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An ibis and a ring-neck pheasant!

Happy New Year! And happy National Bird Day (which Americans apparently observe on January 5th)!

Now most birds (like most animals) are having quite a hard time of it out there in a world which is relentlessly shaped by humanity’s boundless appetites. This is a problem which we need to work on every day for the rest of our lives (because the world without its exquisite animals would be a terrible world not even worth bothering with). However, I also understand that constantly writing about how we are making the world into a ghastly necropolis is dispiriting. Also it is still the Christmas season (at least until Three Kings Day tomorrow).

Therefore, to celebrate bird day and to celebrate Christmastime and the hopes for the new year (which aren’t quite ruined yet) I am posting pictures of some of my favorite bird ornaments from my holiday tree of life. This serves a double purpose since my mother complained that the ornaments were not visible in the previous pictures of the tree (this tree is not an easy thing to take pictures of!)

A peacock and a kingfisher
A toucan and a spoonbill (with a non-bird pterosaur above them)

Admittedly, this is not as good as writing about these incredible birds and how they live. But once again we encounter a problem: the only bird whom I currently know well (LG the Canada goose) did not have a very good holiday. We will explain his sadness and discomfiture later, but for right now, why not enjoy this anhinga.

Anhinga, rooster, and hummingbird

…and just for fun, here is one more picture of the whole tree. Happy Three Kings Day! We will get back to the serious business of writing about ecology, politics and the underworld as we get deeper into 2023, but for now kiss a bird (like the despondent LG, for example) and have a wonderful end to your holiday.

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So it is the end of another year, and it is time to write the post which I always put off again and again…right up until the last day of the year–which is to say I still need to write the year-end obituaries. Ferrebeekeeper readers will recall that the obituaries here are obituaries for those departed who meant a lot to me–so if you want to know about queens, popes, soccer guys, rappers, or whatever, you will probably have to look elsewhere. For example, last year, I only wrote about my grandfather, an international master operative who battled against Soviet and Chinese dirty tricks in Africa and Southeast Asia throughout the middle of the 20th century. These days, everyone rolls their eyes about the worldwide cloak-and-dagger proxy wars by means of which the Cold War was fought, but, please note that as soon as grandpa was dead (and his ilk out of power), Russia formed an alliance with China and attacked Europe, so I tend to think it all WAS pretty necessary, no matter what the anti-American apologists say.

Grandpa taught me how to take stock of the world and look at art (which he avidly collected), but for more specific lessons in world history and painting, I turned to a generation of teachers and masters who are now also passing away. And so it is with great sadness that I write about two of my illustrious teachers who died in 2022.

Walter Kaegi Abroad (a professor unafraid of travel)

Walter Emil Kaegi, (1937 – 2022) was one of my favorite history professors from college (along with the late, great Emmet Larkin). Kaegi was a professor of Byzantine history, a broad subject which he approached with polymath intensity from all sides. In some respects, Byzantine history is regarded as the story of one thousand years of precipitous and ineluctable decline. Kaegi, however, remembered that history does not seem inevitable to those leading it. His multi-faceted view of the Byzantines was indeed filled with trademark battles, religious controversies, and palace intrigue, but he also added the trade, farming, technology, music, poetry, and ecology missing from the work of great Byzantinists of yore. Kaegi was a scholar’s scholar who knew Latin, Greek, and Aramaic just as well as English, but also learned French, German, and Russian so he could read the works of other scholars. Speaking of Russian, the professor always wore a hilarious heavy Russian hat which we bare-headed undergrads laughed at in the bitter Chicago winters (which illustrates that comedy, like history affords multiple vantage points on what is actually the truth).

Although history scholars like to speak of him like he was Gibbon, Kaegi was definitely not Gibbon. He instead synthesized some insights into the long fall of the Roman Empire from new resources–particularly archaeological/geological ones. Whereas most historians fixate solely on the doings of emperors, courtiers, bishops, and generals, Kaegi came to the conclusion that a combination of climate change, agricultural collapse, and religious change was driving events to a heretofore unappreciated extent (an insight worth remembering when eyeing the events of the present).

