Just Above Sunset
October 24, 2004 - Never Cry Wolf

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Disclaimer: my first wife and I once had a pet rabbit, a Dutch Blue, we named Farley, after Farley Mowat.  Who?  That’s the Canadian biologist who wrote Never Cry Wolf, a 1963 book about Mowat’s adventures chronicling his investigation of a wolf pack for the Canadian government – which showed wolves were quite social animals and not much threat to anyone.  No need to wipe them all out.  The book was adapted into a moderately successful Disney movie of the same name in 1983, directed by Carroll Ballard and starring Charles Martin Smith, Brian Dennehy, and Zachary Ittimangnaq – an engaging Inuit fellow.  The book was better than the film.  And when I taught English back in the seventies I used the book as a primary text with younger students as it was quite well written, and had a bit to do about thinking carefully, observing and not jumping to conclusions.

But Mowat himself was, to some folks, a pain – one of those angry environmentalists.  On April 24, 1985, United States immigration officials denied him entry into the United States.  Up to that day Mowat had been blissfully unaware that he appeared as a suspected Communist or anarchist on the so-called Red Scare list, which dated back to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 – and you remember those days of the McCarthy hearings and the red scare.  Mowat missed his speaking engagement at a biology conference at some American university or other.  Of course outrage over Mowat’s case in both the United States and Canada contributed to a major revision of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 - in 1990.  Most curious.  Naturalist?  Communist?  Whatever.  Think of Mowat as a beta version of José Bové – and Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has a photo of that Bové fellow and some comments on that fellow here.

Mowat and Bové aside, wolves are interesting critters.  And now they have entered the last days of the political campaign.  The Bush campaign has a new television ad running in fourteen swing states, featuring wolves.  Mowat wouldn’t recognize these.

This television spot is an arty hand-held camera thing – dusk in a deep green forest.  A wolf darts across your line of vision, then another, and then we see the whole pack on a grassy knoll, so to speak, and they rise and amble toward the camera.  Leave rustle.  The minor-key music swells, and a female voice intones these words -


In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence operations. By six billion dollars. Cuts so deep, they would have weakened America's defenses. And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.


Yeah, yeah.  They is a coming for us all if we vote for Kerry.

Matthew Yglesias comments -


I like Kerry's health plan, his education plan, and his orientation on tax policy. I'm not so hot on his trade rhetoric, but Bush's policies on this score haven't been any better. The president's certainly mismanaged foreign policy a great deal and seems unwilling to learn from his mistakes. But when you get down to it, the fact is that if Kerry wins you're probably going to be… EATEN BY WOLVES!


And Brad DeLong adds this -


The real problem with this ad, I think, is that the real wolves shown are just not that scary. They look too much like German Shepherds, and each wolf by itself is too small to be convincing as a serious threat. Moreover, the wolves in the video shot at the end aren't hunting: they're hanging out in the meadow, and then being roused by the dinner bell...


In fact, they are kind of appealing, and most everyone likes big dogs.  When I saw the ad I didn’t think about the mortal danger we face if we elect John Kerry.  I thought of my big, gawky, goofy dog from way back when, Lamar, who always looked sad when he finally figured out Farley-the-Rabbit really didn’t want to play with him.  Lamar didn’t get it.

Do the Bush folks get it?  These wolves in the ad look like they need a little love and acceptance, and a good meal followed by a long nap.  Snakes would have been better, or a mean-looking overweight housecat like my Harriet.  They could have used snakes or a cat.  No one much likes snakes, and most of my friends out here really don’t like sly, sneaky, uncooperative, haughty housecats.  Bad choice.

But I hear on the news the Bush ad folks test-marketed this spot and it polled well, so they went with it.  I guess no one in the focus groups read Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf - or saw the movie.  And surely no one in the focus groups read Mowat’s A Whale for the Killing.  No doubt they were all Republicans - and not “save the whales” liberals.

Perhaps the ad will be effective.  But I doubt it.  The metaphor must have seemed apt, but the visuals are all wrong - the critters just look too much like the family beast snoozing in the next room.  And too, there is a misunderstanding of wolves here, a misunderstanding of animal behaviors and basic the biological science - evidence of many decades.

A misunderstanding of basic science?  The Bush folks are famous for that – global warming is not caused by anything we do and no one has really, really proved it’s happening, and Bush publicly saying the jury is still out on that there evolution theory.  He doesn't buy it.

And now his team gets it wrong about wolves.

It figures. And what does the “W” really stand for?



Note: Fred Kaplan here gives a more conventional analysis of the ad’s argument – Kerry really didn’t call for the massive cuts the ad says he called for.  In fact, at the time, the Republican congressman hack that was just appointed to run the CIA, Porter Goss, called for similar cuts.  But no one cares about all that.


Be very afraid...

