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Pop Omnivore

Posted Jun 9,2011

What better way to start off the day after World Oceans Day than with the world premiere of the underwater video for a previously unreleased Paul McCartney song?

The song, written in the 1980s, is called Blue Sway, and that’s exactly the feeling in the imagery created by noted surf filmmaker Jack McCoy. Using a speedy underwater jet ski, McCoy rides behind a wave. His camera can tilt up and down and spin 360 degrees around. The video will be included on a bonus DVD accompanying the reissued album McCartney II—due out June 14—and will also be shown at the Maui Film Festival on June 19. McCoy’s new feature film A Deeper Shade of Blue, the source of footage for the Blue Sway video, opens the festival on June 15.

-Marc Silver
Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Music, Oceans, Pop Omnivore
Posted May 19,2011

As a musician, Moby needs no introduction: millions of albums sold, songs in films and commercials, and those black, chunky glasses. But on the occasion of his ninth studio album, he’s coming out as a photographer too. Destroyed, a book of photographs that accompanies the album of the same title out this month, takes us on tour with the eclectic star across places, spaces, and continents. The images are spare, stark, and vibrant, set in airports, airplanes, hotels, corridors, and concert arenas. The latter, taken from Moby’s on-stage point of view, are the only ones filled with the presence of others in this gallery that points to the “strangeness of touring.”

Before a recent talk at National Geographic headquarters, Moby stopped to chat with Pop Omnivore. He’s taken pictures for 35 years—as long as he’s been making music—and credits a photographer uncle with introducing him to the craft. He says he doesn’t know which he would choose if he were forced to live without sight or sound, but his musings at the end of a long evening might have offered a clue. Said the artist: “I hope to be making music until the day I die."

You’ve taken pictures since you were ten. Do you think audio or visual is a more potent form of expression?

The methodology of creating music is so very different for me than the methodology behind creating a photograph. Photography’s really quick; it’s spontaneous and immediate. For me, taking pictures is documenting, and making music is a long, creative process. From start to finish a song can take me a year, two years, and there are so many different components to it. I’m always working on every last little aspect of it.

What subjects intrigue you as a photographer?

I love what empty spaces say about people. My favorite thing to take pictures of: completely neutral, empty spaces. I’m so much more interested in an empty chair than in a chair with a person sitting in it. Aesthetically I like the simplicity and purity, like just simple angles. But it’s almost like aesthetic forensics where you take a picture of an empty space. On the one hand there’s a simple beauty to it, but it’s also trying to understand us as a species through the things we’ve created.

Your book, Destroyed, takes us on tour with you, to cities around the world, through empty spaces and airports and concert venues. It made me wonder: Where do you feel most at home?

British Airways international business class has an upper deck that’s my favorite place on the planet. I’m not trying to be a shill for British Airways but they have these flat beds that are sort of private. They have five windows and flying from London to Los Angeles—I’m pretty happy up there. Because you look out the window & it’s just this beautiful simple skyscape for 11 hours. For better or worse that’s where I feel most at home.

If you had to live without sight or sound, which one would you choose?

Wow, it’s the single hardest question I’ve been asked, and I don’t know. I truly don’t know.

Maybe we can relate it back to the first question about different modes of expression. Is there a way to describe the relationship between music and photography?

Music is ineffable. Music has no form whatsoever—all it is is air moving just a little bit differently. It’s the only art form that you can’t touch. You can touch a CD, an iPod, but music technically doesn’t exist. Once it hits your ear, you have a reaction to it, and it’s gone. Sometimes we think that’s a song about trucks, or forests, or that’s a song about a girl named Jenny, but it’s still just air moving a little bit differently. And photography—most visual arts are much more formal, etymologically in the true sense of the word, like pertaining to a specific form. It’s almost like left brain/right brain. But when they work together, especially film and music, boy it’s just perfect.

-Luna Shyr

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Art, Music, Photography, Pop Omnivore
Posted May 10,2011


Werner Herzog is back. For his 60th (!) film, the wild man of cinema took his ever-questing lens into Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, a limestone grotto in southern France filled with animal bones, geological phantasmagoria, and—most important—a gallery of Paleolithic paintings from more than 30,000 years ago. Far older than those in Lascaux, they’re remarkable for their detail, sophistication, and variety. Since 1994, when the site was discovered, the French government has kept it closed to protect its fragile ecosystem. But last year Herzog and a tiny crew were permitted a few days in the cave, and a chance to meet the scientists studying it. The result is Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a metaphysical, three-dimensional trip back in time.

Pop Omnivore spoke with the German auteur about radiocarbon dating, shooting in 3D for the first time, and what a cow-milker’s face looks like, among other things.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Archaeology, Art, Culture, Film, Movies, Pop Omnivore
Posted May 4,2011

Keoghan Here at National Geographic, fans of CBS’s The Amazing Race (and there are many of us) spend Mondays critiquing the cast and admiring how the show takes us around the globe for up-close glimpses of local culture (and crazy cab drivers). So I jumped at the opportunity to interview Phil Keoghan, the charming and wry host, as the show wraps up another season this Sunday night. A native of New Zealand, he shared views on the lessons that his show teaches, the national character of his homeland, and the art of the eyebrow raise.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Geography, Pop Omnivore, Television, Travel, TV
Posted Apr 11,2011

Fifty years after the fact, details about Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's historic first mission into space are still creeping out from behind a shroud of secrecy. (Check out this post.)

