Category Archives: Uncategorized

Random Fandom is this Saturday, October 6th!

Join us from 1 to 3 pm this Saturday, October 6th at Southwest Regional Library for the Teen Session of Random Fandom! The first hour, we’ll test our knowledge of Riverdale with a Trivia Contest (individuals or teams), and for the second hour, come dressed in your best for our Teen Cosplay Costume Contest! Costumed characters will be available for photo ops and you can see some local vendors. It will be an afternoon of fun. 1-2 pm Riverdale Trivia; 2-3pm Teen Cosplay Costume Contest. Ages 12+

Cosplay Contest Rules

  • Random Fandom is a family-friendly event. All costumes must be suitable for public display. If costumes are deemed inappropriate or indecent, Southwest library staff have the right to disqualify contestants or insist on costume modifications.
  • Contestants must be fully-dressed in their costumes before coming to the library. No dressing rooms will be provided.
  • All kinds of costume props must be handled with care and must not have the potential for harm to fellow cosplayers, library staff, event attendees, or library property. Working firearms or any kind of sharp and/or bladed objects are strictly prohibited. Props must be made of plastic or flexible material.

Last Call for Film Festival Entries!

High school students, grades 9–12, are invited to submit their original films on any topic in one of the following categories:

  • Short Film (3-5 minutes in length)
  • Public Service Announcement or Commercial (60 seconds in length)
  • Documentary (5-8 minutes in length)
  • Cell Phone Film (1-2 minutes in length, filmed entirely with a cell phone)

Original films on any topic or genre are accepted. Films should be G- or PG- rated and suitable for a teen audience. Filmmakers must be Kentucky residents in grades 9–12.

To enter, fill out the forms linked below and email them to KYFF@lfpl.org,then upload your original film by clicking on the button below and following the directions. All entries must be received by September 15, 2018.

Click Here to Submit!

The Surgeon General of Bacotania

I find that news releases on health research often do a lousy job of communicating what the findings actually are, and how they might inform people’s decisions. Often, in order to make sense of them at all, you have to know some statistics, read between the lines, and cut through the hype. The problem seems to be especially severe in the case of a study on the scale of something impacting populations, but hyped for the public because the authors don’t trust the reader to care unless they’re scared. There’s a difference between public health and personal health, and although the two are connected, statistically, the conclusions can be wildly different depending on your point of view – managing populations, or managing your own choices. Also, when people make decisions about their own health and safety, they fall prey to some particularly nasty logical fallacies (all natural means harmless, or it’s not cancer, so it’s fine – or, “not likely to be me” means that “it won’t happen to me”). Even nastier, research on sensational subjects – like all scientific research – often turns up complicated or ambiguous results that get distilled into inaccurate clickbait. Never fear, though, let’s play pretend, and sort through, now and forever, how to think about statistics and clickbait-y health headlines. (I sourced the images in this article from Wikimedia Commons, as usual, and the attributions are at the bottom of this page, to help maintain the suspension of disbelief.)

 

About Bacotania

Vintage photo of a woman wearing bacon slabs on her feet, standing in a giant skillet.

1. Skillet Skating is a Bacotanian folk dance, recently nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in which the dancer wears slabs of bacon on their feet and skates around a giant skillet with a giant spatula. A good performance is said to prevent the sticking of eggs in the coming year.

Bacotania is an imaginary country with a rich cultural history deeply intertwined with the consumption of cured pork. The total population is about 12 million, and national holidays include February 4th, Remembrance Sausage Day, and October 16th, Bacotanian Liberation Day. The festivities of Liberation Day culminate in a Liberation Day Bonfire Feast in which chunks of pork belly are roasted on sticks over Liberation Day Bonfires in honor of the heroic air drop of canned bacon into the besieged capital city of Schlachteplatte.

A giant can of bacon, 70 years old, WWII rations from the UK.

2. One of the historic bacon cans in the National Museum of Bacotania.

A fire pit with two long forks full of fresh raw bacon held over the flames.

3. Bacontanian Liberation Day Bonfire with skewers of bacon sizzling over the open flames.

Needless to say, bacon is very important to the people of Bacotania, and the loss of cured pork products would cause immense damage to the economy and culture of the country. The 2015 decision by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer to classify processed meat consumption as a Group 1 Carcinogen was met with increasing public unrest, including mass demonstrations outside the Surgeon General’s office in Schlachteplatte, which led to the Surgeon General stepping down from their post.

Congratulations! YOU have just been appointed Surgeon General of Bacotania.

What is your advice, concerning the consumption of cured pork products?

You’ll need some further information:

What is a Class 1 Carcinogen? In a masterpiece of shoddy journalism, a lot of press outlets didn’t discuss what the classes even meant. The IARC classifies substances based on how conclusive the evidence is that they cause cancer at all, NOT even remotely based on how dangerous they are. There’s only one item in Group 4, the Probably Does NOT Cause Cancer group, and that’s Caprolactam. I’d never heard of caprolactam before doing the research for this post. It’s used in nylon manufacture, and it’s definitely not harmless, but we’re pretty sure it doesn’t cause cancer. Nobody seems to have studied whether, say, pure water causes cancer.

