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Well, the American election is coming up tomorrow. I have tried not to write too much about this great national contest, since every other media channel in the world has covered it non-stop for 20 months now, but I guess it is time for Ferrebeekeeper to hop down into this mudpit and support a candidate. In the past, when there has not been such difference between candidates, I have supported voting out incumbents or cross-voting (i.e. voting blue in red states or red in blue states). Alas, Americans neglected my fine advice and we are now experiencing some real national strife, so for the 2016 election I am advocating a different course to unite the troubled nation.

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Hilary Clinton should be our president. If you are a voting-age United States citizen you should vote Democratic up and down the ticket.

Now,  admittedly Hilary is 1) grasping, 2) secretive, and 3)shifty , but she exhibits these traits well within the ordinary operating tolerances of American politicians.  Indeed, in the right light, and, with a bit of squinting, these traits could be 1) ambition, without which, no one would be a politician to begin with, 2) the ability to plan, and, 3) the ability to compromise and change tack based on the circumstances.  Additionally, she personally knows every important leader in the world. Above all, she is a workaholic, a smart person, and somebody who cares that the nation succeeds and prospers.

So there are some very legitimate reasons to hope that Clinton will be our own iron lady (provided she can jettison this stupid rubbish about how free trade and globalism are bad for us). Hopefully she can also project American power a bit more robustly than certain presidents in order to gladden our allies and dismay our enemies.  She certainly has vast experience of public life, a sharp mind, and an indomitable will. So I am not merely voting for Hilary because of the despicable nature of her opponent.
Speaking of whom: beyond Donald Trump’s lack of policy, his ignorance of world affairs, and his extremely shady business practices, there is one overriding reason Trump should never be president: he is mean. He takes personal delight in cruelty, violence, and spite, in a way which I have not seen in another American politician (or even in any other person except for a few outliers in Junior High School whom I suspect have long since been hanged). Because of his sadistic streak, I have been sad to see Trump win over so many voters.  New Yorkers know that he is a con man, a loser, and a violent lout. Why can’t everyone see these things about him? I kind of suspect it is more about primatology and less about people sharing Trump’s atrocious values–I certainly hope so.
But enough. Too much has been said about Trump.  The whole world has paid attention to him for far too long.  However I would like to talk about Trump supporters before the election ends tomorrow and we pretend we never have to think about this again.  The followers fall into two different categories: established Republican political leaders (who have always pretended to be lukewarm, although I don’t think that is really the case), and grass-roots political supporters who tend to be rural working-class whites.
Paul Ryan speaks at the CPAC in Maryland
Appallingly, the Republican establishment has supported Trump even though anyone who has lead people in any capacity can plainly see he is not a worthy leader. This is why I recommend you vote against all the Republicans tomorrow.  A lot of writers and talking heads have acted like they are sorry for Paul Ryan, or Ted Cruz, or other Republicans who have been forced to support Trump. This is ridiculous. Those people haven’t been forced to do any of the things they have done. They have chosen their actions for specific reasons, and they should be judged accordingly. The current Republican leaders have been throttling the government of resources so that it doesn’t work right and then acting as though this somehow the fault of government. They have been throttling people of resources so they don’t work right and acting as though it is the fault of people. They are behind Trump not out of fear (although they do strike me as singularly cowardly) but out of lust.  If Trump wins they will be able to use his inattentive narcissism to remake the country in a grasping and mean-spirited way of their choosing.
Which brings us to Trump’s grassroots support. I am a West Virginian.  The whole nation makes fun of the state and this is generally regarded as fair sport (since, among the chattering class, it is not uncouth to make fun of poor white people the way it is regarded as bad form to make fun of poor brown ones). Additionally, the benefits of globalization have not much “trickled down” into West Virginia, except perhaps in the form of fracking revenues. To my horror, West Virginians are taking their revenge by voting for Trump. It is like the capuchin throwing away the cucumber.  It will not help them.  Indeed, this time, such spiteful protest could actively hurt us all.

