Thinking About the MacGuffin

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“In our time — which is a rather stupid time — hunting is not considered a serious matter.” *

This is the picture that planted the seed:

The figurine is described at Super Punch as a Falconer Predator. My first reaction was excitement – what would a Predator fly? How big (Haast’s Eagle size maybe)? I pretty quickly segued into thinking about Predators as hunters – especially with an eye towards fair chase – after all, the movies have been telling us since version 1 that Predators are hunting.

Before I embarrass myself further, a couple points. First, and most important, I realize the Predator is essentially a MacGuffin – horror/thriller subsp.: the nameless, implacable threat element. The alien is there to serve the story; it’s not reasonable to expect a consistent Predator backstory or even consistent behavior from movie to movie. Second, I doubt any of the writers thought very deeply about hunting. My guess is that the original pitch was more like, “It’s The Most Dangerous Game! With an alien! And Arnold and Jesse ‘The Body”! And a mini-gun!” Thus the die was cast – man-hunting became the central narrative element. In spite of these caveats, I just couldn’t leave it be – the more I thought about it, the more interested I became in figuring out what the action really revealed.

So – by way of inquiry, I netflixed Predator, Predator 2, Alien Vs. Predator, went to see Predators in the theater and re-read my copy of Ortega y Gasset’s Meditations on Hunting. Aliens Vs. Predator – Requiem has yet to be viewed – the Design Student tells me it’s the worst of the lot – I may choose to remain blissfully ignorant. Things I noticed:

  • Predators are gamehogs. They are supposed to be trophy hunting, but their definition of trophy is pretty inclusive. The first Predator kills two squads (minus one) worth of special forces types, the second kills oodles of drug dealers, a couple cops and most of Gary Busey’s X-Files contingent. AvP throws the whole ‘being armed makes you a target’ thing over the side – being in the wrong place at the wrong time (I’m thinking the whalers in 1904, especially) make you trophy quality.
  • Not that there’s any shortage of human game, but the Predator’s approach reminds me a bit of the popular image of late-period buffalo hunters. At least the buffalo hunters took tongues and/or humps for the market – one wonders how big the Predator’s skull room needs to be.
  • Preserve hunting is A-OK with the Predators. The pyramid in AvP is closer to a lasertag playground than anything else I can think of. The preserve in Predators is a lot larger, but the way the humans are stocked is guaranteed to disorient them.

The overwhelming feeling that I had watching the movies was that what I was seeing wasn’t hunting. Way too much general slaughter, WAY too much hand to hand combat and a weird confusion of military fighting, honor fighting/dueling and the chase.

I thought about it for a while before I dropped back to my copy of Meditations on Hunting, knowing that Ortega y Gasset thinks hard about what hunting is and isn’t. On page 47 of my edition I found a paragraph that clarified things immensely:

If the hunted is also, on the same occasion, a hunter, this is not hunting: it is combat, a fight in which both parties have the same intention and similar behavior. Fighting is a reciprocal action. The gladiator in the arena did not hunt the panther that had been let out of the cage; he fought with it, because neither found himself in a natural situation. In the course of hunting a fight may occur, as in the case of the wild boar which, when cornered, turns and attacks the hunter; but this fight has only incidental significance within the hunt, and whatever grave consequences may result, it is only an anecdote embroidered on the main tapestry of hunting. If the hunted animal were normally to fight with man, so that the relationship between the two consisted in this fight, we would have a completely different phenomenon. For this reason, bullfighting is not hunting. Neither does the man hunt the bull, nor does the bull, upon attacking, do so with hunting intentions.” *

Bingo! Predators are gladiators/bullfighters. Human skulls are like bull’s ears. Which leads to an obvious question. Every ‘exhibition’  fight I can think of is done for an audience. Are the Predators instrumented and cam-ed for an audience back home? There’s a backstory that could provide some consistency – Hollywood big-wigs, I’ll be waiting for your call.

[other notes]

Slight spoiler – there was no falconer in Predators. I don’t know if it got cut, or if I’m supposed to accept an autonomous reconnaissance drone that happens to mount to a Predator’s shoulder weapon rack as falconry – it ain’t.

