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Archive for August, 2008

What’s in a Name?

Story seed 46,788, from the New York Times, August 22, this story, as reported by Pam Belluck and Sara Rimer.

…tired…

Home as of 6:18 local.

Ugh.

Would rather not do that again any time soon, please.

Thank you.

I am Extraordinarily Delayed

It’s now 01:26 in the morning. I’m still at Gate D25 at McCarren Airport in Las Vegas.

The plane that is suppose to take me and Matthew Clark back to Portland hasn’t left the ground yet. If Alaska Airlines is to be believed – and right now their credibility is, shall we say, lacking – our 9:25pm fight will depart at 4:00am.

My not upset state is rapidly eroding.

I am Delayed

I’m in Las Vegas, at McCarran Airport.

I have been at McCarran Airport for the last four hours.

I will be here – according to the latest information from Alaskan Airlines’ website – another three hours before my flight departs.

Just thought I’d share that. The difference between getting home at 2:30 in the morning and 4:30 in the morning is entirely academic; Tuesday is now terminally screwed.

Which is a pity, because, y’know, I had plans for Tuesday.

Honestly, though, I’m not really upset. Annoyed, yes; inconvenienced, certainly. But not really upset. Not sure why.

Go figure.

Man vs. Survivorman

What follows is something I started way back around Emerald City ComicCon, and never got around to completing. Now that I have the novel behind me (relatively — there’s a minor rewrite to be done on a couple of sections, but I expect to have that in hand by the beginning of September (at which point I intend to post the first chapter or two on the blog, here), I wanted to finish it. It’s mostly rambling, but, hell, if that’s not what blog is for, I don’t know what is.

Fair warning – this, like just about everything else I ever post here, is my opinion, nothing more.

So, Jen and I are in a hotel room in Seattle, Dashiell’s asleep, and the only thing on television that isn’t patently annoying is Man vs. Wild on the Discovery channel. As a whole, our family spends a lot of time on the Discovery Channel. Elliot is a huge fan of MythBusters, Jen and I quite like Dirty Jobs, and even Dashiell enjoys Survivorman.

But at this moment, none of those shows are on.

Instead, I’m listening to Bear Grylls tell me how dangerous Namibia is and how perilously close to to death he stands at nearly every turn. And all I can think is, “you’ve got a fucking FILM CREW with you.”

With this in mind, I did some digging on Edward “Bear” Grylls. He seems like a well-intentioned fellow. He’s got the bona fides to back up his claims. He does loads of charitable work in the UK. And he clearly has been to places I will never see but would love to visit (much like my travel-hero Michael Palin), and found himself in situations (intentionally or not) that I likewise have every reason to believe I never will, and has endured, if not survived them. I do not diminish his accomplishments. Anyone who comes back from a parachute accident that resulted in three broken thoracic vertebrae (and Thank You Interweb for having a website out there called “spineuniverse.com”) to summit Everest two years later is someone with more discipline, will, and courage than I.

But damn it if the man doesn’t annoy me something fierce.

And then there’s Les Stroud.

Like Bear Grylls, you can find Stroud on the Discovery Channel. Like Bear Grylls, Stroud gets deposited in survival situations that would reduce most folks to a torrent of tears and whimpers prior to curling into a ball to die. Like Grylls, Stroud manages on a bare handful of equipment (“…and my trusty multi-tool, never go anywhere without it…”), wits, education, and improvisation. Like Grylls, more often than not, he begins his scenarios without food or water. A consistent highlight of Survivorman episodes is the “how will Les start a fire this time?” riff.

The difference – and to me it is a hugely substantial difference – is that Stroud does all this while lugging 40-plus pounds of film equipment, and recording everything he does by himself. And while he has a support crew, a team that drops him at his start-point and then establishes a base-camp, they’re not with him. What Stroud does, he does alone.

The format of Stroud’s show, Surivorman, for those of you who’ve never seen it, is fairly simple. He picks a location – say, the Kalahari – spends a week or so (off-camera) learning survival skills specific to the environ from the locals, and then gets dumped – sometimes quite literally – in the middle of the location with his camera gear and whatever his producers decide he gets to have with him. He then has 7 days to “make it back to civilization” where civilization, depending on where he starts, has a variety of differing definitions. He’s not suicidal; he brings a sat phone with him, and, I suspect, a radio, for use in emergencies. On at least one occasion, both have failed him.

He doesn’t always make it back in the time allotted. Sometimes the production crew picks him up on his way back. Sometimes he packs it in early, calls it quits, admitting defeat.

If you can’t tell already, I prefer Survivorman to Man vs. Wild enormously. The thing I’ve been wrestling with is trying to articulate why.

