Monday, April 15, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 13

[Note: This is the thirteenth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 200 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.]

Modes of Communication

All forms of life, both plants and animals, seem to communicate in various ways, sending and receiving information with the life around them, via sounds, smells, chemicals, behaviors, gestures, and so on.  When I walk through a forest, I often hear warnings of my arrival being announced by noisy birds or squirrels.  On dark nights, when I quietly wander past a pond where the spring peepers are roaring in celebration, they all suddenly become silent.  In a rainforest, some calls warn of an approaching leopard, while different calls broadcast a snake alert. 

Modern humans do not perceive or understand most of the constant communication taking place in the natural world.  Jon Young learned nature awareness from his mentor, Tom Brown, and became highly attuned to bird language.  One time, he went along on a field trip with ornithology students.  He heard a call that warned of an approaching Cooper’s hawk, and mentioned this to the others.  The professor winced and hissed “that’s impossible!”  A minute later, the bird flew by.  The students were amazed.  They wondered why their highly educated professor did not understand bird language.

Clive Finlayson mentioned that hunters in Spain still use traditional technology to attract birds.  During breeding season, they blow on rabbit bone whistles that imitate the mating calls of quails.  Upon hearing the fake urgent pleas for hot romance, lust-crazed males would speed to the hunters, who could then catch them with their bare hands.

Nonhuman animals communicate about the here and now: “tiger coming.”  Without words, baboons can communicate irritation, contentment, excitement, and so on.  In addition to this basic mode, humans also have the ability to vocalize unusual sequences of grunts, clicks, gasps, and moans.  Words enable the possibility of extremely complex communication.  We can jabber about the here and now, the future, the past, events in other places, and a million other subjects.

Communication is sometimes mysteriously telepathic.  Robert Wolff was astonished by the Sng’oi people of Malaysia.  Whenever he made a rare unannounced visit, someone would be waiting for him on the trail, ready to lead him to their current camp.  How did they know he was coming?  They said that a feeling inspired them to go to the trail, be there, and respond to what happened.  Jon Young told a similar story about the Bushmen of the Kalahari.  Whenever you came to visit them, someone would be waiting.

We are the word critters.  Words bounce off our lips and tongues, zoom through the air, and plunge into the ears of others.  We learn words, speak words, hear words, think words, dream words.  Nobody knows exactly when hominins began using words, but many scholars have imaginative opinions, none of which are supported by compelling archaeological evidence.

The first words babies learn are nouns (mama, dada).  Then comes verbs, stuff to do (pee, poop, eat).  Later comes feelings (happy, sad, tired, afraid), and abstractions (good, bad, progress, capitalism).  At about 18 months, we begin assembling words into sequences.  Everything significant to us has a name — other people, species of plants and animals, rivers, hills, stone formations, stars, tools, and countless others.

Paul Shepard wrote about two scientists who raised young chimps in their home, along with their own children of similar age.  The chimps were at least as intelligent as children, until the children were three or four, learned language, and left the chimps in the dust.  If the kids had been raised by wild chimps, they would have grown up to be intelligent animals, free from the enormous burdens of our cultural baggage, much of it unwholesome and crazy making.

Complex language was certainly an asset for survival in the hunter-gatherer days.  It increased our ancestors’ ability to conjure clever new tricks and accumulate them.  Over time, the power of the word critters intensified.  At some point in the long journey, excess cleverness forced them to swerve over the line of ecological balance, and into the helter-skelter lane.  Hominins got too big for their britches in the dance of the family of life.

 Cleverness never rests.  The growing herd developed a growing ecological footprint.  Food resources became more and more scarce, forcing the transition into plant and animal domestication.  By and by, this led to a huge escalation in the power of the word critters.  They learned how to encode words into visual symbols that could be penned or painted onto papyrus, scratched into clay, chiseled into stone, cast into metal, converted into digital pixels, and so on.  Then the word symbols could be arranged into sequences that conveyed important, detailed, informative meanings (similar to the fascinating stories told to hungry San trackers by the spoor of horny warthogs).

