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How to Watch Football

[My column in the Sunday magazine.]

Watching football on TV looks much easier than it really is. To do it correctly requires skill, concentration and, most importantly, practice. Throughout the season, you must maintain your football-watching "edge," which is why the serious fan takes up a position in front of the TV in August and doesn't budge until the final whistle of the Pro Bowl in February.

Let's cut straight to the delicate matter of gender: Both men and women can be talented at watching football, but men may have some kind of innate, genetic, Larry Summers-like knack for it. I've seen many women who were excellent at watching football, as well as throwing the shot put and crushing beer cans against their foreheads -- but just when you are beginning to respect them as human beings, they make a completely irrelevant comment about the quarterback being "smoldering."

Which brings us to the inviolable rules of watching football:

Do not announce that you think a player is "hot." Excessive references to any player's appearance will result in the observer being told to leave the TV room and go mend curtains or knit a doily or whatever it is that non-football fans do between August and February.

Never say, "At least they came close." This isn't a sport where everyone gets a trophy. There is no joy in "almost winning." Indeed it is not really appropriate to bring the more delicate, nuanced sentiments to viewing the game. Feelings must be binary: Exultation or despair. If your team wins, you are on top of the world. If your team loses, then you and everyone around you and everything in your life is contaminated with failure. (Sentimentalism exemption: At the very mention of the movie "Brian's Song," men are permitted to weep.)

At least once a game you must get into an argument about who was the best quarterback of all time. You must also pretend to know everything about players who retired decades ago, such as Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr. Someone in the room must point out that Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr had great names. Everyone must then agree that the quarterback with the best name ever was Roman Gabriel.

Never feel guilty about stuffing your face with chips, salsa, chili dogs, etc. This is how you stay in football-watching condition. If someone stares at your protruding gut, or the dribble of mustard on your shirt, just say, "I'm in training."

Between games, study the internal anatomy of the knee, so that when you see a player horribly maimed you can say, coolly, and with authority, "He just blew out his anterior cruciate ligament." If the leg completely separates from the body, you are allowed to wince.

About half an hour after the quarterback debate has concluded, you are permitted to say, out of nowhere, "Did you know they named a town in Montana 'Joe'?"

Thou shalt fetishize good blocking. If there's one thing that separates the professional couch slob from the amateur, it's an ability to discern, amid the scrambling shapes on the screen, an excellent block by the pulling guard. The pulling guard is invariably a player who weighs 360 pounds. Like the flight of the bumblebee, the ability of the pulling guard to sprint is still being studied by top scientists. At the snap of the ball, he takes half a step back and runs parallel to the line of scrimmage, behind the center, then turns upfield to run interference for the running back, who will be a much smaller man, roughly the size of the pulling guard's most recent burrito. Ideally, the pulling guard will bear down upon a smaller, isolated defensive player, who will be so completely flattened that he'll have to be removed from the field with a spatula.

You may not discuss playoff implications before Halloween.

Once a game, you may make a joke about the ethnicity of Franco Harris being "Franco-American."

If an athlete in an interview answers any question with an original, creative, spontaneous and truly insightful remark, pinch yourself.

Only TV announcers, and not real people, are allowed to refer to the center of the action around the line of scrimmage as "the trenches." Likewise, only TV announcers may use the phrase "establish the running game."

As the game nears its conclusion, you must, without variance, ridicule the coach's "clock management" because he is not properly using his timeouts. Never mind that the coach is keeping track of dozens of raging behemoths and trying to call plays and listening to assistant coaches squawking in his ear -- and therefore might not be able to concentrate on the clock quite as expertly as you can sitting in your Barcalounger keeping track of your snacks.

Vince Lombardi: Discuss.

By Joel Achenbach  |  September 2, 2006; 8:29 AM ET
 
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Next: The Achievement Season

Comments

Good morning, friends. Joel, only a professional football watcher could write a kit like this one. I am still laughing. And everything you say is so very true. My father, and my son, when he was living, exemplified those traits you discuss in your kit. I, sadly, was sent to the back room.

Hope everyone is enjoying their holiday. My daughter and the g-girl are here. Grandsons somewhere else. I miss those boys.

Please know that in this life and the life to come, God loves you so much more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 2, 2006 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Mostly, you are a life saver. That list is so good, and the links you provide are just wonderful. I called the libraian here, and contacted the schools to get a required reading list. I should be able to pick those lists up after the holiday. I will certainly put my list on the blog, and I expect more than I can imagine. Thanks again, mostly, for the links.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 2, 2006 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Almost forgot. Good morning, Nani, hope your holiday is good. And good morning, Error, take care and enjoy the holiday. Still missing you guys so much.

It is a beautiful day here. The sun is shinning so bright, and the air feels crisp like a freshly ironed shirt. It has all the longings of fall and colored leaves. I love the fall of the year. It has just enough chill in the air to wrap a sweater around your shoulders and hug yourself. Oh, if we could just do that with one another.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 2, 2006 9:30 AM | Report abuse

My mom was the supreme football watcher. She followed every one of your rules, Joel. She was as knowledgeable as any guy in the booth on any given day. She never said a player was hot, although she did once mention something about Elvin Hayes , but that's basketball so it doesn't count.

She was in her seat at a Redskin game the week before I was born. When folks pointed at her huge belly, she just turned around and pointed to the section where her doctor sat. She was glad I was born on an 'away' Sunday.

As my sister wrote in Mom's obit: "She attended church regularly until Redskin season tickets changed her place of worship on Sundays."

Posted by: TBG | September 2, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Jim Zorn, man, hands down. He, like, carried that fledging franchise during those delicate early years. Where would that Largent guy be without the Z-man?

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 2, 2006 12:25 PM | Report abuse

//How to Watch Football//

Watching what, exactly?

There are about 120 plays in a game of football, and each of them is an average of 6 seconds. Yes, 6 seconds! That's a total of 12 minutes of actual play.

Yet a professional game on TV lasts longer than 3 hours. That's more than 2 hours and 48 minutes watching commercials, replays, cheerleaders (OK, here is something one can watch!) and morbidly overweight people huddling around on the field.

The play-by-play of a football game goes something like this: huddle for 30 seconds, line up, pile up, and repeat!

I am most amazed when I see a football player sweating. Each team has close to 50 players, and only 11 on the field at the same time. So if you're a starter for the team and you play fairly well, you're gonna play about 5 minutes in 3 hours. Unless it's really hot, where is the sweat coming from?

Posted by: superfrenchie | September 2, 2006 12:33 PM | Report abuse

SF - but the sporadic activity characteristic of football is the whole point! If you had to pay attention every single minute you would have no time to do all that other important stuff like getting a cold beer, adjusting the Barcolounger for maximum comfort, and discussing such vital topics as the appropriate use of instant replay. What's more, football players are carefully trained to clearly define when you have to be paying attention by making special grunting noises. All insightful fans know that the "hut-hut" bit is just a way to alert the fans that something important might actually soon occur.
As a spectator sport, it's just about perfect. But only if you do it right.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 2, 2006 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I'm assuming that talk of "momentum" is disallowed completely by anyone at any time at this point. Am I incorrect?

Posted by: Jumper | September 2, 2006 12:54 PM | Report abuse

You are right Jumper. The only "mo" we allow around here is that cute young lady.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 2, 2006 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I played center and offensive tackle in high school and college--there was nothing I liked better than a play that called for me to run a trap, or pull out on our variation of the Green Bay Sweep, when I got to block a defensive back that was generally half my weight.

I admit, often I didn't actually get to hit them--they're very fast, and just preventing them from making the tackle was sufficient. But every now and then, they wouldn't see me coming (although I don't understand how you can NOT see a 280-lb tackle bearing down on you...)

Regarding sf's comment on sweating--it's true that football doesn't have a lot of time when action is occurring. But it's amazing how much energy can be expended in 6 seconds. Typically, I would lose 5-10 lbs in water during a game.

First, you are generally wearing 20-30 lbs of padding and other gear. Second, other people are hitting you every single play. In an average game, a starter will be hit by someone else about 30-40 times. When I was coaching, when the season started we would spend about a week getting the kids in shape--they would practice without pads (helmets only) and do a lot of conditioning work, 3 hours of practice, 1 hour off, 3 more hours practice. After a week they would be in pretty good shape. Then we would put them in pads and have them start hitting. At that point, it's like they haven't done any conditioning work at all--being run over just saps the energy out of you. We ran hitting drills in practice as a conditioning exercise.

I have to confess, though--after playing football 2 years in little league, 2 years in middle school, 4 years in high school, and 2 years in college, and coaching high school for 2 years, the only televised sport I watch with any regularity is the WNBA. Detroit and Sacramento tied 1-1 each in the finals, Game 3 tomorrow--go Sacramento!

