I Am Still Alive!

Whoa! You still check this website?! Good for you! For that you shall be rewarded with my new website: Sustainable Diversity. Now I hadn’t updated this site in over a year, but in that time I have been reading, organizing, collecting information, and writing drafts for my new site. Things have actually been pretty crazy for me. When I left you last year in March, I was about to graduate with my Masters in Education. I did that, I had a full time job, and I was still working on information for my new site. But then, would you believe it, I got laid off due to budget cuts and now there are no more teaching jobs in my state! Uh oh! If any of you have any employment opportunities let me know!

Come see Sustainable Diversity in which I use this image of a giant expensive telescope that will be forever launched from the Earth to promote sustainability and diversity! Credit: NASA

But let’s celebrate instead of worrying about me not having employment. I am giving all of you who have been following the writings of Naked Man In The Tree the first exclusive look at my new site: Sustainable Diversity. Sustainable Diversity has been a brain-child of mine since I was actively updating this site. I hope to maintain and nurture this site regularly (like 3 times a week at least!).

I plan on using Sustainable Diversity as a home for my projects that are all in the same vein as Naked Man in the Tree. My initial Sustainable Diversity project is on Copyright, and it’s the longest project I have taken on yet! Ideally, I’ll even rewrite some of these Naked Man articles and comment on how things have changed since my initial article. Also, I have plenty of new material I wish to do after my copyright series (I can’t wait too, I’ve been thinking about copyright for well over a year).

Sustainable Diversity has new features not found on Naked Man, for example:

Finally, although I have personal projects (like my copyright project) that I will be working on, I want Sustainable Diversity to be a place to showcase the works of others who are also working to understand things more clearly and make this world a better place, specifically a more sustainable and diverse place. At least twice a week (after my first week) I will be updating and showcasing the projects of others. In time, I hope Sustainable Diversity can have multiple contributors, specifically others who are working on projects as well and want a more sustainably diverse world.

So what are you waiting for? Come see what’s going on at Sustainable Diversity:

Sustainable Diversity Website

Sustainable Diversity tumblr updates

Sustainable Diversity podcasts

Updates, Oceans, and Words

 

 

 

 

 

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Naked Man’s New Direction (also known as Skip to the title Ocean Updates for the meat of the article!)

Hello 2010! Today’s entry is about returning to a few topics explored in the past by Naked Man in the Tree as well as give a little information on the lack of updates coming from this site. In this brief entry there will be some good news to be shared and some bad news to be shared. Such is life.

This image depicts a tree and woman excitedly imagining about the big changes coming to Naked Man in the Tree, one of which, I know not, is clearly hard of seeing

We’ll begin with the good news: This site was started in 2007 as a place for me to begin to start writing about my personal passions in which my previous site (yes, I bet you didn’t know I had a site prior to this one!) was not directed towards. My prior site was silly and funny, while this site tended to focus on more serious topics (hopefully I kept some parts of it fun). Naked Man in the Tree was a place I could to develop my thoughts and viewpoints about the world and was never truly meant for public viewing. Of course if anybody wanted to take the time out to read what I have written and constructively criticize or appreciate my writing, I was happy with that too. I didn’t need it to be private although it was created as a playground for my personal creative adventures. This is in part why my entries rarely have any association with each other. This is why in one entry I will write a modern translation of an ancient Arabian story and in another entry write about an ecological disaster. These are things that interest me personally and I never meant to appeal to a “base.” This is also the reason why I will go months without updating.

I am about to graduate with a Masters degree in 2 months which (I’m sure you can imagine) has been the biggest thorn in my side stunting my creativity in favor of prudence. And although this child has been neglected, it has not been forgotten. In fact, it is quite the opposite. This child has been coming to adulthood in my head and I am going to create a new project site that will become my highest priority outside of financially supporting myself. In this new site you can expect the following:

1. Revised and updated articles on the topics you have already read on this site.

2. Audio-versions of the text for those of us who have more time to listen than to read.

3. A wide variety of new topics to be discussed with an addition of other creative projects.

4. Far more frequent updates.

5. Increased opportunities for discussion.

And let’s face it, this is good news. The only problem with this good news is that unlike this site I am going to create a “reservoir” of articles and projects before I begin the site which will take me a large portion of my Spring and Summer of 2010. When this reservoir is complete I am going to create a professional layout on an actual domain name (it’s already chosen and saved) with an incredibly user-friendly interface (not so much like this one). The best part is I’m actually leaving out a few of the best surprises for when the site actually opens (hopefully this fall). Unlike the site I had before Naked Man in the Tree, I will share the location of my new site to everybody who visits this site, so please continue to return for the actual posting of the address. However, at this point I DO plan on posting a few more entries before I create my own site.

Finally, I want to relate how impressed I am with the visits to this site despite my infamously infrequent updating. Each day hundreds to thousands of visitors flock to this site for some reason or another. It is clear that when I discipline myself and create something it can be appreciated, and my future site will be almost completely about enhancing your experience as a visitor to my site. I appreciate all the positive, thoughtful, and caring comments that I have received while creating these entries. Every single positive or thoughtful comment is the true payment I receive for my labor (because everyone knows I’m not doing this for the money). At the end of this article I am going to share a couple of organizations that came to me for some help.

This guy knows how to keep track of the ocean!

Ocean Updates

Now it’s time for some bad news: National Geographic, stalwart in their understanding of the natural world, has three pieces of information crucial to our greater understand of our Ocean’s problems.

In June, 2008 and in May, 2009 I wrote an entry on The North Pacific Garbage Patch and The State of our Oceans respectively. The North Pacific Garbage patch entry was largely about the fact that plastics can’t easily decompose and spend time meandering for years in oceanic stasis around an unimaginably large groggy abandoned forgotten vortex in the Pacific Ocean. It touched on the fact that with each new tide that comes in on many islands, including the United States’ Hawaiian islands, a new disgorging of plastic is left behind in its wake. A big concern was that the plastics would not biodegrade for hundreds of years, floating seemingly forever. Also, I alluded to the idea that Bisphenol A (BPA) is likely the cause behind higher female birth rates.

National Geographic contributed more knowledge to the community at large in this August, 2009 article entitled Plastics Do Break Down in Ocean, After All – And Fast.  “Ha!” laughs the sociopath skeptic “I knew you were all left wing environmentalist crazies who make up problems that don’t exist. You all were worried that the plastic would never break down in the ocean and here is National Geographic proclaiming that they not only break down in the ocean, but they break down quickly. All of that worry for nothing.”

Although it is true that plastic does break down in the ocean at a much lower temperature than was previously expected, by all accounts this is not a good thing. Instead of our ocean water consisting largely of 2 things – Water and Salt – now we are making ourselves a little chemical cocktail that just so happens covers 70% of the entire planet. Our ocean was so old-skool, you know? I mean how plain can you be? Salt and water were the 2 main ingredients in the ocean when the dinosaurs reigned the planet for goodness sakes. Can we please get an upgrade?

Yes! The chemical companies of the planet are happy to oblige. Again, referring to our oceans as a “plastic soup” our NEW ocean is already consisting of large quantities of BPA and styrene trimer which are wrecking havoc indiscriminately on biological systems across the planet and found as ingredients in our most inexpensive products. Which is part of the irony of course, because the cost they create are so exorbitantly expensive the human race just prefers to turn a blind eye to the problem rather than immediately and appropriately address it. What else is new? The article lists a myriad of everyday products that are made with our new oceanic chemical compounds. Also, the article briefly mentions that almost half of all seabirds eat plastic garbage on accident (you mean they don’t get any nutritional value out of our material defecation? Sounds to me like we need to build new birds!). Also, they throw out the arbitrary number of species (267) negatively affected by our plastic garbage. I love that it’s only 267, no more and no less. I don’t have any scientific data to back this statement up, but I am going to go out on a limb and guess that ALL ocean species are affected by our plastic garbage. But hey, who am I?

This research was conducted by a chemist named Katsuhiko Saido from Niho University in Japan. I like how he kindly sums up his feelings on his study: “Plastic, he said, should be considered a new source of chemical pollution in the ocean.” Oh, you think so? Maybe after it gets argued in congress for months with billions  of dollars poured into propaganda only to find ourselves exactly with the same rules and laws as before, then we’ll think about treating plastic as pollution. But kudos to Saido for saying what needed to be said and having the data to back his statement up! So Saido gets to go on my list of people we need to listen to (note:  I did not use the words should, could, might consider… I used the word need). Also on this list (which you can find in my Ocean entry) are Callum Roberts, Jeremy Jackson, Steve O’Shea, Daniel Pauly, and Robert Diaz. Again, there is no other alternative than to physically raise these divine professors over our heads and crowd surf them directly to the leaders of the planet and force the leaders to listen to their professional advice.

Oh Prometheus, we know the pain of foresight all too well! Yet, we are still working on our ability to be as provocatively dressed as you!

Why? Why? Why were only a small handful of us given the capability of foresight on a planet covered in an identical species that has none? We are poor Prometheus, painfully aware of our gift of foresight, clearly acknowledging the horrifying tsunami of repercussions about to douse us, and we live on a planet inundated with Epimetheus, filled with afterthought and excuses. It is no wonder why Epimetheus was the cause of mankind’s misery by accepting Pandora as his wife! With no foresight, always creating a convenient excuse, our planet easily teams 10:1, no 1,000:1, no 1,000,000: 1  of Epimetheuses to Prometheuses. But I digress…

Plastics and their negative influence on the ocean is not new as I had written about the North Pacific Garbage 2 years ago. And I was not even one of the first to be aware of it. But the North Pacific Garbage Patch is only the grotesque superstar in a morbid production as National Geographic reports a Huge Garbage Patch Found in the Atlantic Too. If I could give it a name, I’d probably give it the Mid-Atlantic Garbage Patch as it’s determined to be about the size of Cuba to Virgina. I thought this was a nice touch because both the Pacific and Northern part of the hemisphere were totally stealing all the limelight. Now we can at least enjoy a nice swim in some tropical chemical soup. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Well too bad, because the package is already signed, sealed, and delivered.

In all honesty, I don’t believe the North Pacific and the Mid Atlantic are anywhere near the total of these delightful little garbage vortices. The Southern Hemisphere gets nowhere near the love that the Northern Hemisphere does and my spidey sense tingles at idea of more trash vortices down there – particularly the Indian Ocean, which seems to be more of a favorite to malnutritioned pirates than scientific study.  So what are some details about Miss Mid-Atlantic in our first annual garbage patch beauty pageant?  Well she is a bit more petite than her famous sister in the Pacific only weighing in at 520,000 bits of plastic per square mile while Miss North Pacific weighs in at a buxom 1.9 million bits of plastic per square mile. But, don’t discount Miss Mid Atlantic yet, she promises she’s working on her curves and before you know it, she’ll be just the same size as her sister, or bigger!

Ah yes, trash, billions of infinitesimally small pieces being forever absorbed into our ocean with reckless abandon by our species and the best part is most everybody doesn’t even think twice about it! The centuries, nay, millenia of human descendants that must inhabit the planet after us in gloom and despair riveted with malnutrition, diseases, and cancer will daily fall to their knees and look to sky and ask their creator why they must suffer so greatly. They will be certain that we, today, could not possibly have foreseen how we poisoned our very home. But if they have any record of history, they will know that all the evidence was there, clear and broad as daylight, and ignored by a vain species brimming with hubris. Yes, we deliberately ruined our only home – a mode of dust suspended in a sunbeam (score! Carl Sagan reference!). We turned the car on in the garage, ran a hose from the tailpipe to the kitchen, reversed the sewers, threw everything from the refrigerator onto the floor (2 weeks ago uncleaned), and replaced anything consumable with DRAIN-O. There is time to still curb this negative impact, but being a citizen in the United States I can tell you my government has a hard time tying its own shoe, let alone saving the world today.

"What did you just say?" "Obtuse, I said don't be obtuse..."

"What did you just say?" "Obtuse, I said you're being obtuse..."

You think I’m being obtuse, don’t you? It’s okay, you can think that, I won’t throw you in solitary confinement for a month for telling me that (unlike the Warden at Shawshank!). But I know, you think that I am exaggerating the situation. Of course, if that is true then you never read my entries or checked my sources. But to show you how accurate I’m trying to portray our situation, National Geographic has created a documentary entitled The End of the Line, which talks all about the state of our oceans today, and how it is truly The End of the Line. What line? How about the line of a non-primordial ocean without consisting globally of poisonous man-made chemical compounds? Maybe we’re at the end of that line. Watch the documentary please – it has some of those on my list of people we need to listen to.

One point where I will give some credit is to the company Sun Chips, they appear to have created a chip bag that decomposes in 14 weeks! Sustainable thinking. I like it.

Generosity Opportunities and Karma Points!

Now have I made you feel terrible enough? Good. Because it’s all your fault and the entire purpose of this entry was to make you feel terrible. Why would that be my purpose? Now you are sufficiently feeling guilty enough to donate, aren’t you? Aren’t you? Oh, I kid, I kid. If you’re feeling guilty then that’s your own stupid fault. This isn’t one person’s fault, but it’s our collective fault. I’m just writing about things that I feel are important and I don’t care if you donate money to anything or not. In fact – you can go and throw your money away on cheap plastic toys, and designer clothes, and big screen tvs and not donate ANY of it – I hear it’s all the rage these days. But let me tell you about two organizations that e-mailed ME PERSONALLY for some help concerning their organizations. I am greatly humbled by any organization e-mailing me on the topics of our oceans as if I was someone who even lived near one or even worked in the field of science. These are two organizations dedicated to the cause of saving our oceans. I decided to donate what I could to them, but I am totally nowhere near rich (does anybody using a wordpress account have any money anyway?) and these organizations could use your help. They also could use fanfare and you should tell people about these organizations so they can be more well known and get even more money.

Project Kaisei – A man creating a documentary following this project e-mailed me for media information. I actually had the honor to see the trailer for the documentary and I was very impressed. I would share the link but I do not see it on the internet yet. Kaisei is the flagship of a fleet of vessels that are doing the legwork on cleaning up the Garbage Vortices. On this site you will find some great videos and some relief that at least a small handful of people are doing something about this garbage patch problem. They could always use donations which are easy to give at the bottom of the page. I highly urge you to consider it, but I’m biased, I like clean plastic-free oceans.

The International Seakeepers Society – The organizer of the newsletter for the International Seakeeper’s Society actually requested to use some of my writing for their upcoming newsletter! This felt really good to me for somebody to appreciate my writing that much. So look for me on the first quarter newsletter of the International Seakeeper’s Society! Why should you support this group? They are incessantly collecting data from the ocean which we can turn into useable information to help protect our oceans through various methods. If Project Kaisei is our legs then The International Seakeepers Society is our eyes. They are giving us awareness of our surroundings making the frightening specter of ocean trauma tangible and something we will then be able to tackle. Check out the section labeled “Our expanding fleet” for more detailed information! I know! It’s super tough to decide which organization to donate to, so you might as well donate to both. After all, they both asked me for some help, and I always like to give more help than asked for.

Bonus Section for Word and Language Lovers

But wait! There’s more! If you are one of our first 100 customers you will receive a FREE… sorry. Really though, I have one more organization I would like you to donate to. After all, 3 donations is way luckier than 2. There will probably be a lot of good coming your way with 3 donations.

 

One Good Turn Deserves Another!

Librivox – I have totally become a Librivox fan lately and I have to tell you why. Librivox is an organization where anybody with a microphone (hey! That’s you!) reads stories that are in the public domain so that the rest of us don’t have to read them and can listen to them in the car or on the subway on our way to work. I have taken librivox up liberally on their offer of free audio books and have listened to everything from Grimm’s Fairy Tales to Rudyard Kipling to Mark Twain to Joseph Conrad. In fact (don’t tell anyone this because it’s super nerdy) I even PERSONALLY have read aloud multiple stories to add to librivox’s collection and they were super thankful and nice. And since one good turn deserves another (I always hear that idiom in the voice of the doorknob from the cartoon Alice in Wonderland) I am going to be super nice and thankful back by both donating and recommending that you donate to help librivox. In fact – librivox has never asked for donations before, but their site is getting so popular (because it’s so good!) that they are asking us to help cover the costs of free audio books. How can we say no? Help Librivox keep culture alive in the digital age! And go see if you can guess which stories I read!

Finally, I will leave you with a thought-provoking e-mail I left Merriam-Webster after attempting to search some definitions lately. Could you tell I was frustrated? If you loved language like I love language, you’d be frustrated too. Until next time!

m-w.com: For as long as I have used the internet I have used Merriam-Webster for my professional dictionary needs. However, as the years pass by, I am noticing a disturbing trend that must be addressed by a professional organization such as yourselves. It is so disturbing that I am e-mailing you with the hope and prayer that you might actually be unaware of how unprofessional and shockingly disrespectful to the user your website is.

While advertisements are crucial to the success of any website, no website uses quite the variety and cleverness of cruelty in their advertisements as your website. Whether those in charge of advertising are unaware of basic internet etiquette or are apathetic to it I am still unclear.

The ads found surrounding the page are natural and are to be expected. Even the pop-ups, as obnoxious and rude as they are to a user, are understandable. I guess you have to make money and if you truly believe pop-up ads are that successful then who am I to argue? But the fact remains that you are supposed to be a professional organization.

So when I choose your site (out of the many dictionary sites on the internet) to look up a word, and I type that word in the “Search” box, I do not think it is very professional of you to show me a PARTIAL definition to a word while an advertisement that could easily fit in the corner of my screen sits proudly in front of the definition purposefully obscuring it ensuring seething hatred toward whatever is being advertised and your website for participating in such rude advertising.

And when you finally do get the full definition, it is still surrounded by ads for Google and Bing hardly distinguishable from the definition. But what truly makes Merriam-Webster unique in their advertising is after you search for your definition and hunt for the tiny “skip this ad” button hidden to the side. Finally, the definition you have so longingly come for lay in front of you in its entirety and it is possible to begin to read it. And just when you do begin to read the definition a box from the corner of your site comes flying to the center of the screen, again, yes again, obscuring the definition until you click the tiny x to make it go away. Then at last, I am bestowed the honor of the definition in which I originally came.

The only websites that I have seen using such Machiavellian advertising tactics have been pornographic websites and infomercial sites. I hope your group remembers that you are attempting to appeal to an intelligent audience that actually cares about the definition of words and the advertising tactics you are using is flying in the face of what any intelligent person would consider respectful advertising.

Afterward, I got an automated response that promised a reply within 24 hours. It’s been like 168 hours, oh well.


The Darien Gap

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

I haven’t updated since July, but October was one of my best months yet. Despite being in the middle of finishing my masters degree (my albatross), I have found a window of opportunity to get a quick update in. Just to show this site has not left my mind, far from it, ideas are countless still. My next update should be during the winter break between fall and spring semester. So… in preparation for a more in depth article on Latin America I’m going to tell you about the Darien Gap.

What is the Darien Gap?

darien-gap-overview

The Darien Gap - thanks to Canary in the Coal Mine

This question is more difficult to answer than I had originally planned. ‘What is the Darien Gap’ is like asking ‘What is physics?’ Sure – there’s the simple answer that it’s the study of matter and energy and how they interact with each other… but anybody who has ever studied it knows that physics is the greatest mindfuck there is. And like physics, the complexity surrounding the Darien Gap might be equally boggling. And also like physics, there is a simple answer: the Darien Gap is a small swath of jungle that sits on the border of Central and South America on the edges of Colombia and Panama. It’s a mere 31 miles wide from the Caribbean Coast to the Pacific Coast and various thicknesses depending on your source and what they consider to be the Darien Gap since it’s not an entirely defined region. But as I said, this simple answer to the question “What is the Darien Gap’ does it no justice. If I were to create my own answer to this question I might simply call it the most insidious place on Earth.

And there was no light matter in choosing the word ‘insidious’ either. The Darien Gap is insidious in every aspect of the definition. Merriam-Webster describes insidious as “awaiting a chance entrap: treacherous, harmful and enticing: seductive” and the Darien Gap is most definitely both seductive and treacherous. The following are real-life situations and issues directly involving the seduction and treachery of the Darien Gap. And these stories are so extreme that they could only be fact because fiction wouldn’t believe them. But the Darien Gap is virtually unheard of despite its global reach. The 31 miles of unbroken jungle seems paltry to the behemoth Amazon to the South, yet it is crucial to understand the power it holds. But for all these stories to truly have weight, we need to understand the setting: The Darien Jungle itself.

 

60e0c72c3f8b539480e5461365724985_large

Thomas Griffioen's beautiful snapshot of the Darien Jungle

The Darien Jungle

The Darien Jungle consists of some of the most impassible and impossible terrain on the planet. In some areas rocky cliffs reign supreme while other areas are so swampy that you could hide a few passenger jets deep in the swamp with plenty of room to spare. Some rainforest areas have been described as if being in a giant Cathedral with nothing but dirt on the ground and nothing but canopied trees above, other areas are shrouded in a constant fog of clouds. The picture to the right is from one of the only places I could find quality pictures from the Darien Gap. Most pictures are small or grainy or poor quality in some way. Thomas Griffioen’s website has a lot of high quality beautiful pictures from the area, his set of pictures will really help you get a feel for the area. Through these pictures the seduction of the Darien Gap becomes obvious.  In fact, it seduced this entirely different man to be the first to cross the Darien Gap by motorcycle and he had this to say about describing one part of the jungle:

After two hours on the trail we arrived at the marker on the Panama Columbia border. The hills were getting steeper and longer, sometimes it took three of us to get a bike up a hill. At places the trail was on the side of a steep hill. One slip, bike and rider would plunge into a deep valley that would be almost impossible to get out of. To make problems worse, there were many fallen trees and the jungle seemed to be getting thicker. We could barley see the sky and the jungle seemed like perpetual twilight zone.

He also took some pictures. Ian Hibell, a bicyclist that made the goal to bike from the tip of South America to Alaska went through the Darien Gap and you can see him hiking through a torturous swamp. And that is actually the only video I have of the Darien Jungle deep in its own heart. To think so very few primary resources of any place teeming with life on the planet in the 21st century is shocking.

And hidden deep within the jungle along the coast not accessible by road lays nothing less than one of the most unique fishing locations on the planet. The Tropic Star Lodge’s website proudly acknowledges that they are rated the number one salt-water fishing resort in the world. Built in 1961 by a Texas oil rancher it has become an expensive fishing resort that lures the rich and famous across the planet including John Wayne and Saudi Shieks.

