The August issue of Geo included with its cover story what were alleged to be the first pictures by a Western photographer of pandas roaming through their natural habitat in the Sichuan province of China. But pandemonium struck soon afterward, when it turned out that the wild habitat was a figment of the lens of photographer Timm Rautert, who has been fired by the magazine.
"The pictures were made in a large enclosure of several acres with a fence around it to keep the pandas in," Geo publisher Peter Diamandis confirmed yesterday. "The photographer went there, and came back [to Germany, where he was on the staff of the German parent edition of the magazine]. A panda expert named George Schaller questioned the authenticity of the photos. The photographer said they were real. He finally owned up to it and was fired. The presses already were rolling here [in the U.S.]; they were able to pull it off press in Germany and correct it. We're running an explanation in the October issue."
Schaller, a zoologist at the Bronx Zoo in New York, is in China, partly to make photos of pandas in the wild for the December issue of National Geographic.
Meanwhile, Diamandis also confirmed yesterday that the sale of Geo is being negotiated with Knapp Communications, publishers of Architectural Digest and Bon Appetit. "I'm under legal constraints about what I can say," he added.
Don't Do It
Perhaps the most captivating piece of magazine journalism to appear in the last several months is Art Kleiner's "How Not to Commit Suicide" in the summer issue of CoEvolution Quarterly. This is a long look at the causes and results of such an ultimate act, punctuated with excerpts from notes left by victims and such frustrating anecdotes as:
"There's a strange story in computer folklore about a suicide note that appeared late one night on the Arpanet network. The other people on the network had regularly corresponded with the man, but always under the name of his lab, not his own name. When the message saying he was killing himself flashed on the screen they tried to call the police, but nobody could identify him, and he died."
And now, a word from a sponsor, as reported in the Aug. 17 Forbes:
"In 1957 Wolverine developed a pigskin shoe whose emphasis was on casual comfort. But the company was stuck for a name for the shoe. One day the sales manager took the shoe to Tennessee to show to a customer. After dinner at the customer's home, the customer picked up a plate of leftover fried cornmeal batter and went outside to throw the scraps to the dogs. The sales manager, a northerner, asked the reason and the customer explained that feeding the cornmeal to the dogs quieted their barking. That's why they are called 'hush puppies.'
"Eureka, thought the sales manager. Reason: 'People in this country have, for years, called their feet "dogs." . . . And when your feet hurt, you call them "barking dogs." And so in order to quiet your barking dogs, you wear a pair of soft Hush Puppies.
"A brand name was born."
Renaissance Individual Wanted
Two signs of the times.
* The Nuclear Engineering Co., a firm in Louisville, Ky., that operates radioactive waste disposal sites, has decided to call itself U.S. Ecology Inc. This from the July/August Science 81.
* Spotted in The Wall Street Journal by Fortune's ever-vigilant Daniel Seligman:
"This is . . . for a proven survivor of Herculean tasks who's ready for the big one: to work and travel with the president of an international chemical company.
"You must be uniquely talented and well-rounded: scientifically solid, intellectual, an excellent writer, a raconteur, hunter and sophisticated traveler.
"Can you converse knowledgeably with a professor of biology in the morning and bag a grouse in the afternoon? Can you make sense on evolution and electronics? Metaphysics and agriculture?
"If you've got the scholarship . . . for this faced-paced . . . position, the rewards are considerable . . . Send us your resume now."
What's for Dinner?
Three scientific notes:
* "Carginogenic psoralens that occur naturally in parsnips are not destroyed by cooking" (Science, Aug. 21).
* "Several types of force hold a protein in its secondary and tertiary structures," which partly explains the physics and chemistry of the lemon meringue pie (Scientific American, June).
* "The Starship Enterprise may have had a five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, but little was ever said about the arrangements for sanitation and garbage disposal . . ." The Aug. 28 Science reports that a team of scientists headed by Cornell University chemical engineer Michael L. Shuler concluded that a regenerative life support system for 24 people on the Enterprise would be "optimized by including a pair of goats."
* Two glimpses at the creation of a new computer, by Tracy Kidder -- author of "The Soul of a New Machine" -- in the July and August Atlantic Monthly. The August issue also contains Michael Lenehan's wonderful portrait of Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith.