Posted by: Dooley | September 2, 2006 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Incidentally, I watch WNBA games the same way I used to watch football--with a beer and bags of junk food, in my recliner. Regular debates with Mrs. D. on whether Cheryl Miller or Cynthia Cooper was the greatest women's player of all time, and on whether or not Ticha Penicheiro and Teresa Weatherspoon were robbed when they were left off the All-Decade team.

A sport is a sport.

Posted by: Dooley | September 2, 2006 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Dooley: //A sport is a sport.//

Some would argue that they have a lot more in common with show-business...

PS: Big NBA fan here!

Posted by: superfrenchie | September 2, 2006 1:51 PM | Report abuse

sf, the sweating - I was going to say it's all that padding, which Dooley has confirmed.

I've never liked football, basketball, soccer. My sports are equestrian, (Grand Slam) tennis (currently being rained out in NYC), baseball, figure skating. Possibly curling (thanks, dr). Slow, arcane, sleep-inducing boring at times - but very civilized.

Interesting article in the local paper about the 2 Japanese players on the Mariners team this year:
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/mariners/2003238714_ichiro01.html
The Mariners have played so poorly the last few years I've pretty much lost interest in them, and baseball in general.

Posted by: mostlylurking | September 2, 2006 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Not being a sports fan, but having been raised in a family of beer-drinking sports nuts, I can relate.

I actually tried out for football when I was in high school. Standing at an imposing 5'4" and weighing in at 120 lbs. soaking wet (there's a bit more of me now), needless to say I gracefully bowed out (i.e., quit) after two days of practice.

That's when I realized that the "jock life" wasn't for me and instead dyed my hair several bright colors, bought a leather jacket (which I promptly painted with the logos of my favorite punk bands) and took up smoking.

Not that I have anything against jocks. Really.

I used to sell them oregano in plastic baggies (them thinking it was real glaucoma meds) and they kept coming back for more. I also passed for 18 (facial fur has its advantages when you're only 16), so I was also the go-to guy for booze. Didn't matter to me whether the team won or lost -- they all drank the same amount afterwards, and I profited handsomely.

One sport I actually did follow like a religion was hockey. I had season tickets to the Pittsburgh Penguins games back when they couldn't win a goal against my Grandma. They blew it, though, after they won their first Stanley Cup. That first Cup was an incredible series, but then they quadrupled the season ticket prices and cut the number of games in the package.

Umbrage is not even remotely adequate to describe my feelings at that time.

I did buy a season ticket package, but only because I knew if they made it to the Cup playoffs I'd be able to make a killing selling my guaranteed tickets. They came through. I bought a new car. Haven't been to a game since.

Posted by: martooni | September 2, 2006 3:56 PM | Report abuse

And, by the way, Joel, everyone KNOWS that Johnny Unitas was the greatest quarterback ever!

Posted by: Dooley | September 2, 2006 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Football amercain, c'est le grand snore.

So much of those "120 minutes" in football is spent on false starts, butt patting, etc. Ahem. A guy I knew who was big enough to play football once told me he thought football was for homosexuals, he cited the butt patting, and also said "You know what they're really doing in that huddle? Exchanging phone numbers."

Horse racing for me 2 minutes nonstop action and then it's all over, and I can continue with such important activities as sleeping, which I consider better relaxation than watching sports on TV.

Although I do like the odd hockey game, that's REAL action-- and I prefer it live, not on TV, so I can get the real party atmosophere.

I once "watched" my first actual NBA game with a friend's tickets and I think I actually watched like 45 seconds total the whole game, as we had a box suite (yes!) with drinks, and my friend wanted to catch up.


Posted by: Wilbrod | September 2, 2006 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I thought Eddie Murphy was the greatest qua-- oh excuse me, jockey ever. Different sport. My bad.

*Mutters to myself darkly*

Posted by: Wilbrod | September 2, 2006 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Gas prices plummeting to $2 by thanksgiving, and let's not overlook election day too.

The fix is in, folks.

Posted by: Wilbrod | September 2, 2006 5:17 PM | Report abuse

wilbrod: //Gas prices plummeting to $2 by thanksgiving, and let's not overlook election day too.

The fix is in, folks.//

Ever seen this chart?

http://www.pollkatz.homestead.com/files/gasindex_files/NEWBUSHINDEX_28670_image001.gif

Posted by: superfrenchie | September 2, 2006 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod... don't forget the terror alert!

I predict a rise to Orange in mid to late October.

Posted by: TBG | September 2, 2006 6:25 PM | Report abuse

When sports is the subject du jour, it's my cue to go completely off-topic, so here goes:

I spent part of the day with Bill Bryson, in Australia. Here's his very Achenbach-esque meditation on a visit to one of the only places on Earth where you can see living examples of the oldest (like, 3.5 billion years old) form of life.

***********
"Stromatolites are rather like corals in that all of their life is on the surface and that most of what you are looking at is the dead mass of earlier generations. If you peer, you can sometimes see tiny bubbles of oxygen rising in streams from the formations. This is the stromatolite's only trick and it isn't much, but it is what made life as we know it possible. The bubbles are produced by primitive algaelike microorganisms called cyanobacteria, which live on the surface of the rocks--about 3 billion of them to the square yard to save you counting--each of them capturing a molecule of carbon dioxide and a tiny beat of energy from the sun and combining them to fuel its unimaginably modest ambitions to exist, to live. The by-product of this very simple process is the faintest puff of oxygen. But get enough stromatolites respiring away over a long enough period, and you can change the world. For 2 billion years this is all the life there was on earth, but in that time the stromatolites raised the oxygen level in the atmosphere to 20 percent--enough to allow the development of other, more complex life-forms: me, for instance. My gratitude was real."

"In A Sunburned Country" p. 299

******

http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/bacteria/cyanofr.html

Posted by: kbertocci | September 2, 2006 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Ahh, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

NFL season.

One thing I enjoy is calling the plays before they happen. Especially when I can convince myself that my playcalling is superior to that of the coaches.

"Jeez, it's third and one, the corners have moved up to the line, and the safeties have moved up behind the linebackers; they're playing the run. C'mon man, audible to a draw and send the receivers and the tight end long, *somebody'* going to come open in a man defense! Don't play it safe, try to win the %&*@^#! game! Bold results call for bold measures! Bah!"

"Anterior cruciate ligament", ha! The last guy I remember actually saying that during a football game was Dennis Miller. Though I can't always tell by watching if it's the ACL, MCL, PCL, or LCL.

Vince Lombardi, can't say much other than he was the coach of my beloved Washington NFL franchise when I was a boy, and when he came to us from Green Bay, I remember it was HUGE. He also looked like my Grandpa, which wasn't too surpising in that they were both nice Italian-American boys from Brooklyn. And both passed a little too soon, IMO.

Greatest Quarterback ever? Hmmm. Don't know. Unitas, Starr, Bradshaw (nah), Montana, Elway..? I loved watching Sonny J throw as a kid, but he never had a chance to be on a great team in his prime.

I do have an amusing Roman Gabriel tidbit, but not for here.

bc

Posted by: bc | September 2, 2006 8:31 PM | Report abuse

I'll remember that you guys called "the fix is in" for this fall, but I expect the *real* plummet in gas prices two years from now...

bc

Posted by: bc | September 2, 2006 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for that diversion, kbertocci.
I too have nil interest in sport and plan to spend the day with "The Bone People," by New Zealand author Keri Hulme.

Posted by: Dreamer | September 2, 2006 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Joel, you forgot to mention that a momement of silence is required when the anouncer says "This might be the most important play of the game". It happen a while ago in the USC game with Arkansas at the begining of the second quarter. I think it was a false start.

