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It has been too long since we had a post about mollusks.  Am I running out of material about these exquisite invertebrates?  To make up for the absence here is a short sweet visual post.  This is the Empress Crown of Iran.  It was manufactured in 1967 by the French jewelers, Van Cleef & Arpels (who had to send a team to Iran to construct the piece).  The crown is made of jewels from the Iranian treasury (which was apparently full of exquisite Baroque pearls).  To my eye it may be the loveliest extant crown: apparently I am a Van Cleef & Arpels fan—an enthusiasm which has found little to no outlet in my life (Seriously, I thought that was the bad guy in Clint Eastwood moves).  The shapes and colors are exquisitely suited to each other in a way which echoes the best of ancient Persian art (more about Persian art shortly).  In a very real way, however, the crown does not echo ancient Persian thought. Consorts of the Iranian monarch were uncrowned throughout history—up until 1967.  The Shah wanted to make his marriage a part of the so-called “White Revolution”—a series of reforms to break the hold that reactionary clerics and nobles held on society.  One of the main aims of the White Revolution was to enfranchise women—and so the Shah wanted a bride who was more equal than were the wives of Qajar rulers.  Alas, the unexpected and unintended consequences of the White Revolution wound up casting long shadows over Iran.  Historians broadly assert that it upset the wealthy elites without greatly benefiting the poor or providing additional political freedoms and thus paved the way for the mullah’s revolution (as an aside, maybe we are lucky in America that Bernie Sander’s revolution crashed and berned, er, burned). Anyway whatever the case is about agrarian and business reforms, the Shah’s ideas at least led to the creation of this amazing crown for Farah Pahlavi, the first (and last) empress of Iran.

August is almost over…and we have yet to present the August eclogue of Shepheardes Calender.  Mercifully, the situation for the 8th (and fairest) month doesn’t require too much explanation: two shepherds sing a song while the third shepherd, the redoubtable Cuddy, judges who sings better.  Cuddy refuses to truly choose and instead recites an exceedingly sad poem of unrequited love.  The meter throughout this eclogue is more songlike and the meanings more straightforward than in previous months. Also Cuddy’s sad poem is truly plaintive and beautifully evokes classical Greco-Roman poetry.  The whole August eclogue is strong and fair, and prefigures the complexity and elegance of Shakespeare, who must surely have looked to this as an example (and whose songs echo the songs of the shepherds).  But judge for yourself…and enjoy the remainder of August!

 

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Shepheardes Calender VIII: August.

WILLY. PERIGOT. CUDDY.

Tell me, Perigot, what shall be the Game,
Wherefore with mine thou dare thy Musick match?
Or been thy Bagpipes ren far out of frame?
Or hath the Cramp thy Joints benumb’d with ach?

PERIGOT.
Ah Willy, when the Heart is ill assay’d,
How can Bagpipe or Joints be well apay’d?

WILLY.
What the foul Evil hath thee so bestad?
Whylom thou west peregal to the best,
And wont to make the jolly Shepherds glad,
With piping and dancing did past the rest.

PERIGOT.
Ah, Willy, now I have learn’d a new Dance;
My old Musick marr’d by a new Mischance.

WILLY.
Mischief mought to that Mischance befall,
That so hath raft us of our Meriment:
But read me, What pain doth thee so appall?
Or lovest thou, or been thy Yonglings miswent?

PERIGOT.
Love hath misled both my Yonglings and me:
I pine for pain, and they my plaint to see.

WILLY.
Perdy and weal away! ill may they thrive;
Never knew I Lovers Sheep in good plight:
But and if Rimes with me thou dare strive,
Such fond Fantasies shall soon be put to flight.

PERIGOT.
That shall I do, though mouchel worse I far’d:
Never shall be said that Perigot was dar’d.

WILLY.
Then lo, Perigot, the pledge which I plight,
A Mazer ywrought of the Maple Ware;
Wherein is enchased many a fair sight,
Of Bears and Tygers, that maken fierce War:
And over them spred a goodly wild Vine,
Entrail’d with a wanton Ivy Twine.

