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Statue of Carl Linnaeus (Carl Johan Dyfverman, 1890, bronze)

Statue of Carl Linnaeus (Carl Johan Dyfverman, 1890, bronze)

The University where I went to school had many remarkable statues, but the most spectacular was an immense heroic bronze statue of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, biologist, and zoologist who invented the binomial nomenclature we still use to scientifically name and classify living organisms. Including its base, the statue was 20 feet tall and Linnaeus was splendidly dressed in both a Roman toga and an 18th century frock coat (which would probably excessive in most places but not in his native Sweden nor in Chicago).

 

Linnaeus is kind of grinning in every picture of him!

Linnaeus is kind of grinning in every likeness of him!

The statue of Linnaeus is remarkable not just for its size but for the wry look of scarcely contained mirth on the great natural philosopher’s countenance. I had always interpreted this expression as an artistic flourish, but last week, when I was writing about the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), I found reason to wonder whether the look was actually appropriate.

Balaenoptera musculus

Balaenoptera musculus

As I explained in that post, the blue whale is a creature of extraordinary size—an otherworldly giant which dwarfs every other animal ever known. Linnaeus knew this when he gave the whale its binomial scientific name “Balaenoptera musculus” and indeed the name is most appropriate. “Balaenoptera” is from Latin and means “fin whale” an appropriate name for the great rorquals. “Musculus” is also Latin and it means “muscle” an appropriate designation for the most powerful creature on earth. Yet “musculus” is a homonym in Latin: it also can be translated as “little mouse”. Linnaeus was a gifted scholar in both Greek and Latin. He surely knew the ironic double meaning. It must have been a stroke of humor which made him name the largest animal ever after a tiny mouse.

 

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Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife get in their car in Serbia five minutes before they are both shot

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife get in their car in Serbia five minutes before they are both shot

A century ago, on June 28th, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the presumptive heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist. The assassination began a terrible sequence of political events which ineluctably dragged the nations of Europe (and eventually most of the world) into World War I –and eventually into World War II as well. Western society had been running blindly towards a terrible abyss: Franz Ferdinand’s death was when everyone unknowingly stepped off the edge and plunged into horror.

An abandoned trench destroyed by shellfire, Delville Wood near Longueval, Somme, September, 1916

An abandoned trench destroyed by shellfire, Delville Wood near Longueval, Somme, September, 1916

Historians are still arguing about the agonizing and labyrinthine causes of the war (which would almost certainly have happened whether or not the Archduke had been shot). His death was merely the incandescent spark which fell into a pile of explosives. In the coming days and years, the world will look back on the events of those times from the temporal distance of a century and we will all try (again) to figure out how everything went so completely wrong. This is a very necessary exercise for humanity: the same forces which caused the First World War are always at work–gnawing at all we have tried to build like the great serpent Níðhöggr chewing away the roots of Yggdrasil.

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

Today, however, let us ignore the larger issues of what caused World War I and concentrate instead on a single person, Franz Ferdinand himself—because he was a deeply strange individual from an odd and convoluted family. His personal story is a troubling and sad story. To begin with, Franz Ferdinand had not initially been the heir to the Imperial throne. The real rightful heir was Rudolf Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, however Rudolf abdicated his inheritance (and his life) in 1889 when he shot 17-year-old Baroness Marie Vetsera in the head and then turned the gun on himself. The murder-suicide was believed to be an emotional response to an imperial edict from Rudolf’s father Franz Joseph I, who had ordered the crown prince to end his love affair.

Crown Prince Rudolph & Baroness Mary Vetsera

Crown Prince Rudolph & Baroness Mary Vetsera

After the death of Rudolf (who was the only son of Franz Joseph I), Franz Ferdinand’s father Karl Ludwig became the heir to the throne, however Karl Ludwig quickly chose to renounce the throne and die of typhus. This left Franz Ferdinand in a position which he had not expected. He was an ultra-conservative aristocrat and military officer which a morbid obsession for trophy hunting (his diaries indicate that he personally killed 300,000 animals); but he was also a well-known romantic. This latter aspect of his personality became a huge problem which nearly ripped apart the Austrian imperial family (anew). In 1894 Franz Ferdinand met Countess Sophie Chotek and fell deeply in love, but the Countess was not a member of one of Europe’s ruling royal families. In his new role as heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand was expected to marry someone fitting of his station, but he refused to do so. The Pope, the Tsar, and the Kaiser interceded between the Emperor and the Archduke until eventually a solution was found. The couple would be married, but none of their children would inherit the throne. The Countess was elevated to but she was to be treated as a sort of underclass concubine at court (although she was at least styled as “Princess”).