Posted by: bh | September 2, 2006 10:49 PM | Report abuse

One of the first long books I completed was Instant Replay by Jerry Kramer. I chroncled one of the champinoship seasons of the Packers. Ironically, I wasn't really a football fan, just kind of liked the Packers because they had Bart Starr and Ray Nitchke and kicked some serious butt, particularly on the Cowboys. Long story short, Dad worked with a guy from Georgia and his son was a rabid Cowboys fan. Didn't really get along with the kid because he was obnoxious and particulary so when speaking of his beloved Cowboys. Thus out of spite, I came to dislike the Cowboys and rooted for Green Bay. Another irony was that we were living in Chicago during the time and Gayle Sayers was making some sort of NFL history season after season. Trouble was that the Bears didn't make it to the championship rounds, making it easier, by my juvenile logic, to root for a winner. Plus, Nitchke was always good for taking someone out with a trademark punishing blow. Kramer's book came along and that sealed the deal for a time. We then moved to Cleveland, the Green bay dynasty ebbed, and it was time to root for the Browns. Bill Nelson was the QB and they had Leroy Kelly in the backfirle and Paul Warfield at WR. When the Browns were on, the world revolved correctly. When Nelson got hurt and the Browns sucked, I could feel the Earth's gravity change in a way that eventually favoured the Steelers. The shift was complete when Modell traded Warfield to the Dolphins. The Dolphins were instantly the equal of manure. Make that pig manure, 'cause it really stinks especially on a cold winter day when you're heading to the slopes and you get stuck behind a pig truck on a stretch of two lane blacktop where there is no chance on this great green Earth of passing and all nearly die of asphyxiation long before even thinking of skiing. Pittsburgh is just as vile, except for Jack Lambert, the pride of the Kent State Golden Flashes, who was always good for taking someone out with a trademark blow, then baring his missing front teeth. Talk about brutal. I used to regularly use his last name when ordering Dominoes, just to see if the person on the other end would get it. Some of the more memorable moments as an armchair fan: Heartbreak after the drive that put the Browns out of the playoffs, and being reminded of it every time I saw my cousin who looks like John whatshisname (raises the hair on my neck just thinking about it); rooting for the underdog Giants, seconds away from a conference championship when Stone Fingers Pisarcik drops the ball in the end zone and the opponents recover for a safety and victory; the picture of Y.A. Tittle with his helmet in his hand and a busted up face wondering "what's my name, where's my car?"; hearing the news that Modell spirited the Browns out of town to Baltimore, causing the Ravens to forever be the scourge of the Earth... Frankly I'd rather watch hockey.

Posted by: jack | September 3, 2006 12:19 AM | Report abuse

Dreamer, you have to let this group know what you think of Bone People when you're done with it. It used to be my favorite book about 18 years ago, but I could never talk anyone else into reading past the first few chapters. It's very grim. Intensely so. And yet uplifting and redeeming, too. People just can't stand to read about the horrible things that happen to people. Or, if they do, they want it to be simple and black/white right/wrong. This book deals with child abuse and yet doesn't stop there - a real person has been abused by a loved one, and, surprisingly, must still go on living his life and making himself whole - and deal with still loving his abuser. Just as the rest of us, in less brutal ways, are damaged by our lives and our loved ones and have to cope and try not to let it ruin our lives entirely. And try not to let our lives be wasted by hating.

I've read some about how Alaskan aboriginal people (and Native Americans) try to devise justice plans that allow the criminal to work to redeem himself and help make him whole, while compelling him to help make the victim whole, too. Much less wasteful than our justice system. But much more time and thought-consuming.

Springing back into the lurking darkness after a brief interlude in the light ...

Posted by: Wheezy | September 3, 2006 1:13 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for weighing in, Wheezy.
I'm one chapter in, and so far so good.

You know, you and kbertocci have inspired me to post my would-be Guest Kit. (It may well STINK!!!, but parts of it are marginally relevant to what you said about aboriginal justice systems, and parts kind of sort of touch on yesterday's discussion about Nauru. I'm willing to make a fool of myself for the good of the group.)

[It's very off-topic as far as football is concerned, so I do apologize. Also, it's kind of l-o-o-o-n-g. And quotation-y.]

Here goes . . .

Posted by: Dreamer | September 3, 2006 2:31 AM | Report abuse

During my recent yearly(ish) pilgrimage to Australia, I took the opportunity to stock up on good Aussie literature. After rapidly absorbing a true-crime page-turner about the disappearance of a British tourist in the Australian outback, in a part of the country that, according to the local Aborigines, has "bad spirit," I settled into an almost-as-chilling, but hopeful, book about the traditional Aboriginal way of life -- "Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World's Oldest People." Co-authors Karl-Erik Sveiby (a business and management professor from Finland) and Tex Skuthorpe (a Nhunggabarra artist and storyteller from Nhunggal country in Northwestern New South Wales) outline aspects of the Australian Aborigines' hunter-gatherer lifestyle that enabled them to sustain their environment for tens of thousands of years -- an achievement unmatched by any other society on Earth.

"Above all the Aboriginal people burned the land. Fire was their main tool for tending the land: 'fire-stick farming' . . . The Nhunggabarra bushfires were nothing like the wild and uncontrollable fires that threaten human lives and property in the Australia of today. They were carefully managed to avoid killing the animals and the trees; the Aborigines knew how to manipulate fire frequency, intensity and timing to fit the ecosystem.

". . . Apart from through the use of fire, the earth was sustained through an invisible and even more important tool -- the story. Telling stories kept alive the links between the earth and the animals, the people and the ancestral land in the Warrambul -- the Milky Way. Without stories, the knowledge was gone, everything else would die too."

Today, a mere couple of centuries or so after the first white settlers arrived and started clearing the land for European-style agriculture, the Australian continent is plagued by soil erosion and other ecological problems. As Jared Diamond points out in "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," the country is headed for environmental catastrophe. (Sveiby and Skuthorpe, understandably, appear to be fans of Diamond, citing his work throughout their book.) It is only very recently that Aboriginal beliefs and land-management techniques, once assumed to be "primitive," have started to gain credibility -- and even to be regarded as superior in some circles, as offering solutions to modern environmental challenges.

Here's another excerpt from "Treading Lightly" that's been lingering in my mind, from a chapter called "The Spirit of Death Arrives":

"Some time, possibly in the latter part of 1828, a group of young Nhunggabarra men saw a small group of people approaching their country. They were white! And they were accompanied by monsters! The young men fled head over heels back to their camp to report their sighting.

"The white men were probably from explorer Charles Sturt's party, who reached the southern-most part of Nhunggal country on their first journey, carrying their supplies on carts pulled by bullocks -- huge animals never seen before in Australia. Other Aborigines seeing white men, bullocks and carts for the first time were often paralysed with terror. As [Thomas] Mitchell describes from one of his journeys: 'I remarked that he trembled so violently that it was impossible to expect that I could obtain any information from him.' Mitchell got used to Aborigines being terrified when he met them and put it down to superstition and cowardice.

"One wonders how Mitchell would have behaved if he had seen a group of spirits announcing death and accompanied by terrifying monsters . . . Because this was probably what the young Nhunggabarra men perceived: the white spirit Wanda arriving. Many Aboriginal stories describe Wanda, the spirit of death, a white-skinned terrifying ghost who in prophecy comes to earth to live on Aboriginal land and brings death and devastation to all people.

". . . . This marked the end of Nhunggabarra society -- within a year the epidemics were to hit them. . . . Soon the first settlers arrived and with them a long period of suffering, massacres, pain and humiliation. . . .

". . . . The prophecy about Wanda came uncannily true. But as the [traditional Aboriginal] stories also tell: There is no end, there is no past and no future, there is only the time of creation -- Burruguu -- and after creation there is only experience."

Posted by: Dreamer | September 3, 2006 2:37 AM | Report abuse

[Part 2]


And if you'll indulge me just a little longer while I continue to channel Daniel Quinn (author of "Beyond Civilization," "Ishmael," and "The Story of B," the basic premise of which is that this planet was doomed from the moment agriculture was introduced), there's plenty of good stuff in Kate Grenville's new novel, "The Secret River." Winner of the 2006 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the book tells the story of the early settlers in and around Sydney and their encounters with the Aborigines, whom they observed to -- inconceivably -- harvest only enough food for any given meal, storing nothing for the future: "'Oysters, the shells. . . . Suck the guts out, throw the shells away. Been doing it since the year dot.' He laughed. 'And fish! My word they get the fish! . . . Not putting none by. . . . Why would they? River ain't going nowhere.'" And "There were no signs that the blacks felt the place belonged to them." Yet "the blacks were farmers no less than the white men were. But they did not bother to build a fence to keep the animals from getting out. Instead they created a tasty patch to lure them in. Either way, it meant fresh meat for dinner. Even more than that, they were like gentry. They spent a little time each day on their business, but the rest was their own to enjoy. The difference was that in their universe there was no call for another class of folk who stood waiting up to their thighs in river-water for them to finish their chat so they could be taken to the play or their ladyfriend. In the world of these naked savages, it seemed everyone was gentry."

Posted by: Dreamer | September 3, 2006 2:46 AM | Report abuse

I've noticed more and more diaper commercials during televised football games. Makes me wunder if more women are watching football, or are more men changing diapers?

I played 6 seasons of football and the best position on the field is defensive end. there is just something so exhilerating about crunching a quarterback and getting cheered for it.

My 9 year old son is playing his 2nd season of football. What I would do for a good play-by-play caller. or even a bad one. I'm trying to train my daughter:
quarterback under center.
Takes the snap.
Handoff, up the middle.
gain of a few.

there you go, 13 words, 6 seconds. Sounds easy to me, but I haven't found anybody I know that can do it well.

Posted by: Pat | September 3, 2006 3:55 AM | Report abuse

Dreamer, thank you for all that literary commentary. I'll have to read it a few times, take notes, and adjust my reading list accordingly.

