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Every year we close out the year with obituaries.  I feel like the main-stream media does a pretty good job of memorializing the entertainers and showbiz folks who have passed away, so, although I loved Tom Petty, John Hillerman, Roger Moore, and John Hurt (and too many others), I will leave it to someone else to eulogize them.  Additionally, I have had less time to blog this year than I would like, so please don’t be upset if I miss a great and important scientist, algebraist, or artist.  That is what the comments are for!  I also tried to include some eminent scholars and artists from East Asia (since it feels like our counterweight cultures are divided by a gulf of misunderstanding and we overlook the cultural work being done there).  I was saddened to see how many astronauts from the golden first age of space exploration passed away.  Humankind becomes ever more insular and parochial: we squander our resources on useless giveaways to monopolistic companies and crooked oligarchs (who blow their money on status objects or remove it from circulation).  These days we barely even explore the heavens (much less travel there).  I wonder if there will ever be another generation of heroes to walk the moon or orbit the Earth once these figures from fade away.  At any rate, here is a brief list of 2017 obituaries to make us think about the brevity of life and the true nature of accomplishment:

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Zhou Youguang (January 13, 1906 – January 14, 2017) was a scholar who invented Pinyin, a system for the romanization of Mandarin Chinese (a language which does not fit easily into the Roman alphabet).  So excellent was his work that  Pinyin was officially adopted by the government of the People’s Republic of China in 1958.  Pinyin has now largely supplanted the Wade-Giles system and is the method by which Chinese is known to Western scholars or input on Roman keyboards.  Zhou Youguang lived through the dramatically changing China of the Qing Dynasty, The Republic of China, The Second World War Invasion by Japan, and The People’s Republic.  He was “sent down” during the Cultural Revolution and was critical of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

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George A. Romero (February 4, 1940 – July 16, 2017) was the masterful director of terrifying zombie movies which were thinly veiled allegories for the problems of contemporary society.

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Kim Jong-nam (May 10 1971 – 13 February 2017): this unremarkable man was the eldest son of the genocidal sociopath Kim Jong-il,the late dictator of North Korea.  Kim Jong-nam was murdered in Singapore at the command of his brother (by means of poison, in a plot worthy of dark fantasy literature).  While Kim Jong-nam’s death is of no consequence in itself, it speaks to the criminal nature of the North Korean regime and foreshadows countless deaths to come at the mercurial will of their fat cruel tyrant.  There are two stories of why Kim Jong-nam was disinherited: in one story he was cut out of the family business for trying to sneak into Tokyo Disneyland (but insiders whisper he was exiled and ultimately murdered for favoring reform).

David Rockefeller (June 12, 1915 – March 20, 2017) was the last surviving grandson of John Davison Rockefeller Sr. (a 19th century tycoon who built the Standard Oil Trust and thus became by far the richest individual of America’s gilded age).  There was a point in the 1970s when David’s brother Nelson was Governor of New York and then Vice President of the United States, and yet David was reputed to be more powerful and connected.

Sir Nicholas Winton (May 19, 1909 – July 1, 2015) was a swordsman, banker and stockbroker who rescued of 669 Jewish children, from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia by means of paperwork wizardry, networking, and money-raising.

Sam Shepard (November 5, 1943 – July 27, 2017) was a playwright and actor who applied the Beckett’s absurd style to themes of family, violence, and substance abuse and thus carved out a uniquely American theater style.

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Hugh Heffner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) was a controversial publisher whose magazine “Playboy” was famous for cultural articles, progressive editorials, and reproductive advice which challenged America’s puritanical mores.  The magazine was however more famous for lubricious pictures of naked women and espousing a hedonistic (sexist?) lifestyle.  This legacy, and the distasteful…extravagance…of Hugh Heffner’s private life made him a polarizing figure, but he must be mentioned (and honored) because of the debt which generation after generation of pre-internet era adolescent boys owe him.

Richard Francis Gordon Jr. (October 5, 1929 – November 6, 2017) was an American naval officer, chemist, and astronaut.  He is only one of 24 people to have flown to the moon (although he didn’t get to walk on it).  Later he helped design the space shuttle and served as Executive Vice President of the New Orleans Saints.

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Bruce McCandless II, (June 8, 1937 – December 21, 2017) was a U.S. Navy officer, pilot, and NASA astronaut who made the first untethered free flight in space.

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Wang Panyuan (c. 1908 – December 22nd, 2017) was a famous Chinese/Taiwanese painter who brought together classical Chinese painting with expressionism.

