Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Voyagers to the East, Part XXI

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

In an earlier essay in this series, I described the employment of Brazilian Indians in a 1547 joyeuse entree - a ceremony of royal entry and submission - staged by the French city of Rouen for King Henri II. Rouen may have been the first, but it was not the only French city to incorporate Indians into its joyeuses entrees: in March 1564 the city fathers of Troyes organized for Charles IX a procession which featured a Native American chief mounted on a horse that was costumed "like a unicorn." A year later (April 1565), when Charles formally entered Bordeaux, its pageant included a procession of captives, among them an unspecified number of Brazilian and North American captives, who joined the citizens in submitting to the king. (Olive Dickason, The Myth of the Savage: and the Beginnings of French Colonialism in the Americas [Edmonton, Alberta, 1984], 213.)

Indians, in fact, appear to have been a "prestige good" in 16th-century France; association with them lent a certain exoticism to one's portfolio (so to speak). During his reign, King Henri II received several Brazilian Indian boys captured by the Tupinamba, whom he subsequently gave to prominent French nobles as gifts - or, more precisely, for their retinues. Several decades later, in 1602, Francois Grave du Pont gave several North American Indian boys to King Henri IV, first monarch of the Bourbon dynasty. Henri, in turn, gave at least one to the Dauphin as a companion, though the Indian boy died at Chateau St. Germain a year later. (Dickason, 212.) To the French, the prestige value of an Indian captive clearly outweighed his or her labor value. And I wonder: did the association of Indian servants with prominent French nobles play any role in shaping the French idea of the "noble savage"?

For the next entry in this series, click here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Methane Plumes of Doom

Another reason I'm trying not to worry about the global financial crisis: there's a much more serious global meltdown underway at the moment that appears to be accelerating, and whose long-term consequences will be much more destructive than the collapse of the international credit markets. I refer, of course, to global warming, and to a new scientific survey that suggests it may be about to speed up dramatically. From The Independent (UK) of 23 September 2008:

"Scientists aboard a research ship that has sailed the entire length of Russia's northern coast* have discovered intense concentrations of methane – sometimes at up to 100 times background levels – over several areas covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf.

"In the past few days, the researchers have seen areas of sea foaming with gas bubbling up through 'methane chimneys' rising from the sea floor. They believe that the sub-sea layer of permafrost, which has acted like a 'lid' to prevent the gas from escaping, has melted away to allow methane to rise from underground deposits formed before the last ice age...

"Methane is about 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and many scientists fear that its release could accelerate global warming in a giant positive feedback [loop]...The amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is calculated to be greater than the total amount of carbon locked up in global coal reserves so there is intense interest in the stability of these deposits as the region warms at a faster rate than other places on earth."

The complete story can be found here. We've known for several years of the release of methane deposits situated below melting permafrost and Arctic lakes (see this story about Siberian lake-thaw ebullition**, for example), but I believe this is the first time I've read of similar discharges from the floor of the Arctic Ocean, which is apparently one of the largest methane sinks in the world. Elevated local levels of methane, according to the Independent story, are most likely responsible for the accelerated rate of warming in the Arctic (as compared to the rest of the world), but it's unlikely that all of that gas will remain confined to the Arctic for very long.

As a wise satirist recently said, "it's just a natural part of the End of Days."

* Which, incidentally, would have been impossible ten years ago.
** My fifty-cent word of the week.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Good to Be a Banksta

I've not planned to discuss the current world credit crisis in this weblog, because I don't really understand its causes or have any idea of how we can resolve it without starting another Great Depression. However, Tatsuya Ishida does a good job interpreting the recent financial bailout vote in Congress, and guessing how long it will be before the surviving major banks and investment houses ask for another $700,000,000,000.