Click here for seperate image...



From Joseph, our expatriate friend in Paris -


The wolf advert?  Yes it's low.  Yes, it's misleading.  But what do you expect?   It is, according to focus groups, highly effective.  Playing some scary music and shouting "boo!" comes a close second.


Is it too late to parody this?  I'm imagining scary music, dark forest, pan to reveal... 




BTW: has anyone seen Zogby's comments in the New Yorker?


In the interest of getting a "vibe" in a 2000 poll, he slipped in the following question: Suppose you live in Oz (not the prison, dummy).  Do you vote for the Tin Man (no heart), or the Scarecrow (no brain)?  Zogby says he realized that he wouldn't be able to call the race when this question polled an exact tie.


Today, Zogby polls the Tin Man ahead by 10%.  Hmmmm.....


From Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -


I heard some Democrat consultant on NPR the other day say he saw those wolves and thought his schnauser could whip the whole lot of them.  I keep wondering if focus groups tested positive on this ad because they thought the wolves were really cute.


I like your bunnies but am reminded of that swimming bunny that attacked Jimmy Carter's canoe back when he was president.  (My theory at the time was it was some sort of a robo-rabbit, controlled by an agent of either KAOS or the Bulgarian secret service.)


Also a bit confused about that Zogby poll: Which one is Bush, the one without the brain, or the one without the heart?  And given his service record in the Alabama War, I guess Zogby could have thrown in that lion, too.


And that prompted this from Ric of MetropoleParis, deep in the heart of France –


What, I wanna know, WHAT has everybody got against Bulgaria?  It's just a big tomato farm.


Meanwhile in the home of Katchup-flavored grated carrots, with cheese, we got to see the 'Bush and the Wolves' commercial tonight on France-3 TV-news.  I agree, they sure found some homey-looking wolves. The news also mentioned that this election is the most expensive in history, or this week's ads are.


France just bumped off the first of four wolves that it has decided to take out, to keep the hills full of music safe for J Bové's fluffly little lambs.  Save-the-Wolves folks came on and said it was just a little-bitty wolf, and didn't really need to be rubbed out.  France only has about 40 of them, while Italy has hundreds, and they all live in perfect harmony in the suburbs of Rome.


A little later France-2 TV-news showed the folks hanging around Union Square in Manhattan today.  First image-bite was close-up of a t-shirt with the catchy slogan, 'Fuck Bush.'  See how French TV distorts things in America?  Their last report was from Huntsville, Texas.  I never knew there was more than one prison there.  They finished off their five-minute report by saying how many dudes will be bumped off before Election Day.  Was it six?  The odd thing is that 'Mericans actually talk to French TV-news.  As far as I know, the news here didn't pick up that Crawford paper's endorsement.  [See this about that endorsement in last week’s issue. – AP]


Tonight French TV-news was also in Iraq talking to US Army guys there.  One said, "Maybe we weren't told the truth about WMD."  I couldn't hear the other guy because of the French voice-over, but I don't think they were translating all of the shorter words he used.  I got the impression that French news was trying to imply that not all the troops intend to vote for their commander-in-chief.


You can deduce from this that the world is playing attention, very interested in what is going on in the United States.  Luckily we are not depending on Fox News for our slanted visions.


And Bob Patterson – whose columns appear hear in his alias as The World’s Laziest Journalist – and this …


In today's column in the New York Times, David Brooks writes that a Republican leader is different from a Democrat.  "Instead, they are set apart by virtue of exceptional moral qualities.  Relying on their core values, they set broad goals and remain resolute in times of crisis."


You take the concept of driving a car off a cliff.  The Democrats do it like James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” 


“Where's Buzz?” 


They may hesitate but they do what has to be done.


Or "Thelma and Louise" style?


Pedal to the metal and go roaring off the cliff with determination and conviction?


"…and never look back." 


Never complain, never explain.


Brooks writes of "… the Republican who leads with his soul or the Democrat who leads with his judgment." 


Are ya with me, lads?


Do you want to see who can come closest to the edge before jumping out of the car or do you want to go out in a blaze of glory?


This election is about a choice between "Rebel Without A Cause" and "Thelma and Louise."


[Wolves?  Like Nazi submarines in "wolf packs"?  Wagner's grandchildren called Hitler "Uncle Wolf."  It seems like the winner of this election will be the guy who can best convince the voters that the other guy is just like… that German chancellor for life. ]


Your will find the Davis Brooks item here.


The More Things Change...

David Brooks, The New York Times, October 23, 2004

Registration (free) required for access.






Joseph, above, asks if it’s too late for a parody of this.


No – see Wolf Packs for Truth and this copy…

They told us we were shooting a Greenpeace commercial!

When the camera crew showed up, we wondered why they were all driving Hummers.  Our agent assured us it was a Greenpeace commercial and they paid TWICE our hourly steak rate.  Little did we know we were being tricked into this vicious campaign attack ad.

