Truth in Movies

TRUTH IN MOVIES
Michael Ellis

OK I admit it, I am one of those people who look for mistakes in movies. It’s not hard. Remember Moonstruck with Cher. That was a fun movie but what planet were they on? There seemed to be a full moon every night. Here on Planet Earth the moon appears to be full for only 2 nights, 3 at most. Other recent mistakes I have noticed: a California quail calling in Korea, a 12,000′ mountain in Pennsylvania, a turkey vulture screaming like a red-tailed hawk, poisonous garter snakes but the worst of all is ANDRE, the story of a Harbor Seal, and it is played by a California Sea Lion. These are two entirely different marine mammals. Seals evolved in the north Atlantic and share a common ancestor with modern day skunks. The sea lions more properly known as eared seals, evolved in the North Pacific they share a common ancestor with modern day bears. In evolving in a marine environment both groups have undergone similar modifications and now superficially resemble one another. This is known as co-evolution. However, Mr. Director of Andre, there are some major differences.
The eared seals or sea lions have, guess what? External ear flaps, true seals on the other hand do have ears but no flaps only holes in the side of their heads. Sea lions can pull their rear legs up underneath themselves and then sit erect. They are agile on land and can easily climb up rocky cliffs. True seals cannot. These guys must undulate across the surface on their bellies, they’re awkward and could never, ever balance a ball on their noses. Movement through the water is quite different as well. Sea lions use their large, powerful front flippers as arms to swim through the water and use their rear flippers as rudders to steer. Seals on the other hand use their small front flippers as rudders and move by swishing their rear flippers back and forth. And finally you Hollywood idiots, California sea lions are not even found in New England. But honestly what does truth have to do with entertainment?

This Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Bird Sounds

Bird Sounds
Michael Ellis

Late this summer the Buick Open in Pontiac, Michigan, really caught my attention. Wood Thrush. Hermit Thrush. Northern Mockingbird. Even White-throated Sparrows in full song. These were great birds for a southern Michigan golf course. The problem arose when just a week later I heard the same birds at the PGA Championship tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. My response was repeated in living rooms all across the country: “No way!” There isn’t a White-throated Sparrow within 800 miles of Louisville in August! My faith in the fidelity of live TV was shattered by two realizations: (1) the network was playing bird recordings, not picking up live bird sounds, and (2) the producers had no idea, and apparently didn’t care, that they were supplying erroneous biological information about the place they were televising, yet this was a live broadcast.

CBS was showered with complaints. The story about bogus bird sounds was carried by newspapers and broadcasts coast to coast. The expressions of newscasters bemusedly reporting the story suggested that they had missed its most important feature. CBS was not a bit amused, however. As a senior spokesperson explained when I called, they were caught completely by surprise that so many viewers actually listen for, and think about, the sounds of nature behind the golf swings. CBS vowed to abandon the use of dubbed sound and will now use only the sounds they can get from live microphones.

The media is just beginning to recognize that 50¬60 million Americans now describe themselves as bird watchers. This is the fastest growing outdoor recreation in every social, racial, and economic sector of North America. Birds are no longer idle decorations and background noise. Instead, they are a way of life for a large and growing segment of society. This fact increasingly sophisticated appreciation for the wild heritage around us itself represents a piece of happy and hopeful news about American life. I find this news every bit as uplifting as the superstardom of Tiger Woods.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Amazon

AMAZON
Michael Ellis

Since I make a living as a naturalist and have the good fortune to travel to many wild places throughout the world, people invariably ask me a very unfair question. What is your favorite spot? My pat answer is the place I am right now Of course that is not the answer they want. So when I am forced to choose it comes down not to one but two places, the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania and the Ecuadorean part of the Amazon Basin. You are listening to sounds of the Amazon night that I recorded a couple of years ago. I am there right now. Yesterday I took a short flight across the Andes from Quito at 9300 down to the oil boom town of Coca along the Napo River, one of the tributaries of the Amazon. There we were met and driven by bus (the entire floor of which was covered by petroleum) to a boat launch. We boarded a motorized canoe, about 40 feet long and 7 feet wide and then traveled for 3 hours down river. We got off the boat and scrambled up a steep hillside and walked along an elevated wooden path through the flooded jungle floor to Lake Mandicocha, a small lake known for its piranha and the very rare zigzag heron.

Several native guides loaded us into very small rickety dugout canoes and paddled us across the lake to the La Selva Jungle Lodge, our home for the next five days. I have used this Lodge in the past. I believe that an important way to save large areas of wilderness, like the Amazon Basin, is through proper eco-tourism, which must be conducted with sensitivity and care. La Selva won an Eco-tourism award several years ago. They employ the local people and provide the schools with supplies. They started a women’s cooperative to sale handicrafts. And most importantly they do not allow tour groups to visit the nearby villages which often severely alters the local culture. My hope is that groups like mine will provide the native people enough resources so that the sounds I hear coming from the rain forest will not be from chain saws or oil rigs.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Agitate

Perspective
by Michael Ellis

The great civil war leader, freed slave orator Fredrick Douglas wasasked after the end of the civil war and the Emancipation of theSlaves what should be done now. His succinct answer was agitate agitate, agitate. That was my 1996 New Years Resolution.

As much as I disagree philosophically with those rascally Freshmen republican House members they definitely are agitating. Sticking to their guns and not backing down. It may be backfiring in their face but you gotta give them credit. If you don’t like what

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Mortality

MORTALITY
by Michael Ellis

About 3 weeks ago I was bitten by a Rock Agama lizard while on safari in Tanzania. I deserved to be bitten. I was catching the big reptile to show people on my tripthis guy nailed me with his long sharp teeth. East Africa is the disease armpit of the world. Resistant malaria, chlorea, Rift Valley fever, green monkey virus, Ebola, … the list goes on. You really don’t want to get sick there. Well I cleaned the wound as well as I could. It closed over and infection set in. Back in the US I ignored it.. thinking that, as usual, my body would handle it and I would recover quickly. It didn’t heal but got worse. Little finger swelling, hot, inflamed. So off to Kaiser for some antibiotics. But it didn’t seem to respond to the treatment and suddenly I was hit by my own mortality. Mu body has been good to me. I rarely get sick. But this was different. I began to imagine all sorts of nasty things growing inside me, infecting, spreading out of control and killing me. In short I became irrational about some swelling in my pinky. My left brain tried to take over and calm the right, but when a well meaning friend checked the Internet about Agama lizard references and sent me titles of journal articles about the parasitic nematodes found in the saliva of Nigerian agamas, the dread intensified. I could feel my right arm becoming paralyzed. I called Kaiser for more advise and of course was put on hold forever. Up came one of those recorded messages…. do you sometimes have a shortness of breath, does your heart race for no apparent reason, do you feel suddenly anxious, you could be having a panic attack. Damn right I was give me some heavy-duty medicine, do something to make my pinky stop hurting. Hurry up I’ve got some East African nematode burrowing into my heart! WHOA slow down. What are the lessons here? I’m on the backside of 40 and in the process of decay. I am not in control, I will continue to los things © my vigor, my hair, my health and finally my life. I will die, and now it is time of life to prepare for that, with understandable fear but not with panic. As I record this, my finger is slowly getting better.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.