It’s interesting that the oldest written story found so far is the Epic of Gilgamesh, the saga of a lunatic king who built the imperial city of Uruk, in what is now Iraq, in about 2700 B.C.  The story, scratched into clay tablets, describes a lecherous slime ball who worked hard to expand organic agriculture by deforesting lands along the Euphrates River, which triggered catastrophic erosion and flooding, and pissed off the gods.  By 3200 B.C., Uruk was the biggest city in the world, home to 25,000+ people.  Today, Uruk is a crude pile of brown rubble sitting amidst a desolate barren moonscape.  Its spoor has an important message for ambitious glory seekers: “Don’t live like we did.”

In a previous section, we jabbered about how the rate of technological innovation was accelerated when people lived in dense populations, and were exposed to ideas and gizmos from other cultures, via long distance exploration, trade, and conflict.  In the digital age, the flow of exotic information has shifted into warp drive.  Technology enables written words, spoken words, and images to be sent to the other side of the planet in a second, with the click of a mouse.

On my bookshelves are rows of manuscripts written by many thinkers, from different cultures, from different eras — a crowd of interesting minds and stories.  We have never before been able to store such vast amounts of information.  And we have never before lived in such a destructive manner.  This is not a coincidence.  Almost all of that information is about stuff that is unhealthy, unnecessary, and unsustainable.

Industrial civilization is already in the early stages of collapse, and this is obvious to folks who are paying close attention to reality.  Some worry that collapse will lead to a catastrophic loss of accumulated information.  Some day in the coming decades, the grid, the lights, the laptops, and the cell phones will go dark forever.  I expect that there are folks alive today who will see the last car die, and the last supermarket close.  Without ongoing maintenance, time will eventually compost our wonderful libraries.  When the oceans of modern data evaporate and fade from memory, our information will come from fireside stories, the here and now, and the ecosystem we inhabit.

Jon Young has devoted his life to helping people restore three types of severed connections — connection with others, connection with self, and connection with nature.  My generation grew up playing outdoors with the neighbor kids.  I was lucky to live close to forests, lakes, and open land.  We had no iPods, cell phones, video games, or laptops.  Our social networking was face to face, in the here and now, and preferably outdoors. 

We were at home in nature.  We built forts, climbed trees, went swimming, and caught frogs, turtles, salamanders, night crawlers, and fish.  We played until mom called us home.  Where I live now, it’s common to see tweakers, junkies, and other homeless folks camping amidst trash piles throughout the neighborhood.  It’s getting unusual to see children playing.

Most of us spend most of our lives indoors, and our visits outdoors usually take place in manmade surroundings.  Few of us spend our entire lives in the place we were born, and develop an intimate and reverent relationship with the wild ecosystem around us.  This is a most unusual situation for tropical primates, or any other animals.  We’re like the lads who walked on the moon in their silver spacesuits — lost, disconnected, homeless wanderers.

Folks in a post-collapse world are going to be devoting most of their attention to daily survival.  This will require them to actually wander out into their ecosystem, on foot, and attempt to blend into it.  When the land provides you with fish, nuts, and berries, you develop a spirit of gratitude and respect — connection.  Your life will come into communication with the family of life around you.

Collapse is a strong medicine that will delete us or cure us.  It will liberate us from countless toxic addictions, behaviors, beliefs, and relationships that have led us to the brink.  So, cheer up!  Time is running out for the most insane and destructive experiment in Earth’s history.  Better days are coming.  One way or another, healing will begin.

The Smart Neanderthal

Clive Finlayson is especially fascinated by two things, Neanderthals and birds.  Since 1989, he has been excavating caves in Gibraltar, on the north shore of the Mediterranean, where Neanderthals lived from 127,000 to 32,000 years ago.  Gibraltar is the place where the last Neanderthals tearfully bid farewell to this magnificent planet.  Later, after they were gone, Homo sapiens lived in these caves, beginning maybe 30,000 years ago.  There is no evidence of them being in living contact at the Gibraltar site.

For decades, many scholars have adopted the belief that we Homo sapiens were superior to Neanderthals.  They imagine that when humans invaded Neanderthal territory, the inferior species was helplessly overwhelmed and exterminated.  This belief is known as the replacement model, which assumed that we could never meet other humans without wiping them out.  History is loaded with replacement stories.