But there is something we'll never know about the flight, even in the age of Wikileaks: What did the farmer's son from Klushino, Russia, see from 200 miles above Earth on April 12, 1961?

More concerned about survival than documentary footage, Gagarin brought back sparse imagery of his monumental voyage—and obviously nothing in full-color HD.

"What Gagarin did is something of galactic significance, and it needs marking in some way other than crackly, black-and-white footage," said film director Christopher Riley.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Movies, Pop Omnivore, Space
Posted Mar 18,2011

You only use 20 percent of your brain, says the new film Limitless. But what if you could use it all? The premise of this thriller is that a magic pill called NZT lets users take advantage of 100 percent of their gray matter. So struggling writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) can suddenly reach his maximum intellectual potential. He finishes his book. He learns to speak Italian. He becomes a master of martial arts.

So does that mean all of us could be as cool as Bradley Cooper if we only could tap the vast unused parts of our brain?

Ummm, no.

Now it is true that different parts of the brain are used for different functions at different times. But that doesn't mean humans let 80 percent of their brain lie fallow.

"We use all of our brain," says Alex Martin, senior investigator of the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition at the National Institutes of Health. "Saying we use ten percent of our brain is like saying we use ten percent of our muscles."

"There are no hidden or secret regions waiting to be uncovered or released," explains Martin. "How would evolution ever build a brain like that?"&8212;Kerri Pinchuk

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (6)
Filed Under: Movies, Pop Omnivore, Science
Posted Mar 14,2011

Tiger cub in India by Laxmi Hegde

Actor Charlie Sheen’s bizarre behavior seems an unlikely source of inspiration for a sober message. But when Sheen proclaimed to the world that he had “tiger blood, man,” it reminded us that in some parts of the world, tigers and other endangered animals are vulnerable to exploitation for the supposed medicinal and spiritual value of their body parts. While tigers’ blood isn’t much in demand, their pelts, whiskers, penises and bones are all commodities, and a whole tiger can fetch $10,000 and up.

For more insight on this issue, we talked to Bryan Christy, author of the book The Lizard King, who wrote a January 2010 National Geographic magazine feature about Asia’s illegal wildlife trade.

What do you think about the current satirical interest surrounding tiger’s blood, thanks to Charlie Sheen?

It was irresponsible of him to refer to drinking tiger blood, but I suspect no one consults Charlie Sheen for health or dietary advice. 

Are other tiger parts in demand by the illegal wildlife trade?

Tigers are among the species most highly prized by illegal wildlife trafficking syndicates. Every part of a tiger has a value, from its pelt to its penis. Even its whiskers are for sale. Its bones are used to make tiger bone wine. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) ascribes certain powers to tiger parts. Fortunately, the Chinese government outlawed use of tiger parts in TCM almost two decades ago, and most people have come to realize that what’s truly valuable about tigers is their role in the ecosystem.

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (4)
Filed Under: Animals, Pop Omnivore, Wildlife
Posted Mar 8,2011

When a world leader dons bizarre outfits to make speeches—which can end in a flash or escalate into hour-long rants—and responds to protests with deadly force, then claims he’s popular with everyone, including the opposition, he is bound to become the toast of YouTube.

Just ask Muammar Qaddafi, whose antics have sparked an array of online spoofs in the past few weeks.

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Music, Pop Omnivore
Posted Mar 7,2011

The new movie Rango, directed by Gore Verbinski of Pirates of the Caribbean fame, stars a gregarious chameleon going through an identity crisis. Stranded in the Mojave Desert at first, Rango soon finds his way to the aptly named town of Dirt with the help of a roadkill oracle. His wild adventures in the lawless town made us wonder if real chameleons’ lives are equally exciting.


We sought out chameleon expert Dr. Jim Murphy, Director of Herpetology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo, and his former colleague Dr. Gary Ferguson, lead author of the book The Panther Chameleon, to separate the fact from the fiction in Rango.

Rango's World: Born in captivity, Rango is the family pet, living his life in a terrarium with a Midwestern family. 

Reality: Chameleons don’t make particularly good pets. They sometimes live just over a year, and do not respond well to the stress of the captive environment. However, there are three types dubbed the “weedy species” for their ability to adapt to a multitude of habitats, including captivity: the veiled chameleon (native to Yemen), the three-horned chameleon (Africa), and the panther chameleon (Madagascar).

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Animals, Biology, Film, Pop Omnivore
Posted Mar 3,2011

Over the past decade, Latin funk band Grupo Fantasma has been hailed by many critics for its new-world meets old-school music. Their sound combines big band sounds with Caribbean reggae, and Afro-jazz, along with cumbia (see below for more on that genre). Now, the Austin-based 10-piece orchestra has garnered its first Grammy Award for its 2010 album, El Existential, on the Nat Geo Music label. Pitted against some of the biggest names in Latin music, Grupo Fantasma took home the prize for Best Latin Rock, Alternative or Urban Album.

Guitarist Beto Martinez spoke with us about how the band got started, the roots of its music, and what it feels like to win a Grammy.

