Sunday, April 16, 2017

Enceladus


(Picture from here.)

NASA has announced some new findings from the Cassini probe. In 2015, Enceladus produced a geyser that Cassini managed to fly through. In its mass spectrometer, it detected molecular hydrogen. This is hydrogen that is only bonded to itself and not with other materials or in an ionized state. (See here.)

Before we go too far, we have to talk about Enceladus.

Enceladus is one of the moons of Saturn. Saturn ranges between 9 and 10 billion km from the sun. By contrast, Jupiter is between 5 and 5.5 billion km from the sun. Earth is 149.6 million km from the sun. So, Saturn is 64 times the distance of the Earth from the sun and Jupitor is about 35 times the distance from the sun. Since Enceladus orbits Saturn, the distance from the sun is about the same.

Enceladus has no atmosphere to speak of. It has a 5 kilometer icy shell floating on top of 65 km of ocean with a rocky core at the center. For contrast, the deepest part of the ocean is the Challenger Deep that is only about 11km to the bottom. Water pressure there is about 1000 atmospheres. However, on Enceladus the gravity is much weaker. I found this page that estimated it to 7.5 megapascals but presumed it was only 32 km deep. Doubling that and converting it to atmospheres, it's 148A or about the equivalent of 1.5 km on Earth.

Also, going down 62 km on Enceladus is a significant portion of Enceladus' radius (250km), so the gravitational attraction of the mass above begins to counteract the force from below. How much depends on the mass of that rocky core.

Enceladus has cracks in it and on occasion is spews out plumes of material-- mostly water but some additional material. Cassini managed to navigate through on of the plumes.

(As an aside, this is one of the many gripes I have with the film Europa Report. The explorers get dragged under the ice on Europa by aliens. If the ice were broken, there would be an explosion spewing the water, aliens and explorers hundreds of kilometers into space. But what of that.)

The thinking is that Enceladus is heated by tidal forces, which is what keeps the ocean stable.

Now, back to the article.

Cassini found molecular hydrogen. Hydrogen is a very chemically active element. Molecular hydrogen doesn't last long. It gets ionized in space. It binds with oxygen. (Note: the Hindenburg.) It binds with carbon-- most of the carbon in your body has some hydrogen attached. So having it show up out of Enceladus is a Big Deal.

The current idea is that it was created in the equivalent of thermal vents at the bottom of the Enceladus ocean-- sort of like hydrothermal vents on earth. This is exciting for a lot of reasons. For one, it confirms that Enceladus is an active moon. For another, it provides a food source for possible life forms. We have hydrogen oxidizing bacteria here on earth. Some of them have been found around hydrothermal vents. (See here.)

So this is exciting stuff.

But-- and this is a big but-- Saturn is twice as far as Jupiter and Europa has water vapor plumes just like Enceladus.

So we have not one but two oceanic candidates for life in the solar system other than earth.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Consideration of Works Present: Sully


(Picture from here.)

I saw the film Sully last night (Starring Tom Hanks. Directed by Clint Eastwood.) and found it both compelling and irritating.

The directing was quite good and Tom Hanks’ performance was quite good. The film is about Chesley Sullenberger, or “Sully”, who was the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 . This is the flight out of La Guardia where geese flew into the engines of an Airbus A320-214 causing both engines to cease to function. Captain Sullenberger had to land in the Hudson River.

The film is structured not directly around the flight (though, of course, the flight is central) but the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation subsequent to the water landing.

And here’s where the irritation arises.

Though I haven’t flown for some time, I am a pilot. I’ve had the training, have my pilot’s license and have flown for many hours. I ran into health problems a while back and that dragged me out of the air. When those issues were resolved, the effort and expense to get back in the air was just too much so I didn’t return. But let me make something perfectly clear: I loved flying.

I loved just being up in the air. The idea of bringing the plane up to five thousand feet and just going somewhere was terribly exciting. The earth is beautiful from even a modest height. I was a fair weather flyer—a devoutly timid pilot. Once, I reserved a plane for a flight to New Jersey to visit New York. I woke up and it was absolutely clear. I checked the pilot’s weather line: chance of icing. I looked at the commercial weather report: clear and mid-forties all day. I rechecked the weather line: chance of icing.

