Category Archives: Cartoons

If You Have a Question About How the World Works

Last week some time a friend of mine sent me a youtube video from a guy called Captain Disillusion (whom I have never heard of until receiving the link) who had a very special guest on his myth debunking channel: it was Beakman!

56020If you are unfamiliar with Beakman let me bring you up to speed. There are many overlaps in production and what networks wanted was pretty similar, but it wasn’t–and isn’t– a Beakman’s World vs. Bill Nye The Science Guy world.  It goes way back to an earlier program called Watch Mr. WizardThat seems like a great place to start:

Don Herbert through a series of assistants taught kids in throughout the 1950s and early 60s. Watch returned briefly in 1971/72 but in 1983 Don Herbert had his own world with Mr. Wizard’s World which was the same format with new assistants.

Mr. Wizard’s World ran until 1990, but Herbert would live another 17 years to see his path well-traveled and extended. He died on June 12, 2007 just a month shy of his 90th birthday.

Something interesting happened in the 90s (if you actually lived through them at an impressionable age like I did, that is the understatement of the century).  Mr. Wizard’s World may have went off the air, but nature and television networks deplore a vacuum and low ratings.

I watched as much television as I could in the 90s. Admittedly that isn’t much since we had three network channels and Fox 29 if it was cloudy. Thankfully that connection improved by the time we got Fox Kids. I thought I was familiar with everything on network television and a saturday morning cartoon snob. Only recently was I introduced to Back to the Future: The Animated Series. I know you are probably thinking “Congratulations, Columbus you’ve discovered something thousands of people already knew about,” but bear with me here, this is important for science programming reasons.

The series was short-lived, consisting of only 2 seasons, but it is interesting for a variety of reasons. I was never into the Back to the Future movies or anything so maybe that is how I missed this. Or, more likely, it came on CBS opposite something I really liked. Either way, I have just recently discovered this thanks to a friend of mine in London (because I hadn’t even stumbled across it on the internet), and want to share a quick bit about how it works and what it means for the rest of the decade.

Each episode was bookended by live action segments with Dr. Emmett Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, setting up and reviewing the episode AND then explaining some principle of science related to what happened to them. I think it is doubly interesting for me since I am a historian of science to see the science and then a historical perspective and then the science again tied back into the episode, however loosely.

Here is the intro and the opening live segment.

I let it run into the narration for the cartoon to share some fun trivia on this: Even though Lloyd did the live action segments he, unlike Mary Steenburgen and a few others, did not provide the voice of his animated counterpart. The animated Doc Brown is expertly brought to life by the amazing voice talents of Dan Casttelaneta who you may recognize from a bajillion other sources, namely the Simpsons.

Now, the important part: The ending live segment with the science of the water test, more or less.

Did you recognize Doc’s lab assistant? Look again… I’ll wait. The white lab coat and the bowtie? That is Bill Nye in a non speaking, recurring role two years before he gets his own program. The animated Back to the Future ended in December of 1992 and Bill Nye The Science Guy’s debut was the following September. But, a year before something else exploded onto the science scene:

In September 1992 we all broke into Beakman’s World where we were allowed to take up residence until 1997. The show, which is based on a comic called You Can With Beakman and Jaxalso pays homage to Mr. Wizard’s World and Mr. Wizard himself in the form of two puppet penguins named Don and Herb.

 

Beakman's World Penguins Don and Herb

The program is as full of craziness as it is science and I absolutely loved it. From the Don King hair, to the neon lab coat to the giant lab rat with tattoos it was what I knew science to be and not what I had seen in the stuffy depictions of scowling scientists in the lab. It was fun, the same kind of fun I had when I was looking at bugs under the microscope or trying to figure out what kind of rock I found or what bird was making a particular noise. It was built around not just the experiments that you could perform at home (I made the sugar glass at least twice) but also viewer questions usually answered in a rapid fire round called “Beakmania!” (I am way prouder of that gif than I should be, but it took more than a few tries to get the timing right).

The series moved off of out local station before it ended and I had never seen the godawful season 4 until it reran on Netflix a couple years ago. It was okay, I honestly cannot stand the way they built the last assistant Phoebe (nothing against Senta Moses, but that seasons just got too 90s and too annoying). It was funny watching them again because I remembered episodes and experiments but I had somehow managed to morph Joey and Liza into one person and only ever remembered one person being their throughout the ones I had seen.

