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Today scientists announced the discovery of the exoplanet Gliese 581 g which lies 20.3 light years away from Earth in the planetary system of the red dwarf star Gliese 581 (a star with one third the mass of our sun).   The planet has three times the mass of Earth and is almost certainly tidally locked to its star (in the same fashion that the moon always presents the same face to earth).  It revolves much more closely around its dim little star than our planet does around our sun: the yearly orbit of Gliese 581 g is just 37 of our earth days.  With four known planets, the star Gliese 581 had already featured the largest known planetary system outside of our own (before two more worlds were added to the system in today’s announcement). When exoplanet Gliese 581 d was discovered in 2007, it was regarded as the most earthlike exoplanet and scientists speculated about its potential for harboring life (though Gliese 581 d is now regarded as too cold to have liquid water).  Oh, the discovery of Gliese 581 f was also announced today–but nobody cares since it is located far outside what scientists regard as the habitable zone.

The Red Dwarf Gliese 581 in the Night Sky.

The planet was discovered by the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey headed up by Dr. Steven Vogt.  The team has taken to calling it “Zarmina” after Steven Vogt’s wife, which I think this is a very beautiful name for a world.  I’m also moved by the fact that Dr. Vogt’s first impulse would be to name the world after his spouse (and I also like the fact that she has a Pashtun name).  Unfortunately we’ll probably get stuck with something less euphonious—probably “Gliese 581 g”.  I guess our astronomical naming conventions confer mixed blessings—I’m still happy we don’t call Uranus “Georgium Sidus” like Sir William Herschel desired.

Speaking of Herschel and planetary discovery, I was pleased to see that Vogt continued Sir William’s glorious tradition of exuberant speculation about extraterrestrial life. At this morning’s press conference, Vogt boldly asserted that “my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent.”  He then spoke about the possibilities of polar bear like life-forms living on the planet’s cold night side, thermophilic life-forms on the hot half, and temperate life forms living on the twilight ring dividing the two extremes.

Tell us more about the nocturnal space yetis!

As with most science news, the planet’s discovery hasn’t produced a huge splash in the media (the discovery of the most earthlike planet so far known was greatly overshadowed by Tony Curtis’ death).  The few short mainstream news article to mention this discovery were striking to me for their comments sections.  Although many people leaving comments were filled with wonder and curiosity, a distressing number seemed very ignorant of basic scientific principles (or basic principles of anything).  A shocking number of commenters wanted to send all Republicans to Gliese 581g (an equal number wished to send all Democrats instead).  What happened in or national discourse that a citizen’s first reaction to hearing about a new planet is to banish his political foes there?  When did the United States become Renaissance Florence? Other people demanded that we not exploit the newly discovered planet’s resources but instead concentrate on solving our problems here on earth (20.3 light years might seem like a tiny number but it converts to 1.92048727 × 1017 meters).  We probably have better sources of bauxite and blood diamonds! In a similar vein, quite a few folks demanded that we stop studying the heavens altogether and provide them with cushy jobs, new sofas, and tv dinners.  In short, the comments made me sad and frustrated.

Gliesian scientists have reluctantly concluded that Earth is only inhabited by internet trolls and primitive one-party life forms.

Corot and Kepler, the two big missions for spotting earthlike worlds (from the French and NASA respectively), are only just beginning to yield discoveries, so I expect we will be hearing about a lot of earth-like worlds.  Let’s hope humankind grows technologically, socially, and politically as the new planets are tabulated!

[Also, rest in Peace Tony Curtis, I loved you in “The Great Race” when I was 6.]

Electromagnetic radiation exerts pressure on physical matter.  The more the radiation is reflected from the surface it strikes, the greater the pressure–so sunlight presses harder on a mirror than on, say, an ostrich with the same surface area.  I’m not going to dwell on the physics underlying this fact (although I will provide a link), but rather on the remarkable ramifications.  Contingent on the amount of radiation, this force is rather weak. However, taken in aggregate, across a large surface, light (or any form of EM radiation) can move an object.  Hence…solar sails!

