On Simon Winchester's "Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories," Plus That Crazy "Mermaid" Show Last Night

So today is a High Brow/Low Brow blue plate special: Right now I’m reading Simon Winchester’s Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories (2010), part of my summer reading slate of big nonfiction tomes (such as Alex d’Prudhomme’s The Ripple Effect) sandwiched between good (shorter) fiction, such as Stephen Graham Jones’s Growing Up Dead in Texas. Winchester is one of our best nonfiction writers, I think, a Brit, known for Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded (2003) but also The Professor and the Madman (1998), and many others. It’s old-fashioned, eloquent nonfiction, almost in the vein of Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory (1951). It’s elegant, which is a rarity.
On the total opposite end of the spectrum, comes last night’s (lowbrow) TV weirdness, Mermaids: A Body Found. I watched most of it and couldn’t quite tell if it was a joke or not. (Or perhaps if the producers meant it to be a joke, like those great Monster Quest programs, the ones where they never really find the monster.) I don’t want to give anything away, for those who are interested, because I’m sure it will be rebroadcast multiple times. I mean, I like a mermaid as much as the next person—the pretty ones, you know, with seashell bikini tops and long red hair (that never needs shampooing!). But the idea of real mermaids is a trifle, how should we say, kooky? Nutcase? And the show does its best to be legit, complete with two (suspiciously camera-friendly) “experts” on the story, who formerly (really?) worked for NOAA. I think it fits on a DVD shelf next to those alien autopsy videos. It was definitely amusing, I’ll say that. But part of the show is about the (evil) Navy program of sonar sounds that kill or force to beach thousands of whales, and there’s an article in today’s NY Times that contradicts some of what the show claims—or at least it suggests that whales are adapting to the sonar blasts and are figuring out how to block the noise; see the article here.
Lastly, I’ve been trying to get a photo of a Western Tanager, one of the prettiest birds in the West, all summer. Triumph below!

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