The Tropic Star Lodge poolside, the mystical Darien in the background

As in any unexplored jungle, it is needless to say that species of both plant and animal life still lay undiscovered inside. So naturally there are also numerous species that have been discovered that are endemic within the Darien Gap area. The Darien Gap is also a safe-haven for quite a few endangered species. Of these endangered species you might stumble across a Howler monkey, so surly in disposition it is the only untamed monkey by Native Americans. The Giant Anteater is another endangered species crawling through this tropical dimension. I’m going to take a minute to grind my axe here – I hate it when species like this are endangered, I’ve express this same feeling in my ocean entry about the endangered Leatherback turtles that eat jellyfish.  Speaking from one human to another, we do not want species like this to go extinct. I know the anteater looks like a joke with legs but truly this animal is really smart and useful. Like bats and Leatherbacks they get rid of the pesky primordial species that are always trying to overwhelm the planet to turn the Earth back in to the golden age of when simple-celled organisms and insects ruled the planet. Ants are ridiculously plentiful, nobody is complaining about the scarcity of ants, and nobody is all too keen on hanging around with ants – so why aren’t we worshiping these creatures that have adapted a nose to actually inhale them? AND it’s the BIGGEST of them ALL! These animals are worth not only saving but actually growing their population. But instead we blindly go around eradicating these useful complex species from our planet in favor of the mechanical insects and primordial jellyfish. Why are we so stupid as to pick stinging, burning, biting, insects over silly-looking ant-eaters, flying mammals, and cool turtles, I will never understand this…

But I digress… Another endangered species found in the Darien Gap is the Bush Dog – super cute little guy right there. The white lipped peccary is a hog-like species that are notoriously aggressive and travel in packs. So you might be going for a random stroll through the Darien Jungle when all of a sudden you hear a large herd of white lipped peccaries coming your way – you better climb up the nearest tree because these little guys are nasty and they aren’t afraid of people. The lesser capybara is another rare and endangered species, it also weighs in as the worlds largest rodent. But before you cringe in disgust it’s clear the picture that it looks less like a rat and more like a guinea pig. And giant guinea pigs should be cool in everybody’s book. In fact, looking at this animal makes me understand that even rabbits had to have come from rodent ancestry.  Another endangered species is the Oncilla, a super cute 5 – 10 lb wildcat, I suspect living in a jungle they could get pretty nasty though. Baird’s Tapir is the last endangered animal I’m going to showcase even though it is not the last endangered animal in the jungle; this strange mammal travels largely alone through the inexplicably unforgiving jungle trying to survive despite lower and lower numbers. These Tapirs take over a year to give birth after being impregnated and have to survive in a jungle in addition to being hunted by humans. I’m surprised any animal lives a year in that jungle with all the predators and deadly insects. Finally, some of the native residents of the Darien Jungle are the Embera tribe, traditional warriors of the region. Hunting with blowpipes and into some serious body painting, these native inhabitants have survived the Darien for centuries.

The Darien Scheme

Darien-map3

The Isthmus of Darien

So how unforgiving can the Darien Gap be? Well, listen to the story of how the Darien Gap defeats the country of Scotland. Yes – Scotland! How does a 30-mile swath of jungle in Central America defeat a country half a world away? Well, Scotland had existed as an autonomous entity for roughly 1000 years without compromising their independence. Yet it is well documented that at the very minimum the Darien Gap accelerated dissolution of Scotland and the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

William Paterson was a Scottish fellow who got rich by creating the Bank of England. And for his second trick he decided to return to his native Scotland and create a trading empire out of the tiny kingdom to the North. The cartography of the world had been complete enough at the turn of the 18th century and Paterson recognized a trading monopolists dream. It was clear beyond a doubt that the narrow isthmus of Darien, a mere 30 miles across (have I stressed that point enough yet?), would be ideal to establish a trading monopoly. Paterson was certain that if the Scottish government and the people of Scotland backed this plan they could colonize this isthmus and establish a crucial trading route from the expansive Atlantic and mighty Pacific.

I can only imagine Paterson’s vision. Any completed map of the world back then would clearly show the unique geographic feature of an incredibly thin strip of land sitting conveniently between two massive continents. I can even feel his excitement – the Panama Canal would not be created for another 200 years – plenty of time to make Scotland the ultimate trading monopoly on the planet. For all these years the Kingdom of Scotland sat in the shadow of the likes of England, France, and Spain colonizing half the planet while Scotland held no successful colonies. And here was Scotland’s prodigal son – William Paterson – a successful businessman with capital to invest getting ready to give Scotland its just due in the light of exploitation. No longer will England, Spain, and France be the only countries patting each other on the back for the capitalization of whole regions of the planet – in fact they’ll now be at Scotland’s mercy because they will have control of the Darien isthmus – and thus have control of the simplest trading route between the two monster continents. It would be an unavoidable monopoly and it would be Scotland who would benefit.

So Paterson started pitching this “scheme” to the Scots, and the Scots bought it – hook, line, and sinker. The Scots invested £500,000 which totaled about 50% of the nations capital. There was hardly a Scot who didn’t throw whatever money he could at this global conquest. Originally, the Scots weren’t going to bare the entire load and Paterson had worked the English and Dutch into the deal who subsequently backed out. To this day scandalous rumors float around questioning if this was done intentionally with the foresight of what would happen in Darien. Volunteers for the first trip to Darien were easy to find and were packed on a boat, 1,200 in number, and sailed 4 months across an expansive ocean to settle in their distant tropical paradise, build a colony, and make money! Of course when you cram 1,200 people on a boat for 4 months across an ocean at the turn of the 18th century enthusiasm tends to diffuse rather quickly. The Scots arrived in Darien sick and filled with dead – including Paterson’s wife.

They unloaded their ship and began setting up their colony in the exact jungle in which I’ve already took the liberty to describe for you. And if things were bad on the boat they only got worse in the unforgiving heart of tropical Darien. Jungle diseases quickly began decimating the population and rations were becoming thin. Back at home Scotland sent a resupply ship which got shipwrecked. It then took even longer to send two ships which began their 4 month journey to Darien too late. The colony, decimated, took to the jungle in search of nearby plantations run by other nations. The resupply ships, only equipped for the basic necessities for a fully operating colony landed at Darien in shock and dismay to find nobody.  1,200 resupply colonists reached Darien but it is said that as few as 30 survived.  With a complete and utter disaster realized it’s believed that Scotland became so crippled it forced the 1707 Act of Union with England.

The Pan-American Highway

PanAmericanHwy

Nothing can stop the pan-American highway... except for the Darien Gap -click to enlarge-

So we just read some history of the Darien region, now let’s fast-forward to modern day. But again, let’s step away from Darien for a moment and head to the top of the world where the small town of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska sits on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Like Darien, this is a place on the planet where most people avoid. In fact, Prudhoe Bay has only about 50 residents all toiling in a remote, lifeless region of the planet to pump oil back to civilization for us to consume. According to their website that looks like it was made in 1995, there are 0 families that live at this northernmost town in North America. A few years ago Prudhoe Bay got some notoriety when BP spilled over a million liters of oil.

Now let’s go the the very opposite now – the bottom of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina – often regarded as the southernmost city in the world. Not as extreme as Prudhoe Bay, Ushuaia enjoys milder weather despite its location. What do these two places have in common? They are both the starting and ending points of the Pan-American Highway – a highway created to span across the expanses of two continents. Unbroken lay the chain of highway from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia standing as a testament to the power of mankind over nature… well unbroken everywhere except for the Darien Gap.

Yes, you could take the Pan-American Highway and cross its distances from the icy Arctic, where no trees live through the towering rockies and conifer forests, down through the North American deserts, into unstable Central American countries shrouded in jungle, but in the small backwater of Yaviza, Panama the Pan-American Highway stops. A seemingly impenetrable wall of jungle faces you here – you are staring at the Darien Gap. Nothing but raw jungle stands between you and Turbo Colombia. From Colombia, you could follow along the Pacific through Ecuador, Peru, and Chile into the ribbed backside of the Andes Mountains.  The final leg of the intensely long journey would be through country of Argentina, showcasing its capital – Buenos Aires, before turning sharply South along the Atlantic to Ushuaia.

And it’s this fact that draws people to want to know more about the Darien Gap. We have a road that has conquered all aside from this stretch of jungle. Why hasn’t the jungle been breached? Why haven’t we connected this highway that would be an unrivaled global achievement? What power does this Darien Gap have that we cannot tame in this 21st Century? It turns out that these questions are presumptuous, because despite its inaccessibility, it was purposefully left unfinished.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – With all the endangered species I listed above it’s clear that a highway cutting through this very narrow and diverse jungle is something that humanity as a species would never dare ruin because the preciousness of diversity in life far outweighs the worlds longest road.  But the truth is a terrible livestock disease that exists in South America does not exist in North America. The disease is called Foot and Mouth Disease, from Outside Magazine:

FMD is the doomsday plague of the livestock industry, an illness whose outbreak can shake global stock markets. Most recently, an epidemic of FMD ravaged England in 2001, causing more than $7 billion in economic losses. No cases of the disease have been reported in Panama, and the last U.S. outbreak occurred in 1929. But in Colombia, FMD was endemic during the 1970s and remains present today.

“If FMD were to invade Central America, it could have very rapid access to the United States,” says Harold Hofmann, 61, associate regional director of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), an agency within the Department of Agriculture that’s charged with protecting the U.S. food supply from pests and diseases. “Therefore, the government’s plan is to keep it as far away as we can.”

Not only did the Pan-American highway never get finished but the creation of the Darien National Park was a result of the fear of this disease. A national park ensured no livestock would be raised within its boundaries. The United States has been puppeteering this region because it is precisely the country standing to lose the most if this disease crosses over. The United States Health Inspection Service has a $4.5 million regional budget working towards eliminating both FMD and a critter known as a screwworm whose larvae eat the flesh of cows.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

colombia_farc-rebels-march-in-la-macarenapreview

FARC rebels

So Darien is purposefully closed off, and with essentially good reasons. But when we look closer, we see there is still yet more to the story. It’s essential to remember the Darien Gap is insidious. And while we look at the Darien Gap and see 3 feet tall kitties and cute rodents and endangered species that need to be saved, the people who live with the Darien see the jungle as a giant death trap. Not simply for the natural causes of death – which are many – but because the Darien Gap has been home to Americas oldest terrorist organization. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are a by-product of over a century of civil war in Colombia. In the 1960s, rallying behind Marxist ideas, FARC was organized and began financing through the drug-trade. Today FARC is a multi-billion dollar drug-dealing enterprise supplying the United States with at least 60% of its cocaine.  This is unfortunate because this is financing a group who recruits child-soldiers and kidnaps anyone of seemingly value  and holds them in remote jungle prisons for sometimes years. The FARC have found their way to the Colombia-Panama border and are living (among other places)  in the Darien Jungle kidnapping those they could use in any way and killing those who don’t help in any way. There will be no arrest for your murder when you are murdered in the jungle, because you will never be found. Due to FARCs power people such as Hugo Chavez, leader of Venezuela, use them to cause confusion among accountable established nations by committing a certain amount of support for them. The United States has paid particular attention to them due to their influence.

Other rebel/terrorist groups that exist in this region are the National Liberation Army and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. All groups kidnap for some money. National Geographic Adventure magazine reporter, Robert Young Pelton, and two others were kidnapped for 10 days by the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia attempting to trek the Darien.  When asked advice for travelers considering going to the region he responded:

The Darién Gap is an extremely dangerous place—it’s probably the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere, definitely in Colombia. It’s used as a conduit for drugs. There are no police there, there’s no military, the trails aren’t marked. Kuna Indians are freaked out now because of the violence being perpetrated against them. Unless you have a lot of experience in Colombia, I wouldn’t suggest it. [For the most part] the jungle there is not viewed as a place that is pristine and beautiful—it’s looked at as a place where you get killed. Because no one bothers gathering information, like I did. I mean, I know how you can hike the Darién now. But you have to have a group of armed men with you.

 

Abandoned mining train succumbing to the Darien Jungle

Destruction of the Darien Gap

Despite the Darien Gap existing (albeit dangerously) into the 21st century, it is guaranteed that it will not exist into the 22nd century. In fact it seems the Gap has less than a decade until the natural plug is breached and the Americas are irrevocably connected. Deforestation of the Gap is rampant. The rebel groups infest the interior making it incredibly dangerous for any sort of ecological protection. And the clock ticks until the final, slim, remaining barrier between North and South America is breached and the transference of Foot-and-Mouth disease to the North will be uncertain. The Native Embera tribe and jungle animals are losing their home tree by tree for basic subsistence and the result will be the elimination of an ecosystem of transcontinental importance.

Home the movie

Click on the picture to see a free high def movie!

Click on the picture to see a free high def movie!

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Wow! Hands down, I just watched a movie that should be mandatory for every human on this planet. A lot of what I try and talk about on here is expressed through gorgeous high definition images ALL for free right on Youtube!

Home” – the movie that should change your life if you weren’t already thinking like this every day of your life. If you weren’t, you should start doing it now. What this movie says is what you should base all your foundational decisions on. This movie is incredibly moving to me.

Why? First off, this movie is oriented correctly. This movie is filled with stunning images and jaw-dropping facts that most people are unaware of – and yet it’s free on Youtube. This is the kind of people we want making movies in our future. The entertainment industry is deadlocking our court system. With the advent of the internet we do not need the largely bureaucratic systems that were built to promote an artist or a movie. The only people who complain about copyright infringement and stealing are giant corporate bureacracies such as the MPAA and the RIAA. The MPAA and RIAA are the giant screaming toddlers that the United States government pacifies with the granting of retrieving ridiculous amounts of cash wherever they deem an unjustice happened to them. What would happen if the courts ruled against them? What would happen if we persecuted the entertainment industry where agents and promoters were the victims rather than a useless remnant of the 20th century still acquiring an income for simply existing? Where artists had a direct relationship with their fans and created their own mp3s which they could sell or even just give away and they make money by playing a live performance? Where anybody who wanted to make a movie would just fund it and toss it up on Youtube? Like “Home” did. What would we lose if we did such a thing? Such gems as “Night at the Museum” and “The Mummy” series? Bastardized Spielberg versions of “War of the Worlds” and “Indiana Jones”? Jokes such as “National Treasure” or “300” or “Titanic” or “Pearl Harbor” guised as historical but clearly warped? Oh, how terrible, imagine a world where those cookie-cutter movies that are churned out yearly as if from a factory disappeared. Money might actually be spent on something useful. Which brings me to my next point on why I like “Home.”

The movie steps back and tries to look at the world from an outside perspective. It really tries to show you the big picture and how critical THIS MOMENT is right now to our actions as a whole. There is no excuse in ignorance – the facts are clear and laid out and our bureaucratic mechanisms need to respond swiftly. And they shouldn’t be mucking around in the entertainment industry – we’re humans – we are entertained VERY easily. “Home” chooses its images carefully and contrasts where our money SHOULD be going and where it IS going. They show how we build cities in deserts such as Dubai as monuments to our glut at the expense of limited and quickly exhausting resources. The movie throws out important facts that reorient where we want to be and where we are: “The world spends 12 times more on military expenditures than on aid to developing countries.” “40% of arable land has suffered long-term damage.” “Every year, 13 million hectares of forest disappear.”

The man behind this film is a French photographer, journalist, and reporter Yann Arthus-Bertrand. This is a man who apparently cares about the future of humans not living in post-apocalyptic Hell within our lifetime and is calling us to attention with this movie. I can tell you that this man is someone you should take information from because he puts it together and can read the implications. And, as you know from reading this site, the implications are dire. “One mammal in 4, one bird in 8, and one amphibian in 3 are threatened with extinction. Species are dying out at a rhythm of 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate.”

Also, I liked how it ended. It did give me hope, and I might even admit a tear. Because no matter how much we’ve destroyed or ruined, humans are notorious for perseverance. And we might have to learn a hard lesson, but it would be a shame to have our lonely species annihilated due to our collective ignorance.

But what kills me is despite the beautiful images and despite the important and dire messages “Home” portrays it has only been viewed by just over a million people on Youtube. This thing is way too important to stay so far under the radar. So please – push this movie as I am because this movie should be a basis to a question to all people in charge of anything – what are you doing with what you’re in charge of to align yourself with this situation? Well, what are you doing?

Our Oceans

3D Ocean from an ocean screensaver!

3D Ocean from an ocean screensaver!

 

 

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

***Update 7/22/09: An Excellent New York Times article on how the damage from bottom trawling can now be seen from SPACE! Link.***

Back in June I wrote an entry on the North Pacific Garbage Patch. Despite writing on a myriad of uncommon issues that entry on the Garbage Patch has been unrivaled in popularity. In fact that entry has over 3 times as many visits as my next most popular entry. The entry focuses on how plastics are destroying our oceans and our health.

So if you thought that information is important or pertinent in any way then I strongly suggest you read this entry as well. The North Pacific Garbage Patch deserved its own entry but it is by far not the only problem facing our mighty oceans. Thinking about this topic puts me in a surreal place because as much as I’d love to be an optimist and expect things to change for the better the facts are strongly rooted in the concept of “There are consequences to actions.” I’m not trying to hoodwink you, I’m not a crazy environmentalist, I’m simply using plain logic and thoughtful reasoning. Please read what I have to say and if you have any substantial counter-evidence or proof things are just going peachy with the oceans then this will be a great weight off my back.

What Are The Oceans To Us?

I start with this question because it’s this question that brings mutual value to the oceans to us. The World Ocean is a mighty and terrible thing. She is so large we divide her up into sections and call her multiple names because even just one section is vast beyond comprehension. In fact, 71% (some say 72%) of this planet is bathed in Oceanic waters, while we tower only marginally above it with a paltry 29% of the surface clinging to our precious, dry, and hard land. It is no wonder why the most dangerous job in the world is fishing – no other job really can show you how insignificant you are to nature than being out on the stormy seas on a small fishing vessel. We all know the stereotypical fisherman who sits in the corner of the pub, drinking his alcohol deeply, scraggly and twisted – nobody can stare a man like this down because he has stared down death itself out on the oceans. And even fishermen distinguish themselves from us “land lovers,” or should I say “landlubbers!” If you are accustomed to working on a ship then you have joined a secret society that separates themselves from the rest of humanity – this is because being at sea affects you – it seriously affects you. It is one of the most powerful natural entities on this planet. When the ocean is upset – we know. Earthquakes, asteroids, weather – they all turn our oceans into a destructive force that gives no mercy. I just watched the show “Deadliest Catch” last night which proves the terror of our oceans.

Shrouded in mystery in history as well as today, depictions of Oceanus are hard to find. His horn, shaped like lobster claws, are just seen in the top left protruding out of his head.

Shrouded in mystery in history as well as today, depictions of Oceanus are hard to find. A horn, shaped like a lobster claw, is just seen in the top left protruding out of his head.

The ocean is not just all powerful to us as humans – it is also all mysterious. The word “ocean” itself comes from the mysterious Greek Titan Oceanus. He represented a “river” that encircled the world. He had a serpent tail instead of legs and a long beard with horns. The ocean holds many secrets under its waves – shipwrecks, treasure, natural resources, species we didn’t know existed… I heard once that we know more about space than we do about our oceans. Of course – this is absolutely ludicrous because space is so massively large, complex, and mysterious that we can’t even begin to pretend we know so much about space. But the fact that our oceans can even be compared to space speaks volumes. What that quote might mean is that there might be more time, money, and dedicated resources spent on space than our oceans – while I have no idea if this is true – it wouldn’t surprise me. Studying space is a noble cause, and a cause I back 100%, but if our oceans are not getting the same dedication then we have an imbalance.

There are many creatures from the bottom of our oceans that we do not even know they exist. Don’t believe me? Let’s just take a minute to see some only recently videotaped/photographed creatures.

The Oarfish – According to the video this is the largest fish in the ocean. Yet I bet you’ve never even heard of it. In fact – this video is the only video where they’ve ever been seen alive. It lives deep in the ocean and only comes up to the surface to die. Their faces creep me out.

The Frilled Shark – Unknown even to exist today until this irrefutable evidence was shown to their world – the Frilled Shark carries many characteristics of sharks that lived about 300 million years ago. Is this species 300 million years old? We just don’t know because like the Oarfish the Frilled Shark lives deep in the hinterland of the oceans. Hard to find – even harder to study.

The Giant Squid – Tales of giant squid are as old as tales of mermaids – yet we never were able to photograph one alive until within the last decade. This video goes a bit in depth about giant squid all together – but is definitely worth a watch – for a few reasons.

These are just a few examples of the largest and longest-lasting creatures in the oceans – and yet we know virtually nothing about them. In fact, in the giant squid video, Dr. Steve O’Shea goes on a high profile mission with the Discovery Channel hunting for giant squid and though some were found, they died a short time later.  Unfortunately, he ultimately ends up abandoned by the research community and lives his life almost entirely in the ocean, alone, praying for a second chance at finding a baby giant squid and raising it in captivity. His failure during his high-profile mission was due to ignorance of Giant Squid – for example – cubical containers killed the babies almost instantly while cylindrical containers kept them alive – they couldn’t possibly know this stuff already because they were the leading research team on Giant Squid. And now O’Shea is abandoned by financial contributors because he attempted to research and had mistakes happen that were unforeseen. The scene that struck me the most was when he’s explaining how interesting the ocean is and all the neat little things he catches (in hopes of finding a baby giant squid, but knowing without a better research vessel it’s virtually impossible)  and how there is nobody there to share it with, then his reactions almost turn primitive, like Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” when he hears the port-a-potty wall outside his cave. O’Shea looks into the bucket, stops in mid-thought, and dives his head deep inside the bucket looking hard. Perhaps, feeling nostalgic about the last time the cameras were around and how he caught over 20 squid, he thought the luck had come back again. Disappointed, he draws his head away explaining that he thought he had a squid, but alas, it was not. He explains how he’s supposed to be a squid-hunter and yet he never catches them and even admits the embarrassment it causes him. But he explains that nobody else is looking for them, and so until someone else does, he’s going to keep trying. Imagine that – being the only man in the world out there trying to find a creature that is dastardly elusive while the rest of the world continues to focus on any number of distractions. At the boundary of special knowledge, O’Shea sits alone.

What exactly is physically happening during bottom trawling

What do our ocean floors look like after bottom trawling occurs? O'Shea says "A barron wasteland."

And because of this unique knowledge in which O’Shea carries he would be able to tell us some things about the Giant Squid, or squid in general, that the average person could not. And O’Shea explains that the difficulty in finding squid seems to be related to the fishing industry. He states how “squid are incredibly good barometers of environmental health” and explains that 10 years ago he was able to find 23 squid in a year. After which, there was a dramatic drop. What was the cause? A form of fishing called “Bottom trawling” where a net is dragged along the bottom of the ocean floor.  What’s the problem with bottom trawling? O’Shea explains it wipes out centuries old coral communities, invertebrates of many shapes and sizes, and exhausts fishing stocks. O’Shea continues to explain that between New Zealand and Australia the ocean floor has been systematically trawled and is now moving to international water. What do our ocean floors look like after bottom trawling occurs? O’Shea says “A barron wasteland.” As he says those words the screen flashes a couple seconds of an untrawled area, filled with life, and a trawled area, looking desolate and empty (see image a short ways below).