IKAROS (image from JAXA)Much in the manner that wind pushes a sailboat through water, light can push an object through space. Although using such a sail for space travel was demonstrated to be feasible in the laboratory, the great national space programs—NASA, Russia, ESA, and China—have never successfully tested a solar sail in interplanetary space (despite several failed attempts). However, this year on May 21st the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the IKAROS solar sail.  IKAROS stands for “Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun”–an acronym which somehow is both unwieldy and an allusion to a badly botched aerospace venture (JAXA can be forgiven for the awkward name however thanks to the success of the mission). IKAROS is a square sail with a diagonal diameter of 20 meters.  It is made of polymer 7.5-micrometres thick.  A solar array is embedded in the sail to supply the craft’s power needs.  To provide attitude control, the sail also contains LCD panels with adjustable reflectivity.  Various sensors, dust counters and controls are located on different parts of the craft.

IKAROS Mission Plan (JAXA)

IKAROS deployed its sails when it was approximately 4.8 million miles from Earth (smoothly deploying a delicate lattice of sails in the grim void of outer space has been a major obstacle to this sort of mission in the past). The spacecraft is currently somewhere between Earth and Venus.  When it reaches the cloud planet, it will embark on a three year trip around the sun.

To follow up its success JAXA is planning to launce a 50 meter solar sail to the asteroid belt and Jupiter sometime late in the decade.  Other space agencies have taken note and are now playing catch-up with the Japanese.  NASA has plans for several solar sail missions in the coming years (provided poor national leadership does not botch the plans or scrub the funding). Since rocket fuel is heavy (and therefore a major sorce of missin costs), solar sailing technology has interested space agencies and space exploration enthusiasts for some time.  The Planetary Society, an international group dedicated to space exploration, has long advocated solar sails as a revolutionary step forward in space travel. In fact, the Planetary Society chartered a submarine launched Russian rocket to deploy its own solar sail into space but the mission sadly failed when the rocket malfunctioned.  Fortunately, the society has regained its old maniacal chutzpah and is launching a new solar sail mission (additionally, and even more importantly, it continues to lobby national governments for additional space funding)  

JAXA's next solar sail mission will apparently look like throwing a shuriken into an asteroid. Awesome!

In the near future, solar sails might be used for interplanetary missions or for de-orbiting old satellites and space debris (this latter task is growing in importance as humankind fills up near earth orbit with junk).  Hybrid drives which utilize solar sails and solar powered ion drives in tandem are also on the drawing board. In the farther future, who knows?  So far this is the only possible option for interstellar travel which utilizes technology humankind currently possesses (well, aside from ridiculous nuclear fission designs).  It has been proposed that giant space lasers could be used in tandem with the sun to accelerate probes to nearby stars.  Unfortunately such lofty prospects are still science fiction at present.

I was reading the accursed “Captivate Network” on the elevator today and, as usual, it had some feeble management hints—this time about how leaders can foster a sense of humor.  It caused me to reflect that most of the good leaders I know don’t have much of a sense of humor. I believe this humdrum fact may contain clues about the nature of leadership and the hierarchical structure of human society. 

Like many underlings, when I am at my day job, I have to work hard not to chime in with quips about the (many) ridiculous paradoxes and quirks of the workplace.  Even if everyone else in the office enjoys a bit of clowning, humor sets the big boss on edge.  Although he is too much of a politician to say anything, a careful observer can notice a moment of icy distaste settle on his face when anybody says something funny.

Not Funny

Part of this undoubtedly has to do with his agenda and his calendar.  He runs a tight ship. Things must get done, and time constraints proscribe horseplay. Also the boss has to appear to be fair; and humor has an obvious power to unsettle and alienate. Looking back to middle school we all remember that the class clown could be a terrifying force of mockery and insecurity. A clever comedian can use jokes to exclude people from groups or shame them socially.  Perhaps the boss needs to appear to be entirely above such things so he does not inadvertently slight someone or create a hostile environment. 

But there are larger and more fundamental forces at play concerning bosses’ humorlessness than just good time management and coverage from liability. A comic sensibility is a wonderful tool for dealing with stress and uncertainty, however managers have even better tools for dealing with such things: namely us, their employees, who can be used like chess pieces to solve their problems.  Additionally the boss has charisma, a forceful personality, a logical mind, self-discipline, and an extreme ability to organize things.  What need hath he for laughter? 

Also, as dog owners know, humor is a function of hierarchy. Lower status dogs are funny and amiable.  They roll on their back and put their paws up in submission.  They clown and cavort like puppies.  Alpha dogs are more like wolves or bankers—serious, ruthless, and businesslike.  Perhaps the boss becomes animated and fun when placed in a room filled with his superiors. Although, for the record, I have seen him “making rain” with wealthy individuals—and, although he was most convivial and used many humor-like turns of phrase, I don’t believe he was funny, nor did he particularly enjoy the jokes of others (even as he worked hard to produce an approximation of mirth).