I drove down to the airport. Checked it again. Chance of icing. I knew that it was just a stale report. It had probably been put in about 2:00 AM and for one reason or another had never been updated. I called again: chance of icing. Right up to my reservation time. So I released my reservation and drove down to New York. I called on the way. Sure enough: about an hour after I left Boston the report changed to clear and warm. But, as I said, I’m a timid pilot.

I also worked on several projects involving the design, construction, engineering and release of aircraft instrumentation. There are several hundred instruments flying in the air that I worked to develop.

Now, it’s important to know that the FAA and NTSB are a pilot’s friend and not his enemy. For example, the FAA has the AviationSafety Reporting System (ASRS). This is intended to incentivize pilots to self-report incidents. If a pilot self-reports an incidence the resulting report cannot be used for enforcement purposes. This means that a pilot can report something he did that was bad and not expect to lose his license or be prosecuted for it. (There are limits to this, of course. You can’t kill your parents and throw yourself on the mercy of the FAA because you’re an orphan.) Instead, the FAA requires additional training to overcome the circumstance that caused the incident.

Runway incursions are a good example. This is when the pilot brings the plane onto the runway when it is unsafe, such as when a plane is landing or taking off. The idea behind the incentive is to get to the pilot before an incident becomes an accident and both correct the problem and gather data.

Another example is the way that the FAA doesn’t charge for a lot of the actions required for flight. In other countries, the normal operations of flying are charged for: landings, tower interactions, flight following, etc., all incur a fee. Some large airports (like Logan or O’Hare) do charge a landing fee and some airports charge what is essentially a parking fee when you go in for a hamburger. But the vast, vast majority of airports, towered and not, charge nothing. I have made many hundreds of landings. If I had to pay a dollar for each one, it would be many hundreds of dollars. And, of course, I wouldn’t do it. I would land less. Pilots who learn to fly in countries that charge a fee have much less experience than pilots that learn here—which is why a lot of pilots-in-training come to the USA.

The NTSB is similarly structured. It is interested in truth, not blame. The NTSB reports (all of which are open to the public here.) are beautiful examples of dispassionate detail. I used to read them just to learn. Flight 1549’s summary report is here. The full report is here.

The investigation of flight 1549 is interesting. It’s in the Wikipedia entry for the flight. (See here, again.) They used a computer simulation and live pilot simulations. While the simulations suggested it might have been possible to reach either La Guardia or Teterboro, it would have required an instantaneous response—an unreasonable burden on the pilot.

The NTSB works with probabilities. At issue was Captain Sullenberger’s decision to land in the Hudson versus attempting to reach either of the two closest airports. The landing in the Hudson was a risk. Attempting to reach the other two airports was a risk. The question the NTSB had to answer was whether the risk of the water landing outweighed the risk of crash at the two airports. In order to do this, they also had to measure the probable loss of the 155 people on board with the additional potential loss of crashing in a densely populated area. (Remember, this was in 2009. 9/11 forcibly demonstrated the cost of crashing a plane in a densely populated area.)

It was not a determination of Captain Sullenberger’s competence. The fact that he had brought the plane down in the water with no loss of life amply demonstrated that. The NTSB determines what happened. The purpose is to make the skies safer.

Remember, probabilities are a measure of what we don’t know. For example, planes can get into spins. A spin is a stable rotation with insufficient lift to maintain altitude. Consequently, a plane in a spin will crash unless the pilot manages to correct the motion of the plane out of the spin. This is what “spin training” is all about. So, let’s say, we have five planes get into a spin and one crashes. You can say from that sample that survivability of a spin is 80%.

But that can be misleading. Some planes can’t get out of a spin. The Cirrus SR20 is an example. (See here.) So if your five planes are four Cessna 150s and one SR20, you’re analysis must be different. In the case of the SR20, it is 100% that the plane will crash without intervention and 100% the Cessna 150 is recoverable. (See here.) Consequently, an SR20 has a parachute for the plane. In the manual, if the pilot gets the plane into a spin the recover is to pop the chute.

Tom Hanks was in another similar film, Apollo 13. There was an investigation after that incident, too. This is spoken of at length in the book and only briefly mentioned in the film. Essentially, the event was caused by a long string of unlikely events that made the explosion inevitable. Similarly, once the birds were ingested by the engines on flight 1549 at that altitude, an emergency was inevitable.

The universe is deterministic. If we know everything necessary, the spread of possible behaviors narrows.