Then O’Shea says something shocking, “But you think that the oceans are fine, but they’re not, there are no fish here at all, it’s been fished out.” Then he admits, fishing pole in hand, arms raised, “We can’t even catch a fish today!” He confides that within 10 years the Giant Squid might very well be extinct, and in fact there have been 5 species of octopus or squid that have gone extinct in the New Zealand area alone as a direct consequence to fishing. Bottom trawling is going to contribute to more mass oceanic death.  Then the screen cuts back to Dateline host who chuckles about his desire to eat some squid.

And it’s this disconnect that I want to address here, because I find it truly significant. A man who spends hundreds of days of his life in the ocean, studying the ocean, with a deep passion for understanding the ocean just cried out that our oceans are dying and it’s our fishing that’s at fault and the response from the Dateline host is to get a craving for seafood. It takes hundreds of years for coral communities to be created and these communities are not unlike the highly complex living environment of our terrestrial cities. Yet – a city takes a lot less time to build. In effect, we are destroying underwater cities with little minding about it. It falls under the “Out of sight, out of mind” category.

On the left - hundreds of years of effort to create a bountiful living garden. On the right - done in a day, ruins, nothing. Seriously, is this issue really that hard to make decisions on?

On the left - hundreds of years of effort to create a bountiful living garden. On the right - done in a day, ruins, nothing left alive. How will we have fish in the future with a practice like this?

The overriding mindset runs something like this. There’s a demand for seafood out there, typically by unaware, apathetic, people with money – like that Dateline host. The price for seafood rises to a point where a fisherman recognizes his financial benefit will be worth the effort. Fisherman uses the most effective technique for profit, even if it destroys cities without a voice, and returns with the goods to sell to the stores and restaurants so that Dateline man can be happy. Nobody sees the devastation left behind, nobody can claim damages to a centuries-old community to a fisherman. Because special (speeshal, not speshal) genocide is easier to deal with than hearing fat, rich, sea-food lovers bitch about regulations.

Overfishing and Poor Fishing Practices

“Yea,” you might reply, “but O’Shea is probably just one of those hippy environmentalists that are constantly shouting on how the sky is falling.” While there is always someone who is going to complain about something, O’Shea’s statements are real and common knowledge among those who actually study the ocean. The problem is that these people often don’t hold influential positions, and combine that with the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and the result is the ocean becoming a silent victim. Callum Roberts, a leading researcher in the field of ocean depletion and a marine conservation biologist at the University of York, has attempted to warn us of this global overfishing pandemic in a book entitled An Unnatural History of the Sea. Alas, I have not read the book yet, but it is on my wishlist. However, I did check out this interview with Callum Roberts which briefly explains how overfishing has been a problem for over a century. Callum Roberts, a comprehensive researcher, is one of the few sources referenced when addressing the problems with our oceans in articles such as this one by the Guardian:

‘Quite simply,’ Roberts says, ‘agreements and deals brokered by politicians will never be satisfactory. They always look for the short-term fix.’ He and his team at York University did a survey of the last 20 years of EU ministerial decisions on fish catches and found that, on average, they set quotas for fishing fleets 15 to 30 per cent higher than those recommended as safe by scientists.

‘What that figure doesn’t tell you is that often, for less threatened species like mackerel or whiting, they have set quotas 100 per cent higher than the science recommended. So, in their efforts to pacify the industry, they are bringing populations that could be sustainably fished into the risk zone,’ he said

Still don’t believe me? The day I happen to be writing this portion of this entry is Tuesday April 14, 2009. Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 15, 2009 is opening day for fishing the prized bluefin tuna over in Europe. I’m not sure exactly what goes into determining the starting date, but April 14, 2012 falls on a Saturday. According to people who actually study data and care about the sustainability of bluefin tuna, it is quite possible on that day no boats will be heading out to search for this highly sought-after tuna – because the bluefin population would be absolutely depleted.

 

We are not treating this species appropriately. We're killing them and cutting our food supply out from under ourselves

We are not treating this species appropriately. We're killing them and cutting our food supply out from under ourselves

Bluefin TunaImagine that – 3 years – not your great grandkids, not your grandkids, not your kids generation when they’ll die off – 3 years. And it is directly related to our human consumption of them. Personally, tuna gives me wretched heart-burn, I won’t even miss it, but the fact that we are losing another species on the planet, one so integral to the global diet, makes me think this is an issue that needs to be dramatically addressed.

“But it’s just tuna!” you say, “species go extinct all the time, theres plenty of other ‘fish in the sea,'” and then you probably laugh at the little pun you made. But the case is that overfishing has been a… I’m not sure what to call it… a “sin” mankind has been committing to himself for centuries. “Sure there might be less here after I’m done than when I started, but that is not my problem.” Generations of fishermen and fishing companies carried this attitude until present day. When we have 3 years left before tuna is depleted – the overfishing of centuries has fallen upon a crowd whose problem it most definitely is – ours. If you plan on being alive in 3 years and you have the audacity to believe that the bluefin is an isolated or overblown incident and no action is required please savor your moments of ignorance now so it can be all the more sweet to watch your witless smug face realize the very basic fundamentals of physics that actions do have consequences. And to clear the definition of consequences up, they are not always BAD, consequence simply means “with sequence” which basically means “with an order of events.” This depletion of ocean life is not something that we haven’t given ourselves fair warning on, and we can follow the trend, and we can come to future conclusions based on an unchanging trend – that is what the WWF did to determine that the bluefin are in serious trouble. This isn’t a political disagreement, this isn’t about viewpoint, this is a human crisis – it’s actually a global crisis. It involves everything in the entire world to an extent. We are systematically eliminating species for purposes driven by greed. If no other argument will reach you, then what will we eat when we deplete all the quality meat from every species? Can you imagine the Oliver Twist “please sir can I have some more” gruel lines we would have to be waiting in? But let’s have more nobler aspirations than that.

While that WWF article is very recent, here is an article from 2004 that clearly gave a strong warning signal, which if we would’ve acted then, would’ve more than doubled the time left to act on conserving these tuna. Now their depletion and possible extinction from the wild is all but certain.  So aren’t there people who are supposed to do something about this? Who is in charge of keeping track of global tuna stock, how does anyone even go about achieving such a goal?

 

A symbol of all that is wrong in the world

A symbol of all that is wrong in the world

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna – (or ICCAT) This is the face people point to when it comes to conserving tuna. They are the self-proclaimed largest tuna conservation organization in the entire world. They study tuna stocks and statistics throughout the Atlantic (specifically, I guess, I assume there is some global influence here as well) and make recommendations which 48 countries claim to follow and enforce – including Japan (the guiltiest party), United States, United Kingdom, and China. So it seems we found the right address, based in Spain, this organization claims on its own website their specific goal of conserving the Bluefin. So weren’t they warned of this catastrophe? Shouldn’t they have done something about it well before this point?

This 2007 article from the BBC was well ahead of the game and decided to find out what the ICCAT was doing for the bluefin. And the ICCAT’s response was… absolutely nothing. In fact, it was worse than that. Even though the United States (oh my God, the United States of all countries) and Canada backed by conservation behemoths like the WWF and Greenpeace proposed a moratorium for the bluefin due to the imminent depletion that was well known at that point (3 years after the MSNBC article above) ICCAT’s response consisted of allowing more bluefin to be fished in “a number of countries including Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.” A lot of articles that mention ICCAT discredit it almost immediately, and I can only imagine it was in response to actions like these.  Without accounting for illegal or underreported fishing the European Union overfished 4,000 tonnes over the limit, the ICCAT claims nothing more needs to be done to save the bluefin. The environmental groups were seething.

Driss Meski - a man in charge of protecting a VITAL SPECIES to the planet and DOES NOT CARE TO PRESERVE THEM.

Driss Meski - a man in charge of protecting a VITAL SPECIES to the planet and DOES NOT CARE TO PRESERVE THEM.

So a man I am keenly interested in knowing more about, and any investigative reporters please take this and run with it, is a man named Mr. Driss Meski; who even dares to put his face up on the website as the executive secretary of ICCAT, as if this were a position to be proud of.  I’m not an investigative journalist but this guy seems to stay pretty low key despite his vital position in the continuance of a highly prized species. His personal response to the lack of preservation surrounding the bluefin was to point to a plan that began in 2006 that was too early to know the results of yet (right…) “The plan is still going on – our recommendations were that there should be no revision of the plan,” is a direct quote from Mr. Driss Meski.  And here we are 3 years later from that quote and in 3 years the bluefin faces depletion. Why is Mr. Meski so cold and callous to preserving such a loved and cherished fish when he in fact should be the biggest crier of genocide? That’s the question I want to know, and I’m sure a good investigative journalist could start finding some connections with Mr. Meski that should not belong. How come he is not interested in making a sustainable tuna population to ensure the continuance of his job and a stable and steady food supply for decades to come? What is he choosing to focus on instead?  I wish I knew.

CodSo! New Zealand and Australia’s fishing stock is depleting due to overfishing and poor fishing techniques, the tuna of the Atlantic and Europe are are depleting due to overfishing and poor conservation management. What else could go wrong?! Actually – plenty! Good Magazine decided to give their eulogy to fish with a story of a cod fisherman off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts entitled Fin: The Last Days of Fish. His name is Ted Ligenza and he has been a commercial fisherman for over 35 years. Again, another source that seems reputable, he’s not a marine biologist, he’s coming from the fishing side of things. But he sings the same tune admitting that all the typical places he has found cod in 35 years are now empty.

The article illuminates that this is not a fringe-belief but a well documented fact explaining the collapse of the cod industry in Newfoundland and Maine. The article states that the coast off Cape Cod is about to fall off the precipice with its Northern neighbors, Today, cod populations in the Georges Bank, off Cape Cod, hover near the brink, at levels 10 percent of what scientists consider healthy.

This Good Magazine article supplies us with more terrifying facts, What has transpired off the shores of Cape Cod is not unique. The same has occurred on coasts throughout the world. In 1988, at the peak of the output of the world’s fisheries, boats around the globe landed something on the order of 80 million tons of fish. Since then, depending upon which numbers you believe, the world’s annual catch has either plateaued or fallen by as much as 500,000 tons a year.

Alas, there’s more: And while fish stocks dwindle worldwide, an estimated 90 percent of large predatory fish—tuna, swordfish, cod, halibut—have disappeared since the mid-20th century. One study, published almost two years ago in Science, predicted a worldwide collapse of commercial fish stocks in just 40 years, if the present pace of fishing continues.

Shifting Baseline Syndrome – This Good Magazine article did an excellent job at reporting on this, and I particularly like that they got to interview a renowned fishery scientist who said something incredibly poignant, that I am going to use in terms not just related to fish. The scientist is Dr. Daniel Pauly who is an avid supporter of establishing marine reserves (which we will talk more about later).  The term he used was called “shifting baseline syndrome,” a term in which is a “habit of mind that allows us to adapt to the impoverishment of our landscapes.” Basically meaning over time, we lose track of the natural state of the world. I assume this is why we allow our major world rivers, the roots which sprung civilization, to be completely contaminated and polluted. I assume this is why we don’t mind depleting our timber resources yearly. And of course it’s why we don’t comprehend what it means to have an entire ocean brimming with fish. These changes don’t happen overnight, despite their freakishly fast speed, and we have a hard time truly perceiving the difference. I mean you go out one year and it’s a bad year, they happen. Hell – 3, 4, or 5 bad years in a row happen sometimes, and some people weren’t having the trouble you were… and before you know it it’s 2009 and the “oceans carry less than a tenth of the number of fish they once held, yet few of us have any sense that something is wrong.

Then the Good Magazine article returns back to Ted Ligenza, the 35 year fisherman, and he confirms all of our suspicions about ethical fishing: “‘I wasn’t willing to do a lot of things that other people have done,’ Ligenza said. ‘I wasn’t willing because it wasn’t fair to the fish, and it wasn’t fair to my sons and the next generation. So I’ve always tried to fish in what I thought was an ethical manner. But I’ve paid dearly for it. If I’d have gotten in big, with a bigger boat, I’d have something to give my children now. But I never wanted to fish that way. I just didn’t have the stomach for it.‘” Mr. Ligenza did everything but point his fingers at the trawlers and unethical fishermen who were willing to forgo sustainability for profit.

 

I made another drawing to help explain our highly technical process of developed nations gaining fishing rights in developing nations

I made another drawing to help explain our highly technical process of developed nations gaining fishing rights in developing nations. Click for larger image

Developing Nations – Though sharks are on the decline like the rest of our marine life they can easily be likened to developed nations predatory disposition towards the fishing stock in developing nations. In fact, developing nations can sell the rights to fish off their coasts to these powerful and rich developed nations and often promise more fish than are available depleting their own coasts as well. Nations such as the European Union, China, and Russia take part in these practices around the continent of Africa according to this New York Times article. Fishermen from these developing nations are casting in their nets and are starting to find nothing in them when they are brought back out. This is leading to emigration from developing nations by fishermen to developing nations to be able to gain access to better fishing. Again, trawling is the culprit for the depletion as well as poor governmental regulation.

Pierre Chavance, a scientist with the French Institute for Research and Development, said both foreign fleets and African governments allowed financial considerations to trump concerns for fish or local fishermen. “One side has a big interest to sell, and the other side has a big interest to buy,” he said. “The negotiations are based upon what people want to hear, not the reality.”

Quotes like the one above scream to my rational side because this behavior is so typical of humans. It is like having an owner of a football team wanting to have all the glory and win all the games (or fish), and the owner of the opposing football team is betting on the original team to win (to make a lot of money), and of course things are a lot easier when the opposing team throws the game for the sake of gambling profits. Everybody would love to be in this situation until it stops bearing fruit – when the opposing team has lost so many games, they couldn’t win if they wanted to anymore.

The coastal stock of bottom-dwelling fish is just a quarter of what it was 25 years ago, studies show. Already, scientists say, the sea’s ecological balance has shifted as species lower on the food chain replace some above them. In Mauritania, lobsters vanished years ago. The catch of octopus — now the most valuable species — is four-fifths of what it should be if it were not overexploited. A 2002 report by the European Commission found that the most marketable fish species off the coast of Senegal were close to collapse — essentially sliding toward extinction.“The sea is being emptied,” said Moctar Ba, a consultant who once led scientific research programs for Mauritania and West Africa.


Studies dating to 1991 indicated that Senegal’s fishery was in trouble. In 2002, a scientific report commissioned by the European Union stated that the biomass of important species had declined by three-fourths in 15 years — a finding the authors said should “cause significant alarm.” But the week the report was issued, European Union officials signed a new four-year fishing deal with Senegal, agreeing to pay $16 million a year to fish for bottom-dwelling species and tuna. Four years later, Mauritania followed suit. Despite reports that octopus were overfished by nearly a third, in 2006 Mauritania’s government sold six more years’ access to 43 European Union vessels for $146 million a year — the equivalent of nearly a fifth of Mauritania’s government budget. “I don’t know a government in the region that can say no,” said Mr. Chavance, the French scientist. “This is good money, and they need it.”

I hate to cut and paste so much, but it’s all incredibly important to the big picture. Not only are we depleting fish from the coasts of every major continent on the planet, we are removing local fishing as a possibility from our developing nations leaving them castrated, unable to become independent. Fishing is a huge food source, and it is being sold to developed nations by typically corrupt politicians.

Dead Zones

An Algal bloom - a symptom of a dead zone

An Algal bloom - a symptom of a dead zone

In the movie Silent Hill an air raid siren screeches through the already bleak, shrouded, and inescapable landscape. Within an instant darkness consumes the town, walls melt into cages, blood wallpapering them, creatures of unspeakable horror emerge, and hopelessness engulfs the soul. I imagine Dead Zones are kind of like that to our fish and more complex forms of life in the sea – except they don’t get the air-siren. You see – there is a natural force on this planet called gravity and we largely let it do the determining of where our waste goes. What kind of waste? Sewage, fertilizer runoff, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide from fossil fuels, and you only need to make a gruesome guess at what else. All of this waste from us runs off into the bays and coasts of our oceans.

And this is what happens next – clear waters begin to cloud and this might be likened to the ash falling from the sky in Silent Hill. You see – all of this runoff from fertilizer and waste is organic which is like filling the troughs for certain bacteria and algae which would feast greedily then die floating to the depths decaying. And this organic material floats lazily to the bottom, blocking sunlight, and killing off natural growth. The organic material slowly falls to rest on coral reefs and in stasis in the water. Then the air siren would ring – and fish would dash left to right looking for a place to run, but there is none. The algae and bacteria die in such abundance that their decaying process starves the water of oxygen suffocating the rest of the nearby eco-system with hypoxia – deprivation of oxygen.

All living creatures that we would consider “a gift,” “useful,” “delicious,” “beautiful” are dragging along the ocean bottom in dead water. There are no walls in the ocean covered in blood like as in Silent Hill – instead of blood an eye-watering weed which covers you in sores and boils and grows at a rate of a football field in one hour sprawls across the ocean bottom.  Deadly forms of bacteria murder the inhabitants of a coral reef and then degrade the coral itself until centuries of work are removed – until the cities of under the ocean are turned to pale, hollow forms of their once abundant self. Corals consist of only 1% of our oceans but provide  home for 1/4 of all marine life – over 2 million species. The loss of a coral reef by trawler or by waste runoff are both unspeakably tragic to our oceans stability. The only life that remains are grotesque creatures not unlike those that exist after the air siren in Silent Hill – various worms and gelatinous jellyfish – countless jellyfish.
Many of the same forces have wiped out 80% of the corals in the Caribbean, despoiled two-thirds of the estuaries in the United States and destroyed 75% of California’s kelp forests, once prime habitat for fish.” That is according to this well done and comprehensive article written by the Los Angeles Times entitled A Primeval Tide of Toxins. One man the LA Times and quite a few others of my resources turned to for information was a man by the name of Jeremy Jackson. He belongs to the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. And as far as I can tell he has no shady governmental relationships and seems serious about his cause. In fact he has released some studies providing factual evidence of the damage being caused in the oceans. On the topic of Dead Zones, “‘We’re pushing the oceans back to the dawn of evolution,’ Jackson said, ‘a half-billion years ago when the oceans were ruled by jellyfish and bacteria.‘”

 

An image on how dead zones are created from algal blooms

An image on how dead zones are created from algal blooms

Bacteria – Do you really believe we’re not doing 500 million years worth of damage to the environment in the span of a human lifetime? Due to our wastewater algae blooms form of a bacteria known as cyanobacteria – a bacteria first fossilized on this planet 2.8 billion years ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a warning out for cyanobacteria. They explain how first it clouds the water and makes it smell bad killing marine plants and animals. If humans or their pets come in contact with it, it can make you “sick.” It makes a special note to point out children are at higher risk for illness when exposed to this bacteria. It is cyanobacteria that is the cause of seaweed that grows at a rate of a football field an hour in hypoxic regions, because it is here that a form of cyanobacteria known as Lyngbya Majuscula (or “fireweed” and “stinging limu”) thrives. It consists of over 100 toxins, the LA Times Article elaborates:

Lyngbya has lots of tricks,” said scientist Judith O’Neil. “That’s why it’s been around for 3 billion years.”
It can pull nitrogen out of the air and make its own fertilizer. It uses a different spectrum of sunlight than algae do, so it can thrive even in murky waters. Perhaps its most diabolical trick is its ability to feed on itself. When it dies and decays, it releases its own nitrogen and phosphorous into the water, spurring another generation of growth.
“Once it gets going, it’s able to sustain itself,” O’Neil said.
Ron Johnstone, a University of Queensland researcher, recently experienced
Lyngbya’s fire. He was studying whether iron and phosphorous in bay sediments contribute to the blooms, and he accidentally came in contact with bits of the weed. He broke out in rashes and boils, and needed a cortisone shot to ease the inflammation.

Harmful algal events have been on the increase since the 1970s – they take place off of coastal waters because people are largely responsible for their cause. Which means we have to actively change this. Dinoflagellates are another bacteria bloom with harmful effects on both human and marine life. They commit genocide on the fish but can give us “gastrointestinal illness, permanent neurological damage, or even death.” Even Serratia marcescens, a bacteria found in the human intestine is being released into the oceans and decimating marine life.

 

Lyngbya Majuscula - a rapidly growing poisonous plant found in dead zones

Lyngbya Majuscula - a rapidly growing poisonous plant found in dead zones

Jellyfish – Jellyfish love to eat algae and microbes so Dead Zones have been helping the jellyfish increase in population. The Acting Director of Marine Institute at the University of Plymouth, Martin Atrill, seems to be a leading researcher keeping track of things on the jellyfish. He published a study which proclaims a significant increase in jellyfish for the next 50 – 100 years. Now I am pretty sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to be walking along the beach or watching a documentary in 60 years in which dozens of miles are covered like a blanket with jellyfish overflowing our oceans with no fish in sight. Yet with the increase in “Dead Zones” from human activity, it will only provide more reason for the jellyfish to thrive in this primordial stew in which it was made for.

Then the effect of this is cyclical because jellyfish also eat regular fish – so in addition to our overfishing practices and dead zones killing off the fish, we are helping the burgeoning of another species that also eat fish. And jellyfish predators have already been largely wiped out by… you guessed it… human overfishing.  “Well when all the fish die then the jellyfish will too, right?” No – not right, because the jellyfish can survive on things other than fish. Indeed, the overabundance of jellyfish are hurting our fishing stock as well. Both that article and this one cite Atrill’s study as evidence that the jellyfish population is rising. But Atrill isn’t the only one who knows it, ask the Northern Salmon Company from Northern Ireland:

The jellyfish attack wiped out the entire stock of the Northern Salmon Company; more than 200 metric tons (about 440,000 pounds) of fish worth £1m or US $2 million was lost overnight, according to numerous reports in the European press….

John Russell, who had just started as managing director three days before, was understandably taken aback.  “It was unprecedented, absolutely amazing. The sea was red with these jellyfish and there was nothing we could do about it, absolutely nothing,” he lamented.  The company’s dozen workers tried in vain to prevent disaster, but their boats were unable to penetrate the mass of jellyfish to rescue the salmon.  All were killed from a combination of stings, stress, and lack of oxygen.  Ireland’s Chief Fisheries Officer with Ireland’s Department of Agriculture said there was nothing he believed Northern Salmon or any fishery could have done or could do to prevent this or future attacks.

Callum Roberts offers us a little peak into what this future would be like – with bands of rogue jellyfish without predators roaming the oceans in the Guardian article again:

Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at York University, predicts that by 2050 we will only be able to meet the fish protein needs of half the world population: all that will be left for the unlucky half may be, as he puts it, ‘jellyfish and slime’. Ninety years of industrial-scale exploitation of fish has, he and most scientists agree, led to ‘ecological meltdown’. Whole biological food chains have been destroyed.

