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Happy Year of the Metal Rat!  The Chinese new year 4717 really started on January 25th, 2020, however, since the celebration is ongoing (as is the year!), let’s talk about what we can expect from a rat year.  In the twelve year Chinese zodiac cycle, the rat comes first (which means we are starting a whole new cycle).  The folklore reason that the rat is the first year is humorous and instructive: the Jade Emperor hosted a party for the astrological animals and he decided that the order of years would be set by when they arrived at the party.  The rat rode to the party on the stalwart ox’s back but then when he saw the party food (or maybe the supreme monarch of heaven), he distracted the ox and leaped across the threshold first!

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As pictured in this stirring artwork…

In the non-zodiac world, there are quite a few people who have a negative opinion of (real) rats, but Chinese astrology in no way shares this outlook concerning the versatile rodent.  Rats are regarded as clever, successful, optimistic, and likable. Because of their ability to survive and reproduce even in harsh or inimical circumstances, rats are seen as symbolic of resourcefulness and fertility (it seems like Chinese culture-makers were actually paying attention to how rats came by their worldwide success).  People born in rat years are regarded as problem solvers who are good with money and have the ability to turn unexpected problems into opportunities (tigers, like me, are instead gifted with the ability to turn unexpected problems into histrionic emotional events…but fortunately we also have the ability to make everything about ourselves).

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How did this beautiful and stirring tiger get in here?

Metal rats are most famed for…uh having a predictable and stable life (sigh). So I guess children born into this year can expect to live a life utterly unlike this year.  Also, apparently rats’ lucky flower is the African violet and their unlucky color is brownish yellow.  It is extraordinary what can be learned during 4717 years!

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Actual rats are one of the most interesting and successful creatures in existence.  Their strategy…and their fate has mirrored humankind’s own strange journey, and our two species are rarely far apart.  Thus we will celebrate the year of the metal rat by talking more about actual rats during the course of the week.  So steel yourself, real rats are even more intelligent and likable than the fictional ones, but they are more relentless and disturbing as well.

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Before we get to that though, maybe enjoy some hot pot and dumplings while you can!  Humans and rats alike both know to take advantage of any opportunity for food and fun!

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Holy Han Blue! It is already time for the color of the year for 2020!  How did it get to be so late?  The color of the year is obviously a Pantone publicity stunt…and yet, in a fashion-market/artworld way, it tracks larger socioeconomic factors.  During boom times the colors are all coral, gold, and claret; when the economy falls into the abyss they become asphalt, storm clouds, and lunar regolith.  This year’s color is a flashing warning signal.  The 2020 color of the year, Classic Blue, is an ancient neutral middle level cobalt blue.  It looks exactly like what a court geomancer would pick to sooth a mad emperor…just before the realm explodes into civil war. Or. in the ugly patter of finance, this color looks like an inverted yield curve just before the sell-off.  It is a deeply conservative color pretending to have some pizzazz (similar to “Blue Iris”, the color of 2008).

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This is one of the results I got trying to image search this color.

It is worthwhile though, to note how the professional flacks at Pantone talk about this depressing reactionary selection.  They speak very carefully to forestall any criticism that it is, well, a depressing reactionary selection.  Although blue has represented melancholia to artists, poets, and designers  for four centuries (or longer), Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, which apparently researches and advises companies on human responses to color said, “I think that’s kind of an older generation reaction.” So Pantone wants you to know that if you dislike the ugly neutral blue which they chose for the coming recession, you are old and out of touch. They also note that this is not a subtle endorsement of the Democratic Party (apparently, like every large business in the country, they enthusiastically endorse and promote the fascist Republican party).

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But politics and economics aside, what do we make of Classic Blue? Blue is not actually the top color on my personal list, but it is good for neutral backgrounds and for blending in. Dark blues like “classic blue” don’t show dirt as badly as some colors.  Classic blue might be good for a daily table cloth or a bathroom mat or a shower curtain.  It would be lovely for a twilight sky around a pleasure garden (although Pantone isn’t marketing it for that, as far as I could tell from their blather).  The real color of 2020 should be chaotic darkness shot through with nauseating flecks of painful brightness, like somebody smashed a sorcerer’s crystal (or like a riot after the teargas).  I recognize that Pantone is hard pressed to choose a perfect color to match that, but, as always they have done as well as possible in trying circumstances.  Any bets yet for the color of the year for 2021?

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I haven’t written very much about the current state of politics lately, not just because President Trump makes me angry & unhappy, but also because the deadlock in Washington (and precipitous national decline) make me sad and anxious.  I would like to continue this precedent:  paying breathless attention to all of Trump’s stunts and bullying just make him stronger (although I do think it is worth noting that he has been signing Bibles as though he were the author–and his devout Christian followers absolutely love it!). However, the latest enormities fall in the realm of policy and planning, so let’s take a look at the proposed 2020 Discretionary budget which was released by the White House yesterday. Predictably, this budget delivers slight funding increases to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, while stripping safety net and environmental programs fairly drastically.  I suppose this is not unexpected under any Republican president, even one such as this one, (although it raises eyebrows after the colossal tax giveaway to the rich).  However, what truly raises eyebrows in the budget are the appalling cuts to scientific and medical research.  Here are the actual numbers:

Proposed Discretionary Budget Changes

All dollar amounts are in billions.