Beliefs are based on assumptions, which are sometimes daffy balderdash.  Over time, beliefs that pass from one generation to the next can mutate into illusions that are perceived to be certain truths.  Human supremacists really annoy Finlayson, and he has written three books to spank them — Neanderthals and Modern Humans (2004), The Humans Who Went Extinct (2009), and The Smart Neanderthal (2019).  The new book is an enjoyable, well written mystery story, in which the brainy hero (Finlayson) confronts the dodgy beliefs held by many mainstream scholars.

It’s not surprising that folks who have spent more than 30 years studying Neanderthals actually accumulate a lot of experiences and insights.  They learn things that scholars in faraway college towns never do.  The myth of progress is only a few centuries old, and it perceives that all previous generations were inferior — especially our prehistoric relatives.  The human supremacists in academia have generated a list of advanced characteristics that Neanderthals lack.  In his new book, Finlayson examines this list, item by item, and presents evidence to the contrary.  He concludes that humans and Neanderthals were equally intelligent, but not equally lucky in the survival lottery.

Of all the prehistoric hominins, we know Neanderthals best, because we have discovered a number of sites where they lived in Eurasia.  In caves, evidence of days past is far less likely to be blown or washed away, and more likely to be preserved and found.  Over time, layers of stuff build up, with newer ones covering the old.  Scientists assign dates to each layer, and document the artifacts found.

What makes the book especially interesting is that he uses his love of birds to support a number of his arguments.  The caves at Gibraltar contain the remains of 160 species of birds.  The region was once a wonderland for the winged ones, but not now.  “Their world has been destroyed by civilized man in a few centuries.”

Human supremacists assert that dimwitted Neanderthals were incapable of catching speedy prey, like birds or hares.  So Finlayson visited Spain, and watched an old gent attract 300 large vultures by putting out some carrion.  They surrounded him, and happily took food from his hand.  Another time, he went to an island off the coast of Scotland, where it was the breeding season for 150,000 gannets.  None took flight as he strolled through them, instead they pecked his legs bloody.

Some birds respond to danger by flying away.  Others, like the stone curlews, have natural coloration that provides excellent camouflage.  When danger appears, they freeze, and become nearly invisible to predators.  They only take flight if the intruder makes a sudden movement.  Finlayson has calmly walked right past frozen curlews, and could have easily snatched them.  Sometimes speedy hares will freeze in the presence of danger, allowing their camouflage to render them invisible.  Finlayson has walked very close to frozen hares.

The 300,000+ year saga of Neanderthals was an era of roller coaster climate shifts.  Most of their time on Earth was colder than average.  Some climate shifts happened suddenly and sharply.  Children were sometimes born in a steppe habitat which, decades earlier, had been woodland when their grandparents lived there. 

Between the Arctic, and the Mediterranean, there were several climate zones — ice, tundra, steppe, and woodland.  When the climate plunged into frigid periods, glaciers and ice sheets expanded in the north, which compressed the zones to the south.  There were times when the ice sheet extended from Scandinavia to northern Germany, and covered most of the British Isles.  At times, large areas of France were tundra.  The Mediterranean Sea, a large body of warm water, moderated the climate of southern Europe, so the temperature swings were less intense in Gibraltar, and wild foods remained abundant.

One indicator of climate shifts is the types of bones found at various time periods in the layers of cave crud.  The layers associated with Neanderthals usually indicated warm, moist, woodland or forest.  Woodland conditions were identified by the bones of aurochs, red deer, boar, cave bear, leopard, giant deer, and temperate rhinoceros. 

It’s important to understand that the more recent sites, which are associated with humans, often indicate steppe-tundra conditions, when the land was cold, dry, open, and treeless.  Steppe-tundra conditions were identified by the bones of woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, horse, musk ox, ibex, moose, Artic fox, and reindeer.

The human supremacists regularly ridicule Neanderthals for displaying little innovation.  For 300,000+ years, their primary weapon was the thrusting spear.  Obviously, a stable and functional way of life was glaring evidence of low intelligence!  But Neanderthals were woodland creatures who excelled at ambush hunting.  For them, a thrusting spear was the perfect tool.  For humans, who lived in steppe-tundra habitat, it was the opposite of excellent, because a wide open landscape had no trees or brush to conceal their presence.  Their weapon was the javelin.