Jeremy Jackson agrees:

Dead zones support “an extraordinary biomass of diverse microbes and jellyfish that may constitute the only surviving commercial fishery,” Jackson writes, but little else survives in a dead zone.

The comprehensive LA Times article went to see what the “jellyfishing” industry is like today on a trawler off the coast of the Atlantic:

Plop. Splat. Whoosh. About 2,000 pounds of cannonball jellyfish slopped onto the deck. The jiggling, cantaloupe-size blobs ricocheted around the stern and slid down an opening into the boat’s ice-filled hold.

The deck was streaked with purple-brown contrails of slimy residue; a stinging, ammonia-like odor filled the air.

“That’s the smell of money,” Simpson said, all smiles at the haul. “Jellyballs are thick today. Seven cents a pound. Yes, sir, we’re making money.”

It’s simple math. He can spend a week at sea scraping the ocean bottom for shrimp and be lucky to pocket $600 after paying for fuel, food, wages for crew and the boat owner’s cut.

Or, in a few hours of trawling for jellyfish, he can fill up the hold, be back in port the same day and clear twice as much. The jellyfish are processed at the dock in Darien, Ga., and exported to China and Japan, where spicy jellyfish salad and soup are delicacies.

“Easy money,” Simpson said. “They get so thick you can walk on them.”

Fuck Jellyfish everywhere. Let's change this while we can.

Fuck Jellyfish everywhere. Let's change this while we can.

This seems to be confirming what the experts in these fields are telling us. The LA Times resorts back to Dr. Pauly for more expert advisement:

As their traditional catch declines, fishermen around the world now haul in 450,000 tons of jellyfish per year, more than twice as much as a decade ago.

This is a logical step in a process that Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia, calls “fishing down the food web.” Fishermen first went after the largest and most popular fish, such as tuna, swordfish, cod and grouper. When those stocks were depleted, they pursued other prey, often smaller and lower on the food chain.

“We are eating bait and moving on to jellyfish and plankton,” Pauly said.

An argument I can see argued here is that our fishing of jellyfish will keep their population in check – but that is unlikely – despite the fact they will become a greater part of our diet:

Of the 2,000 or so identified jellyfish species, only about 10 are commercially harvested. The largest fisheries are off China and other Asian nations. New ones are springing up in Australia, the United States, England, Namibia, Turkey and Canada as fishermen look for ways to stay in business.

Pauly, 60, predicts that future generations will see nothing odd or unappetizing about a plateful of these gelatinous blobs.

“My kids,” Pauly said, “will tell their children: Eat your jellyfish.”

I quoted so much because I really wanted to stress the importance of this. We are turning our oceans into rampant breeding grounds for bacteria and jellyfish. If we consider the abundance of life in the sea just one century ago, and we compare it a century in the future – and how can you not feel ashamed to be human?! Millennia  of effort by evolution to give us a lush, stable, diverse planet teeming with all forms of higher life forms – decimated – due to greed and lack of foresight (perhaps Epimetheus did create us after all).  The good news is life can rebound exceptionally quick if given the chance – but I prefer we do this before we have to stand in an Oliver Twist jellyfish line for our daily rations.

Leatherbacks – You might say, “There must be SOMETHING good that likes to eat jellyfish!” and the truth is, there is – the Leatherback turtle, the largest turtle in the world is a natural predator to jellyfish. The leatherbacks, bigger than humans and can live almost as long, have existed for over 100 million years. But two things have been killing leatherbacks and neither of them have to do with fishing. The first is that their eggs which they bury on the beach and leave to never return again are picked up in countries like Thailand and Malaysia by people claiming the egg has a love-potion in it.  The other problem is that leatherbacks mistake plastic (oh fucking plastic!) for jellyfish and end up getting full bellies of plastic, becoming malnourished, and dying early. Very few leatherbacks get to live an entire life because of these dangers despite a whole ocean brimming with its favorite food. Again we are our own worst enemies.

Global Warming and Ocean Acidification

Hello future!

Hello future!

Oh yes – I dare to tackle it! And I’m not going to pull any punches. I’m just going to lay down the law to crazy (typically) Republicans who seriously dare to have the audacity – the sheer audacity – to deny the existence of global warming still. Global Warming is real. And if you dare respond to me that those are all examples of “liberal media propaganda,” I will respond to you that there isn’t any media outlet that reports on imaginary news – which apparently seems to be the only acceptable news to people with extremely narrow agendas that revolve largely around the preaching (but not the practicing) of Christianity, the denial of evolution, the complex philosophy of the definition of ‘marriage’ and caring enough about gay people to care what the fucking STATE calls their relationship (wasting taxpayer time and money- this is a ‘rights’ issue, not a ‘definition’ issue), frowning at abortions and stem cell research that could cure millions and buying “Pro-life” memorabilia, and denying the existence of global warming. Why this band of complete fuckups got in control of one of our two major parties infuriates me to no end. And to DARE pretend like the media agenda is “liberal” shows that the last time you read any real news must’ve been sometime before I was born when the political world was two-dimensional and pong-like in structure. Politics today are hairier and scarier than they’ve ever been and it is a 3 dimensional, surround sound experience. The intricacies and the complexities of politics today are not as cut and paste as things were back in the last time most Republicans checked the news. And I carry some real conservative beliefs – like fiscal responsibility and humility – which the Republicans were proud to turn a blind eye to with Bush because they are a bunch of slimy cowardly hyenas that blindly follow a leader instead of embracing the foundation of checks and balances in this country and instead bitch about petty issues not relevant for the 21st century. And, again, to clear the record – I am NO democrat – but at least they are standing for pertinent issues they believe in and affect the country as a whole.

The fact that I’m even wasting space on this immense article to just clarify that I’m not just some lost pathetic person caught up in the “liberal agenda,” which must be some imaginary spectre returning from the 1960s, is frustrating beyond recognition. Now other ‘arguments’ surrounding global warming is “sure – there is evidence that it’s real – but who says it’s man made?” And I will grant this sliver of credit that there is less definitive research on the precise correlation of mans impact on the atmosphere, but the fact that global warming is occurring is clearly a fact – understand a fact is a fact. And whether you want to blame the sun or other natural events on this “non-man-made” global warming it IS occurring. However, I warn you, if you believe that mankind, in his (and her) global occupation and colonization of every corner of this Earth, with all the manufacturing done around the entire planet unceasingly day and night, with all the cars, trucks, trains, and planes that are driven/rode/piloted daily, does not play a significant impact on this environment – don’t mind if I stare at you, because I rarely am gifted enough to see ignorance in such a pure and crystallized form… (I take that back, I get that luxury often).  But this is how the argument goes, “Well if it’s natural (or mostly natural) then there’s nothing we can do about it anyway – temperature on the planet has gone through many heating and cooling periods and this is most likely just another thing like that and we’ll just have to adapt and thats how things go.” The problem with that is that there are going to be extreme modifications to our climate and whole systems that humans (yes, humans, people, like you and me humans) depend on to survive. On land this is true – but that’s not what this entry is about – this entry is dedicated to our boundless neighbor – the sea. The proof will follow. But the overarching point is this – we need to respond to global warming in a manner that is (I vote) the most beneficial to humans. And I have come to learn that what is best for man is abundance – because we are a sinister being when in the face of scarcity. Specifically abundance in life is beneficial for man – because when we have abundance – we can all eat, share, give, love, and relax. However, we can not gorge on abundance voraciously depleting our stocks. Yet this is precisely the attitude we took with fishing our oceans, and now global warming is coming to help get rid of those we have not yet massacred.

Trouble

Trouble

If you read Atrill’s article he doesn’t even account for the hydra of Dead Zones popping up each decade as the cause for the increase in these bone-chilling, floating, stinging zombies – alive, yet not alive, sentient, yet unaware – void of evolutionary progress. Despite dead zones clearly playing a factor in the increase of jellyfish  (as we have discussed) Atrill and others account for global warming as the main culprit.

So how does carbon dioxide make oceans acidic? Well with the massive increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the oceans are naturally going to absorb some of the carbon dioxide too which lowers the ph levels of the oceans. In 1900 the ocean acidity levels were at 8.2, but with all of the absorption of carbon dioxide it is predicted that the ph level of the ocean will be at 7.8. Why is this a problem? Because coral will die out and crustaceans shells will dissolve leaving them paper thin thus eliminating even more bountiful species from our already hemorrhaging oceans. You see their shells are made of calcium carbonate, and they need carbonate ions which are easily found in the oceans now. But will disappear with increased acidification through carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.

How do we know what happens when our oceans reach 7.8 on the ph scale? NewScientist made a video studying a naturally occurring carbon dioxide vent in the Mediterranean Sea. On the outside of the vent the ph level was normal and mostly coral dominated. However, once the ph level reached 7.8 then sea grass and invasive algae took over. Corals and crustacean shells were weak and damaged. ScienCentral has a video documenting ocean acidification already occurring on the Western Coast of the United States.

Then we have professor Timothy Wootton of the University of Chicago whose mussels seemed to be disappearing. He would go to remote islands way up in the most northwest part of the lower 48 states in the state of Washington. Again, the culprit points to ocean acidity. Additionally Wootton admits that he’s nervous because the ocean seems to be acidifying at a much faster rate than predicted.

 

The effects of ocean acidification

The effects of ocean acidification

National Geographic completed its story on ocean acidification in November of 2007:

Users of the mineral aragonite—a very soluble type of calcium carbonate—are especially vulnerable. They include tiny pteropod snails, which help feed commercially vital fish like salmon. Computer models predict that polar waters will turn hostile for pteropods within 50 years (cold water holds the most CO2, so it is already less shell-friendly). By 2100, habitat for many shelled species could shrink drastically, with impacts up the food chain. And as the acidification reaches the tropics, “it’s a doomsday scenario for coral reefs,” says Carnegie Institution oceanographer Ken Caldeira. If current trends continue, he predicts, reefs will one day survive only in walled-off, acid-controlled refuges.

 

Time wrote its article on coral extinction in July of 2008:

You don’t have to be a marine biologist to understand the importance of corals — just ask any diver. The tiny underwater creatures are the architects of the beautiful, electric-colored coral reefs that lie in shallow tropical waters around the world. Divers swarm to them not merely for their intrinsic beauty, but because the reefs play host to a wealth of biodiversity unlike anywhere else in the underwater world. Coral reefs are home to more than 25% of total marine species. Take out the corals, and there are no reefs — remove the reefs, and entire ecosystems collapse.

NewScientist also has taken the time to write an extensive research article on ocean acidification citing a study from James Zachos of the University of California at Santa Cruz where he documents a case of ocean acidification 55 million years ago creating massive species extinction and 100,000 years of an acidic dynasty until alkalinity was restored to the oceans.  Ocean acidification is real – and if our overfishing doesn’t kill our fishing stock, then our inaction on ocean acidification will.

Almost all the information given is the same. Currently our oceans are already 30% more acidic than in 1900. By 2100 the oceans are expected to be 150 times more acidic. This would be the biggest global change in the oceans in 20 million years. Invasive algae will become the new dominant species in the ocean. Each year the sea absorbs about 2 billion tons of carbon from the air. If and when ocean acidification takes effect it will threaten the existence of over 1,000,000 species on the planet.

Serious Red-Alert Danger

How terribly we waste fish in graph form!

How terribly we waste fish in graph form!

So, I don’t know what else to write. Time is warning us, National Geographic is warning us. These are not crazed wing-nuts. When we add our list up we have a lot to account for that nobody truly feels the need to be held accountable for it. And this will impact us all – the guilty just as equally as the innocent. Let’s finalize the list of things decimating our ocean:

Things Decimating Our Oceans

1. Overfishing on a global scale.

2. Bottom trawling.

3. Unethical inter-governmental practices.

4. Plastics (See NPGP entry).

5. An “out of sight, out of mind” mentality coupled with an imperceptible time shift during which there is a weakening of fish stock for the planet making most apathetic on the issue.

6. Excessive nitrogen from fertilizer and organic waste dumped into our bays creating Dead Zones.

7. Accelerating environmental modifications through various vehicles which increase ideal conditions for dangerous bacteria, lower, dangerous, or less nutritious life forms.

8. Carbon emissions that get absorbed by the ocean which raises its acidity.

9. Insatiable greed.

The gravity of the situation is dire. And from my chair right here after all this research things look very bleak. When articles like this one which claims 40% of fish caught by global fisheries are wasted come around, I cringe at the length we must go to overcome our own incompetence. One article I read struck me in a different way from all the rest. It was this article on the overfishing of anchovies, one of the many endangered species in the ocean not yet mentioned in this article. It reminded me of an episode of Futurama I saw where Fry ends up with the last tin of anchovies in the world because they all went extinct shortly after Fry was transported to the future. They end up eating the last anchovies on the entire planet – I just wonder who will get that privilege, or rather sinful duty, in reality.  And there are hundreds of thousands of species, on the brink of extinction, all awaiting our action, or rather lackthereof, to determine their final fate. And when they are gone, we will learn the definition of humble once again, because we apparently are so far removed from it that we think we can fly without wings, breathe without air, and eat without a source.

Appropriate Responses

A large portion of this entry was to help make you aware and convince you of the immensity of the problem. However, without giving some basic guidance on where we go from here I am not doing a complete job. The fact is there are some measures that could be taken to avoid oceanic catastrophe. Here is what they are:

Become aware of what fish are endangered: In this Guardian article it’s clear that sellers in Spain are willing to overlook conservation efforts for a profit. This means that as consumers we need to become more aware of what species should not be eaten so as to loosen the demand on these species fighting for their very existence! This does not have to be complex either – think of some of your favorite fish and then head to the Online Seafood Watch Guides for Sustainable Seafood Choices and find out of they are on the “best choices” list or on the “avoid” list or somewhere in between. Make personal lifestyle changes if you are eating off of the “avoid” list – have some humanity and become the change that needs to be seen.  There is also this IUCN Redlist of globally threatened species to help clarify our boundaries for us. And if you’re really passionate about helping out with this – cuz we need some passionate people for sure – you’ll go through these lists and make an easier to use more comprehensive list that ensures proper guidance for sustainability.

Proper information and labeling of fish: Steve Hatt is a fishmonger who has already taken the above advice and is a well-informed fish distributor. He practices ethical fish purchasing and tries to keep his customers well informed. But he admits how difficult to understand everything in the fish buying industry. Being more specific with labelling was central to this interview by the Guardian.  This allows consumers to have the most information needed for the most informed choices.

Listen to the right sources: When the UN tells us that fish stocks are in trouble, we need to listen. Of course these are the faces of those who are focusing on these issues. (click links for more info on the person)

sm_callum Callum Roberts – Marine Conservation Biologist Professor at the University of York

Jackson-blueshirt-web Jeremy Jackson – Director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation

oshea Dr. Steve O’Shea – New Zealands leading expert on giant squids

dpauly Dr. Daniel Pauly – Professor at the UBC Fisheries Centre and Zoology Department

diaz_rj Dr. Robert Diaz – Professor of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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Just last month some of the scientists above issued a warning to ban fishing in about 1/3 of those worlds oceans. These warnings should be listened to now. They are harder to understand the need of now but we can have significantly better chances if we began now instead of waiting until things get worse.

Underwater Protection Zones: For every $99 that goes towards protecting and conserving land, $1 goes to protecting and conserving the ocean. This has left a major gap of safe-havens for underwater life. There have been discussions to change this, my suggestion is you support these programs regardless of financial cost:

Protection zones are the most popular alternative, he says. “They should be the ecological underpinning of sea management. One estimate from 2004 put the cost at $12-24bn a year to run a worldwide network of marine reserves covering 30% of all oceans and seas. It seems a lot but they would cost less than the $15-30bn we currently spend on subsidies that encourage excess fishing capacity and prop up exploitation.”

 

Save this please!

Save this please!

Create containment and cleanup programs that work: Look to the examples that have worked in the past. The Baltic Sea has been dealing with algae blooms for years now and 2007 was their best year to date. Find out what the Baltic countries are doing right. In Queensland they have a Lyngbya management strategy to keep the toxic weed from spreading.

Support legislature that enforces serious reduction of carbon emissions: To slow the acidification of our oceans down we must not only stop producing but also find a way to extract the carbon out of our oceans for the chance of our oceans staying at a more evolutionary sound place.

Be extremely mindful on how much plastic you consume and throw away: Minimize both!

Demand strict inter-governmental rules on the practices of fishing: Just off the top of my head here I say no more than 49% should go to any foreign nation. But also a sustainable fishing stock should be maintained in the agreement.

Support the illegalization of bottom trawling: It’s just a really bad practice. It needs to end.

Encourage public interest in the ocean: I’m leaving this one up to someone else!

Better cleaning of organic and nitrogen-based waste: Let’s prevent Dead Zones – I’m sure it would take only minimal work.

Massive movement of regeneration of leatherbacks: Make it against the law to be in posession of a leatherback egg under penalty of death – I’m serious – let’s get this awesome species back thriving and sick them on the jellyfish. Let’s fight this right! And there’s no excuse for making a species go extinct because you want to pretend that it carries magical love powers. Not acceptable. I find death an acceptable punishment for being counter-productive on a global scale.

Check out these links from the LA Times: Loaded with information, these links are all you need to be your own personal ocean expert.

*You might have noticed some countries or regions in the color red while you were reading. If you live in any of these areas then these problems are affecting you. I wanted people to recognize how wide-spread this problem really is. Feel free to comment below!

 

Galaxies and the Future

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Let’s think big today – real big!

Much of the information I collect to write on here comes from the internet. I don’t need to go into detail on what an incredibly useful tool the internet is, but when I find a site that’s interesting it goes into a pool of random links that I sort out later. The other day I was sorting through this omni-growing list I came across something I had bookmarked for a very interesting reason. The project is called KEO and its mission is no less than to put a bunch of messages in a winged satellite orbiting Earth for 50,000 years so as to preserve the present perspective of the world for the future. I’m already certain future historians are thrilled.

KEO Satellite

KEO Satellite

Seriously though, this idea is really going to happen in 2009/2010 (or so the site says, somewhere else I noticed this was planned as early as 2006). And I just thought how novel it would be if I contributed to it. The impact of me on anyone from the future on trying to decipher through the depths of time what I try to say about our whole world in 4 pages was too enticing of a possibility to pass up – even though at the time I didn’t feel like getting real philosophical. So when I came upon this link the other day, I knew it was now or never, I needed to contribute to this ridiculous (yet novel!) idea.

The truth is this idea was really well thought out, at least from a practical perspective. If we were going to launch a time capsule into space we might as well also collect data on it. And so in any language everybody, even you, gets the chance to write 4 pages of your current world view. They will then be made anonymous and studied by some people of knowledge – for some interesting data on current world views around the entire globe.  This sounds like a privilege beyond measure to be given the opportunity – and it is – but at the same time my brain just cannot fathom the chances of anybody ever actually reading it again 50,000 years and beyond. And even if they do – the ability to grasp 50,000 year old language might not be very accurate. So I felt a little foolish writing it – but I encourage it anyway – at least for the practical purposes of the experiment. And lucky you, you guys get a 50,000 year preview of what I’ve got to say for these guys:

I can’t imagine a circumstance where somebody is reading this 50,000+ years in the future. The thought of being ancient currently is hard to grasp. We live in a time of great wealth and prosperity, yet we are on a precipice of a collapse.

Our species has created a global empire that has become so efficient in just a mere 10,000 years that we now hold the power to destroy all life on this planet. This technology was discovered less than 100 years ago and is capable of destroying entire cities, and already has.

Our population is teeming and growing at an unprecedented rate. The value of human life is declining. The value of all life is declining. Our empire has become so large that we have become unsustainable. We are consuming resources without regard to longevity or sustainability.

We are a lonely species. We cannot find another species with equal intellect and so we attempt to conquer our world. From the snowy Arctic and Antarctic in the North and South to the tropical equator wrapping around the world East and West we attempt to conquer and manipulate all. We put resources and other living beings to use for our material benefit.

We have created such material wealth, yet we are more desperate and unhappy than we’ve ever been in the history of the world. Slavery is more rampant. Extinction of species is a daily occurrence. Our need for a diverse planet for survival is slowly coming to a collapse and this will make mankind desperate. And when we are desperate we are a scary thing to behold.

I’d be surprised if humans are the recipients of this KEO project in 50,000 years. Perhaps an entirely newly evolved species might find it in 2 million. Perhaps extraterrestrials will find it in 40,000 years. Most likely this message will die in the bowels of the Earth or be destroyed along with the planet.

Writing in this almost seems useless. But there is a chance somebody not from our time will read this and it may convey important knowledge or wisdom.

For the last 2,000 years most of the humans on this planet decided to believe that there is 1 single omniscient and omnipotent being that will judge our behavior after we have died. This is believed entirely on faith and with no factual evidence to back it up. The stunning thing is that these humans constantly war over the best way to worship this omniscient and omnipotent being. Some of us don’t like to pretend we know what happens after we die – but we’re in the minority, and those who believe can become upset.

We have come up with almost any material possession imaginable yet we are still unhappy. Those nations with high material wealth show great signs of depression when too focused on materialism. However, materials make one useful and wealthy. Pride and greed overrule good judgment in dealing with materialism, it is a very tricky beast to tame.

Outside of the planet we believe we are alone because nobody has contacted us and we have found nobody. We have spent large amounts of money at looking for somebody, anybody out in space and we have found nobody. We know there are other uninhabited planets around a giant natural furnace that is constantly fusing hydrogen into helium at a very high temperature. We know the Universe has an end and we know the Universe began all in one spot. We know the Universe is governed by a few natural laws and these have all been scientifically proven. Unfortunately, we don’t know what it all means and we get frustrated all the time about it.

Despite our obvious faults we have amazing talents. Many of us have overcome terrible odds to be a source of inspiration, positive action, and progressive thinking. Issues that concern the entire planet as well as local communities are our source of motivation, but greed and miscommunication tend to muddy things up. We play some of the most beautiful music in the Universe – I’m certain of that. We love art and expression. We pursue knowledge and wisdom. But the battle is seemingly to be lost to the ignorant.

For the last 10,000 years our society has slowly grown across the entire world. As it grew it had great periods of growth as well as great periods of depression. We are just ending this great period of growth, and this time it has left us with the knowledge and power to wipe out all life on this planet. When this imminent depression takes root I am afraid that this KEO project will not see the light of day by any future species of any race. Earth may be as cold and dead as her neighbors.

I totally screwed with the future’s head because instead of writing “few natural resources” I wrote “future natural resources” [I had the future on my mind I guess]. Luckily I found it before I posted it on here, but too bad for the future. So by all means put your own take down and write your vision of our world and share it with our chronological neighbors!

