December 21st, 2013



1. In the South, in Alabama and Georgia, this day was always genuinely a point where I could breathe a sigh of relief. Usually, by December 21st the worst of the cold and gloom was over. I knew that by the end of February there would be signs of spring, and that by April, almost always, the world would be warm and green. But here, instead, December 21st doesn't feel like anything but the darkest day of the year. Here, I'll be waiting until April just for Cold Spring. So, I see no reason to even note this day as separate from all the rest except that, like every other day between early September and mid July, it means we're one day nearer less loathsome weather.

It is supposed to be warmer tomorrow. But there's also going to be clouds, rain, and fog. Which means tomorrow will, in actuality, be worse than today.

2. I didn't write yesterday, not really. Day before yesterday, I didn't write. And on Wednesday I did not write. I sat here yesterday and read aloud to myself what I've written on "Oranges from Africa," 2,768 words since I began it on the 15th. After I'd read the first seven pages aloud and marked them up so much that they'd ceased to be legible I finally admitted to myself that it's a mess, and that it's a mess I do not currently have time to clean up. On the bottom of pg. 10 I wrote, "I don't think I can fix this." And the date. And the story has gone to live in the filing cabinet. This is my fault for having begun anything so ambitious and, more importantly, personal right now.

3. Truthfully, I have little to write about – that I have any business writing about here – except movies and television. My life dissolves in front of screens: iMac, iPad, the TV, and theater screens.

4. On Thursday we saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I thought it was a great improvement over the first installment of the trilogy. The 3D gimmickry was still there, but it, to me, felt less intrusive. The film was better paced and better edited, and it didn't seem so painfully over lit. I don't mind the addition of the story of Gandalf's quest to Dol Guldur. I don't mind the peculiar triangle of romantic tension between Legolas, Tauriel, and Kíli. No, it doesn't bother me that Tauriel was created by the screenwriters. She works, and we are reminded, however marginally, that there are vaginas in Middle Earth. I was pleased that Beorn wasn't skipped over, impressed by Lee Pace as a menacing, calculating Thranduil, and very much approved of Lake-town. But there's no denying that the star is, rightly, Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug. Wow. Perfect. What a gloriously terrifying beast, with just the right measure of egotism, grandeur, fury, and vanity.

I think I prefer the non-CGI orcs from LotR. But I love old-school makeup SFX, and Weta excels at it.

That said, the whole thing certainly could have been handled without the video game interludes, and it's a shame the film was shot 48fps and in 3D. For all its merit, so far Peter Jackson's The Hobbit lags well behind his The Lord of the Rings, and this is primarily because of the former's compromised cinematography. I should note that, currently, at the theater we attended The Desolation of Smaug, the film is showing on four screens, but only one of them is 3D, and the one that's 3D is in a broom closet. This is a good thing, and I hope it reflects, to some degree, waning interest in an artless, unfortunate, costly fad.

Still, honestly, the absolute worst thing about the film was the horrid Ed Sheeran song that's yodeled over the end credits. Think Boys to Men do the Chieftains. Only it's actually worse than that. I'd never heard of Sheeran, and I cannot imagine what the fuck Jackson was thinking. Each third of LotR closes with a beautiful, haunting song. And the song that closed out An Unexpected Journey wasn't bad. But this? Seriously? If you see the film, the moment the screen goes to black (you'll know when I mean) get up and fucking run to the nearest exit.

5. The sunlight is so weak.

Aunt Beast
Western Interior Seaway

Ballad of a Flat-Wristed Sea Lizard

My Xmas present from Spooky, which may be here by the New Year – my fault, for dithering – is a gorgeous cast of a Platecarpus tympaniticus skull:

Here's a closeup of the muzzle:

The actual specimen, I have learned, is now on display in the new dinosaur hall at the LA Museum of Natural History. The specimen was discovered in 1967 by a Kansas woman named Mary Bonner, and for years was on display at the "Keystone Gallery" in Logan County, Kansas (26 mi. south of Oakley or 18 mi. north of Scott City on US 83). There it was known as "Old Yeller," after the yellow Niobrara Chalk in which it was found. This cast of the skull was made sometime in the 1990s, before the specimens as transferred to the LAMNH. It measures 26"x14 inches, which makes it a rather large adult Platecarpus (which was a medium-sized mosasaur genus). The "Old Yeller" specimen (I'm going to try to get better locality info, and a catalog number, from LAMNH) is one of the most complete Platecarpus specimens known.

Here's a photo of the complete skeleton when it still hung in the Keystone Gallery:

While in Alabama and Colorado, I collected, prepared, and studied specimens of Platecarpus ("flat wrist"), primarily specimens from Kansas and Wyoming. As noted in the Wikipedia article, one thing my resulted yielded was the discovery that the three of four recognized species – P. tympanitcus, P. ictericus, and P. coryphaeus – were in fact a single species, P. tympaniticus (the name with priority, i.e., the first published). I'd already determined that P. intermedius was actually an immature Globidens alabamensis (another mosasaur). Which left only the poorly understood species Platecarpus planifrons and P. somenensis. The former has since been removed from Platecarpus and placed in another genera.

The last work I did on Platecarpus was in 2001, when I was a guest on the American Museum of Natural History in New York and spent two days examining and photographing the holotype of "P. planifrons."

Also, Spooky's giving me this nifty Platecarpus pin (via Etsy, and this seller):

So, yes. A very Platecarpus Xmas. And soon the skull of an old, familiar friend will be hanging over my office doorway.

Aunt Beast