What is an individual’s chances of getting cancer from bacon? The average lifetime chance of getting colon cancer is about 4%. According to the World Health Organization, the chance of getting colon cancer rises by 18% for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed per day. Now, we need one more bit of information, and that is the average consumption of processed meats. According to this study, average daily consumption of meat (all types) was 128 grams per day, and 22% of that was processed meat. So (22% of 128 grams gives you how many grams are processed meat) that means that the average person eats 28.16 grams of processed meat per day. So, if you start at 4% with 28.16 grams, and add 18% of 4% for every 50 grams eaten over the 28.16 gram starting point, you end up with an average Bacotanian’s cancer risk.

How much bacon does the average Bacotanian citizen eat? Bacotanians are very fond of processed meat, and a traditional Bacotanian Breakfast involves lots of sausage, so they eat twice the processed meat that Americans do, at 56.32 grams per day.

What is the average Bacotanian’s cancer risk then? Well, we need to figure out how much more processed meat than the American average an average Bacotanian eats, and then figure out what proportion of 50 grams it is, and then add that proportion of the 18% of 4% to the average 4%. Got it? Let’s go!

56.32 – 28.16 = 28.16, because it’s twice, remember? Easy!

28.16 extra grams eaten divided by 50 (grams to raise risk by 18% of 4%) = 0.5632 (amount of the 18% excess risk we should add)

0.5632 of 18% = 10.1376% Cool. Now we’re getting somewhere.

10.1376% of 4% = about 0.004, which is 0.4%

So, the average Bacotanian faces an elevated lifetime colorectal cancer risk of 4.4% on account of their huge processed meat habit. This means that for the average bacotanian, their MORTALITY ROULETTE WHEEL lands on DEATH BY BACON not much more often at all compared to the American population. (Bacotanian healthcare and mortality from colorectal cancer are comparable to ours.)

How many excess colorectal cancer cases are likely to occur in Bacotania if people continue to eat processed meat at this pace? Well, 0.4% of the total population are going to lose that roulette round, so…

0.04% of 12 million is… 48,000. YIKES! That means that Forty-eight THOUSAND Bacotanians are going to get cancer from bacon, above and beyond even the background colorectal cancer rates. If you factor that in, it’s a staggering 528,000 cancer cases. The cost to society, and the personal emotional toll on all those families is absolutely astronomical. And, clearly, partially preventable.

So, that’s how the same decision – eat the bacon, tell people not to eat bacon – ends up looking very different from the perspectives of an individual Bacotanian and the Surgeon General of Bacotania. The Bacotanian might well accept the risk, shrug, and tuck into a full Bacotanian breakfast of smoked sausages anyway. Note that although it’s a Class 1 Carcinogen, processed meat has a much smaller chance to cause cancer, compared to other Class 1 Carcinogens, like Asbestos, which (depending on your own exposure) can have lifetime risk rates as high as a 25% if you were a construction carpenter in the United Kingdom for a couple decades before 1980. Also, note that this only concerns cancer risk, not whether the cancer has a high mortality rate, and not concerning other health risks associated with the substance. (Remember that although Caprolactam is the sole occupant of Probably Does Not Cause Cancer Group 4, it’ll still cause your skin to slough off. Nice.)

So, maybe suggest that Bacotanians cut back on processed meats, but that the Bacotanian Liberation Day Bonfires likely won’t do you any harm.

Probably want to suggest the closure of Ye Wooly Salamander Particle Board Mill, though…

 

  1. Vintage Photo, United States of America. No, I have no idea what’s going on here. By UW Digital Collections [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
  2. British Ration Can of Bacon from WW II. Seriously, my heaviest of two cats weighs 12 lbs. That’s a LOT of 70 year old bacon. By KingaNBM [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
  3. Hungarian Szalonnasütés By Christo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

I Don’t Know

Is the most exciting phrase I know of. Any time I don’t know something, it means that I could find out, or maybe (even more exciting!) nobody knows the answer. For everything we do know, a huge mountain of other questions exists, and there’s no end of cool stuff to explore.

Do you know anything about beaked whales? Did you know beaked whales exist? You don’t? Good. Beaked whales are toothed whales, and generally they have just two big teeth on their lower jaw. They usually live in deep water in the middle of the ocean, and mostly they eat squid. Because of their lifestyle so far away from human activity, several beaked whales aren’t very well known at all. 

Andrews’ Beaked Whale Mesoplodon bodoini

A skeleton of an Andrews' Beaked Whale, mounted in a museum.

By Notafly [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

One of the most obscure of the already pretty obscure beaked whales is this, the Andrews’ Beaked Whale. This skeleton represents about 1/35th of our total knowledge of this animal, because everything we know is based on about thirty-five specimens. Click through to this species profile, and you’ll pick up a few more pictures of specimens. We’ve got some information about what they look like, and how their bodies are put together. But that’s just about it. The only way we know anything at all about them is that sometimes (very rarely), they’ve washed up dead on beaches.

How big are they? 15 feet or so long, 4.5 meters, we think. Thirty-five specimens isn’t much to work with.

Where do they live? In the circumpolar seas around Antarctica, probably.

What do they look like? Gray, with a bit of white. Males seem to have white on their rostrum, females a little less white, and juveniles more gray all over. Probably.

How long do they live? No idea.

What do they eat? Squid or something? Probably?

What do they do with their time? We don’t know.

How big are the babies? We don’t know.

How many of them are there? We have no idea.

How do they communicate? *shrug*

Do they live in groups? No clue.

