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Flatfishes are an order (Pleuronectiformes) of predatory fish found in oceans worldwide.  There are over 700 distinct species in 11 separate (and sometimes very distinct) families.  Familiar flatfish include flounder, turbot, plaice, sole, and tonguefish (to name only a few).

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Flatfish undergo two great changes.  First they hatch out of an egg and become transparent tiny fry living among the zooplankton.  These baby flounder have an eye on each side of their heads–like all the other vertebrates.  Then, when they reach adolescence, they change a second time in a bizarre way.  One eye migrates over the young fish’s forehead.  Half of their body becomes pale and smooth.  To reach adulthood they abandon the vertebrate’s familiar symmetry and become strange asymmetric monsters.

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(An Adolescent Flounder, as its eyes migrate and it becomes opaque)

Very few animals have asymmetry of any sort (wrybills, hermit crabs) and even fewer are asymmetric in a systemic way (sponges).  Flatfish give up their symmetry on adulthood (and lose their ability to swim smoothly see all around them) in order to gain prowess as lurkers. This helps them to hide in an ocean full of strife and it helps them to hunt.

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Flatfish are exceedingly gifted predators.  They thrive by eating unsuspecting fish, mollusks, arthropods, and worms which are scampering (or crawling… or propulsing?…or whatever) along the ocean bottom.  Pleuronectiformes are powerful, quick, agile, and invisible.  The horrifying hunting strategy of the flatfish is to lie perfectly still on the ocean bottom and gradually change color to match the substrate (they can match sand and pebbles and ripples and even chessboards).  Then, when a happy little shrimp minces endearingly along the ocean floor, suddenly the land itself opens a huge maw and SNAP! delicious shrimp supper for the stealthy flatfish.

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For all of their gifts as predators, flounders are hardly the apex predators of their watery ecosystems.  They live in a world of super-predators: diving birds, grabby cephalopods, sharks, bigger fish, and cunning marine mammals. And that is to say nothing of all-consuming humankind: fisherfolk hunt for flounder with spears, traps, hooks, and nets.

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The flatfish, like most teleosts, are being fished to oblivion (even as their habitats rapidly change due to thermal fluctuation, invasive species, pollution, and acidification).  This troubles me for all sorts of reasons.  It represents the growing doom in the world ocean, from whence came all Earth life and upon which all life depends. We evolved from teleosts. Flounder are distant cousins.  Also I think they are beautiful in a bizarre way.  Their asymmetry strikes me as amazing and alien, yet somehow completely appropriate, practical, and compelling.

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Also, um, I like to eat flounder.

Anyway, I mention all of this because lately flatfish have supplanted doughnuts as the central fixation of my art.  They represent life to me…and so I have been drawing them by the dozen (and I am working on a book of intricate pen and ink flounder). Here is a teaser flounder.  More next week!

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Benevolent Flounder (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, color pencil and ink)

 

 

mindanao_bleeding_heart_dov-600x560.jpgIs there such a thing as a Gothic pigeon?  There are a lot of different breeds of pigeond, however the most Medieval-looking member of the Columbidae family was never shaped by human selection. The Luzon bleeding heart pigeon (Gallicolumba luzonica) is a delicate shy bird which lives in tropical forests of Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines.  The birds eat berries and grubs of the forest floor, which they almost never leave except when they are nesting.  They are a mixture of barred gray above and cream color below, except for their distinguishing feature, which sets them apart from all other birds.

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Gallicolombe poignardée. Famille des Columbidés. Ordre : Columbiformes

Bleeding heart pigeons have a group of scarlet feathers at the center of their breast which make it look as though they have a terrible bleeding hole in their chest.  In female birds this feature is somewhat subdued, however in males it glows incarnadine like a lurid painting of a Christian martyr.  Male birds even appear to have droplets of blood running down from the terrible heart wound.

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The first time I encountered this bird was not in a book (or on a random blog written by some weirdo), but in the Bronx zoo.  I saw a glimpse of a male bird at the back of an aviary and I got all afraid that he had been horribly hurt.  Only when I saw the picture on the exhibit were my fears assuaged.  All of this leads up to the question of why these animals look like they have been shot through the heart. There are lots of folklore explanations (of the dogwood religious just-so story variety), but the real answer is that nobody knows. It is a shockingly metal look for such an unassuming and modest bird.