It’s not simply that I feel, on some fundamental level, that Grylls is cheating. I recognize that the danger he’s in is legitimate, that, when he tells me that he could die doing whatever it is he is doing, he’s not shining me on. He absolutely could, I acknowledge that. I also acknowledge that if he slips and falls while climbing the 50 meter rock face, his crew will medi-vac him to safety. He may well be screwed for life, but they’re there, and knowing that must provide him some sense of security, and certainly influences his (in my opinion) occasional recklessness.

But using the same example, Stroud would do that climb at least twice. Once for the camera set-up, then for the shot, and then, potentially, he’d do it a third time for the break-downs. And if he set cameras at both the bottom and the top of the climb, there’d be a fourth trip, as well. And even with two camera set-ups above and below, he’d most likely make the “filming” climb wearing a body rig that would film close-ups of him as he did it.

And then, he’d only make the climb if he felt it was his only route.

But there’s more than that. It’s in the titles of the respective shows. Grylls is picking a fight; he is deliberately provoking nature, and then gleefully biting the heads off snakes “because you’ve got to keep your energy up.” What Grylls is offering is Bread and Circuses, gladiator combat, and everything about his show promotes this – the music, the editing, his narration, his choices. There’s an element of showing off in Man vs. Wild that I find off-putting, very much a sense of “hey, look at me!” But the fix is in, and that’s where he loses me.

Whereas Stroud is, I think, at his heart, both a teacher and a student. Survivorman presents itself, to an extent, as a “what to do if this happens to you” show, although I can’t imagine much of the audience would ever find themselves needing his specific knowledge. He’s testing himself, sure, but rather than confronting nature, as Grylls does, Stroud seems to always move with a profound respect for where he is, what he’s doing. Both men kill animals to survive. Stroud sets traps, and his delight at having a meal after five days with nothing to eat is apparent. There are episodes of Man vs. Wild where, I swear, it seems as if Grylls seems to kill anything he can lay hands on, dramatically and luridly rip off a chunk of its flesh, and then move on. Stroud wastes nothing, and when he does kill, he stresses, each and every time, that he dislikes doing so, and that he only does so as a means to survive.

The morality, if I can use the word, of the differing situations is, perhaps, questionable. One wonders if the thesis of Survivorman is any more relevant than that of Man vs. Wild. Grylls purports to teach means of survival as much as Stroud does, just in case you or I should ever find ourselves stranded in Siberia, for instance, and needing to urinate on our own survival knife to free it from where it has frozen to our flesh. But the fact is certain that both men are quite intentionally putting themselves into these situations for entertainment as much as education.

Maybe that’s my problem. With Stroud, the education is entertaining. With Grylls, the entertainment is occasionally educational.

Interesting List

Over at the Counterterrorism Blog, Madeleine Gruen and Frank Hyland have been working on a series about the threat of terrorism in the United States. I’m linking to it not so much to be alarmist, but because it’s an interesting list (though my understanding of at least two of the incidents they site differs strongly from their assertions).

Regardless of the accuracy, I do think it’s worth remembering that, if the people doing the CT work around the globe are doing it well, we’ll never hear about it. The failures make the news; the successes far less so.

Final Crisis: Revelations #1 came out Wednesday, and Philip and I couldn’t be happier with it. From what I’ve heard, reaction has been pretty positive, which is always nice. I’m particularly happy for Philip, because he really worked his ass off on those pages, and I think it shows. Between him and Jonathan Glapion’s inks, I’m hard-pressed to think of another book I’ve worked on that has been this undeniably pretty.

So with that in mind, here’s another piece of Philip and Jonathan’s work

Modern War (with apologies to Bowie)

This article, by John Markoff, just popped up on my feed from the New York Times. It’s already been documented that the Russians cyberlocked the Georgians, that’s not newsworthy. That the attacks began as early as July 20th is interesting, I think.

It certainly adds another wrinkle to the who-started-it question (with apologies to both kali921 and parakkum for the gross over-simplification).

Daniel Schorr

If you don’t know who he is, you should make a point of finding out.

Then you should listen to this.

Don’t Crash The Ambulance

On a (somewhat) lighter note, I’ve been listening to Mark Knopfler‘s Shangri-La a lot of late, and the song, “Don’t Crash The Ambulance” has become a recent favorite.

But hell if I can figure out what it actually means, y’know? It’s like a little one-act play, and I’ve got all sorts of theories as to who is saying what to whom, but here, I open it up for public discourse.

(And yes, I’ve heard the Bush Sr./Bush Jr. theory, but I think that’s rather…pedestrian, I guess, and it doesn’t sit well to me. Too literal, I suppose.)

Lyrics below the cut

And As Noted

Russia has “cyberlocked” Georgia.

So you can go here in an attempt to get Georgian news coming out of the country.

If’n that sort of thing interests you.