Most of us know salsa and reggae, but what exactly is cumbia?

Cumbia is a style that originated in Colombia but it’s a mix of sounds. It has a little Caribbean influence and an African influence. It’s a style of music that really proliferated in South America and then spread north all the way into Mexico, where it then turned into another style altogether. Now, there are all of these regional styles that make it different. Eventually we became exposed to the original, or the older forms that came from Colombia, and that’s what we fell in love with. It has kind of a more big band sound.

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Music, Pop Omnivore
Posted Mar 1,2011

With the release of a full HD trailer for Apollo 18, Dimension Films wants you to think they made a movie out of actual footage from a secret moon landing. Studio chief Bob Weinstein is already making headlines with his marketing claims that "we didn’t shoot anything ... We found it."

Whether you buy that line may depend on if you believe in aliens. "There's a reason we've never gone back to the moon," according to the promotional poster. And with footage that looks like a mashup of NASA TV and Paranormal Activity, it's a good bet this won't be a movie about politics and budget woes.

The truth about Apollo 18 won't be out there until the film opens on April 22. In the meantime, we asked Allan Needell, Apollo curator for the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, to walk us through the montage of "found footage" and put things in historical perspective.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Film, Pop Omnivore, Space
Posted Feb 28,2011
The King's Speech took the "Best Picture" prize at last night's Oscars, but it wasn't the only top dog. "In a Better World," a bittersweet Danish film, earned the Oscar for best foreign film. We've got the lowdown on the winner—and a rundown of the other nominees on our previous Oscar blog post.

What it’s about:  The moral ramifications of bullying. A Scandinavian doctor in an African refugee camp must decide whether to treat the infected leg of a brutal warlord who makes bets on the sex of a pregnant woman’s fetus, then slices open the mother-to-be to find out. Meanwhile, mean boys pick on the doctor’s sweet, braces-wearing son, Elias, at middle school in Denmark. New student Christian befriends Elias. But Christian is full of rage over the death of his mother from cancer. He beats one bully with a bicycle pump---and wants Elias to help him bomb another bully’s van.

What the title means: It’s what the doctor tries to create in Africa, and what all the characters want and seem doomed never to find.

Danish flavor:

a) Bikes everywhere

b) Blond hair everywhere

c) The use of the term “Swede” as an ethnic insult

Oscar-worthy moment: Moments is more like it. The doctor and his wife, separated because of his indiscretions, reflect on their lost love during an intimate cellphone conversation (Alec Baldwin wasn’t kidding when he said actress Trine Dyrholm was the world’s best). The two boys share confidences, perched on a towering waterfront silo. An African man with haunted eyes peers through a fence and begs the doctor not to treat the warlord.

Who’d star in the Hollywood remake: Mark Ruffalo, in blue contacts and a sandy-colored wig, as the doc. Laura Linney as the wife. If only Michael Cera were 14 again, he’d be perfect as Elias. And in a rare dramatic turn, Justin Bieber as Christian the motherless son.

-Marc Silver

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Film, Movies, Pop Omnivore
Posted Feb 28,2011

Blockbuster biopic The King’s Speech ruled the Oscars last night, garnering awards for Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The film presents the tale of Britain’s King George VI (Colin Firth), a temperamental heir whose lifelong struggle with a debilitating stammer cast him as an unlikely monarch. Ultimately, it is a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) whose unorthodox methods enable the king to conquer his impediment and become the voice that inspires a nation on the verge of War World II.

Today, an estimated one percent of the population---or one in 100 people---stutters. To find out just how far speech science has come since the 1930s, we talked to Vivian Sisskin of the University of Maryland’s Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences. Here's what we learned:

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Anthropology, Film, Pop Omnivore
Posted Feb 23,2011

The strangest mix of movies in this year’s Oscars is surely in the “best foreign film” category. National Geographic’s All Roads Film Project screened the five nominees, which feature everything from totally housebound Greek teenagers to totally bullied Danish teenagers. We don’t dare predict the outcome (although the favorites are Biutiful and Golden Globe winner In a Better World ). But we are happy to give you some salient details so you can speak like a foreign film geek when this category comes up on the telecast.

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Film, Pop Omnivore
Posted Feb 18,2011

In the late 19th century, Portuguese immigrants brought a stringed instrument to Hawaii, the locals tinkered with it, and the ukulele was born. Now the state’s favorite instrument--schoolkids all learn it in the fifth grade--is getting a new image, courtesy of the inventive strumming of 34-year-old Hawaiian native Jake Shimabukuro. His latest CD, “Peace Love Ukelele,” takes the ukulele places it’s never been before, including a wistful cover of Queen’s power ballad “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As he embarked on a national tour, Shimabukuro spoke with National Geographic's Marc Silver.

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Culture, Music, Pop Omnivore
Posted Feb 15,2011


This week, Jeopardy is hosting a trivia showdown that features a supercomputer, named Watson after former IBM president Thomas J. Watson, trained to answer in the form of a question. We spoke to Stephen Baker, author of Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything, to see if humanity has a chance.

What makes Watson different than a souped-up search engine?