Thereby is a Lamb in the Wolve’s Jaws:
But see, how fast renneth the Shepherd’s Swain,
To save the Innocent from the Beast’s Paws;
And here with his Sheep-hook hath him slain.
Tell me, such a Cup hast thou ever seen?
Well mought it beseem any harvest Queen.

PERIGOT.
Thereto will I pawn yonder spotted Lamb,
Of all my Flock there nis sike another;
For I brought him up without the Damb:
But Colin Clout raft me of his Brother,
That he purchast of me in the plain Field:
Sore against my Will was I forst to yield.

WILLY.
Siker make like account of his Brother:
But who shall judg the Wager won or lost?

PERIGOT.
That shall yonder Herd-groom, and none other,
Which over the Pousse hitherward doth post.

WILLY.
But for the Sun-beam so fore doth us beat,
Were not better, to shun the scorching Heat?

PERIGOT.
Well agreed Willy: then sit thee down Swain;
Sike a Song never heardest thou, but Colin sing.

CUDDY.
‘Gin, when ye list, ye jolly Shepherds twain:
Sike a Judg, as Cuddy, were for a King.

PER. It fell upon a holy Eve,
WILL. Hey ho Holiday!
PER. When holy Fathers wont to shrive:
WILL. Now ‘ginneth this Roundelay.
PER. Sitting upon a Hill so high,
WILL. Hey ho the high Hill!
PER. The while my Flock did feed thereby,
WILL. The while the Shepherd self did spill:
PER. I saw the bouncing Bellibone;
WILL. Hey ho Bonnibel!
PER. Tripping over the Dale alone,
WILL. She can trip it very well.
PER. Well decked in a Frock of grey,
WILL. Hey ho grey is greet!
PER. And in a Kirtle of green Say,
WILL. The green is for Maidens meet.
PER. A Chaplet on her Mead she wore,
WILL. Hey ho Chapelet!
PER. Of sweet Violets therein was store,
WILL. She sweeter than the Violet.
PER. My Sheep did leave their wonted Food,
WILL. Hey ho seely Sheep!
PER. And gaz’d on her, as thy were wood;
WILL. Wood as he, that did them keep.
PER. As the bony Lass passed by,
WILL. Hey ho bony Lass!
PER. She rov’d at me with glauncing Eye,
WILL. As clear as the crystal Glass:
PER. All as the sunny Beam so bright,
WILL. Hey ho the Sun-beam!
PER. Glanceth from Phoebus’ Face forthright,
WILL. So Love into thy Heart did stream;
PER. Or as the Thunder cleaves the Clouds,
WILL. Hey ho the Thunder!
PER. Wherein the lightsom Levin shrouds,
WILL. So cleaves thy Soul asunder:
PER. Or as Dame Cynthia’s silver Ray,
WILL. Hey ho the Moon-light!
PER. Upon the glittering Wave doth play;
WILL. Such play is a piteous Plight.
PER. The Glance into my Heart did glide,
WILL. Hey ho the Glider!
PER. Therewith my Soul was sharply gride,
WILL. Such Wounds soon wexen wider.
PER. Hasting to raunch the Arrow out,
WILL. Hey ho Perigot!
PER. I left the Head in my Heart-root:
WILL. It was a desperate shot.
PER. There it rancleth aye more and more,
WILL. Hey ho the Arrow!
PER. Ne can I find Salve for my Sore:
WILL. Love is a careless Sorrow.
PER. And though my Bale with Death I bought,
WILL. Hey ho heavy Chear!
PER. Yet should thilk Lass not from my thought:
WILL. So you may buy Gold too dear.
PER. But whether in painful Love I pine,
WILL. Hey ho pinching Pain!
PER. Or thrive in Wealth, she shall be mine,
WILL. But if thou can her obtain.
PER. And if for graceless Grief I die,
WILL. Hey ho graceless Grief!
PER. Witness, she slew me with her Eye,
WILL. Let thy folly be the prief.
PER. And you that saw it, simple Sheep,
WILL. Hey ho the fair Flock!
PER. For prief thereof, my Death shall weep,
WILL. And mone with many a Mock.
PER. So learn’d I love on a holy Eve,
WILL. Hey ho Holy-day!
PER. That ever since my Heart did grieve,
WILL. Now endeth our Roundelay.