* "Panic Among the Philistines": Bryan Griffin's well-aimed attack on the literary establishment, and its incestuous back-patting, in the August and September Harper's.
* Pete Dexter's scary look at Jim Brown in the September Inside Sports.
Linda Wolfe's pseudo-psychological apology for the mores of New York, in the July 27 issue of the magazine of the same name, as applied to the death of Gerard Coury, who was chased naked through the streets and died in a Times Square subway station on June 27. Wolfe uses plenty of anonymous quotes to portray Coury as a total loonie.
"Once again -- as has happened many times in the past -- people are leaping to excoriate New York for being rife with the transient and disaffected. But I wonder how many of the men and women who ran after Gerry Coury were themselves, like him, transient and disaffected runaways from other towns."
* Centaur, from the publishers of Equus. You care about "the intrinsic grace of horses and man's long-cultivated attachment to what they represent?" You like pictures of women in bikinis riding horses through water? Are you fascinated by George Stubbs' obsession with lions and horses? You want a magazine that comes in a box? Send $17.97 for five issues to 944 Horseshoe Lane, Farmingdale, N.Y. 11737.
* It's Me, from Lane Bryant, the people who say it's okay to be . . . FAT. Another entry into the ranks that obviously couldn't be filled alone by Big Beautiful Woman. What can you say about a magazine that has an extra-large woman in black leotard and tights doing stretches with a yellow towel? Five issues for $6.75 from P.O. Box 2566, Boulder, Colo. 80321.
* Romantic Times, "for readers of romantic fiction," is pretty dicey stuff. How about "The Confessions of a Romantic Novelist's Husband?" "Who's Painting Those Luscious Covers?" "What Your Favorite Novels Reveal About Your Personality." Only $9.95 for six issues from 163 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. 11201.
* Guinness Magazine has Sabra Starr belly-dancing for 100 hours; 255,389 dominoes toppling in 53 minutes after requiring five weeks to set up, and a feature called "Animals Are as Odd as People, Many Have Human Characteristics." Absolutely. All the crazy records in the world, documented quarterly, and available only on the newsstand for $2.00.
* Blueprints is a new quarterly packed -- almost too packed; it's hard to read -- with information on old buildings, from the National Building Museum. It's $15 and tax deductible from 440 G St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.
* The Washington Book Review has a decidedly political voice that gives this bimonthly the possibility of becoming D.C.'s answer to The New York Review of Books. $6.50 for one year from P.O. Box 1998, Washington, D.C. 20013.
The New Republic unveils a more modern look this week, which is not quite different enough to have warranted a redesign. The first cover is barely readable . . . Runner's World has discoverd that sex sells magazines: for the first time in its 15-year history it used a different cover on the newsstands than the one it mailed to subscribers, with the sexy Landers Sisters displacing sweaty Boston Marathon victor Allison Roe . . . Brooke Shields and Bo Derek have agreed to appear in the October Harvard Lampoon parody of People . . . The July Mother Jones and the August Next both ran the same excerpts from a picture book called Images of Labor; the issue was Next's last . . . the boom in home computers has created about 175 publications devoted to electronic brains, according to Business Week, with Computerworld and Byte pulling in the most advertising . . . Anna Wintour, late of Viva and Savvy, has joined New York as the magazine's classy fashion editor . . . Prime Time magazine has acquired Quest . . . New West will change its name to California Monthly with the October issue . . . Esquire's current pro-handgun cover has generated more mail than any article in the magazine's history . . .
And speaking of guns, we end on this note, from the August Reason:
"And in Phoenix, Arizona, another lawbreaker was . . . apprehended by a 77-year-old grandmother. Gladys Kastensmith awoke to the sounds of a man attempting to shove his crawling bod through her doggy door. The alert sportswoman grabbed her .38 revolver and pumped three salvos into the air. The would-be burglar scampered off, only to return through another door . . . and confront the elderly lady. The elderly lady, however, was waiting for him. According to police radio room supervisor John Lynch, 'She had him down on all fours and told him if he moved she'd shoot him. He moved, and then she said to the officer on the phone "Just a minute honey," and then kablam!' The markswoman only had to fire the one shot to keep the intruder pinned to the ground, the position in which police found 28-year-old David Snead, still on all fours when they arrived. They also found Mrs. Kastensmith 'sitting there in her rocking chair, drinking a glass of bourbon,' firearm in hand . . ."