Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Don't Feed the Bear Story

I did say I was over the Colorado bear mauling. I implied it would not reflect well on me to obsess on it further. What would it say about my perspicacity, creativity, and wit if I couldn't find something new to talk about?

But, the media keep feeding that tail. Animal Planet created a series called Fatal Attractions, which exploits tales of animals hurting people to produce sensationalist, subtlely violent TV. Evdiently, they couldn't get enough viewers with pretty videos of deer and whales, let alone mollusks or obscure cnidarians. Hm, some clever producer though, maybe we can pull some viewers from wrestling, cage fighting, and Jackass reruns by offering comparable content. Season 1, Episode 6, titled "Don't Feed the Bears", focuses on the tale of Donna Munson.

Hard to say what I thought of this episode. It was nice to see professional film of Ouray, Colorado. They repeatedly interviewed the sherriff (my uncle), who handled himself quite well, though there was a bit of a gleam in his eye when he told about how his third shotgun blast finally "put the bear down". That seemed a bit insensitive, but then, bears don't watch TV, and would probably have found the episode horrific. The bigger problem is that the filming, editing, pacing, music, and detached narration all accomplished the goal of building tension and fear within the viewer. So I was watching the show with my parents, with happy thoughts and discussion of places we hiked or at least recognized, while the show instead tried to adumbrate doom and death.

Well, loyal blog readers (both of you) know how the story ends. But it turns out my speculation in the Tragedy of the Scented Scarf - quite surprisingly - was totally wrong. I admit I had to speculate on some details of bear courtroom procedures, but I thought it was a good guess. Reality is even more bizarre. Truth is danger than fiction.

The underlying incident was a big bear attacking a smaller bear. Donna Munson complained about this to her friends, stating that the big bear was a bully, and she intended to swat the big bear to teach him a lesson. I wish I could take credit for using that particular word, but no, "swat" is an exact quote from the newspaper (not mentioned in the Animal Planet story). This is by far the greatest use of "swat" in English, and totally explains how differently the situation was perceived. For my non-English speaking reader, "swat" is about the most playful formulation of "attack" or "hit" possible. A swat does not really hurt, or threaten.

Flashback to Cognitive Science 101C, when Prof. Gilles Fauconnier explained blending and its relation to humor and metaphor. We looked at examples of jokes based on miscommunication, in which one person has a certain view of the world, but fails to completely communicate it. So here is Donna Munson's mental model:

"Big bear attacked small bear. Swatting big bear would effectively convey my disappointment, and help big bear to appreciate the mental anguish he inflicted on small bear. Big bear would then re-evaluate his actions, and his overall world view, entailing an apology to small bear, possible restitution, and perhaps joining the Peace Core."

Here is big bear's mental model:

"Kill attacker!"

Hence, contrary to my supposition, the inciting incident didn't really have to do with food at all. The bear was defending himself. He might have been especially anger-prone, given that he had attacked a smaller bear, which might have served as a hint that he might not appreciate the swat. He probably calmed down, and only later thought, hmmm, I notice Donna didn't put out any new food recently. And I'm all tuckered out after clarifying the word "swat" to that vicious little attacker. Tired. And a bit peckish. And she smells kinda good.....

And so, by the time it dawned on Donna that he was munching on Munson, it was too late.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

free whine

I am on a jet sitting on the ground in Chicago. I'm in 30K of a Boeing 777, which means I am in an exit row seat immediately behind the mid galley bulkhead. I seem to have gotten this exit row seat due to a computer glitch, since I was supposed to be charged extra. Some guy just came and took the (empty) seat next to me, and just got booted by an observant flight attendant. It's tough out here. So I end up with an exit row, quite literally. 30K and 30J are effectively the only seats in this row; there seems to be a 30A and 30B off to my left somewhere, on the other side of some lavatories, which is so far away it can be ignored. So I got a row to myself. Palatial. This could revolutionize my airline stretch routine.

My flight from Europe was one month sgo. Hard to believe that, since then, I hiked Moonshine Park and dropped down the Ridgway side of the ridge, plus saw so many people, went to a conference, and endured a deeply hauntingly rainy trip to San Diego. On the flight here, I got unlimited free wine. Now, they say it is 6 bucks a cup (not glass), since this is a United flight and not a Lufthansa flight. Yet I keep getting free wine out of them, based only on the promise of giving them more Mozartk├╝geln once I get to baggage claim. I could attribute this to me being charming, but I think it gets down to the tipping culture, and the underlying social underpinnings.

As I mentioned in many previous posts, the American vs. European differences in tipping culture speak tomes. Europeans consider good service routine. Why pay for good service, or for a couple cups of wine, when it should be assumed? Americans instead whine for such service from both directions; customers demand (not expect) it, and workers want some bonus for it. So they get it, in the form of tips, even though I strongly suspect they don't really make more than their European counterparts. Same trick here. I think I am clever and just charmed a stewardess, but in fact, she's probably giving free wine to everyone on the plane. Slut.

The rest of the flight was similarly uneventful. The flies in Munich airport were as tenacious as always. The flight from Munich to Graz was quite pretty, with snowy Alps jutting defiantly above clouds that rolled off the slopes like lazy avalanches. I did not get any photos of them, since I was near a wing, but I shall try to sate eager readers with snowy mountains in Colorado from just a few weeks ago:

The trip to Colorado opened with a massive snowstorm. I tried to be accepting. It was almost November, after all, and the snow did make everything pretty. Yet it did not portend good hiking. I still had fun seeing the family and everything, but then noticed it ceased snowing after I arrived. And so I did get in some good hikes, with good pictures, of an unprecendentedly wintery hiking retinue. I found lots of good new hikes, and discovered that snow creates some new adventures in old favorites. Yellowjacket Mine, for example, is a whole different hike in the snow and ice. I lost two walking sticks just making it through. I promised them they would be recorded, and they are. To my two loyal former walking sticks, Mini Wally and Wally Nuevo, you did your jobs well, and saved me from a nasty tumble down a ravine. May you thrive on the bottom of the ravine, in whatever way a dead log may wish to thrive.

But the big news around town was not the weather, but the election for Sherriff. My uncle was up against his toughest competition yet, who took out full page ads slandering him, and used all kinds of dirty tricks. We all told ourselves it was politics as usual, but it wasn't, cause this was our family. I was there for over a week before the election, which was 2 Nov, and the biggest local contest was the race for sherriff. I tried to contribute with clever writing, but was badly humbled and upstaged by the master. Mom wrote such a persuasive and sweet Letter to the Editor that I was left dumbfounded. It was like having my tongue wrapped in a towel. Vastly superior English skills. I hope I can write like that when I grow up. Fortunately, Uncle Dominic was re-elected for the third time, sending a strong message that the locals like him. Local humans, anyway. I doubt the local bear community does, but they cannot vote.