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The Great Crown of Victory of Cambodia

The quintessential crown of southeast Asia is Phra Maha Phichai Mongkut, the “Great Crown of Victory” of Thailand (which Ferrebeekeeper blogged about back when Bhumibol was still in this world). Yet there is–or was–a second great crown of victory, Preah Maha Mokot Reach, the Great Crown of Victory of Cambodia. Like the Thai crown, the Cambodian crown was a tall gold cap made of diminishing conical tiers of gold set with precious gems. Passed down from king to king since the time of the Khmer Empire (which blew apart in 1431), the Cambodian crown was meant to symbolize Mount Meru, the sacred cosmic mountain which appears in Jain and Buddhist myth. The Cambodian Great Crown of Victory was held by the King of Siam (who claimed suzerainty over Cambodia) for a time in the 19th century, but it was back in Cambodian hands by 1941 in time for the charismatic yet addled Norodom Sihanouk to wear it at his first coronation.

Sihanouk at his coronation in 1941

From my constant use of the past tense verb, you have probably guessed that the ancient crown has gone missing. It has not been seen since Lon Nol’s coup in 1970. The particular circumstances of that coup were already murky thanks to the general strife, war, and confusion of Southeast Asia in 1970, and the history has grown even more confusing after the subsequent horrific events of the seventies in Cambodia. Suffice to say, Lon Nol was probably backed by the United States as part of the larger war next door in Vietnam (Grandpa probably knew the true specifics of this, but he certainly didn’t tell me). Norodom Sihanouk who was once king (and would be again) backed the communists of the Khmer Rouge–although, to be fair, Sihanouk, who spent the early seventies in exile in China and North Korea did not seemingly grasp the genocidal nature of the Khmer Rouge.

I was going to show a picture of Cambodia in the 70s but they are all too awful. This picture of absolute darkness is much cheerier.

All of which is to say, the Great Crown of Victory was most likely destroyed in 1970, although maybe the Chinese, North Koreans, Vietnamese, or Thai have it for some unknown reason. It could even conceivably be in Fullerton, California which is where Lon Noi ended up (although this isn’t really conceivable, and I am just writing it to indicate how strange that era was). But you never know. Over the course of my lifetime, Cambodia has gone from being the most hellish place on Earth to being a tourist paradise (with a purely ceremonial elected king). Maybe the crown of Cambodia is actually on a shelf or buried under a wall somewhere. But I doubt it. It represents a Cambodia which is gone.

Although the news of world affairs and politics has been rather bad lately, there is some more good news from the laboratory. Yesterday, an Oxford-based company, First Light Fusion, successfully tested a novel strategy to creating safe, sustainable nuclear fusion power (which is to say their test was a success–we have yet to see whether the larger concept fulfills its premise). Unlike the National Ignition Facility in California, which uses an enormous laser array to heat the hydrogen target to solar temperatures, or the ITER project (which uses a tokamak, a torus of plasma held in place by powerful magnetic fields), the British strategy is shockingly primitive–a gun shoots a super-high velocity projectile at a little cube containing two tiny spheres of deuterium. This cube is the secret ingredient for the company’s fusion plans (literally, since they hope to sell the proprietary fuel packets to everyone and make money that way).

Reading between the lines of the article announcing this information in “The Financial Times” it seems like this method does not produce as much energy as the tokamak or the laser array, however it is simpler and more scalable then those designs–if it can be made effective. So far none of the designs have produced more energy than they required, so that is quite a big if.

Coincidentally, although First Light Fusion is a British company, their main financial backer is an enormous shadowy Chinese capital company. Perhaps America’s legislators could spare some time from their busy schedule of performative white supremacy interrogations of Supreme Court candidates and suchlike culture wars gibberish to, you know, fund research into the technologies which will define the future.