Of course he didn’t paint a self portrait, so here is a photograph of Ron Sherr

My other teacher who passed away last year will probably not be remembered foremost as a teacher–since he was actually an artist first. Ronald Sherr (1952-2022) was a brilliant portrait-painter who studied with Daniel E. Greene, Harvey Dinnerstein, and Burton Silverman before going on to paint America’s leading politicians, soldiers, and business leaders (and win all sorts or awards and accolades chronicled elsewhere). Since he rubbed shoulders with the mighty (or at least painted those mighty shoulders) he is liable to be incorporated as part of this era’s political zeitgeist. Indeed, in the recent headlines about former house-speaker Boehner crying when Nancy Pelosi’s official portrait was unveiled, CNN and the NYTimes neglected to dwell on the fact that Ron had painted the official portrait of both speakers!

Portrait of General Colin Powell (Ronald Sherr, 2012) Oil on canvas

Yet world-renowned clients was not what made Ron important as an artist. Ron was an artistic anachronism of sorts–he painted beautiful realistic portraits which looked like they had some piece of the living subject inside of them. His real method for obtaining these incredible results was not some trick or secret tool, but constant practice and stringent self-criticism. Ron’s artistic hero was Jon Singer Sargent who combined the unparalleled draftmanship of the Old Masters with the realistic color and focus of the impressionists. Ron likewise used this combination and it is what he tried to teach his students. We all remember that during our first year painting he would mostly ask seemingly obvious questions like “Is the head you have painted bigger or smaller than the model’s actual head? Is the torso you have painted more yellow or less yellow than the model’s actual torso?”

Our utter inability to answer these questions (at first) reveals part of why it is hard to teach painting. A great teacher must teach looking and comparing first….and then second and then last. Unless you can look at a subject with fresh eyes and regard your own efforts honestly, true realism will forever remain out of your reach.

Speaking of which I have not been painting realistically! Nor have I been applying the lessons of Byzantine history to the Byzantine circus factions of today. I worry that I have dishonored my amazing teachers by not making use of what they worked so hard to teach me. Now, thanks to time’s one way arrow and the nature of mortal existence, we no longer have the real masters. All that is left is the hazy memory of their teachings…although, come to think of it, here I am on a Saturday night (on New Year’s Eve no less) trying still to understand their teachings and make use of such learning to explain the world to others. Keep asking questions! Keep comparing. Keep striving for greater honesty. This is what I hear in my head as I set down the obituarist’s pen and reach again for the artist’s brush.

Happy Winter Solstice! I am sorry about 2022. I meant to blog more, and answer everyone’s comments, and write a consolidated treatise defending liberalism against the neo-fascists who are everywhere, and post my new monastic orchid illuminations, etc., etc., etc. Alas, not everything got done the way I wanted and now it is the darkest night of the year (the real end of the year, in my book, although I guess there is a week or so of Saturnalia before 2023 truly gets here according to the calendar).

We will work on all of this next year (and much more besides) but before sending the year off, I wanted to share some pictures of my sacred tree of life (an annual tradition). Look! it has even more cephalopods, turkeys, waterfowl, and ancient mammals (plus all of the animals I could get my hands on from every other branch of the great zoological family tree too).

My flounder art (sigh) was about trying to reposition the natural world at the center of what humans find sacred: the religions of Abraham treat the natural world as contemptible–and we are all suffering because of it. Sadly, the fish gods I made did not grab people’s attentions despite their portentous deep-sea secrets. However a few holiday guests have stared at the holiday tree of life for a looooong time before brushing away some tears–so perhaps it actually does get the point across to some degree.

And of course, I saved the best thing for last! My late feline life companion, Sepia (wipes away a few tears of my own) did not enjoy the public eye and so I did not put her in my blog. My present housecat, Sumi Cat, feels much differently and likes to be the constant center of attention. Here are some pictures of her loving little face to help you stave off the primordial darkness (although, ironically, black cats are always hard to photograph and doubly so on the darkest night of the year). Sumi and I hope that you are safe and warm and happy this holiday season! May your dreams come true and may the great tree of life always bloom with fulsome new growth!