The latest technology is giving archaeologists the ability to extract more information from the stuff they dig up.  For example, plant pollen.  Long ago, hyenas ravenously devoured carcasses, including their intestines, which contained pollen from the surrounding vegetation.  Fossilized hyena turds (coprolites) have preserved this pollen, allowing scientists to discover the mix of plants in the ecosystem during different time windows.  This indicated current climate conditions.

Finlayson dismisses the notion that Neanderthals were driven to extinction by humans, and wonders if they may have resisted human expansion.  He believes that an increasingly cold climate was shrinking their traditional woodland habitat, and fragmenting their population.  After surviving numerous eras of cold, the latest one pushed them a bit too hard — bad luck drove them extinct.

One point Finlayson doesn’t mention is that Neanderthals emerged 300,000+ years ago in Eurasia, where they evolved in a temperate climate.  Their bodies were stockier to give them better cold tolerance.  Humans emerged in Africa maybe 300,000 years ago.  They evolved in a tropical climate, where they developed better tolerance of heat, and became skilled at grassland hunting. 

When humans wandered into the grasslands of Eastern Europe 36,000 years ago (the “European Serengeti”), their tropical bodies were not fine-tuned for freezing weather.  At this point, their choices were to either to turn around and return to home sweet home, or innovate like crazy and struggle to survive in a hostile climate where large game was abundant.

The human supremacists shout that the humans were simply too smart to fail.  They claim that a miracle occurred 50,000 years ago, when genetic mutations caused human intelligence to skyrocket.  This was called the Great Leap Forward, or the Cognitive Revolution.  Finlayson says “Bullshit!”  Genetic research has found zero evidence of this.

What genetic research has found is clear evidence that Neanderthals and non-African humans interbred.  East Asians have 2.3 to 2.6 percent Neanderthal DNA, and Western Eurasians have 1.8 to 2.5 percent.  Markers of these hot romances are as old as 100,000 years ago, and as recent as 37,000 years.  Today, humans of various ancestries carry different segments of Neanderthal DNA.  Thus, up to 20 percent of the Neanderthal genome might still exist, scattered throughout the vast human herd.

Supremacists assert that only humans were brilliant enough to dine on marine life.  Oddly, the Neanderthals at Gibraltar ate mollusks, seals, dolphins, herbivorous mammals, tortoises, and birds.  But, but, but… only humans were smart enough to paint caves and make ornaments.  Recent research is raising doubts (someone was apparently painting caves 64,800 years ago).  Indeed, humans likely learned many tricks from the Neanderthals. 

To make claims of cognitive superiority based on the artifacts of material culture is silly.  The writing tools I used in 1970 were extremely crude compared to the laptop I’m using now.  Has my brain become far more powerful?  Compared to my grandparents, is my brain actually better?

Uncomfortable doubts are growing, with regard to the ultimate value of intelligence.  Neanderthals lived for 300,000+ years, in a manner that had the appearance of genuine sustainability.  They have not been associated with megafauna extinctions.  Following the human colonization of Europe, there was a wave of megafauna extinctions, which occurred between 30,000 to 12,000 years ago. 

Since then, aggressive cultures of our godlike species have blindsided every ecosystem on Earth.  The supremacists leap to their feet, clapping, cheering, and celebrating the wonders of perpetual growth and progress.  Big Mama Nature laughs and laughs, as she prepares some potent surprises to rubbish our illusions of grandiosity.  Soon she’ll be serving us an all-you-can-eat banquet of humble pie.

Finlayson, Clive, The Smart Neanderthal, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2019.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 12

[Note: This is the twelfth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 199 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.]

Technological Innovation

When a hungry chimp snatches a small monkey, termite, or bird egg, all she needs to eat it are fingers and teeth.  When a hungry baboon discovers a carcass abandoned by lions, he can chew the meat and fat off the bones and hide.  It’s very different when a persistence hunter chases a large kudu until it is exhausted, and then suffocates it.  What now?  Imagine turning a road kill deer into a feast without a knife.  Have a bloody good time!