Watson has to understand some very complex English. By contrast, we make life easy for search engines by choosing key words. Humans decide what words will most likely get them the answers they are searching for. A search engine will point you toward a list of pages and turn the work back to you. Watson has to figure out the question by itself and then to develop confidence in its answer and that is an enormously sophisticated operation.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Pop Omnivore, TV, Web/Tech
Posted Feb 8,2011

The Green Bay Packers may have garnered the trophy, but it was the critter in Volkswagen’s new “Black Beetle” commercial that scurried away with our attention during Super Bowl XLV. In an effort to promote a new line of its classic “beetle” cars, Volkswagen aired a commercial featuring a lightning-fast insect racing through a forest. Naturally, we called on the experts to find out more about this Super Bowl star.

According to Smithsonian Institution entomologist Gary Hevel, the computer-generated image in the commercial appeared to be based on an African darkling beetle. One of the species in the genus Zophosis, the darkling beetle is most often found in hot, dry regions. It's part of the fifth-largest family of beetles, Tenebrionidae, which includes some 1,200 different species of darklings in North America alone.

Though the commercial features the beetle zooming past other creatures at a car-like speed, none of the species are really quite that fast.

And "the racing stripes are simply artistic license,” says Hevel.

Kerri Pinchuk

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Animals, Pop Omnivore
Posted Feb 4,2011

Just like everyone else in America, we’ve been hearing the uproar in recent weeks over the relative merits and disadvantages of the super-strict parenting style espoused by Yale law professor Amy Chua in her new memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua, a mother of two, argues that hard-line “tiger mothering” has taught her children discipline, focus, and respect for authority—indeed, that it amounts to a recipe for success in adulthood. To that end, she justifies having called one daughter “garbage” after a show of disrespect, forcing another to go without dinner or bathroom breaks while practicing piano, and forbidding her girls from sleepovers and after-school activities like sports and drama.

There’s plenty of room for reasonable folks to disagree about the best way to raise kids. But is it correct to refer to Chua’s tough love as tiger mothering? How do real tiger moms raise their young? Are they so harsh? For a reality check, we consulted Emma Stokes, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and conservationist with the Tigers Forever program, a major international effort to save Asian tigers. Here’s what we learned:

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Animals, Pop Omnivore, Wild, Wildlife
Posted Feb 4,2011

Sanctum, the epic 3-D movie produced by James "Avatar" Cameron, follows a team of elite adventurers trapped by a cyclone. Their only escape route: a descent into the unknown world of an underwater cave. Critics have been unkind, but the setting of the film is fascinating. We caught up with veteran National Geographic photographer and cave expert, Stephen Alvarez, who most recently photographed bats in a cave for the magazine, to hear his take on exploring the netherworld.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Film, Movies, Pop Omnivore
Posted Jan 24,2011

Watching the new Green Hornet film, which stars Seth Rogen as a masked vigilante with a chauffeur sidekick, inspired me to find out more about its namesake in the natural world. Can hornets really be green? Well, no—they’re yellow, black and brown—but they do have plenty of other impressive characteristics you may not know about. Read past the jump for our list.

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Biology, Film, Pop Omnivore, Wildlife
Posted Jan 5,2011

Snakes are the unbilled stars of the new Coen Brothers’ western, True Grit. They’re talked about, given lots of screen time, and you’d better believe that they bite. We asked snake expert Terry Philip, curator of reptiles at Black Hills Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota, to shed light on the movie depiction of the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.

Spoiler alert: This post reveals the identity of the movie’s snake-bite victim.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Animals, Movies, Pop Omnivore, Wild, Wildlife
Posted Dec 22,2010

There are many things I wanted to find out when I had the chance to test drive the Chevy Volt, GM’s new electric vehicle. How many miles per charge? What’s the carbon footprint? But mainly, what happens when I put the pedal to the metal? So, when one of my official Chevy escorts told me, “the Volt’s got the same engine torque as a Camaro,” I took full license to floor it. Driving some 230 miles up Interstate 95, on a road trip from Washington, D.C. to New York City, I pulled even with none other than a white Camaro, signaled the opposing driver with the raise of an eyebrow and a suggestive nod, and let the engine howl. Chewing up highway at 95 mile per hour, the Volt smoked that Camaro—and this is on the electric battery?

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Pop Omnivore, Technology
Posted Dec 20,2010

The new movie Black Swan is a tale about human ballet dancers, but it does raise an interesting bird question: What’s the deal with nature’s black swans? To find out, I interviewed two experts: former National Geographic grantee Bill Sladen, who now lives in Virginia, and New Zealander Murray Williams. The first thing I learned is that experts do not know why some swans are black. Here’s what they do know:

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (4)
Filed Under: Animals, Film, Movies, Pop Omnivore
Posted Dec 13,2010

Every December, the title character of Peter Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet, The Nutcracker, battles the forces of the Mouse King on stages across Europe and North America. The rest of the year, the wooden nutcracker is a star in its birthplace, the little town of Seiffen, nestled in the mountains of southeastern Germany.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Pop Omnivore
Posted Dec 3,2010

Glee Dominated by two giants, Wrigley and Cadbury, the global chewing gum industry will post an estimated $24 billion dollars in sales this year. That represents over a million tons of the stuff, with more to come. Gum is the fastest growing business in the candy world, up more than 35 percent since 2001.