We will talk again before 2023, but for now, season’s greetings and good (longest) night!

Longtime reader recall Ferrebeekeeper’s strange obsession with the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (which we have blogged about numerous times). When last we checked in with the National Ignition Facility (which is ostensibly designed to model the behavior of nuclear weapons, but which is really used to research useful mechanisms for generating power from nuclear fusion), the laboratory had successfully obtained a burning plasma by changing up the size and shape of the tiny gold pellet in which they enclosed the nuclear fuel. Great things seemed imminent!

And indeed, this week, the National Ignition Facility has finally made headlines around the world by obtaining more energy from a moment of nuclear fusion than the (enormous amounts of) energy which was used to power the reaction. The facility pointed its 192 super lasers at a tiny gold capsule filled with deuterium and tritium nuclear fuel. Then, for 20 billionths of a second, the lasers concentrated 500 trillion watts of energy on the nuclear fuel and presto! a moment of truly stellar energy output ensued (I wonder what sort of esoteric energy was released during this infinitesimal second). To quote the United States Energy Secretary, “Ignition allows us to replicate, for the first time, certain conditions that are only found in the stars and sun. This milestone moves us one significant step closer to the possibility of zero-carbon, abundant fusion energy powering our society.”

So far the newspapers and blathering heads on TV have all been stressing that the process is not yet ready for commercial use and emphasizing how long it takes to develop commercial procedures of any sort. MBA types call this phenomenon “the valley of doom” which describes a scenario wherein the government discovers something worthwhile and amazing, but trained MBA-economist types think that it will take longer than 10 years to develop commercial technology and therefor do not bother. Anything which takes more than 10 years is effectively non-existent to MBA people because (A) that is how financing works and (B) that is how they are indoctrinated by their shitty schools.

“The more we hurt the world, the happier we are!”

This case may prove an exception since the government (and all people of conscience) have a very strong incentive to move human society beyond fossil fuel dependency which is injuring life on Earth. Unfortunately, fossil fuel companies, Republicans, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and most of the world’s billionaires will now belittle this accomplishment and attempt to squelch it as quickly as possible (since their wealth and power are dependent on the fossil fuel economy). It is up to all of us (including you liberals in the back who have traditionally espoused that anything nuclear is fundamentally unwholesome) to make sure that we don’t squander this stupendous opportunity to move society forward and undo some of the terrible harm our never-ending thirst for dirty energy has wrought upon our beautiful world.

There is colorful news from the world of fashion and lifestyle!

Every December, Ferrebeekeeper (and everyone else on the planet who writes about color) gets to comment on the Pantone “Color of the Year”, a well-publicized hue which is chosen by a group of fashion mavens and marketing experts to embody our cultural zeitgeist. The Color of the Year welds together the fashionable palette of the day with whatever events happen to be in the news. Thereafter companies, designers, and brands plan the colors for their clothes and goods based around this standard (which is how stores work together to craft lucrative aesthetic trends). You should click this link to see Ferrebeekeeper’s commentary on past colors of past years!

It is a powerful idea…however, this year’s color does not technically exist?

Well, cough…at least it doesn’t exist according to classic Newtonian physics… Longtime Ferrebeekeeper readers will already recognize that this weaselly sort of language applies to the beautiful rich pink color of magenta. And, indeed, the 2023 Color of the Year is “Viva Magenta” (see above). Magenta famously drove Sir Isaac Newton (further) into madness, since it was his favorite color but he could not find it within the prismatic spectrum of visible colors. Only when the great Sir Isaac set up multiple overlapping prismatic rainbows did he realize that magenta is an illusion our mind makes when it sees bright pink and blue at the same place and same time.

Beyond the pure realm of the electromagnetic spectrum, the color of the year embodies other confusing modalities. For example it has long been posited that there is a strong correlation between the economy and the color of the year. Self-important/self-deluded economists no doubt theorize that the former entirely influences the latter and never vice-versa: I am less sure. But even if bear years really do yield subdued colors, this would make “Viva Magenta” an outlier–since 2023 is projected to be a glum year of economic recession (in contrast with the beautiful, joyous, and bright magenta). Once again, the Pantone executives have carefully hedged their prognostications. If you proceed to Pantone’s site to take in this year’s entire palette, you will see that Viva Magenta is surrounded by a disheartening smear of lifeless beige and gray colors.