Well, there is more bad news for world democracy today, as Russian strongman Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine in what appears to be a classic expansionist landgrab (but which Putin apologists have been trying to whitewash with every color of falsehood available). It comes as a legitimate shock to the international community (and to me), even though, for weeks America’s president and intelligence community have been loudly warning about exactly this thing happening in exactly this way! I thought Putin was attempting to distract attention away from his troubles in Central Asia by shaking the Crimean tree as hard as he could (and maybe also see if the Ukrainian plum would just tumble into his lap). That was wrong: Putin has obviously brought an axe to chop the tree down. All of his actions for the past half-decade (at least) suddenly make perfect sense as a series of steps to destroy and annex Ukraine…and to prevent the nations of the world from doing anything about it. Not only does this provide Putin with a coveted breadbasket, it could mortally damage his greatest geopolitical rival, the United States of America by showing we are hopelessly weak, divided, isolated, and self-deluded.

Speaking of which, if the United States of America were properly united, this would never have happened. Unfortunately though, Republicans have devoutly simpered over Putin ever since he bankrolled their beloved leader, the criminal fraudster Donald Trump (whose supine obeisance to Vladimir Putin has been a much-remarked upon central feature of his political and business persona). Since far-right Republicans support Putin and openly back his darkest plans to crush our nation and transform it into a broken client state of Putin’s empire (with themselves installed as life rulers), we have a real problem. What is to be done?

Looking back to a bygone era, I believe poor Grandpa would have some keen insights into how to handle this international crisis. Most of them would boil down to a simple & proven formula: slather money, weapons, and support on Putin’s enemies. Russia is filled with restive provinces like Chechnya which are longing to escape and surrounded by anxious new republics like Kyrgyzstan which are terrified of the giant criminal empire next door. If everyone who hates Putin in all of these places were indulged with fancy handouts and shiny new arms, Putin’s world would be much worse. No time for Ukrainian adventures when you are fighting half-a-dozen Chechnya-type conflicts! (does anyone recall how dirty and destructive that war was?) Also, other Russian client states like Syria, Myanmar, Cuba, Iran, Cyprus, Egypt (sigh), and…Saudi Arabia (!) need to be isolated or courted as appropriate–even if dealing with such recidivist nations rubs American progressives the wrong way.

Putin is in a shakier position than he seems. Former Russian leaders have been rather less reliant than Putin on the absolute support of Russia’s shadowy oligarchs, who now lead lives of unimaginable opulence and international privilege. America and our allies control the world financial system. Strip the oligarchs of their ill-gotten money (squirreled away in banks and assets around the world) and take away their ability to travel the world as they please. Perhaps Putin could stand to worry about national division and traitorous back-stabbers too.

A third part of an international anti-Putin strategy involves winning the People’s Republic of China back from Putin’s malign influence. China surely recognizes that their successful, prosperous, and extremely-populated nation shares a 4133 kilometer border with a mostly-empty rogue state, which is now going around attacking its neighbors. Yet suddenly China looks like it is taking orders from Russia and acting as its toady (and it looks that way for a very good reason). In the meantime, their own markets have plunged and their vital fuel and gas supplies have become ever-so-much more expensive. Xi JinPing is an unreconstructed despot of ancient stamp and always will be. Yet he and China have ever so much more to lose than the nihilistic decaying petrostate which surrounds China. Undoubtedly Xi knows it, but hopes to lie back in the tall grass while Russia’s craziness takes America down a notch or two.

The main international strategy of Donald Trump (undoubtedly given him by his master, Putin) was to insult, belittle, and bully China in every way and to begin a series of mutually harmful trade wars. Perhaps America could undo some of that harm by buttering up China, ending the sanctions, and offering it some things it wants. This might sound unlikely, but Richard Nixon successfully did exactly that…and during a deep freeze in the cold war!

Finally, we need to clean house back at home. Republicans fell completely for a Russian counterintelligence/extortion operation. Don’t worry Republicans, it happens to everyone! Just clap the Trumps in irons and exile some self-proclaimed pro-Russian traitors like Tucker Carlson, J.D. Vance, and Candace Owen from the party (you might find you are happier without them, too). All of the other Republican traitors who have supported Trump and Putin over their own country could whitewash themselves and claim to return to being the party which stands for strong defense and an American-led international order. Clever political operators could probably delude the deplorables that this whole whole “Russia taking over America by taking over the Republican Party” business was Biden’s fault all along (in fact, some of them are trying to do just that according to this AP article from today). Fine. If what is required to unite and protect the nation is pretending that Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Mitch McConnell are not the grotesque fascists, cowards, kleptocrats, and traitors which they obviously are, then I am sure we can all grit our teeth and do so. Here. I, personally will lead the way: Tom Cotton is not (always) a ghastly weasel who calls for gunning down American citizens while he lies about being an army ranger. He is a patriot and I respect his ability to stand up to Russian aggression which he demonstrates by supporting President Biden and castigating the Russian puppet Donald Trump. See how easy that was [grit griiiiiiiiiind]

