Wednesday, December 30, 2015

More Thoughts on Religion and American Values

I subscribe to the science blog Facebook group I Fucking Love Science (IFLS). It is run by Elise Andrews from LabX Media Group in Canada. Usually posts are about new science breakthroughs in biology, physics, and astronomy. But sometimes there are stories about other science fields like archeology, sociology, and paleontology. These fields sometimes bleed into the humanities.
Ina Gadda Davida. Links to the article.

Recently, IFLS posted a story about a new theory published by the Biblical Archeology Society. It is linked to the picture above. The theory combines what we know about basic biological anatomy with studies in ancient linguistics to come up with this idea that perhaps Adam's Rib actually is Adam's Penis. The theory, as I understand it, is pretty clever.  It combines what we know about animal penises and how they differ mostly from our own anatomy, and how ancient peoples must have made the same comparisons, and how they would have used that knowledge to inform their own mythologies. Combine that with how difficult it can be to translate idioms and euphemisms, and the theory does have some traction.

Science is pretty fluid, and allows for new discoveries to amend and change facts and theories based on new evidence. Unfortunately, religion has trouble amending anything, especially if its a common and popularly held belief.

This brings me to the end of the article. One of the detractors of the theory is quoted as saying, "I do not need and will not read articles that damage my faith or attempts to cause me to doubt what I know is the Truth from the Bible".

This statement is very telling, and I think highlights the major issue causing the rift between Science and Religion. Previously on the blog Tom is Clever, I wrote a piece on my own personal thoughts on Religion. In the article I outlined fundamentalism in Christianity. Inerrancy is a major part of fundamentalism, and this quote proves the stubbornness of this idea.

The theory posed above does not detract from or change the biblical theology in any major sense. Eve is still created from Adam, and all the dogma and misogynist code extrapolated from that story can still exist. Having Eve created from a penis bone is, at its core, no different from creating her from a rib, or any other of Adam's bones. So... I find it interesting that even the most hardline Christians would care. If anything, this theory helps explain how the mythology can still exist even with better translations.

The only explanation I can think of, is the need for the very religious to continue to attack and dismiss Science as a whole. It really doesn't matter if it is Science at all. I think anyone offering a differing opinion of what the religion means would be treated the same way by this particular quote. For all I know, this believer's faith, and what he knows to be "Truth from the Bible" could be completely ridiculous conjecture not supported at all by his Bible, or by actual Biblical scholars.

The scary part is, it wouldn't matter. Because this man, and all the other Christians like him have already made up their minds, and out right refuse to acknowledge anything different, no matter if the different ideas, theories, or theologies are far closer to actual Truth.

This attitude doesn't stop with personal theology, however. That is the truly scary part. This attitude of inerrancy and refusal to learn new things has bled into other parts of American society. The Truth in the Bible is not the only thing Americans are unwilling to compromise over. For example, the Second Amendment can not be compromised, not matter how many statistics, factual information, specialists, and experts prove that stronger gun regulations could decrease the number of massacres, and gun related crime.

Refusal to even listen to any other side of any other argument because it threatens personal understandings of the universe is a major problem in all facets of society. This idea that one person already knows the Truth, and anything else must be false creates a barrier where no beneficial discourse could possibly survive. Policies concerning military spending, immigration, tax reform, gun control, and domestic social spending have all been held at a near standstill for decades due to a refusal to back away from popularly held beliefs. Until we can get over the "what I know is right, and what you know is stupid" attitude, there will be no change, and nothing will get better.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Come Full Circle

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Stax/Concord, 2015
produced by Richard Swift

Nathaniel Rateliff - guitars, vocals
the Night Sweats:
  • Joseph Pope III - guitars
  • Mark Shusterman - keyboards
  • Patrick Meese - drums
  • Luke Mossman - guitars
  • Wesley Watkins - horns
  • Andy Wild - saxophones
singles -
  • SOB
  • Look it Here
There has been much hand ringing and bell tolling for the death of rock n roll. Even though it may seem like certain genres like metal, punk, glam rock (thank goodness), and whatever it is that Nickleback is responsible for are indeed dying, I believe that rock music has just changed direction once again. The music from this band is a throwback to those early rock n roll groups of the late 50s.  Buddy Holly was not the death of music. Also, I love a good horn section. Harriet Gibson from the Guardian pointed out the "ghosts of Otis Redding and Chuck Berry" are apparent in these pieces. I enjoy this record so much, it is as fresh as it is nostalgic.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

... Sitting in a Tree, F-R-O-G-G-I-N-G

Apparently I love frogs. There are only so many different kinds of frogs around where I live, in New England, or as we like to call it, the "Center of the Universe, and your part of the country sucks".

This is the "frogs are cute" post. Peepers are little and can be super annoying. Like babies, and puppies. Here is one of these little suckers...

In case the scale is difficult to tell, the Spring Peeper (pseudacris crucifer) is roughly the size of a gumball, or could sit on a quarter. They are one of several species of chorus frogs found all over the North America. Obviously they are called chorus frogs because they love to sing, and they sing loud and proud.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lies, Slander and Racism: an addendum

From previous posts on this blog, it is obvious how I feel about The Washington Football Team and Dan Snyder's position on their name. Recently it came to light that the team had been running a Twitter account in support of the current name, and in opposition of any call to change it.
Links to somewhere

This alone, wouldn't be so bad, the Washington team has made no secret how they feel about their brand. The problem is they tried to disguise the Twitter account as a fan created and supported account, not an official team account run by staff members.