Back in the nineties I worked in an office with a colleague who dated a Pantone insider from wayyyyy back in the ’80s (when Pantone produced its consumer product palette advice without all of the color-of-the-year hoopla). My colleague’s beau was doing quite well choosing colors…until he chose a brilliant hot pink cerise (do you remember the year when it was everywhere? 1986 maybe?). Unfortunately, the great masters of capitalism regarded that ’80s electric magenta as too bohemian/artistic (and as a possible cause of the 1987 crash). Thereafter Pantone started pushing drab conservative colors for a while (and they chose other people to choose the Pantone colors).

Abstract Painting in Magenta and Red (Frida Kaas) Digital

Will this year’s magenta similarly be the last drop of dramatic color before a new drab era? The cultural critics of the New York Times do not seem to care for “Viva Magenta” much (they seem like the sort of people who would prefer ecru or pearl gray…or just black). Personally, I rather like “Viva Magenta” (which looks like something a 19th century opera-enthusiast would wear). Additionally, I have high hopes that the economy will not sputter out and that society will finally embrace colors (other than monotones, red, blue, and brown). We will see during 2023. At the very least, Viva Magenta is dramatic…in that respect it certainly catches hold of what we already know about the year to come…

One hundred and forty years ago, ornithologists discovered a very rare and mysterious bird on an obscure island named Fergusson (which is part of the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago just northeast of Papua New Guinea)…uh…then they sort of lost track of it for the next 14 decades. The bird was the black-naped pheasant-pigeon (Otidiphaps insularis) a lovely–albeit reclusive–ground dwelling pigeon with a black body and orange/red wings (and glittering blood red eyes). Very little is known about the bird because it has not been officially documented nor studied by scientists since it was discovered in 1884. Indeed, researchers who returned to Fergusson in 2019 were hard pressed to find anyone there who has seen the bird since the 1990s. The black-naped pigeon seemed to have quietly receded into extinction–if it ever even existed.

But the black-naped pigeon did exist! It still does! After talking to Augustin Gregory, a hunter who had seen the “auwo” (the local Papuan name for the pigeon) the ornithologists put hidden cameras on Fergusson’s highest peak, the 6,801 feet (2,073 meter) tall Mt. Kilkerran. This year, just as the expedition was wrapping up, the cameras took a picture of one of the furtive pigeons! These lovely birds have not yet flown away from Earth to join the passenger pigeon, the dodo, the lordly crested Choiseul pigeon, and the pink pigeon of Réunion (some famous extinct pigeons).

Of course, who knows how much longer the black-naped pigeon will continue to be with us? Researchers found a single bird (and it was located in a part of the forest scheduled to be timbered). It is unclear how large the remaining population is or whether the birds will be able to survive the changes coming to Fergusson (and the larger changes coming to the entire planetary atmosphere). But for now, this shy yet lovely bird is still here! Most of the beautiful and amazing animals of the Holocene still are (admittedly in greatly reduced numbers). If only humankind could find a way to show off for each other which did not involve super-use of earth’s resources maybe we could keep not just the black-naped pigeon, but also the black rhino, the panda, the Asian elephant and so many other endangered creatures. Maybe instead of clothes which we wear once and then throw out, or cars which are too fast to drive, we could impress potential mates with a beautiful fan of svelte black tail feathers! (although, to be honest, human females have been unenthused about my beautiful ruddy sweater vest–so maybe we are stuck with over-the-top materialism (or some even-harder-to-obtain status signifier) for the foreseeable future).