Do they migrate? We don’t know.

Are they active during the day or night? No idea at all.

Here’s something we do know (again, anatomy) – those weird teeth are generally all below the gumline and never erupt in females it seems. In males, the very points might peek out of the gums, but that’s it. (Again, small sample size means that this is pretty shaky knowledge.) Weird.

Nobody has ever seen this animal alive.

 

Here’s an Andrews’ Beaked Whale Bibliography (APA format, because this is science):

Andrews, R. C. (1908). Description of a new species of Mesoplodon from Canterbury Province, New Zealand (Vol. 24). order of the Trustees, American Museum of Natural History.

Baker, A. N. (2001). Status, relationships, and distribution of Mesoplodon bowdoini Andrews, 1908 (Cetacea: Ziphiidae). Marine mammal science17(3), 473-493.

Dalebout, M. L., Van Helden, A., Van Waerebeek, K., & Baker, C. S. (1998). Molecular genetic identification of southern hemisphere beaked whales (Cetacea: Ziphiidae). Molecular Ecology7(6), 687-694.

Dixon, J. M. (1970). Two new whale records from Victoria, Mesoplodon bowdoini Andrews (Ziphiidae) and Balaenoptera edeni Anderson (Balaenopteridae). The Victorian Naturalist87(4), 88-93.

Hubbs, C. L. (1946). First records of two beaked whales, Mesoplodon bowdoini and Ziphius cavirostris, from the Pacific Coast of the United States. Journal of mammalogy27(3), 242-255.

Laporta, P., Praderi, R., Little, V., & Le Bas, A. (2005). An Andrew’s beaked whale Mesoplodon bowdoini (Cetacea, Ziphiidae) stranded on the Atlantic Coast of Uruguay. Latin American Journal of aquatic mammals4(2), 101-111.

Nishiwaki, M. (1962). Mesoplodon bowdoini stranded at Akita beach. Sea of Japan11.

 

I’ve scoured through several scholarly journal databases, and these seven publications compose pretty much literally all we know about the Andrews’ Beaked Whale (note that the Andrews, 1908 citation above is actually the species description). If you hunt down and read all those articles (maybe with the help of a library – hint hint), then congratulations, you’re now a world expert in the Andrews’ Beaked Whale. It’s not often you have the chance to learn everything humanity knows about a subject in a single weekend, yet here it is. Maybe you’ll be the one to finally see one in the wild, or, better yet, take video of one.

As for the Andrews’ Beaked Whale itself, just think:

They’re out there, right now, doing whatever it is that they do. 

You Fight Like a Cow

Monkey Island notwithstanding, your life might just be better if you take “you fight like a cow” as a compliment. The truth of the matter is that – whatever Tennyson and the Victorians’ moralistic viewpoints – “nature red in tooth and claw” really mostly holds true only for predatory attacks on food animals in actual nature. Even then, few predators will attack prey with a mind to getting in a fight. After all, if your food stands a good chance of thrashing you in a fight, the predators won’t be around for long. An actual fight is just too risky. It’s not like there’s emergency veterinary hospitals in nature. Even a small cut could get infected and eventually kill you. A broken bone or chipped tooth could prove fatal if it means you can’t catch meals. As an aside, this is one of the major forces shaping the evolution of venom. The geographic cone snail has some of the most outrageously potent and fast-acting venom of any creature, purely because it’s a snail that eats fish. If a fish, once bitten, had any chance to run away or fight back, cone snails would have a very rough time just catching breakfast, let alone surviving it.

Given how much animals in the wild stand to lose from fighting, most will go to a lot of effort to avoid a fight in the first place. Lots of animals have specialized equipment – horns, antlers, ossicones, tusks, gill frills, song – specifically for settling disputes with other members of their own species in a way that keeps it from getting too violent too often. There’s a whole suite of behaviors that virtually all animals have to prevent fights in the first place and settle those that do occur as fast as possible.

Let’s talk about cattle. They actually have one of my favorite conflict sequences, and you can plainly see how cow disputes progress through several stages at each of which the parties have a chance to de-escalate the conflict, or decide to proceed to the next step.

The Official Cow Fight Procedure:

  1. Rival Cow Spotted!
    • If you know this cow, and you each know where you stand with each other, you’re cool, and both can back down now. If either has any doubts, proceed to step 2.
  2. Angry mooing.
    • Let the rival know you’re not happy about this incursion. If the rival responds with more angry mooing, and you don’t want to back down either, keep up the noise and proceed to step 3. Otherwise, if you get no response, the rival agrees to back down.
  3. Pawing of dirt to signal aggressive intent. 
    • If each cow is still prepared to get in a shoving contest, they’ll proceed to step 4.
  4. Standing sideways to each other to show off size.
    • If either individual decides that the other is too big to take on, they’ll just quiet down and walk away to eat grass. Otherwise, if both are convinced that they can take the other, proceed to step 5.
  5. Prepare to lock horns.
    • Both cattle lower their heads. This is the last chance to back down, and can be very brief.
  6. Shoving contest.
    • The rivals lock horns, or rest their heads against each other (if polled or hornless), and try to shove the other until one disengages and walks away.
  7. Resolution.
    • When one of the rivals backs down, it is possible to continue angry mooing, and allow the rival to angrily moo a bit to save face. If the issue isn’t settled, the cycle might repeat (but usually doesn’t) until the cattle can predict who will win the shoving contest and accept the results. Generally, just once is enough to settle the issue. Most of the time, cow fights don’t even get to step 6 at all before one of the rivals backs down.