If we act quickly and cleverly in a united way, Russia could be terribly wounded and Putin could be swept away, however, if Republicans keep insisting that representative democracy is the true scourge and moneyed Russian oligarchs are our proper masters, Putin could well win everything. How can we get them to see that destroying the nation for personal political aggrandizement is not the right answer?

Back when I was a toymaker, I used to attend the annual “Toy Fair” trade show in New York’s Javits Center. As you might imagine, the fair was filled not only with fine toys from around the world, but also with weird characters, strange products, peculiar has-been celebrities (Jaimie Farr at booth 1312?), and MASCOTS. A lot of these capering stuffed shills were selling recognizable dolls, plush animals, or action figures, but my favorite was an anonymous and poorly executed bear mascot with a neutral expression, dead eyes, and a bright blue shirt that said “Hong Kong Fun!” For some reason, I could not find a picture of this defunct character (bear-acter?) and so I have approximated the experience with this stock photo (even if it is a bit less anonymous than the original).

Apparently Chinese factory owners were incensed that American manufacturers were (and still are) designing and selling most of the toys made in China. They hoped to eliminate the middle man by manufacturing their own toys and selling straight to American retailers. Hong Kong Fun Bear was a branding tool in this mission. But Hong Kong Fun Bear not only looked janky, he also had a Chinese minder to keep an eye on him. If you tried to talk to Hong Kong Fun Bear, this apparatchik would sternly explain that Hong Kong Fun Bear was prohibited from speaking. Fun! Near the end of the fair, I noticed that Hong Kong Fun Bear had escaped his PRC escort and was outside having a cigarette with his head removed (inside the bear suit was a scrofulous and wan Chinese acrobat with an incredibly sad face).

Anyway, I tell this story to contextualize the current news from China, where Bing Dwen Dwen the famous and beloved Panda mascot of the 2022 Olympics is mired in controversy (maybe he really does exemplify the 2022 Olympics). According to the South China Morning Post, the beloved mascot appeared on a news program to question a skier and spoke with a deep manly “uncle voice” and a pronounced northeastern Chinese accent. The article (which you should read because it is amazing) describes the unhappy reaction which this breach provoked: “‘People don’t want to know that when they hug Bing Dwen Dwen, they’re holding a strange man,’ [one] outraged person commented.”

Apparently Bing Dwen Dwen is subject to binding contractual agreements between the PRC and the IOC which prohibit him (her? it?) from talking and specify that the character is gender neutral. It sounds like Hong Kong Fun Bear was smarter than the average bear to keep his mouth shut (although, thinking back, I am not sure Hong Kong Fun Bear even had a mouth). All of this is good fun of course and South China Morning Post has already published an article about the delight which Bing Dwen Dwen brings to workers (which also details the Cabbage Patch Kids style shortages of the panda figurines and merchandise). A party spokesperson pointedly noted that there are plenty of figurines of Shuey Rhon Rhon, the unloved lantern mascot of the paralympics.