One of the key plot points in AvP is nutty. I’m supposed to accept that the Predators leave all their weapons stashed in lasertag pyramid between ‘hunts’? What, they have draconian gun laws back home? (And we’ll ignore all the evidence to the contrary from the first two flicks.)

In the future, Lance Henricksen will be ubiquitous.

Two Books: Birds

Two books came off my nightstand and hit the to-be-shelved pile – both great reads – that are united by their subject matter and [full disclosure] because the authors are friends of mine.

If you don’t have a renewed and deepened appreciation of birds after reading Sy Montomery’s Birdology,you’ve either been thinking pretty hard about birds already or are as numb as a post. We see birds every day and often take them for granted – Sy does an amazing job explaining why we shouldn’t – birds are different. Someone who might get excited about seeing a snake will look at a starling without really seeing it; looking through a starling is less likely after reading Sy’s book. Each chapter in Birdology emphasizes one aspect of difference – Birds Are Dinosaurs (cassowaries)/Are Made of Air (hummingbirds)/etc. I’ve been looking at birds with purpose for over forty years (I attended a  lecture by Roger Tory Peterson when I was 10 – a birdwatcher already) but after reading this, I’ll never see them quite the same way again.

There are – believe it or not – more than a few falconry memoirs out there. It’s a tough genre – giants of the sport have written of their experiences, some authors have mixed how-tos with anecdotes and there are, of course, the one-damned-thing-after-another stories. In my reader-side experience, one of the most interesting and productive approaches is to use one’s falconry practice as a candle shining back on the author. Rebecca K. O’Connor takes this approach in Lift, and as far as I’m concerned, does a fantastic job of it. I’m deliberately not going to give much away – if you’re at all interested, you ought to read her words – but Rebecca knits together a narrative of her first season flying her first peregrine (properly, her first tiercel), who she was at that point in her life and vignettes from her (eventful? interesting? read betw the lines here, people) childhood. She doesn’t take the easy way out – Lift confronts some difficult situations and, to her credit – and to the book’s benefit – the childhood stories illuminate but don’t always obviously reinforce what’s happening in the falconry narrative.

Two good books – read ‘em.

The Harvard Herbarium

First, let me acknowledge peacay as undisputed champion of Internet cool-stuff-finding. Today’s Butterfly Album post is a multi-dimensional winner. First, there are the images. I’m particularly partial to a painting containing what I think is a Giant Water Bug:

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Then there’s the intriguing info on where the insects were collected:

The only other information known is that the butterflies and insects were collected from the Aralia (spikenard) and related Tetrapanax papyrifera (pith paper tree) plant species.

Followed by a link to the Harvard Herbarium for more info on the pith paper tree. The Herbarium rates a big marker pin on my mental map – it’s close, houses the Blaschka’s glass plant models and – most important for me – was the base of operations for Richard Evans Schultes (prev. posts here and here). I’ve wandered around the Herbarium website before, but today – thanks to peacay – I kicked around the Botany Library On-Line Exhibits (not sure I’ve ever happened upon this part of the site before). There’s a nice series on book covers/bindings:

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a section on the ‘other’ Amanita (phalloides)

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and then there’s this, from the Economic Botany Clipping File:

Dr. Schultes teaching in the Nash Lecture Hall

Painting by Hannah Barrett, November 1994

The caption in the tiles says, “Richard Evans Schultes, Director Emeritus, demonstrating the blowgun in the Nash Lecture Hall, the Botanical Museum, Harvard University, 15 November 1994.” Ethnobotanical explorer in lab coat? Check. Blowgun, darts and quiver? Check. Little potted cactus ($100 says Lophophora williamsii)? Check. More interesting details that I’ll leave for you, the reader? Check. I’m curious as to what molecule is diagrammed on the chalkboard…

One last picture to end the post – from the book Beata Ruris Otia Fungis Danicis Impensa. Enjoy!

Edward Quin’s Historical Atlas

Maps are metaphors.

