Tuesday, July 09, 2024

New Squid Species

 We have no idea how many species of squid there are. The giant and colossal squids top 13 meters (allegedly a lot more - unproven, but fun to imagine), and more are discovered all the time. This one drew attention because, according to cephalopod author extraordinaire Danna Staaf, the eggs are twice the size of those in known species.   

THE classic giant squid drawing by Prof. A. E. Verrill.  

Monday, July 08, 2024

Shark Movies Good and Bad

 It's Shark Week!

Most of the stuff on TV this week isn't much more realistic than shark movies tend to be. Especially when you get to Megalodon, which of course they immediately do.  SPOILER: It's extinct.

A couple of movies I saw lately:

One of the better entries (or entrees?) is The Shallows. I don't know how realistic the shark's persistence is (it has a decaying whale carcass to munch on, why stalk Blake Lively?) and the final battle is REALLY silly. 

That out of the way, it's a terrific movie, with unrelenting tension and a superb performance by Lively. The director did something unusual in Hollywood but very smart here by keeping it to 80 minutes: he knew he couldn't stretch the confrontation out forever. 

One critic called it a Sports Illustrated photo shoot with a shark, but she did Lively a disservice. Sure the camera spends a lot of time focused on a lovely woman in a swimsuit, but she gets less sexy as the film goes on: unlike some stars who don't look convincing when they are "dirtied up" for a role, Lively (with help from the makeup artist) sells it: she's miserable and beat up and bloodied and sunburned and at one point near despair. 

Also, once she decides to fight, her McGuyvering with the few objects she can reach is fun to watch. It's not Jaws, but it ain't bad.

Then we have Under Paris. Another shark B movie, but you can't hate it, because it commits 100% to its idiotic premise, tossing off science-y explanations for everything in a relentless drive toward a furious feeding frenzy of an over the top finale. Everyone plays it straight and earnest and you root for both sides. This probably is not original with me, but why not call it "Chomps-Elysees?"

Just keep swimming...

Saturday, July 06, 2024

Review: "A Hunt for Justice" against wildlife poaching

 A Hunt for Justice: The True Story of an Undercover Wildlife Agent

Lucinda Delaney Schroeder

Lyons Press, 2006, 270pp

 A compelling account from a law enforcement branch most of us know little about. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has its own agents who often go undercover as hunters to bust poachers. This book centers on the author’s time in Alaska, with no way to call for help and an unreliable civilian informant partner, as she gathers evidence on a major poaching operation. The poachers are hunting guides who assure their clients a kill, even from a protected area or species, by any means necessary. That includes illegally exhausting and herding prey with airplanes and even doing the shooting and giving the client the credit.

We know, since she wrote the book, that Lucinda survives, but it’s VERY chancy, and the author’s unadorned but very effective writing keeps the tension up at all times. Lucinda's toughness, hunting skills, and ability to translate for disgruntled Spanish clients get her in the good graces of the ringleader, who she knows will kill her if she's discovered. The danger rises with the arrival of a new client - a man she once fined for poaching and who will recognize her if they meet.  She finally gets enough evidence and gets out of the hunting camp alive, elated: only to learn she has to get statements from Spanish and German clients of the illegal operation. They are back in Europe, with no reason to cooperate except she’s holding their trophies in the US. We get many more tense moments as Lucinda, who seems to exaggerate her authority a good bit to get the job done, wheedles and presses until she obtains the needed statements in Spain (Germany will not cooperate.)

She closes with a list of the jail time, fines, forfeited equipment, and forfeited trophies meted out as she – and the animals – finally get justice. It’s a very good book, still relevant today, by an incredibly courageous woman who gives us a window into the scale of poaching and the underfunded, outnumbered agents who try to police it.

Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at mattsciwriter@protonmail.com. Website: www.mattbilleauthor.com.

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction.
Watch for Matt's cryptozoological horror novel Death by Legend, coming soon from Hangar 1!

Book Review: Meet the first American spacewomen in THE SIX

Loren Grush

The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts

Scribner, 2023, 422pp.

 There’s a lot of history and intrigue surrounding the first American women to break the space barrier, and Grush’s book provides an outstanding exploration of it all. Grush deftly balances the astronaut’s personal lives and professional achievements, never losing sight of either., I learned more about Sally’s life in particular, both before and after her historic space flight and her nine years at NASA. While there are small errors like calling the T-38 trainer a “fighter,” or women in WWII flying "jets," they are few. Grush covers the astronauts’ selection, their often-surprised reaction to being picked, the sexism they encountered (not as bad as might have been expected from a fraternity made up mostly of fighter pilots, but still existed and had to face down, and encounters with a press corps that sometime asked idiotic questions. Grush follows each woman through her first spaceflight, with little-remembered highlights like surgeon Rhea Seddon “operating” with a bone saw to make the “flyswatter” to trip a switch on a recalcitrant satellite. The women prepared for space in Apollo-era suits that didn’t fit, in a buoyancy lab building with no private changing area, and with a gaggle of press and NASA handlers that swarmed around them like Texas mosquitos. One item I'd not read was the engineer who became so enamored of Judy Resnick that he ran out to chock the wheels of her T-38 after a trip. (That sounds humorous, but it got to the stalking level and official action was needed.) The women were actually aware that they were the pioneers, and the options for women coming after them depended on their performance. They drove themselves hard for perfection and volunteered for duties they thought would advance their progress toward flights.

Then came the Challenger accident, which killed one of the Six, Judy Resnick, and changed all their lives. Especially altered was Sally Ride’s, as she served on the Rogers Commission, helped bring the O-ring problem to light, and was, incredibly, “as a woman,” asked to pick the color for the cover of the final report. She went on to helm the Ride Report about NASA’s future and turn down requests to be NASA Administrator before leaving the agency for good.

As a space historian myself, I also appreciated Grush’s discussion at the end about the primary and secondary sources used in the book.

This is a first-rate book about a critical chapter in the history of space exploration.

Matt Bille is a historian and writer in Colorado Springs. His 2004 book The First Space Race chronicled the Sputnik-Explorer-Vanguard competition of the 1950s.