Josey, Lester, Bones, Beakman
Josey, Lester, Bones, Beakman
Bekaman's World Liza
Lester, Beakman, Liza

But what really made the show tick was the chemistry between the folks making it, the limitless guest characters played by the trio–Art Burn in his diner, Meekman, the school nurse, Woody Chipper, the sports announcers, the game show contestants–and, above all, a man in a giant rat suit. 46fac0f07be5a6c1e56affa072321cbb37542b64aa4ce9b670da5b6b270ca331_mediumimg5bgfDsRi

One of the other bits I really, *really*, enjoyed about Beakman was the “smokey door of history™” when famous folks would show up and talk about their stuff.

For instance:

I am working on cutting and collecting all of these because I use them when I teach the History of Science. They aren’t perfect, but they are memorable. I haven’t found and loaded it yet, but one of the earliest ones they did was on Maria Mitchell and her works with comets. This episode aired in 1994 and I was in graduate school for the second time in Spring of 2015 before I heard of her again.


A year following Beakman,  Bill Nye the Science Guy hit the airwaves on PBS. The closest PBS channel for us was out of Houston 120 miles away and just out of reach of our antenna so I was in high school before I ever saw my first episode of Bill Nye. Whose popularity made me an instant defender of Beakman and the gang.

Bill Nye is fun. But is had such a different feel than Beakman to me, it feels like, I dunno, safer fun. One of the biggest differences here is that Bill Nye is an actual scientist in real life and Paul Zaloom is a puppeteer and comedian.

The 90s were weird (again understatement). It was a decade of dueling doubles with two takes on the same premise: Beakman’s World/Bill Nye, Armageddon/Deep Impact, and Tombstone/Wyatt Earp to name a few off the top of my head.

One of the most interesting things about the Bill Nye/Beakman overlap is the show rules for The Science Guy explicitly pointing out things done in Beakman’s World (without saying the name) that his show would not do:

image

Number 3 and 4 specifically. I am not certain if number 2 is a dig on the BogusScope® or not.  I have never confirmed them as direct points of departure from Beakman, but I suspect they are. Incidentally I have an autographed copy of this, but it is framed and it photographs lousily.

Bill Nye’s show ran out in mid 1998, only 6 months after Beakman and company packed it in. Bill boasted 100 shows, Paul had only 91, but both of their impacts cannot be understated and should not be ignored. They continued a them of education a generation of kids to go out and *do* science, and better yet showed them how. I still use the how to make a fossil project with I talk to kids with the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum. This is far more than falling into the hashtag battles of #TeamBeakman or #TeamNye. I honestly believe these shows helped a ton of homeschool kids learn better science than they would have gotten otherwise. I like them both, I will always prefer Beakman to Bill. My wife had never seen Beakman’s World until we started watching it over dinner in 2014. We remain a house divided.

More instructors teach with Bill Nye Videos than Beakman. Maybe that is because they were easier to get and use coming from PBS and not our plebeian channels. To be completely fair in that sense, Bill’s shows are more thematically aligned and cohesive, but Beakman had one thing Bill could never equal and that was Lester the Rat.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 1.54.51 PM
We Miss You Mark Ritts.

I honestly don’t know where this leaves us. It is 2016, certain politicians believe Bill Nye is just a television host and he has debated the most famous creationist in the world. Bill is fighting the good scientific fight on GMOs and vaccines and such. We still need to educate kids on a level they can have to themselves. I was an ardent rule follower, but I always found Bill Nye just as stuffy as the scientists in books and film. It was Beakman who embodied what I felt about science and what it could do and what I could do with it. So, that is what I cherish, even above the terrible puns which I use every single chance I get. It was amazing to see Beakman back in character on youtube, making fun of the people that brought him there because they didn’t bother to learn how magnets work and “you don’t have to know how is was faked, to know that it is fake”

Great to see you again Paul.

Zaloom!


 

New Comics Old Dinosaurs

I am not 100% certain when these posts took the hard turn towards popular culture. My working theory is that it just happened when I started paying attention and that the universe wasn’t just waiting to plop all the ink and paint references to the prehistoric into my currently-reading-for-exams lap. Either way we get another few bits into the newest incarnation of the titular villains of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Universe, Rocksteady and Bebop. There are far more things to be said about the Turtles in Time story arc, or even the triceratops aliens from the old series, the cartoon, and toy line. There was even Manmoth a poor caveman who had the misfortune of being mutated into a mammoth.