East Flatbush, the Afro-Caribbean immigrant neighborhood where I live now reminds me greatly of Clay County—in bad ways and good ones.  Poverty, addiction and feuding are big problems, but the great bravery, loyalty, and personal generosity of the inhabitants tends to keep everyone moving forward and make life worthwhile. The distinction between city and country is a false one.  The distinction between Americans of different races, religions, and genders is likewise not so big as some people would make it out to be. Democrats for all of their flaws, believe in a united nation.  Lately Republicans are deliberately dividing us so they can get everything they and they alone want. The Democrats are wrong-headed and frustrating. They tend to neglect the two most important issues in front of us, research and national defense.  But Republicans have stopped caring about these issues as well and they are actively trying to injure the nation so that they can advance their own agenda.  “Everyone is equally bad!” they say, as they shovel cash into the coffers of their billionaire masters.  This political infighting is causing people to lose faith in the system (which feeds into the “government is broken” death cycle which is so dangerous).

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The United States needs to be careful.  The Han Dynasty and the Soviet Union stopped thinking they were countries and suddenly they were not. We are the United States of America, but it could be otherwise. Anyone who wants to be president should recognize that the nation needs both the sharp-eyed riflemen from West Virginia and the shrewd-minded accountants from Montclair–and all sorts of people from everywhere else (Hillary Clinton, an Appalachian who ended up in New York, knows this) . The states and their people are deeply heterogeneous but 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.  Let us remember that on election day…and all of the other days after that.  We must work hard with President Clinton so that the election of 2020 is not so divisive and awful.

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We are swiftly coming up to the United States election and Ferrebeekeeper needs to endorse a candidate. You can probably already guess whether I will endorse the competent and hard-working patriot (the one who is admittedly very ambitious and bit sloppy with finicky data protocols) or the unhinged con-artist who is not only an ignoramus, a bully, and a bigot, but poses an existential threat to the republic itself. However, before we get around to making this difficult choice (and, maybe…finally reaching an end to this ghastly and divisive national contest) we need to think about primatology.

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Specifically there was an experiment conducted by primatologist Frans de Waal with some capuchin monkeys to understand social behavior and social cognition in primate groups.  In the experiment, the capuchins (who are exceedingly bright characters) were asked to do a small task in exchange for a food reward while the other monkeys watched the exchange.  Some monkeys were given grapes…which capuchins love.  Others were given little slivers of cucumber (a far less valuable treat) for completing the same task.

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Not surprisingly, monkeys who watched a different monkey do the same task for a much better reward flew into a rage. They hurled their cucumber away and banged on their plexiglass enclosures and shook their little bars and sulked.

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Now, a tiny sliver of cucumber is not a valueless thing for a monkey who spends all day being tortured by scientists and fed bland monkey chow. Probably the rational thing to do would be to take the cucumber and kiss the cruel scientists’ hand and call it a day (then quietly wait for a chance to rise up, bite some faces off, and enslave Charlton Heston).

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But if you were a monkey and reacted with apparent docility to unfair treatment, who knows how you would be taken advantage of next? It wouldn’t just be primatologists who took advantage of you, soon enough your fellow monkeys would too.

What is truly important to social animals is status: this intangible commodity is fungible and it is pegged to a highly complex and immediate relative framework. A cucumber slice, though fine in its own right confers less status than a prestigious grape.  To throw it away and freak out makes sense to capuchin monkeys because larger issues are on the line (even if they are apparently hurting themselves in the short term).  Spite matters for monkeys: it is one way that monkeys can mess with more powerful entities and protest the unfair allocation of resources and rewards.