Here seen standing forlornly in a strange public room

All of this suggests to me that Los Angeles had better start getting its mascot game together before the 2028 Olympics. Pandas drive people into buying frenzies, but if California rolls out a lame star or some kind of grizzled grizzly, South China Morning Post is going to be talking all sorts of trash about us. Just ask Hong Kong Fun Bear.

or Bing Dwen Dwen, if you can separate him from his new army of minders

The 2022 Winter Olympics have started and Ferrebeekeeper watched the opening ceremony so that you don’t have to! The Beijing-style pageantry and pomp was omnipresent…yet markedly different than in 2008 (when covid, climate-change, and autocracy had not yet taken their toll on Earth’s beleaguered folk). My most dazzling part of the whole affair was the giant flower (above) made of huge green LED rods and a troupe of brilliant, careful dancers working seamlessly together. That was incredible! Do a sea anemone next! I also enjoyed how NBC sporadically cut-away to show Vladimir Putin sitting alone in his VIP dictator box. When the Russian athletes came out he blew kisses. When the Ukraine athletes came out he pretended to be asleep while a dream-bubble featuring him devouring the Ukraine appeared above his head. Then when the camera was not on him, he sneaked off to purloin the gold judo medals (the joke’s on you, strongman, there IS no judo in the winter Olympics). What a show!

After the giant flower made up of people, the show-makers got even more serious about hammering home their political message of Chinese unity. Like Europe, China is made up of many ethnic groups (Hui, Miao, Bai, Manchu, Kam, Yao, Uyghur, Tibetan, Gelao, etc, etc, etc…). All of these people are annealed together under Han leadership. The opening ceremony illustrated this, by presenting actors dressed up like the various ethnicities working together to conquer covid, set up the games, and carry the national flag to the seamless, goose-stepping Chinese military which marched it into place.

The most popular part of the opening is the parade of nations, when each nation’s athletes enter the stadium wearing appropriate costumes. The fashion winner was…Kazakhstan (sigh), which took a break from pogroms and crackdowns to put together these stunning outfits which look like they came out of a beautiful Central Asian version of “Return of the Jedi”.

The Kazhak Olympic flag-bearers

Americas’ outfits at least looked warm, practical, and tough for a change.

Each nation’s delegation was preceded by a gorgeous Chinese model bearing a snowflake with the country’s name. Snowflakes were the theme of the opening ceremony. After the parade of nations, these nation-snowflakes had further roles to play in the ceremony.

In the west, snowflakes represent individuality (since no two are the same). In America, the pro-totalitarian opponents of liberty have taken to calling their liberal-minded political opponents “snowflakes” to mock the idea that anything different can be special or worthwhile (and also, presumably, to show that those who support democracy are fragile and weak). The whole thing is a stupid and contrived metaphor, which China disturbingly recontextualized by featuring hundreds of identical mass-produced snowflakes (the national “nametags” from the parade of athletes) being held by heterogeneous children from around the world. Through some kind of Chinese artistry, these identical snowflakes were then annealed together into a giant super snowflake–which also looked exactly the same. All of this was against the larger backdrop of identical machine-made snow (without which the winter Olympics could not happen in drought-stricken Beijing).

NBC tried to sprinkle some Hollywood tinsel onto this very Chinese show in the form of a pre-taped segment with professional wrestler and not-exactly-master thespian Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson bloviating about how great America’s Olympic athletes are. Although I fully believe that the Rock knows how challenging it is to keep to a steroid regimen, he does not have anything else to do with the Olympics and his form-fitting shirt-sleeved shirt and obvious LA backdrop made him seem even more jarringly out of place.

The real high point of the show was the appearance of China’s uncrowned emperor, Xi Jinping, in a mask and simple unadorned winter coat. He spoke a word and the sky was filled with dazzling fireworks and the games officially began! As you may be able to tell, I have some reservations about all of this (during the worldwide Democratic crisis, the IOC’s very biddable affections seem to all lie with totalitarians), but that hardly means I’m not going to enjoy the Olympics… Let me know what you think, and we will blog more about what is happening on the ice and on the piste of the world’s most populous capital city!

The year of the tiger continues…and now we are counting down to China’s thrilling authoritarian Olympics, as well! Stay tuned for some incredible live blogging of the opening ceremonies! Will any nation’s winter parade outfit top Benin’s noble bombas from the summer Olympics? We will find out on Friday. Before we get there, though, I wanted to showcase a piece of tiger art from dynastic China. Classical Chinese scroll painting features all sorts of quintessentially Chinese things: exquisite mountain landscape, trees of otherworldly beauty, all sorts of bustling functionaries, lovely temples, ethereal women, and every variety of realistic animals (not to mention dragons out the wazoo), yet there are precious few tigers–at least until we get to 19th and 20th century art. The handful of tigers that are lurking around in ancient Chinese artwork look kind of flat-headed–like the family cat from the Simpsons. To demonstrate this, here is a really good Ming dynasty tiger painted by an unknown artist.