About half of all Americans chew gum, according to Wrigley’s research. The International Chewing Gum Association reports that Americans go through an average of 182 sticks a year. In Britain the tally is 125, in Germany 103, Russia 84, China 20, and India 4.

Most chewers have no idea what they’re putting in their mouth. They grab a pack of gum in the checkout line and never look at the label. If they did, they’d find a lot of artificial things along with a few natural ones—especially sugar, the number one ingredient. (* See below for details.)

In the biggest markets, where consumers have begun to care about such things, two boutique companies have turned to history to find a more organic alternative. Glee Gum in the U.S. and Chicza in the U.K. make gum with the same kind of sticky sap the Maya chewed at the height of their civilization some 1,500 years ago. Known as chicle, the sap is extracted from the tropical sapodilla tree by a process that’s similar to tapping syrup from maple trees.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (7)
Filed Under: Culture, Food, Pop Omnivore
Posted Nov 24,2010

It’s no secret that turkeys aren’t considered the geniuses of the animal world. Many people say the birds are so stupid that they'll stand in the rain, look up with their beaks wide open, and drown. Do they deserve this sorry reputation?

Jesse Grimes, professor of nutrition and poultry sciences at North Carolina State University, was happy to explain a few things about turkey behavior.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (5)
Filed Under: Animals, Pop Omnivore, Wild, Wildlife
Posted Nov 19,2010


In keeping with the current British mood of austerity, Prince William has recycled his mother’s engagement ring. His fiancée, Kate Middleton, now wears the sparkler that created a sensation when the world first saw it in 1981.

Demurely dressed in blue, Lady Diana Spencer, the 19-year-old princess bride-to-be, shyly showed off her bold piece of bling—an oval sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds and set in 18-karat white gold. It was big. It wasn’t an heirloom. And the central stone wasn’t a diamond. Tongues wagged.

Now that the ring is in the public view once more, enquiring minds have a few questions.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (5)
Filed Under: Culture, Fashion, Pop Omnivore
Posted Nov 18,2010

Media outlets have been atwitter over the recent death of TV sitcom Wild at Heart’s biggest— literally— star: Hamley the giraffe was struck and killed by a wayward lightning bolt on Monday, November 8 on the South African game reserve where the series is filmed.

This tragedy begs the question: Is Hamley’s death a freak occurrence, or are giraffes at increased risk for death by lightning because their long necks act as a lightning rod?

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Animals, Pop Omnivore, Wild, Wildlife
Posted Oct 27,2010

Halloween is the time when humans can get a taste of what it is like to roam the streets as an animal. And this Halloween, the newest way to assume the guise of a beast is by climbing into an animal-print full-body “morphsuit.”

To see what it is like to straddle the line between human and animal, I took up my editor’s invitation to put on a $65 zebra suit and gallop around our nation’s capital. (On one excursion, I was joined by a colleague in a leopard suit.)

My conclusion is that even in this odd suit, I became a player in what scientist E.O. Wilson calls “biophilia” – an innate love that humans have for animals. (Either that, or people just love weird stuff). Aside from an unfortunate episode at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, in which my head-to-toe mask caused guards to call me aside and insist that I remove the head mask, I was met with outpourings of love from tourists and residents. It is unclear how zebras would respond: I made an attempt to find one at the National Zoo but did not succeed.

The following photos offer the high points from my walk (and pedicab ride) on the wild side. —William Shubert

TOUCHDOWN ZEBRA! In an ode to his black-and-white striped cousins on the football field, the zebra signals score during a pedicab ride by the Washington Monument.

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Animals, Anthropology, Culture, Nature, Pop Omnivore, Wild, Wildlife
Posted Oct 18,2010

You have a very strange dream. Where did it come from, and what does it mean? Then you think you wake up … but how do you know you’re not still dreaming?

These questions have long been a topic of hot debate. Just ask Sigmund Freud, who believed that dreams are our brain’s way of saying: These are my wishes! Or Allan Hobson, the Harvard professor of psychiatry, who theorized that dreams are our attempt to make sense of random neuron firings during sleep. Or maybe the ancient Hindus were right: Life is but a dream.

Now Hollywood has presented its own dream theory.

In the hit movie Inception (above), a character tries to enter another character’s dreams and plant an idea. Various ideas about dreams are in the mix: Dreams within dreams, dreams that seem to start in the middle of the action rather than at the beginning, and dreams that are influenced by external stimuli—stuff in the real world, such as an Edith Piaf record.

To find out the truth about dreaming, we interviewed Robert Stickgold, director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard,who studies the connection between sleep, memory, and learning.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (9)
Filed Under: Film, Movies, Pop Omnivore
Posted Oct 15,2010


Tonight marks the start of the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York City, a weeklong event full of short and long features with a scientific bent. Though many of the films are fictional and fanciful, they all have a bit of science in their DNA.

Here are half a dozen short selections that can teach you something in just a few minutes.

—Brad Scriber

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Film, Movies, Pop Omnivore, Science
Posted Oct 11,2010


The second season of Glee is upon us. And even though fans may think they know everything about the show, there is a lot they likely do not know about the history of real-life glee clubs.