CUDDY.
Siker, sike a Roundle never heard I none,
Little lacketh Perigot of the best,
And Willy is not greatly over-gone,
So weren his under-songs well addrest.

WILLY.
Herd-groom, I fear me, thou have a squint Eye;
Areed uprightly who has the Victory.

CUDDY.
Faith of my Soul, I deem each have gained;
For-thy, let the Lamb be Willy his own:
And for Perigot so well hath him pained,
To him be the wroughten Mazer alone.

PERIGOT.
Perigot is well pleased with the Doom:
Ne can Willy wite the witless Herd-groom.

WILLY.
Never dempt more right of Beauty, I ween,
The Shepherd of Ida, that judg’d Beauty’s Queen.

CUDDY.
But tell me, Shepherds, should it not yshend
Your Roundels fresh, to hear a doleful Verse
Of Rosalind (who knows not Rosalind?)
That Colin made? ylke can I you rehearse.

PERIGOT.
Now say it, Cuddy, as thou art a Lad;
With merry thing it’s good to meddle sad.

WILLY.
Faith of my Soul, thou shalt ycrowned be
In Colin’s steed, if thou this Song areed:
For never thing on Earth so pleaseth me,
As him to hear, or matter of his Deed.

CUDDY.
Then listen each unto my heavy Lay,
And tune your Pipes as ruthful as ye may.

Ye wastful Woods bear witness of my Woe,
Wherein my Plaints did oftentimes resound;
Ye careless Birds are privy to my Cryes,
Which in your Songs were wont to make a part:
Thou pleasant Spring hast lull’d me oft asleep,
Whose streams my trickling rears did oft augment.

Resort of People doth my Grief augment,
The walled Towns do work my greater Woe:
The Forest wide is fitter to resound
The hollow Eccho of my careful Cryes;
I hate the House, since thence my Love did part,
Whose wailful Want debars mine Eyes of sleep.

Let Streams of Tears supply the place of Sleep:
Let all that sweet is, void; and all that may augment
My Dole, draw near. More meet to wail my Woe,
Been the wild Woods, my Sorrows to resound,
Than Bed, nor Bower, both which I fill with Cryes,
When I them see so waste, and find no part

Of pleasure past. Here will I dwell apart
In gastful Grove therefore, till my last Sleep
Do close mine Eyes: so shall I not augment
With sight of such as change my restless Woe.
Help me, ye baneful Birds, whose shrieking sound
Is sign of dreery Death, my deadly Cryes

Most ruthfully to tune. And as my Cryes
(Which of my Woe cannot bewray least part)
You hear all Night, when Nature craveth Sleep,
Increase, so let your yrksome Yelles augment.
Thus all the Night in Plaints, the Day in Woe,
I vowed have to waste, till safe and sound

She home return, whose Voice’s silver Sound
To chearful Songs can change my chearless Cryes.
Hence, with the Nightingale will I take part,
That blessed Bird, that spends her time of sleep
In Songs and plaintive Pleas, the more t’ augment
The memory of his Misdeed, that bred her Woe.

And you that feel no Woe, when as the Sound
Of these my nightly Cryes ye hear apart,
Let break your sounder Sleep, and Pity augment.

PERIGOT.
O Colin, Colin, the Shepherd’s Joy,
How I admire each turning of the Verse:
And Cuddy, fresh Cuddy, the liefest Boy,
How dolefully his Dole thou didst rehearse!

CUDDY.
Then blow Your Pipes, Shepherds, till yon be at home:
The Night hieth fast, it’s time to be gone.

PERIGOT’S EMBLEM.
Vicenti gloria victi.

WILLY’S EMBLEM.
Vinto non vitto.

CUDDY’S EMBLEM.
Felice chi puo.

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OK, here is the closest living relative of the Dodo—the Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica).  This splendidly fashionable tropical pigeon lives on the Nicobar and Andoman Islands and along the coast of Myanmar Thailand Malaysia, Solomon Islands, Palau and on other forested Indo Pacific islands between Sumatra and the Philippines.  The bird makes full use of its wings, spending days browsing seeds, fruit, and grains of tropical forests and farms and then flying out to uninhabited offshore islets where there are no predators.   They also tend to build their nests on these same heavily forested offshore islets.