Department Or Agency
2019 Budget (Estimate)
2020 Request
$ change
% change
Defense1 $685.0 $718.3 $33.4 +5%
Veterans Affairs $86.6 $93.1 $6.5 +8%
Health and Human Services $101.7 $89.6 -$12.1 -12%
Education $70.5 $62.0 -$8.5 -12%
Homeland Security $48.1 $51.7 $3.6 +7%
Housing and Urban Development
HUD gross total (excluding receipts) $52.7 $44.1 -$8.6 -16%
HUD receipts -$9.3 -$6.5 $2.8 -30%
State Department and other international programs2 $55.8 $42.8 -$13.0 -23%
Energy $35.5 $31.7 -$3.8 -11%
National Nuclear Security Administration $15.1 $16.5 $1.3 9%
Other Energy $20.4 $15.2 -$5.2 -25%
NASA $20.7 $21.0 $0.3 +1%
Justice $29.9 $29.2 -$0.7 -2%
Agriculture $24.4 $20.8 -$3.6 -15%
Interior $14.0 $12.5 -$1.5 -11%
Commerce3 $12.3 $12.3 * <1%
Labor $12.1 $10.9 -$1.2 -10%
Transportation $27.3 $21.4 -$5.9 -22%
Treasury $12.9 $13.1 $0.2 +2%
National Science Foundation $7.8 $7.1 -$0.7 -9%
Environmental Protection Agency $8.8 $6.1 -$2.8 -31%
Army Corps of Engineers $7.0 $4.8 -$2.2 -31%
Small Business Administration $0.7 $0.7 * -5%
Other agencies $21.3 $19.1 -$2.1 -10%

Notes

* $50 million or less
1. Includes $9.2 billion for emergency border security and hurricane recovery funding
2. Includes funding for the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, Treasury international programs and 12 international agencies
3. Appropriations for 2019 are incomplete.

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Long time readers know that Ferrebeekeeper has a keen (albeit understated) interest in mascots.  They are the heraldic beasts of our corporate times…and, like the present, they represent a peculiar synthesis of what is endearing, banal, zany, and oppressive all wrapped up together.  The royalty of the mascot world are Olympics mascots, although admittedly they come from hardscrabble roots and they don’t reign for long (I am sorry I was only two years old when Schneeman came and went at Innsbruck—but maybe we can get in the wayback machine and visit that goofy goofy snowman one of these days).  A couple of years ago we blogged about Soohorang the overly-simplified white tiger of Korea, and it was a pleasure to see this bland beast spring into action.  What with all of the excitement back in February though, I failed to show you a peak at the future.

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As you have probably guessed, this is a long-winded way of introducing the 2020 Olympics mascots.  The 2020 summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Japan, the epicenter of the land of mascots.  Japan has learned a thing or two since they brought us Sento-kun, Nara’s disquieting deer-child of magic and ridicule.  For 2020 the designers looked deep into the web and brought us some of the things the internet loves best: cats and nerdy futuristic technology.

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Here are the mascots of 2020.  They are so new they do not yet have names, but I really like them.  The blue tomcat in the suit from that Tom Petty video is the Olympics mascot, and the pink kitty with the retro-future cape and the red eyes is the Paralympics mascot (by the way, congratulations to all of the proud strong athletes of the 2018 Paralympics).

I really like these Tokyo mascots: they are just the right amount of futuristic.  Thank goodness we are not replaying the whole Wenlock and Mandeville fiasco. Just looking at these spacecats makes happy eighties synthesizer noises go off inside my head.  The cats look really friendly and they have clean bold lines (without being too scaled back like poor Soohoorang, who barely exists because of the unholy collaboration of digital designers and management committees).  In fact, these guys look like somebody with some pencils might have sketched them out before reaching for Illustrator.  I also like the white, navy, and magenta color combination.  It seems like they came from a clean contest instead of one that Vladimir Putin tampered with.  Speaking of which, that post was from 2014: how come we didn’t learn anything then?

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But back to the future mascots… With their hover suits and feline arrogance, there is an element of the Great Gazoo in both these cats (for young people, the Gazoo was a patronizing gnome from space or the future or something who was always tormenting Fred and Barney during the final post shark-jump seasons of the Flintstones). Additionally, there is a lot of Pokemon and Neopets in these cats.  Here are the finalists from which the two winners were selected.

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It seems like the Japanese really love cats, and I am right there on the same page with them.  White cats wearing spacesuits are particular favorites since we had a family of white cats when I was growing up (although I don’t remember if they wore spacesuits or not).  My grandparents had a white cat named Pharaoh who was one of the real characters of my youth.  Pharaoh’s sister Lily was one of my favorite cats too and she would sleep on my feet sometimes and purr in my arms when I was 9, although she died far too young, killed by a cruel and indifferent motorist (as will happen to all of us unless they hurry up with robot cars). Oh…I made myself sad. Fortunately these mascot cats will not be let outside before 2020 (plus they are deathless cartoons) and I am excited to learn their crazy names and backstory.  Most of all I am excited to see them in Olympics action: 2020 can NOT come soon enough (if you know what I mean).  We can put all sorts of disreputable stuffed head branding dummies in the past.

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