Surprising Point #1: “Glee” doesn’t mean what you think it does.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Music, Pop Omnivore, TV
Posted Sep 24,2010

Starting on September 28, all roads for D.C. area film buffs will lead to National Geographic headquarters, where the “All Roads Film Festival” will launch a six-day program featuring 55 movies from 21 countries.

Here’s our take on a few of this year’s highlights:

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Film, Pop Omnivore
Posted Sep 20,2010

Tonight, CBS relaunches the Pacific island cop drama Hawaii Five-0 with a whole new cast and lots and lots of bullets. In addition to one of the greatest theme songs in TV history, the 1968 series also inspired "Five-O" as a slang term for the police. As in, "Oh no, I just ran a red light and Five-O is on my tail." The nickname, of course, comes from Hawaii's status as the 50th state.

Out of curiosity, we put out an APB to the magazine's publishing partners worldwide for their nicknames for the fuzz. Here's what our informants revealed. Let us know in the comments if you can add to our global cop vocabulary.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (4)
Filed Under: Pop Omnivore, Television, TV
Posted Sep 15,2010



One of the most famous women of the ancient world, the last pharaoh of Egypt seduced two Roman statesmen and committed suicide as Roman legions closed in conquer her homeland. In modern popular culture, those historical events have made her into a tragic temptress. But who was she, really? What was her life like? And where was she finally laid to rest?

A new exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (organized, in part, by National Geographic) showcases the clues accumulated by two archaeologists seeking to answer those questions. What they’ve discovered so far balances the myth with an intriguing measure of truth.


Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Archaeology, Pop Omnivore
Posted Aug 29,2010

Since the dawn of dirty laundry, people in southern Asia have used fruits known as soapnuts to wash their clothes. Now the rest of the world is catching on to this green way of getting clean. Widely available in Europe, the fruits are called Waschnusse in Germany, noix de lavage in France, and noci de sapone in Italy. They’ve also spread into the U.S., Canada, Australia, and other countries with large markets for eco-friendly products.

Native to warm climates, soapnut trees produce clusters of cherry-like fruits. After the ripe fruits are harvested and pitted, the skin and pulp are dried in the sun. The resulting hollow, leathery globes make suds when added to water that’s churned by hand or machine.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Energy, Environment, Pop Omnivore
Posted Aug 23,2010

Water bug nutrition
Photo: Joel Sartore

Bugs are things we normally try to keep OUT of our soups and salads.

Maybe that’s the wrong attitude.

In many parts of the world, insects and worms have long been a cheap source of protein. North American and European cultures are really the only ones that have abstained. ”Insects are a vast and varied food resource,” says professor emeritus Gene DeFoliart of the University of Wisconsin, who for years kept up a website on entomophagy –the art of insect eating. With our planet packed with people, and limited land space for agriculture, he says, “we in the West should stop laughing at the idea of consuming termites and mealworms and crickets.”

So I decided it was time to try some insect edibles. A small brave group of writers and editors, all curious but admittedly icked-out, reserved a table at a favorite Mexican joint, Oyamel in Washington, D.C. The chef whipped us up a batch of grasshopper tacos (and a pitcher of something with triple sec and lime to wash them down, just in case).

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (11)
Filed Under: Animals, Culture, Food, Pop Omnivore, Wildlife
Posted Aug 19,2010
Piranha I have no intention of seeing Piranha 3D. I dislike films that vilify animals—even a species whose dagger teeth shear live things to shreds. I do not want to see a certain male body part flying at me in 3D. Nor do I wish to listen to lines like “The first bite draws blood. The blood draws the pack”— followed by a bikinied girl getting yanked under, Jaws style.

Still, the film made me wonder about these ill-reputed creatures. Herewith, a piranha primer.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Movies, Pop Omnivore, Wildlife
Posted Aug 13,2010

Dog owners are all familiar with the bad-dog “look”—head slightly downcast, eyes big and mopey. Guilty. He knows he’s done wrong, but he’d do it again (in a quiet, sneaky way) if you’d only look away. Please, look away!

Psychologist Shannon Kundey of Hood College in Pennsylvania and colleagues just published a study in Applied Animal Behaviour Science that confirms it: Dogs know when you’re watching/listening and when you’re not, and act accordingly. If they think you aren’t paying attention, they may try to tiptoe by and get away with bad behavior, like a kid silently snagging a snack right before dinner.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Animals, Pop Omnivore
Posted Aug 13,2010

Wondering about the wolves that have been howling on True Blood this season? They are not CGI. Or animatronic. Or stuffed. They’re real!

“Wolves are incredibly charismatic and very powerful creatures, and you can’t create a version … as good as the real thing,” executive producer Alan Ball has said. So he turned to Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife, whose trained wolves are descended from rescued wolves.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (5)
Filed Under: Animals, Pop Omnivore, Television, Wildlife
Posted Aug 5,2010
The teenage protagonist of Lucy has curly hair, a Facebook page, and a talent for swinging through the trees. She is pretty, though her features are slightly odd. Her strength surpasses that of every boy on her high school wrestling team; one of them is her date to the prom. She reads Twilight and quotes Shakespeare, and if she gets upset, she might shriek a little. She eats bananas with the skin on, doesn’t understand why we throw away useful things like blueberry containers, and likes to spend the majority of her time naked.