Space Triceratops
Space Triceratops $80+ on Amazon now!
Manmoth, among others
Manmoth and Armaggon who, incidentally, appears in the new video game

But we are talking about the newest of the new. Throughout the month of June IDW publishing is releasing a story arc titles Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything which I think has been their character description since their inception into TMNT canon. It is a time traveling scepter story which means we must. see. dinosaurs. I think it is federal law or something. (this is not a complaint!)

Interlocking covers tweeted by artist Nick Pitarra
Interlocking covers tweeted by artist Nick Pitarra and colorist Michael Garland

The first issue dropped yesterday but it was raining when I got off work so I didn’t take the bike across town the to the comic shop, so I am a day late to getting it. Oddly enough the preview for Issue #2 was published by Comics Alliance today. So I will add a panel from that in here as well. The covers all mash together as seen in the handy work of artist Nick Pitarra (@NickPitarra) and colorist Michael Garland (@MichaelGarland), who currently has it as his twitter banner. There are a ton of variant ones that I won’t see in the flesh, but the thing starts out at the Natural History museum so I have to talk about it here.

The turtles are ninja-ing there way into a new exhibit at the natural history museum featuring a strange mummy. The fact that Donatello is the one narrating just adds to my enjoyment as he has always been my favorite, even though he isn’t the turtle I am most like by default.

Nothing says Natural History Museum like a Dinosaur skeleton
Nothing says Natural History Museum like a Dinosaur skeleton

The preview ends setting up the cliffhanger of not only the Cretaceous humanoid mummy bit two giant bipedal creatures that look like a rhinoceros and a warthog. The explanations following that panel in Issue #1 is full of enough timey-wimey stuff to break your brain (it happened to Michelangelo) and their are time-masters that we’ve met before (if you’ve read the turtles in time series you had to see it coming, right?)

Layout 1

Then we see the duo and their new-old (like Cretaceous old) boss riding down on unsuspecting who knows what (it is in the preview you can check it out yourself, I am not spoiling it) on the proper means of pillage transportation during the Cretaceous–dinosaurs. Rocksteady in particular seems to be riding a therizinosaurus with its enormous claws and a skull of something else as a helmet. Bebop is on an ankylosaur that has a necklace and a nose ring. So that is where we stand at the moment. Issue #2 comes out next Wednesday and who knows where or when we go from there, but there are more dinosaurs on the way and we know at some point everyone’s favorite imbecilic henchmen have to lose their skin in order to be fossilized and on display back at the Natural History Museum in 2016.

Bebop08

The plot thickens enough that the last two(?) issues actually go along with the IDW TMNT board game that was on Kickstarter earlier this year. If you backed you will get the play through scenarios from the comics, but you will get it in the comics either way.

Winston Zeddemore was the First Black* Guy I Knew

Winston Zeddemore
Winston Zeddemore (all images are screengrabs from the collected series unless otherwise noted)

I am currently working through some visual culture/studies ideas on how things shape our relationship with the social order and more basically the world around us. Without getting caught up in all the theories and manners of looking at things, it has gotten me to thinking more about something I said off the cuff to a friend of mine back over the summer when and after some of the more ridiculous things began happening where I attend University:

Aside/tangent/parenthetical background:

If you have read the previous post on the Ghostbusters you won’t be surprised that it probably had something to do with that and it does. I was born in 1982 in a tiny farm/hamlet town that was filled with people whose commute to work was on (a general) average an hour. It was also a town composed completely of white people. My family tree consists of nearly every name on the mailboxes in the town. Some of this is in the “about me” section on here, but I will string it along here again to help me order my thoughts. We had an elementary school through the 5 or 6th grade depending on the number of students in a given year or three, then we were bussed 16 miles to attend Jr High and High school in the next town. There were 18 kids in my kindergarten class. We were the teacher’s first class and she had graduated with my mother (the guy that later became my high school principal graduated with them as well. We won’t get that far, but it is worth mentioning).  I was in Jr High before I ever had a class with someone who wasn’t white. We’ll leave that here and get back to the main story.