You can watch the whole complicated sequence below, with these two Hereford bulls.

Switzerland has a whole sport based on introducing cows to each other in the Spring. The cows spend the Winter on their individual farms, but in the Spring, they get together again for the drive to alpine pastures. Of course the cows need to settle who’s top cow, and it was only a matter of time before people started painting numbers on their sides and setting up concession stands. Yes, these are actual cows, too, not bulls. Note udders. When a cow backs down, she’s removed from the ring until only one cow remains, and is crowned Queen of the Cow Thunderdome. Sorry: “Queen of Queens” technically, as the cow fighting is called the “combat de reines” or literally the “fight of queens.” Cows are Very Serious Business in Switzerland, in case you couldn’t tell.

These cows are all members of the Herens breed of cattle, and are selectively bred for cow fighting. Meet Penelope, a Queen of Queens.

Notice that nearly all of the Official Cow Fight steps are about communicating a problem and providing plenty of chances to back down. And if the other cow does, but they make a lot of noise about it, let them. It’s all just angry mooing.

Once everything’s settled, even Herens Queens are perfectly chill with each other, and pass their Summers in idyllic alpine meadows.

Plenty of other animals have an official fight procedure, like cows do, it’s just that in cows, it’s so clear and well-defined. There are plenty of videos of Complicated Cat Space Negotiations, for example. Just remember: if there’s video of it, someone found it interesting and exciting enough to record, so for all of these videos of cow fights, there’s lots and lots of cow fights that never happened. This is an example of selection bias – if you were to study how often cows fight, cow fight videos on YouTube would be junk data to draw on, because people are way more likely to record and post interesting video of cows fighting than the many, many allegedly boring instances of cows not fighting.

A Very Metal Study Break

We’re closing in on the end of the school year, and there’s plenty of pressure and stress in the air. Maybe just take a few minutes to watch some music videos, acquire a new taste, and relax – and possibly passively learn a bit more history for that scary final. Naturally, we’re going to do all this with the most logical music genre for the purpose: heavy metal.

If you want a thorough overview of the history and taxonomy of metal, there’s the excellent Map of Metal site that visualizes the genre as geography so you can see how everything’s related, complete with examples if you click on the regions and cities that stand for the different sub-genres within metal. Since other sites have done such a good job with this, and this isn’t a metal history lesson, I’ll just leave that link there, so you can explore it if you like. But the aim here is that any learning you do is going to be very incidental to having a good time during your study break. So, on to the videos!

Metal stylistically lends itself to routinely dealing with heavier, grander, more dramatic topics and treatments than you can get away with in other genres of popular-ish music. That said, it’s definitely a very short tiptoe over the line into utterly ludicrous melodrama. Some bands end up in this territory by accident, others choreograph an elaborate dance routine all over the line. We’re definitely going to start with one of those.

Yeah. There’s nothing I can add to this. The universe is a better place because this song exists: power metal about a zombie unicorn invasion.

Another quirk of the genre is that heavy metal never actually went out of style in some parts of the world. In Scandinavia, for example, not only did it never go out of style, it’s practically mainstream. Check out this music video for the Swedish National Women’s Curling Team:

So it is in Sweden. However, it’s also the case in Japan, too. There’s quite a bit of truth in the movie This is Spinal Tap, where the band finds out that though they’re floundering on the domestic circuit, they’ve inexplicably become famous and end up performing for sold out arenas in Japan. There’s more than a few acts – several of them metal – that barely eked onto the charts here exactly once, but are celebrities in Japan. Sure, Babymetal gets some attention here, but that’s largely because they’re a gothic-loli-style girl band that does pop black metal, and our culture seems to think that this is surprising for some reason. Neither metal nor girl bands nor gothic loli stylings are unusual in Japan, and if you’re going to compete in a crowded market for girl bands, you better have your act together. Babymetal definitely does.

What about the serious stuff, though? What about heavier metal? If only there was a Taiwanese symphonic black metal band that specialized in the Pacific War. Oh, wait, there is.

The band also has versions in English, but I like this one better for this song. It’s also actually in Taiwanese Hokkien, which is why there’s Chinese subtitles. Completely different languages, actually. There’s metal for every taste out there, and all sorts of historical stuff too. You want an 18 minute long epic about an airship disaster? Iron Maiden’s 2015 album The Book of Souls has you covered. The library has a few copies too. Seriously, our music collection is pretty robust, so whatever genre you want to explore, check it out.

 

That Actually Happened: Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani

What is a princess? You’re probably thinking something along the lines of this:

A pretty woman in a fancy gown lying to a frog about kissing him.

Anne Anderson’s illustration from The Frog Prince.