An

Historical Atlas

In A Series Of Maps

Of The World As Known At Different Periods;

Constructed Upon An Uniform Scale, And

Coloured According To The Political Changes Of Each Period

Eden

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The Empire of Cyrus the Great

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At the time of the Death of Constantine.

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The Empire of Kublai Khan

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I love the David Rumsey Map Collection – this find is via a tweet from @bibliodyssey. Any map series that references the Massegetae and Sogdiana is a good one.

Now, THAT was a good day

Wow – that was fun. Up early to run dogs and then off to the southwestern corner of NH, where the cacti and mesas frolic (or not). First stop was at Callahan & Co. Booksellers to sell some dupe/no longer needed sporting books. Hard to imagine, but I came out of Mr. Callahan’s barn upside down (I spent more than he paid me).

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From there to the Toadstool in Peterborough to see the Noted Nature Writer do a talk and book signing event. I got there early, so first I had some pie for breakfast:

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And did a little looking around:

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The talk was wonderful – from there the posse went to Deering where I helped put new bracelets on a gos, much hawking was talked and I met more interesting people. Back home, another dog run – they’re all fast asleep now – and that’s it for me!

Internet serendipity

This [Boing Boing]:

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Rick Prelinger sez, “My spouse Megan Prelinger is about to take to the road with her show of paleofuturistic ads from the early, go-go years of the space race. While the images are fascinating in print, they’re even more provocative when projected, revealing the gap (and sometimes uncanny resemblance) between the fanciful and actual futures of space exploration. I can’t wait to see them on the big screen at DC’s National Air & Space Museum, LA’s Griffith Observatory and a host of other venues in Portland, Seattle and NYC. Her tour kicks off at San Francisco’s Booksmith this coming Tuesday, May 4 with a slide show, reading and release party for her new book Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962.

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Leads to this [Amazon]:

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Leads to this [Amazon again]:

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Which causes me to google “apollo guidance computer simulator”:

I figured I’d get a good hit, but this is beyond good- the Virtual AGC Home Page.

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Big fun! And as a side benny, this [Amazon again again]:

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The old man worked on Convair B-58 Hustlers (radar system for Raytheon) – he tells the story of coming home for lunch one day and returning to work to find that the aircraft he’d been working on had caught fire and killed some of his coworkers. Time and place suggest the B-58 involved was unit 58-1012.

Bulls, Bikes, Birds

Via a retweet from @bibliodyssey, an addition to the blogroll – Next Nature. I knew I’d hit paydirt when I saw that the most recent post talked about aurochs and Heck cattle – a topic we’ve visited here previously. On (to the blogroll) you go!

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Over at Ride the Machine – one of my favorite two-wheeler blogs – s.a. has posted some great Velocette (not to be confused with velocet – or drencrom) cover art.

I love this one for the aeroplane, the pants (plus-fours? maybe even plus-sixes?) and the mystery of what the heck is going on. Courier? Passenger checking in, as a motorcycle valet rushes in (out of frame)?

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The way the ‘L’ and the ‘TT” (Tourist Trophy) are used is wonderful.

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On a personal note – I had a wonderful time Tuesday and Wednesday – Noted Nature Writer was in town to do a talk/signing event at a great local indie bookstore. We had a great time discussing birds and frogs and spiders and…

That’s Sy, waaaay back at the table.

March NH Media Makers

The weather today leaves a lot to be desired – cold, windy, pouring rain – as a result, attendance this morning was a lighter than the SRO+ that has been the rule at recent HMM meet-ups. No matter – lots of cool projects…

Angela’s drawdio jellyfish puppet:

Update - Angela has posted more drawdiofish info.

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Dan Freund had a rig for his phone that he used to record his pitch which was then uploaded to/streamed from his site:

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I was not the only person taking pictures of someone videostreaming themselves (you can see Roger Goun’s lens on the right side of the shot), but I think I was the only one snapping away with my cell phone, thus completing the cell phone media takeover.

Our meeting spot – Crackskull’s in Newmarket – is both a coffee shop and a bookstore. I went browsing and found this bit of awesomeness – a wunderkammer cookbook!