Galaxy Zoo

Galaxy Zoo

Now that we have thought about the future for a bit, let’s think a bit about the past (we’re thinking big today!) and turn our eyes towards galaxies out in space. In my entry on the Universe I wrote about a site known as Galaxy Zoo where you get to help astronomers collect data on the millions of galaxies that dot our skies. Well good news! Since then they have updated and now have a more comprehensive survey in which they still need your help! They call it Galaxy Zoo 2, but it’s still located at galaxyzoo.org.

Why should you do this? Some people would view looking at these pictures as “just” a galaxy and if that’s the case for you, then you need to think more 3 dimensionally and bring some reality to life. Each galaxy you look at could contain thousands of life sustaining planets with all sorts of species and cultures that we may never see. And theres just a chance someone is looking at us back. But also this helps astronomers organize and collect data about our Universe!

The only real argument against spending this kind of time and effort on things like the future and the Universe is that it’s “impractical” in the sense that these are age-old things people have obsessed about and have not found any real answers – just more questions. But both the future and the Universe are our unknowns – every time I let it affect me I get stunned at exactly what we’re doing – literally floating through space that is large beyond measure – and you have to take some time to understand your direct relationship with that. Every part of your body at one point was in a star. We are a carbon-based life form and carbon, as well as every other natural element, was forged deep in the furnaces of stars in space. What the Universe is thinking is anybodys guess – but you should spend time thinking/learning about space and time because they govern us absolutely. And you should promote others to spend a little time thinking/learning about it as well.

Since I’m on the topic of space today I’m going to share a couple of recent space-related articles to show that the Universe is something that is always busy (despite looking identical each night) and always giving us something to think about.

 

Picture of Comet Lulin

Picture of Comet Lulin

Comet Lulin is going to be at its brightest this week (the last week of February 2009) and is something that you can see with binoculars. If it’s clear one of these nights I’m definitely going to go check it out – even though it’s goddamn February and everybody’s tapping their toe for Spring around here. Also, for the record, a comet is not a meteor, asteroid, or a star.

A star – is a giant nuclear fusion factory that it’s so hot it glows – not burns. Burning is a chemical reaction and stars are nuclear reactions. Most of the stars are constantly taking hydrogen and fusing it to become helium at a temperature of millions of degrees. The sun is a star. Though this is what happens like 99% of the time, as I’ve said before, stars create all the other elements that we find on this planet and everywhere else in the Universe. Stars are simply element factories radiating energy and heat.

A meteor – is also known as a shooting star. But that’s a lie – stars travel but they do not shoot. Meteors aren’t far out in space like a star is. Meteors are space rocks that enter into the Earth’s frictional (not fictional – note the difference) atmosphere and burn up as they become victim to Earth’s gravity. If this meteor survives its burn to the Earth and is still big enough to find – it’s called a meteorite. Hunting for meteorites is a really big passion and can even be profitable because they are a rare find, yet they are all over the Earth. In fact, if you live in the southwestern United States you are in one of the prime hunting zones for meteorites. Personally I have always been fascinated with the Sahara desert so this story of a Libyan Sahara Meteorite Expedition really caught my interest. And it really gives you insight about both meteorites and the desert. Before a meteor enters our atmosphere it is known as a meteoroid. They tend to be anywhere from as small as a piece of sand to as large as a boulder. Both the Earth and the Moon have been pummelled with meteors their whole life. So if a meteorite on the ground is the result of a meteor in the sky and the meteor is the result of a meteoroid from space – where does the meteor come from?

A Comet – That’s right. Meteoroids come from comets. Now a comet, like Comet Lulin, all orbit the sun like the Earth and the rest of the planets. The difference is they are balls of rock and ice (the ice could be water, methane, ammonia, or whatever) and they have a very elliptical orbit. While the Earth’s orbit around the sun is not a perfect circle, the comets orbit will go in closer to the sun than Mercury’s orbit as well as shoot well outside the orbits of our outermost known planets. For years, sometimes centuries, comets sit dark and quiet at the lonely edge of our solar system with the sun nothing larger than a speck in the distance. But when the comet comes into its inner orbit and comes close to the sun the volatile ice begins to dissipate off the comet giving it a very distinct tail.  This is why you should go take a look at Lulin, comets bedazzle many who pay attention to our heavens. The comet Hale Bopp was famous for inciting the suicides of dozens. Anyway, in respect to the tail – this is the visible debree that the comet is releasing at any point it starts entering the inner Solar System and so (like humans) it leaves a trail of trash wherever it goes – including right through Earth’s future orbit. Most of the debris that’s left behind from a comet is called a meteoroid – so that is how meteoroids come from comets. Every year when we travel through these comet orbits you can sit outside and watch the sky replenish meteorite hunter’s dreams. These are known as meteor showers.

An Asteroid – If it’s not a meteoroid, if it’s not a comet, and if it’s not a planet or a star, yet it still lies within our Solar System, it’s most likely an asteroid. And asteroids are pretty serious dudes. The inner planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars – were forged through catastrophic collisions of behemoth rocks.  As these inner planets cleared most of these rocks away  there is an area between Mars and Jupiter where many rocks – some the size of small planets – lay in wait for their collision that will unify its substantial size to a more massive entity. Comets are more predictable because they travel alone and light up making it easy to calculate their orbit and determine whether it is a threat to our precious Earth. Asteroids give us no such warning. While science has done a lot on the grounds of tracking things in our Solar System there are just too many asteroids with too much of an unpredictable orbit to know. Astronomers are always on vigil for an asteroid coming within the Earth’s orbit – but even so – little could be done if a sizeable one was calculated to run into the Earth.  What are the chances? You might ask. Take a look at this asteroid simulation in HD from the Discovery Channel. This video is of what would happen to Earth if a 310 mile wide asteroid hit the Earth. The initial impact alone (when it hits the Pacific) peels off 6 miles of the Earths crust and sends it flying into space. Science has found at least 6 major asteroids have hit the Earth since existence. I don’t have to be a scientist to tell you that is only the ones we can prove – asteroids are memory erasers of anything that occurred before impact – and the Earth has probably been hit many more times than that. An asteroid is just one of the many reasons why it felt a little silly to write in the KEO project. After all, there is a slight chance the Earth could be hit by an asteroid in 2036, but most scientists don’t think that will occur.

Artist representation of what is going on during a Gamma Ray Burst

Artist representation of what is going on during a Gamma Ray Burst - dont ask me

Lastly I wanted to mention a recent record that has been broken in the Universe. A couple of times every week we detect these massive explosions from deep space. What we do know is that they are bursts of gamma rays which are extremely powerful and luminescent. Hence their name: Gamma Ray Bursts. What we don’t know is what causes them. Because of their luminosity astronomers believe they can only be associated with the destruction of massive stars in the Universe. But the reality of the situation is we have no clue. Gamma Ray Bursts are incredibly short – anywhere from less than a second to a little over a minute – but multiple times more bright than any star. This means that while we are unable to see the star in which it originated, we are able to see the burst itself, before it disappears into the murky depths of space.

Well last year astronomers detected the largest Gamma Ray Burst in the history of recording the event from Earth. Gamma Ray Bursts are already the most energetic things in the Universe, so how bright and powerful was this GRB? Well it occurred 12.2 billion light years away (which means the site of this explosion has been travelling for 12.2 BILLION years at the speed of light to deliver us this impressive show of radiation. Scientists have explained that if 9,000 supernovas were to explode that only then would there be equal brightness to the Gammar Ray Burst that was discovered last year. So what are these Gamma Ray Bursts about? We have to study them more to find out… but this is our mother – up there in the sky. That black void with it’s cold, dark, magnificent, enigmatic, and lonely eye gave birth to you – gave birth to us all. It forged things other than hydrogen and helium into being. We should all spend some time appreciating, understanding, and respecting out Universe. Its size alone demands respect.

Khalifah the Fisherman of Baghdad

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

I don’t normally do this, but before I get to the meat of this entry I’d just like to explain some things on what’s happening with this site. As I’ve had this site for over a year now I’m happy to note that there has been a overall increase in visitors every month despite my entire lack of consistent posting. I thought it important that I explain why I update so little in hope of attaining some form of a regular reading base.

The first reason on why I post infrequently is because usually my entries take a lot of thought, time, and resources. I tend to use common sense logic and seemingly reliable resources to construct my thoughts and understanding of the world. Because this site is mostly for me I feel it’s absolutely essential for me to take as much time as I need to complete an entry because if I’m not in the mood I will not take the issue I’m working on as seriously.  The second reasons are because I work a full time job as a teacher, I am still going to college for my Masters , balancing a social life, or staying in shape. All these things steal time away from this.

Also though, and most importantly, I need to intake information I consider important through means I deem appropriate. This brings me to what my post is about. I just finished reading The Arabian Nights: Tales from A Thousand and One Nights. While the picture of this book is shown to the right, it does no justice, because you can’t recognize from straight on that the book is as thick as a brick. 882 pages long with an additional 166 pages of notes, with 2 centimeters tall text (I just measured it) written entirely solidly without breaks or pictures save little poems and titles. If you’d like to see just how long it is on the computer, you can check it written here (but I see just by glancing they’re missing at least 1 story)On top of it all it was translated in 1850, not exactly modern language being used either.

So why would I waste my time reading an old thick translation of The Arabian Nights? My initial reason was because I have a severe thirst for learning about cultures across our planet and for that I need to read regional classics. Reading simply American or English classics will leave me blind of much of the world. I chose this version the the Nights because it was translated by a man known as Sir Richard F. Burton. At some point I shall write an entry about this man because I believe that we will never know the extent that his influence has had on the world as we know it today. A man with unparalleled skills, Burton may have more knowledge about indigenous cultures across the world than any other man living or dead. Of course, I definitely know he had is drawbacks, but he is a man I respect in his worldly knowledge and his ability to understand the absolute importance of unbiased information while still letting you know he has his own opinions of the matter. I knew reading the Burton translation would supply me with the most raw, articulate, and insightful understanding of the Eastern culture that surrounds these stories. Since I have just completed reading this monster I would like to try my attempt at translating an ancient middle-eastern story translated by an intelligent explorer from the 1850s into something that people today might actually enjoy reading. I know there are plenty of translations of Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor out there so I decided to share a story I enjoyed but is lesser known. So without further adieu, I give you:

Khalifah, the Fisherman of Baghdad

The Dynasty underneath the Caliph during this time. (Click to enlarge)

The Dynasty underneath the Caliph during this time. (Click to enlarge)

Centuries ago the most powerful city in the entire world was Baghdad, what is now the capital of Iraq. Terrorism, imperialism, despotism, poverty, and desperation were not in vogue at the time and instead bloomed forth a flourishing kingdom. Nestled in this fertile crescent, the same city in which much of our civilization sprang forth, there was a leader that outstretched the power of any Sultan. A sultan is simply just a King in charge of thousands of square kilometers of land, a military to protect that land, dozens of cities and all the common people who make their living in his kingdom. But in Baghdad there lived not a Sultan, but a Caliph.

Between the 700’s and 1300’s the religion of Islam spread like wildfire across the Middle East. As far West as the deserted Atlantic shores of Africa and as far East as the mighty heaven-scraping Himalayas and the warm, wet Indian subcontinent Islam reigned supreme. Europe was a poverty-stricken cesspool of factional Christian kingdoms – just as much at war with each other as they were with the Muslims. The Europeans sent their poorly armed troops to fight the refined mechanized superiority of the Caliphate.

Because, you see, the Caliph was not just in charge of the city of Baghdad – but instead he was in charge of the entire Muslim world. As far as Muslims were concerned during this time period, he was the man closest to God. His power and might went unrivaled because the Caliph had more power on 3 continents than anyone else had on just one.  Spices from China would trade in its market and an ebony man from Nigeria could be purchasing it. It was the center of the entire civilized world.

To be the Caliph during this time period would be simply inexplicable. The power that he held in his hands is probably unrivaled by the power held by any single man before or since. He didn’t just have access to weapons or information but people laid down their lives for him at the drop of a hat, it was the amount of devout followers that truly gave the Caliph his power. He had vast armies just waiting for him to breathe. The Caliph received anything he desired; he had more wealth than he could squander away in several lifetimes; he owned many slaves, both black and white, male and female, that tended to his every whim. The Caliph protected God – and Muslims across the globe agreed; there was nothing more sacred.

During a particularly peaceful and productive period for the Muslim world a Caliph reigned named Harun Al-Rashid. At the Caliph’s side at all times was his head councilor, known as a Wazir, named Ja’afar. [Quick side note: Because Disney is superior at altering classic literature I just wanted to clarify something. Ja'afar happens to be the Wazir to the Caliph in many of the stories within the Arabian Nights - however Ja'afar actually does not appear in the story of Alaeddin. This is because Alaeddin takes place in China and the person who locks him in the underground chamber was a Moroccan Magician. Also Ja'afar was never the Wazir to a mere Sultan - but always the Caliph. Also - Ja'afar is actually far more reasonable and nice than the Caliph in many of the stories and he does not attempt to undermine him.]

Caliph Harun Al-Rashid on left looking divine

Caliph Harun Al-Rashid on left looking divine

Caliph Al-Rashid was married to the prestigious and beautiful Lady Zubaydah. However, the Caliph was a man of wide-taste and at the end of another tiring day of absolute power Al-Rashid would have his concubines line up and he would determine which one he would bed with for the night. I’m sure his rationale for this behavior has something to do with Allah wishing him to try only the best fruits of his labor, but if you want to know what I suspect, I think the Caliph was just using God as justification for getting his very Earthly needs. Also, having such power is going to make him a bit spoiled, so he’s going to want to have “more” than everyone else and of course he’ll need the “best” – very typical human behavior. But – on the other side of things – though he used these women exclusively for showing off power and sex I would also surmise that they were compensated quite well for this duty to where even the strongest feminist might consider becoming a concubine to a man of such unexhaustable wealth.

So I imagine the Caliph walking down a line of beautiful women dressed in the most precious of cloths and silk. All of these women ready and willing to give herself to him, but all of them also knowing that she will not be chosen tonight. All of the Caliph’s concubines knew Al-Rashid’s favorite woman. She surpassed all others in physical beauty and mental acuteness and the all-powerful Caliph felt his only weakness when it came to her. After studying each woman carefully, without fail, he would pull out Kut-al-Kulub and the rest of the women would return to whence they came and the Caliph would lustily retreat with her to another room of his magnificent palace. For the Caliph and amiable Ja’afar the Cailphate was peaceful, prosperous, fruitful, and easy. Life was good. Things were seemingly all too perfect within the kingdom of the Caliphate.

Of course, things outside the palace tend to lose their fairy-tale essence. In the poorest section of Baghdad, covered in dirty streets and neighbors living on top of another, lived a man known as Khalifah. Khalifah woke up daily with shame branded on his body. His house had but one room and there was no privacy, for even a conversation could be heard by the neighbors. He stepped out of his home to get teased by the neighborhood children. Even among the poorest and most desperate citizens of Baghdad Khalifah was a joke. For Khalifah was already 35 and he had no wife. The children heard their parents mock him for being one of the only people in all of Baghdad to be so old and unmarried, and when they saw Khalifah, miserable and hungover, step out of his house in the morning the teasing would begin. Khalifah would chase them but they scattered too quickly and he was too hungry and hungover to expend any extra energy.  Khalifah always woke up not knowing if he would eat that night, strangely enough even when one isn’t sure where his next meal will come from, one is always able to find a bottle of alcohol for cheaper. Though Khalifah was penniless and had nobody else in the world he attempted to make an honest living through the only trade he knew – fishing. One morning Khalifah woke up, far away from the palace of the Caliphate, and took hold of his fishing nets and found a remote part of the mighty Tigris river that would hopefully provide him with his daily food. As he walked through the dirty, poverty-stricken city Khalifah looked up at the Caliphate in envy, but only briefly. He learned a long time ago that it did him no good to dream. As he reached the edge of the shore he knew so well, he began to throw out his nets and fish. For thousands of years mankind had come to these shores for their daily bread.

The mighty Tigris river was one of two that supported Baghdad and the surrounding city. The Tigris gave the people of Baghdad their water and it supplied them with their fish. Its banks were lush and green and provided shelter from the hot desert sun. Khalifah spent the morning listening to the birds and the afternoons listening to the bugs while he tried to catch his food for the day. He would toss his nets out and walk closeby sitting in the grass or wading in the water. It flowed deep and was full of nutrients and had been a lifeline for civilization since it had began between these same two rivers.

Actual Tigris River! Khalifah's around there somewhere.

Actual Tigris River! Khalifah's around there somewhere.

By the time the sun was high in the air Khalifah was at his wits end with the river. Wet, dirty, hungry, hot, headachey, and burned Khalifah tossed his nets out one last time wiping the sweat from his brow defeated. He looked up at the sky desperate, knowing that he would not eat if he did not catch fish for the day, and pleaded his case to his creator, “Almighty Allah, I know I’m supposed to be patient, and I know that you will do whatever your will is, and I know that you are great, but I am begging you, please,” he closed his eyes tight and looked back up to the blinding sun, “please,” feeling as if maybe he wasn’t sincere enough, then he paused one more time,  “please just give me my daily bread so that I can eat today!” Then Khalifah sat down on the bank in the shade hoping his nets would catch something. Patiently Khalifah waited a full hour and walked up to his nets and tugged…

They were heavy! “Allah!” he yelled aloud before drawing it in, “I knew you’d pull through for me!” Khalifah started to draw the heavy net in, “Allah is the only God as well as the most bountiful one!” Khalifah was ecstatic feeling the nets heavier than expected for simply a meal, “And Allah, bounty you have provided!” Khalifah pulled the net harder, he could not wait to see what it was, perhaps a full net of fish? “Allah, you have surely outdone yourself in your kindness to m…”

Khalifah stopped speaking as soon as he saw what he dragged in. It was not a whole net of fish or even a single fish, or even anything that belonged in water at all for any reason. Sopping wet on the bank of the river was an ape, alive, and slowly attempting to untangle itself from Khalifah’s net. Khalifah watched the specimen with his jaw still dropped from praising Allah and noticed that not only did he catch an ape, but the ape was missing his left eye. Instead of an eye a deep wet gaping infected hole looked back at Khalifah. “Oh Allah!” he yelled when he found his voice, “What have I done to you?!” he shuddered in fear. The children must be right, he thought, I must be a miserable wretch and a blight to Allah. Just then the one eyed ape found his way out of the net and began to walk up the bank towards Khalifah when he realized that he was only using his left leg. His right leg dragged behind him like a stump. “Oh Holy Allah! I asked you to provide me with my daily bread and you have given me a one-eyed, lame legged ape!” Khalifah shut his mouth again astounded that he had just pulled an ape out of the deep and cool Tigris.

Then deep inside Khalifah rage boiled, he walked sternly up to the lame-legged, one-eyed ape and he grabbed it by his stinking wet arm and dragged him up the bank to a tree where Khalifah tied him up to it. “You stupid ape!” Khalifah shrieked with fury, “I said I wanted fish in my net! Not a stupid one-eyed, lame-legged APE!” Khalifah scoured the ground nearby for a good switch to beat him with and spotted one. “Oh yes!” he looked at the switch maniacally, finally fed up with his patience.  Starving, hot, hungry, and tired, he eyed the ape slowly up and down without a flicker in his gaze. The ape looked back at him with what looked like a slight concern. Khalifah stomped up to the ape and raised his hand with the switch in it and just before Khalifah was going to lay his blow down upon the ape, it cried:

“Khalifah!”… There it was, Khalifah’s name, clear out of the ape’s mouth. Again Khalifah’s jaw dropped and the switch fell behind his back as he just stared at the creature. “Instead of beating me with that switch, leave me bound to this tree, go back down to the river and cast your nets one last time, if you don’t get your daily bread then you may return up here and beat me.” Khalifah looked at the ape skeptically, realizing he not only wasn’t going to be able to release his rage, but have to cast his nets one last time. However, knowing the lame-legged ape wasn’t going anywhere, he replied back to the ape, “One more time. If I don’t receive food for the day, then you will be sorely beaten you grotesque ape!” and with that Khalifah went back down to the river, cast his nets, and again waited glancing occasionally at the ape who refused to speak again.

And again, the nets were full. Khalifah’s hate vanished and his heart again was in his throat. The ape was right, for this time the net was heavier, and again Khalifah began to pull in the nets faster, and again he praised Allah for being so kind to him. And when he finally got the nets to the river’s edge Khalifah could not believe what he saw: not only was it another ape, but it had a massive gap between the two front teeth which stuck far out of its mouth, its eyes were darkened with soot, it was covered in henna-dyes, and was wearing a tattered waistcloth! If that wasn’t enough, the ape was guffawing right at Khalifah, not even trying to get out of the net, rolling around on the sand hardly breathing for how hard he was laughing.

This second ape really must want to see the first one beaten

This second ape really must want to see the first one beaten

Next to Khalifah was his switch and he bent over and picked it up and walked straight to the one-eyed, lame-legged ape and took back his hand ready to beat the ever-loving life out of the ape when again, for the second time, he spoke: “Before you beat me, please go see what my ape-friend has to say to you, because he’ll give you what you want.” Khalifah seethed at the one-eyed ape but nonetheless marched back down to the bank where the gap-toothed ape was finally untangling himself from the nets and his laughing had died down to an uncontrollable cackle that came in spurts. “Khalifah,” he began, “if you listen to me, you’ll get what you need,” he hooted. Khalifah was unimpressed with the ape’s manners but he really was not in a much better position just by beating the apes, so he listened, “Tie me up to a tree like my friend up there, and toss your nets in one last time, this time you will surely get what you need.” Khalifah looked flatly at him, then glanced up at the sun which was by this point beginning to fall in the sky. Khalifah tied up the gap-toothed ape to a second tree and returned back to fishing along the bank. As he fastened his nets to the shore he said to himself, “Today, Allah must’ve decided to play a joke on us all and replaced all the fish in the mighty Tigris with apes,” and again he sat watching the apes who silently waited. Occasionally the second ape began to giggle ready to burst into guffaws which were knocked silent by Khalifah’s glare.

Again, his net was full. This time his hope returned but it was guarded, Khalifah wasn’t sure he could handle it if another ape came up, and of course one did. Khalifah dropped his nets, “Thank you Allah for this glorious day you have provided us with, with the beautiful weather, and the cool breeze, and that today is a day made for apes. Today we are not allowed to fish, but instead we come to the river to catch monkeys from Allah that are deep in the Tigris!” Turning his attention to the ape that just washed ashore, this time a beautiful red ape with a blue waist-cloth similarly decorated as the gap-toothed ape, Khalifah asked exhausted, “And what are you going to tell me to do? Because if you think I’m going to toss those nets in that river one more time you’re…” the ape interrupted him, “Khalifah! Don’t you remember me?”