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Wikipedia describes the pigeon’s appearance succinctly: “It is a large pigeon, measuring 40 cm (16 in) in length. The head is grey, like the upper neck plumage, which turns into green and copper hackles. The tail is very short and pure white. The rest of its plumage is metallic green. The cere of the dark bill forms a small blackish knob; the strong legs and feet are dull red. The irides are dark.”  This rote description however does not do justice to the pigeon’s magnificent long grey neck feathers which jut out prettily over iridescent orange green body feathers.  The bird somehow contrives to look like an exotic tropical fowl and like a plain old pigeon all at once.

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OK, yesterday I promised we would get to the space news.  Clearly the real story is the earthlike planet right in our backyard (erm, relatively speaking). However it isn’t going anywhere right now so I am going to blog about it later when we have all had a moment to think about the real implications.  The space story I am looking at today is closer to home, but still takes place out there in the black: back in October of 2014, NASA lost communication with Stereo B one of two paired spacecraft which orbited the sun from the distance of Earth.

The solar observatory spacecraft allow stereoscopic viewing of the sun.  One spacecraft Stereo A was ahead of Earth on its orbit, whereas Stereo B trailed behind us.  The two observatories allow us to study coronal mass ejections and other stellar phenomena.  In 2011, the craft were 180 degrees apart from each other—allowing humankind to view the entire sun at once for the very first time (a truly remarkable milestone, when you think about it, which I heard nothing about at the time).

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Sadly, however, in 2014, as part of an automation and attitude test, Stereo B began to spin.  Mission controllers then lost contact with the craft which (because of the nature of its work) was on the other side of the sun!  NASA has patiently waited till the orbital path of Stereo B carried it further towards Earth and has used the Deep Space Network, a networked array of radio telescopes to find the errant craft.

We are still working on figuring out what sort of shape the poor guy is in (and maybe rehabilitating the spinning observatory), however I feel the story is worth telling as a sort of reminder of the fleet of crafts we have up there, which we don’t think about very often.

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Wow! There is a lot of exciting space news in the headlines lately…it is a thrilling time to have one’s eyes fixed on the heavens.  However, for the moment, let’s tear our eyes from the splendors of the firmament and concentrate instead on the most mundane of wonders here at our feet—the potato.  Originally domesticated in the Andes mountains, the potato is a small starchy tuber which…

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Whoah! What the heck? That’s not the garden-variety potato! What is going on here?

It turns out that this massive potato is a public sculpture by Idaho artists Chris Schofield and Sharolyn Spruce, who specialize in fabricating large custom projects (a job I would dearly love to have).  According to the Idaho Potato Commission’s website, they built this colossal spud to promote “the certified heart-healthy Idaho Potato, and its mission… to help small charities in town and cities with its Big Helping Program.”

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Made of concrete, plywood, foam, and steel, the six ton sculpture weighs as much as 32,346 medium-sized Idaho potatoes (at least according to the PR literature of the great potato mavens who commissioned it). The potato travels cross-continent on a special big-rig with circuslike giant vegetable slogans on it, however now that it has reached the Hudson tidal zone, the truck and the faux tuber have moved aboard a special barge which is being pushed around the city by tug boat.   Now when is that giant duck going to get here?

uhPsEI really enjoyed the 31st Olympics…but then I have always really enjoyed the Olympics.  I was raised in rural America during the end of the Cold War and I love the United State of America with all my heart.  I remember the glow of pride when the Star-Spangled Banner would play as the gleaming American stood atop the podium while the glowering Russian looked up from the step below.  Not only was it great drama, but it was a bonding event as well. My family would watch the games together—and everyone else in the community would be following the international spectacle too. In the middle of the country, the Olympics reminded a sports-crazed community about different sorts of people who we didn’t see too often in rural Ohio. These days I live in heterogeneous libertine New York—plus I have been around and seen some things—but I still love America and I still feel exactly the same way about the Olympics. Indeed, perhaps the Olympics are even better now that they are untainted by Cold War posturing and now that my experience of the world is broader.