Chimps use slender sticks to fish for termites.  They use clubs and rocks to aggressively attack critters that annoy them.  Macaques use stones to smash open shellfish.  Vultures use rocks to open ostrich eggs.  Ravens use gravity to crack open the nuts they drop.  This is not complex technology.

Our ancestors began a transition from found tools to manufactured ones.  The oldest ones discovered so far, mostly simple choppers, were found in Africa, and date to about 2.5 million years ago.  A major advance emerged around 1.5 million years ago — biface knapping.  Some types of rocks, like obsidian or flint, can be carefully knapped to knock off flakes having razor sharp edges.  These were useful as scrapers, knives, and choppers.  Later, ancestors learned how to knap long sharp blades, and attach them to handles.  Still later, they became skilled at chipping flakes into delicately shaped spear points and arrowheads.

We glowing screen people arrogantly smirk at the primitive technology of our early Stone Age ancestors.  In reality, stone tools were revolutionary inventions that shifted the hominin saga onto a new, unusual, and risky path.  For the first time, folks could effectively skin and butcher large animals — an ability that greatly expanded their food resources, and provided high quality nutrients for their jumbo-sized energy-guzzling brains.  Imagine a world in which teeth were the only cutting edges for any purpose.  Civilization would be impossible, and hominins may have never evolved.

Kathy Schick and friends once successfully butchered a dead elephant with stone tools.  A mature adult’s rugged hide is about one inch thick (2.4 cm).  Scavengers like hyenas don’t even bother trying to chew into the carcass of an elephant that recently died.  They let it bake in the sun for a few days, allowing decay to soften it up.

Our ancestors used sharp cutters to remove hides, cut meat off bones, and dismember the carcass into portions easier to haul back to camp.  They used stone hammers to smash open bones, to extract the marrow, which was rich with fat.  Fat is an essential nutrient, and the meat of wild game has only one-seventh of the fat found in supermarket beef, according to Schick.  Ancestors may have scavenged elephant carcasses, but adult pachyderms may not have been prime targets for hunters.  Once you strip the meat off of the exposed side, flipping over a dead elephant is a huge challenge.  Smaller game takes less effort.

We have no idea when spear technology was first developed.  It could have been two or three million years ago.  Wooden artifacts are highly prone to decompose over time.  Spears were also revolutionary.  They made it easier to kill large game, and allowed the ancestors to be less dependent on scavenging.  Spears were also useful for discouraging attacks from man-eating predators.

Thrusting spears, or lances, were driven directly into the prey by hungry hunters, at close range.  Javelins were thrown spears that could kill from a distance, which was much safer.  Carleton Coon mentioned a tribe that could hurl long spears with deadly accuracy from up to 180 feet away (55 m).

The oldest spears found so far were discovered in a coal mine at Schöningen, Germany.  Frederick Coolidge wrote that seven spruce spears, a throwing stick, and other tools were found near ten butchered horse carcasses.  The spears were 400,000 years old, up to 6.5 feet long (2 m), scraped smooth, and pointed at both ends.  They were made by the ancestors of Neanderthals (Homo heidelbergensis).  The fact that Neanderthals could survive for hundreds of thousands of years using such simple weapons is evidence that they lived in a time when large game was abundant, and it was proof that they were not dummies.

The killing power of spears was boosted by the invention of the atlatl, a spear-throwing device that enabled the weapon to be hurled farther and faster.  Alfred Crosby noted that in Peru, an Incan warrior with an atlatl could send a short spear completely through a conquistador wearing metal armor. 

Eventually, nobody is sure when, the bow and arrow was invented.  Like the spear, this deadly technology spread around the world, and over time enabled the slaughter of countless millions of animals.  Of course, with state of the art weaponry, well fed clans grew in number, conflicts increased, and hunters increasingly had to also turn their weapons on strangers who encroached into their territory.

A bloodless alternative to conflict was migration into lands uninhabited by hominin competitors.  Many frontier regions introduced the ancestors to new species of prey, and clever folks invented specialized technology for killing them.  Joe Kane spent time with the Huaorani people of the Amazon rainforest.  Their armory included spears and blowguns.  Poison darts would kill monkeys in the branches above, requiring the hunter to climb up and retrieve them.  Over time, lads who did a lot of tree climbing developed odd-shaped feet.  Their big toes bent outward, providing a tighter grip.