Which brings us (finally!) to the movie, Sully. After this there will be spoilers.

In Sully there is an antagonistic, almost prosecutorial, interaction between the NTSB investigation board and the pilots. The idea is that the NTSB is trying to blame Captain Sullenberger rather than find truth. Eastwood has been quoted as saying the NTSB tried to say Captain Sullenberger did the wrong thing. This flies in the face of my own personal experience and the experience of pilots that I know who’ve been through investigations. It is true that the NTSB attempts to determine all possible causes of an incident or accident. This is not railroading. This is good investigation. At one point Hanks told AP that Captain Sullenberger had reviewed the script and asked that the real names of the investigators be changed. They were not prosecutors and it was unfair to associate them so.

John Balzano, one of the investigators, went so far as to warn that this film might have a chilling effect on pilot reporting.  “The movie may actually be detrimental to aviation safety. Pilots involved in accidents will now expect harsh, unfair treatment by investigators.” (See here.)

This brings me to the idea of true drama, false drama and cheap drama. True drama derives from character driven conflict and the quest for the resolution of that conflict. False drama is when the reaction and quest for conflict resolution is done without any real conflict involved. Cheap drama is when the conflict is artificially contrived so that it can be resolved with the desired amount of effort.

In Sully, the NTSB's prosecutorial stance and behavior is contrived to create the dramatic tension and raise the stakes for the protagonist, Captain Sullenberger.

What’s problematic about this is that it was completely unnecessary and actually destructive. The true drama in the film is Captain Sullenberger’s wrestling with himself. Did he do the right thing? Did he make the right decision? He executed his decision flawlessly—remember, no one died. But was it the right one? Could he have just returned to La Guardia with nothing more than hard landing? If he had made the decision to return to La Guardia—and failed—the lives lost would have greatly exceeded the crew and passengers. The self-reflection should be agonizing.

And Hanks pulls this off. (This part of the New Yorker review I agree with.) He pulls it off so well that the whole NTSB motivation is actually distracting. It would have been much more compelling if the Eastwood had kept the NTSB as it was—a seeker of truth—and have it be the vehicle of Hanks self-exploration. As it is, he ends up fighting the NTSB and demonstrating it to be short sighted by forcing it to do things that in real life it already did.

I don’t know why Eastwood felt compelled to take this approach. Eastwood is a pilot and knows better. He is not known for cheap drama. He’s shown himself perfectly willing to tackle easy subjects the hard way. His film Unforgiven shows that. Perhaps he felt that the audience couldn’t handle such a subject in a complex way. Or that it was too subtle for us. Or perhaps he has an anti-government agenda that did not allow him to show a government entity in a positive light.

Regardless, he took what could have been a great film and made a poor one.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Unnatural Empathy



(Picture from here.)

The eastern gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor) and the Cope’s gray tree frog (H. chrysoscelis) are closely related. They look identical. Yet they only mate preferentially with each other. Why? You might ask. The Cope's frog has a higher pitched and faster paced call. Each species prefers its own species' call.

Cope's frog also has only half the chromosomes of the gray tree frog.

Sometime in the past, a Cope's frog spontaneously doubled its chromosomes and its offspring had a different call. In this case, it was matched by the female's preference for the same call.

Reproductive isolation is what defines a species and these frogs were isolated by a behavior rather than a physical trait. They were defined by an invisible uniqueness that they perceived easily but was difficult to penetrate without thorough examination. (See here, here and here.) Though they look alike, both species of frogs are unique.

The forefoot of the horse is actually its middle finger. The hoof is made of keratin—the same material of your fingernail. So, in one way the horse shares its foreleg structure with us. In another, it is unique. Other animals have hooves but the hooves aren’t quite the same. Other animals run but not quite the same as the horse. The horse, as I said, has commonality and uniqueness simultaneously.

Humans are a unique species.

Oh, I don’t mean that we have a Single Qualifying Trait that Signifies Our Specialness—there is no such trait. We have history and heritage from our relatives back to the fishes that, in part, share all our qualities. But that doesn’t detract from our uniqueness.

So we are with our brains. All vertebrates have vertebrate brains. All mammals have mammalian brains. All primates have primate brains. All humans have human brains. We can’t say humans don’t have mammalian brains in contrast to having human brains. That’s not a fact. That's not even an alternative fact. What we can say is that the set of characteristics that we use to define mammalian brains (and, for that matter, the set of characteristics we use to define mammals) encompasses the set of characteristics we use to define human brains.