Pre-1900 pastel painting of Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg held at Artstetten Castle Museum.

Pre-1900 pastel painting of Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg held at Artstetten Castle Museum.

Once his controversial marriage had happened, Franz Ferdinand became less controversial: he raised a family and assumed more and more imperial honors and duties. On June 28th, 2014 he was visiting Sarajevo with his wife and his advisors when Nedeljko Čabrinović, tried to assassinate him by throwing a grenade at his car. The bomb missed and injured the occupants of the following car. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie decided to visit the people who were injured in the grenade attack, however the changed itinerary confused their chauffeur who got lost and had to back up to get back on course. Gavrilo Princip was sitting a t a café when he saw the Archduke’s car slowly backing up the street. He got up and walked over and shot Sophie in the abdomen and Franz Ferdinand in the neck.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek, on their state visit to Sarajevo. The illustration was published in the French newspaper Le Petit Journal on July 12, 1914.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek, on their state visit to Sarajevo. The illustration was published in the French newspaper Le Petit Journal on July 12, 1914.

The archduke was more concerned for his wife than for himself. As the car accelerated away from the gunman, he cried out “Sophie dear! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!” As his increasingly alarmed aids and underlings begin to realize the gravity of the situation, Franz Ferdinand began to repeatedly say “It is nothing,” again and again until he fell silent and died. Sophie likewise died of blood loss on the way to the hospital. Then, because of the loss of this middle aged couple, the world began to fall apart.

The Imperial Crown of the Austrian Empire. Schatzkammer. Vienna, Austria.

The Imperial Crown of the Austrian Empire. Schatzkammer. Vienna, Austria.

The crown to the Austro-Hungarian Empire is one of the most splendid of all crowns (look for a post about it next week), but considering the stories of Franz Ferdinand, Franz Joseph I, Sophie Chotek, and Crown Prince Rudolf, one could legitimately wonder whether it is accursed. Considering the tragedy that spiraled outward in greater and greater circles from the death of the archduke and his wife, one wonders if the whole world might likewise suffer from some evil dementia.

Gafftopsail Catfish (Bagre marinus)

Gafftopsail Catfish (Bagre marinus)

This amazing looking fish is a gafftopsail catfish (Bagre marinus). It is an Atlantic Ocean catfish which lives in coastal waters off of North America from the Caribbean up through the Gulf of Mexico north to the mouth of the Hudson. As you might guess from its intimidating Fu Manchu mustache and barbed flavor savor, the gafftopsail catfish is a formidable predator which eats crustaceans and smaller fish. The fish has a sinister forked tail, a wavelike hump, and a jaunty dorsal spine looks like a sail (and gives the fish its common name). Additionally like most saltwater catfish, the gafftopsail catfish has several venomous, serrated spines.

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The largest gafftopsail catfish ever caught weighed an impressive 4.5 kg (10 pounds), but generally the fish are much smaller. They usually measure about 43 cm (17 inches) in length. Male gafftopsail catfish are solicitous fathers. When the female lays her eggs, the male fertilizes them and collects them in his mouth. He carefully protects the eggs until they have hatched, and thereafter his young take shelter from predators inside his mouth until they are old enough to set out on their own.

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Today’s bog post is going to be largely visual—because I can’t find any reliable history about my subject. One of my favorite decorator colors is seafoam green. All sorts of kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, automobiles, and consumer goods come in this beautiful pale blue-green. Additionally its name is surely one of the most successful of all the names created by advertising agencies and creative departments. Seafoam green immediately makes one think about the Caribbean Sea or about Aphrodite emerging from the waves. From a purely visual perspective, the color is simultaneously bright yet neutral. It is green or blue depending on the light. It is perfect to offset all different skin hues.