Office Dynamics

Possibly too the boss could be holding his humor in reserve.  In the Hornblower novels (a series of adventure novels about a great naval commander), the admirable captain conducted his life without humor or sentiment except in extreme situations.  When everything was on the line, Hornblower’s subordinates were always shocked to find that their lofty captain was able to make jokes and be extremely affable.  It allowed the sailors to get through the truly trying times–like when their frigate was being blown to smithereens or they were being sent to Paris for public execution.  Perhaps in similar situations other emotionally-restrained bosses could pull off some big laughs.

Finally there is the nature of society. From personal first-hand accounts I know that the despised George W. Bush Junior was funny and amiable, with a knack for making people around him feel at ease.  When he tried the same thing on cameras however it came off as shallow and uncaring.  Any attempts to make fun of himself or the affairs of the nation (and both were frequently patently absurd) were derided by his enemies as callous and oafish. Lincoln apparently had a similar problem but was smart enough not to allow television cameras at official events (and brilliant enough that his witticisms were scintillating even on paper after 150 years). It seems like the current president suffers from such a problem too.  He has certainly receded from being a mildly funny person whom people liked into a distant, dour technocrat. On top of that, even now, American society is still fundamentally puritan with a dislike of idle laughter in favor of good hard work.

I’m sorry to write such a dour and earnest essay concerning the (possible) humor of leaders.  I know whole that whole species of comedy exist concerning how funny bosses are without meaning to be.  I think that such entertainments, however, are aimed at bad bosses, whereas I like and respect my humorless boss as a superb and powerful leader [as an aside, I wrote the boss in this essay as an abstract figure—certainly not my actual bosses, business associates, or editors!].  I even kind of like and admire the hapless United States president (both this one and the last one) for earnestly struggling with the problems of the world night and day in a crazy media environment which usually prevents him from being very human and then requires him to emote like crazy every once in a while. In the final assessment of leadership and humor, though, I fear that, at least in contemporary America, the one usually precludes the other.

Of all of England’s crown jewels the loveliest and most sinister is completely misnamed.  The “Black Prince’s Ruby” is not a ruby at all but a colossal blood red spinel (gem-quality magnesium aluminium crystal). Additionally, during his life, Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Aquitaine (1330 – 1376) was never called “the black prince” and nobody knows where that nickname came from.

All of that aside, the gemstone’s history is even darker than its name.  The gem first became known to history in the 14th century when it was a treasure held by Abu Said, the Moorish Prince of Granada (although rumor holds that it may have had an earlier life as a sacred stone of India).  Pedro of Castille (AKA Don Pedro the Cruel) was systematically reconquering Spain from the Moors at the time.  Abu Said desired to surrender and visited Don Pedro under the white flag of truce to explain his provisions.  Pedro ambushed the Moorish Prince and slaughtered his retinue.  Rumor holds that Don Pedro personally killed Abu Said and looted the giant spinel from the prince’s corpse.

The Black Prince had a spectacular moustache.

King Pedro presented the gem to Prince Edward as a down payment for military assistance: Prince Edward and his English archers would help King Pedro quash a revolt and, in exchange, Pedro would provide his mercenary allies with a treasure trove of jewels.  Shockingly, Pedro did not live up to his side of the bargain and, growing disgusted by Don Pedro’s cruelty and faithlessness, Edward withdrew from Spain.

[As a kharmic aside, Don Pedro was betrayed for money by Bertrand du Guesclin and misled into an ambush where he was stabbed to death by his bastard half brother Henry of Trastamara (thereafter Henry II of Spain).  Henry left Pedro’s body unburied for three days so that he and his men could abuse and ridicule the corpse.]

Henry V Attired in Battle Armor

The stone was later worn by Henry V of England who incorporated it into his battle helmet during the Hundred Years war.   Said helmet saved the King Henry’s life during the battle of Agincourt when he was beset by French knights.