There are additional brain characteristics shared among humans that are not shared with a chimp brain in the same way there are characteristics of the human shoulder that are not shared with the chimp shoulder.

I think it’s important to keep these sorts of things straight because we humans tend to expect biology to reinforce our cultural image of ourselves rather than tell us the truth. And, these days, truth is in short supply.

I’ve been reading Frans de Waal’s  book, The Age of Empathy. I’ve been a de Waal fan ever since I read Chimpanzee Politics. (Which, by the way, I highly recommend. It follows the rise to power a particular chimpanzee male to alpha, his loss of power and how he regains it. After reading this book you’ll never watch House of Cards the same way again.)

Reading the Empathy is a little sad because it was published right in the aftermath of Obama’s first election and there’s a little glow of optimism all through it. Which is hard to take right now.

But the issues are still relevant. He points out that the individualistic, Ayn Rand-making-it-in-spite-of-all-odds-solely-on-our-own myth has very little basis in biology. Sure: individuals succeed. That’s how evolution works. That’s how human culture—not the same thing at all, by the way—works. But, for human beings, individuals succeed because of our cooperation not despite it.

Think of Andrew Carnegie. He starts off poor when he arrives in the USA. He works hard in the textile mill, learns telegraphy, gets promoted and does well. Educates himself and then invests in various things with profit and becoming, ultimately, one of the wealthiest men in the world. Was this due to his own efforts? Sure. Was it due solely to his own efforts? Maybe not.

Carnegie worked in a textile mill. Such a mill operates on the idea that many people must work together to produce product. They are paid in a fungible material called money—which operates because people agree on the rules by which it works. He educates himself using a library—a cooperative enterprise where the common material (books) is shared among a group of obligated individuals for the common good. He makes much of his fortune selling bonds—a group enterprise where a collection of people donates money to an endeavor that must be cooperatively achieved in order to profit on the result.

Carnegie could not have attained the wealth he achieved without his own drive and ambition. But he also could not have achieved it without a society of super-cooperative monkeys that agreed on the rules by which the society operated.

Here’s a quote from de Waal on the wiki page:

“Being both more systematically brutal than chimps and more empathic than bonobos, we are by far the most bipolar ape. Our societies are never completely peaceful, never completely competitive, never ruled by sheer selfishness, and never perfectly moral.”

America is an interesting place. It is a continuing tension between individual opportunity and the common good. A tension between doing what is morally right and what personally profitable. Much of our literature deals with this dichotomy. Every human society is a blend in balance but most places rely on homogenizing factors: race, religion, tribal heritage. America is based fundamentally on leaving the past and heritage behind and embracing who we are without past and heritage. It is also, fundamentally, based on preserving and nurturing the ideas and heritage we feel is absolutely essential.

The Puritans didn’t come over here to be rugged individuals. They came over for their own religious ideals. Even so, out of that came the Mayflower Compact and Roger Williams’  Providence PlantationsJohn Adams wrote a beautiful tract, Thoughts on Government, where he described good government as the mechanism for achieving happiness and virtue for the greatest number of people. As president, he also signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it harder for immigrants to become citizens.

Jon Stewart said it best here: “This fight has never been easy…America is not natural. Natural is tribal. We’re fighting against thousands of years of human of human behavior and history to create something new.”

I think the fact that we—and by “we” I mean any group of human beings, American or not—can attempt to create something this unnatural is what makes us human.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Boskone 2017

I will be at Boskone in a couple of weeks. Here is my schedule. Come on out and have fun with me.

Great Fantasy Worlds
Friday 19:00 - 20:00, Marina 3 (Westin)
A satisfying fantasy world is more than the obligatory map at the front of the book. What makes such a world appealing to the reader? Does that appeal correlate with the depth and complexity of the fantasy writer's creation?
Ms Melinda Snodgrass (M), Mary Kay Kare, Vikki Ciaffone, Justine Graykin, Steven Popkes, Julie Holderman

Autographing: Craig Shaw Gardner, Steven Popkes, Melinda Snodgrass, Walter Jon Williams
Saturday 12:00 - 13:00, Galleria - Autographing (Westin)

Making Things Out of Trash
Saturday 16:00 - 17:00, Galleria - Makers' Space (Westin)
Have you ever found an odd item in the trash that you were sure could become something cool, but you couldn't figure out what to actually do with it? Join Steven Popkes for a fun discussion of "deep recycling" and learn how you too can have some fun with .... stuff.