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Again and again the question arises among the people I know in New York of how anyone could be taken in by an illiterate orange charlatan with a pronounced tendency to molest woman, steal from workers, and cheat on taxes.   Maybe some people truly believe in Donald Trump, but I believe for a larger number of people in the middle of the country he is neither the grape nor the cucumber: Trump is the act of throwing the cucumber away.  High status monkeys should take note and make some immediate changes, but I suspect they will only hide their equities in the Cayman Islands and buy bigger Bentleys. Primates are not great at solving social hierarchy problems without lots of shrieking, biting, and shit-throwing.

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One theory of aesthetics asserts that every human-manufactured item provides profound insights into its makers and their society.  In college, we had endless fun (or some reasonably proximate substitute) by grabbing random kitschy mass-produced objects and deconstructing them so that all of the peccadillos of wage-capitalism in a mature democracy were starkly revealed. Alone among college endeavors, this proved useful later on, when I worked at the National Museum of American History (where the staff was employed to do more-or-less the same thing). Seemingly any item could provide a window for real understanding of an era.   Thus different aspects of our national character were represented by all sorts of objects: harpoons, sequined boots made in a mental asylum, an old lunch-counter, gilded teacups, or miniature ploughs…even a can of Green Giant asparagus from the 70s [btw, that asparagus caused us real trouble and was a continuing problem for the Smithsonian collection: but we will talk about that later on in an asparagus-themed post]. The objects which were significant were always changing and things regarded as treasures in one era were often relegated to the back of off-site storage facility by curators of the seceding generation, but a shrewd observer could garner a surprisingly deep understanding of society by thinking intelligently about even apparently frivolous or trivial objects.

 

Anyway, all of this is roundabout way of explaining that Ferrebeekeeper is celebrating the Day of the Dead by deconstructing these two skull-themed items.  At the top is a skull-shaped candle holder with a bee on it. At the bottom is a skull shaped lotion-dispenser. One dispenses light while celebrating the eusocial insects at the heart of agriculture; the other dispenses unguents and celebrates the reproductive organs of plants. But of course, when we look at these items more closely, there is more to them than just a decorated lamp and a cosmetics container.

The Día de Muertos skull already represents a syncretic blend of two very opposite cultures: the death-obsessed culture of the Aztecs who built an empire of slavery and sacrifice to make up for dwindling resources at the center of their realm, and the death-obsessed culture of the Spaniards who built an empire of slavery and sacrifice to make up for dwindling resources at the center of their realm.  Um…those two civilizations sounded kind of similar in that last sentence, but, trust me, they were from different sides of an ocean and had very different torture-based religions.

Beyond the obvious cultural/religious history of Mestizo culture, the two skulls have bigger things to say about humankind’s relationship with our crops.  The features of the death’s head have been stylized and “cutened” but even thus aestheticized it provides a stark reminder of human mortality. We burgeon for a while and then pass on. Yet the day of the dead skull is a harvest-time ornament. It is made of sugar or pastry (well not these two…but the original folk objects were) and covered in flowers, grain, and food stuffs. The skulls portray humankind as a product of our agricultural society.    The harvest keeps coming…as do seceding generations of people…just as the old harvest and the old people are used up—yet they are always a part of us like a circle or an ouroboros.  Each generation, a different group of people comes to work the fields, and eat sugar skulls and pass away–then they are remembered with sugar skulls as their grandchildren work the fields etc…

Lately though, things have started to rapidly change. Although agriculture is the “primary” economic sector which allows all of the other disciplines, most of us no longer work in the fields. Instead we partake of secondary sector work: manufacturing things.  In this era we are even more likely to be in the third (or fourth) sector: selling plastic skulls to each other, or writing pointless circular essays about knickknacks.