 

 

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Merry Christmas!  I decorated the house up all beautifully with my tree of life and with all sorts of seasonal lights…but then I couldn’t find my digital camera.  I’m afraid you will have to get through Saturnalia/Yule/Christmas with these somewhat blurry images.  I hope Santa brings you what you want (or Hanukkah Harry…or Saturn…or Mithras).  We’ll do some year-end wrap-up next week, but for right now I am going to drink some egg-nog and draw some festive flatfish!  Happy Holidays from Ferrebeekeeper!

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Happy Losar!  No—I didn’t hurl a confusing insult at you–today is the Tibetan New Year Festival “Losar.” Although it is putatively a Buddhist version of the Chinese New Year, Losar predated the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet and it is on a somewhat different place in the calendar than Chinese New Year. According to scholars, the festival traces its origin back to a late winter/early Spring incense festival of the ancient Bon religion (which has so indelibly colored the Buddhism of Tibet).

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Losar is also known as Shambhala day to adherents of Tibetan practices who believe it should feature mindfulness exercises and meditation (as well as other spiritual rituals and self-care practices).  As with Chinese New Year, there are elemental animals which represent every year: and they are more-or-less the same as in the Chinese calendar, but with a different flavor. For example, instead of calling this year, “the year of the fire rooster.’ Tibetans call it “the Year of the firebird” which is the same…and yet oddly different.

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Losar began on Monday February 27th and ends March 1st, so enjoy it while it lasts and enjoy the year of the Fire rooster/Fire Bird.

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When I was barely an adolescent I read “Les Miserables” and the vast scope of the work caught my brain on fire.  It was like living hundreds–or maybe thousands–of lives over multiple generations.  We can (and will) return to that remarkable novel’s great themes of humanism, systematic oppression, historicism, Christianity, and economics (among other things), but for now I would like to concentrate on the first chapter of Book III.  The chapter is titled “The Year 1817” and it details what everyone was talking about in France in 1817.

Naturally, the excited 14-year-old me was hoping for soaring words about battle, republic, redemption, and perfect compassion, and so the chapter was an immense disappointment.  It was about the mincing affairs of unknown aristocrats and quibbles about fashion or taste which were utterly incomprehensible (and even more ridiculous).  Here is a random sample of this Bourbon Restoration word salad:

Criticism, assuming an authoritative tone, preferred Lafon to Talma. M. de Feletez signed himself A.; M. Hoffmann signed himself Z. Charles Nodier wrote Therese Aubert. Divorce was abolished. Lyceums called themselves colleges. The collegians, decorated on the collar with a golden fleur-de-lys, fought each other apropos of the King of Rome. The counter-police of the chateau had denounced to her Royal Highness Madame, the portrait, everywhere exhibited, of M. the Duc d’Orleans, who made a better appearance in his uniform of a colonel-general of hussars than M. the Duc de Berri, in his uniform of colonel-general of dragoons– a serious inconvenience.  

It goes on in this fashion for several pages. If you want the full effect, you can read the rest here (along with the other 1200 pages of the book, come to think of it).

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Now I can understand these words individually, and even piece together their social importance, but the sense of momentous grandeur is entirely gone.  This is, of course, as Victor Hugo wanted it.  His true story was about people vastly beneath the notice of M. the Duc d’Orleans.  To give the appropriate sense of scale, he needed to show how ephemeral the allegedly important and noteworthy people and things in a year actually are.  What is really important takes longer to comprehend—and even the consensus of history keeps changing as history progresses.  Naturally Hugo also wanted us to take a step back from our own time and realize that soon it will all be as dull, insipid, and inconsequential as the affairs of 1817.

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I really really hope you will take that lesson to heart, because most of our shared experience is made of flotsam—stupid tv shows, bad songs, political hacks who are already fading away, ugly fashions, and useless hype.  In 25 years, nobody but old fogeys and experts in early 21st century culture will have any idea who Beyonce is.  In a hundred years nobody will understand Facebook or Google.  Even if he destroys the republic and precipitates universal war, precious few people will recall Trump in 2217.  By next week we will have forgotten this accursed “Milo” (who, I guess, is a failed actor who pretended to be a Nazi to make money off of conservative frenzy?).  It already doesn’t make sense!

