Opinion: Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and a ‘Neanderthal edge’

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Quick, what do these articles have in common?

‘Warren Buffett tosses Bank of America a $5-billion lifeline,’ ‘Steve Jobs resigns as Apple CEO but named company chairman,’ ‘95-year-old man attacked by bees, stung hundreds of times’ and ‘Humans got immunity boost from Neanderthals, study finds.’

The answer? They’re about people -- extraordinary people.

Start with Buffett and Jobs, two of America’s most successful businessmen. One, Buffett, made news this week by doing what he does best: making a savvy business deal. As The Times reported:


The investment casts the Oracle of Omaha in a familiar and favorable light, tossing a lifeline to an American icon in need. He made similar moves during the financial crisis for Goldman Sachs and General Electric… Bank of America shares jumped 9.4% to $7.65, handing Buffett a one-day paper profit of $355 million on just one part of his investment.

The other, Jobs, sent shock waves through the business world by leaving his post as chief executive of Apple. How important is Jobs? As a Times editorial, ‘Steve Jobs’ Midas touch,’ put it:

Apple wouldn’t be where it is today without Jobs’ singular vision -- as well as the company’s ability to translate it into products that it marketed brilliantly.

OK, but what does that have to do with a guy getting stung by bees, you say? Not to mention Neanderthals?

Patience, grasshopper.

First, from The Times’ story on the bee-sting victim:

‘He literally got stung by thousands of bees,’ Sgt. Phil Keenan of the Redondo Beach Police Department told The Times. ‘Most men would have died, but he’s taking it in stride.’

And then, from The Times’ story on humans’ ancient family tree:

DNA inherited from Neanderthals and newly discovered hominids dubbed the Denisovans has contributed to key types of immune genes still present among populations in Europe, Asia and Oceania. And scientists speculate that these gene variants must have been highly beneficial to modern humans, helping them thrive as they migrated throughout the world.

Now, I’m no scientist. But isn’t it fascinating to think that perhaps, just perhaps, something buried deep in that 95-year-old man’s DNA helped him survive the type of attack that has proved fatal to many others? Does sturdy, bee-proof Neanderthal DNA exist there?

As The Times story said:

Our ancestors’ HLA systems may have been perfectly tailored for Africa but naive to bacteria, viruses and parasites that existed in Europe or Asia, rendering them susceptible to disease. Mating and mixing their genomes with those of their Neanderthal and Denisovan relatives could have been a speedy way to set up their immune systems to combat new, unencountered threats.

Plus, the bee attack survivor is 95. Buffett? He’s 81 and still going strong.

Is it possible that those heavy browed Neanderthals passed along something else to these hearty survivors, something that has contributed to a longer life?

As for Jobs, he has well-known health issues. But his business acumen is as legendary as Buffett’s. Where did that come from? Could that too have a genetic component?

It’s all just speculation, of course. Maybe these people are just luckier, or more hardworking, or plain smarter than the rest of us.

Or could it be that maybe, just maybe, there are other forces at work? Could some people have a ‘Neanderthal edge’? Is that the reason you’re not Warren Buffett: You suffer from a ‘Neanderthal gap’?

Sure, go ahead and laugh. Some people laughed at Newton and Galileo.

But just remember: Some people are laughing all the way to the bank.


Bernanke offers no new help for economy

Humans may have crowded out Neanderthals, study says

Steve Jobs ‘one of the greatest leaders,’ says Google’s Vic Gundotra

-- Paul Whitefield