A journey with a panda

red panda by Harlequeen

I saw King Fu Panda this weekend. Having a thing for martial arts movies ever since I first saw Enter the Dragon, I was curious how well this movie would fit in the genre.

Even as an animation, it fits quite well and was a very enjoyable movie. I figure that the reviewers who did not like it would not have liked Drunken Master or Kung Fu Hustle when they came out. Sometimes reviewers just do not get a movie, particularly if it is a genre one.

This became even more clear to me from the reviews. The description of Master Shifu, ranged from a mouse to a raccoon to the correct one, a red panda.

But they were all a little lazy, in my opinion. None of them really got it right. Heck, I knew just from the description that he was a Lesser Panda. While also known as a Red Panda, that misses the point, to me.

We have a Lesser Panda training the Giant Panda in martial arts!! Why else chose that as the animal for the master? It was a snickery moment for me (second only to Po’s father being a goose*). Yet I did not see any of the main reviewers get this (a search for Shifu “lesser panda” gives 13 results). None of them remark on the irony.

In fact, the trivia page on the movie provides the detail that Shifu’s name means teacher, but it only says that Shifu ‘is a red panda, but with more white fur than red.’ This is what fooled many people because Red Pandas are of course red. But the flashback scene in the movie shows that a younger Shifu had a red face. He is whiter because he is older! I mean, lesser pandas don’t have long fu manchu mustaches either but Shifu did.

So, why am I making this little journey about a character in a movie? Well, first I believe that the creators of the movie chose the character with a strong ironic view (i.e. it might be a little humiliating to be a lesser panda teaching a giant panda).

But the main reason is that I went and reread the Seattle Times review, the one where I remember Shifu being described as a mouse. If you followed my link you would have seen that he is now described as a critter, not a mouse. The author changed his work without providing any indication that he did so.

Now, I do not mind unannounced changes that correct spelling or grammar. But this changed content. I guess he was a little embarrassed when Richard Corliss in Time mentioned the confusion regarding Shifu’s species. However, it would have been a little better remarking on the change in an update rather than ignoring it.

In a print newspaper, different editions can change substantially as new facts become known. So these sorts of editorial changes are common and often overlooked. However, even when content is just shoveled onto a web page, conditions change. Content does not just get updated without it being noticed.

So, when I found he had changed the article, I looked at Google’s cache to see if they had the change. The material retrieved on June 11 had critter not mouse. So a quick search for ‘Kung Fu Panda Seattle Times mouse’ and two pages appear, both from NWSource, the online home page of the Seattle Time Company and all things it encompasses.

You can tell it is for online use because there actually is a link in the review. Now this is not to disparage the Seattle Times reviewer. He is doing his job pretty well in fact.

It is a reflection of the different cultures here. The Web is not just printed material in digital form. TV started as radio with pictures but then developed its own novel approaches towards spreading information. The Web has its own unique approaches also. Those that treat it as digital print will be in for a surprise.

The Web does not forget. It makes things transparent that we might rather hide. So, it is usually better to be open about changing than to hope no one notices. Admit a mistake or ask the community for help. Either works well on the Web.

Because it is a conversation not a monolog.

*Of course, as a biologist and one interested in infectious disease, I got a kick out of the fact that the village was mostly populated by pigs and geese. Lots of pigs and geese. These are the major farm animals in China and may be the reason that new strains of flu often come from Asia.

New strains usually require reassortment events between the different pieces that make up the influenza viral genome. Influenza viruses that can infect birds can not usually infect humans. But pigs can be infected by avian, pig and human influenza viruses. Thus if a pig is infected by multiple viruses, there can be an antigenic shift that creates a virus that is able to infect humans (i.e. has bits from human influenza viruses) but one that humans have no protection against (i.e. has bits from pig and bird influenza viruses). Here is a nice picture.

What is worrisome about the avian flu we have heard about is that there could be direct infection of both birds and humans by the same influenza virus, one that could cause a pandemic. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 may have resulted from an avian flu virus that jumped directly to humans.

— And for the purpose of full disclosure, there was a problem when I posted this originally and some links got messed up in the posting. So, I deleted it and reposted the saved version I had on my computer. So if some of your RSS news readers show double entries, you will know why.

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