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Yet, I have no idea where the name came from or when the color came about (nor can I find the first references). If I had to hazard a guess, I would say it comes from the late nineteen fifties or early nineteen sixties because, well, look at it. It just seems like a color that would have come out of that affluent consumer-oriented period when all sorts of new chemicals and bright pastel colors abounded.

Is this Seafoam green 1954 Packard Convertible a hint?

Is this Seafoam green 1954 Packard Convertible a hint?

Of course now that I have sung the praises of sea foam green, I should add one substantial complaint: sea foam green is not the color of sea foam at all! The foam of waves is white rather than pastel green. Somehow the name manages to evoke freshness, beauty, nature, and the ocean without really having anything to do with reality! I guess that is the alchemy of poetry….

Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Two weeks ago, Ferrebeekeeper presented a post about the smallest known mammal, the Etruscan shrew. Today we head to the opposite extreme: the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is not merely the largest known living mammal, it is the largest animal of any sort known to have ever existed. The greatest dinosaurs, the colossal squid, and the most immense pliosaurs were pipsqueaks compared to the blue whale. The giant cetacean has been measured at lengths of 30 metres (98 ft). A single whale can weigh up to 180,000 kilograms (200 tons) which is about the weight of forty African elephants (or approximately one hundred million Etruscan shrews). Superlatives stop making sense when describing the blue whale: a human could swim through its largest veins; a whale can eat 4 tons of krill a day; it can make a noise louder than a jet engine. When I worked for the Smithsonian Institution back in the nineties, it was said that the longest object in the collection was the life-size blue whale model. It wasn’t until the Air & Space museum acquired a space shuttle that the Washington museums got something bigger (although maybe that’s because they decided not to assemble their Saturn V). If you want a true sense of the size of Balaenoptera musculus, here is a life size poster of one on the internet (be forewarned: unless your monitor is the size of a drive-in theater, you are just going to be scrolling hopelessly around an endless wall of blue-gray).

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Although there are different groups which have slightly different physical characteristics, blue whales can be found in all of the deep oceans of the world (with the exceptions of Europe’s seas, the great gulfs of the Middle East, and the Arctic Ocean). I would like to tell you more about the lifespan, breeding habits, vocalizations, and social life of the blue whale, but, incredibly, very little is known about these aspects of the creatures. Scientists speculate that blue whales live to be about 80 years old (or possibly older), but they don’t know for sure. How whales choose mates is unknown (although it presumably involves the remarkable range of noises which they make). Gestation lasts anywhere from 10 to 12 months.

Blue Whale Mother and Calf from Amos Photography

Blue Whale Mother and Calf from Amos Photography

Once baby blue whales are born they grow fast! Blue whale calves can put on 4 kilograms (9 pounds) an hour. Adults are masters of the deep: fully grown blue whales can dive for up to half an hour to depths of 500 meters 1,640 feet. They have two blow holes behind a streamlined spray guard. Like the other mysticeti, blue whales are filter feeders. They take huge amounts of water and krill into their mouths and then push the water out through long baleen plates. When adults fully open their mouths the area is equivalent to the volume of a boxcar!

blue-whales

Blue whales are capable of traveling 50 kilometres per hour (31 mph) over short bursts, so back in the days of sail, a blue whale encountering a ship would simply swim away. Only when humankind began to make modern ships powered by fossil fuels could we keep up with the gentle giants. Alas for the whales–we learned to build such ships (and explosively propelled harpoons) and soon we were killing the creatures by the hundreds of thousands so that they could be rendered into oil. Between the 1880s (when the whales first began to be hunted en masse) and the 1920s the whales’ population declined from 350,000 to perhaps a thousand. All nations stopped hunting the whales in the early 1970s. In less than a hundred years, humans almost eradicated the largest animal ever known…yet, in the end we have not yet wiped out the blue whales. They are still here. As you read this, there is a creature the size of a space shuttle eating millions of krill somewhere in the vasty oceans.

A diver with an immature blue whale

A diver with an immature blue whale

Coral Reef at Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge

Coral Reef at Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge

It has been a while since this blog waded into the murky & sordid waters of politics, but recent national news demands notice…and, for once, the political news is good rather than awful! My favorite action by President George H. Bush (the 43rd president of the United States) was the creation of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument–which the former president announced on January 6, 2009 just days before his second term ended. The monument included 199,500 square kilometers (77,020 square miles) of reefs, beaches, coastal waters, and unique atoll landscapes around the unincorporated United States Pacific Island territories. I have included a map of the exact area below instead of mentioning all of the little atolls, seamounts, and micro islands individually. Suffice to say, I only recognized the names from World War II naval battles. All commercial use of this part of the ocean is now prohibited: there is no factory fishing, mining, or drilling allowed (although right of passage is permitted as are research and recreational activities—including sports fishing).

