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Today’s news has been quite troubling.  The republic rots from within as grifters and fraudsters the treasury secretary and attorney general ignore Congressional oversight and mere national laws and wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to protecting Dear Leader President Trump’s dirty secrets.  Meanwhile, in even more troubling news, the U.N. released a report projecting the imminent extinction of more than a million species of plants and animals due to human activities.  The decline of our republic makes me so furiously angry that I feel like my teeth will break, but that feeling is nothing compared to the bone deep sadness which I feel contemplating the extinction of so many living things for our frivolous and corrupt economic system.

There is no way I could write about either of these things without spending all day at it (and spending a lot of time screaming at the heavens).  Is this what life is going to be like from here on out? Increasingly emotionally devastating headlines as ever more corrupt figures vie for power and the web of life slowly dies? Almost certainly.

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Maha Vajiralongkorn

The Sole Extant Specimen of the parasitoid wasp Aleiodes gaga

Voila, allow me to present Aleiodes gaga, a parasitoid wasp, which along with 178 other species, was discovered in the cloud rain forests of Thailand as part of a new biological survey seeking new life forms.  The drab little 5mm wasp is named after the flamboyant New York singer songwriter Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (who rose to international superstardome under the stage name of “Lady Gaga”.  The science/futurist website i09 somewhat cynically remarks, “As to why the researchers chose to “honor” Lady Gaga in this way is not entirely clear (they’re likely seeking attention — in which case the name is wholly appropriate).”

Lady Gaga

The remarkable aspect of the survey is that the new species were swiftly identified and categorized by DNA barcode rather than through traditional taxonomic means.  The team used a fragment of mitochondrial DNA to identify the various invertebrates which it discovered.  However, the new methodology has critics in the world of scholarly taxonomy, who lament that spotting arbitrary genetic differences is replacement for actually understanding a creature’s morphology, anatomy.

Scientists do not know about the habits of the gaga wasp, but they know that it is a parasitoid wasp, a class of hymenopterans which provide a useful biological check against various diseases, blights, and swarms.  When malicious insects attack certain plants, the plants release specific chemicals which attract particular species of wasps (which then prey on the offending beetle, ant, larva, or whatever).  A great many species of plants have particular wasps affiliated with them (since the wasp and the plant coevolved to meet each other’s needs).  Although such wasps provide an incalculable boon for both domestic and wild plants of all sorts, they are also the fodder for horrified screaming (since they tend to use mind control to render victims into zombies, which the wasp larvae then devour from within).

A Parasitoid Wasp injecting eggs into a paralyzed Hoverfly Larva

Most likely the wasp finds some local caterpillar, paralyzes it with a sting to the head, and lays its eggs inside the hapless victim.  When the wasp larvae awake they devour the still living caterpillar.  So to recap, this wasp 1) was discovered by means of a controversial technique; 2) was named in a naked bid for publicity; and 3) lays eggs inside its prey’s head which subsequently cause aforementioned head to explode.

Lady Gaga wearing a red gothic crown and…um…a damask table cloth I guess.

The Great Crown of Victory

I think the crown of the king of Thailand is one of the most spectacular and noteworthy extant crowns.  It is known as the Phra Maha Phichai Mongkut or “great crown of victory” and it is only worn by the king when he ascends the throne.  Made for King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (aka Rama I) in 1782, the crown is a soaring multi-tiered conical structure reminiscent of a particularly ornate stupa. It was manufactured from 15 pounds of gold ornamented with red and green enamel. A subsequent king of Siam, Rama IV, had diamonds added to the crown including the Phra Maha Wichian Mani, a huge Indian diamond which was set at the apex. Perhaps the magnificence and unique appearance of the headdress are appropriate, since it belongs to King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving head of state and one of the few contemporary monarchs to wield any real power over his nation.  Additionally, King Bhumibol is reckoned by Forbes to be the richest of the world’s current monarchs.  He ascended to the throne of Thailand in 1946 after his brother’s death by gunshot (although he did not assume the great crown of victory until 1950).  Tragically, Bhumibol was probably the last person to see his brother alive.  To quote Wikipedia, “During his long reign he has seen over 15 coups, 16 constitutions, and 27 changes of prime ministers.”

King Bhumibol Wearing the Great Crown of Victory on his Coronation Day

Aside from the great crown of victory, the Thai monarch has 27 other items of royal regalia including the the Sword of Victory, the Royal Staff, the Royal Fan (or Flywhisk), and the Royal Slippers (ฉลองพระบาท).  These items are kept for the king (along with other royal items) at the Grand Palace in Bankok.  It may seem impressive that King Bhumibol, has more pieces of royal regalia at his palace than I have socks, but his flywhisk and slippers pale to insignificance beside his monstrous gold carriage, the 33 foot tall Phra Maha Phichai Ratcarot and his fleet of carved, gilded barges.

The King's Royal Carriage

and his royal barges....

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