Chemistry: Spec Fic's Critical Compound
Sunday 10:00 - 11:00, Marina 2 (Westin)
It's got a long history within speculative fiction, but it's often overshadowed by biology, physics, and astronomy. From transmutating metals to creating fuels, gunpowder, poisons, and (in The Martian) oxygen, chemistry is often the unsung science of our genres. We'll discuss chemistry's practical aspects, and how they are successfully applied within a story. We'll also look at a few bang-up examples where the science went wrong ...
Milton Davis, Kristin Janz, Mark L. Olson (M), Justine Graykin, Steven Popkes

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Old Man’s Judo


(Picture from here.)

When I was in grade school, in California, my father enrolled me in a judo class. I have no idea why he did it—in fact, it was done so early in my life it seemed completely natural. Who wouldn't, right? I never even thought to ask him why he did it until after he was dead and I couldn’t. 

I loved it. Imagine wrestling as an art form. Chokes and pins as things of beauty. Learning to fly to the air and fall without pain—well, mostly without pain. I don’t remember much pain then. I had to grow older to get that.

I revisited Judo briefly in college and then left it until about six years ago. My son had left gymnastics and asked what sport he could try. I mentioned Judo and he tried it and stayed with it for a while. He was beautiful at it. About a year later I succumbed to the draw and started as well. He left it later but I’ve kept at it.

But it’s hard to talk about judo without knowing what it is.

Judo (pronounced Joo-doe) means “Gentle way” in Japanese.  It was invented by Kanō Jigorō in the 1880’s in Japan. He founded his own school in 1882. He was 22.

Kanō had studied jiujitsu—an older form of Japanese unarmed combat—much of his life. This turned out to be difficult because many Japanese thought that jiujitsu was outmoded and no longer useful. Kanō didn’t agree. When Kanō opened his school he called is discipline judo, in part, to break the association with jiujitsu. But also because he’d come to embrace two concepts that he felt had relevance to modern Japan and the world:


  • seiryoku zen'yō (精力善用): maximum efficiency, minimum effort
  • jita kyōei (自他共栄  ): mutual welfare and benefit


Kanō had adopted three basic categories of techniques from jiujitsu: throwing techniques where an opponent was brought to the ground, pinning techniques and submission techniques including chokes and joint locks. But he adapted them to be used safely.

For example, one jiujitsu throw involved using the arm with the elbow open—pretty much insuring that the joint was broken in the throw. The throw was modified such that this didn’t happen. Joint locks were restricted to the elbow only—much more easily controlled—and done in a manner that allowed the opponent to surrender. Chokes were changed from the windpipe to the neck—carotid pressure which can cause unconsciousness if the opponent does not submit but doesn’t cause permanent injury. Teachers step in to prevent even that. Throws involve falling from height so Kanō introduced ukemi—the technique of falling. 

A side note: about two years ago I stepped off the curb, slipped and fell forward. Instead of a face plant involving at the very minimum a broken nose, I hit the concrete in a perfect judo front fall. It hurt but I was without injury. Judo works.

Judo techniques are much more about timing and leverage than strength. It doesn’t have to be a young man’s sport. In my current dojo, one sensei (teacher) is in his fifties and the other is seventy. We have two other seventy year olds, one is a beginner and the other is a brown belt studying for black. It's no secret I’m not young. We also have a thirty-three year old who regularly mops the floor with me but sometimes I get him back. The fact that there is a discipline where I can compete with a younger man nearly half my age and do okay is pretty amazing. 

This all goes back to Kanō's two principles. The techniques reflect maximum efficiency and minimum effort. But they are connected to mutual welfare—you can’t play with an opponent if you break him. And you won’t get better without an opponent. Judo requires two players. It is an intimate discipline: you spend a lot of time in close physical contact with your co-students, teachers and opponents. It’s impossible to play judo alone.

This is what attracted me to judo all along. Few human endeavors are without ego. Judo is no exception. But judo is one of the few disciplines that structurally embodies cooperation. You must help your fellow student learn—he is essential for you to learn. And you must protect your opponent from injury insuring that he will protect you from injury.