Lucy is part bonobo.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Animals, Biology, Pop Omnivore, Science, Wildlife
Posted Jul 12,2010

Perhaps M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender was always doomed to fail. Not only was the famously ambitious director trying to re-create the mythos of a popular animated series. He was also hoping that “this movie … will be the most culturally diverse tent-pole movie ever released,’’ as he told the Los Angeles Times last summer.

That’s a pretty tall order. And Shyamalan wound up pretty far off the mark.

In fact, the Indian American auteur’s decision to cast Caucasian actors as Asian- and Inuit-inspired heroes launched a protest movement. Fans of the cartoon started Racebending.com, after seeing Paramount’s preference-heavy casting call for actors of “Caucasian or any other ethnicity.” And groups including the Media Action Network for Asian Americans boycotted the film, accusing Hollywood of “whitewashing” Asian projects for the sake of broader audience appeal.

Posted by Catherine Barker | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Film, Pop Omnivore
Posted Jun 22,2010

Each June, lucky Washingtonians get to see some of the world's best documentaries at the Silver Docs festival in Silver Spring, Md. Here's a roundup of some of this year's films that touch on themes near to the heart of Natty Geo. If you're not a DC-area resident, we're including links to other showings or additional information on these documentaries.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Film, Pop Omnivore
Posted Jun 11,2010

June must be “Hug a Vampire Month.” The fanged folk of True Blood return to HBO’s airwaves on the 13th. And a certain sparkly bloodsucker will lure millions of teenage girls to movie theaters when The Twilight Saga: Eclipse premieres on the 30th.

We at Pop Omnivore do not wish to pander to this Vampire Craze. But we do wish to gain insights into the origins and habits of fangy. And so we interviewed Mark Collins Jenkins, author of the new book from National Geographic: Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Film, Pop Omnivore, Television
Posted Jun 4,2010

In Iron Man 2, the U.S. government and a deliciously deranged industrialist want to get their hands on Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. I know how they feel. Before Stark descends into a self-pitying stupor of drunkenness, dancing, and watermelon pulverization, he teases us with a long aerial dance. Clad in red-and-gold armor, Stark leaps from the belly of a plane, blasts off, and pirouettes in the night sky somewhere over Flushing, New York.

As alluring as jetting about in rocket boots seems, one question springs to mind: Could the human body take the stress of flying at high speeds in nothing but a formfitting exo-suit? Apparently so, at least when it comes to speed. That boom you hear when a jet breaks the sound barrier—going some 670 mph at 36,000 feet and above? A person inside a hypothetical jet suit would barely hear or feel a thing, says Dik Daso, retired Air Force pilot and curator of modern military aircraft at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. What's happening in the air turns out to be very complicated, but suffice to say has to do with pressure waves that move about and somehow spare the speeding human a major rattling.

Things get tricky, however, as soon as you want to turn or move. G forces—the force of acceleration acting upon a body, measured in terms of gravity—kick in as soon as a flying object strays from a straight line. The average person would lose consciousness after sustained exposure to 5 to 6Gs, says Daso. A roller coaster exerts between 2 and 4 Gs; a NASCAR driver on a high-speed track experiences 3 to 4Gs. Pilots who fly F-16 jets, the “Ferrari of fighter planes,” pull turns of 7 to 8Gs and must wear special tube-lined suits that inflate during the maneuver, says Gray Creech, a spokesman for NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. The so-called G-suits press against their legs and abdomen to help stave off blackouts by keeping blood in their heads.

Nor could a flying human be very flexible. “Very small movements at high speeds cause very big changes in flight path,” says Daso. At high speed, a human would have to be so rigid he or she “wouldn’t be able to itch their nose.”

So how Tony Stark manages to stay conscious—let alone work out battle strategies, read computer data and banter with Pepper Potts—while navigating at top speeds is indeed the stuff of superheroes. If one were to attempt to emulate Iron Man, however, the biggest technical problem would be a propulsion system that’s small and powerful enough to zip a person across the sky. If you’re Iron Man’s nemesis Ivan Vanko, a.k.a. Whiplash, all it takes to devise such a system are a few blueprints, a bit of blacksmithing, a large dose of anger and we’re ready to go. In reality, the propulsion needed to fly someone at speeds like Iron Man and his brethren would be too big to strap onto a body, says Daso. Having a hard suit like Iron Man turns out to be very practical in terms of protecting the body from aerodynamic forces. Air pressure would prove uncomfortable on the skin at speeds of 20 to 30 mph; at 300 mph, the wind would start tearing skin apart, says Al Bowers, a project manager at Dryden. “A hard suit would protect you from the wind blast but you’d still be unable to move,” he says. “The suit would have to be flexible and rigid at the same time—flexible for control but rigid so you could withstand aerodynamic forces.”

In other words, only Superman can fly at top speed and still look like Christopher Reeve. James Bond was onto something when he donned a jetpack and blasted up and out of trouble in Thunderball. Iron Man’s suit takes human flight to a whole new level, and if its looks and power weren’t captivating enough, it also folds up into a chic briefcase. If the suit can’t be had, I’ve got my eye on the next best thing: Ivan Vanko’s energy whips.

–Luna Shyr

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Film, Pop Omnivore
Posted Jun 1,2010

Do you know the name of the largest city in northern Haiti, which was renamed when Haiti became independent from France?