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Sadly the bleeding heart pigeon is growing scarce as its forest home is cut down and made into plywood. Additionally, people capture and sell the birds into the pet and aviary trade. Like the planet Jupiter, it is valued for its lovely and unnerving red spot. With its mild nature, endangered status, and religious martyr good looks, perhaps the bleeding heart dove is a perfect mascot of the terrible plight of animals in our over-burdened Anthropocene world.

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It has been a while since Ferrebeekeeper has written about politics.  This is partly because everything everywhere this year has been about politics, and I wanted a break from the relentless annoying noise (at least in my own little patch of the internet).  Also, in general it seems like the vastly increased media/internet attention has not led to better outcomes:  instead the “anything for clicks” mentality has made a volatile situation worse.  Also I did not want to fan the flames by writing about Donald Trump.  Like the screaming kid grabbing people’s hair and kicking desks in 5th grade, he draws his strength from demanding all of our attention.  If we could just ignore him, he would lose his dark power to enthrall.

But, now that Donald Trump is officially the candidate of the Republican Party, my strategy of pointedly ignoring him has failed.  It is time to actually pay attention to a clickbait election so shrill and mean-spirited that it makes one long for the days of Andrew Jackson, Polk, Goldwater, or even Nixon….

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Except of course we don’t really long for such things.  Those days are gone and good riddance. Saying otherwise is hyperbole; and hyperbole is our enemy right now.  The Republican Convention makes it sound like we are all going to die. “Enemies are at the gate!  Our cities are coming apart because of violence and dissembling immigrants!  Economic depression and stagnation will doom us all to servitude and starvation!”  This is a dishonest and dangerous strategy.  It will fail in unexpected and dangerous ways.

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I grew up at the end of the Cold War, and I was an anxious child.  I read things and knew about the state of world affairs back then.  It seemed pretty improbable that we would survive an era when twitchy old men with endless arrays of poorly computerized nuclear weapons stared unblinking across the world at each other.  Looking back at those times with nostalgia is madness! The fact that we didn’t all perish in nuclear hellfire sometime between the fifties and the nineties is a miracle.  This world is all gravy—an improbable bonus round (and, let’s face it, the fact that we have this impossibly ephemeral bubble of consciousness between two infinities of oblivion is already pretty miraculous).

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Yet Cold War shadows linger: the conflict was a decades-long existential crisis which caused us to come together and work in tandem.  It demanded good leadership and lockstep order at home, and the gravity of the fight allowed us certain freedoms abroad.  Now that the long grim conflict is over, we have great opportunities: opportunities of being closer to other nations and helping people. We can undo some of the great power meddling which was necessary to win that conflict (while making goods and services cheaper for everyone). We can learn astonishing new things. All of humankind can move forward to a brighter world where everyone has opportunities. However to get to such a place will require creative thinking, nimble pursuit of rapidly-changing opportunities, and the ability to adapt quickly to surprising circumstances.

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The Republicans make it sound like they want to go back to the past.  But, for goodness’ sake, we don’t want to go back to a time when everyone could die because of a rogue bear! And if they want to go back to the time just after the Cold War, when America was the only great power, well it wasn’t a Trump who was in the White House then. In fact we know exactly what Trump was up to during that time because New Yorkers lived through it.

I have lived in Brooklyn a long time, and New Yorkers know Trump.  He has refined his act here. There have been times when Trump’s hair-pulling hissy fits and histrionics (and spouse abuse and mistresses and bankruptcies) have sucked up all the oxygen in the local tabloids.  It has given us a measure of immunity to his damnable act…and a valuable insight about his nature.  Like liars who talk about truth all of the time, or broke people who talk about money with every breath, Trump talks incessantly about winning.  It is not because he is a winner.

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So here is what is going to happen in this election: This is the biggest act of Trump’s mendacious life and he is going to lose spectacularly to a woman. He will drag his ticket down with him, but not so much that we can escape the deadlock which is hurting our nation by preventing us from researching and creating.