Kanō realized that the physical concepts he was teaching in his dojo had a larger philosophical and moral dimension. This is an excerpt from what Kanō said in response to judo being considered as n Olympic sport:

“... judo in reality is not a mere sport or game. I regard it as a principle of life, art and science. In fact, it is a means for personal cultural attainment...Judo should be free as art and science from any external influences, political, national, racial, and financial or any other organized interest. And all things connected with it should be directed to its ultimate object, the ‘Benefit of Humanity’.”

This concept is attractive to me.

There's a tendency—at least in the United States—to narrow the definitions associated with affection. There's family bonds, some kinds of friends, bands of brothers and sexual love. I think human beings are far more diverse in their emotions. What ties together a judo dojo is a bond of affection that is local to the dojo but extends from it. It's not the band of brothers military thing where other people are willing to die for you. And it's not an intense colleague relationship where people on a project put their marriages at risk for some accomplishment. 

I've done other martial arts and it's been an intense experience—notice, please, that I've not called judo a martial art—but this is different. There is a close and personal bond based on something that we are all aspiring to do and for which we are all absolutely essential to one another. Is that love? I don't know.

There’s a free sparring component to judo called randori. At this point, people pair up and use what they’ve learned against one another. We get thrown, pinned, choked and locked a lot. But if you go to a boxing match or MMA fight or wrestling or tennis match and watch the losers you see anger, grief, humiliation, embarrassment. In randori, you see someone say nice. That’s the difference.

That happened to me last Thursday when Young Steve (I’m Old Steve) took me down in a yoko wakare. (Picture at left.) I was saying nice! as I was going over. Then, I got up and we went at it again.

It’s not all roses and carnations. As my sensei says, we’re not playing badminton. I’ve had some injuries in judo. Usually it was because I did something stupid. For me, half of understanding judo is learning not to do something stupid.

But it certainly feels great when my opponent—or my teacher—says nice when I do something right. It feels even better to say nice to someone else for the same reason.


And that’s why I’m there.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Kissing 2016 Goodbye

Yeah, yeah. I know the drill. I'm supposed to write about the year and how to look forward to the next.

Frankly, this was a kidney stone of a year and I have little to say about the next one.

So, like all writers, I steal when I have to.

Here's John Oliver's good by to 2016.

And here's one of the more articulate discussions of the turn of the year.

I'll get back on track next year.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Consideration of Works Present: The Jungle Book



(Picture from here.)

When I grew up there were four books I read over and over:


Crazy Weather was never made into a film but the others have been made into several. In my humble opinion, every one failed in one way or another. The best adaptation of Finn might be the 1920 film-- the wiki synopsis seems to do the least damage to the novel.

None have failed more spectacularly in their adaptation than all three Jungle Books: 1942, 1967 and 2016.

But to see why we have do talk about who Mowgli really is.

Mowgli was the son of a native. The native was killed by a tiger and Mowgli raised by the wolves and his three best friends: Bagheera, the panther, Baloo, the bear and Kaa, the rock python. This last character is very important. Kaa is one of Mowgli's closest friends. He is older and wiser than any of the others in the forest-- included Hathi, the elephant, who is considered the highest authority in the jungle. Kaa is at least a hundred years old and possibly a great deal more than that.

Mowgli grows up. His sworn enemy is Shere Khan, the tiger. Shere Khan (or Lungri, as some call him. "The lame one.") is a hunter of men. There's some implication that Shere Khan is the tiger that killed Mowgli's family. Regardless, he regards Mowgli's existence as an offense and spends a good deal of time attempting to kill him.

Mowgli, ultimately, leaves the jungle (shunned by the wolves) and returns to the world of human beings for a time. This doesn't work out and he ends up leaving the village in ruins, punishing them for their misdeeds. However, during this time he kills Shere Khan and returns to the wolves, laying Shere Khan's skin on their ceremonial rock and breaking their fellowship for casting him out. He lives in the jungle with his sibling wolves until one day he moves on, finds a mate of his own and takes up residence in a Indian park.

If you've seen any of the Jungle Book movies you can see the problem right there. Mowgli is an interesting and flawed character. He is very tough-- not surprising since he was raised by wolves. He has his own agenda. Even stories of his childhood have a thread of blood and mortality in them.