Well, we have reached the Midterms. Thus far, I haven’t blogged so much about this important election for reasons of emotional health: which is to say that watching America’s political crisis grind the nation’s progress to a standstill and turn us all against each other is both alarming and depressing!  However, the election takes place tomorrow and it is now necessary to endorse candidates. Obviously, you should vote for the Democratic Party and its candidates for all elections on all tickets

It is unfortunate to issue such a blanket endorsement. In better times, when the affairs of the nation were more ordered (and one of the two parties hadn’t gone completely rotten), it was necessary to assess candidates by their individual merits and positions. Hopefully that time will come again! Alas, right now, the GOP consists of anti-American fascists who are working as hard as possible to neuter and dismantle the United States of America and steal all of its assets to distribute to crooked kleptocrats and oligarchs. Their reasons any voter would want this outcome may be worth exploring later (I believe rich Republicans want to destroy the nation so they can loot it, whereas religious Republicans are unable to see that truth and instead think that treating people cruelly and badly is what Jesus would want).  Yet the net result is the same—Democracy destroyed; the country rendered subordinate to Russia and hollowed out.

Americans like to pretend to be smart and cynical, so a lot of voters say “All politicians are crooked” Then these voters don’t vote…or they vote for grandstanding populists who mask graft with home-spun hucksterism. Such a fundamental mistake is understandable (since elucidating what is going on right now involves looking past the clicks-at-any-cost misdirection favored by large media-conglomerates). Also, in recent times, when the parties were very similar, pretending to be cynical so that one could be lazy and not vote was not a particularly grave sin. Yet this election demands voters’ full attention. We are nearing a point of no-return in the Republicans’ long planned doom loop (the mechanism they have used to ratchet a permanent hold of control despite commanding only a minority of votes). Read about the anti-government doom loop here!

The Republican party has not published a political platform. They believe that lies, coercion, rigged districts, and infinite dark money (from unknown payers) will be sufficient to win enough state-houses and gerrymandered house seats to permanently end representative government.  They might be right! But before we just believe what they say and give up on self-governance, let’s take a closer look at what they actually want.

The real Republican Platform is horrifying. When you listen to what Republican politicians say, bear in mind that these are their true aims. In the absence of a published list of their agenda, here is an unvarnished list of their objectives and principles based on their words and actions:

  • Russia is always right. Vladimir Putin is Emperor of the World and must be obeyed accordingly
  • Government by self-determination should be destroyed. Monopolists, oligarchs, and foreign governments should make all of Americans’ choices for us.
  • You and your family should be silent indentured servants to these same moneyed interests
  • Hypocritical religious extremists should be allowed to dictate what you read, whom you love, and, above all, deny medical treatment to those they disfavor.   
  • Social Security and Medicare should be abolished and seniors should die in the street

It is not a surprise that the Republicans did not codify this totalitarian evil into a platform (although Greg Abbot tried). What is a surprise is that Republicans have sold anyone on any of these ideas! These corrupt and evil positions run directly counter to the universal ideals of freedom, democracy, and justice which our system was founded on. Once the Christian nationalists realize that banning abortion does not prevent abortion and that Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell are very interested in replacing the safety net with tax tax breaks for billionaires (but care very little for the false pieties of evangelical Christianity), then perhaps the great masses of illiterates who dully stand by as these con-artists destroy the Constitution will be jolted out of their pretend cynicism, but by then it will be too late to retrieve the nation from “Big Lie” adherents who believe that only their party should be legally allowed to win.

It has probably not escaped your attention that I have said a great deal against the Republican/Fascist party and not said as much for the Democrats.   

I was underwhelmed by President Obama. His inability to craft political consensus and break the nation out of this political deadlock struck me as being a result of his own political inexperience. I now see that this was exactly how his Republican political enemies wanted things to look. Also President Obama cared about the hostage–I mean nation–and gave up on some of his political aims for the greater good of the country. Obviously it does not matter to Republicans if the nation is destroyed, since that is their intention anyway (after all, it’s much easier to steal from a nation where everything has been ruined and the only remaining law-enforcement agents are proudboys and hollowed-out rent-a-cops). The rule of Solomon the Wise stands against Republicans. They are happy to kill the child just so that they can have control of it (BTW you should click on that link to a previous endorsement which says what I am saying now, but with greater Biblical eloquence and better examples). Nobody should vote for any Republican this year for that alone.