Fancy gowns and circlets notwithstanding, princesses usually get married off for political purposes to princes, and every major event in their lives is generally determined by other people’s decisions. Queens regnant – those who rule in their own right – are not what you’re thinking about, and not what people mean by princesses. That’s not how it generally works in Europe. We could go on yet another deep introspective pop cultural analysis of what it means that princesses are role models for young children, OR we could unpack that massive string of qualifiers I just dropped, and you probably didn’t notice, because we’re so used to thinking of European history as just plain history. Nevermind that one cannibalistic intrigue riot/coup that the Netherlands had that we already treated, or the fact that rage-throwing people out windows as a political statement was common enough in Prague (then Bohemia, now Czech Republic) that there’s a word for it: defenestration. Or the practice of castrating boys so their voices don’t change during puberty so they can sing soprano for the opera, or church choirs, or … I could go on forever about how weird European history is. No, really. I could. It does a disservice to the richness of history to just let your mind gloss over it like it’s normal. All history is weird and wonderful, and all you have to do is take a closer look. Everything deserves to be weird; everything deserves attention.

Princesses who actually do something: that’s not generally how it works in Europe.

 

Hawai‘i: Structure of Power

Let’s put the ‘ back in Hawai’i, first. What is a ‘ anyway? It’s a glottal stop. The little pause added to make space between d’s in “good dog” – “good’dog.” Watch this video, and listen to some Hawai’ian language, to get a feel for how it all goes together. Back with me? Good. We’re going to be using that glottal stop something fierce. The first time I use a term, it will be in bold, but I’m not going to put all non-English terms in italics, because this would be almost impossible to read.

Welcome to Hawai’i before the takeover by the United States. The Hawai’ian ruling class are the ali’i (not to be confused with the ‘a’ali’i which is a plant – that’s why spelling is important). This class derives its power from their ancestors, reaching back to the gods. High ali’i, or ali’i nui, ruled entire islands in the archipelago, and bestowed land use rights on ali’i below them, who in turn had the right to give land use rights to the people who would work the land. This authority and power ultimately passed on from the gods themselves is called mana. Depending on family ties, ritual correctness (observing kapu – ritual restrictions), political power, and social prestige, different people had more or less mana.

(I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I like history because it’s like looking under the hood of a car, and seeing how it works. Sure, it’s all functioning automobiles, but what’s going on inside could be wildly different. Some civilizations are like four-stroke engines, some the rotary engine, and some are like electric induction motors – common in household appliaces, but also in electric cars. Completely different mechanics might be happening, and that’s exciting and cool!)

Anyway, Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani lived in a time when the Kingdom of Hawai’i was in crisis. Just years from being overthrown by (mostly) fruit magnates and a pro-US navy cabal and handed over to the United States, the court and ruling Kamehameha family were under tremendous pressure to conform to European norms as to what a monarchy looked like, and how royals acted. The Hawai’ian royal house pursued a policy of assimilation – to try to win respect of the great world powers by looking and acting as much like European royalty as possible, in the hope that despite being not as strong militarily, they would still be respected as kings and queens that they were.

World History Spoiler Alert: ultimately, this effort was doomed because of racism, pineapples, and Pearl Harbor. Racism, pineapples, and Pearl Harbor are all connected, because of imperialism as an economic and social structure. What do the great powers want? Sw33t pineapple fr00t. How will they secure it? Navy depot at Pearl Harbor. Justification for overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawai’i to get it and cash in? Racism.

Pineapple field, with pineapples, in O'ahu.

By Nandaro [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Behold! Pineapple, toppler of nations. The Kingdom of Hawai’i wasn’t the first, or the last, government to be taken out on account of the fruit cartel lobby, and their insatiable bloodlust for sw33t l33t fr00t l00t. There’s a reason vicious dictatorships that have the window dressing of democracy with none of the actual government mechanics of it are known as repúblicas bananeras. Why, on this glorious blue Earth, there’s a clothing brand named after this phenomenon, I have no idea.

Anyway anyway, concerning political authority and mana, being a princess as an ali’i isn’t just a matter of being a daughter of a king or something. (Being a princess if you’re a member of European royalty generally is a matter of being a daughter of a king. Unless you’re legitimized or something later, which is another thing I want to treat on this blog, because it’s delightfully complicated. And, after all that, you won’t be a princess, technically. Looking at you, Marie Anne de Bourbon.) Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani’s mother was High Chieftess Keoua-wahine, and two other powerful ali’i claimed her as their daughter, which means that she had two well-connected fathers, as well. As such a po’olua ali’i, she was set up for a position of great status and power in the Kingdom. Then, as part of the Kamehameha family’s attempts to remake the government along a European model, the Constitution of 1840 effectively barred her path from the pinnacle of power by making her birth a liability rather than an asset. This in no way stopped her from being Governor of Hawai’i, though. While the rest of the royals tried their hardest to erase their culture and become as European as possible, Princess Ruth Ke’elikolai Wasn’t Having It. At All.

Princess Ke'elikolani Not Having It at a photography session.

Magnificently Not Having It. About role models: make having just 1/10th of this self-assurance and dignity a life goal. Of course, she comes by it naturally, but still.

She built several huge palaces on her lands (which were most of the Big Island, after all) in the latest architectural fashions. Check out her last, and fanciest palace, Keoua Hale, finished right before her death, in 1883.

An incredibly fancy, Late Victorian style tropical palace.

This palace is actually bigger than the official royal palace of the Kamehameha family, too… just sayin’.

BUT, she also had a traditional grass palace built, too, as a statement of her support and patronage of Hawai’ian culture.

A high-roofed grass house, with glazed windows.

The Palace of Not Having It. You can even see one of her other palaces, in the background.