Oh man, that guy looks grumpy and dangerous. Apparently, in 1404, residents of the Shenhou mountains reported seeing an alarming mythical creature–the zouyou– creeping around the mountains and scaring people. The Prince of Zhou led a party of soldiers and hunters out to capture the creature…and they came back with this white tiger, which they presented to the Yongle Emperor (who had a bestiary filled with exotic and auspicious animals). Since the tiger was held in the Emperor’s court, artists got a chance to look at the living animal (which is perhaps why this work seems like such a leap forward from the fantastic tigers of earlier art).

OK! Over the last dozen years, we have suffered through lots of rats, oxen, and yang-animals, but we have finally busted through to a GRRRRreat year! Happy Lunar New Year 4719–the year of the Water Tiger! Tigers are pretty obviously the best option in the Chinese Zodiac (unless you somehow have a fixation on dragons, which, you know, don’t actually exist…unlike certain stripey & charismatic giant land predators I could name). Of course the question of how much longer the mighty cats will continue to exist in the poacher-filled forests of our used-up planet is a dark question which we will leave for a subsequent post (but which will quietly haunt us as we drive around our land of concrete and garbage). For right now, though, let’s bask in the warm & gentle (and false) glow of friendly horoscope predictions! According to some random website site I found a great oracle of profound wisdom, this tiger year is destined to be a very prosperous year! Also, as in other tiger years, you are extremely likely to personally accomplish noteworthy feats of strength, valor, and exorcism! Usually I would make a joke about casting out evil spirits and malicious sorcery, but not in 2022 er…4719. Even as I write this, I am burning joss sticks, singing Taoist spells, and wearing lucky colors. Let’s cast some of this evil out of the land, for real!

Speaking of lucky colors, the perspicacious sages of ancient China also compiled a handy list of fortunate and auspicious colors for you to wear during this water tiger year. Here is what you should wear (depending on your own horoscope animal of course).

  • Rat: red and blue
  • Ox: red and yellow
  • Tiger: orange, black, and blue
  • Rabbit: green, purple and orange
  • Dragon: yellow and white
  • Snake: tangerine, cyan, and silver
  • Horse: green, blue and red
  • Goat: bright yellow
  • Monkey: white and baby blue
  • Rooster: yellow
  • Dog: yellow, black and grey
  • Pig: yellow, green and black

I guess I had better come up with some orange, black, and blue ensembles: this is supposed to be a lucky year for romance (although, frankly, that combination sounds less like a tiger swimming through a river and more like somebody beat up a crossing guard). This other website says tigers should just wear red, which sounds like better advice (chromatically if not sartorially). The other thing this second website says is that we should buy kumquat trees to decorate our houses. Hmm, it sounds like “big kumquat” might have bribed whoever wrote this.

You can (and should) look up more of these fun and funny New Years suggestions, but right now I am going to go eat some dumplings and citrus fruits. I will write some real posts about tigers later this week. Happy New Year! (In the spirit of Yuan Duan This article was a bit tongue-in-cheek but I was serious about exorcising evil)

虎年大吉! We are going to have a great tiger year and reclaim our lives!

A page from “Winter Landscapes and Flowers” (album ca. 1770, Qian Weicheng) ink on silk

Here is a lovely little winter landscape from Qing Dynasty master landscape painter Qian Weicheng (錢維城). Qian was a proponent of the orthodox painting style, and, indeed, we can see that his simple, elegant calligraphic lines emulate the techniques of the Song and Ming artists who preceded him. Although he was perhaps not a master of bravura ink-wash realism to the unearthly degree of Fan Kuan or Guo Xi, Qian brings his own 18th century virtues to the art, and there is a delightful & unaffected simplicity to his work which captures the austere beauty of winter’s bare rocks, leafless trees, and frozen mud. In this little painting, flocks of geese glide through the overcast sky above a branching river which is swollen with melt water. The simplicity of the countryside must have been a dramatic contrast with the opulent splendor of court life in 1774 when this image was dated and inscribed. Of course Qian himself died in 1772, so the inscription and the date were added posthumously by Qian’s greatest fan, the Qianlong Emperor himself!