My friend and I were talking about the television shows we grew up with and what looked like and reminded us of our childhood. He was a Navy kid and spent his impressionable years in Japan so DragonBall Z was his. Mine, as I have belabored the point was The Real Ghostbusters and Scooby Doo. Both were the first things I can remember that were longer than the 6 minutes of Coyote and Roadrunner or the Hanna Barbera cartoons. Scooby Doo was in syndication (until a Pup Named Scooby Doo) but Ghostbusters was new. It also had something different in the main line up: a black guy.

Real Ghostbusters
Slimer, Peter, and Winston

We talked through it for awhile and I have been milling it over for a couple months now to make sure that what I said was indeed true: Winston Zeddemore was the first black person I “knew.” I use the quotations here because how well can you really know a cartoon character? Ghostbusters started airing when I was 4 and ran on network television until the early 90s. I don’t remember seeing the goofy Slimer/professor Dweeb things at all.

That all being said, I wasn’t aware at the time that this was the first non white person that I “knew.” If I went with my mother to the grocery store I would see people that didn’t look like me, but there was no conscious separation of us and them. There was an older guy that mowed the field at our elementary school, who I would see every other week on a tractor, but there were no daily life contact. Later I got to know James (the tractor driver) really well when we would work on the schools equipment for him in the auto mechanics shop.

Growing up like that really shapes the way you see the world. The holotype I had that structured how I thought of an entire population that I had no relationship with, was a cartoon character based on a film character. That is a powerful thing, and I have droned on through this because I believe that this happens more often that we think, and not always with such a positive representative. My school mascot was a warrior, and to this day Spirit Week consists of at least one day where the students fashion headdresses to wear. (in addition to all the bad Indian puns that were put on pep rally posters).

When this is all you know (or is the sum of your experiences), especially in a time when there were no facebooks and twitters and social change hashtags or even someone near you to offend it creates this world  of “that’s just the way it is.” What I learned of the Civil War was the northern aggression narrative and the local cemetery in town has more than one CSA foot stone belonging to my ancestors. I took one of those ye olde tyme western photos at the fair when I was 10 dressed as a confederate general with a rebel flag backdrop. I wore a rebel flag belt buckle for years, and even have one on my high school ring (wherever it is). I knew no one it offended for years, as I began life in college and started making friends with people that I didn’t grow up with, that changed, and so did my understanding of things.

Egon and Winston
Egon and Winston (scan from my own animation cel from The Real Ghostbusters)

If you’re wondering what the point is other than “white kid can remember first black person he knew” it is that there are still a lot of rural schools in the US and there are still a lot of extremely homogenous towns, and when those kids leave those towns for college or life, it might be the first time they have experienced not only the “other” but the voice, the protests, the anger, and the offense of that other. I work with special populations on campus, which generally means first generation students and underrepresented in graduate school. I am a McNair Scholar alum, both as a scholar and working as Graduate Mentor for the two years I was working on my Master’s degree.  It has been interesting to see first gen students adapt to the new environment of university both where I am now and my previous university.

It has also been interesting to see from afar kids that have never seen a brown person to suddenly be dropped into a room with 40 varying shades and accents, and then find out that some of them are smarter than they are. There are a lot of things in place to help international students adjust, but there aren’t that many (that I am aware of) in place to work with those I only see the “other” in town sorts. The first thing they usually hear is something about “white privilege” which is never explained and all they know is they aren’t privileged in any way and all sides get defensive and any chance at meaningful conversation shuts down.  Everything we are doing to address race in this country is falling short failing. I don’t have the answer, the only suggestion I can propose that I have seen work in small groups (e.g. the McNair Scholars I have worked with) is to start focusing on what makes us the same rather than what makes us different.

Even the language that we use is up for argument about things. I have gone back and forth with the title of this, and the descriptors of  people in order to bother the fewest number of people. I have worked with people who prefer to be called African-American and some that prefer to be called black. I have seen one of each get into a very loud and heated argument on a job site about how African one was–both were born in Texas. I have also been at a drug testing center (for employment) where the black lab tech called this tall lanky white guy back up to fix his paperwork because he had checked the “African-American” box. I will forever remember his reply: in a heavy accent he said, “No, that is correct, I am from South Africa, I am an African-American, you aren’t.” Make of that what you will. There is also the trouble here of growing up with the hymn “Red and Yellow, Black and White, They are precious in his sight,” which I have seen changed to “every color every race—I can’t remember the rest but I don’t think it rhymes with “Jesus’ face.”