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You definitely need to vote, and you need to pay attention, but also remember that, in the bigger picture, things are ok.  Don’t be afraid! What people say about the end of America isn’t true.  Race relations are improving. People are being drawn out of poverty.  The pie is getting bigger here and abroad (although the pie hogs are getting stronger and more shameless too).  Heck, even if Trump gets elected through some nightmare circumstance, America has survived presidents who were ninnies, racists, incompetents, or even in a coma.

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We need to put on our grown-up clothes and calm our anxieties and deal with a world of great change and great opportunity. Now excuse me while I go back to ignoring politics and send out some applications and proposals.

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Color transcends history.  The wavelengths of light…the chemical compositions of the pigments…these things are part of the physical universe.  Yet how we apprehend color is a part of our eyes, and our minds, and our upbringings (and involves some quirks unique to human physiology—as demonstrated by the colors magenta and stygian blue).  Most of the colors I write about were first mentioned in the 18th or 19th century.  Some colors are vastly older—like Han purple (which I like more all the time, by the way). However today I am writing about a color first mentioned in the distant year of…2009.  This color found a name after the rise and fall of Britney Spears.  The great recession had already set in by the time this color made the scene.  I am talking, of course about “Arctic Lime” which was invented by Crayola’s for its “eXtreme” line of ultra-bright colored pencils.

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At first gasp, Arctic lime seems like a sad effort by a marketer who was not at the top of his game.  Chartreuse and the Arctic do not initially go together in the popular imagination (nor do tropical limes belong in the frozen tundra). Yet the more one looks at this hue, the more it makes sense.  It is not the color of ice, but it is the color of the aurora as it sweeps past inhuman vistas of alien frozen waste. Also, Arctic lime may not have a beautiful name, but it is a beautiful color (in its own unnatural and eXtreme way).  Perhaps people of the far future will think of this color the way we think of Han Purple and they will imagine us going about our lives in Arctic Lime leisure clothes and neckties.  Come to think of it, the color is pretty similar to the high-visability fluorescent green of my bike helmet.  Maybe the imaginary people of the future are imagining us more accurately than we imagine ourselves!

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Lifesaver Fountain is a sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely which was finished/installed between 1991-1993 in Duisberg, Germany.  The central element of the fountain–the great phantasmagoric pigeon with the woman clinging to it–is largely the work of Niki de Saint Phalle.  The architectural elements—the plinth and the structural stability, come from Jean Tinguely.

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Niki de Saint Phalle was the daughter of a French count who came from a family of bankers. During the Great Depression, the count’s personal fortune was wiped out, and he was forced to come to the United States to manage the American branch of the family bank.  Niki’s upbringing was thus split between America and France.  She was thrown out of Brearley for painting fig leafs on campus statues red.  She was a model and a housewife, before entering the arts with controversial statues and architectural depictions of women.

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Critics argue about the bird figure in this fountain, asserting that it is an angel or a guruda or a firebird, but just look at the face! This is clearly a pigeon, albeit an unusually powerful and colorful one.  It is a humorous juxtaposition, since pigeons are usually drab birds which mess up statues instead of brilliantly colored public art in their own right.

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The lifesaver statue is 7.2 meters tall (nearly 23 feet) and it moves to the left and right thanks to the ingenuous plinth.  Its undiminished color steams from the fact that it is made of polyester and teflon over steel (although industrial waste and other discarded items are also a part of the composition).  The bird figure is clearly a larger than life savior-figure, but it is less clear what the great colorful pigeon humanoid is saving the colorful and heavily contoured woman clinging to its breast from.  Is this a statement about rescuing oneself from patriarchy and industrialized society through the power of art?  Or is it about the exultant power of imagination to lift us from any circumstance?  Whatever the case, the “Lifesavior” certainly rescues the most common urban bird from drabness and it brings a smile to one’s face as well.

 

 

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Ferrebeekeeper has a longstanding obsession with Gothic concepts and forms.  We have explored the long strange historical roots of the Goths (which stretched back to the time of the Roman Empire and the northern corners of Europe), and looked at Gothic aesthetics ranging from clocks, to beds, to gates, to houses, to alphabets, to cathedrals.  Today’s Gothic-themed post straddles the divide between literature and architecture.  We already saw such a two discipline dynamic at work with the beginning of the Gothic revival, an aesthetic movement which grew up out of a popular novel The Castle of Otranto.