Marketers have inadvertently built additional poignant juxtapositions into these two skull ornaments. The skull at the bottom is a lotion or soap dispenser. It is meant to squirt out emollients so that people can stay clean and young and supple in a world where old age still has no remedy. The irony is even more sad in the skull on the top which shows a busy bee: the classical symbol of hard work paying off. Yet the bees are dying away victims to the insecticides we use to keep our crops bountiful.  Hardwork has no reward in a world where vast monopolistic forces set prices and machines churn out endless throw-away goods. Indeed, these two objects are not beautiful folk objects…they are mass-produced gewgaws meant to be bought up and thrown away. In the museum of the future will they sit on a shelf with a little note about bees or lotion or crops written next to them, or will they join a vast plastic underworld in a landfill somewhere?

Or maybe they are just endearing skulls and you aren’t supposed to think about them too much.  But if a skull does not make the observer think, then what object ever will?

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Throughout October, I had the uneasy feeling that I was missing something….and lo! such was indeed the case… Sadly, I somehow forgot about the Shepheardes Calender October eclogue.  I am now faced with an unappealing choice.  Either I must publish the October chapter swiftly, before your memory of October fades away forever, or I must wait for next year.   The Shephearde’s Calender came out in 1579, and the passage of the years is not making it any easier to understand, so I think we better have a belated little piece of October in November.  On the plus side, the October eclogue actually makes sense: Cuddy is lamenting the poet’s life and the meager remuneration thereof. It all sounds too familiar somehow…. Here it is.

 

October.
[Woodcut for October]

 Ægloga decima.

 A R G V M E N T.

IN Cuddie is set out the perfecte paterne of a Poete, whishe finding no maintenaunce of his state and studies, complayneth of the contempte of Poetrie, and the causes thereof: Specially hauing bene in all ages, and euen amongst the most barbarous alwayes of singular accounpt & honor, & being indeede so worthy and commendable an arte: or rather no arte, but a diuine gift and heauenly instinct not to bee gotten by laboure and learning, but adorned with both: and poured into the witte by a certaine [enthusiasmos], and celestiall inspiration, as the Author hereof els where at large discourseth, in his booke called the English Poete, which booke being lately come to my hands, I mynde also by Gods grace vpon further aduisement to publish. 

PIERS. CUDDY.

Cuddy, for shame hold up thy heavy Head,
And let us cast with what delight to chace,
And weary this long lingring Phoebus’ Race.
Whylom thou wont the Shepherd’s Lads to lead,
In Rimes, in Riddles, and in Bidding base:
Now they in thee, and thou in sleep art dead.

CUDDY.
Piers, I have piped earst so long with pain,
That all mine Oaten Reeds been rent and wore;
And my poor Muse hath spent her spared Store,
Yet little Good hath got, and much less Gain.
Such Pleasance makes the Grashopper so poor,
And lig so laid, when Winter doth her strain.

The dapper Ditties thee I wont devise,
To feed Youth’s Fancy, and the flocking Fry,
Delighten much: what I the bett for-thy?
They han the Pleasure, I a slender Prize.
I beat the Bush, the Birds to them do fly:
What good thereof to Cuddy can arise?

PIERS.
Cuddy, the Praise is better than the Price,
The Glory eke much greater than the Gain:
O what an honour is it, to restrain
The Lust of lawless Youth with good Advice?
Or prick them forth with Pleasance of thy Vein,
Whereto thou list their trained Wills entice.

Soon as thou ‘gins to set thy Notes in frame,
O how the rural Routs to thee do cleave!
Seemeth thou doost their Soul of Sense bereave,
All as the Shepherd, that did fetch his Dame
From Pluto’s baleful Bower withouten leave:
His Musick’s Might the hellish Hound did tame.

CUDDY.
So praysen Babes the Peacock’s spotted Train,
And wondren at bright Argus’ blazing Eye;
But who rewards him ere the more for-thy?
Or feeds him once the fuller by a grain?
Sike Praise is Smoke, that sheddeth in the Sky;
Sike Words been Wind, and wasten soon in vain.

PIERS.
Abandon then the base and viler Clown,
Lift up thy self out of the lowly Dust;
And sing of bloody Mars, of Wars, of Giusts;
Turn thee to those that weld the aweful Crown,
To doubted Knights, whose woundless Armour rusts,
And Helms unbruzed, wexen daily brown.