The Real Ghostbusters
The whole gang

The bottom line to all this is to not dismiss something as trivial in your life until you have had time to examine it and see if it really was trivial. What came out as a joke about Winston being the first black guy I knew, actually led me down a long path of talking with my friends of all ethnicities about their experiences and trying to understand where my own mental expectations of things came from. I think I am lucky in the sense that I have recognized that while my creation was based on what someone else created ( the derivative character for the cartoon based on a film) the organization around that mental construct was mostly my own (as far as I can tell) and not because I wholesale accepted what everyone around me was saying I should think about people.

When I finally did see the Ghostbusters movies Winston was the most like his animated self. Remember, I saw the cartoon first was a little let down by some of the movie versions of the others. Winston was the everyman character in both. Ernie Hudson became the “real” holotype for my characterization because it did not conflict with my mental world of what it meant to be “black.” Through it all now, I constantly wonder what the modern equivalent could be for today’s kids, the seeds of my entire notion of a significant part of the population in my country were based on a character created by Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis, played by Ernie Hudson, and then condensed (caricatured?) for a Saturday morning cartoon show. I suppose the whole point to this might be something like, “If this isn’t an example of how powerful popular culture can be (and a reason to study and take these things seriously) I don’t know what is.”



*I am aware that my use of “black” and not “African-American” or “people of color” or  other acronym may upset some but to be true to the point and expression of growing up and offering my thoughts as I have made and seen them this is the best I can do. I did not live in a world of African-Americans or People of Color, I lived in a world where the people who were not white, Indian, or Mexican were black. Or worse.

It All Started With a Tweet

Actually it was the reply to a tweet. The one below in fact. Suddenly, going through twitter in the morning before getting out of bed changed the trajectory of the entire summer and, in all honesty, may have helped my reconnect with a very long forgotten piece of myself. I’ve used the analogy before, but in this case I very much feel like Columbus who has discovered something that thousands of people already knew about. The Ghostbusters cartoon, that is The Real Ghostbusters, had a comic.

Nessie is a ghost
Nessie is a ghost
No, really.
No, really.

So it goes, that April 19th began a tireless internet search for any format of any of these comics I could find. I lived for the ghostbusters cartoon when I was a kid. I saw the series before the movie and was always a bit bummed that Egon did not look the same in the movie. If I ever had a television hero or role model as such, it was Egon. Cartoon Egon. I can’t tell you how hard I tried to get my hair to roll like that. Incidentally it was the late 80s and early 90s and I did have the rat-tail too.

Personal collection of animation cells
Personal collection of animation cells

Not a single person I knew was into comic books when I was a kid. To be fair I grew up mostly around adults, but still I don’t remember classmates bringing any to school or whatever. The first one I bought was an Uncanny X-men that was in the magazine section of the grocery store (Brookshire Brothers is its name), because I had been watching the animated series on Fox Kids on Saturday mornings.

I kept up with the story arc until at some point in Jr. High school, I was made to get rid of my collection of two large Nocona boot boxes full of comics, by this time X-men, Ninja Turtles, and Wolverine because they were “a fire hazard.” I gave them to the one person I knew had comics and as far as I know he still has them all to this day.

When I tried to get back into them later when I had my own place that I wasn’t concerned with pyromaniac comics burning down, I found that the single story lines I had followed had been split into seemingly limitless different arcs and I absolutely hated it. I didn’t pick up a comic again until this year.

The original run, drawn and written true to the cartoon are a thing of beauty. Not far into the run, there is Egon pointing out the debates on the warm-bloodedness of dinosaurs. That was neat enough, but when I got to the issue that had the reference to Symmes Hollow Earth theory I was hook. I am a historian of science (specifically earth and field sciences, geology, paleontology, and archaeology) so it was fascinating to see  that obscure reference in a comic from 1988 aimed at kids. I now have an enlargement of that panel on my office wall.

Discussing the finer details about dinosaurian blood temperature
Discussing the finer details about dinosaurian blood temperature
The Hollow Earth Theory
The Hollow Earth Theory

In addition for finally rounding up all the original US comics and digitizing them, I lucked on to a fellow from the UK selling the first 100+ of the UK Mag comics. I have about 15 of them digitized, but they are coming along. That aside, something interesting started showing up in the google searches for Ghostbusters comics–(and here we have the second voyage of Columbus) there were new ones.