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Growing up, the sports which the neighbors loved were the big 3 professional sports: basketball, baseball, and, above all, American football.  These are large institutional sports with lots of expensive equipment and pettifogging rules. They seem to mostly benefit a bunch of state college administrators and arrogant millionaires.  As a child, I found them dull (although I later learned to enjoy them as a beer-swilling observer).

The Olympics however was a rare window to a much finer world of amazing sports!  There are sports of true martial prowess: archery, shooting, judo, and fencing.  There are sports with horses and sports with boats.  There are sports for rugged individualist and sports for teams.  All sorts of athletes of tremendously different sizes, shapes, and agility compete and their very different attributes are a source of collective strength. The little 1.3 meter (4 foot 6 inch) gymnast can do amazing things that the juggernaut 2 meter (6 foot 8 inch)  shotput thrower who weighs as much as a gnu cannot…and vice versa. The freak with a muscular noodle for a torso and huge flippery feet metamorphoses into a dolphin in the pool.  The slender diver morphs into a falcon.  It should go without saying that America’s athletes, like Americans, are from every different ethnic backgrounds and walk of life. That tremendous range is a huge advantage in the Olympics…not just because it gives the nation a pool of athletes with lots of different body types and strengths but because it provides people who have lots of different perspectives on hard work and success.

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The self-discipline of the athletes is evident not just in their chiseled bodies or lightning speed, but in the intensity of their expressions.  And, when they win, the champions typically don’t talk about their “yuge” victories but instead talk about minute differences of grip or stroke or technique …then maybe they enthuse about their families and loved ones. It is very refreshing in our age of PR blitzes and self aggrandizement.

We need to hold these memories in our heart this year, as politicians and effete taste-makers work hard to divide us.   The nation needs to remember our original motto:  “e pluribus unum”.

America needs to be work harder to be worthy of our hard-working young athletes. The Olympics remind us that we are all on the same team—the Christian fundamentalist divers, the Islamic swordswomen, the atheists, the city kids and country kids, the team players and the rugged individuals, black, white, Asian, Indian, Native American, gay, straight…everyone is so different but they are all working together to tally up all of those medals.

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Anyone who aspires to national leadership needs to recognize that, just as team USA needs little gymnasts and huge weight-lifters and all sorts of people in between, the real team USA– the nation itself–requires ever so many more different sorts of folks.  We need both the sharp-eyed riflemen from Kentucky and the shrewd-minded accountants from Montclair. We need Jews and Gentiles, Mormons and Taoists, black folks and white ones.  We need number people and word people and image people. We need people we don’t even know we need.  The people of the United States are heterogeneous but we stand beside each other through any crisis–structural, cyclical, or natural. We are not the “Fiscally Independent and Selfishly Aloof States of America”. Our name is much finer than that.

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I have been trying not to write about flags too much…ever since an impassioned plea for blogging feedback revealed surprising anti-flag sentiments among our general readership.  Yet, Brazil’s flag features outer space AND a golden rhombus.  How could I not write about such a thing?

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The basis of the modern Brazilian flag is the flag of the Brazilian empire.  That flag had all sorts of classical medieval trappings of empire: a laurel wreath, a world-girding cross, a green shield, and big fat green & gold crown, however the backdrop—a bright yellow rhombus on a Kelly green field–was meant to be seen from a distance, and so it had a robust minimalist appearance.

When the First Brazilian Republic supplanted the empire in 1889, the flag changed by getting rid of all the regal trappings and replacing them with vault of the heavens.  The particular stars represent the night sky over Rio De Janeiro on the night of November 15, 1889, when the First Brazilian Republic was born.  The motto “Ordem e Progresso” means “order and progress” (that’s exactly what I would have guessed…hey, do I secretly know Portuguese?).

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There were however other options on the table and some of them are pretty fascinating.  Look at the weird dark mirror of the American flag which was proposed…or that strange black and white monstrosity which looks like it was printed at Kinkos to be handed out by street people.

On the whole though, the Brazilian flag is quite splendid!  Its bold color scheme stands out among all of the hundreds of flags of the world and perfectly represents the glowing dynamism of the Amazon and of the young nation!  Hooray for Brazil!

