Some thoughts on teevee wildlife shows…

A screen crawl on the AM news informed me that Steve Irwin (Croc Hunter) is dead. The NYT web site says that a stingray pierced his heart with its barb. My condolences to his wife and kids. He was always in the middle ground for me as a tv wildlife presenter – not overly offensive, but the crazy aussie persona didn’t wear well. As a bitchy aside – the guy I find completely beyond the pale is Austin Stevens – ‘Snakemaster’? – jeebus. Take a look at his page on Animal Planet (I’m not going to link – you’ll have to find it yourself) and contrast/compare with illustrations in It’s a Man’s World. The only thing Mr. Stevens is missing are zombie Nazis hassling women in their skivvies knickers. The Stevens show (one of two that I watched – the other was on the King Cobra) that really tore it for me was when he went anaconda wrasslin’. We are supposed to believe that he happened upon an anaconda, jumped into the water to grab it and thrash around in a very manly fashion, and the equipment needed to do a Matrix-bullet-time stop action pan just happened to be set up in place? Again, jeebus.

Which brings me to my point(s). We are comfortable with meta-info and moving through the fourth wall in much of the rest of our entertainment (and our world for that matter). Why hasn’t someone put together a wildlife show (or ‘adventure’ show, or ‘hunting’ show for that matter) that looks at how one gets hold of 5 minutes worth of good lion on zebra action footage? Presumably, the show would need to commit to some level of fair chase – setup shots with the host in Costa Rica followed by a quick trip to the local zoo for shots of the snake may be more than the audience can handle. Let’s get the whole production crew involved – let’s try to show the level of effort required to get some real semi-staged (i.e. getting the snake out where it can be filmed) footage of the host near a critter. My strong suspicion is that wildlife photography is like many other endeavors where one is at the mercy of Mom Nature – lots of preparation, lots of sweating and/or freezing and/or getting bit by bugs, and very little of the thing itself (though that very little is, both by itself and because of the level of prep and discomfort, incredibly satisying). Twenty nine minutes of sitting in a blind, thirty seconds of almost getting the shot and thirty seconds of payoff won’t cut it, but I’m sure there is a ton of good material in any shoot – hassling with customs, competion between camaramen for the money shot, dealing with the interpersonal stuff that sometimes comes with boredom, bugs, etc. My guess is that the folks running the cameras, schlepping the bags, making the phone calls, may not be as telegenic as our host – good – maybe we’ll even get to see a woman in the woods occasionally.

Animal Planet – you can contact me by clicking the envelope icon on the top right of the page >grin<.

The genre where the fourth wall has alway driven me crazy are climbing shows. OK – I accept that you are way the heck up on the side of the Trango Towers or sumpin’, but who is holding the camera? Are they using the same climbing techniques? If so, isn’t that part of the story? If not, isn’t this a bit of a farce?

I wish I had a way to wrap this rant post up in a nice bow – I don’t – I’m off to run the dogs…

Abecedaria naturae

An interesting paper – The Republic of Codes – looks at artificicial languages, codes vs. ciphers, and the desire on the part of academics to find ways to communicate effectively in the aftermath of the Thirty Years War. I have to admit, some of this is a bit over my head – a semiotician, I’m not- but the general outline is very interesting, We meet our old friend John Wilkins and another key player in the Baroque Cycle, Gottfried Leibniz. Also making an appearance – Athanasius Kircher (aka The Last Man to Know Everything). There is a link to the Kircher Society in my blogroll.

Coincidentally, I’m reading a history of the Silk Road. The Nestorian Stele (mentioned in The Republic of Codes) pops up there in the context of religious and cultural flows along the trade route.

Charlie Stross has a great movie idea.

I’d see this movie in a minute.

Yep, it’s Zulu, with Zombies! Phalanxes of zombies carrying 20-foot-long spears! Zombies in war chariots! And a finale involving Harriers, helicopter gunships, and blowing shit up!

Unfortunately, the simplicity and fun factor would last a nanosecond in Hollywood. For those of you who don’t wish to click through – Harriers because the trapped soldiers are SAS.

Caught one!

I caught my cereus (aka orchid cactus) blooming. This one blooms at night for a single night. If you remember (aye, there’s the rub) you can see the enormous blossom – we’re talking a good 8 inches across – first thing in the morning. For your viewing pleasure:

Happy Kittinger Day!

Today is the anniversary of Joseph Kittinger’s third and highest parachute jump in 1960. Using a helium balloon, he reached an altitude of 31,300 meters; upon exiting the gondola, his speed peaked at something close to 618 mph. The film of the jump shows the curve of the earth and a sky that is quite black – he was a third of the way to the Karman Line (100 km up; the line that officially marks ‘space’). A couple clips, while I figure out how to embed videos into the blog: a short subject on Project Excelsior and a clip from the Discovery Channel showing the jump. Col. Kittinger is one of the unsung pioneers of the space age; prosit!

Update – Aug 16, 2012. In a classic case of link rot, both the above clips have been yanked from YouTube. Here are a couple others.

A newsreel piece:


There are a quite a few YouTube color clip assemblages with iffy soundtracks. This is not one of them:


Word of the month.


This is the best commentary on/reaction to the London arrests I’ve read (so far – top it, somebody).

Maybe it’s just, I cast my eyes back on the last century …

FDR: Oh, I’m sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we’re coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How’s that going to feel?

CHURCHILL: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We’ll be in the pub, flipping you off. I’m slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I’m sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.

US. NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike … NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!

… and I’m just a little tired of being on the wrong side of that historical arc.


To err is human.

To completely fubar something requires mid to upper management types and PowerPoint. I’ve sat through more than my share of mind-numbing bullet-point recitations – I tend to agree with Edward Tufte that PowerPoint has been, taken as a whole, a net loss to the sum of human knowledge. Crooked Timber’s John Holbo (he of the pony) has a great post on PowerPoint’s use and misuse in the Pentagon. It’s really quite chilling – slides as a substitute for orders. More info here.

stalin's ppt