I blogged about "Ishmael" a few months ago, ( http://readthinklive.blogspot.com/2006/05/ishmael-by-daniel-quinn.html ) and as I mentioned, I just finished Bryson's book about Australia, so I've been thinking about the aborigines. The easy life described by the passage you quote doesn't square with what I learned in a college anthropology course, but the difference is the environment. Life might be easy in the fertile parts of Australia, but those regions were settled by Europeans and the aborigines had to live in the outback after that--in the desert, nobody is "gentry." The image I'll always remember is the aborigine seeing a cloud in the distance and running towards it, on the chance that there might be rain eight or ten miles away.

===

Pat, having your daughter do play-by-play is a great idea. It's educational for her, develops her visual and verbal skills, and brings the family together. One of my favorite authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder, honed her descriptive skills while interpreting the visual world to her blind sister, Mary. Without that experience, she might not have become a writer, and the world would have been the poorer for it.

Posted by: kbertocci | September 3, 2006 6:29 AM | Report abuse

kbertocci, I *heart* you for blogging about "Ishmael."
And I loved the comment yellojkt left on your blog: "You had me at 'telephathic gorilla.'"

Posted by: Dreamer | September 3, 2006 6:59 AM | Report abuse

JA writes --Do not announce that you think a player is "hot."

... stick to watching men's beach volleyball instead. Men will leave the TV room immediately and you can enjoy the eye candy all you want :)

Posted by: Miss Toronto | September 3, 2006 9:24 AM | Report abuse

JA---sounds like you are on the verge of becoming a travel writer after your walkabout France.

I'd like to share with the boodle another great travel book I read over the summer vacation... Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman. There's also a DVD documentary. It's about two friends who travel around the world by motorbike. Very good read.

JA--hope you remembered to film your travels in France for your upcoming book.

Posted by: Miss Toronto | September 3, 2006 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Hewing slightly closer to the topic of "manly" pursuits, Joel Garreau's article on potato guns in the Style section is superb:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/02/AR2006090201040.html?nav=hcmodule

Posted by: Bob S. | September 3, 2006 10:57 AM | Report abuse

That's a great piece, Bob.

I've done some spudguns in my time, and my brothers and I often discuss doing this:

http://www.punkinchunkin.com/

That's right: Catapults, trebuchets, and air cannon for pumpkins. The World Championships are held in Delaware (not too far a drive from DC), right after Haloween. Before you ask, yes, I've been.

Is it wrong for a man to dream of a device that can toss a 10 lb pumpkin 4,500 feet?

Or a clothes dryer 150 ft?

bc

Posted by: bc | September 3, 2006 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Hey, was that Kguy blowing up the Wilson Bridge?

Posted by: mostlylurking | September 3, 2006 12:52 PM | Report abuse

My son and I once made a trebuchet capable of flinging a slightly spoiled orange the length of a football field. We could have done better, but my wife insisted we not fire it into the commons area behind our house any more.
She's so unreasonable that way.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 3, 2006 1:02 PM | Report abuse

This article was so corny that I couldn't read past the second paragraph.

Posted by: Rambo | September 3, 2006 1:11 PM | Report abuse

This article was so corny that I couldn't read past the third paragraph. I seriously doubt the author's interest in football or any other sport for that matter.

Posted by: Rambo | September 3, 2006 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Rambo - you are right. It's almost like he's trying to be funny or something.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 3, 2006 1:19 PM | Report abuse

bc, RD - you could put someone's eye out doing that!

Posted by: mostlylurking | September 3, 2006 1:23 PM | Report abuse

The article was so corny that I couldn't read past the 40th paragraph. OK, well, I could, and I did. But I hated it! : )

Posted by: Bob S. | September 3, 2006 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Good afternoon, friends. Really late today. I've been to church, and now so sleepy. Dreamer, that was interesting news about Australia, and the original people of that country. I guess white men feel like if it isn't done their way, it's the wrong way. You think?

Did anyone read the op-ed piece by the British ambassador to Uzbekistan? Ted Rall wrote a similar piece asking why "we", as in the United States are partners with this tyrant. They're doing some awful stuff in that country using the war on terror as a shield.

scc "librarian"

Hope your holiday is going good. It's almost over, so enjoy it folks.

I don't know if I should laugh or cry today. Just see so much, so many things, not good. People so sad, but acting happy with things or objects, but hearts bleeding inside. Remove the object or thing, and raw. Just plain old raw. I'm still praying, will continue to pray. I'm so glad Jesus loves me, and loved me and all so much that He was willing to die for us all. I thank you Jesus for your love to me and to us all. Try Jesus. Try Jesus.

Remember that God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 3, 2006 1:40 PM | Report abuse

bc - The most satisfying way I know of to safely send inert objects into ballistic trajectory is the traditional oversized slingshot made of medical tubing.
Gotta love the classics.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 3, 2006 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I've mentioned this before: In the early 1980's, a buddy of mine bought a large-ish piece of property in northern California, and we spent a few weekends playing with a baby BobCat excavator (less than $200/weekend if you picked it up Friday evening, returned it by 6:00 a.m. Monday, and provided your own transport. Pick-up & delivery were substantial extra fees, but we had a friend with a flat-bed truck & ramp. The damage deposit was also substantial, but fully refundable) and numerous explosives while re-routing a portion of a streambed. THAT was stupid, juvenile-boy fun, I tell ya! Given our complete lack of any experience whatsoever (at one point, I improvised a fairly large fertilizer/kerosene bomb [detonated by dynamite] in order to dislodge a particularly recalcitrant boulder), I shudder now to think of the odds against our having survived intact.

I think that the certificate to buy the dynamite (for non-commercial use) required a copy of the county records showing that he owned agricultural-zoned land, a copy of his driver's license, and proof that somebody on-site (me, in this case) had passed a state exam (75 questions, I think) on explosives safety. I remember that dynamite was surprisingly inexpensive! (Given that, it probably won't amaze you to find that we bought somewhat more than we really needed)

I'm guessing that the requirements are probably a bit more stringent now!

Posted by: Bob S. | September 3, 2006 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra - Wow! I hadn't read the Murray piece. It is very disturbing. While I was certainly aware that all was not well in Uzbekistan, I hadn't had such a graphic picture painted of the issues, or U.S. & western European complicity. I'll have to ponder what I can or should do in response. At the least, I'll be paying more attention.

Posted by: Bob S. | September 3, 2006 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Maybe strategic placement of a dynamite/fertilizer/diesel bomb?

NO, NO, NO! That's exactly the sort of thing that we want to discourage, right? : )

Posted by: Bob S. | September 3, 2006 2:19 PM | Report abuse

reposting from previous boodle -
Bob S., what did you think of Ian Anderson (an orchestral appearance, I'm assuming)? I was a big fan of early Tull (first 3 albums - not so fond of Aqualung and beyond) - but I've never seen Ian Anderson perform.

Thanks!

Posted by: mostlylurking | September 3, 2006 2:51 PM | Report abuse

mostlylurking: I really, really enjoyed it. He was appearing with a subset of the National Symphony Orchestra. The program was about 50% "Jethro Tull" work (and variations thereof) and 50% interpretations of other (mostly classical) pieces. The solo violinist who was his primarily foil for much of the evening (am I a complete pig for pointing out that she was young and attractive?) was perfect. Much like Ian, she had a great stage presence, moving and striking poses in ways that drew the audience into things nicely.

One of the highlights of the evening was a rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", with the violin largely standing in for Plant's vocals. Pretty great, brought down the house! He had a lot of fun with Mozart & Bach also.

I took my youngest brother, to whom "Jethro Tull" isn't much more than a vaguely-remembered name. He professed to have really enjoyed it also.

Posted by: Bob S. | September 3, 2006 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Just to be clear: If Ian Anderson was coming back next week, with the exact same show, I'd probably go again! I REALLY enjoyed it. : )

Posted by: Bob S. | September 3, 2006 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra: //Did anyone read the op-ed piece by the British ambassador to Uzbekistan? Ted Rall wrote a similar piece asking why "we", as in the United States are partners with this tyrant. They're doing some awful stuff in that country using the war on terror as a shield.//

Could it be because they got natural gas? Nah...

Posted by: superfrenchie | September 3, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Bob S,, thanks. I've missed a few chances over the years to see Ian Anderson - will have to make more of an effort.

BTW, Dylan has a new album out - very good reviews from my friends on various music lists, and from the WaPo's J. Freedom du Lac (I haven't heard it yet, but must get it):
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/29/AR2006082901496.html
The iTunes commercial cracks me up - I think it's the fancy western shirt that strikes me funny. Nice to see him playing guitar, which I don't think he has done in concert for years.

Now back to your regularly scheduled boodling.