Khalifah looked again at the ape and took a moment to respond. Then, angrily realizing he knew absolutely no apes responded, “No, I know no apes.” The ape replied, “I’m the ape of Abu al-Sadat, the Jewish banker in the city.” While Khalifah noticed the lack of imperfections of this third ape in comparison to the others, he wondered at why this ape was telling him this, “So what do you do for Abu?” asked Khalifah. “Well,” began the ape, “every morning when he wakes up I tell him ‘good morning’ and give him 5 dinars of the most precious gold and before he goes to bed at night I give him 5 dinars again and say goodnight.”

This incensed poor Khalifah who couldn’t even get a meal for the day and shot his eyes angrily at the one-eyed, lame-legged ape and yelled, “See what fine apes other owners have?! Abu gets an ape that pays him just for waking up and going to bed at night and I get an ape that tells me to keep going fishing for more apes while I starve to death! You’re an awful, terrible, no-good, rotten, wretched, foul, excuse for an ape!” and Khalifah remembering the switch in his hand started running towards the one-eyed, lame-legged ape. The red ape spoke up again, “Khalifah! Do not beat him yet, let me first tell you what I want you to do!” Khalifah dropped the switch and looked back at the third ape. “And what do you want me to do?” rejoined Khalifah.

“I want you to,” began the ape, “cast your nets back into the river one last time.” “Oh no you don’t!” yelled Khalifah raising the switch again and eying the first ape, while the ape of Abu continued, “Let me finish, cast your nets back into the river and whatever you capture bring it up to me and I’ll tell you a secret!” Khalifah was only half convinced as beating the one-eyed, lame-legged ape seemed like the better judgment. Playing monkey games all day is only making him end up with more monkeys; but he appealed to Allah, and knowing that patience must come before all (and that he could beat all 3 if he didn’t get anything), he tied the third up to another tree and again tossed his nets back into the deep and bountiful Tigris River. Again, he waited eying the apes that now were three in number. They sat silently waiting, the one-eyed, lame-legged looking wholly concerned, the gap-toothed ape guffawing, and the third sitting politely. After some time Khalifah got up to check his nets.

Again, something was inside of it and he pulled it in, thoroughly unthrilled. However, to Khalifah’s surprise, the most beautiful and biggest fish he had ever pulled from the Tigris came out looking absolutely fat, healthy, and exotic. Of his entire life fishing out of the bountiful Tigris he had never seen a fish so fat and beautiful.  “So what do you plan on doing now?” asked the red ape. Khalifah thought and said, “I’m going to take that switch, beat that wretched monkey over there with the one-eye and lame-leg for making me waste an entire afternoon catching monkeys, then I’m going to take you home and eat this delicious-looking fish.”

“I have a better plan,” replied the red ape, “Put that fish in the basket, and take it to my Master Abu al-Sa’adat, the Jewish banker…” The ape continued giving Khalifah instructions and promised that if he did exactly what he said that the beautiful red ape would give Khalifah 10 dinars of gold every day instead of the banker, and the Jewish banker instead would get the luck of the one-eyed, lame-legged, wretched ape. There was but one catch:

“What is it?” asked Khalifah finally. “You must let us all go. Me, the cackling ape, and even the wretched one-eyed ape.” Khalifah looked down at his switch and then back up at the foul ape. Khalifah briefly envisioned a moment of pleasure by beating the filthy ape within an inch of his life, but to get the red ape’s promise reward he knew he had to let his aggression toward the awful ape go. Khalifah looked back down at his hand which would not let go of the switch; finally he dropped it. He then walked up to the red ape who hopped down the bank of the river to a fresh pool and quietly lay inside cooling off watching Khalifah. Khalifah then let the gapped-tooth ape go which hooted all the way down the bank and made a loud splash into the water. Finally he walked up to the one-eyed, filthy, lame-legged ape and stopped in front of him. The beautiful red ape in the river watched closely. Khalifah stared into the infected gaping hole in his head. It stunk, even from such a distance, and there was nothing to like about this ape – it deserved to be beaten Khalifah thought. He then turned his head toward the red ape in the river and wondered why he wanted him to let him go so much, but untied the ape and watched it slowly limp down to the river and disappear back into the water. Then all 3 apes were gone just as mysteriously as they appeared and the banks of the mighty Tigris were again quiet. The only proof that they existed was the fat healthy fish that he held in his hand that was to reward him from this day forth. While the insects buzzed lazily on the cool banks of the river Khalifah made his way back to the city.

We'll pretend this is the Baghdad Khalifah trapses through because the only pictures I can find of it is of wartorn rubble

We'll pretend this is the Baghdad Khalifah trapses through because the only pictures I can find of it is of wartorn rubble

It was still the afternoon when Khalifah made it back to the city. The ape’s instructions were simple. The first instruction the ape gave him was to go straight to see Abu, the Jewish banker. Khalifah was not allowed to stop anywhere else and he was not allowed to speak to anybody else – otherwise the ape’s promise would be void. Khalifah walked through the familiar market that he had spent his entire life begging and buying from. “Khalifah! What are you hiding in there?” one of his acquaintances, the tailor, joked at him. A swelling that did not usually enter Khalifah filled him and he wanted to stop and brag, but quickly ignored the feeling remembering the deal. Then he passed by the children who teased him earlier that morning, “Khalifah – a man with no wife so he is a man with no charm!” yelled the children, “Yes! and a man with no money and who stinks like a bloated fish on the shore of the Tigris!” Khalifah walked by them silently. This is harder than I expected, thought Khalifah.

And if this step was hard he could not imagine how hard the next step would be. The red ape told him to do something very strange. When he gives the fish to Abu the banker he needs to accept nothing in return. However, the ape warned him that Abu will in fact give him 1 dinar for the fish but it was essential that Khalifah not accept this 1 dinar and to give it back to Abu. When Khalifah gives back the dinar Abu will give Khalifah back 2 dinars. Khalifah then needed to return the 2 dinars. The red ape warned that this would happen until Abu has given Khalifah the weight of the fish in gold – but to not accept it. Instead, the red ape said, tell him the only way to pay for the fish is to say these few words in front of everybody: “Bear witness, everybody that is here at the market today. I give Khalifah the fisherman my ape in exchange for his ape, and that I barter for his lot and luck for my lot and luck.” The ape told Khalifah that must be the price of the fish and to accept absolutely no gold.

Khalifah found himself in front of Abu al-Sa’adat’s place of business and stepped inside. Abu sat like the Caliph himself donned in beautiful dress with servants and slaves moving busily around tending to his whims. Initially, Abu didn’t notice Khalifah come inside as he was busy scolding a servant for not getting him an exotic meal for dinner that evening. Khalifah walked right up to Abu and stood before him. Abu stopped scolding his servant and cast his eyes upon the poor and wretched Khalifah. Khalifah was covered in sweat, stunk like the river, and was burned red from the sun. Immediately Abu addressed the situation, “Khalifah the fisherman! Welcome to my shop! What can I do for you? If anybody has done you any wrong that has any association with me we will both go to the Chief of Police and we’ll seek justice together. We’ll take it to the Caliph if we must!”

Khalifah replied, “No, your business has always been reputable with me. But I do have an funny story that I think would interest you. You see, this morning I went to the river and cast in my nets on your luck and came out with this beautiful fish.” With this Khalifah showed Abu the fish.

Abu about fell out of his chair when he noticed the fish, “Khalifah! You have no idea! Last night I drempt a beautiful woman promised me God would bestow me with a precious present and this fish is undoubtedly it!” Khalifah felt an excitement grow inside that everything was working according to how the red ape said. Then Abu grew very grave and came close to Khalifah, “By your faith Khalifah, have you shown this fish to anybody but me?” Khalifah replied honestly, “By Allah, nobody has seen it but you.” Abu turned to the servant he was scolding and said “This will be my dinner for tonight, bring it to my wife and have her broil and fry it up for my meal when I return home.” With this the servant did as Abu asked and took the only food Khalifah had caught all day away from him so that Abu could eat well.

When the boy left Abu held out his hand and gave Khalifah 1 dinar of gold, “Take this for yourself Khalifah, and spend it on your family.” As the gold entered Khalifah’s hand his wits left from his head. Khalifah smiled as if he had never seen a dinar of gold in his life. Finally – he had the power to buy some food and a few other things he had been needing for his home. With a grin pasted to his face he turned away from Abu and left his shop and began walking down the market street thinking about all of the things he could buy with his dinar – he could even buy alcohol that didn’t burn like acid all the way down his throat… then as he was about to round the corner of buildings near his home his wits returned. Very clearly the ape had stated that he must give the dinar of gold back and accept no gold for his gift. He turned around and bolted back to Abu al-Sa’adat’s shop and came bursting back in. He threw the dinar back down on the table and shouted, “Take back your gold and give me back my fish! Are you trying to make a laughing stock of me?” If Abu didn’t know any better he would’ve bet a separate person left the shop from the person who came racing back in.

“Oh Khalifah! Please settle down!” the banker chuckled, “if the price be-it unfair then take these 2 dinars in addition to the 1 I had given you before.”

Just as the ape had said. Khalifah held his ground, “Give me back my fish and nothing else! What makes you think I’d sell it at such a low price?”

Annoyed, the Jew responded, “Khalifah, take two more dinars of gold. That’s a total of 5 dinars. Now go out of my shop and don’t be anymore greedy. I have a business to run and can’t be bartering the price of fish all day.” The next thing Khalifah remembered was walking down the street of the market cheering, “I have more luck with Allah today than the Caliph himself!” He joyfully rolled his 5 gold pieces in his hand feeling their cold hard crisp opportunity. He could finally pay off his debt to Kamar. He could eat without fishing for weeks. And he planned on getting very drunk that evening. Then he turned around and saw Abu’s shop across the marketplace and again he remembered what the red ape said: Do not accept any gold for the fish.

Khalifah came running back into the shop breathless and looking as wholly unappealing as before, throwing the gold pieces back at the Jewish banker. Surprised, Abu responded, “Do you want to change your pieces of gold for pieces of silver?”

“No. I don’t want silver and I don’t want gold. I don’t want 5 pieces or 10 pieces. I only want you to give me back my fish!”

Abu could not understand how audacious such a destitute person was acting and became contemptuous, “Fisherman! You bring me a fish not worth 1 gold dinar and I give you 5 for it; yet you are not happy with that. Tell me Khalifah, have you stumbled upon a genie that has made you crazy? Please, tell me what your price for that fish is, I’d love to hear what price you put on it.” Abu was impressive with his rich clothes and stern demeanor that everyone watching the spectacle knew Khalifah had overstepped his boundary.  All watched intently to see the wily Khalifah’s response.

Khalifah, hyped on adrenaline, was trying to remember clearly what it was that he needed to make Abu say according to the red ape. His head reeled and pounded for he was both excited and exhausted. And in this mixture of energy and fatigue Khalifah made an innocent mistake. When someone wants to become Muslim Islam requires the new member to say the Shibboleth of the Muslim creed, also known as “the two words.” To a Muslim that has been a Muslim his whole life talking in everyday conversation “two words” simply means that you’d like to say a few words. However, to the Jewish banker in a Muslim city “two words” has a very Muslim meaning to him and what Khalifah said next made Abu the Jew reel with anger. “I don’t want any gold or silver for my fish but instead I simply want you to say two words.”

For the first time Abu rose from his comfortable chair. He narrowed his eyes sharply and gritted his teeth. “You, Khalifah – the most execrable of the Muslim faith, will have me throw away my Judaism over the sake of a fish!? You will remove me from my own religion and change my entire belief system which has been taught to me and my family for generations… for a fish?!” Abu yelled to all his servants who were watching the spectacle, “Go and beat this man who wants to defile my own religion in my own shop!” And down fell Abu’s servants onto Khalifah. Though Baghdad was a city dedicated strictly to the Muslim faith money speaks universally; and Abu clearly had it and Khalifah clearly did not. Khalifah was beaten to the ground by the time Abu called his servants off of him and returned to his seat. “Leave him and let him rise,” he stated. Khalifah pushed himself from the floor and stood before Abu as if nothing had happened. “Now, Khalifah, tell me what your price is for the fish. Seriously now, as you see I’m quite sick of dealing with this very simple matter.”

Khalifah inspected his body and when he was satisfied responded, “Don’t worry about the beating. I’m 10 times more stubborn than a donkey and can take 10 times the beating of one too.” Abu smiled and restated his question clearly ready to rid him of Khalifah the Bother. “I will accept nothing from you,” Khalifah replied, “aside from two words that I’ll relate to you.”

Abu leaned down in his chair, “Khalifah, are you trying to turn me into a Muslim?”

Khalifah replied, exhausted and annoyed at the mysterious red ape, “I don’t want you to become a Muslim and I don’t want to become a Jew. I don’t want you to say anything bad having to do with the Muslim religion and I don’t want to have to say anything bad of the Jewish religion. I don’t want you to not believe in the things you believe in or believe in the things you don’t believe in,” Khalifah paused stymied, “at least I think that’s what I meant – I mean – I just want you to stand on your feet and say these words: ‘Bear witness, everybody that is here at the market today. I give Khalifah the fisherman my ape in exchange for his ape, and that I barter his lot and luck for my lot and luck .'”

The sun sinking over the real Tigris River - Khalifah can't enjoy it because he has an empty stomach

The sun sinking over the real Tigris River - Khalifah can't enjoy it because he has an empty stomach

Abu the Jewish banker looked blankly down at Khalifah, “That’s it?” Khalifah just shook his head and Abu responded, “If this is all you require for your fish then we could’ve gotten this taken care of a long time ago. This will sit lightly upon me.” Abu stood up and spoke the words that Khalifah had related. When the banker had finally spoken the word “luck” Khalifah left his shop with a strong feeling of satisfaction. However, when the door shut behind him Khalifah became quickly deflated. In front of him lay the market and he hadn’t a single piece of money to exchange for food in it – and the only fish he had caught that day was now in the hands of the banker – paid in full.

Starving and dejected Khalifah made his way back to the river. Again he passed by the children and again they teased him but he did not hear their words. Internally he was scolding himself for following the orders of a bunch of raucous apes. It was late afternoon by the time Khalifah returned to the banks of the Tigris with no apes in sight. The sun sat low in the sky. He walked down to the bank and tossed his nets for the umpteenth time. He sat and watched the sun sink lower in the sky for a while and ignoring the snarling knot inside his empty stomach. He walked up to his nets and pulled them in – they were heavy. With greater and greater force he pulled them in half expecting to see an ape and half expecting an actual meal for the first time this day. And as the net came out so did all kinds of fish. A woman walking along the bank saw the catch and offered 1 gold dinar for a fish. Another man quickly saw this transaction and came to make one himself. In total he made himself 10 gold dinars that and had enough fish for a full course meal.  That night as he lay in his bed full for the first time in weeks Khalifah recalled that he received 10 gold dinars that day just as the red ape had promised. He then slept the deepest sober sleep he had in years.

In fact Khalifah sklept so well that he woke up many hours later the next day than he had the previous day. It was already after noon and normally Khalifah would’ve been fishing all morning. Still with a full stomach Khalifah picked up his fishing nets and realized that even if he didn’t catch anything today he could have another delicious meal with the 10 dinars he had made the previous day. But – after yesterday – Khalifah was just too curious to see what the mighty Tigris had to offer today. He stepped out of his front door where the neighborhood children were playing. “Lazy Khalifah is so rich he does not need to get up until after noon to work!” yelled one. “His kingdom is but vast and wide and to travel it takes much energy from him. He must rest,” yelled another. Khalifah was used to this and he continued on to the river, at least today something interesting might happen like yesterday. His one day rest renewed his energy and maybe even the ape would reappear again today with more good news.

After only a few attempts into the Tigris deep Khalifah had obtained the amount of fish it took him all day to get yesterday. He was finished and it was hours before he had made his final trip to the river the previous day. Khalifah sold the fish and had far more money than the previous day. Khalifah paid off his debt to Kamar and bought foods he had never tried before but were common among Baghdad. Khalifah then swung down to the shop that sold alcohol and got his favorite bottle and a bit of hashish to smoke that evening. He even was able to set up his merchant stand that he never used because he never had anything to sell. As he stepped inside he realized it would be a lot better place to sleep than at home around the teasing neighborhood children. He then decided he would sleep here and sell his fish here. When he counted his profit for the day he realized again he had made 10 dinars as the ape had promised. He realized that he wouldn’t get the 10 dinars if he did not fish for the day, but realized it was a small price to pay for such fine results.

Time-appropriate art

Time-appropriate art

For 10 days this went on so that in total Khalifah the fisherman had made 100 dinars in gold. This realization came to him on the 10th night while he was in the back of his shop swigging from a bottle. “Yes. 10 days – 100 dinars. Khalifah,” he addressed himself taking a break to smoke from his pipe, “everyone knows you as a poor fisherman and now you have 100 gold dinars!” This quickly concerned Khalifah. He was not used to having money and he knew people who dealt with a lot of money usually had to deal with the Caliph. He didn’t know the details but he knew the Caliph took money just because he wanted it and nobody could tell him no.  Khalifah took another swill, “What if word got to the Caliph that I have 100 gold dinars and he calls me to his huge palace and tells me to give it to him?” Khalifah thought quickly and responded to his own question, “Well you would say, ‘Oh Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid, I am but a poor fisherman and I do not have this money you speak of. Whoever told you this information must be a liar.’ – then what would he do?” Khalifah was quiet again and the still night air of the market enveloped the room, he took a deep draw from his pipe, “he would torture me.” Khalifah got up off his bed and said to himself, “He would torture me with a whip until I gave him his 100 dinars,” Khalifah thought about this for a moment and said, “No. He will not take my 100 dinars! I earned that money myself and I will not give it to him! He can torture me all he wants he will not get my 100 dinars!” Khalifah was pacing around the room with seething anger by now but he still was debating with himself, “I can take the worst of beatings… but he will not be beating, he’ll be whipping… I’ve been whipped before and I can handle it… You’ve been whipped for not listening, not for 100 dinars, do you really think you can take that beating?… It’s been a while, but I’ll try, I’ll practice whipping myself to be ready for when the Caliph is ready to whip me!” And with this Khalifah tore off his clothes in a hazy stupor and began whipping himself as best he could. He beat himself until he screamed like that of one being tortured. Typically it’s not an activity someone participates on their own, so when the neighboring merchants came out to ask Khalifah if he was being robbed and found him naked whipping himself, they asked in astonishment what he was doing.

“If someone tells the Caliph of the dinars I have made here then he will demand it from me and when I don’t give it to him he’ll torture me. I’m accustoming myself to what may come.”

The other merchants laughed at Khalifah, “Khalifah you are a fool. May Allah not bless you or the dinars you have gotten. You’ve disturbed us all from our sleep because you’re drunk and high and doing something absolutely crazy!” All the merchants returned to their shops while Khalifah went on whipping himself.

On the 11th day Khalifah felt much like he did on the first. He was hungover and the only difference this time was that instead of waking up with hunger he woke up with scars across his body. He rolled around in pain for a while until he could rise clutching his purse with 100 gold dinars in it. Not only did he have to worry about the Caliph calling him and demanding it from him but now he had his neighbors to worry about snooping his merchant shop while he’s gone because he had admitted to them the previous night that he had quite a bit of money. Khalifah couldn’t remember if he told them it was 100 dinars, for the first time in 10 days Khalifah felt shame again. But then he remembered his 100 dinars and his shame turned to bitter greed. “If I leave the 100 dinars in the shop they’ll surely be taken, and if I bring them on my belt someone will lay in wait for me and kill me for it.” Khalifah thought for a moment and remembered a secret pocket in the collar of his gaberdine. Satisfied he put his purse in there and put on his waistcloth, girdle, and got his supplies ready to fish for the day.

Outside the children from his neighborhood had found his merchant shop. They noticed he did not leave or enter his house recently and were too interested to see what Khalifah was up to now. One of them peered his eyes into Khalifah’s window and saw him coming towards the front door with his nets. A boy stood poised next to a dirty puddle in front of Khalifah’s humble shop. As Khalifah stepped outside the boy kicked the puddle and it splashed right into Khalifah’s face. The children ran laughing. Khalifah just clutched his collar pocket with gritted teeth and went down to the deep and cool Tigris. “At least I should be done fishing by noon and I can come back and eat, drink and smoke some more.”

It was well into the afternoon and Khalifah had still not caught anything. He had tried everything – moving different places, staying in one spot, but no matter what he did he couldn’t catch any fish – and he was out later than he had been for any of the last 10 days. He became more and more frustrated with this until he cried out to Allah, much like on the first day and said “This throw will be my final throw into the river and I will fish no more after this!” With all his might Khalifah threw his nets into the deep, cool water and at the same time his collar pocket ripped throwing the purse to the depths. In slow motion he saw the pocket rip and the purse come flying out tossing some of the dinars out into the air. Khalifah could do nothing but watch as it dipped below to steady depths of the river. Immediately he tore off his clothes and dove into the Tigris. Nearly 100 times Khalifah dove to the bottom of the river and each time came up without a single dinar. On the final time he realized he hardly had enough energy to stay afloat and tore himself to the shore for no other reason than pure exhaustion. Just as Khalifah had been 11 days earlier he was again broken – sunburned, scarred, filthy and exhausted on the shore of the river.

While Khalifah was diving desperately for his dinars the children had caught him jumping like mad into the river. The boy who had kicked the puddle in Khalifah’s face earlier came up with the idea to run away with Khalifah’s clothes. So one of the boys snuck up while Khalifah dove under for the purse, grabbed his gaberdine, girdle, and waistcloth, and ran all the way back to Baghdad without stopping. When Khalifah pulled himself up from the shores to see nothing but his nets, staff, and basket he fell back to the ground again. Khalifah’s rage boiled and he crawled to his feet, wrapped his net around his body with his basket in one hand and a staff in the others. He was going to find who took his clothes. To anyone standing along the river that day Khalifah would’ve been a sight to behold – resembling a lobster that just fought off a whole fishing crew still half-wrapped in the net.

Another supposed painting of the beloved Caliph Harun Al-Rashid

Another supposed painting of the beloved Caliph Harun Al-Rashid

A short distance from the bank of the river the Caliph Al-Rashid himself was riding with his Wazir, Ja’afar. They had decided to take a ride on this particular day because people were starting to talk about Al-Rashid and his fascination for Kut al-Kulub. Al-Rashid had even been neglecting his Caliphate duties by spending almost every waking moment beside her listening to her talk and making love to her. “I have no desire to do anything else,” Al-Rashid confided to his loyal Wazir. Ja’afar pondered thoughtfully and then remarked, “Even your wife, the Lady Zubaydah, hasn’t seen you nearly in proportion as Kut al-Kulub. You have responsibilities Oh Commander of the Faithful.”