She also supported traditional culture and arts, like the Hawai’ian language, poetry and verse, chanting, lei making, religion, and hula dancing. The art of hula – under pressure from missionaries and having lost wealthy noble patrons to their tactic of assimilation – nearly died out. Let me say that again: 150 years ago, the world almost lost hula dancing. Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani commissioned performances, and supported traditional dance, and effectively saved hula for a revival under King David Kalakaua. No Princess Ke’elikolani, ultimately no Merrie Monarch Festival.

 

Not Generally How it Works in Europe…

While the United States of America was coveting the heck out of Pearl Harbor, and fruit merchants were plotting to overthrow the Hawai’ian government, women (especially married ones) in the United States, and much of the European-derived cultures worldwide were under coverture. This legal status for women meant that they couldn’t bring suit, they couldn’t own property independently of a man, except in some very specific corner cases, and they didn’t even have rights to their own children. In short, women were not legal entities on their own at all, much less Governors of Hawai’i. Oh, and don’t dare think of just not marrying, because women couldn’t inherit property either, and were barred from most jobs – at least most jobs that made actual money. That’s why the stakes are so high for the Bennett girls in Pride and Prejudice – if they don’t marry, they lose everything.

One way to think of it is this: Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani was a (massive) property owner in her own right, and a political force to be reckoned with. She was also married. When did married women in Kentucky gain the right to own and control their property – you know, actually have property? Go on. Guess.

 

 

 

 

 

Yowch. No, really. Kentucky finally passed a Married Women’s Property Act in 1894. Eleven years after Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani – Governor of Hawai’i, wealthy landowner, patron of traditional culture – died. That’s just one way that this long, twisted tale of social power structures, greedy fr00t magnates, hula, and the power of force of personality casts its shadow on your life, right now. Everything is interesting, everything is connected.

It’s the Potatoes

March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, which in the USA is generally treated as an excuse to wear green, eat and drink green things, and party.

Everybody’s Irish for a day, even if you’re Japanese:

Yokohama St. Patrick's Day parade.

By Kounosu (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This mystery might be clarified a bit with the information that the picture above was taken in Yokohama, which has a massive United States armed forces base in it. Which still begs the question of why St. Patrick’s Day is such a big deal. Sure, it’s an excuse for a parade and party, but we live in a city that has a two week festival for a two minute horse race. There are plenty of excuses, so why this one? Why the Irish, specifically?

A llama in a tiny hat.

By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia (Llama, Salta, Argentina) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A llama in a tiny hat. We’re not in Japan anymore.

The story of how St. Patrick’s Day partying went global actually starts in the Andes mountains of South America. Yes, really. Lots of wild potato species live here, and the people in the region domesticated some, and bred them into what would become a world-dominating staple crop. Potatoes are basically awesome in every way. You can feed a family for a year on just a quarter acre of potatoes. You can freeze dry them and store them almost indefinitely. Or you can put ’em in a giant warehouse with EPIC MUSIC. Even if they’re not freeze dried, they keep well as long as you put them in a cool dark place. Eventually, when Europeans came to the Americas, the potato was one of the many food crops they brought back with them.

MEANWHILE in Ireland, geopolitics and economical stuff was going on. Irish tenant farmers grew cash crops for export to England on behalf of their – again, mostly English – landlords. Enter the potato. Since you can get so many potatoes out of such a small amount of land, the tenant farmers came to depend on potatoes as a staple food crop. Less land devoted to food production means more land for the cash cropping, which also means more export profits. A large part of the population soon depended on potatoes to supply the bulk of their caloric needs.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE a disease of potatoes  – now known as Phytophthora infestans or potato late blight – was introduced to Europe, which – combined with bad weather – caused a massive failure of the potato crop.

A very bad potato, rotten on the inside, thanks to potato late blight.

Potato Late Blight: that’s not good. It’s also not edible.

For people affected by the same potato disease and weather in most other parts of Europe, this was bad news, but they had other crops to fall back on. In Ireland, though, where much of the population relied very heavily on potatoes, this was a catastrophe. With the food crop completely rotten, and government failing to take effective action in time to prevent the food shortage, mass starvation set in, and much of the surviving population left Ireland. Here’s a map of Irish population decline during the Irish Potato Famine. Maps are wonderful things. There’s plenty more reading you can do on the Irish Potato Famine, and the Irish diaspora, too.

Long story short, famines aren’t like natural disasters; they require societal specialization followed up by food crop failure and breakdowns of organization or failures of supply in order to happen. So that’s how green cookies, South American civilizations, and why we have seed banks like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are interconnected. Everything is interesting, and everything is intertwined. Explore connections. Generally, the more you learn about something, the more interesting it becomes.

English Language: Bizarrely Precise Animal Vocabulary

As hinted at in the Amazing Mules post, due to some historical quirks, the English language has a truly ridiculous amount of incredibly specific words relating to animals. This goes light years beyond preschool “the Cow Goes Moo” stuff that everybody knows. In fact, most of this is so insanely, ludicrously exacting that you’re unlikely to ever use it or even know it, unless you take up a hobby related to the animal in question, in which case it falls under specialized jargon. Why learn it at all then? Because these words can reveal an awful lot about the history and society that produced them, and the people who need this vocabulary today. You’re not going to come up with and agree on an intricate vocabulary relating to, say, inducing a bird of prey to hork up a hairball made of its un-digestible prey remains – called casting, unless it’s really important. Rest assured, what you see here is just the very tip of the English animal terms iceberg.