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The exact details of the park can be found on the Fish and Wildlife Services website, but the net effect is that a large and beautiful part of the Pacific has become a wildlife park, free from the insatiable hunger and wanton destruction of “resource extraction corporations”. But that is all just back story: the news gets better. Last Tuesday (June 17, 2014) the current president, Barack Obama, announced his intention to vastly expand the protected area of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (which, btw, desperately needs a snappier name). If the president follows through with his plans, the PRIMNM (the acronym is also not euphonic) will expand to 2 million square kilometers (782,000 square miles) thereby doubling the amount of protected ocean refuge in the entire world! The unspoiled site is not currently a major location for drilling, mining, or even fishing (although no doubt the all-devouring tuna fleets will weep and beg and claim that anything less than unfettered access will result in their destruction).

Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

My greatest concern about the present state of the world is the rapid destruction of the ecosystems of the world’s oceans. Because of overfishing and dumping, the oceans of Earth are emptying of fish, turtles, mammals, birds, and invertebrates while filling up with jellyfish, carbon dioxide, mercury, and plastic crap. If you are like me, you probably live a wretched existence as a disposable drone in some cubicle farm—which makes the concerns of the world’s last pristine coral reefs and natural fish hatcheries seem very distant and abstruse. Yet the world spanning ocean is not just a source of postcards, sashimi, and fishsticks, it is the cradle of life on the planet—the central and irreplaceable ecosystem which reaches out endless tendrils that touch all living beings. Our survival is contingent on the health of the oceans.  So I would like to salute President Bush for founding the sanctuary and I would also like to congratulate President Obama for his choice to expand it! Who knew we had politicians who could actually accomplish something worthwhile? Let’s have more bold choices like this so that the ocean of the future is not just a giant dead pool of salt water.

Kingman Reef (The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument) Photo by Enric Sala

Kingman Reef (The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument) Photo by Enric Sala

King Cake (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, oil on canvas)

King Cake (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, oil on canvas)

In the Northern hemisphere today is the summer solstice—the longest day of the year. Here in Brooklyn, the Saturday closest to the solstice (which, this year, happens to also be the solstice) is the occasion of the Mermaid Parade, a great festival to Neptune, the Roman god of the ocean. Revelers gather in Coney Island which is a famous beach by the Atlantic Ocean. Artists, mummers, and lovers of the ocean dress as sea creatures, mermaids, and oceanic beings and parade down Surf Avenue before proceeding through Luna Park and to the beach. As a Brooklynite, I thought I should likewise celebrate Neptune and the glorious beginning of summer—which I am doing by showing one of my paintings. The title of this work is “King Cake” and everything you see is some sort of king. There is King Neptune, a king salmon, the king of herring, a king vulture, and a princely crown. The colorful torus-shaped cake is known as a king cake, which is eaten down south during carnival season. When the cake is consumed, the person who receives the piece with the baby baked inside is given a golden coin…or maybe sacrificed to the ancient gods (depending on one’s denomination and traditions). Carnival and Mardi Gras are not celebrated in Brooklyn: instead we have the mermaid parade on the summer solstice! Hail Poseidon! Hail summer!

A supervisor overlooks Metorox's Chibuluma copper mine, near Kitwe, Zambia (image from Chinadaily)

A supervisor overlooks Metorox’s Chibuluma copper mine, near Kitwe, Zambia (image from Chinadaily)

Moving on in our flag tour across Africa we come to Zambia, a completely landlocked country. The economy of Zambia is almost entirely dependent on copper. When copper is expensive Zambia does well: when copper is cheap, the country falls apart (copper is expensive now due to China’s building boom, so the IMF lists Zambia as one of the world’s fastest improving economies). Of course most Zambians are subsistence farmers for who have relatively little to do with the world economy or even the larger Zambian economy, but to the Zambian elite (and to the world’s mining and construction magnates) copper matters greatly {ed’s note: and for us readers too—the computing device you are probably reading this on requires copper and copper wires]. The Zambian government hopes to someday diversify the nation’s exports away from overdependence on copper: which, in truth, is to say they hope maybe to also export nickel. All of this economics exposition also overlooks Zambia’s sometimes fraught trade routes across neighboring countries. Since Zambia is landlocked it must ship its metals and ores across other countries to reach the international market, and the neighbors have sometimes used this advantage to squeeze Zambia.