Brazil-People

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Emperor Dom Pedro I at age 35, 1834

One of the founding fathers of Brazil’s democracy was, somewhat ironically, a king and a colonial emperor.   Born in 1798, Dom Pedro I was the fourth son of King Dom João VI of Portugal and Queen Carlota Joaquina.  When Portugal was invaded by the French in 1807, the royal family fled to the wealthy and vast Portuguese colony of Brazil.   Young Pedro thus grew up on the vast estates of South America.  The prince particularly enjoyed physical and artistic pursuits such as hunting, building, music, furniture making, and horseback riding (although he tended to neglect his academic pursuits and studies in statecraft).  When he reached adolescence he pursued other physical pursuits as well, and his romantic dalliances were a lifelong problem for his government and his wife, Maria Leopoldina, an Austrian Princess.

In 1821, revolution in Portugal compelled Dom João VI to return to Lisbon.  The king left his son Pedro as regent…he also left some valuable advice: if revolution were to come also to Brazil (a certainty in those days of colonial independence), Pedro should join it, rebel against his father and co-opt the movement for himself.  This is exactly what Pedro did in 1822.  On the 1st of December, 1822, Pedro became Pedro I, the first Emperor of Brazil.   By 1824 the huge South American nation had made a clean break from Portugal and was well and truly independent.

Independence_of_Brazil_1888Declaration of Brazil’s independence by Prince Pedro on 7 September 1822

Alas, Pedro’s constitutional empire was ridden with secessionists. Brazil swiftly began to rip apart into separate nations.  First he was forced to quash the Confederation of the Equator, a secession bid in Brazil’s northeast.  Then he had to fight the Cisplatine War, an Argentine land grab which ultimately lead to an independent Uruguay being carved out of Brazil’s southernmost province.

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Pedro I was the heir apparent to the Portuguese throne (which he rebelled against back up in paragraph 2).  When his father died in 1826, he briefly became king of Portugal before abdicating that throne in favor of his daughter, Dona Maria II.  Unfortunately his scheming younger brother, the traditionalist Dom Miguel, stole the throne from his niece (Dom Pedro had toyed with the idea of marrying them in order to prevent exactly such an outcome). Weary of secession attempts, and recognizing that he was needed back in Portugal, Pedro I abdicated in favor of his 5 year old son Pedro II.  He joined forces with the Portuguese liberals and defeated his brother in an Iberian civil war, but just as this “War of Restoration” was finished he keeled over from tuberculosis.

Among all of those revolutions, counter-revolutions, abdications, and trans-Atlantic crossings, it is easy to lose sight of how remarkable Pedro I was.  In an age of bondage, he despised slavery.  Unable to convince the slaveholding landowners of the Brazilian national assembly to enact a gradual process for ending slavery, he decided to lead by example and freed all of his slaves.  He then granted lands from his estate at Santa Cruz to these manumitted bondsmen.

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He possessed an understanding of people’s shared humanity. This is rare enough among everyone but especially unusual among those who are born to immense privilege.  When adoring Brazilians once unyoked the horses of his carriage and began pulling it themselves, he promptly stopped them and proclaimed “It grieves me to see my fellow humans giving a man tributes appropriate for the divinity, I know that my blood is the same color as that of the Negroes.”

After Dom Pedro’s day, Brazil has sometimes flirted with absolutism (always to its detriment), however the delightfully heterogeneous and chaotic modern democracy owes its real character to this king who was always willing to set aside his own power, prestige, and privilege in order to advance the betterment of all.

Brazil-People

*Also, apparently, his grooming was immaculate.  It is a footnote, but everything I have read mentions it.

bat

This is Wagner’s mustached bat (Pteronotus personatus), a somewhat ridiculously named bat which is a master of echolocation.  The little flying insect hunter is tiny:  bats have a body length of 6 to 6.7 centimetres (2.4 to 2.6 in).  They are strictly nocturnal insectivores.  They fly over rivers at night feeding on moths and mosquitoes.  Wagner’s mustached bat is notable as one of only a handful of Doppler-shift compensating bats in the new world: the little animals.  To quote Michael Smotherman’s article in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America , Wagner’s mustached bats “adjust the frequency of their [Constant Frequency] component to compensate for flight-speed induced Doppler shifts in the frequency of the returning echoes.” This is no mean feat for an animal without any onboard computers or slide rules.