Here’s your obvious LANGUAGE WARNING for the post: due to use as insults, some of these words have become “bad words” in modern English. I can’t censor anything, since the whole point is to learn the vocabulary.

 

Keep an Eye Out! It’s Historical Background!

There are a few processes at work here, as to why English has so many animal vocabulary words. Let’s look at four of them:

  1. Modern English is a constantly changing mishmash of several languages. At the time in which these animals were so important, the Normans were in power in England, and a lot of the courtly animal-terms were adopted from their language. This is especially obvious in the case of meat vs the animal it comes from. This is why it’s a quarter pound ground beef (beuf) burger, and not a quarter pound ground COW FLESH burger. As a contrasting example that proves the rule, this didn’t happen in the related language German, and that’s why in that language, pork is literally SWINE FLESH.
  2. (Highly ritualized) hunting was a foundation of medieval European society, and was a means of enforcing class dynamics. Proper use of the jargon separated the nobles from everyone else, and maintained the shape of society. There are several weird holdovers of this dynamic today, that we notice from the United States of America, where we jumped the tracks before a few key social changes in Britain, proper. There’s probably a whole post on this in the future, but, suffice to say in Britain hunting and hunting opposition is very much tied into class conflict, where here it isn’t so much. Robin Hood was outlawed for killing the King’s deer, but here everybody was eating venison to survive, and even today we just try to make a buck. Look for animals people probably hunted.
  3. Actual jargon. In the same way that we work with computers as a basic matter of keeping our society running, and therefore we have a bunch of highly technical terms for computers, what computers do, and parts of a computer, when everything ran on literal horsepower, there was a whole host of specialized horse terms. Look for animals people needed and lived closely with in their daily lives, or to do their jobs.
  4. The wanna-be brigade. For some of these animals, when they were beginning to be bred selectively in the 18th and 19th Centuries, people who participated in this dawning animal fancy wanted to make their hobby more respectable and legitimate by coming up with specialized vocabulary, to match the historical ones. Look for animals that were part of the selective breeding boom in the last 300 years, like cats.

 

Let’s Learn Some Really Precise Animal Terms in English:

Ankole Watusi cattle lying around in a field.

Ankole Watusi cattle in a field. My personal favorite breed of cattle. They’re a status symbol, a medium of exchange, and basically the cattle equivalent of a purse dog. Cows aren’t always about meat and milk.

The Cow Goes Moo!

The sound they make – low

Cows, as a species – cattle

A group of cattle – herd

Cattle-like – bovine

Baby – calf

Female, before first birth – heifer

Female, after giving birth – cow

Male, castrated – ox, steer

Male, adult and intact – bull

Female, born as part of a set of fraternal twins with a male calf, exposed to enough testosterone in the womb that she acts like a bull – freemartin (see what I mean about ridiculously specific?)

 

 

The Horse Goes Neigh!

The sound they make – neigh, whinny, snort, scream, nicker

Horses, as a species – horses

A group of horses – herd

A family group of feral horses – band

An all-male group of mostly unrelated feral horses – bachelor herd

Horse-like – equine

Baby – foal

Female, before puberty – filly

Female, after puberty – mare

Male, before puberty – colt

Male, castrated – geldling

Male, adult and intact – stallion, horse

Male, adult, and with an un-descended testicle – ridgling

 

The Ass / Donkey Goes Hee-Haw!

The sound they make – bray

Donkeys, as a species – donkeys, asses

Doney-like – asinine

A group of donkeys – herd

Baby – foal

Female, intact – jenny, jennet

Male, castrated – gelding

Male, adult and intact – jack

 

A small flock of sheep on a rainy day.

Sheep are also amazing. Shear them to get wool. The grease from the wool is highly prized lanolin, which is sold in high-end skin creams.

The Sheep Goes Baa!

The sound they make – baa

Sheep, as a species – sheep

Sheep-like – ovine

A group of sheep – herd

Baby – lamb

Female, intact – ewe

Male, castrated – wether (a wether won’t get your ewes preggers, or go aggro on the other sheep, and he’ll follow the herd wherever they go. They used to put bells on them, so that if you heard the belled wether, you’d know where the rest of the sheep were. That’s why the word for an individual that shows the direction that the rest are going, or where they are is BELLWETHER.)

Male, adult and intact – ram

 

The Whale Goes (cetacean vocal range extends from infrasound to ultrasound – good luck with figuring that out).

A group of whales – pod

Baby – calf

Female – cow

Male – bull

 

The Cat Goes Meow!

The sound they make – meow, hiss, caterwaul

Cats, as a species – cats

Cat-like – feline

A group of cats – clowder

Baby – kitten

Female, intact – queen

Male, castrated – gib

Male, adult and intact – tom

 

birds, flowers, and puppies silk scroll.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a human culture that doesn’t have dogs. The style of this Korean silk painting by Yi Am (Joseon Dynasty, first half of the 1500s) just makes them look even softer and cuter. PUPPIES!!

The Dog Goes Bark!

The sound they make – bark, howl, growl

The howling of a pack of hunting hounds on the trail of prey – bay

Dogs, as a species – dogs

Dog-like – canine

A group of dogs – pack

Baby – puppy

Female – bitch

Male – dog

 

The Falcon Goes Skreeee!

