Sunday, August 9, 2015

Killing Machines: the Ultimate Hunter

It is very difficult to photograph dragonflies. They don't sit very long in one spot, and flit around pretty quickly. However, I got this little guy to hang out for a bit. This is an Autumn Meadowhawk, sympetrum vicinum. It's only a little longer than an inch and a half. From the order Odonata, the dragonfly (suborder anisoptera) is far cooler than its damselfly cousin (suborder zygoptera).

Dragonflies are probably the coolest flying insect ever, and the deadliest predator on earth. The dragonflies, like this one, have a 95% success rate when hunting. For perspective, great white sharks have a 50% success rate, and lions have 25%.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Why isn't Flying the Battle Flag Treason?

Don't mind this, it is racist, it stands for sweet tea, NASCAR, chewing tobacco, and humping your sister
Recently, the State of South Carolina finally agreed to take down the Confederate Battle Flag that had been flying on the grounds of the state house since 2005 after it was removed from atop the state house dome. This came about after the church shooting in Charleston killed 9. The killer was known to proudly wear the battle flag, and other flags with racist undertones, and the state assembly decided they no longer wanted to be associated with the kind of racism that incites violence. 

The rest of the country promptly exploded. 

Across the South there were rallies held to protest removing the Confederate flag. Read that last sentence again. I'll wait... 

When I said "across the South" I meant the South, not the State of South Carolina. In fact, there were no rallies at all in the entire state of South Carolina for or against the Confederate battle flag. Gawker published this story a little while ago. 

click me
On top of that, the president recently went to the State of Oklahoma. Now keep in mind, Oklahoma shares no borders with South Carolina, and wasn't even a state until 1907 (the Civil War happened between 1861 and 1865. Oklahoma was actually too busy relocating and murdering Indians at the time). But when President Obama stepped off Air Force One, there was a picket line of Confederate protesters holding battle flags. 

this actually happened
This whole thing makes no sense, none at all. This should be a non-issue for everyone in the country who is not a citizen of the State of South Carolina. The decision made by the South Carolina state assembly affects no one outside of that state (and it could be argued it doesn't affect anyone in the state either). 

Furthermore, the president had nothing to do with this. There has been no call to ban the battle flag the way Germany has banned the swastika. Obama had nothing to do with South Carolina's decision, and certainly has no plans to promote a federally backed boycott, ban, or moratorium on commercially sold, or personally flown Confederate battle flags. 

Basically, this is just more proof that the Bible Belt is stupid, and is holding the rest of the country back with it's idiocy. I wrote about this on my blog before. 

Not only do all these flag rallies make no sense, defending this 154 year old symbol of a failed rebellion is ridiculous. The actual flag for the actual CSA is below. The Battle Flag, the one shown in the picture above, flown by stupid Oklahomans, was originally the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. 
the actual CSA flag, actually
There has been plenty written about the Civil War in this country. We've studied it more than any other time in our country's history. It is massively important politically and socially, and impacted how our country behaved domestically for the next hundred years or more. What we do know, beyond any doubt, is the war was ignited because of slavery. Even if this fact embarrasses us, or makes us feel disgusted with ourselves, it is factual. That is basic US Civil War history. And even though we spent decades trying to gloss that fact over, actual history doesn't change.  

There were so many slave owning states, and so many free states. And for a time, there was a balance of economic power in government between slave holding states and free states. This was important to the South, because they wanted federal economic policy to protect this form of labor and therefore the slave-model economy. The Missouri Compromise tried to stop slavery from expanding into the new territories to the west, but The Kansas Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and ended in crazy bloodshed all over the Kansas Territory.

Eventually, with the election of Lincoln in 1860, the seven southern slave states seceded from the Union because of the Republican platform to stop the expansion of slavery into any future states, and therefore would end the balance. Some would like to believe that the war was fought over states' rights, protecting the individual sovereignty of the State over the Federal government. This is true, I suppose, but those slave states were seceding to protect their states' rights to own people (that means slavery, in case you aren't paying attention). 

The Confederacy disappeared after 1865. The government was never officially recognized by the Union, nor by any other world power. The slaves were all emancipated and those slave states were allowed to rejoin the Union as free states with full representation in Congress. Basically, the rebellious state governments were granted amnesty. The Union could have recognized the Confederacy and occupied the southern states after the war as enemy territory, but instead the USA allowed them to rejoin the nation as if nothing happened. 

The Battle Flag continued to linger, however. Mississippi adopted a new flag in 1865 with the Battle Flag appearing in the Canton. They discontinued it in 1906, only to readopt it in 2001. Georgia adopted a flag in 1956 with the Battle Flag taking up two thirds. This was an obvious reply to the Civil Rights movement that was beginning to gain momentum. This is also around the same time the State of South Carolina began flying their Battle Flag atop the state house. (Just as an aside, there are other southern states that have incorporated pieces of the actual Confederate flag in their state designs. Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina have designs that bear a striking resemblance). 

What I don't understand, and what no one seems to be talking about in the mediasphere, is why this symbol of the CSA has been allowed to fly at all ever. It was a symbol used by a rebel army whose only purpose was to defy and break away from the legally elected government. They were terrorists, and deserters. The leaders of the Confederate Army went to West Point, trained and taught by the American Military. They commandeered federal munitions, forts and other properties. State militias set up by the Militia Act of 1792 were also commandeered and repurposed for Confederate controlled duties. 

That all sounds like it could be considered acts of treason. So, flying the Battle Flag, or any symbol of the Confederacy, could be seen as an act of treason, or at the very least, an Anti-American act, and one not seen as patriotic at all. These Confederates were the enemies of the state of the 1860s, and no amount of excuses, or explaining, or thinly veiled metaphors can change that. 