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Wagner’s mustached bat ranges from southern Mexico, down through Central America to the Pacific coast of Ecuador. It is found in a broad swatch of South America in a band through Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and across central Brazil to the Atlantic.  Not only does the bat intuitively understand Doppler shift effects, it also exhibits an interesting coloration feature.  The species has two color phases: some bats are sable colored with grey underparts; others are reddish-orange with cinnamon colored underparts.   Ferrebeekeeper needs to talk about polymorphism (maybe later this week) and this little mustached creature is a good start on explaining the concept.

Swimming - Olympics: Day 4(Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

As you have probably guessed, all of my posts this week have been about Brazil because I have been fixated on the Olympics, the worlds’ foremost sports competition.  The 2016 Brazil Summer Olympics are the 31st Olympics (or I should maybe write “XXXI” Olympics) of the modern era.  That last phrase is significant.  There were Olympics of the ancient classical past and today’s Olympics were deliberately created in homage to these Greco-Roman games.  The ancient Olympics were held every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia Greece.  According to myth, the Olympics were founded by Heracles in honor of his father Zeus.  After he completed his twelve great labors and thus freed himself of the taint of murder and madness, Heracles built a beautiful stadium in honor of his father, the king of heaven. He then walked 200 heroic paces and proclaimed this distance to be a “stadion” one of the principle units of distance in Greek society.  The Panhellenic games were held every four years (a unit of time known as an “Olympiad”).  Although the origins of the games are shrouded in epic myth, the games basically lasted from 776 BC until 393 AD–when they were suppressed and ended by Theodosius I in a bout of anti-pagan Christian fundamentalism.

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The ancient games featured running, jumping, discus, javelin, wrestling, pentathlon, boxing, pankration (a nightmarish no-holds barred ultimate fighting event), and equestrian events including riding and chariot races.  Art and poetry competitions were also held at the Olympics—a notable difference from these modern games!

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The athletic events were held in the nude with a few notable exceptions (which I will get to shortly). Only freeborn Greek men were allowed to participate.  Some of the greatest athletes of the ancient games are still remembered to this day:  Varazdat, the peerless Armenian boxer; the famously handsome Melankomas; the jumper Chionis of Sparta whose distance records held until the modern Olympics; Milo, the greatest wrestler of history (who was also a poet and mathematician); and, perhaps greatest of all, Leonidas of Rhodes–champion runner of 4 Olympiads.

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Leonidas of Rhodes competed in four successive Olympics games (164BC, 160BC, 156BC and 152BC). He was peerless at sprinting the stadion (which was about 200 meters).  Leonidas was also gifted at running the fast “diaulos” which was twice as long as the stadion.  Both of these races were fleet nude foot races which would be more-or-less familiar today (although modern athletes must wear little loincloths or smallclothes and sundry plastic placards branded with the name of rich patrons and sponsors).   Leonidas was the victor at the stadion and the diaulos in each of the four Olympics he attended (in the classical Olympics, the winner of an event received a crown made of laurel and there were no silvers and bronzes).  What set Leonidas apart from other great runners was that he could also win the hoplitodromos—the race in armor!

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The hoplitodromos was a long distance race meant to approximate the rigors of classical infantry maneuvers. Participants raced in 50 pounds of bulky equipment including heavy bronze helmet, breastplate, greaves, and a wooden shield (although the exact details are lost in the mists of history).  The runners had to carry all of this kit and execute fast turns in blazing 90 degree heat.  It was thought that a light swift runner capable of winning the stadion and the diaulos could not also win the grueling hoplitodromos—but it turned out that conventional wisdom was wrong.  Leonidas won the laurel in all three events in all four Olympics he ran in.  His record of 12 individual victories—laurels in three distinct events over 16 years–has stood the test of time well.  It endured 2168 years until Michael Phelps surpassed it yesterday (August 11th 2016) in the pool.  But who can say what deeds of athletic prowess might have supplanted Leonidas’ accomplishment during the dark ages when the Olympics lay dormant? If only Theodosius and grim-mouthed Christians had not ruined the fun for everyone for 1500 years, some Lithuanian lancer or Burgundian coustillier or Scottish yeoman could have won 12 gold medals at jousting or barrel dancing or monk-hurling lo

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