Imperial State Crown of Great Britain

Today the Black Prince’s ruby can be found in the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain, a towering mass of giant diamonds, huge sapphires, dark velvet, and ermine.  This crazy headdress is worn by Great Britain’s monarchs at the end of their coronation ceremonies (when they thoroughly and completely crowned and could not be more regal if they tried to be).  The Imperial State Crown is also worn annually at the State Opening of Parliament, one of the ridiculous Ghormenghastian rituals which the figurehead monarch of Great Britain is expected to take part in.  It was worn as the actual coronation crown by Queen Victoria and a stripped down version was used for the same purpose by Edward VII (who had the crown remade because it was so heavy it hurt his neck).

Today is the last day of the Mid-Autumn festival of year 4707, the year of the metal tiger.  Happy mooncakes to you and your family! Go out and stroll beneath the paper lanterns tonight and enjoy a festival over 3000 years old which was introduced by moon worshippers of the Shang dynasty. Look up at the moon glowing in the autumn sky and ponder the sad strange fate of Chang’e and her rabbit.

A little boy looks at a Chang'e Lantern

I can never hope to live up the to the moon’s devotees from ancient dynastic China, but I do wish to celebrate lunar beauty and meaning. Therefore I have selected the following poem from a Tang Dynasty Literary Master. Be forewarned though, Chinese literature is always heartbreakingly sad.

 

On the Festival of the Moon to Sub-official Zhang

Han Yu

The fine clouds have opened and the River of Stars is gone,
A clear wind blows across the sky, and the moon widens its wave,
The sand is smooth, the water still, no sound and no shadow,
As I offer you a cup of wine, asking you to sing.
But so sad is this song of yours and so bitter your voice
That before I finish listening my tears have become a rain:
“Where Lake Dongting is joined to the sky by the lofty Nine-Doubt Mountain,
Dragons, crocodiles, rise and sink, apes, flying foxes, whimper….
At a ten to one risk of death, I have reached my official post,
Where lonely I live and hushed, as though I were in hiding.
I leave my bed, afraid of snakes; I eat, fearing poisons;
The air of the lake is putrid, breathing its evil odours….
Yesterday, by the district office, the great drum was announcing
The crowning of an emperor, a change in the realm.
The edict granting pardons runs three hundred miles a day,
All those who were to die have had their sentences commuted,
The unseated are promoted and exiles are recalled,
Corruptions are abolished, clean officers appointed.
My superior sent my name in but the governor would not listen
And has only transferred me to this barbaric place.
My rank is very low and useless to refer to;
They might punish me with lashes in the dust of the street.
Most of my fellow exiles are now returning home –
A journey which, to me, is a heaven beyond climbing.”
…Stop your song, I beg you, and listen to mine,
A song that is utterly different from yours:
“Tonight is the loveliest moon of the year.
All else is with fate, not ours to control;
But, refusing this wine, may we choose more tomorrow?”

This translation of Han Yu’s poem is by Brynner. The full Chinese version is available here.  Han Yu was the foremost man of letters of the Tang Dynasty. The Indiana Companion asserts that in the Chinese cannon he is “comparable in stature to Dante, Shakespeare or Goethe”.

Han Yu

The list of presidential pets is many and astonishing. Each executive stands revealed by his choice of companion animal.  Additionally the animals’ remarkable names reflect different eras of American history.  George Washington, the father of the nation, started the trend magnificently with a gigantic donkey named Royal Gift and a pack of three American staghounds called Sweet Lips, Scentwell, and Vulcan. Thomas Jefferson owned a mockingbird named Dick.  Andrew Jackson kept fighting cocks (names unknown) whereas Martin Van Buren favored tiger cubs–at least until they stopped being cuddly. During the civil war, Abraham Lincoln kept goats in the white house yard as well as Jack, a pet tom turkey. Benjamin Harrison had a pair of gentleman opossums named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection. Naturally, Teddy Roosevelt kept a veritable menagerie of terriers, hunting dogs, cats, and farm animals, however his bristling nature stands most revealed by his free-ranging pet badger, Josiah, and his beloved garter snake, Emily Spinach.

John Quincy Adams, who swam nude in the Potomac every morning, kept an American Alligator in the guest bathroom of the White House!

Enjoy your stay at the Executive Mansion....