They were new, but they weren’t new. They are brilliant. They are absolutely everything that a fan could possibly want in a 21st century rendition of the franchise. I hate to admit just how long it took me to get used to the newly drawn characters specifically because I love all the artwork and the artist Dan Schoening (@Dapperpomade) is such a great guy and a must follow on Twitter if not for interaction then for his sneak peak/previews (including some really neat post-it art).

That is the "Rookie" from the video game.
That is the “Rookie” from the video game. (all images are copyright of IDW Publishing and are used here to highlight and review the work where they are originally located. no infringement is intended and they are used for educational purposes (secondary to praise))
The Twinkie
The Twinkie

There could be a full manual written on just the easter eggs and sly references to other incarnations of the Ghostbusters that he includes in the series. When I started reading the series (that is now more than a couple years old) the appearance of Belushi as Ray’s Dreamworld Virgil pretty much squashed any doubts I had about where this was going. The writing, masterfully executed by Erik Burnham (@Erikburnham) brings everything together in a way that make every single issue enjoyable every single time you read one.

It's the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
and I feel...
and I feel…

What I think I love the most amongst all this stuff that many of you have been enjoying for years is the fact that it does the very opposite of the thing that turned me away from comics all those years ago. Instead of splitting stories into backstories and alternate universes and riding relative dimensions to some weird end, the IDW publishing series is tying in everything. That is everything. The cartoons–yes, plural, even that weird one made for teens is represented, the movies, the video games, it is all coming together and that, for me, is a nice bit of Ray Stantz cosmological symmetry.

So much goodness
So much goodness

They, along with Tom Waltz (@TomWaltz) produced the crossover to rule them all: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ghostbusters. (I don’t want to leave the colorist Luis Antonio Delgado out either, the stuff pops on the page and looks amazing on a retina display iPad, Luis doesn’t have a twitter that I am aware). God, how I wish this would have been done when I was a kid, because the very UN-esque agreement that my mother made me submit to in order to get Ninja Turtle toys was to make room for them by getting rid of my ghostbusters toys. That this even exists is a tribute to humanity’s greatness. I am telling you, t is golden record in space worthy.

Even when interests mesh, it isn't a perfect 1:1 and that makes it perfect
Even when interests mesh, it isn’t a perfect 1:1 and that makes it perfect
Mikey asks the important questions
Mikey asks the important questions

Every page has comes with something like this. Which, of course, has led to backtracking to Tom Waltz recent runs with Ninja Turtles proper and it doesn’t disappoint either, but that is a thought for another time.

Currently they are running a 4 part Ghostbusters Get Real, wherein the cartoon ghobstbusters have crossed over into the new/real/comic universe.  Never before have I wanted to hit up a Comic Con and get anything signed before, but this series has me looking at future locations.

Get Real #'s 1 & 2
Get Real #’s 1 & 2

The third one is out in a couple weeks and will feature Egon on the cover, so I am more than a little excited for that. The story is running true to all forms too. The best news comes that they are also working on a Ghostbusters Annual for the end of this year and a full new series (this will be Vol. 3) for 2016 along with a full published Tobin’s Spirit guide. There is really much, much more to say about just how wonderful all of this is and most especially for me as it recaptures a lot of what I was before life really got in the way. It also doesn’t hurt that I am finding it as I am working on my PhD research. A quick read through of one or two issues is a welcome break and recharge from digitizing thousands of WPA letters and funding, locality, worker records, and bureaucratic paperwork. I will, with all sincerity but these guys in my acknowledgements when the dissertation is finished.