Posted by: mostlylurking | September 3, 2006 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Back when I was in college, my roommate and I had a serious Jethro Tull obsession. Each Friday, after the Physics Club Wine and Cheese Party, we would crank up the stereo and play "Aqualung."
It was a simpler time.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 3, 2006 5:20 PM | Report abuse

My knees are sunburned.
My stomach's distended from wonderful ballpark fare.
Traffic, however, was entirely bearable.
I coulda swore Soriano locked eyes with me from the on-deck circle and smiled (I DID look funny in a rally cap, BTW).
The Nats staged a wonderful 8th-inning insurrection and won.
Screech did not sit on me.
I am 39.
Life is good.

:-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | September 3, 2006 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Many Happy Returns Scottynuke! I remember 39. I should have stayed there.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 3, 2006 6:11 PM | Report abuse

39 is the new 40, I hear...

Posted by: Scottynuke | September 3, 2006 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Glad to see everyone's having a nice, busy weekend.

Posted by: TBG | September 3, 2006 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I've never heard any woman actually say
"the quarterback looks hot" i.e. sexy, not like a boiled lobster.

I've known one to complain that with all that padding the actual guy inside could well have the build of Lyle Lovett for all they know.

Best sport for women once: basketball, a woman once said that basketball players were much MORE hot when they wore real shorts that showed good butt definition, instead of those knee-length knickers cum granny's bloomers, combined with body piercing and dyeing hair anything but blue.

Think about it-- why do we have so many good women basketball players to this day? And an actual professional league? You got it right, they couldn't take their eyes off the basketball games back then.

Unfortunately with the trend, I expect that basketball players will be playing in bellbottoms wide enough to hide a couple basketballs in, pretty soon. Then the game will have all the sex appeal of golf as it was 15 years ago. And everybody will be watching the WNBA instead.

Tony should interview some actual women sports fans to find what they really want to see.
Like football uniforms could be redesigned to use some color sense.

That would be interesting to see-- say, a football team fielded wearing chaurtuese and lemon yellow, say. Although I understand the Skins owner will never change anything, not even the logo.



Posted by: Wilbrod | September 3, 2006 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Rambo, you're not French by any chance, are you?

Good evening, gang. Just checking in from the road; we're in a Days Inn 10 miles outside of Savannah. Big day tomorrow: house-hunting and lunch at Paula Dean's restaurant.

Great column, Joel. Best quarterback: Montana, no question. Best quarterback name is not Roman Gabriel, it is Y.A. (Yelberton Abraham) Tittle. Not only did he have the best name, he had the best haircut. (Do you have any idea how tough you have to be to be a completely bald quarterback name Yelberton Tittle? Why, you might as well be gay and/or French.)

Jeez, I'm watching Grey's Anatomy and here comes a commercial for iPod (I guess) starring Bob Dylan singing something from his Modern Times album. O how the mighty are fallen. O Bob, Bob, how could you. We all just thought the last ad was an aberration, and we forgave you. But you're really pushing your luck, dude.

A few football viewing rule addendums:

1) Foods absolutely forbidden during football viewing: yogurt, dried cranberries, anything with the word "creme" in it (brulee, freshe, de menthe, etc.), truffles, sushi, watercress and/or watercress sandwiches, Coco Puffs (and indeed, any cereal whatsoever, with or without milk), kiwi, poi, brussel sprouts, pinot grigio, petit fours, peanut butter and any kind of jelly, toast, melba toast, oyster crackers, trout, chicken livers, calves' liver, liver, any liquor that requires a snifter, capers, any cheese you can't buy in Safeway, capons, dandelion greens, anything poached, pate (but liverwurst on rye with onion and mustard is fine), anything with tentacles.

2) When there is a flag thrown during a kick return, no one may say,"Holding" unless all people in the run say it in unision.

3) During the 4th quarter, it is not permissible to ask, "I wonder who the guest is on 'Wall Street Week'?"

4) Dallas fans are not permitted to speak above a whisper at any time under any circumstances and only about something other than football. They do not need to raise their hands to be excused or leave the room.


Posted by: Curmudgeon | September 3, 2006 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, trust me... there are some quarerbacks out there who are most definitely hot -- in any sense of the word. All that padding just leaves more to the imagination.

But I never mention this while watching football.

Posted by: TBG | September 3, 2006 11:07 PM | Report abuse

"Wall $treet Week." Ha. You're funny, Mudge.

Posted by: TBG | September 3, 2006 11:19 PM | Report abuse

'Mudge wasn't in town to catch it, but yesterday NPR had an interview with a guy who has been studying cicada-killer wasps since the late 80's.

Posted by: Bob S. | September 4, 2006 2:47 AM | Report abuse

Also, it is not permissible to speak of the "Prevent Defense" except in derision.

Sad news this morning about Steve Irwin, stung by a stingray:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/04/AR2006090400073.html

Posted by: Achenbach | September 4, 2006 7:51 AM | Report abuse

"The birds in the neighborhood had gas for a year." Now that comment had me ROTFL.

I tried hard, very hard, to like football. I failed, much to my husband's chagrin.

But hey, I'm a native Tarheel. Basketball is in my blood.

Posted by: Slyness | September 4, 2006 8:09 AM | Report abuse

I just saw that, too, Joel.

Damn.

I always thought the guy was a little off his rocker for playing with poisonous and/or sharp-toothed/clawed critters on purpose, but then again I always assumed there was a certain amount of stage management involved -- and emergency crews on standby.

I'm sure it's no consolation for his wife and kids, but at least he died doing what he loved.

Posted by: martooni | September 4, 2006 8:25 AM | Report abuse

The thing is, it seems Steve Irwin knew what he was doing when dealing with the notoriously dangerous animals. In this instance the stingray wasn't even part of the program -- it caught him unawares while he was filming a documentary with sharks. Such an occurrence is apparently very rare.

I once heard Irwin say he wasn't about to get himself killed by a crocodile, because, for one thing, he didn't want his detractors saying, "We always knew a croc would get 'im!"

As martooni said, it's no consolation for his wife and kids, but he did die in his element -- and I'm glad a croc didn't get him.

I just heard his producer talking on CNN Asia. He said that one of the great things about Steve was that he "loved the unloved" animals -- the sharks, the snakes, and the crocodiles.

What a terrible loss. May his legacy live on.

Posted by: Dreamer | September 4, 2006 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Stainton told reporters in Cairns. ... "He [Steve Irwin] died doing what he loved best and left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind."

When your filming associates are furiosuly working over your chest attempting to administer CPR and trying to staunch the bleeding from the hole in your heart caused by the stingray's barb, I sincerely doubt that Irwin died in a happy and peaceful state of mind.

At no time after the barb entered Irwin under his rib cage do I believe that Irwin was in a "happy and peaceful state of mind." The hospital ER crew, who helicoptered in, found Irwin DOA on their arrival.

Let's speak a little truth about animals or ocean creatures--in the wild-- unleashing their protective defenses when the human predator gets too close.

Posted by: Loomis | September 4, 2006 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Typo from the NYT--you think the Aussie stingray was carrying a lethal, poison-pen Shakespeare at its rear?:

Irwin was at Batt Reef, off the remote coast of northeastern Queensland state, shooting a segment for a series called "Ocean's Deadliest" when he swam too close to one of the animals, which have a poisonous bard on their tails, his friend and colleague John Stainton said.

Posted by: Loomis | September 4, 2006 8:56 AM | Report abuse

O, would that it had been merely a bard rather than a barb.

Posted by: Dreamer | September 4, 2006 9:00 AM | Report abuse

From Time magazine... Irwin boxed in the stingray (baaaaaddd news)--accidentally, and apparently died instantly. Who can speak of what Irwin's state of mind was at the time? It's nuts--the quote I called out earlier. (Dreamer, the info below would contradict what you said about the program being about sharks--info so preliminary now that we'll probably have to wait for accounts to gel.):

This morning, at 11 a.m. Australian time, things finally came unglued for the 44-year-old as he was shooting a documentary segment on stingrays. Snorkeling on Batt Reef , a stretch of the Great Barrier Reef about 15km from Port Douglas in North Queensland, Irwin happened to swim over a large ray which, startled, whipped its barbed tail upwards into his chest. He died instantly. Veteran marine wildlife documentary maker Ben Cropp, who has spent hundreds of hours filming on Batt Reef, says Irwin had come too close to a bull ray. Citing a colleague who saw footage of the attack, Cropp says Irwin had accidently boxed the animal in, causing it to attack. "It stopped and twisted and threw up its tail with the spike, and it caught him in the chest," says Cropp. "It's a defensive thing. It's like being stabbed with a dirty dagger." Says Cropp: "It's a one-in-a-million thing. I have swum with many rays, and I have only had one do that to me."