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As you proceed through the year 2017, hang on to the lessons of “The Year 1817”.  Most things that are current and fashionable and celebrated are useless piffle.  Celebrity culture has always been a meretricious mask used to defraud people of their money and attention.  The great are mostly not so great (sorry, Beyonce and Duc de Orleans), but beyond that, even the fundamental concept of current events or contemporary culture is predominantly a soap-bubble.  And where does that leave us?

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I promised a post with New Year’s Resolutions, but we’re already up to January 10th. The year is whipping by fast. What happened?
On New Years Day I looked around to take stock and I noticed that I have become middle-aged and I am a failure on pretty much every level. I have no wife and children. I have no towering art achievements (other than those that hang on my own walls seen by no one but myself). I have no fame. I have no money. I have a new job which takes all of my concentration and plays to none of my strengths. Waking up every morning to go into that thing is like going to…well, there is no need to get into it on this public forum, but let it suffice to say I really have to expand my talents quickly.
I think my blog readership is dwindling, possibly because I write less because of time constraints, but also possibly because my content is slipping or just because my posts are becoming depressing (for example…this one). Not just that! My country is swiftly becoming a fascist failed state. After a few fat cow (fat cat?) years when the masters vote to give everything worthwhile to themselves and break everything else, there is going to be no upcoming boom in the future. Plus, in the not-so-distant periphery of doom, the machines are coming for all of us anyway.

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This is all a bit discouraging. Especially since, in our primate world, people tend to be drawn towards blustery self-confidence even if it is all false and made up.
All of which is a maudlin way of saying that this year’s resolutions are going to need to be really good. Here’s what I have so far, but maybe you can help me out a bit. In 2017, I resolve to:

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1) Finish the Four Great Classics of Chinese Literature: I have actually already read three of the four, so this is almost cheating…except each of these things is a thousand plus pages long. Also, they also all have casts with hundreds–or thousands–of characters (with superficially similar Chinese names) and Chinese literature is almost impossibly sad. But the final one, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is different than the other four in fundamental disturbing ways. I will flesh this resolution out more in tomorrow’s post.

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2) Get really good at boring transactional work with lots of numbers and pettifogging details. I have always fled from this horrible stuff, but there is nowhere left to flee. Whenever I try something, there is a spreadsheet, or a collections list, or an unimaginably complex tax bill, or some other organizational challenge in the way. It ends now. I have decided to change my attitude. I LOVE my dayjob. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow. I love nightmarish spreadsheets. I thrive on monetary sums and incomprehensible alphanumeric codes. From now on, I am going to be the best at . If you need help doing you taxes or refinancing, you just call me. You have to use the time.

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3) Keep up my art production. Despite less than ideal circumstances, I made an immense amount of art last year. I improved too (albeit in a direction towards beautiful visionary madness rather than towards realism) . This year, I will work even harder and produce even more. And I’m going to take it out in the world and show it to people too (if for no other reason than the fact that my walls are full). Just you watch! Also, do you maybe happen to know anybody in the art world?
4) Speaking of jobs and the art world. I am going to get much better at applications, and I am going to send them out by the score. Last year I resolved not to be upset if my applications were rejected, and I failed at that somewhat (grumble). This year i just resolve to apply more. Who cares how I feel afterwards so long as the darn things get written and go out.
5) Apologize less. for example I was going to apologize for this ridiculously autobiographical post…but 2017 showed that those who apologize for themselves are crushed by society.   What I have written here is unflinchingly honest and nakedly forthright. if life is an emotional roller coaster than so be it.  There are ups and downs, but you can’t doubt who you really are.

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I have not thrown away my sword. I will not lie down in the frozen mud and give up . There are wonders ahead, readers! Come with me. I know there has been some raggedness around the edges these last few years and I don’t pretend the coming years will be any easier. They may be a lot harder. Yet we have come so far, and it was amazing! We cannot let ignorance and greed win out. We mustn’t give in to despair. Life is so beautiful, and we are not so far from all of our goals as it seems. Not at all.
Ahem…cough. Anyway those are my goals (plus eating more vegetables and taking my cat to the vetrinarian). What do you have planned? Please tell me. I know I have been responding slowly (uh, i vow to better about that too), but I really read them all and they mean alot to me. Happy 2017! Come Tartarus or grievous flood, or any other damned challege WE ARE GOING TO  AND MAKE IT GOOD.