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The term “Steamboat Gothic” is sort of a reverse case.  In 1952, Frances Parkinson Keyes published “Steamboat Gothic” a long-winded romantic novel about the lives and loves of a riverboat gambler and his progeny as they pursue their fortunes over generations beside the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  After the novel came out the great 19th century wedding cake mansions of columns and porches which stood along these rivers came to be known as “steamboat gothic.”  This beautiful filigree style was thought to resemble the many tiered decks of great southern steamboats from the belle epoque of river travel.

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Many different Victorian design trends come together in “steamboat gothic”–the Italianate, Gothic revival, and Carpenter’s Gothic mix together with style trends like Greek revival and “nautical.” The mixture simultaneously evokes the beauties of classical antiquity, the ante-bellum south, and 19th century middle America.

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Look at these beautiful porches and porticoes.  I wish I were on the veranda of one of these beauties sipping lemonade and looking out over the river (although really I would probably be being bitten by mosquitoes as I desperately painted yet another layer of snow white paint on a big empty house).

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Cnidoglanis macrocephalus via thefeaturedcreature.com

It has been far too long since we dropped in on our friends the Siluriformes–the order of catfish (this makes them sound like a powerful secret society…but the catfish kind of are a powerful secret society). Today Ferrebeekeeper features an especially magnificent and crazy-looking catfish, Cnidoglanis macrocephalus, AKA “the Cobbler.” Cnidoglanis macrocephalus is the only species within its genus.  It belongs to the Plotosidae family of catfish which includes ocean-going and saltwater catfish like the adorable coral reef catfish (these stripy little guys live like clownfishes, surgeonfish, and triggerfish within the tumultuous and colorful ecosystems of coral reefs).  The Cobbler does live in salt water, but they do not venture out to the coral reef.  Instead they live in brackish areas at the mouths of rivers and streams.  The flamboyant fish—which have whiskery catfish heads annealed to eel-like tails can grow up to 90 centimetres (36 in) in length and weigh 2.5 kilograms (5.5 lbs).

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Cnidoglanis macrocephalus tends to spend the day hiding in holes.  Then at night the catfish comes out along the coastlines to feed on mollusks, worms, crustaceans, algae, and organic debris (the darkness helps them hide from predators and poses little challenge to the superb catfish senses).  The fish can live up to 13 years, although they are preyed on by cormorants and pelicans. To protect themselves cobbler catfish have razor-sharp venomous spines in their dorsal and pectoral fins.

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Source: Klaus Stiefel

 

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Eco-tourism is a valuable way for communities which are close to magnificent wildlife to monetize (and protect) that wildlife.  Except, every one and a while, things go wrong.  An example of this is the community of Xianfeng, a village in central Sichuan Province, which suffered a bit of a mishap as it attempted to become a world-class environmental destination. Here is what happened: a few years ago, villagers decided that they could become a beloved tourism destination if the macaques which lived in the nearby mountain forests were adorably living in town.  So they lured a group of monkeys back to Xianfeng with food and treats. Investors paid to cosset the monkeys, and a few tourists started to show up.

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Things seemed bright until the investor died and his plans and schemes for popularizing the town went with him.  However the monkeys did NOT vanish (or head back into the jungle).  They acquired a taste for town life and no amount of luring (or humane trapping) has been able to convince them to leave.  The year of the fire monkey has extra significance in Xianfeng, a town where 600 macaques are continuously squabbling and stealing things and disrupting every activity. The macaques are protected by Chinese law, so there isn’t much the villagers can do to take their town back without incurring the formidable wrath of the state.

It is an unhappy tale about 2 sorts of primates and how greedy and short-sighted they can be, but the town really does look cantankerous and fun!

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When scanning over the (dreadful and upsetting) news this morning, a wacky and funny story jumped out at me from amidst all of the grim happenings: fruit merchants in Japan auctioned off some grapes for a record high price!  A bunch of approximately 30 “Ruby Roman” grapes sold for 1.1 million yen (which is equal to approximately $11,000.00).  Even considering today’s high food prices and Japan’s astringent import rules (aka crooked tariffs), $365.00 per grape is an appallingly high price!  What is going on? And what are “Ruby Roman” grapes?