“Yes, you’re right,” responded the Caliph disappointed but pleased with the sense of truth he spoke, “You were right Ja’afar to make me come out on this day. But right now I am so thirsty, is that a man atop that mound over there?” Ja’afar agreed that it was and offered to go ask him for some water but the Caliph insisted on doing it himself as he would’ve had to wait even longer for the water. Al-Rashid started to ride on his mule towards the man in the distance.

Khalifah had just walked up the edge of the Tigris when a man on a mule in the distance rode up to greet him. When the Caliph saw him he was astonished at how horrible Khalifah looked, wrapped up in his net, basket in one hand, and staff in the other. Khalifah was dirty, sunburned, exhausted, and still had open wounds across his whole body from the night before. Still the Caliph saluted the odious man and Khalifah returned the salute. Certain that this homeless man did not recognize who he was he asked politely, “Do you by chance have any water?” Khalifah snapped back at him, “There is a whole rivers worth down there!” The Caliph thanked him and rode down to the waters edge and took his drink. Then he called Khalifah down to the water’s edge. Al-Rashid was unsure how to start a conversation with such a strange man.

“Can I ask what is your profession?” he began. Khalifah flared up even angrier than before, “I didn’t know you could come up with a sillier question than that about the water but you have! I do believe the only thing that is between both me and you is my profession!”

“So it is!” replied the Caliph, unsure of what to say next he addressed the elephant in the room, “Then where is your gaberdine, girdle, waistcloth, and the rest of your clothing?” Khalifah began to suspect that if this strange man with soft skin and outlandish clothing knew what he was wearing then he must’ve been the thief playing a trick on Khalifah. Certainly with what this man was wearing he wouldn’t know the specifics of Khalifah’s clothing so well unless he took it himself. “Give me back my clothes right this minute, I’m tired of the jokes!”Khalifah yelled.

“I promise!” replied the Caliph, “I do not know a thing about your clothes!”

Khalifah rejoined, “If you do not give me my clothes back right now I will take this staff and bash it right over your skull!” The Caliph, a bit unnerved, pulled off his satin gown and gave it to him instead. “Take this in place of your clothes,” the Caliph said. Khalifah looked it over unimpressed complaining about how much more his lost clothes were worth because they actually were durable. Khalifah slipped it over himself and cut around the bottom because it was too long. The Caliph watched one of his fine silk gowns get shredded by this vile man and could do nothing but laugh to himself at the sight. Khalifah amused the Caliph and when he was done shredding his gown he turned to the Caliph and asked how much a soft man like him earned, “10 dinars a month” the Caliph replied picking a typical wage among the poor in the city.

“That’s too bad for you!” replied Khalifah, “I make 10 dinars every day!” Khalifah happened to ignore the fact that this day was not one of them, “If you want I’ll show you how to fish and we’ll split the profit!” Al-Rashid, still amused by Khalifah, agreed and Khalifah taught the Caliph how to fish. And before long the Caliph had caught dozens of fish with Khalifah’s net, and Khalifah could not be more excited. “I’ll look after these fish here by the river and you take your mule to market and get a couple of frails. Then we can take the fish to my stand in the market and split the profit.”

“Hearing is obeying,” replied the Caliph, hopped on his mule, and rode back up over the mound back towards Ja’afar. Ja’afar noticed that the Caliph had lost his serious demeanor of the previous conversation about Kut al-Kulub and instead it was replaced with a grin. The Caliph related all that he saw down by the river and how Khalifah was naked and angry and cut up his robe. Ja’afar just listened relieved the Caliph had found something else to put his mind on. “… and so now he’s down there waiting for me to come back with a couple of frails. But Ja’afar, I’m tired now and want to go back to my palace and rest.”

“Right,” said Ja’afar, “I’ll send someone in place of you to get the frails and return to Khalifah then?” The Caliph laughed, “Tell anyone that brings me a fish from Khalifah – the man who taught me to fish – will get 1 gold dinar!” And with that the troops swept forth to the riverbank to collect a fish for a dinar.

Khalifah sat on the riverbank sorting through his bunches of fish picking out the two he was going to have for dinner that night when he heard a strange rumbling. He set down his basket next to the pile of fish and took his two favorite with him to look over the edge of the river bank. To his surprise a whole slew of soldiers and slaves came rushing up to the bank covering the entire area with dust. Khalifah’s eyes widened and he ran back down the edge of the bank and quickly began to try and hide the fish – but there were too many and all of the servants came down the side of the river and picking up the fish. “No! Don’t take them! I’ve earned these for my living!” Khalifah yelled in fear. But as the men surrounded him he realized they were offering him money! Khalifah motioned down to his basket and began granting soldier after slave a fish for some silver.

And just as quickly as they had arrived all of the men were gone back over the river bank. A stunned and dusty Khalifah looked down at his basket full of silver and all he was carrying were the two fish he was going to have for dinner tonight. He looked down at his two fish and then just looked ahead blankly for a long moment – then he shouted. “Wahoo! Those fish must’ve been straight from paradise!” He let out another howl of excitement and jumped into the river to clean himself and his fish off. He dove under and felt the cool water rush around his body and he came back up to the edge of the shore refreshed, “Oh Allah, by the virtue of these fish, let my soft-skinned silly clothed servant come back with the frails at this very moment!”

And at that very moment the chief of the Caliph’s black slaves, Sandal, came over the riverbank. He had ridden behind the rest and had just finished tying up his mule before spotting Khalifah. Sandal was a eunuch which is a slave that have been castrated so as to be trustworthy enough to serve women. The Caliph had thousands of eunuchs – of many races. I just thought that was noteworthy. So Sandal saw that Khalifah had 2 fish left and he knew that meant the Caliph would give him 2 gold dinars.

“How much for those fish?” the eunuch asked.

“They are not for sale, go away!” Khalifah yelled back at the intimidating character. Though Sandal was castrated he did not become the chief of the black eunuchs without brute strength. Sandal continued to approach Khalifah who got a little nervous – but they were his two best fish and he planned on eating them that night.

“Give me the fish and I’ll pay you the price,” stated Sandal, more directly this time. Khalifah was nervous but was not quick to back down.

“Has a genie got ahold of your head? These fish are not for sale!” Khalifah looked right into Sandal’s eyes only to find that they were already piercingly staring back. Sandal reached into his waist and pulled out a mace. “Oh! These fish are for sale though!” Khalifah restated holding up the very two fish he was about to hide behind his back. He handed the fish to Sandal and Sandal reached into his pockets for the silver. After checking his pockets multiple times he realized he had none. Khalifah looked at him.

“I don’t have your silver so you’re out of luck,” Sandal said sternly. Just as Khalifah was about to fly into a torrent of words Sandal continued, “But I’ll tell you what I will do for you. You come tomorrow to the Palace of the Caliphate and ask for the eunuch Sandal; the slaves will then bring you to me and I will pay you what I owe you and I will be free of your debt.” The thought of being able to go to the palace of the mighty Caliph Al-Rashid to collect money was too much for Khalifah. Despite having taught him to fish earlier Khalifah thought he had never seen the person closest to Allah, let alone be able to collect money from his home.

“Thank you, Sandal!” Khalifah replied, “Today is a blessed day and it has been from the moment the sun rose over the desert this morning. I will be by tomorrow to collect my silver.” With that Khalifah and Sandal parted ways.

As dusk settled the sun cast deep colors across the market in Baghdad. Khalifah took his basket of silver and bought food, drink, and smoke with it. He walked along a common street in the market where many shops were closing down for the day. He passed by the tailor who noticed Khalifah’s peculiar outfit. As Khalifah approached he thought it looked like clothing of the Caliph and wanted to take a closer look. He called out to Khalifah who looked like he had been dragged across the desert by a camel but had a calm look to his face.

“Khalifah – by chance could you tell me where you got your gown?”

“It’s ugly isn’t it? This was a gift given to me by my new apprentice. If he didn’t give it to me I’d have had his hand chopped off for stealing my clothes from me! I took the young man and taught him how to make a real living for a day – instead of stealing! I taught him so well, look how much he earned me and I hardly had to lift a finger!” While Khalifah was bragging the tailor was certain the gown was of the Caliph and worth 1000 dinars had Khalifah not sliced it up with his knife.  As he bid Khalifah goodnight the tailor mused at what the Caliph had done when he came across Khalifah. He just imagined Khalifah the wretch and the Commander of the Faithful interacting and chuckled to himself before he returned home to his family to tell the story.

———————————————–

Earlier that day while Khalifah was teaching the Caliph how to fish a plot was being conspired back at the palace of the Caliphate. Lady Zubaydah, the wife of Harun Al-Rashid, was seething with jealousy over Kut al-Kulub. “I am the Caliph’s wife! I should be respected as such! Night and day he spends all his hours with her! What does she have that I can not provide? A Caliph has his right to his concubines but this is excessive – I am being treated more like a concubine than his wife! There is only one thing that must be done then!” She looked directly at her most faithful eunuch (a castrated slave), “You are going to find the lady Kut al-Kulub and you are going to tell her how pleased I am that I finally get to meet the adoration of my husbands affection. Tell her that I, the wife of the Commander of the Faithful, am inviting her to a banquet this afternoon to witness her most perfect mental and physical grace in person. Fill her head with pride so it is certain that she comes, and tell her I insist. And then later tonight, when you are serving the dessert, drug her so that she passes out and will not wake up – but do not kill her.” The eunuch replied, “Hearing is obeying,” and left.

Kut al-Kulub? I say yes.

Kut al-Kulub? I say yes.

When Lady Zubaydah saw Kut al-Kulub for the first time that evening her jealousy redoubled. She was the most beautiful woman in all of the Caliphate and she carried herself in a way most women could only dream of. With her teeth gritted Lady Zubaydah continued to flatter her guest and talk with her finding Kut al-Kulub’s knowledge far outranged her own. At long last dessert was finally served and Kut al-Kulub ate hers with pleasure and compliments – this was sweetest of all to the Lady Zubaydah. A short while later Kut al-Kulub’s form finally took an imperfect form, her eyes drooped heavily, and Kut al-Kulub was asleep on the table that lay in front of her. She turned to her most trusted eunuch and told him to carry her upstairs and then immediately prepare a tomb for her before the Caliph returned with Ja’afar. The eunuch took Kut al-Kulub under the arms and brought her up the stairs.

When Caliph Al-Rashid rode into the palace that evening he was all smiles. “Oh yes, Mr. Caliph sir, I was wondering if you had a magnificent robe that I could knife up with my scaly fishing knife, I believe I could be starting a new trend for Caliph’s of the future!” Al-Rashid joked to Ja’afar.

“Indeed that is funny Oh Commander of the Faithful, but it looks as if a slave is here to give you a message,” Ja’afar responded and looked down at the nervous slave who began kissing the ground before the Caliph.

“May you live 1000 years and never die!” the slave began, “but be certain that Kut al-Kulub choked on her food and died this very night!”

For the Caliph day turned to night and light turned to dark, he was silent while he ran into the palace with Ja’afar close behind. “Where is her tomb!?” he shouted. Servants quickly showed him the way to the falsified tomb. Outside of it the Lady Zubaydah stood innocently yet menacingly. Each servant in the area knew the truth but did not dare speak a word for fear of their lives. The Caliph sat in the tomb for an hour before retiring to his room for the evening heartbroken.

Lady Zubaydah and her eunuch walked upstairs to the room they were hiding Kut al-Kulub in. She was still sound asleep. “I couldn’t kill her, you know that,” Lady Zubaydah said to the eunuch, “But what can I do with her? She’ll be awake within a day or two!” The eunuch stayed silent hoping that he would not have to murder such a lovely woman. “Bring me that chest from my chamber,” Lady Zubaydah finally ordered and the eunuch left and returned with the chest. “Yes, this will work. We’ll put her in here and tomorrow you will go to market at your usual time and you will bring this chest to sell with you. Now this is what you will tell anybody who wants to buy the chest – they must buy it locked. Tell them there is no key so it can only be used as a bench or table. This way no one will ever open it and no one will ever find out the fate of the wonderous Kut al-Kulub.”

“Hearing is obeying,” replied the eunuch and the two retired for the evening.

————————————-

Khalifah woke up early the next morning of the 12th day. He had went to bed early the night before due to exhaustion of his hard day of losing all of his money. He glanced over at his what was left of his silver, which wasn’t much. He wondered for a moment whatever happened to the soft faced boy that gave him that silly robe. But there was something bigger on his mind – for today he was going to visit the palace of the Caliphate. Today was the day Khalifah was going to collect a debt from the palace of the Caliph himself! Khalifah didn’t need to go fishing today and put on his best clothes that he owned. They were tattered and dulled from overuse but they were clean. Khalifah was about to step out the front door when he saw the neighborhood children outside with some rotten fruit from the night before ready to throw at Khalifah when he stepped outside. Khalifah slipped out the back of his small shop with the rest of his silver and ran behind the string of shops to the sweets store on the other side of the market. He bought a handful of sweets and circled around behind the children so that he was facing his shop waiting for himself to come out to hit with fruit. Khalifah sat on a bench mere meters behind the children.

“He’s gonna get it good when he gets out? Hmm?” asked Khalifah to the boy that kicked water in his face the previous day. The boy responded without looking back, afraid that if he did he’d miss the moment to get Khalifah right in the face, “Oh yea, you should see how mad he gets! He never learns, that Khalifah!” Then the boy recognized the voice as Khalifah’s but by the time he turned around all that was in his place was a pile of sweets for the boys. Khalifah was disappearing into the morning crowd chuckling to himself – he had outsmarted the children so today was certainly going to be a good day.

Khalifah wandered through the streets of the market and then through his poor neighborhood that he hadn’t returned to the last couple of weeks. He saw his neighbors living humbly and they could tell as he passed that he walked with a purpose today. “Where are you going Khalifah?” they would ask, “I’m going to collect my debt. From the palace of the Caliphate!” Most people knew that when words like these came out of Khalifah’s mouth to get back to doing work. Khalifah continued his walk through the nicer neighborhoods of Baghdad where more prosperous merchants, sailors, and soldiers lived. Then Khalifah found himself in the nicest neighborhoods that surrounded the palace where dignitaries lived, people who knew the Caliph directly, Khalifah slowed his pace feeling a bit intimidated by all of the materialism. He, after all, was only going to collect two pieces of silver and even if he had his 100 dinars couldn’t even purchase a single decoration from one of these houses. Yet, he continued on because a debt is a debt and any man can appreciate that being worth settling.

Arabian architecture is awesome

Arabian architecture is awesome

When Khalifah reached the gates of the palace he realized that he was in the presence of a place so beautiful he might as well have been wearing his fishing nets over himself as he did the day before because the clothes he had on were not much better. Shame burned him as he walked towards the slave entrance of the palace – the slave entrance – and he still felt unworthy. Then he stopped before he approached the slave in front of the door to collect himself. This man took 2 fish from you yesterday, Khalifah said to himself, and you are entitled to 2 dirhams of silver for them – now march inside this palace and act like you deserve it – if you show them weakness they’ll laugh at you for trying to do business out of the palace of the Caliphate.

He went up quite bravely to the slave standing at the door and said as professionally as he thought he could be, “I am here to see Sandal the eunuch, please,” Khalifah was then led into the entrance where Mamelukes (white slaves), black slaves, and eunuchs poured about the quarters taking care of their portion of the palace. Khalifah was awed by the sight but then remembered that this was a business trip and followed the slave through a few more chambers until he was in a small room with a few other eunuchs. Across the room was Sandal and Khalifah approached him.

“I have not disappointed you gentleman. We fisherman are men of our words,” Khalifah addressed Sandal. When Sandal turned his head to see who had spoken to him he nearly hopped back when his eyes recognized him as that wretch of a fisherman he promised two dirhams of silver to but yesterday in clothes that weren’t fit for a beggar. Sandal laughed long and deep.

“By Allah, you know I’m no gentleman. But you are right Fisherman, you are a man of your word, as am I,” Sandal reached for his pouch to pay the fisherman and continue on with his work when who walks into the room but the Grand Wazir of the Caliph himself, Ja’afar. Though Ja’afar was not the Caliph many around the palace treated them as one in the same for whatever Ja’afar said always allied with the Caliph and whatever the Caliph said always allied with Ja’afar. To do anything but stand at absolute attention in his presence would be disrespectful and Sandal stopped everything he was doing, including getting Khalifah his silver.

But Khalifah, not used to the customs of the palace, just watched Sandal reach for his pouch and then drop it behind his robe again. And when he looked up at Sandal’s face to see what the matter was he noticed he stopped paying attention to him completely! Khalifah did notice a man enter the room but Khalifah did not think Sandal so daft to forget something as simple as paying him 2 dirhams – but yet he continued to gaze his attention elsewhere. Khalifah, so focused on the interruption and Sandal’s odd behavior, failed to notice everyone else standing at attention for Ja’afar in the room. And Ja’afar himself was almost standing at attention looking at the filthy man that was so focused on his eunuch Sandal. Khalifah decided that Sandal must have no attention span and to remind him of the reason why he’s there.

“Oh gentleman, the silver you promised me, so I may go please,” Khalifah began to feel uneasy and did not like the situation. Sandal continued to stand at attention out of respect for the Grand Wazir. Khalifah snapped.

“Oh! Are we waiting for the moon to be full first? Was this some part of the agreement I do not remember? May Allah put the greatest shame on the man who takes from an honest worker and does not give him proper pay for it. If you think you’d like to fix that situation you can simply just pay me my two dirhams and I will be on my way. Most gratefully to Allah will I be on my way!” Ja’afar watched this spectacle with bemusement. It wasn’t every day somebody would act so foolish in front of him. However, Ja’afar saw it was becoming obvious that this man was getting quite angry at Sandal.

“Oh Eunuch, what does that beggar want with you?” Ja’afar asked.

“You don’t know him, my lord Wazir?” asked Sandal surprised.

“Please! I am quite certain I would remember this unique character,” Ja’afar smiled.

“This is the man whose fish we bought yesterday that the Caliph asked us to get for him. I didn’t want to return to the Commander of the Faithful without a gift of fish when all the other soldiers had some. I promised him that I’d pay him today.”

“Sandal! You don’t know who this is, do you?!” asked Ja’afar excitedly, “How interesting that he show up at the Caliph’s hour of need.”

“Grand Wazir, who is he?,” replied Sandal.

“This is the Master of the Commander of the Faithful and equal partner in business!” Ja’afar beamed. Sandal couldn’t help but break a smile at the thought of this poor fisherman being the master of anything, let alone the Caliph. Ja’afar continued, “You know how the Caliph’s feeling about Kut al-Kulub’s death and nothing that has been tried today has come even close to cheering the Commander of the Faithful up. The last time I saw the Caliph so happy was yesterday after meeting this very fisherman and today it will be this fisherman again that will bring joy to our commander. Please Sandal, may I take him?”

“Do what you will with him, you know my only relationship to him, Oh Grand Wazir.”

“Great!” replied Ja’afar smiling, “Make sure he doesn’t go anywhere and I’ll be back,” he looked knowingly at Sandal, “I’ve got a plan.” Ja’afar disappeared back behind the door. Sandal ordered the other eunuchs in the room to seize Khalifah for Ja’afar.

Khalifah, not understanding exactly what passed between the eunuch and the strange man that entered the room, all of a sudden found himself seized by the other eunuchs in the room. “So what a wonderful payment for my fish – you know, you were wrong, you really are a gentleman! I come for my payment and instead you are going to imprison me and demand payment from me! There is no finer gentleman than that!” Sandal put cotton in his ears and went about his business.

The Caliph mourning over Kut-al-Kulub's death... and a random slave?

The Caliph mourning over Kut-al-Kulub's death... and a random slave?

Inside the main hall, where the Caliph sat on his throne, was quiet and melancholy. As the Caliph sulked on his throne for loss of his love Ja’afar approached and greeted him. The Caliph returned his greeting.

“Oh Commander of the Faithful, do I have your honorable permission to speak freely?”

“Who ever put a restraint on it my Grand Wazir? Say whatever is on your mind.”

“Well,” started Ja’afar in a very serious manner, “as you know I have just left you to return to my house when on my way a man was waiting outside the palace. And who was it but your Master and partner, Khalifah the Fisherman!” Ja’afar paused for a moment for effect, “And you’ll never guess but he was here because he wanted to complain about your behavior. In fact, he told me this exactly, ‘By Allah I taught him how to fish and when I needed him to fetch me a pair of frails he left and never came back. This is the work of a bad partner and a bad apprentice.’ So, Oh Commander of the Faithful, he awaits you just outside the palace right now expecting you to either tell him yes, you wish to continue this partnership you promised or no, you don’t wish to continue it. That is the due he charges you with now. He said it’s only fair for him to know so that he can find a new partner.” For the first time since entering the palace the previous night the Caliph beamed.

“Are you serious Ja’afar?” he asked incredulously, “Is he really outside the palace right now?”

“By Allah and life he stands right outside the palace at this very moment.” The Caliph’s mind raced and a larger smile slowly consumed his face as he thought. Ja’afar began to congratulate himself in his head on what a terrific Wazir he was to make the Caliph so happy at the height of his mourning. It was clear that Khalifah had the power to make the Caliph happy regardless of the situation – he was better than a jester.

“Oh Ja’afar, by Allah, I will give Khalifah his due alright! Take that paper over there and cut me 40 pieces,” the Caliph ordered and the Wazir followed them happily. Ja’afar exaggerated his excitement to make the Caliph feel better and it was clear that at the moment Kut al-Kulub was off of his mind and that Ja’afar had succeeded in his duties as Grand Wazir. He certainly was Grand alright…

“If Allah wants to send him misery through me then he will send him misery, if Allah wants to send him propserity, then he will have that,” the Caliph continued. Ja’afar finished cutting the 40 pieces and looked curiously interested at what the Caliph meant by “misery.”

“On 20 pieces of paper put different sums of money, anywhere between 1 dinar and 1000 dinars – oh and also throw in some positions around the palace – anywhere from the least appointment to the Caliphate!” Ja’afar looked wide-eyed at the Caliph but did as he said, “On the other 20 pieces of paper put 20 kinds of punishment from the lightest beating all the way to death. Now when the fisherman comes in here I will have him choose 1 of these 40 pieces of paper and whatever is written on that paper I will give him.”

“Even the Caliphate?” Ja’afar asked wide-eyed.

“Even the Caliphate and with no ill will,” Al-Rashid replied seriously, “Of course if he picks hanging, mutilation, or death then he will also receive that. Now go and fetch him while I prepare,” replied the Caliph. There was no trace of sadness on the Caliph now, but Ja’afar thought to himself, at what cost? If this fisherman dies simply because he was trying to cheer up the Caliph then Ja’afar would be responsible. And if this wretch of a fisherman becomes the new Caliph, again, it will be due to Ja’afar’s lies. As Ja’afar walked to get Khalifah his mind raced for a way to diffuse the situation, but knowing that the Caliph had ordered it, he knew nothing else could be done. When Ja’afar re-entered the room where he last saw Sandal and Khalifah, he found Khalifah ranting despite all the eunuchs’ collective annoyance.