The Ant and the Aardvark, er, um Anteater

   My apologies to my reader(s) about the long drought of blog material.  Many people I know would say this was just a time to gather information with which to wow my readers with; this however, is not the case.  Moving, class, and money have all gotten in the way of actually sharing points to ponder with the world at large.  Hopefully, when I get my laptops repaired, or my desktop close enough to a wifi station to access the internet, the posts will take on some sort of rhythm and actually combine to make some kind of tangible, coherent thought phase. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

     I have taken some constructive criticism from one semi-loyal reader who possesses the attention span of a gerbil.  With that in mind, I will try and make these nature musings more curt and to the point with brevity.  Again, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

      Edentates have always fascinated me, and anyone interested in life should look into their habits and lifestyles.   They are one of the larger enigmas in the fossil record due to their lack of teeth.  The great thing about studying mammalian fossils is that the teeth are the hardest part of the organism, and therefore more likely to become fossilized.  The beauty of that luck is that mammalian teeth are extremely diagnostic.  Whole species and some genera have been classed based on teeth alone.  Anteaters have no teeth.  Their skull ends with a long bony tube that holds their tongue.  So the anteater fossil record is pretty sparse.  That is not what I want to tell you today.  I want to clear up a little misunderstanding that toy companies, among many others have about anteaters and aardvarks.

      I like odd things, and this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.  So I went looking for a plush anteater.  I found two, one is huge, for stuffed animal proportions.  He is about two feet long, grey with the signature black stripe across his side.  The tag in his ear is filled with information regarding “The Anteater.” This information includes habitat, diet, etc.  This larger anteater follows the normal studies of the Anteater:  South and Central America, ants, grubs, etc., one pup that rides on its mothers back for nearly a year, and all that other cute cuddly information that one needs to know when purchasing a plus 22″ anteater.

Large anteater Plush Toy

     I bought a smaller one as well, to put on my desk at work. Same body style, about half the size, this one is brown instead of grey.  The tag conveniently contains information on “The Aardvark.”  African savanna habitat, nearly the same diet though, young, etc.  So now everyone that buys this particular plush toy will receive the wrong idea of the Anteater, or Aardvark.

small “aardvark” plush toy 

     This confusion stems back to the 60s when the DePatie-Freleng team added The Ant and the Aardvark  to their Pink Panther lineup.

Screen Capture from the DVD 

     Innocently enough, all the write-ups reveal that this show follows the life of an “aardvark” chasing an ant.   No harm, no foul, right?  In this case, and I am not expecting great biology from cartoon maker, there is a bit to be confused about.  Do not get me wrong I absolutely love this cartoon and Depatie-Freleng works in general, but this has got some people screwed up in the general knowledge sector.  I present to you the following:

Giant Anteater
The Aardvark

    Which of these guys does Aardvark most resemble?  Exactly.  Arguments may be made that he is an amalgam of both species.  He has the anteater’s long snout, but is not as furry, perhaps he is covered in (blue?) coarse fur. Most of the cartoons take place in Africa, or a savannah like setting. He is drawn with teeth, but he can also talk so that might be irrelevant.  The list goes on and on of differences between the two, aardvarks are nocturnal, anteaters are not. Aardvarks have teeth, anteaters do not. Except that one from Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital.

Screenshot from Kingdom Hospital

      The toothed God-like anteater of Stephen King’s psyche is not that made up. Horror film enthusiast will remember the human form of this anteater was a pale individual with an Ankh necklace. This is pretty interesting because there is a group of individuals who propose that the Egyptian God Set was depicted as, at least, part aardvark.

     There are so many other things to consider when studying both species here, but I hope this short primer will reveal that the confusion over anteaters and aardvarks goes way back and is prominent in even successful ventures.  The confusion expounds exponentially when arboreal anteaters are introduced to the discussion as well as “common” names given to species around the world, “antbear” is one that falls on the aardvark as well as the anteater. Even the binomial nomenclature can sometimes be a misnomer. The giant anteater is known as the Myrmecophaga tridactyla, Greek for “three-fingered ant-eater” drawing on its prominent “three toes.”  The anteaters have five digits on each foot.

     All this being said, I hope that it does not take the magic out of cartoons, or a movie, or anything else.  What I hope it does is that it might draw your attention to things as they are not really being what they are, and that if something seems strange to look into it farther.  I have found that most times, the truth that I find is many times more fascinating than any of the mistakes that are represented.

   I would like to leave you with what started me on this strange, pointless quest: here is the pilot episode of The Ant and the Aardvark: (The Ant and the Anteater, just doesn’t roll off the tongue with the same ring, so kudos to Depatie and Freleng.)