We are not Terrorists!

George W. Bush incorrectly labeled my wolf pack as a terrorist threat.  We are NOT terrorists.  We do not associate with terrorists (unless you count that pesky wolverine) and FRANKLY, we don't even like terrorists!

We are a peaceful pack of wolves. …

For these reasons, my Wolf Pack and I support John Kerry for President of the United States


Well, it’s not the Swift Boat veterans, but it will do.


Ric in Paris agrees –


Damn right!  Take it out and run with it.  'Bush cried wolf' once too often.


The wolves they had, they looked like sleepy democratic wolves.  Well-fed, dozy, cuddly little wolves.  'What are those cute lamb things?'  Kinda like the little French wolf that got murdered the other day.  So small it could have gotten beaten up by the bunny that attacked Jimmy.  They kept showing it - its sharp teeth - my, how many sharp teeth! - and its soft little foot pads.  And its hair was so clean.  It was a classy wolf.  Its eyes weren't shiny any more, and its nose had dried out.  It should have just slipped across the Alps and joined its homies in Italy near Rome, lying around listening to the call of the wild and eating fresh pasta.


As I began, wolves are interesting critters, and rather harmless, and oddly likable.


What were the Republicans thinking?


Late Saturday night, just before Just Above Sunset went to press, Bob Patterson sent this along.


If I were in charge of Kerry ads, I'd be furiously brainstorming ideas about an ad with an armadillo.


I believe it is the official animal or reptile of Texas.


It is slow, but when they decide to see what's on the other side of the highway, they are determined and will not swerve.  They forge ahead with dogged determination.


Sometimes in the Texas "outback" a highway can be totally deserted when you decide to crawl across it.  Sometimes, Yikes!  It winds up reminding a fellow of the old song "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road."


How about this for a counter advertisement:


The opening picture shows an armadillo crawling across a road.  Suddenly a car comes barreling down the highway.  The voiceover says, "Wolves aren't that slow."  Implying… whatever.


Wolves?  Hasn't their flack positioned it so they are perceived as strong, beautiful (in a barbaric way) and to be feared?  Isn't that how we are supposed to picture Junior?  Forget the arrogant, smirking, reckless cowboy.  How about strong, beautiful, and to be feared?  That ain't an armadillo.


(Back in 1972 or so I was hitchhiking up near Banff in British Columbia.  I got a ride from Jasper down to Banff.  While we were riding along a timber wolf came within sight.  The local driver told me some folks live their entire life in that area and never see one.  Seeing one is was a rare privilege.  Does Bush expect I wouldn't jump at the chance to vote for one?)


There was an old ethnic W.W.II joke that had this punch line: 'Merican, you make very bad mistake.


Most likely I'll never get the chance to go hitchhiking around Canada imitating Jack Keroac again in this lifetime.  That one glimpse of a timber wolf was meant to last a lifetime.  So far, so good.


Wolves are perceived as strong, beautiful (in a barbaric way) and to be feared? 


The last attribute is open to question.  In the Farley Mowat study it became pretty clear wolves were highly social and cooperative, and subsisted mostly on foraging various sorts of flora and, for protein, having a fine old time eating voles - you know, field mice.  There's a funny section in the Mowat book were he himself tries various vole recipes to see if he can do the same - and that scene is hilarious and really disgusting.  Wolves would, of course, cull the migrating caribou herds when they could, but took out the weak and disabled, as strong and healthy adult caribou were both a bother - pretty fast and hard to catch - and a danger, as they fought back.  They're damned big.  And too, the wolves had to wait for the migration periods so that wasn't their main source of food.


And there is no record of any wolf anywhere in North America ever attacking any human.  None.  You could look it up.  They simply are not a danger to us.  That's for fairy tales.  Western ranchers worry a bit about the weak and very young in their herds - but the danger there too is minimal.  Wolves aren't friendly critters.  They avoid us.  They have other concerns.  So should we.


That wolves appear in the Bush ad is just another example of this sorry crew in power misunderestimating what the real threat is.  A bunch of Saudi nationals in support of that Osama fellow in Afghanistan attack us?  What to do?  Attack Saddam in Iraq, of course.  Say what?


New bumper sticker?




None of this is particularly rational, and regarding that, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, gets the final word –


As for political choices not being rational, I'm really baffled by that this time around.  Here you have a contest between two guys juggling eggs in which one of them is constantly dropping his, but since he appears so confident as he explains his screw-ups away, the judges are ruling this race neck-and-neck!  I think there may be some cosmic law thing going on here that, once universally known, will call into question the whole notion that a people can ever wisely rule themselves.


(Damn, I think I've hit on something here!  I must remember to use this analysis elsewhere!)


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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