For the moment, I’m going to ignore the larger ramifications of that crazy list and simply use it as the lead-in to a biography of one particular presidential pet.  Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was a small government conservative from New England known for his taciturn silence.  But Coolidge loved animals.  In addition to more familiar housepets, Coolidge’s collection included a wallaby, a miniature antelope, a black bear, canaries, a donkey, a raccoon, a bobcat, and a pair of lions.  In 1927, Silent Cal came into possession of one of the most remarkable animal figures in American history, a pygmy hippopotamus named William Johnson Hippopotamus, (1920s – October 11, 1955) AKA “Billy”.  The rubber baron Harvey Firestone presented Billy to Coolidge after workers on one of Firestone’s giant latex plantations in Liberia captured the 6 foot long 600 pound pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis—there is a taxonomical controversy surrounding the correct name).  Since the White House had limited space for the large semi-aquatic artiodactyls, Billy quickly found himself at the National Zoo–today called the Smithsonian National Zoological Park (although the attentive Coolidge visited him there frequently).

An adult pygmy hippopotamus (I couldn't find one of Billy, but I'll keep looking)

Billy’s life and times straddled a great dividing point for wild animals in captivity.  In the beginning of the twentieth century, zoos were more or less for entertainment purposes only.  Creatures were captured and exhibited for profit in circuses or for status in menageries.  When the animals died of stress, disease, or malnutrition, new specimens were obtained.  The National Zoo and the Bronx Zoo were both feeling their way towards nobler scientific and conservation ends, however there was still a whiff of the nobleman’s menagerie about them.  Good animal husbandry was frequently unknown or subsumed for larger aesthetic or cultural reasons.

Billy was a very “frisky” hippo and a mate named Hannah, was acquired by the zoo on September 4, 1929. Unfortunately Billy and Hannah’s first three offspring met hasty ends.  Although the Washington Post quickly concluded that “inability to survive the neglect of an errant mother was the cause given for baby Hippo’s demise,” it seems that human ignorance was more to blame. The pygmy hippos were initially kept in the lion house (a stressful environment for pregnant pygmy hippos!). When the pair was moved to their own lion-free facilities, their offspring did fine. Pygmy hippos became one of the first great success stories of the zoo.  Billy had many offspring and his celebrity continued to grow.  He attended the World’s Fair in 1939, and then acquired an additional mate in 1940 (when the zoo director ignored geopolitical rumblings to personally visit Liberia and capture a new pygmy hippo female).   Billy died on October 11, 1955 having outlived Coolidge by 23 years.  His last offspring, Gumdrop XVIII was born five months later.

Baby Pygmy Hippo!

Billy left a tremendous legacy.  The majority of pygmy hippos in America’s zoos are his direct descendants, and, as zoos improve their conservation programs (and their international ties), his progeny are spreading around the planet.  Additionally, thanks to his fecundity, his longevity, and his highly placed political and business connections (and even his simple hippo joie de vivre) Billy helped popularize a new conception of zoos.  Zoological parks are no longer a novelty or a diversion but a critical tool to understanding wildlife.  They are also a conservation measure of last resort in a dangerous world of ever diminishing wilderness habitat.

An orphaned baby pygmy hippo taken in by the London Zoo last year

Lake Lonar

Approximately 650,000 years ago, an outer space object–either a comet or a meteor– struck the Deccan plateau (an immense basaltic flow on the Indian subcontinent dating back to the twilight of the dinosaurs).   The resultant crater in Maharashtra is now the sight of a very interesting saltwater lake, Lake Lonar.  The geology of this region has been intensely studied because the great basaltic mass of the Deccan traps is thought to mirror the igneous geology of Mars and the moon.

Lake Lonar proper is nearly circular with a diameter of 1.2 kilometers.  The greater meteor crater rim is about 1.8 kilometers and the crater measures 500 feet deep in the deepest part of the lake.  In addition to the obvious features of an extraterrestrial impact (um, a large round hole), the region features many other unique geological signs of such an event. Maskelynite, a material only naturally known from meteorites and meteorite impact areas, is found around Lake Lonar, as are silicate minerals with planar deformation features (distinctive high-stress crystalline irregularities which have only been found in silicates from meteorites, craters, and nuclear test areas).  The deeper geology of the lake region displays shatter cones in the bedrock, and extreme deformation of the basalt layers. Finally the surrounding region has been spattered with a non-volcanic ejecta blanket. 

Lake Lonar: pink-beige indicates bare ground, blue and off-white indicate human-made structures, dark blue indicates water, green indicates vegetation, and dull purple indicates fallow fields (NASA: Terra Satellite)

By measuring the accumulated radiation in certain crystals (aka thermoluminescence) scientists had assigned an approximate age of 50,000 years to the crater. However a 2010 study of isotopic Argon in Lonar impact melt rock estimated the true time of impact to be 650,000 years ago (give or take 80,000 years).  The compelling 2010 study drily notes “The discrepancy between the thermoluminescence age and the new isotopic 40/Ar/39Ar age is flagrant.”