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OK, time to get 2017 started in earnest! I have some resolutions and ideas–and I’m looking forward to hearing your New Year plans too. But first there is extremely good news in the paper, so let’s lead with that:  the People’s Republic of China has announced that they are shutting down their national trade in ivory by the end of 2017.  The world’s most populous nation is by far the world’s largest ivory consumer: estimates suggest that it accounts for as much as 70% of ivory demand.  The tusks of slaughtered elephants reach the nation illegally and then become part of a vast economy of carvers, traders, dodgy antiques merchants, and suchlike sellers.  All of this is to feed the growing appetite of China’s new middle class, who are hungry for anything which confers status (but who do not necessarily understand just how sapient, compassionate, and irreplaceable elephants are).

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The ban is said to be a direct result of a meeting between the world’s two most powerful men, President Xi Jinping and President Obama, who laid the groundwork for a comprehensive ban when they met in Washington in 2015.  Obama tightened up surprisingly lax ivory rules in America in an effort to save the last proboscideans.  It is a great pleasure to see China’s leadership follow the same path.  The New York Times has noted that the ban is not just sound environmental policy, but also makes sense both politically and economically.  Perhaps other ivory-consuming nations will follow suite! I will be sure to praise their far-sighted leaders as well.

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However elephant conservationists must not pretend the Chinese ivory ban alone has saved our big gray friends. Elephants are in deep trouble. Climate change, habitat loss, and, above all, poaching still threaten the giants. Powerful forces in China (and even here, in the increasingly reactionary United States) will conspire to restart the ghastly trade.  Additionally the mayhem in central Africa which has allowed poachers to flourish is far from over.  Yet this unexpected boon from the Middle Kingdom is a cause for great hope. Let us thank our friends in China for their thoughtfulness and use their fine example as a cause to redouble our own efforts.  If we keep working together we can make sure elephants are still with us not just in 2017 but in all the years to come.

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Drop everything: Pantone has just announced the color of the year for 2017!  Although the “color of the year” is nakedly a publicity ploy by Pantone (a New Jersey branding corporation), it is also relevant since large groups of industries work together to put the color everywhere in clothing and consumer goods.  Additionally the color of the year really does represent the zeitgeist of an era (if not through mystical aesthetic convergence, at least through talking and writing about it). I had some reservations about the color of the year last year (the only year with a dual winner: cool pink and gray blue), yet the contrasting/complimenting nature of the shades ended up representing the divisive political, gender, and class battles of 2016 perfectly while still evoking the lost conformity of the 1950s. Maybe it is better not to speak of the bleeding liver color of 2015, which was suited only for haruspices and die-hard Charles Bronson enthusiasts.

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Marsala (Color of the Year 2015)

This year’s color is back to being a single shade—a mid-tone cabbage green named “greenery”. Yellowish greens are among my favorite colors (or maybe they are my favorite colors) so I love greenery.  I think it is magnificent, and any devoted readers who want to express their affection for Ferrebeekeeper should feel free to send me shirts, cement mixers, or three-wheel mini cars of the verdant pastel hue.

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The Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute (snicker) writes  “Greenery bursts forth in 2017 to provide us with the reassurance we yearn for amid a tumultuous social and political environment. Satisfying our growing desire to rejuvenate and revitalize, Greenery symbolizes the reconnection we seek with nature, one another and a larger purpose.”

I personally do not feel especially optimistic for 2017: I believe the nation is headed off in a profoundly wrong direction, and, additionally, nothing particularly good is happening in my personal life.  But how do we learn other than through terrible mistakes? (well…aside from, you know reading and thinking, and nobody in America is likely to do those things).  Plus you never know, maybe popular culture will seize on flounders or eclectic zoology/history/aesthetic blogs as the flavor of the year for 2017. We need to keep an open mind and be ready to seize on opportunities.

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Populists and fascists generally push policies which create a “sugar rush” of short term economic euphoria and froth crony capitalism (before state intervention, protectionism, and price fixing set in and create economic death spirals). Perhaps greenery–which, now that I look at it, is also the color of money—will represent this short lived false dawn. When the real slump arrives and recession and scandals shake the nation, Pantone can choose some different colors. Spray-tan orange, blood red, concrete gray, or gold and black .

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In the meantime let’s enjoy Greenery: a color which I really do uncritically love.  I think this shade would be perfect for room painting and some craft projects. Maybe I will make some yellow-green flounder drawings too.  Above all I plan to see lots of Greenery in the garden (which I also plan to write about more).  Also, the color of the year announcement kicks off the end-of-the-year holiday season, so I will put up some festive posts while we enjoy eggnog and ornaments and remember the tulip bulbs in the ground, waiting to burst forth come spring.

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