The Democratic Party has an unfortunate tendency to see problems in the world as being entirely America’s fault.  They are eager to coddle foreign enemies while censoriously blaming our own diplomats, military, and intelligence agents (and straight middle aged white guys) for all of the world’s troubles. Yet for all of their wonkish idealism and dogmatic identity politics, they keep coming up with policy ideas, and they keep earnestly believing in the rules of democracy. They keep fighting the Russians and Chinese (and all of their downstream villains). They keep trying to make sure that people have enough to eat asnd can go to the doctor and can look after their kids. Most importantly, they want America…and you and your family to succeed. Republicans want you to die so that a billionaire can have all of your stuff. Then they want the world to die from climate change and habitat loss ( I don’t think the Republicans have fully thought this through but have merely embraced mass extinction because it fits with their other choices)

(Also I actually think Biden has done a decent job considering all of the interlocking crises we face…AND considering that the previous guy stacked the deck so that things would be impossible for him, but political operators say not to talk about how well Biden has done, so I guess I won’t).

But you should take Biden’s integrity into consideration and you should take the wholesale moral abomination of the cowardly, lying, traitorous criminal Republican Party into consideration as well when you go to cast what they undoubtedly hope will be the last (or next-to-last) vote you are ever allowed to cast. Republicans hate democracy, they hate nature, they hate your family, and above all, they hate YOU with all of their malice and malignancy. Vote accordingly.

Doomscrolling (Wayne Ferrebee, 2022) Ink on paper

Happy Halloween! As a special inktober treat for the special day, here is another little allegorical ink drawing of our times featuring strange orchid bishops sheltering in their Romanesque monasteries. The churchmen (who do not seem especially holy or worthwhile) interact with their doomed milieu through their little handheld personal communication devices. Meanwhile the haunted world outside is subject to dragon attack, volcanic eruption, war, and doom.

As ever, the strip of nature in the foreground is the true key to the meaning of the composition.

Orchid Monastics in a Golden Orchid Rain (Wayne Ferrebee, 2022) ink on paper

Our Inktober special feature of Halloween-adjacent pen-and-ink drawings continues with this enigmatic golden orchid monastery piece which I drew with colored inks on yellow paper.

Lately I have been drawing a series of intricate altarpiece-style compositions after the style of Medieval illuminators (whose seminal contributions to art, culture, and media have been underappreciated because of the post-Vasari cult of celebrity). Hopefully writing about these illustrations in these posts will help contextualize the themes I am trying to highlight.  

Here is a little monastic microcosm of the world.  In one monastery, a white-haired abbot lords it over his little flower novices.  In a sister monastery, the mother superior and her votaries carefully send out an intimate message to the monks by means of technology. Sundry lizard people, extinct animals, and cloaked figures roam about in the space between the two houses as a rain of yellow orchid blossoms falls down from the heavens.

To my mind, the most important part of this composition is the tiny strip of nature in the foreground–a little ecosystem of weeds, wildflowers, seeds, nemotodes, myriapods, and maggots (who are furiously breaking down a mouse skull). The human world of sly courtships, status posturing, and religious grandstanding grows up out of this substrate and pretends to be superior to it (while actually being entirely dependent on the microscopic cycles of life).  All of the pompous & made-up things which humankind uses to dress up our savage primate drives do not change the fact that ecosystems are of paramount importance.

The religions of Abraham (among others) put animals and the natural world at the bottom of their moral hierarchy. I believe they are ultimately doomed because of this stupid outlook.  Whether they will take us all to a garbage-strewn grave with them remains an open question.  

Drawing of Desert Lizard (Wayne Ferrebee, 2022) ink on paper

This year’s Inktober-themed Halloween week continues with an orange-black-and-white lizard living in an arid scrubland filled with prickly plants and desert insects. I have been trying to make some drawings with a limited palette of inks and I had the idea for this drawing when looking at a bag of green, orange, and taupe rubber bands in the office supply closet. It is unclear if the bipedal green figure in the background is a nature spirit, a costumed desert inhabitant, or a figment of the imagination. The little adobe mission seems real enough, though. The best part of the drawing is probably the big grasshopper/locust in the corner, which makes me think I need to draw some more bugs!

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