Qian Weicheng painted over 275 paintings during his time at court and he rose up through the imperial bureaucratic ranks to the exalted position of second-in-command of the Imperial Board of Works. Perhaps you are wondering how it is that Qian came to the capital from his native Jiansu to begin with. Any discussion of dynastic China includes mention of the famous, formidable imperial civil service exams, the great standardized test which was at the center of imperial China’s administrative system. In 1745, Qian came in first place on the exam, an academic feat which brought him to imperial attention and guaranteed his success as a mandarin and as a painter. This path to artistic greatness (acing a standardized test about Confucian principles!) brings up a variety of questions about meritocracy, politics, and aesthetics which we are still wrestling with!

There is one last daunting task for this miserable year. For Ferrebeekeeper’s annual 2021 obituaries, I promised to write an obituary for my grandfather, Robert Clarence Pierson Jr., who died on October 23rd, 2021…and the task has proved to be entirely daunting! When I was a child, Grandpa was my hero, since his far-flung James-Bond-style life seemed to so thoroughly epic and exotic–and characteristic of the triumphs and excesses of the 20th century. But now, in the squalor and waste of 2021, it seems equally impossible to write about him…for some of the same reasons. It is like writing about the career of some ancient Roman tribune or Chinese sage who accidentally crashed through into this debased era of social media and Kardassians and national disintegration…

Robert Clarence Pierson Jr. was born in 1924, at Blue Knob, a hamlet (if even that) in Clay County West Virginia. He was extremely premature, and his surprise arrival so discomfited all parties that the house ended up burning down! Great Grandma Virgie put the tiny baby in a drawer and he was almost stepped on by an anxious horse!

Thereafter Grandpa attended the one room school at Blue Knob and then the High School at Clay where he graduated as valedictorian in 1941. Since he grew up adjacent to West Virginia’s hunting, mining, drilling, and lumbering trades (with their sundry dangerous tools) his childhood adventures had an exciting frontier quality to them. Frankly, they sounded like a Fleischer cartoon (wherein a rocket powered sledge, cask of black powder, or steamer trunk filled with horseshoes is always on hand at exactly the right moment). Perhaps some of this was also thanks to Great Grandpa Clarence’s indulgence (Great Grandpa ran the local lumber mill and was becoming adept at the Democratic party politics) and also to Great Grandma, who was always willing to drop everything and bake a chocolate pie for him.

Grandpa attended West Virginia University until the war called to him. He began his army career as a paratrooper but, thanks to his foreign language and memorization skills, he quickly moved to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. In the European theater of World War II, Grandpa served in the peninsular campaign in Italy. Because of his facility with languages, communications, and codework, Grandpa flew behind enemy lines and he was in Rome when Rome was liberated by the allies (I asked him about the granular details of this operation and he said his outfit painted their airplane to look like a German airplane and then just landed at the airport…and all of the relevant Italians winked at them and looked the other way). After liberating Rome, Grandpa headed into the Balkans to help the Serbs with their anti-German activities. Then, once victory was achieved in Europe, he switched theaters and went to Burma, where he was impressed by the um, fervor of the Kachin resistance fighters.

After World War II, Grandpa married his university sweetheart, Constance Faye Wellen (better known as Grandma Connie). The OSS was disbanded a month after the war was over, but Grandpa took up a foreign career with its successor agency. He also brushed up on language and social sciences at the University of Chicago and Stanford, before heading abroad again. Language was grandpa’s greatest gift, and, as far as I could tell, he knew English, Latin, French, Javanese, Dutch, Vietnamese, Arabic, and maybe a bit of German.

The way the Cold War ended seems inevitable to us now, however in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, this was anything but true, and those decades were characterized by worldwide proxy conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union which took place everywhere but burned brightest in portions of the world recovering from 19th and early 20th century European colonization.