Or which city is connected to Copenhagen by the Oresund Bridge?

I made my debut as a moderator in a preliminary round of the 2010 National Geographic Bee, which is being televised on PBS stations. I’m a four-decade National Geographic employee, now the managing editor of the magazine, but before that I spent years in the research division, which is responsible for verifying all factual information before publication. You'd think those years of research would make the Bee easy. Yet those questions stumped me. The ability to answer them helped Aadith Moorthy of Florida win the National Geographical Bee and a $25,000 scholarship. The second place winner was Oliver Lucier from Rhode Island. Third place went to Idaho’s Karthik Mouli.

Ten finalists—all boys—competed in the final round of the 22nd Bee. I continue to be amazed, year after year, by how much the geography contestants know, how little attitude they possess, and how casually they appear to accept their elimination if they miss questions, even in the final rounds. Several were here for the second time, having won their state championships twice in a row.

Here’s what I learned as a moderator:

Bee contestants aren’t just geography lovers. Many play musical instruments. Some participate in sports, though not surprisingly they tend to be single-player activities such as tennis and golf. Of course they are also voracious readers.

Pronunciation is hard. I was glad I practiced ahead of time, especially when it came to Sacred Mountains of the World for round 7: Llullaillaco [yoo-yai-YAH-koh], Tehuelche [teh-WHALE-chay] people, Chalkidikí [call-kee-thee-KEE] Peninsula, Ol Doinyo Lengai [ol-doyn-yo len-GAY], and Mount Hikurangi [hee-koo-RANG-ee].

It's not easy emulating Alex Trebek, who hosts the final round of the Bee (as well as a certain other question-answer TV show). I wanted to be as relaxed as Alex is, to call each contestant by name, to express sorrow when an answer was wrong without being too dramatic. I must have succeeded, at least in the mind of one parent, who told me after the contest that my calming voice helped the contestants. I was also told that Alex came into our room several times during the contest, a fact that I'm glad I wasn't aware of at the time.

I wish more girls were there. The diversity of the contestants is inspiring—their families have recent roots in places like India, Iran, Korea, Pakistan, and assorted eastern European nations. Now if we could only find a way to have more girls end up in the finals there would be true diversity. The National Geographic has been trying extremely hard to do this with special studies and outreach, encouraging girls to participate at the local level. But once again the Bee was overwhelmingly male. This year only one of the contestants was female.

And the answers are…Oh, and if you didn’t know the answer to the two questions, they are: Cap-Haïtien and Malmö.

-Lesley Rogers

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Geography, Pop Omnivore, Television, TV
Posted May 14,2010
I got the call.

No sooner had spring arrived when I found out that my short comedy, a modern adaptation about the miracle at the Marriage at Cana, won third place at the annual Off-Centered Film Festival.

The festival is a celebration of indie film and craft beer, hosted by a craft brewery, and I knew little of the latter. I had to find out more about beer than just how to appreciate it, so I bit the bullet, pinched my nose, and dove headfirst into the history of beer. Here's what I found out.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Food, Pop Omnivore
Posted May 7,2010
Photograph by G.K. Darby

Two days after the premiere of the new HBO series Treme, Lionel Nelson, 60, sits in Sidney's Saloon (1500 St. Bernard Street) watching a rerun of the first episode. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins appears on screen to the delight and laughter of Sidney's patrons. One of many locals cast in the show, he plays himself. Ruffins owns Sidney's-home to the regulars who used to drink at Joe's Cozy Corner (1532 Ursuline St.), a legendary Treme bar where the Rebirth Brass Band and Ruffins had a standing gig on Sundays.

See our interactive Treme map and continue reading after the jump.

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Culture, Geography, Pop Omnivore, Travel, TV
Posted Apr 4,2010
"When you drink good seltzer, you should not be able to gulp it down. Good seltzer should hurt," says Kenny Gomberg, just before taking a swig straight from the bottle and grimacing.

The 21st-century seltzer lover typically buys plastic bottles of the fizzy water at the supermarket. But 50 years ago in cities like New York, customers kept Czechoslovakian, quarter-inch-thick glass bottles in their home, and the seltzer man would stop by to fill you up.

Seltzer Works, a short film by Jessica Edwards, gives us a glimpse into the glorious past of seltzer, beloved by a generation or five of New Yorkers for its intense, throat-clearing bubbliness. Edwards profiles the shop of seltzer-bottler Gomberg, owner of Gomberg Seltzer Works, which dates back to 1953 and is the last independent seltzer operation in New York City.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Film, Food, Pop Omnivore
Posted Apr 2,2010
In Hot Tub Time Machine, the raunchy flashback movie that opened last weekend, four binge-drinking guys travel back to the 1980's after they spill an illicit Russian energy drink called Chernobly on the tub's control panel. If you'd prefer to turn back the years without the hangover, you're in luck. There are lots of literary and cinematic options to choose from.

Even before the 1895 novel by H.G. Wells popularized the term "time machine," writers have been dreaming up contraptions to get people unstuck in time. So the hot tub time machine has plenty of weird company. Here's a rundown of our 15 favorites from around the world.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Film, Pop Omnivore
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