Daitya Sudan, a temple to Vishnu

Several abandoned temples and archaeological sights are also located around the lake.  For example, the beautiful Daitya Sudan Temple to Vishnu was built by the Chalukya Dynasty which ruled of Maharashtra from the 6th and 12th centuries.  The local town, Lonar, still has an active temple to Vishnu, the great protector of the universe who features prominently in local legend.  According to the Skanda Purana (a canon of Hindu scripture universally cited when a story is doubtful or can not be found elsewhere) a great underworld demon, Lonasur, lived where Lake Lonar is today.  From time to time the demon would venture from his subterranean abode to torment the countryside and challenge the gods. Assuming the form of an extremely beautiful young man, Vishnu…somehow convinced the demon’s sisters to divulge where the monster could be found.  The god then lifted up the countryside like a great lid and found the demon hiding in his huge circular lair. After Vishnu slew the demon, the demon’s dwelling place filled up with water made salty by the fiend’s blood.    

Although threatened by India’s ever growing sprawl, Lonar Lake is a rich wetland with abundant wildlife—particularly birds.  The jungles, fields, and lake are a birder’s paradise featuring flamingos, grebes, black-winged stilts, dabchicks, ducks, shell-ducks, shovellers, teals, herons, rollers, parakeets, hoopoes, weavers, larks, tailorbirds, magpies, robins, swallows, peacocks, coots, white-necked storks, lapwings, grey wagtails, black droungos, green bee-eaters, and tailorbirds (to name just some).

The Jungle around Lake Lonar

The Crown of Saint Stephen (AKA The Holy Crown of Hungary)

The crown of Saint Stephen (also known as the Holy Crown of Hungary) is not merely fancy headgear worn by the monarch of Hungary. By ancient tradition, the crown has legal personhood and is the monarch of Hungary—its wearer is simply the vehicle for its sovereign authority. For example, Charles Robert of Anjou had to be crowned thrice as Charles I of Hungary “because it was not until he was crowned with the Holy Crown, in 1310, that the coronation was seen as legally binding.”

Saint Stephen Wearing the Crown of Saint Stephen (not made until a century after his death)

The crown’s name comes from the myth that Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary, offered the crown to the Nagyboldogasszony–the Virgin Mary in 1031 AD as he lay on his deathbed with no obvious heirs. The crown is actually of more recent–and more prosaic lineage. It is a kamelaukion-type crown, typical of Byzantine rulers of the 12th century and was probably fashioned during the reign of Béla III (1172-1196) by Byzantine goldsmiths. It consists of three separate pieces: the lower diadem or corona greca, the upper bands called the corona latina, and the cross at the apex–which was added much later (probably during the sixteenth century). Constructed out of solid gold, the crown is decorated with nineteen enamel paintings as well as semi-precious stones, genuine pearls, and almandine (which is a garnet-family mineral–not some sort of nut paste). There are four ornamental pendants hanging from chains on each side of the crown and one pendant dangling from the back.

Because the Crown of Saint Stephen so thoroughly embodies sovereignty over Hungary, it has been stolen, moved, hidden, or annexed many times. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 when Hungary attempted to throw off the Austrian yoke and be free of the Hapsburgs, the crown was spirited away by Lajos Kossuth, the theatrical leader of the resistance. Kossuth buried the crown in a wooden coffer in a willow forest, near Orşova in Transylvania. It was not until 1853 that it was dug up (along with the other royal jewels) and returned to the Austro-Hungarian emperor’s royal castle in Buda. During the age of nationalism and strife surrounding the first and second World Wars, the crown became the focus of right wing Hungarian propaganda. Miklós Horthy the pro-fascist regent of Hungary from 1920-1944, tied the crown to his regency and to the concept of regaining control of the so-called Lands of Saint Stephen. Horthy allied Hungary to Nazi Germany in order to attain his goal of control over certain Carpathian territories.  Hungary paid a dreadful price for the alliance:being first attacked in 1944 by its nominal German allies and then by the red army and the allied armies. On 4 May 1945, the U.S. 86th Infantry Division (the “blackhawks” of the Danube) captured the Crown of Saint Stephen. For most of the cold war, the crown sat in Fort Knox, Kentucky until Jimmy Carter returned it to the Hungarian people in 1978.