(Except they don’t, generally. The famous piercing scream used as a stock sound effect for birds of prey is actually very specific only to the Red Tailed Hawk, which isn’t even a falcon. Birds you’ve heard this used for, like Bald Eagles, actually make very different sounds – in their case, the Bald Eagle goes tseep eep-eeep eep eep … twitter-itter-itter-itter … twitter-itter … tseep eep.)

Falcons, as a group – falcons

Baby – eyas

Female – falcon

Male – tiercel (Male birds of prey are usually noticeably petite compared to the brawnier females, on average about 1/3 smaller. As such, the males are quicker, but the females generally take larger prey, and were the more favored birds to hunt with.)

 

 

The Chicken Goes Cluck!

The sound they make – cluck, cheep, crow

Chickens, as a species – chickens

A group of chickens – flock

Baby – chick, chicken

Female, adult – hen

Male, castrated – capon (Yes, this is a thing. Fun fact about puberty: the signal to stop the growth spurt, develop secondary sex characteristics, and put on muscle in male animals is sent by the testes. Some castrated male animals go through a growth spurt that never slams to a halt like this, since the signal never comes, and get bigger and fatter than they would have, until the rest of their hormonal system just kind of gives up on puberty and settles down. As the biggest, fattest, and most tender of chickenkind, as well as the fact that some surgery is required to make them, capons are pretty expensive. Check the specialty frozen meats in the store to see what I mean.)

Male, adult and intact – rooster, cock

 

ducks as far as the eye can see.

Although they’re not so common here, and therefore quite expensive, ducks are a hugely important livestock and eggs animal in other parts of the world.

The Duck Goes Quack!

The sound they make – quack

Ducks, as a species – ducks

A group of ducks – flock

Baby – duckling

Female – duck

Male – drake

 

The Goose Goes Honk!

The sound they make – honk, cackle

A group of geese – flock

Baby – gosling

Female – goose

Male – gander

 

The Swan Goes (…)

The sound they make – hiss, (there’s a reason they’re called Mute Swans)

A group of swans – flock

Baby – cygnet

Female – pen

Male – cob

 

What Does the Fox Say?

What does the fox say? – yip, yelp

Foxes, as a species – foxes

Fox-like – vulpine

Baby – kit

Female – vixen

Male – tom

 

Stealth Veggies

Spring is on the way, and it’s an exciting time of year if you’re planning a garden. What’s that? No space for a garden? Never tried it before? Afraid people will freak out if you plant veggies right in the lawn? Well, never fear, you can grow your own veggies anyway. Shinobi-like, these plants hide in plain sight, but are tough as nails, and hard to kill. They’re probably not informing on you though. Probably.

Cut the top off a gallon jug and stab some holes in the bottom for a portable planter you can put on the steps or a windowsill, or make some space for a new “flower bed” in your yard.

These plants have been chosen based on how tough they are, how tasty they are, and how much like a fancy ornamental garden plant they look.

 

Chives

Purple pom pom chive flowers.

By H. Zell (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Just as happy in a small planter as they are in the ground, chives grow lots of purple pom-pom like flowers. If anybody asks, it’s a flower bed, not baked potato topping, or massive amounts of an oniony food crop. As a perennial, chives will come back year after year.

 

Peppermint

Leafy peppermint growing on the ground.

Forest & Kim Starr [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Another perennial, and infamous for spreading like a zombie plague, mint doesn’t die unless you cut its head off or destroy the brain. Of course, it doesn’t have either. Mint will come back from even root fragments left in the ground. You’ll probably want to confine it to a planter, so it can’t escape. It also looks like a nice dark groundcover, and makes a good contrast to the chives. It’ll even grow in shade, too.

 

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm. Like mint, but slightly nubblier and yellower.

By Broly0 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

A close relative of mint, although a little better behaved, Lemon Balm smells and tastes like (guess what?) lemons. Put crushed mint or lemon balm leaves at the bottom of a glass of water for a refreshing treat in Summertime.

 

Garden Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus

Yellow garden nasturtiums.

By Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They’re gorgeous, and edible. The leaves are weirdly water-repellent, too. Great for salads or sandwiches! They have spreading stems, so they can be trained to climb, or trail from hanging baskets, if you don’t have any ground to put them on. They’re annuals, though, so you’ll have to save seeds or buy them every year.

 

Okra

Okra flower and pods. Burgundy colored variety.

By Kristine Paulus from New York, United States (Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

You’ll need an actual patch of dirt on the ground, or at least a ten gallon bucket or bag and some serious sunshine for this tall garden showstopper. Okra is a relative of hibiscus, which is a very flashy old-fashioned garden plant with big, showy tropical flowers. The bad news? This far North, they’re annuals, so you’ll have to save seeds and replant. They love the heat. So, get a fast-growing variety if you can, and be sure to pick the pods while they’re still 3 – 4 inches long, so they don’t get too tough. You’ll have the main ingredient for all the gumbo you can handle.

 

Pole Beans Phaseolus vulgaris

Pink common bean blossoms.

By Schnobby (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If all your space is vertical, pole beans or other climbing veggies might be your best bet. Regular, plain old beans actually have beautiful flowers, in lots of different colors, including pink, white, yellow, purple, and red.

Other options might include sunchokes, globe artichoke, all sorts of colorful lettuce, kale, or Swiss chard, and even asparagus. Be creative, and you’ll find you can grow all kinds of things, even in limited space!