What do green sea turtle eggs and shark fin have in common? The same thing as black bear gall bladder and tiger penis bone, if that’s any help…

Oh… all of these items are connected to really, really cool wild animals, which are getting systematically rendered down into ‘supplements’ that randy old goats sprinkle on their drinks.

I’ve been pondering this in light of continuing work on my ‘Last chance to See’ project. Another artist and I recently got the provisional green light to host this project at the Pritchard Art Gallery in Moscow… although not until 2014.

This is a good thing- Raku is a spastic process at times. I’ve had a few pieces explode in the kiln lately.  This is an added challenge- as in some mega-sized conga drums I’ve been building of late.

Congas hail from North Africa… as does one of the animals featured in Douglas Adams’ book is the Northern White Rhino, Ceratotherium simum. These slow-rolling mountains of bleary eyed innocence have a reputation for bulldozering  women, trees, houses and villages. In truth, C, simum is mostly aggressive towards other Rhinos. The brave (or foolish) could theoretically walk to within a couple meters of a calm bull rhino’s horn and live to tell the tale.

Of course, most of the interactions between humans and rhinos these days seem to be flowing from the stubby maw of an AK47. There’s been a sickening increase in rhino poaching of late.  In South Africa in 2000, poachers killed seven Rhinos. In 2011, the ‘cull’ was 448. See  Stop Rhino Poaching for some additional, region-specific stats.

(Note- I considered linking a couple of pictures here… but it’s honestly hard for me to look at these images.  Google ‘rhino poaching’ and you’ll get more than you can stomach).

I could discuss the tragedy of the commons and the burgeoning Chinese middle class (both of which are implicated in the recent accelerated poaching).  Rhino horn is now touted as a cure for everything from arthritis to cancer… the tragic rarity of the species accentuating its cachet on the black market.

However, we’re really talking about the fact that rhinoceros horns are pert and erect (and admirably large) and people have a tendency to… err… ‘project’ mystical power onto such things.

I recently logged an entry where I rhapsodized about my bouzouki… talking about animism and the possibility that love can infuse inanimate objects with something like a soul. I admit to a certain sentimental-mystical gumbo in my fiber… but I try retreat to critical thinking every once in awhile.

The cynic might see this type of projection as similar to ‘the pathetic fallacy’- the tendency to ascribe emotion or intent to the inanimate. ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’. (‘Pathetic’ in this case drawn from the same Latin roots as ‘pathos’ – and thus related to empathy)-

(Note- the image above is the work of an artist named Margot Cormier Splanea who I just discovered. Wildly inventive stuff with a biting edge… evokes Ray Troll a little bit).

There’s not really a specific term that I know of for the tendency to imbue objects with magic properties based on their shape, however. (I ran up a flag with a couple of philosopher/writer friends on this one).  I’m provisionally calling it the  ‘SUE’ fallacy (derived from ‘sugentem umbra essentia’).

Anyhow, it’s clear that there’s an extraordinary amount of desperate ‘love’ (of a sort) hurled at anything that evokes a phallus (or part of one). Even Viagra has failed to put a crimp in this trend. Yes- turtle eggs evoke certain paired, roly-poly objects. Does it follow that the thousands of Central Americans who knock them back with beer are seeing a clinical increase in their functionality?

The advertisement- by the way- is from a Mexican add campaign. It reads:

My man doesn't need turtle eggs. Because he knows that they won't make him more viral. Etc.

As noted in the New York Times, there's something a bit off-putting about using gender stereotypes to avert environmental Tom-foolery. To quote from John Sayles wonderful film 'Lone Star'... "Yeah, it's always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice"

In the case of Rhino horn, we’re basically talking about a wildly over-grown toenail.  You could presumably mirror any clinical effects by pulling a Howard Hughes and rendering your weekly clippings into a shake.

Mind you, fingernails are entirely composed of beta-keratin… so they’re nutritionally useless.  Rhino horn does have a calcium core…   so quaffing chang laced with rhino horn could give you an energy boost. If you were calcium deficient to begin with…

Anyhow, I’m not sure if I can indulge my lean towards animism where my bouzouki is concerned… and climb back on my science pedestal when it comes to rhino horn huffing capitalists in Vietnam.

In the meantime, however, it’s a pretty serious indictment on the human race if a gentle giant like Ceratotherium simum fades to black because of our obsession with beloved, ever-troublesome wing-wangs.



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