The two Disney Jungle Book movies (1967 and 2016) pull (roughly) from Mowgli's Brothers, Kaa's Hunting  and Tiger! Tiger! These stories start with Mowgli's adoption, where Mowgli gets abducted by the monkeys and is saved, and when Mowgli kills Shere Khan. The 1942 version borrows Mowgli's Brothers, Tiger! Tiger! and some of Letting in the Jungle. All three versions only bear a loose connection with the original material. At lease the 1942 version preserves a little of Mowgli and Kaa's relationship.

The 1942 version isn't so bad. The special effects are laughable-- it was 1942 after all-- and Zoltan Korda added a whole lot of new material that was pretty useless. At least it got most of the animal relationships right. But the new material detracted from the original.

My biggest issue is with the Disney versions. They just got the animal relationship wrong.

There are really five sets of important animals in Mowgli's story: the wolves (especially his mother, Raksha and the pack leader Akela), Bagheera, Baloo, Kaa and Shere Khan. They all mean very different things.

The wolves are important as Mowgli's parents and brothers. Akela is, essentially, the wolf authority of the pack. This is Mowgli's family and community. Mowgli's introduction to this community ultimately destroys it-- Mowgli is not personally responsible for that destruction but it does happen because of him. Shere Khan is Mowgli's enemy. He is the personification of the jungle's destructive power. His animosity towards Mowgli reflects his own injury by man-- he represents the jungle as wounded animal.

What makes Shere Khan interesting is he really has a case against Mowgli. The jungle is in equilibrium without human beings. Mowgli brings disequilibrium with him-- and, in fact, Shere Khan's fears ultimately come to pass.

Bagheera, Baloo and Kaa represent the attractive parts of the jungle-- the aspects of the jungle that human beings need to fully realize themselves.

Bagheera is the most approachable of these. He had been a captive panther in Ooodeypor-- this is a secret no one knows about him. It is Bagheera-- along with Shere Khan-- that realizes both Mowgli's potential power to be in the jungle and his danger. At one point, he is trying to explain this to Mowgli and Mowgli-- being a child-- does not listen. Bagheera has him feel under his chin for a bare spot. It is the spot where the collar had chafed away the hair. Bagheera had been content until one night he realized who he was, smote the lock and was free. This is what he is attempting to bring to Mowgli, Mowgli's self-realization.

Baloo is the teacher of the law of the jungle. He's not some lazy bear. He represents-- and communicates-- the order of the jungle. When Mowgli is abducted by the monkeys in Kaa's Hunting, he uses the knowledge given him by Baloo to send word. It is in this story that Bagheera and Baloo realized they are outclassed and go to Kaa for help.

Kaa is the ancient wisdom and ancient mystery of the jungle. He knows things no one else knows. He acts on things no one else can see and has mysterious powers that no one realizes until he shows them.

These are Mowgli's fast friends and they are why he becomes a realized human fully capable in the jungle.

Consider this in the light of the two Disney Jungle Boooks. Bagheera is exasperated parent-- Mowgli's wolf parents barely show in the first film and have a small role in the second. Baloo is a fumbling clown and Kaa is the Mowgli's enemy-- second only to Shere Khan.

Clearly, I do not recommend these films.

But the problem is deeper. It lies in what is currently thought to be a "children's film" and "children's literature."

The Mowgli stories are dark in that they deal with death, meat and blood. Kipling doesn't shy away from the idea that these animals (and Mowgli) are killing prey. While Mowgli can communicate with all of the animals he is only friends with predators. (Hathi the elephant is a possible exception to this but the elephants are god like in their powers and are above these distinctions.)

There's a powerful scene at the river where the drought is so severe that a rock normally unseen is exposed. (This is well done in the 2016 film.) It is regarded as a symbol of peace: everyone must drink and so prey animals drink next to predators. Regardless, the power relationships are clear: the predators are giving the prey a break but the prey are nervous.

So when the Disney films were made, this relationship between predator and prey was deemed inappropriate-- except for Kaa who appears to prefer little boys to all else.

There is a terrific character arc in these stories: child reared by wolves finds himself and takes on his human identity and power-- and there is absolutely no question that the animals of the jungle recognize that this puny little grub of a thing represents great power. He grows from a child into an adult. It's the hero's journey.

And it's entirely ignored in these films.