Posted by: Loomis | September 4, 2006 9:06 AM | Report abuse


"Australia...has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world's ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures--the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish--are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes GO for you. Pick up an innocuous cone shell from a Queensland beach, as innocent tourists are all too wont to do, and you will discover that the little fellow inside is not just astoundingly swift and testy but exceedingly venomous. If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It's a tough place."

Bill Bryson, "In a Sunburned Country," p.6

(In the interest of fairness, here's a passage from a few pages later:)

"Let me say right here that I love Austalia--adore it immeasurably--and am smitten anew each time I see it.

"...The people are immensely likable--cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted, and unfailingly obliging. Their cities are safe and clean and nearly always built on water. They have a society that is prosperous, well ordered, and instinctively egalitarian. The food is excellent. The beer is cold. The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner. Rupert Murdoch no longer lives there. Life doesn't get much better than this."

--ibid., p.10

Posted by: kbertocci | September 4, 2006 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. Did he leave out something about Australia, kb? Maybe a little problem they have in getting along with the original inhabitants of Australia?

Hope everyone is enjoying their long weekend. It is messy here. I don't believe anyone is going to be able to fire up a grill unless they do so under some kind of shelter or on the porch. Real humid. Hopefully that will change.

It is sad to hear about the Steve Irwin. I liked his show on Discovery channel. Of course, I like the Discovery channel and anything about exotic and wild animals. I am very sorry for his family. May God send them peace and comfort during this most difficult time through Christ.

Good morning, Nani and Error.

I have the go ahead for the Math and Reading program this year. I am excited about it. I hope the children will take advantage of this opportunity. I will post my list this week for those that are interested in sending books. I'm getting input from the schools, and the public library. And mostlylurking pointed me to a good website, so I'm going to use that also. I know books are quite expensive, is this going to be okay with you my friends? I don't want to be a burden, but the books would be really great. I'll appreciate whatever you do.

Thank-you, thank-you, so much. And remember that God loves you so much more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 4, 2006 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Loomis, it's very likely that Steve Irwin went into instant shock. As somebody who has been in shock before, I don't find that assessment too inaccurate.

Sometimes when you think about it, shock can't be explained very well by natural selection, except that it does make death easier and more peaceful. Many prey animals will go into shock almost immediately from fear, and they die-- and not actually fearful at the end.

He was happy when he got his death blow. What, you want to discuss in detail the dying process of the body while the electric communicatio of the body is disrupted so there is no longer an unifying consciousness as every cell dies separately, some quicker than others, due to starvation of nutrients and build up of toxins?
Attend a forensic science lecture.


Posted by: Wilbrod | September 4, 2006 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I was horrified to hear that Steve Irwin had died. Given that he was 44 with a loving family, I cannot imagine that his final thoughts, assuming he was alert enough to have any, would have been full of anything but anguish.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 4, 2006 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I think his final thoughts would be more on the order of OH S***. Which basically sums it up.
I just doubt he was conscious enough to process much after that. The kind of sting/blow to the heart as described-- if you've ever been hit in the solar plexus, you probably remember you weren't thinking about much except doubling over. Same thing, only much worse, and instant shock, meaning the body started shutting down immediately.
What Steve Irwin's soul thought as he was dying, we can only surmise, but the soul was not there to experience death.

On the whole, there are worse ways to die. I certainly would prefer it over 12 years of dying slowly with Alzheimer's, you know?

Posted by: Wilbrod | September 4, 2006 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod -- I agree with the Oh S*** being the final thoughts of Steve Irwin. A death so sudden.

I have to agree with your notion that natural selection doesn't have much to do with shock. Selection is all about changing the genome over time to advance survival in the natural environment. I don't beleive there is any selective value in making death easier.

Whatver one thinks about Near Death Experiences (NDE) or survival of death, the one thread that that appears in all the accounts is a peace and well-being.

I've seen documentaries where some neuroscientists explain this condition by resorting to natural selection -- as if this process "cared" about the emotional state of a dying organism.

It's a very silly misuse of the term "natural selection."

Anyway, I'm very sorry for Irwin's family. His style was a bit too "in your face" for me -- but he did help advance environmental issues and gave the unloved and ugliest, scariest reptiles their camera time.

I did always figure he would eventually die in the field -- but what happened to him was a real fluke.

I think it's natural for folks who were close to him to rationalize his sudden death by believing he died happy. They've just suffered a huge loss -- they don't want to think of Irwin as having suffered. It's a very human thing to do.

kbertocci -- if you want to read an excellent account of how Australian Aborigines "farmed" their environment, get a copy of Stephen Pyne's "world of Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth."

Fire was used as a tool by the Australians to manage their environment. To round up prey, to facilitate the growth of certain edible plants. The entire continent had been shaped by fire for millennia before the whites came.

It was not a "pristine" environment -- but one carefully cultivaated to serve the needs of the Australian people.

If you really get fired up over this topic, I'll dig out some of the academic papers I have on this topic and try to find links online. It's really fascinating stuff.

We got 9 inches of rain on Friday -- lost electricity for a while -- had some trees down.

Eveything smells like mold. Newport News, the city about 15 minutes SE of here, even made the NBC national news with video of a woman being rescued from a house that had flooded.

Posted by: nelson | September 4, 2006 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, you know what book nuts we are here. You're doing such a good thing to help kids with reading and math, and it would be a pleasure to help you. For me personally, I have no kids, g-kids, friends with kids of that age, not even g-nephews or g-nieces, so it's fun to recall those books. I looked around the house, and can't find any kids' books - must have passed them on a long time ago (so long ago that I don't remember!). Well, I found a few, but they were so "loved" that they're falling apart. Anyway, for those of us that want to help you out, it will be a joy (and an excuse to go to bookstores, library book sales, etc).

I could never watch Steve Irwin, being the snake-o-phobe that I am - flipped as quick as I could by him. I suppose there is something to be said for dying doing something you love - awfully tough on the family and friends, though.

Posted by: mostlylurking | September 4, 2006 1:23 PM | Report abuse

In a sense, I'm not surprised that Steve irwin's death came as the result of a somewhat ridiculous fluke. He was too well-prepared for something of the ordinary sort to be able to get him -- his knowledge and preparation cut down the odds of that sort of thing, leaving only the exceptional. Given that his life put him in harm's way fairly often, he gave the exceptional a lot of opportunities to occur.

I'm sure that his state of mind during the conscious portions of the process of dying was a little unhappy, you might say -- the pain, the dying, the leaving his family, that sort of thing. But in the moments before his fatal injury, he was happily doing what he loved to do. I think that that is what Stainton was commenting upon, not the grisly issue of how it felt to actually expire.

Posted by: ScienceTim | September 4, 2006 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I rather enjoyed watching Steve Irwin. How can anybody be THAT energetic and upbeat all the time? I don't fear looking at snakes, just getting bitten by venomous snakes, so I'm more than happy to watch him talk about snakes and increase my admiration for those who would actually live in the Outback.

Posted by: Wilbrod | September 4, 2006 1:53 PM | Report abuse

My sister works in a nursing home here, and she told me once that some people die easy, and others do it hard. I asked her what she meant. She said you can pretty well tell those that will pass in some sort of peace, using peace for lack of a better word, because they usually have a personality that goes with a peaceful nature. She said those that are cranky, ill, mean, and downright mean, have a tough time of it. And she also said that she thought those that had accepted that death was near, seemed to be more peaceful and not afraid.

Death is something that most of us fear, in that we don't have much feedback on it. And many of us want to stick around, in denial about the fact that this is not our home. We didn't come here to live forever. The Bible says we are strangers and pilgrims here, just passing through. That our home is with God, and that our souls yearn to return to God.

My heart goes out to his family. It hurts. No matter what his thoughts were before he left here, his family is hurting now, and that is very real, and does not go away.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 4, 2006 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Mostly, thanks again. My list will be up shortly. I am so looking forward to this. I'm worse than the children. I love books. Can't read that much now, but love to be around books. And I believe the children will enjoy them. They like having their own books. Even children that can't read like books, having books. We passed out books this summer at the program, and they were gone in no time.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 4, 2006 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Boy, football and eulogies, mixed in with venomous beasts. Quite a combination for a holiday weekend.

I have never understood football, it just amuses me to tears. I taught the Boy to call play-by-play: the blue team and the red team all ran into each other and fell down. Any yellow-and-black team are bumblebees. I saw an NFL game once, Dallas vs. the Redskins, at DC, in the mid-80's. It was loud.

Joel left something off his list: you are allowed to be VERY grumpy when your team is winning but playing poorly. Ivansdad is a big Cowboys fan. I suspect one reason the Boy isn't much of a football fan is that he & his dad couldn't watch Cowboys games together when he was small (language, temper, etc.).

I liked Steve Irwin because I like reptiles and wild places. Once again the randomness of life intrudes.