Carleton Coon mentioned other tribes using different poisons that relaxed the muscles of monkeys, so they would fall from the trees.  No climbing needed.  Pygmy poisons were a potion made from ten different plants, beetle larvae, and snake venom.  They paralyzed muscles and stopped the heart.  In Japan, the Ainu built booby traps, in which deer tripped on a cord, and a bow shot a poison tipped arrow into the animal. 

When marine mammals were speared, their corpses often sank into deep waters, never to be retrieved and consumed.  The solution was to carve barbed detachable harpoon heads which would not pull out of the animal’s flesh.  The embedded head was attached to a cord linked to the hunter above.  When the dead animal sank, it could then be retrieved and invited to lunch.

Innovation also led to the use of rock-throwing slings, bolas, hunting nets, traps, and on and on.  You could fill a book on this subject, and Alfred Crosby did, covering the entire spectrum from rocks to nuclear weapons.  Humans are remarkably creative when it comes to devising an endless stream of new and improved systems for killing things.  It’s been a nonstop arms race.

The wheels of innovation spin faster when populations grow, and become able to support more and more nerdy specialists.  Also, trade with other regions brings distant groups into contact, where they are exposed to the gizmos and ideas from other cultures, and this can greatly stimulate the imaginations of anxious nerds.  The velocity of change in my lifetime has been dizzying, impossible to keep up with.

Craig Dilworth described what he called the Vicious Circle Principle (VCP), a cycle in which (1) scarcity spurred technological innovation, (2) innovation increased access to more resources, (3) more resources increased consumption, (4) increased consumption fueled population growth, (5) population growth led to resource depletion, and (6) resource depletion led to scarcity once again. 

The VCP cycle keeps repeating, each time ratcheting up the impact, until it eventually slams into firm resource limits, or chokes to death on its own pollution.  Some hunter-gatherer cultures managed to survive into recent times in a low impact manner — until the radicalized VCP mob barged into their world via loggers, miners, missionaries, and so on.

Dilworth noted that, from its beginning, technological development has degraded ecological sustainability.  Should we be proud of our legendary wizardry?  Species that don’t manufacture tools, like chimps, never experience this predicament.  Our current technological utopia, swarming with billions of hominins, continues to work tirelessly to destroy the ecological basis upon which it depends, a one-way dead-end path.  How smart is that?

Evolution is brilliant!  When predators are free to perform their natural ecosystem services, their prey do not experience population outbursts.  Chimps make no effort to exterminate the big cats that prey on them, consequently there are not seven billion chimps pounding the stuffing out of the planet.  The sacred dance of predator and prey works beautifully until it gets blindsided by technological innovation.  Technology improved our abilities at offence (killing game) as well as defense (exterminating competing predators).  Balance got blown out of the water.

Dilworth mentioned that by 200 B.C. the leopards and lions of Greece, and along the coast of the Near East, were gone.  Several centuries later, tigers no longer survived in northern Persia and Mesopotamia.  Predator extermination is a standard process in cultures that enslave domesticated animals.  Today, few wild high-level predators survive in most of the civilized world.

Environmentalists tend to focus their campaigns primarily on problems related to modern technology, because they think it’s especially terrible.  Dilworth’s VCP sees all technology as dangerous and unnecessary.  Across Eurasia and the Americas, megafauna extinctions surged between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago — in the Stone Age, prior to agriculture and civilization, when fewer than ten million humans likely wandered the Earth.  It was an enormous ecological holocaust that our culture has largely swept under the rug.  Today, few consumers wake up screaming from nightmares about the bloody extermination of mastodons, saber-tooth cats, or woolly rhinos by high-tech hunters.  We are also careful not to think about the mass extinctions happening right now, as we pedal to work.

The bottom line for Dilworth is that if technological development was truly wisdom-driven, intelligent, and beneficial, it would not have transformed the planet’s healthy genuinely sustainable wild ecosystems into toxic devastated wastelands, depleted countless precious resources, and sabotaged the climate.  Why do we continue proudly teaching children about our magnificent big brains and the wonders of progress?  The good news is that the VCP cycle is unsustainable, and will eventually blink out.  What will be left when it does?