Thus, while everyone else came back from the war to bobbysoxers, beach boys, and suburban ranches, Grandpa was first in India, and then in Egypt, Somalia (which he doubted could ever be welded together effectively), and Kenya. He was in the Belgian Congo during the independence crisis when it violently transformed into Zaire. Grandpa was a master of the cocktail niceties of the 60s and he told me that he would mix drinks for Patrice Lumumba and Lumumba’s cronies. In his cups, Lumumba would enthuse about glorious plans of pan-African unity and talk about how the movement would kill all Europeans, “but not you, Bob, since you make the drinks!” Grandpa would laugh, but, in reality, his closest Congolese friends were among the Baluba (a rival Congolese ethnicity which Lumumba had antagonized with violent crackdowns and pogroms). Later when the Congo blew apart in full-blown crisis, my grandmother, mother, and uncle all fled as refugees, but Grandpa stayed in the nation to ensure that it did not become a client state of the Soviet Union no matter what the cost.

From the Congo, Grandpa moved on to Indonesia which was also vacillating between the great cold war powers. One of my favorite stories involves how the United States built an elaborate new Washington embassy for the Indonesians which was filled with listening devices. As the only team man who could speak Javan fluently, Grandpa got to translate, but all they learned was Sukarno’s enthusiasm for the distaff charms of American actresses…particularly how much the Indonesian strongman wanted to sleep with Zsa Zsa Gabor. Sigh…

Grandpa left the foreign service for a time to work on local projects back in West Virginia, but he returned to the field to work in Vietnam during the sixties and seventies. Some of my favorite tales from Grandpa involve his stories of drinking out of great earthenware vessels with bronze straws and plotting with Hmong warlords (he was enormously impressed by the Hmong, and the North Vietnamese, but had some reservations about the South Vietnamese leadership)Although he tried as hard as he could to solve everyone’s problems in Vietnam I believe his proudest contribution was as a gardener. He said that in Saigon he was astonished by the markets filled with fruits and vegetables which he didn’t recognize, but that there were also things which were missing, so he took the State Department’s credit card and ordered a giant box of seeds. Thereafter he was always peddling squashes, pumpkins, gourds, maize, melons, and suchlike North American seeds to add to Vietnamese agriculture (and indeed they are now part of the culture and cuisine).

Speaking of culture, one of Grandpa’s early mentors, Arturo, was an intelligence officer in Southeast Asia who lived a flamboyant expat lifestyle and suggested to Grandpa that shrewd intelligence personnel in the foreign service should collect art. Not only did this pursuit require one to learn the culture, language, and perspective of new nations, but it also provided an automatic reason for being overseas, and a pretext for traveling to all sorts of strange locations to meet peculiar characters. Plus, as a sort of bonus, one would wind up with a collection of beautiful and interesting artworks. Grandpa collected Congolese and Indonesian oil paintings and, particularly, Chinese porcelain (so, if you have ever wandered why I am always trying to understand the glorious arts of China in this blog, I guess it is a cultural legacy from Arturo, some 1950s spy whom I never met).

I wanted to properly write about Grandpa’s foreign service career which was extensive and illustrious, but all of this makes him sound like some dark puppetmaster (his Indonesian sobriquet was “Wayang” since he had the same handsome sharp features as the Indonesian version of the hero Arjuna). However Grandpa retired from statecraft and the affairs of nations in 1974, the same year I was born.

He and grandma lived in suburban Maryland by the Chesapeake Bay and their cat Pharaoh (AKA Faro), a magnificent predator of the Chesapeake Bay swamp (who was, hilariously as white as an arctic fox). Grandpa was always trying to feed or heal various strays and mongrels and plant his own paradisiacal garden to rival the beauties of South East Asia (although hurricanes of ever growing frequency would always blow down his beautiful trees). Some of my happiest memories of childhood involve exploring the Bay with Grandpa in his rowboat and catching blue crabs, or having plum battles with the tiny Italian prune plums from his little orchard.