Posted by: Ivansmom | September 4, 2006 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, I look forward to your list. I don't know whether any books illustrated by Jerry Pinkney are on it, but I may include some anyway. His illustrations are works of art; they feature African Americans but speak to everyone. They're some of the Boy's and my favorites.

Even the Boy is sad that Steve Irwin is gone. He said, "Now his wife will have to take over his show." This is either disturbingly practical or a real testament to his confidence that wives can step in anywhere (positive spin, I'm working on positive spin).

Posted by: Ivansmom | September 4, 2006 3:01 PM | Report abuse

For me, the best thing about Steve Irwin was that he didn't take himself too seriously. Case in point, the SportsCenter ad where he's boring an anchor to tears with a tale of Outback derring-do, when the elevator doors open and the Florida mascot comes out, with predictable results.

He will be missed.

And Ivansmom, I see the Boy's statement as right down the middle of your choices -- sheer practicality in seeing she's the ONLY one qualified to carry on with the show.

Posted by: Scottynuke | September 4, 2006 3:44 PM | Report abuse

A bummer abut Steve Irwin, indeed.

I *like* the rationalizations that one may have died "doing what they loved", simply because the alternatives are rather unpalatable.

As others have pointed out, funerals and homilial commentary are for the living, not for the deceased.

I also like making desparaging remarks when my team gives up a big return on a kickoff or punt; along the lines of "The [you team name here] special teams aren't very *special*."

bc

Posted by: bc | September 4, 2006 4:29 PM | Report abuse

nelson and ScienceTim,

It wasn't a fluke that did Irwin in. It was a sting ray.

(Sorry, but I couldn't resist.)

Posted by: pj | September 4, 2006 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the ray had flukes.

Posted by: ScienceTim | September 4, 2006 5:32 PM | Report abuse

I don't think that "doing what he loved" is a rationalization at all. We all are going to do. We all are going to be doing something at the time that death comes upon us. We could be doing something we hate ("he died at his desk, filling out expense reports, poor thing"), merely existing ("he died on the toilet -- he went to poop, but could only manage to fart, then died of a broken heart. How sad."), or doing something we love ("For a man of such experience and joie de vivre to spin out and crash on an ordinary mountain road is just extraordinary. Early reports are that he was driving 80 mph above the speed limit and may have lost traction on a previously dead raccoon."). If I gotta go, I'd rather go with style.

Posted by: ScienceTim | September 4, 2006 5:43 PM | Report abuse

"going to do"? I meant "going to die." Still unless we regularly go to do, we also are more likely to die.

Hello, welcome to the gutter, for the lowest forms of humor.

Posted by: ScienceTim | September 4, 2006 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Science Tim - Hey, that's what is supposed to have killed King George II. So much for the innate nobility of the high-born.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 4, 2006 6:09 PM | Report abuse

"On a previously dead racoon?"

Was the racoon undead or mutated into a new lifeform at the time of the accident?

I mean, how would this read: "Steve Irwin was killed by a previously scared stingray."

Stingray counseling: "Yeah, this big blond australian with an accent that could sink rocks came up and scared the beejesus out of me, and I forgot and fell off the no-sting wagon, but I'm okay now. The nightmares are almost gone."

This was written by the previously confused...

Posted by: Wilbrod | September 4, 2006 7:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised that people aren't going to news sources for more of the story:

http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,20354260-5006301,00.html

Adelaide Advertiser
(fairly early this morning after the news broke here stateside)

Recalling his last conversation with Irwin, on board his boat Croc One yesterday morning over a cup of tea, Mr Stainton said they had been thrilled with a sequence shot on Sunday of Irwin cavorting with sea snakes.

But the weather was poor and Irwin, "like a caged lion" aboard the boat, had decided to shoot some footage for Bindi's show to fill in the time.

As bad weather had ruined his own filming for the day, Steve Irwin decided to dive for some footage for his eight-year-old daughter Bindi's new TV series, and headed for a large number of stingrays, some of them two metres across.

Irwin singled out one of the creatures and dived down.

It is not known if he intended to grab the creature in the sort of derring-do that had earned him a worldwide audience of millions, but the ray reacted by plunging its powerful barbed tail into his chest.

Irwin's cameraman only realised his colleague was in trouble when his blood began to stain the water.
***

One of the dumbest question about Irwin was asked by Campbell Brown, filling in for Brian Williams on MBC News tonight. Her second questions was, to the effect, "Do you think Irwin's accident will affect how scientists handle wild animals in the future?"

Was Irwin a scientist? I know, define scientist. He's being called a true conservationist bu Jack Hanna. I see him more as the Hollywood Crocodile Dundee-type daredevil, the multimillionaire who loved to show his machismo and bravado on camera. Bad weather and his antsy mood contributed to his death, no doubt. His cameraman boxed in the stingray to the fish's front, and Irwin decided to swoop down on the ray from above. Was Irwin wearing a protective wetsuit I wonder? This story has nasty tragedy written all over it in the wrong ways.

Posted by: Loomis | September 4, 2006 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Went to a funeral today for a dear lady who died a week short of her 93rd birthday. She hadn't known she was in the world for 15 years. Wilbrod, you are so right. Steve Irwin's death is a great loss, but infinitely easier than dying by degrees for a decade and a half.

Posted by: Slyness | September 4, 2006 8:44 PM | Report abuse

"Was Irwin a scientist?"

To my mind, yes. The fact that he was excellent at getting publicity for his work is incidental to the fact that his conservation work was effective, and I expect, that important biological biological data was collected during his field work. I have no love of the Discovery Channel--I rarely watch it anymore, because of the practically nonexistant science in its shows. "The Crocodile Hunter" was a notable exception--one of their only shows that actually blended entertainment and authoritative science. Publicity and good science are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

My son wants very much to be a biologist or a veterinarian (rather than a paleontologist!), in large part because he's been watching "Crocodile Hunter" for most of his life. If nothing else, I thank Steve Irwin for that.

Posted by: Dooley | September 4, 2006 8:57 PM | Report abuse

nelson, thanks for the reading tip--I will certainly add that book to my "wannaread" list.

Happy Labor Day to everybody. My blog, which has been inactive over the summer, is coming back on line, and I've opened with a Labor Day theme.

readthinklive.blogspot.com

Posted by: kbertocci | September 4, 2006 8:58 PM | Report abuse

"Death is easy. Growing old is hard!" (Alternately: "Comedy is hard!")

I'm somewhat fascinated by the entire discussion about Irwin. It's somewhat surprising to me when someone younger than myself dies of ANYTHING, but I've long since become well aware that breathing is invariably fatal.

I'm guessing Irwin was doing what "Irwins" do. The stingray was doing what stingrays do. I sympathize greatly for his family's loss of (by all accounts) a vibrant and fun presence in their lives. I'm gonna miss Steve, and I didn't know the man at all!

It's difficult for me to qualify deaths, though. "This one is senseless, that one was needless, these two were OK." So far as I can tell, the man's LIFE was pretty positive, and I'm not sure that I can worry too much about the particulars of the place and timing of his (inevitable) death. I'm hoping that he and his wife had some discussions about the hazards of the chosen profession at the time they chose to bring a child into the world. He seems to have provided for them pretty well, which may be all he could do.

Posted by: Bob S. | September 5, 2006 12:56 AM | Report abuse

For those wondering whether Irwin's death was fast or more protracted, these reports from the Australian media suggest it happened pretty quickly:

http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/irwin-death-footage-terrible/2006/09/05/1157222098946.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200609/s1733235.htm

Posted by: Dreamer | September 5, 2006 1:27 AM | Report abuse

Bob S: //I'm hoping that he and his wife had some discussions about the hazards of the chosen profession at the time they chose to bring a child into the world.//

My guess is that it was more along the lines of sexy words and heavy breathing, but you never know what people get turned on by...

Posted by: superfrenchie | September 5, 2006 6:10 AM | Report abuse

The news of Steve Irwin's passing made for a melancholy day yesterday. If nothing else, he seemed to be a great Dad. To me, he is the person that springs to mind when someone speaks of being passionate about his work. We should all be so passionate. I hope all had a good holiday. Rock n' roll...

Posted by: jack | September 5, 2006 7:51 AM | Report abuse

BTW, happy belated birthday, S'nuke. You have officially entered into the time warp of age and a permanent holding pattern. You'll be thirty nine forever. That is, until you wake up one morning and your body reminds you of how truly aged you are...

Posted by: jack | September 5, 2006 8:04 AM | Report abuse

The death of Steve Irwin is topic number one around here, especially among the young people. Maybe this is weird, given the number of non-famous people who died over the weekend, but it is part of being human to fixate on the salient. And Irwin was nothing if not salient.