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Paying astronomically high prices for high-status foods is sort of a Japanese food tradition—like hotdog contests or giant pumpkin weighing in America. Merchants or wealthy patrons buy up ceremonial first fish or crops in order to gain prestige and whip up public attention (from all the way across the ocean in this case). The buyer of these particular grapes, Takamaru Konishi, plans on showing the expensive fruit in his shop before parceling them out to special customers and patrons.

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Ruby Roman grapes are a special Japanese variety of red grape which each grow to the size of ping pong balls. Viticulturists began developing this new variety of grapes in 1992 by hybridizing and selecting certain strains of Fujiminori grapes.   In 2008 the new giant red grapes hit shops…provided the fruit met the hilariously strict Japanese agricultural guidelines for what constitutes “Ruby Roman.”  To quote Wikipedia:

Every grape is checked strictly to guarantee its quality, with certification seals placed on those thus selected. The Ruby Roman has strict rules for selling; each grape must be over 20g and over 18% sugar. In addition, a special “premium class” exists which requires the grape to be over 30g and where the entire fruit bunch must weigh at least 700g. In 2010, only six grapes qualified for premium status while in 2011, no grapes made the cut.

Wow! Maybe these grapes are worth $365.00 each! Or maybe this is another goofy publicity stunt for lazy reporters.  If so, count me in!

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The other day I rashly promised a post about Juno—or I will call her “Hera” since the Greeks invented her (?) and their name is more euphonic. Immediately though it became obvious that writing about the queen of the gods is not as simple as it seems.  Hera plays the villain in many myths—particularly those of Heracles (indeed, her name is his name: Heracles means “Hera’s man”).  She is a great and terrible antagonist–even more so than giant sentient animals, or super dragons, or the dark monstrous deities of the underworld.  But why is that? How can a regal woman be so much worse than the gods of charnel darkness and stygian torture?

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The Goddess Juno in the House of Dreams (Luis Lopez Piquer ca. early nineteenth century, oil on canvas)

Hera is the eldest daughter of Rhea and Cronus. She was devoured by her father at infancy, but escaped (via mustard emetic) and joined her brothers and sisters fighting against the titans for world domination.  Once the battle was won, she initially rebuffed the romantic overtures of her youngest and strongest brother, Zeus.  The king of the gods then took the form of a bedraggled cuckoo and cunningly played upon her sympathy for small injured creatures in order to win her heart and her hand.  After their marriage, however, Hera played the cuckoo in their relationship as Zeus dallied with goddesses, nymphs, and comely mortals of all sorts.  Classical mythology is pervaded by a sense that Zeus, king of the gods and lord of creation who fears nothing (except for being replaced by a strong son) is extremely afraid of Hera.  She is often portrayed as jealously lashing out at Zeus’ paramours and their offspring…or otherwise punishing those who act against her will or fail to pay her sufficient respect.

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Juno Discovering Jupiter with Io (Pieter Lastman, 1618, oil on canvas)

Hera’s animals are the lion, the cow, and the peacock (she put the hundred eyes of her dead servant Argus on the bird’s tail to give it even greater beauty).  Her emblems are the throne, the chariot, the scepter, and the crown.  She is sometimes portrayed wearing a strange cylindrical crown of archaic pre-Greek shape (which may indicate that she was a goddess of power borrowed from a pre-Greek society).

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Hera tends to be portrayed as a rich powerful woman of a higher class who barely deigns to notice her inferiors.  She is the goddess of women, marriage, wealth, success, and (above all) power.  Her children are Ares, Hephaestus, Eileithyia (the goddess of childbirth), cruel Eris, and beautiful Hebe, the goddess of youth who married Hercules after his apotheosis.

Have you read “The Three Musketeers”? After spending the entire book struggling against the machinations of Cardinal Richelieu, the hero prevails and join forces with…Cardinal Richelieu. Power is like that, and so is Hera. She can’t effectively be fought against.  The world is hers.  She can only be appeased or beguiled… or served outright.

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The way upwards is not through deeds of merit, or valorous acts, or fighting monsters—it is through political wiles, networking, and figuring out how to please extremely rich powerful people who are impossible to please and implacably oppose regarding you as any sort of equal.

 

 

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