What? How did Jimmy Carter get into this story?

The crown’s most distinctive feature, its crooked cross, was added during the sixteenth century by metal workers less gifted than the original makers. The cross was not meant to be crooked—some unnamed person sloppily stowed the crown in a trunk and bent the crucifix by closing the lid too quickly.

Just look at the cross! This is why you can't have nice things....

Today features the unwholesome misalliance of two major ferrebeekeeper topics: “catfish” and “mascots”.  Apparently I’m not the only person to have this idea, because there are plenty of catfish mascots out there, but, be warned, most of them are not especially pretty….

This character is available from the Texas Fun Shop. So if dressing as a big schlubby catfish is indeed your idea of having fun, it’s available for $1,279.00.

It doesn't seem like "Finnley" is taken yet. So if I get really serious about popularizing this blog (and being beaten up by fellow New Yorkers) my course of action is clear.

Of course Japan is represented on this list! Caffy, is the official mascot of Shiga Prefecture. He represents a species of catfish indigenous to Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake which lies northeast of the former capital city of Kyoto.

Freddy the flathead is appropriately the mascot for The Mississippi National River and Recreational Area.

Click here to learn more about Freddie the catfish or just visit his myspace page.

I think this is a catfish because the jersey says "catfish". Additionally, the costume is blue, so that seems fairly aquatic I guess. Further visual cues are scant.

Here's another ambiguous outfit. The label said "catfish" on the website which was selling it, but it almost seems it could be any sort of fish.

Ooh Ooh! Look at this picture! How could you not choose the mud cat?

In 2007, the Catfish swept the West Virginia Power in three games to win their first South Atlantic league championship. Unfortunately they changed their name to "Bowling Green Hot Rods" when they relocated to Kentucky in 2009.

This isn't a mascot as such, but it seemed remarkable enough to merit inclusion. "Chuck the Catfish" is a large roadside sculpture in Selkirk, (which is in Manitoba Canada). The 30 foot sculpture was built in 1986 to popularize Selkirk as the world's catfish capital.

 
 
 

If you though Chuck the Catfish was the world's largest catfish statue, think again! That singular honor belongs to the 40 feet "Wahpper" catfish in Wahpeton, North Dakota.

The Wahpper’s website informs us that ” same artist that created “Wahpper” also created “Salem Sue” – the World’s Largest Holstein Cow in New Salem, North Dakota.”

 
 
 

Last of all, here is a sign showing a literal catfish chef(presumably cooking a catfish!). This image is meant to segue us into the next catfish post--which will feature cooking. So keep checking back here!

 

Wow, what a folksy post!

Yesterday, after work, as per my usual routine, I took the subway home to Park Slope, Brooklyn. Emerging from the underground train station at Seventh Avenue, I was startled to find the windows were smashed out of “Brooklyn Industries” (a store which purveys $50 tee shirts that say “Brooklyn”) and shattered plate glass had been thrown across the street.  Emergency vehicles were everywhere and the citizenry was in a state of high excitement. Naturally I assumed there had finally been a civil insurrection and my banker neighbors were all dead, but when I looked at the neighborhood more closely and utilized my powers of ratiocination, I realized that rioters would probably not twist the tops off of trees, snap power cables, and knock down chimneys.  Clearly another perpetrator was implicated.

Park Slope neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 (Mark Lennihan/AP))

In order to get to the bottom of the mysterious events, I interviewed some eyewitnesses who asserted that the sky had turned green, bullwhips of lightening lashed from the heavens, and then a crushing wall of rain and water moved across the land.  The culprit was revealed to be a severe thunder storm, quite possibly a tornado.  Apparently the National Weather Service is spending today reviewing replays to find out whether we can officially call it such or not.  Here’s a movie of the storm on Youtube.

The storm twisted the wild cherry tree in my backyard around by several degrees (!) and tipped over some lawn furniture, but apparently did not do any severe damage to my apartment or garden.  The neighborhood was not so fortunate.  Huge trees (and little ones) were lying on cars everywhere.  The high wind blew down fences, scaffolds, temporary constructions, and edifices that were old or poorly constructed.  Brooklyn is a symphony of chainsaws and hammers right now.

On 3rd Street between 4th and 5th Avenues in Brooklyn (TheSharkDaymond)

 

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