It was fun to look at his art collection (and his collection of exotic weaponry from Africa and Asia) but it was even more fun to spend summer vacation puttering around the Chesapeake or driving around Washington and Baltimore in his preposterous vehicle, an enormous Chevrolet Impala station wagon of the late seventies which was about 45 feet long and which looked like a hearse the color of a raincloud. Sadly, in that era, GM lavished minimal attention on frivolous details like engines, and so his new car’s motor exploded not long after purchase. Undeterred, Grandpa took the hulk over to a chopshop in Glen Burnie and told them to put “something powerful” in it, which is how he had a powder blue bulldozer in the unlikely form of a station wagon.

Grandpa loved religion and was drawn to it, and when I was growing up, he would beguile me by telling me the stories of what was happening in the paintings on his wall–epic tales from the Mahabharata or from ancient China. Yet it was clear he could see through the dogmatic aspects of faith and was most attracted to spirituality as a furtherance of human concerns through sophisticated allegorical confabulation. To be more plain, I think he was astonished that while nation-states were always desperately struggling to coerce people to do things, holy men could come along with a beautiful story which would cause people to eagerly participate in ridiculous ventures which ran contrary to their own self-interest. I would like to write about how he understood animals and people and was always surprising the Amish by speaking to them in their own tongue (it is basically a weird German, he confided), or befriending salty myna birds or rescuing addled baby animals or what-have-you, but I will instead end with his bees. Although he liked honey, it was obvious that he kept bees because they combined all of his true interests–communication, nation-building, animals, farming, warfare, family, and making things. All of this came in a little white box which he said was like having your own miniature city-state of 50,000 flying Spartans in yellow and black striped tunics. Of course sometimes West Virginia bears would come out of the forest and eat your civilization, or varroa mites would cause everyone to sicken and die, or the young queen would murder the old one (or vice versa) but it was all part of an even larger picture and just meant you had to rebuild better.

Now that Grandpa is dead, the world which he and his contemporaries made is swiftly coming apart. Beekeeping, arm-twisting, and politics have never much interested me, but if we want any honey (or simply not to be a sad addled province in Putin’s new Russia or a client state to Xi’s imperial China), perhaps we need to think about some of the lessons of his life of service to the Republic.

Gonggong and its moon Xiangliu (red circle) seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2010

While idly scanning trans-Neptunian objects & suchlike miscellaneous dwarf planets of the outer solar system, Ferrebeekeeper was stunned to see a familiar name–GongGong, the dark water dragon who messed up Chinese cosmology and nearly destroyed the world. In Chinese mythology, GongGong’s reign of chaos was stopped by the gentle creator goddess Nuwa. However, in order to repair the damage wrought by the naughty dragon, Nuwa was forced to jerryrig creation back together with turtle legs and river rocks (and the end result is decidedly more rickety than the original).

The dwarf world Gonggong was discovered by astronomers waaaaaaay back in 2007. Although it is not the most famous dwarf planet in the solar system, it is not inconsequential in size and has a diameter of 1,230 km (760 mi). Gonggong’s eccentric ecliptic orbit takes 550 Earth years and the planetoid rotates very slowly as well. At its perehelion (when it is closest to the sun) it is 55 AUs from Earth, however at its apehelion it is 101.2 AUs (1.514×1010 km) away from the gentle sun. Brrrr! Gonggong was last at perehelion fairly recently, in 1857, and now it is moving farther and farther away–so if you left your wallet there in 1857, you may just want to get a new one. The orbital diagram below shows the orbit of Gonggong (in yellow) contrasted with that of Eris.

Like the lozenge-world Haumea, Gonggong is a strange reddish pink color because of organic compounds known as tholins which cover its ancient ice. In some stories, the evil water dragon Gonggong had a copper head, so maybe the name suits it. Oh, also, in Chinese mythology GongGong has a sidekick, a wicked nine-headed demon named Xiangliu. Gonggong the planetoid has a tiny moon which bears this name. Finally, Chinese mythology is weirdly ambiguous about whether Nuwa and Zhu Rong finished off GongGong or whether he escaped to cause trouble another day. If I were hiding out from a bunch of quasi omnipotent Earth deities for thousands of years, I know where I would go!

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