“I’ve learned my lesson! Never trust a slave who has more gold than I’ve earned in my entire life. Because that slave will invite you to the Caliph’s palace and try to make me pay money I do not have! And he does this with the audacity of knowledge that it is actually he who owes silver to me! Like I said, you are no slave, but a gentleman! You’ve treated me like nothing but an honored guest since I’ve shown up!” Khalifah wailed but did not fight as 2 eunuchs held him by the arm and two eunuchs stood closeby in case he became violent. Ja’afar sighed and waived at the eunuchs to bring Khalifah to him and to follow him to the Caliph. Realizing that he was being taken away from Sandal, who had not acknowledged him since Ja’afar originally entered the room, Khalifah began directing his insults at Ja’afar, whom he did not know to be the Grand Wazir.

I'm sure the beauty inside the Caliphate much exceeded this

Middle East - 10 points for your attention to detail!

“And if he is a gentleman, then you must be a Persian Prince! And I’m not only held here against my will to be robbed of my empty pockets by a treasure chest! It’s not enough for you all to arrest me – but these slaves must come with me wherever I go like I am Allah’s most dangerous enemy! Certainly it takes nothing less than a gentleman and a Persian Prince to treat me with such honor and dignity for going to collect a debt of 2 dirhams!” Ja’afar easily became unaffected by Khalifah’s words because they were nothing but a bunch of hot air. However, understanding that he did put Khalifah in a position he did not belong or asked for, Ja’afar’s heart was with him. Despite his loud raucous, Ja’afar was certain that Khalifah deserved compensation for being put out of his way like this. After all – he was just a simple fisherman who was doing nothing but his trade. No matter which way Ja’afar cut it, Khalifah had done no wrong. As they walked through 7 vestabules total filled with riches beyond Khalifah’s wildest dreams he did not see them. His world was dark and full of unjust treatment and that is exactly what he was focused on.

Khalifah only shut his mouth for a moment when Ja’afar had led him in front of a giant curtain. Ja’afar looked at Khalifah starkly, “Mark my words, Oh Fisherman! You stand in front of the Commander of the Faithful and the defender of the Faith of Islam!” With this the curtain was raised and the Caliph was exposed. Though this was the same hall where Ja’afar and the Caliph had just cut and filled out the papers the atmosphere was completely different. The hall was lit brightly and the Caliph looked stately and impressive with countless servants and people of high importance at his side. Wealth beamed from the Caliph’s presence as he was seated on the couch looking down upon both Ja’afar and Khalifah. Despite this dramatic display much was lost to Khalifah. When he heard Ja’afar’s words a moment of panic and fear struck him for he remembered the other night where he feared this very scenario. He was about to be whipped by the Caliph for the money that he had regretfully lost in the river. Now he was about to be whipped by the Caliph and he had no money this time.

But when the curtain dropped Khalifah was relieved to find that it was not the Caliph that sat behind the curtain, but instead a bunch of men he did not know – except for one! After Ja’afar’s words the hall was silent. Khalifah walked up to the Caliph and spoke.

“Well if it isn’t the man with the soft skin and silly clothes. I see you found yourself some even stranger clothes to wear! Was this what you did instead of getting my frails? It wasn’t right of you to say you were my partner and apprentice in fishing and then never return leaving me to guard all the fish. And do you know why it wasn’t right? Because once you left I was swarmed by soldiers and servants of this very palace and they bought the fish at a much cheaper price than if you would’ve returned quickly with the frails. And so I come here today to receive my payment and they have arrested me to steal money I do not have.  And this is all your fault because you did not return with the frails. But, Softskin, tell me for why have they imprisoned you?” Khalifah asked with interest after his scolding, “You have even less money than me! For a palace so grand you would expect the Caliph to be spending his time robbing someone a little richer than us, no?”

The Caliph simply smiled, “Please come here Khalifah and take one of these pieces of paper.”

“Yesterday you were a fisherman and today you are an astrologer! But the more trades a man has the less he gains from them!” Khalifah replied hoping to convince this lucky boy to return to fishing with him as he captured more fish than Khalifah had on any of his previous days.

“Do as he says and do it now!” Ja’afar said sternly.

Perhaps this is the jar the Caliph put the papers in!

Perhaps this is the jar the Caliph put the papers in!

This aggravated Khalifah and he replied spitefully, “The Persian Prince has spoken! I didn’t even want to work with this poor, goofy apprentice in the first place!” He walked forward and took a piece of paper from a jar giving it to the Caliph. Khalifah waited in angst as the Caliph passed it to Ja’afar.

“Read the paper aloud,” the Caliph ordered. Ja’afar slowly unfolded the paper and looked at it. Shame poured upon the Wazir when he read the words and he cried out.

“There is no Majesty and there is no Might, save in Allah, the Glorious and the Great!” Ja’afar cried the usual words of bad news.

The Caliph’s eyes narrowed and counteracted with, “I hope Allah has given you the opportunity to give me good news. Read the paper, Oh Grand Wazir!”

“The paper states, ‘Let the fisherman receive an hundred blows with the stick.'”

“Then Allah shall be granted his wish!” The Caliph roared and ordered a guard to go over to Khalifah and whip him.

“I knew it! I knew you would torture me for my money!” And down upon Khalifah the guard came with a stick. They lifted his shirt and pulled down the back of his pants and began beating both his back and bottom. At first welts swelled over his own beating from a few nights previous. Once the welts split blood began to gush down his back. Finally the beatings ended and Khalifah lay a bloody pile on the floor in front of the Chief Justice of Allah. Then, slowly, Khalifah began to raise himself.  He stood up in his pool of blood that lay beneath his feet and wiped sweat and blood away from his face and looked right at Ja’afar with an intense renewal of energy and spite.

“I can take the beatings of 100 stubborn donkeys and I swear to you I have no gold to give! I hope you’re enjoying your game of imprisoning and beating someone who has come only to complete an honest business proposal, you’ve been nothing less than the prince I’ve known you as since you brought me here!” Khalifah hissed at Ja’afar. Ja’afar looked up at the Caliph who looked content to let Khalifah go with 100 beatings for the collection of his meger and necessary pay. Then Ja’afar looked back at Khalifah, a bloody mess – and knew that none of this would’ve happened save for his entrance to the room when he was collecting his debt from Sandal, and then he knew none of this would’ve happened without his meddling so Ja’afar worked up his courage and spoke directly to the Caliph.

“Oh Commander of the Faithful,” Ja’afar began his appeal, “this poor devil came to the river to drink, and how should we now let him go away thirsting? Give this poor beggar something as that was his intent on coming. We have only taken from him, we have given him nothing.” The Caliph narrowed his eyes at Ja’afar for daring to question his magnanimity, “My suggestion,” then continued Ja’afar reading the Caliph very clearly, “is that we allow a charity to this worthless wight and allow him to choose another paper to hopefully admonish his poverty.”

“You understand,” the Caliph addressed Ja’afar, “that if he takes another one of these papers and he receives death then I will assuredly kill him. And this will all be the cause of your interference.” Ja’afar looked over at Khalifah who was already a mess because of him.

“If he dies, he’ll be at rest,” Ja’afar responded.

With those words Khalifah’s eyes widened, “May Allah never gladden you with any good news!  Has Baghdad become so constricted that you seek to murder me for some extra space? What have I ever done to you? I just came to collect 2 dirhams of silver!” Khalifah could not believe what he heard just pass between them about him. He had just taken 100 beatings, and Allah only knew what other punishments lay within those papers, and yet this man Khalifah called a Persian Prince wanted him to draw another!

“Just take a paper and crave a blessing from Allah,” Ja’afar replied to Khalifah sincerely. Khalifah walked from his pool of blood back to the Caliph who reached out the container of papers. Khalifah drew one with a large flicker of annoyance crossing his face. He walked back down to Ja’afar and glaringly gave the paper to him. Blood and sweat was smeared across the back as Ja’afar opened the paper and stared at the words without saying a thing.

“Why are you quiet Oh Grand Wazir?” the Caliph asked.

“The paper says,” began Ja’afar, startled back to reality by Al-Rashid, “Nothing shall be given to the fisherman.” A sigh of relief left Khalifah.

“Hmm,” mused the Caliph, “Well then his daily bread shall not come from us! Guards, escort the fisherman out of my palace!”

“Just one moment please, Oh Commander of the Faithful,” quickly interrupted Ja’afar. The guilt of Khalifah leaving with no just compensation for his fish and instead being beaten severely still weighed heavily on him, “Please let the fisherman take a third paper that will hold his charity!” Khalifah could not believe what he was hearing. He had escaped death twice for trying to honestly collect his living and yet this man continued to put his life in danger.

“Let him take one and no more,” compromised Caliph Al-Rashid, “and if death comes, then death will come.” For a third time the Caliph extended the container with the remaining 38 pieces of paper. Khalifah dug his hand deep into the papers and brought another one out and scathingly gave it Ja’afar. Ja’afar slowly opened up the paper. The hall was silent aside from the unfolding. Wealth unimaginable gleamed from every corner of the hall. The suspense thickened.

Khalifah's single dinar of gold given to him by the Caliph

Khalifah's single dinar of gold given to him by the Caliph

“The fisherman will be given one dinar of gold,” Ja’afar said flatly and turning to Khalifah said, “I’ve sought nothing but good fortune for you but Allah has willed it that you get nothing except for this single dinar of gold,” which Ja’afar pulled out of his robe and gave it to Khalifah.

“Thank you again Persian Prince,” Khalifah remarked with heavy sarcasm, “For every hundred beatings I receive with a stick I get 1 dinar of gold, this is exactly the good fortune you’ve worked so hard to give me,” Khalifah looked in disgust at Ja’afar and spit on the floor into his own puddle of blood, “May Allah never send your body any health!”

With these words the Caliph laughed in delight, “This man will never tire in amusing me,” he chuckled, “Now please, eunuchs, escort him back to whence he came,” and Khalifah was taken back to the slave quarters in which he entered the palace.  Khalifah saw nothing but red as he walked toward the exit of the palace grounds. While a gold dinar was more than the 2 pieces of silver he had come for, it seemed an insult after his 100 beatings.

Sandal was working near the exit of the slave quarters when he saw Khalifah come through the room in which he left him at. Knowing that the Caliph only wanted to see Khalifah for pleasure he was certain Khalifah received much more than the 2 pieces of silver he had come for. “Oh fisherman,” cried Sandal, “why don’t you share some of the riches you received from the Caliph when he was playing with you?”

“Oh yes gentleman! And will you share with me you worthless slave?” Khalifah shot back full of venomous hate, “I have eaten a stick to the tune of a hundred blows, and my payment? 1 gold dinar. So you!” he looked at Sandal at his wits end and yelled, “You are all too welcome to this single worthless dinar!” and took the dinar from his pocket and threw it right at Sandal. As the dinar hit Sandal’s robes Khalifah began to have tears stream down his cheeks while running wildly for the exit. He had come to the palace of the Caliphate to collect an honest debt and now he was beaten and humiliated. Sandal immediately ordered two slaves to grab Khalifah and bring him to him.

“I’ve said too much and I have wronged you,” Sandal spoke to Khalifah who had his head lowered in shame, he could not leave even if he tried. Sandal reached into his robe and pulled out a red purse, he opened it, and dumped the contents into Khalifah’s hand. “Take this 100 gold dinars in payment for your fish and do not feel that I have wronged you,” Sandal said bending over to pick up the dinar Khalifah had just thrown at him, “And don’t forget the Caliph’s dinar!”

Despite just being severely beaten Khalifah felt a whole new sense of energy and power. He now had 101 gold dinars and was now richer than he had ever been. He did not remember leaving the palace for he was celebrating in his head. He had scars on his back but walked with pride unrivaled by anybody as he enetered the market. He saw a group of people around a stand and headed toward the crowd. They were huddled around the stand so close that Khalifah could not see what was being sold on the inside so absentmindedly he began pushing through the crowd. The crowd easily spread for Khalifah who was still bloodied from his beatings at the palace. Inside the stand was an elaborate chest with a eunuch sitting atop it. Next to the chest and eunuch was a merchant crying out, “Oh merchants, men of money, who will lay down some money for the unknown contents of this chest? It is said that this chest was never to be opened again and was taken directly from Lady Zubaydah of the Palace of the Caliphate, which is why a eunuch sits atop of it. Who will be willing to throw down some money for this beautiful chest?”

“20 gold dinars,” an unknown man from the crowd began the bidding. Also within the crowd with Khalifah was the tailor who had seen Khalifah in the Caliph’s torn up robe. When he heard the chest came from Lady Zubaydah he hoped that some expensive clothing lie inside and he joined into the bidding. “50 gold dinars!” the tailor yelled. Khalifah watched and listened in amazement. He had never had enough money to be around, let alone participate, in an auction like this. He had more than 50 gold dinars and if he chose to he could bet on this chest, and he was about to open his mouth when another man in the back of the crowd shouted, “70 gold dinars!” Khalifah was about to bid again when he wasn’t sure how much he should bid now, the tailor yelled out from the crowd again, “80 gold dinars!” Khalifah got annoyed, his mind couldn’t work this fast, the minute somebody gave a price somebody else was already giving out a new price. He opened his mouth to yell again when someone else in the crowd, in an act of desperation, shouted out, “95 gold dinars!” The tailor knew that the man bidding against him had spent all of his money and shouted in return, “100 gold dinars!” Khalifah was in a dead panic, he wanted to bid for the chest even if he didn’t get it, just to be a part of normal market life and in an act of desperation he shouted out louder and more intensely than any other, “100 gold dinars and 1!”

Time-appropriate art

Time-appropriate art

Everybody looked at Khalifah, the bloody miserable wretch, in shock. The tailor looked at Khalifah, his new opponent in bidding for the chest, and began to laugh out loud. “Oh eunuch, sell the chest to Khalifah the fisherman for 101 dinars,” the tailor could not help but laugh at the situations he ran into Khalifah and felt nothing but goodwill toward him. The crowd began to cheer, to see such a poor miserable fisherman purchasing something from the Caliphate amused everybody. What was even more amusing was when Khalifah actually produced all 101 dinars on the spot. Once the transaction took place the crowd began to disperse and the eunuch made his way back to Lady Zubaydah to tell her he accomplished her mission and received 101 dinars in compensation for the chest. Within minutes the stand was completely empty and Khalifah had a chest that he could not carry; he also was completely broke agian. He had spent the rest of the silver on sweets for the children and he had spent all the money he had earned from Sandal on this chest. Yet Khalifah was stubbornly satisfied because he had a big expensive chest now and it looked important.

He walked around the chest and tried picking it up and was only able to lift it to his waist before he dropped it again, “This chest sure is heavy!” Khalifah said to himself looking around a little meekly feeling a little foolish for spending all of his money on something he could not carry. However, 15 minutes later he had propped up the chest diagonally against the wall and squeezed underneath it and used his shredded back for support. Though it stung he felt proud that he had found a way to move the chest and dragged it all the way to his shop. However once he reached his shop he realized the chest would not fit inside.

Another 20 minutes found everything that was once inside Khalifah’s humble shop was now sitting in front of it and the chest was now inside. He squeezed what he could back into his shop but left the table outside underneath the wooden awning. Khalifah made all kinds of efforts to open the chest but was too exhausted and decided to wait until morning. Having no money Khalifah made his bed atop the chest and went to sleep early and hungry as he had not eaten since the previous evening.

Underneath the pristine Baghdad sky that night the market was silent and all was asleep. Khalifah lay on his chest sleeping soundlessly when from the chest came a tap. It echoed across Khalifah’s humble shop and shattered the silent night in Khalifah’s ears. His eyes opened but he saw nothing different than when they were closed; everything was black. The single window in the front of the shop provided the only point of reference for Khalifah. A deep blue sky with piercing stars gave Khalifah assurance that he was in his shop but he could not shake that a very distinct sound had awoken him from his sleep. He listened and heard only the nothing that permeated the rest of the sleepy market. Khalifah adjusted his position so that he lay his ear directly on the chest and closed his eyes to fall back asleep.

Then the noise happened again and to Khalifah’s fright he heard it coming from inside the chest! He hopped off of it as quickly as he could stumbling in to the clutter he had created trying to get the chest inside his shop. Now with everything he had done to get the chest inside his shop he was willing to do twice as much to get it back outside the shop. Khalifah tripped and fell over something hitting his head and waxing him angry. “I’m certain there must be a genie inside and I will grab a stick and beat it when it comes out!” Khalifah clammered around for a lamp and realizing he had no oil for it ran outside of his shop distrubing the peace of the market.

“Oh, people of the market!” Khalifah yelled and slowly people began to stir, one of his neighbors yelled, “What do you want Khalifah?”

“Please supply me with a lamp for genies are upon me!” Khalifah yelled in fright. Everyone who awoke laughed at Khalifah and one of the neighbors supplied him with a lamp and everyone returned to their places. Khalifah crouched next to the lock of the chest with the lamp nearby, rock in one hand, and a stick in the other. “I will smite this genie for disturbing my sleep!” and with those words he broke the lock off of the chest with the rock and began opening the chest.

Inside the chest Kut al-Kulub’s drugs were wearing off and she began to stir which is what startled Khalifah so much. When the chest began to open she awoke from her deep sleep and looked up to see a filthy man covered in dry blood and a terrible stench of fish permeated the air.

Khalifah looked down into the chest, “And who are you?!” asked Khalifah in surprise. He was expecting to find a genie but instead found a beautiful woman for the likes he had never seen.  “Bring me my maidens,” Kut al-Kulub ordered the filthy man, but Khalifah responded, “Maidens would not come within miles of this shop.” Kut al-Kulub sat up in the chest and looked at Khalifah and said, “Where am I?”

“You are at my shop,” replied Khalifah.

“So am I not in the palace of the Commander of the Faithful, Al-Rashid?” Kut al-Kulub tried to straighten her head on the situation she found herself in. She could not remember what she had done last.

“What are you talking about madwoman? You are nothing but my slavegirl for I purchased you and this chest for 101 dinars earlier today and brought you home. I didn’t know you were asleep inside this chest until this very moment, but I did buy the contents of this chest,” said Khalifah. Kut al-Kulub began to piece together what happened remembering her nervousness when seeing the Lady Zubaydah. She remembered becoming incredibly sleepy while eating and that was her last memory. Lady Zubaydah must have gotten jealous of the time she spent with her husband and stuffed her in the chest and had someone sell it at the market. Then this pathetic wight purchased the chest. She considered Khalifah for a moment.

“What is your name?” she asked.

Khalifah looked at her smitten by her beauty, “My name is Khalifah. Why is it that good fortune has shined upon me when I know of nothing but bad?” Kut al-Kulub could see the lust in his eyes and decided to take control of the situation.

“Spare me this talk. Do you, Khalifah, have anything to eat?” she asked.

“No nor anything to drink. I haven’t eaten for almost two days now and went to bed hungry tonight,” replied Khalifah.

“Don’t you have any money?” Kut al-Kulub asked.

“I spent all the money I had on the very chest you came in on. I am now completely broke,” Khalifah explained. Kut al-Kulub laughed at him for his poor judgment.

“Get up right now and go ask your neighbors for some food for I am hungry,” Kut al-Kulub told Khalifah. If he didn’t have anything himself at least she could make him useful.

Khalifah went outside and awoke his neighbors for the second time that night, “Oh people of the market!”

Out of one of the dark shops one responded, “Now what is the problem Khalifah? Has the genie requested something you can’t provide?”

“No my neighbors, I am hungry but have no food to eat.” Pity filled his sleepy neighbors’ hearts and one by one they came out with meats, cheese, and vegetables until Khalifah could carry no more food. Then he returned to his shop where he placed all the food in front of Kut al-Kulub and told her to eat saving nothing for himself. Kut al-Kulub simply laughed at him.

“How can I eat this without something to drink? Do you want me to choke and die?” Khalifah wandered back outside with a pitcher and stood in the middle of the street.

“Oh people of the market!” Khalifah yelled.

“What calamity has befallen you now you bothersome wight?” someone yelled back.

“I have eaten my food but I am now thirsty and have nothing to drink.” Pity again filled the hearts of some of those in the marketplace and one by one each came up to Khalifah and gave him a portion of water until his pitcher was full. He returned to Kut al-Kulub who was satisfied and began to eat. While she ate she acquainted Khalifah with her story and who she was.

When she mentioned the Caliph Al-Rashid Khalifah stopped her, “Is this Caliph Al-Rashid the one who imprisoned me yesterday?”

“There is only one Caliph,” she replied.

“By Allah I’ve never met someone who is as rich and yet cheap as he. He gave me a hundred blows yesterday all for a single dinar and my crime was teaching him how to fish and letting him be my partner. He treated me wrong!” Khalifah fumed showing off his healing wounds. Kut al-Kulub could see this was a sore subject for Khalifah and again took control.

“Stop this talk on the Commander and the Faithful. If he treated you wrong be prepared to be treated very right. Did you not hear who I am to him? You will be rewarded beyond measure if you deliver me to him safely.” With these words everything transformed in Khalifah’s mind. He asked Kut al-Kulub if she needed anything else and when she did not they both slept separately until morning. By noon that day Khalifah was again standing in front of the Caliph, this time with rewards being bestowed upon him beyond measure. The Caliph was so pleased to get his favorite concubine back he spent another solid month with her. Ja’afar was pleased to see Khalifah rewarded so well. When Khalifah was leaving the palace he ran into Sandal, related the story of what happened after he left, and gave Sandal 1,000 dinars for the 100 he had given him the previous day. If it was not for Sandal’s generosity Khalifah would not have become rich.

Another picture of the Tigris

Another picture of the Tigris

Khalifah became so rich he never had to fish again. Bestowed with slaves and more money than he knew what to do with he bought a mansion high on a hill that looked over the city and the mighty and mysterious Tigris river. From his mansion he could see where he used to have his merchant shop and where he used to live. One day Khalifah was walking through the streets a beggar came up to him asking for some money. The beggar was remarkable for two reasons – he was a Jew in a Muslim city and his face was familiar to Khalifah but he could not place it. Khalifah gave him a gold dinar and returned to his mansion and sat watching the mighty Tigris flow by. Then along the banks he saw a monkey climb out from the water and run into the nearby trees. Khalifah recalled looking ignorantly up at the Caliphate on that day a long time ago daring not to dream – and now one of his closest friends was the Caliph. “I live in a strange world,” thought Khalifah who smoked from his pipe and then napped.

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