There may thy Muse display her fluttering Wing,
And stretch her self at large from East to West;
Whither thou list in fair Elisa rest,
Or if thee please in bigger Notes to sing,
Advance the Worthy whom she loveth best,
That first the white Bear to the Stake did bring.

And when the stubborn Stroke of stronger Stounds,
Has somewhat slackt the Tenor of thy String;
Of Love and Lustihead tho mayst thou sing,
And carrol loud, and lead the Millers round;
All were Elisa one of thilk same Ring,
So mought our Cuddy’s Name to Heaven sound.

CUDDY.
Indeed the Romish Tityrus, I hear,
Through his Mecoenas left his Oaten Reed,
Whereon he earst had taught his Flocks to feed;
And laboured Lands to yield the timely Ear;
And eft did sing of Wars and deadly Dreed,
So as the Heavens did quake his Verse to hear.

But ah! Mecoenas is yclad in Clay,
And great Augustus long ygo is dead;
And all the worthies liggen wrapt in Lead,
That matter made for Poets on to play.
For ever, who in Derring-do were dread,
The lofty Verse of hem was loved aye.

But after Vertue ‘gan for Age to stoup,
And mighty Manhood brought a bed of ease;
The vaunting Poets found nought worth a Pease,
To put in preace among the learned Troup:
Tho ‘gan the Streams of flowing Wits to cease,
And sunbright Honour pen’d in shameful Coup.

And if that any Budds of Poesy,
Yet of the old Stock ‘gan to shoot again:
Or it Mens Follies mote so force to fain,
And roll with rest in Rimes of Ribaudry;
Or as it sprang, it wither must again:
Tom Piper makes us better Melody.

PIERS.
O peerless Poesie, where is then thy place?
If not in Princes Palace thou dost sit
(And yet is Princes Palace the most fit)
Ne Breast of baser Birth doth thee embrace;
Then make thee Wings of thine aspiring Wit,
And, whence thou cam’st, fly back to Heaven apace.

CUDDY.
Ah Percy, it is all too weak and wan,
So high to sore and make so large a flight:
Her peeced Pineons been not so in plight,
For Colin fits such famous Flight to scan;
He, were he not with Love so ill bedight,
Would mount as high, and sing as soot as Swan.

PIERS.
Ah Fon, for Love does teach him climb so high
And lifts him up out of the loathsom Mire:
Such immortal Mirror, as he doth admire,
Would raise one’s Mind above the starry Sky,
And cause a caitive Courage to aspire:
For lofty Love doth loath a lowly Eye.

CUDDY.
All otherwise the state of Poet stands;
For lordly Love is such a Tyrant fell,
That where he rules, all Power he doth expell,
The vaunted Verse a vacant Head demands,
Ne wont with crabbed Care the Muses dwell:
Unwisely weaves, that takes two Webs in hand.

Who ever casts to compass weighty Prize,
And think to throw out thundering Words of Threat,
Let pour in lavish Cups and thrifty Bits of Meat;
For Bacchus’ Fruit is friend to Phoebus’ Wise:
And when with Wine the Brain begins to sweat,
The Numbers flow as fast as Spring doth rise.

Thou kenst not, Percie, how the Rime should rage;
O if my Temples were distain’d with Wine,
And girt in Girlonds of wild Ivy Twine,
How I could rear the Muse on stately Stage,
And teach her tread aloft in Buskin line,
With queint Bellona in her Equipage.

But ah, my Courage cools ere it be warm,
For-thy content us in this humble Shade:
Where no such troublous Tides han us assaid,
Here we our slender Pipes may safely charm.

PIERS.
And when my Goats shall han their Bellies laid,
Cuddy shall have a Kid to store his Farm.

CUDDY’S EMBLEM.
Agitante calescimus illo, &c.

 

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