The current flag of Zambia

The current flag of Zambia

The flag of Zambia should probably just be “29” or “Cu”, but instead it is a bizarre off-center standard adapted after independence from the British (although admittedly it has a great deal of coppery-orange color in it). The majority of the flag is green, which stands for the nation’s fields, forests, and natural fertility. As in other African flags, red represents the nation’s bloody struggle for independence and black represents the Zambian people. Finally copper color stands for the country’s “mineral wealth”, and the copper color eagle stands for the people’s ability to soar above their problems. A cynical person might say the copper eagle represents the copper-rich merchants and politicians who control Zambia. The flag was adopted in 1964, but it changed slightly in 1996 to accommodate changed graphic sensibilities (the green became brighter and the eagle lost weight).

The Flag of Zambia from 1964-1996

The Flag of Zambia from 1964-1996

For unknown reasons, copper-hungry China has taken great interest in Zambian politics and welfare. A news report from today (which has appeared since I started writing this post) details a technical cooperation grant agreement in which China has agreed to provide $64 million dollars worth of infrastructural, vocational, and environmental aid to the Zambian people. How generous!

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This story is from yesterday and the exiguous details, alas, mean that it will be brief–yet it is too remarkable not to mention (especially considering our longstanding love of catfish here at Ferrebeekeeper). Yesterday (June 17th, 2014) an Italian fisherman, Dino Ferrari, caught a huge Wels catfish (Silurus glanis) in the River Po. The great fish weighed 118 kilograms (260 pounds) and measured 2.6 meters (8.6 feet) in length.

 

Dino Ferrari proudly displays the 260 pound fish he caught

Dino Ferrari proudly displays the 260 pound fish he caught

Although Wels catfish are no match in size and substance to the extraordinary giant Mekong catfish, they are clearly large fish. They also live in a huge swath of Eurasia from England to Kazakhstan where they prey on everything from tiny gastropods to big waterfowl like ducks (although they also eat carrion). The Wells catfish was originally native to central Europe, but thanks to introduction programs by misguided human anglers it has spread both east and west. I wonder what Mr. Ferrari baited his hook with to catch this monster—a piglet?

Dried Shredded Squid

Dried Shredded Squid

So, I grew up in the middle of the United States (and sometimes along the East Coast) and salty snack foods were invariably cheese doodles, chips, or pretzels—or maybe peanuts or corn chips if you were somewhere fancy). This is why it was a huge revelation when my Korean-American friend introduced me to dried shredded squid—a favored bar food in Japan and Korea.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, dried shredded squid consists of squid which has been shredded, dried, and salted (although sometimes the dried cephalopod is actually cuttlefish). The flesh comes away in little strings which one then pops into ones mouth with mayonnaise or hot sauce (particularly at a bar or while drinking pre-dinner drinks like whiskey or beer). None of this sounds especially appealing—and indeed, at first glance, the salted dried squid does not inspire the casual snack enthusiast with much hope. Squid and cuttlefish dry to an unappealing color somewhere between bone, mummy, and woodear, while the aroma bears a faint hint of decaying estuaries (with perhaps a touch of Cthulhu).

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Yet, when one actually eats the dried shredded squid, it goes through a wonderful metamorphosis: it is exactly the right combination of chewy, salty, and umami. In Japan, shredded dried squid is known as “atarime” and is considered a otsumami (a bar food) whereas in Korea it is regarded as a bar food or sometimes a banchan (a small side dish). Whatever the case, it is excellent as a before dinner snack (especially with a beer) and I heartily recommend it to everyone—even if you are a bit wary of eating dessicated sea creatures.  Furthermore, the packaging tends to be very droll with all sorts of cute cartoon squids (as you can sea in some of these photos).

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