It is not a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of pride (southern or otherwise). It is not a symbol of American free spirits. It is and has always been a symbol of separation, division, segregation, and racism. It is the symbol of a group that tried to destroy the Union of the United States of America because they wanted to own people as property. It is not patriotic, or American. And it certainly does not belong flying on government property, local, state, or federal.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015


I'm such a good photographer. Check these out!

This is an Eastern American Toad, anaxyrus americanus americanus. He's a big fella, about the size of a baseball. They have a pretty unique call, described as a shrill 6 second whistle. This is what is known as a true toad. 

They say that all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads, but I don't understand this line of logic. Frogs and toads together are amphibians from the order Anura. Within this order are two superfamilies, Bufonoidea (true toads), and Ranoidea (true frogs). Since all the species in the order Anura are considered frogs, then I guess toads are also frogs, but this seems to be based more on informal naming than actual taxonomy. 

Anyway, this dude knew how to pose. 

like a boss!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

For I am a Rain Dog Too

Tom Waits
Rain Dogs
RCA, 1985

  • Downtown Train
So... Tom Waits. He is this legendary dude apparently, who has influenced a ton of musicians (M Ward from She&Him, the Pogues, Fiona Apple, Les Claypool, Mark Lanegan from the Screaming Trees, Nick Cave, and even Bruce Springsteen although they are contemporaries). Rain Dogs is supposed to be one of his best albums, the first of only two to be certified gold in the US. It is certainly interesting, and totally not what I expected. But I can tell how this became an influence for so many artists.

Waits blends traditional blues (which I like) with other weird shit (sometimes I like). Most of the tracks on the record are around two minutes, which is great, because I don't think I could handle four minutes of Cemetery Polka. This is definitely not a record (or a musician for that matter) for anyone looking for anything resembling a pop tune. Waits decided, in the 80s, that new gimmicky equipment, and devices for making music (such as synthesizers, drum machines, and sampling) were worthless, and couldn't be matched by conventional means of creating sound. This is awesome, considering these are the very things I hate about the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s. So, instead of creating a bass drum sound on a machine in a studio, he used 2x4s on the bathroom doors (that rhymed, by the way). 

I'm sure Tom Waits would be considered a throwback today, as his material seems to stem from early Americana folk, traditional blues, and other ethnic folk genres. In the mid 80's as American Hardcore wound down, Glam Metal wound up, and Hip Hop started to come into its own, Waits tried to put the brakes on, and it turned out great. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Maxie Zeus

Comic book characters are usually created around themes. Sometimes these themes are seemingly childish and ridiculous, like clowns or Alice in Wonderland, until they are applied to realistic crime, and then they become true horrors.

Maxie Zeus, I think, could qualify as having a villainous theme on par with the Joker, and the Mad Hatter

There is so much potential with this character that hasn't been explored in Batman comics or other media. The character first appeared in Detective Comics #483 in 1979. Created by Danny O'Oneil, Maxie Zeus seems to be based on the King Tut character from the Batman television show from the '60s. He is delusional, sporting an ancient Greek theme, and believing himself to be Zeus from mythology. 

Originally, he was written as an ex high school history teacher who loses his family through tragedy and builds a criminal empire (sound familiar to any Breaking Bad fans?). This in itself would be interesting enough for Gotham City, he's a delusional mob boss with a God complex fronting his criminal enterprises out of a nightclub, and leading a cult-like gang. Add an Ancient Greek theme, and you have the potential for gold. Much of the Maxie Zeus character was taken and used for other characters later on. His nightclub base of operations was borrowed and tailored to the Penguin. His cult gang was reimagined for Deacon Blackfire. Even being an eccentric mob boss, which was a fresh idea in 1979, was repurposed for older characters like Two-Face and the Penguin, and used for newer characters like the Black Mask. 

However, most of his publication history shows him as an inmate in Arkham Asylum where he receives (and enjoys) electroshock treatments. Part of the Zeus theme is apparently lightning, but unlike other electric themed characters like Static Shock, Live Wire, Chain Lighnting, or Shock Treatment, he never gets actual superpowers. Sometimes he is depicted with a tazer designed to look like a lightning bolt. 

Maxie Zeus's theme, like most other Batman villains, has been used for more ridiculous story lines, instead of developing a villain grounded in a realistic psychosis. The one (and really only) memorable storyline revolves around hijacking the 1984 Olympics and kidnapping an Olympic athlete. Master criminals with stupid unrealistic plots with no realistic chance of actually succeeding always make for great storylines (insert sarcastic eye-roll here, please). Unfortunately, this storyline helped relegate this character to the sidelines as a mediocre and laughable villain, along with Polkadot Man, Kite Man, and the Condiment King. 

I feel like the potential for Maxie Zeus is extremely high. His original origin of a history teacher gone rogue is very much like Breaking Bad, and we all saw how good that narrative can play out. Being a charismatic cult leader brings up images of Manson, or Jim Jones. Add to that the delusion that he is a god, and there are philosophical issues like the ones Douglas Adams played with in the Long Dark The Time of the Soul. Why does a god need an ID to get airplane tickets? This idea of omnipotence can become scary when forces of justice meet personalities that believe themselves to be ancient, all powerful entities. 

I think Maxie Zeus could be resurrected as a truly scary character. There is a combination of elements to his original premise that could equal a truly terrifying villain. The fact that so many parts have been used for other characters suggests that perhaps the time wasn't quite right in 1979.