Over-analyzing and questioning the details of his death seems peevish and mean. That someone so full of life could be killed so easily is bitter enough.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 5, 2006 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, jack, but my body already reminds me plenty... *L*

Posted by: Scottynuke | September 5, 2006 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Agreed, RD. Not to dwell on the gloomy, but tragedy strikes randomly...a story of a man who helped to rescue a toddler fronm a bruning building, only to fall victim to gunplay...

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/05/nyregion/05slay.html

Posted by: jack | September 5, 2006 8:49 AM | Report abuse

My point is that passion about what you do is important...spiritual needs first, family second, yourself last. Altruism and a moral compass pointing in the right direction have equal weight in my book.

Posted by: jack | September 5, 2006 8:53 AM | Report abuse

This link helped me understand why cats amuse themselves by clawing up your favourite pieces of furniture...very dry sense of humour, indeed.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/05/science/05side.html?ref=science

Posted by: jack | September 5, 2006 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Wilbord, I think that the implication in *Tim's "previously dead racoon" is that the subject (whoever that is) slid off the road on some prexisting roadkill.

I refuse to get into the discussion regarding coefficents of friction of tarmac and Procyonidae carcass.

bc

Posted by: bc | September 5, 2006 9:07 AM | Report abuse

bd: I once was travelling through the Adirondaks and came upon a mass migration of frogs across the road at cruising speed. Carnage ensued and frog pieces found their way into the most incredible places on my LeCar. The parts also had remarkable adhesive qualities.

Posted by: jack | September 5, 2006 9:18 AM | Report abuse

handle SCC...sorry , bc. I had a Doonesbury moment...

Posted by: jack | September 5, 2006 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I have no real football knowledge, but when pressed I just say that Dan Marino was best quarteback to never play in a Super Bowl. People scratch their heads for a few moments and then agree.

Posted by: yellojkt | September 5, 2006 9:24 AM | Report abuse

yellojkt;

Peyton Manning's giving Marino a run for his money, though.

:-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | September 5, 2006 9:41 AM | Report abuse

bc, you are correct: I couldn't ask for a raccoon to die for humor, so I arranged for a previously-expired raccoon to be shipped in and deposited on a mountain highway, at great personal expense, in order to provide an illustration of someone killed "doing what he loved". In this case, flouting rules of safety and sanity. I have crews scouring the world in search of inadvertently roadkilled critters just so I can have a ready stock of carcasses (carci?) available in case a simile demands it. I'm just that dedicated.

Posted by: ScienceTim | September 5, 2006 9:58 AM | Report abuse

In our morning department meeting, the guys were all abuzz about the big college football game yesterday--Florida State beat the University of Miami. It went on and on. Finally, the only other woman in the meeting, who, like me, had not contributed to any of the fevered discussions about rushing / defense /injuries / coaching leaned back in her chair to make eye contact with me, grinned, and said, so, kb, didja go to the mall this weekend?

Posted by: kbertocci | September 5, 2006 10:01 AM | Report abuse

New kit, fyi.

Posted by: Achenbach | September 5, 2006 10:06 AM | Report abuse

http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/leave-dangerous-animals-alone-survival-expert/2006/09/05/1157222108132.html

Leave dangerous animals alone: survival expert

A British survival expert who has made several TV series for the BBC says Steve Irwin's death showed how some wildlife programs have become dangerously "voyeuristic" and "gladitorial" to attract viewers.

Ray Mears said the Crocodile Hunter "clearly took a lot of risks and television encouraged him to do that.

"It's a shame that television audiences need that to be attracted to wildlife," he was quoted as saying on thisislondon.co.uk

Mr Mears said Mr Irwin's fatal stingray attack was a tragedy that underscored how "some things in nature should be left alone".

"Television has become very gladiatorial and it's not healthy," he said.

"The voyeurism we are seeing on television has a cost and it's that cost Steve Irwin's family are paying today.

"Dangerous animals, you leave them alone because they will defend themselves.

"Nature defends itself, it isn't all about hugging animals and going 'ahh'," he said.

"It's wonderful to observe, but you have to be sensible and maintain a safe distance."

From Central Utah's Daily Herald (Since when does a real scientist do all these product endorsements? What other scientist parallels Irwin in terms of bringing in the moolah? Did Sagan or Gould or Dawkins ever do FedEx commercials, for example?):

He carved such a distinctive personality that he launched a mini business empire of toys and games based on his programs. He starred in a feature film in 2002 -- "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course," in which the CIA goes looking for a fallen satellite that has been swallowed by a crocodile -- and was a pitchman for Pentax cameras and FedEx.

Posted by: Loomis | September 5, 2006 10:13 AM | Report abuse

ScienceTim, I hope you have all the required permits for the overseeing regulatory agencies to collect roadkills :-)

My museum has to get a permit, renewed annually, to collect kills, which spells out which employees can collect, and what they can collect (special permits are required for endangered species, raptors, marine mammals, collecting on the interstate, etc.).

With all the paperwork, how's a person supposed to find dinner?

Posted by: Dooley | September 5, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse

jack, I LOLed for that fabulous irony at 9:18 AM.

yellojkt, Dan Marino did in fact start for the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX, and played pretty well, though he gave up a fumble and threw a couple of picks. Unfortunately, the Dolphins ran into the 49ers, led by aruably the greatest QB ever, Joe Montana. The 49ers were a more balanced team than the Dolphins, and when it came down to QB mano a mano, Marino might have had a better arm, the elusive Montana could make things happen with his feet when things didn't look so good downfield (Montana scrambled 5 times for 59 yards and a TD, BTW).

So, while Marino never *won* a Super Bowl, he did play in one, in the second year of his 17 year career.

bc

Posted by: bc | September 5, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Gould did not do FedEx, so far as I can recall. But he did "The Simpsons," along with Stephen Hawking, who also has done "Futurama." Remarkably, Hawking is/was the better vocal actor of the two.

Sagan did some blatantly commercial books, and a column for Parade magazine. Ray Arvidson (his name carries weight among us planetary geeks) has done commercials for software and computer companies.

Yes, these commercial endeavors all carried an element of public outreach and education, familiarizing the public with the essentially human character of the scientific endeavor. The Crocodile Hunter toys and product tie-ins certainly are farther into the commercial end of the spectrum -- but it is a spectrum, not a binary status. And those toys, etc., provide for the long-term well-being of his kids, they support maintenance and expansion of his zoo, they provide for purchase of wildlife conservation areas, and so on. It's a way to palatably tax the public to support what interests them. Admittedly, it also made Steve Irwin personally wealthy.

If I had a marketable face, you can bet I would cash in, in a heartbeat. With the resulting millions, I could forget about the uncertainty of grant funding, I could be sure that my kids are taken care of, I could provide for my fellow scientists, I could indulge my interests in other aspects of life. It is easier to be pious about the purity of science when temptation is offered to someone else. Me, I'm willing to sell out, because science does not depend on the moral purity of the practitioner.

Posted by: ScienceTim | September 5, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Stephen Hawking was also on Star Trek: The Next Generation, playing a hologram of himself on a poker game against Data.

SciTim has it right. I'm sick of people thinking scientists are somehow supposed to be ivory-tower monks and nuns that go begging at governments and drug companies for funding money and noooo, they can't dare raise funds by selling sweets or beefcake to the public.

A true evaluator of the history of science will show that a lot of scientists were independently wealthy or derived their income from elsewhere.

I mean, a tax collector in Paris did a LOT of physics work, while doing his day job. This is Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, who may be a Loomis relative. Priestley is credited with finding oxygen, but Lavoiser was the one who really analyzed oxygen and named it. He is the father of modern chemistry, he discovered the principles of combustion.

"This led to an interest in French politics, whereupon he obtained a position as tax collector at the age of 26. While in government work he helped develop the metric system to secure uniformity of weights and measures throughout France. His governmental interests, however, eventually proved his undoing. As one of 28 French tax collectors Lavoisier was branded a traitor by revolutionists in 1794 and guillotined at the age of 51. Ironically, Lavoisier was one of the few liberals in his position and had striven for many years to alleviate the hardships of the peasants."

Ben Franklin was another scientist who made his fortune in mass media (printing) and who also was interested in politics.

Einstein did patent work as his day job.

I can name countless examples. Whether Steve Irwin did the kind of work that would lead to papers or grand discoveries is irrelevant, many scientists don't make big headline discoveries.

He did however gather a lot of film of animal behavior. He funded a zoo with his money. He put a face on conservation and inspired a lot of kids to be more interested in science.

It's also a fallacy to believe that a science teacher cannot also be a working scientist, I certainly know a few who work in the field or labs summers... and I think we can safely say that Steve Irwin lived to be out in the field. ;).

Posted by: Wilbrod | September 5, 2006 2:04 PM | Report abuse

SCC-- chemistry work, not physics, although some of Lavoiser's work did have implications for physics.

Posted by: Wilbrod | September 5, 2006 2:06 PM | Report abuse

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