The Great Northern Penguin and other bird brains

      There are no penguins in the arctic, at least not anymore.  In the 1960s Robert Silverberg wrote a hat trick of books about natural history and science.  Funny thing, when I ordered them from Amazon they came discarded from Jr. High libraries.  After reading two of them I realized that Jr. High students must have been capable of much higher degrees of thinking than the standard secondary children are forced to endure today.  They are written in a plain spoken and easy to understand manner, that in no way detracts from their scholarly contribution to knowledge.  But enough about the state of education in the 21st century, back to the northern penguins.

     The penguins of the north are more commonly known as the Great Auk.  This flightless bird was nearly 3 feet tall and weighted in a bit over ten pounds.  Early European explorers found them a very convenient food source.  See where this is going?

     Nomenclature has always been terribly interesting to me, and these are no exceptions.  According to one story recounted by Silverberg says the fishermen of Brittany gave the bird a Celtic name, pen-gwyn, which translates to “white-head.” Others argue that it comes from the Latin pinguis which means fat.  A third school of thought has something to do with pinioning which basically means making a bird unable to fly.  Either way they name took hold and was reason enough, according to Silverberg, for Sir Frances Drake and other voyagers in the late sixteenth century, to call the different black and white flightless seabirds “southern penguins”

    They eventually became rare on the rocky Islands of the Northern Atlantic where they would breed.  Silverberg says that between 1833 and 1844 they were systematically removed from the Island of Eldey off Iceland. One by one brought back and sold to some eager Museum representative.

    One paragraph from the book I will repeat here in full. (I take some interest in whether this is the first time Silverberg’s work has been uploaded in a blog but that is neither here nor there:

On June 4, 1844, three fishermen named Jon Brandesson, Sigurdr Islefesson, and Ketil Ketilsson made a trip to Eldey.  They had been hired by an Icelandicbird collector named Carl Siemsen, who wanted auk specimens.  Jon Brandssonfound an auk and killed it.  Sigurdr Islefesson found another and did the same.  KetilKetilsson had to return empty-handed, because his two companions had just 
completed the extinction of the Great Auk. 
(p. 94, The Auk, the Dodo, and the Oryx. Robert Silverberg, 1967) 
     As short as that was I feel that I should offer you a twofer here.  For some readers this means you can stop here and come back later, for the rest of the story. (only without Paul Harvey)
   Per request I dug back through some posted articles to find something interesting on crows, magpies, ravens, etc.  Not hard, these guys are more than meets the eye. That does not mean they turn into monster trucks or tanks and attack one another. But, that they are pretty good problem solvers. 
   I am going to this the lazy way and post the links for the studies.  I have other things, which are more pressing for my education, even if they are extremely less interesting than this blog. Hopefully that changes soon, but whatever.  
   Back in May of 2009 Rebecca Marelle reported for the BBC about Rooks making tools. There are a couple of videos in the article.  Basically it shows rooks using tools, not unlike the chimps using grass to catch termites, and you know how we all swoon over chimp termite catching. 
    
   Rooks are part of the corvids, the same group as new caledonian crows. Both of which are known for their tool use prowess. This Sciencedaily article reveals just how well the crows can use tools, and how many they can use at a time.   Apparently they can use up to three tools in proper sequence without being trained.  This is similar to another article I read in BBC knowledge where they could choose.  There was one straw, too short to reach the food in a wooden cage, and another straw long enough, but behind another cage like barricade. The birds used the short straw to get the long one, and then use the long one to get the food.  
    Another article about rooks show them actually making tools. Again back in 2009 this study shows rooks making a hook to get food from a graduated cylinder looking device.  
   Maybe Aesop was right, maybe they even use rocks to raise the water level to drink.  Food for thought.  I leave you with another tidbit I read in BBC knowledge but cannot find a link to.  Magpies have a self awareness at least on par with some mammals.  Most bird will attack a reflection of themselves.  Exceptions in this case would be parakeets who love the company of their reflection and play with it affectionately.  Magpies in the study were given the “dot test.” I am unsure the technical name for this test but they place a small colored (usually red) disc sticker on the bird and then present the subject with it’s reflection.  The magpies to a man (bird) all attempted to remove the colored discs from themselves. They recognize that they were the bird in the looking glass.  Cognitive abilities. Amazing to watch, too.  
    I will leave this mostly scientific and scholarly post with two of the best examples of how intelligent magpies can be: 
 Finally one on the teamwork prowess and brotherhood that unites crows everywhere: