested to the Associated Press that if his party veered left, he would consider voting with the Republican side of the Senate (which would result in a 50-50 tie in the chamber and give Vice President Dick Cheney the deciding vote).

BASED ON THE DISAVOWAL BY THE BOARD OF THE PRESBYTERIAN PUBLISHING CORP. BOARD OF 9/11 denier David Ray Griffin’s book, “Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11,” how can the publisher continue to sell it? The Board admitted that the book did not live up to its editorial standards and admits that theologian Griffin’s theory about the attack on America in 2001 is “is spurious and based on questionable research.” (Griffin, of course, sticks to his fantasy, demonstrating that conspiracy buffs love the theory more than the facts). Why does the Presbyterian Publishing Corp. leave the book on sale? Isn’t a recall in order?

THE TIMES OF LONDON HEADLINE: “DARWIN GOT IT RIGHT — IT’S SURVIVAL OF THE FASTEST” spotlighted some fascinating research suggesting that evolution proceeds more quickly than thought. Science writer Eric Hand of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that a new study of lizards in the Bahamas showed that natural selection pressures drive evolution faster than previously believed: scientists conducted an experiment that altered the average leg length of the lizard population within months.

Scientists say that, from a political perspective, the cases offer a vivid reminder of the continuous process that some people imagine proceeding only in fossilized fits and starts: First monkey, then man. But for the scientists themselves, the cases show that evolutionary biology has, well, evolved into a predictive, experimental science like any other.

Meanwhile, Newsweek reports that some scientists are hypothesizing that Neanderthals may have contributed a crucial gene, microcephalin, to the human pool, which “conveyed a very strong evolutionary advantage,” perhaps involving intelligence.

The gene is known to control brain growth… the crucial factor could have been anything from changing head size to make childbirth less risky, to improving energy efficiency in the brain. But one obvious possibility is that, perhaps in combination with genes that humans already possessed, it made them smarter.

Somehow those aren’t the qualities I would expect our ancestors would borrow from any inter-species romance with the Neanderthals.

AFTER A MANUAL RECOUNT, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN VERN BUCHANAN clings to a 369 vote lead over Democratic rival Christine Jennings for the 13th District Congressional seat (once occupied by Katherine Harris). The key question: why the huge undercount in Sarasota County, where 18,000 voters skipped the Congressional race, 13% of the county total (versus 5% elsewhere). Were there glitches in the touch-screen voting machines that deleted or changed votes, as some reports suggest? This one is headed for court.

Don’t be surprised if, at the end of the legal process, there is a revote. And don’t be surprised if Buchanan adds to his margin and wins a second election when he isn’t saddled with the “send a message to Washington” wave of the mid-term election.

THEY REMEMBERED POET ANNE SEXTON in ceremonies last week at Forest Hills Cemetary, outside Boston. Sexton, who committed suicide in 1974, would have been 78 years old. The poet and translator Robert S. Fitzgerald once noted: “Poetry is at least an elegance and at most a revelation.” When it is a revelation, it lasts because it speaks to the heart, as does Sexton’s poetry.

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue 

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders

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