Now, for the people out there who understand why the name is racist, and unacceptable for a major sports franchise, this scandal isn't very remarkable, or surprising. However, for people on the fence about it, or indifferent, this highlights how desperate the team is to have support. To create the illusion that other parties aside from the team believe the name to be not racist is disingenuous and also not even necessary. There are plenty of actual fans who argue against the name change all on their own.

Bottom line: the whole thing is set up as sly propaganda. And if your football team has to resort to sneaky tricks to gain support, then maybe the name really is racist and unacceptable.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Speak no Evil, Hear no Evil

There has been much talk lately of college campuses becoming overly sensitive politically correct nightmares. From a humanist utilitarian perspective, this is difficult to believe. There is such a thing as being too open and accepting? But with comedians like Seinfeld admitting why they don't play schools anymore, and stories of the hijacking of the Trigger Warning note, and stories of students speaking out against insensitivity for seemingly innocuous statements, this has become a serious question, and has put Freedom of Speech back into the national conversation.

Before I continue further, let me make it very clear, there is a huge difference between this particular issue of free speech and overly sensitive PC police, and the need to combat actual racism and misogyny.

I had a conversation with a good friend of mine the other day about this same issue. She stated that even though sexism is very pervasive in our society and has become toxic, pointing out every single instance in her life would be exhausting, and attacking people (men mostly) for "mansplaining" can be counter productive and no longer effective. She has since picked her battles, understanding the differences between intentional marginalizing comments and actions, and ones that are perfectly reasonable and steeped in cultural normative has made being an active feminist far less stressful.

This doesn't mean women ought to stop shaming men for things like catcalling. In fact, getting creative with it like Elana Adler's project You are my Duchess not only brings the issue to the public, but the humor helps lessen the damage done by these vulgar assaults. As she points out on the website, at first, these cross stitches are cute and funny, but after awhile you realize these are actual things actually shouted out in public from one stranger to another. The whole collection becomes a disgusting monument to what many women deal with on a daily basis. These are the battles worth having, this is not the problem.
less exhausting, and no mansplaining necessary

Our problem of overly protective, political correct schools is not the same issue as gender inequality, or institutional racism. It perhaps is born of both of these larger societal issues, but has since outpaced these movements into something resembling a satire. For example, at Brown, the Sexual Assault Task Force was created to make Brown a safe place for victims of rape and abuse. This is necessary to help these people cope with their trauma and normalize in an accepting community. However, the task force promotes the use of safe spaces, where students can retreat when speakers and debates become too overwhelming. The problem happens when students use the safe spaces not to withdraw and recover from PTSD-like symptoms, but to escape having to engage in competing viewpoints. The New York Times Sunday Review has a full article about that here.
links to the article too

The Right, of course, has linked these issues together to try and undercut Liberals, and try and show that the status quo is fine. We don't have to have serious conversations about Race or Gender, because it's just the Left over reacting. An interview between Rachel Martin of Listen to the Story on NPR and Jamelle Bouie of Slate basically sums this up. Bouie states that this desire to protect Freedom of Speech has minimized the Americans who are trying to stand up and fight to be welcome and accepted in systems that are predominately white and male.
click me

At some point in the last decade, the necessary considerations for equality, and acceptance in educational places took a weird turn. Instead of protecting freedoms of expression and speech in a move to be more open and welcoming to minority groups, colleges have pandered to students' entitlement.

I find this whole thing interesting. Professional comedians like Seinfeld aren't refusing to perform on college campuses because they don't believe in civil rights, or feminism. It has more to do with the way in which the college population responds to perceived slights, either real or imaginary. Part of what makes comedy far more important than just funny cartoon antics, is the ability to have thought provoking conversations wrapped up in jokes. A comedian is able to have those embarrassing, uncomfortable conversations about the difficulties of life, because they're cloaked in comedy. Just like Ms Adler's confrontation with abusive catcalling is wrapped up in needlework. But if a campus has banned topics of feminism, racism, violence, and addiction because they may offend the student body, how can the comedian bring a voice, and a cathartic relief to his audience?

The way in which campuses are dealing with these issues has missed the point. The student body is no longer interested in what is best for the entire student body. This is no longer about feminists wanting equality, or minorities wanting acceptance. Feminism and cultural acceptance aide in the educational system and benefit everyone. The focus has shifted from what is best for education, to what is best for that individual. If colleges refuse to have conversations about certain "trigger" topics, how can their students with these issues perceived or real find cathartic relief and grow stronger and more confident? And, to go one step further, the group as a whole will be better educated and more welcoming and accepting.

These students that call out their peers and professors for insensitive remarks in exaggerating, over the top ways seem to do it, not because it helps inform the perceived aggressor, or to help reclaim lost dignity or stop oppression, but rather because the spotlight is now on them.

Children behave without an understanding of other people. They are unable, at the moment, to empathize. These students seem to behave that way. When something seems to disrupt their perception of their universe, and make them uncomfortable it is made offensive and demonized. Empathy is something learned, and is very important to cultivating a culture of acceptance.

I think, as a society, we often forget that college-aged kids are not yet adults. We want them to be fully functioning grown ups capable of making good, rational decisions and participating in real life society. They can vote, they can serve in the military, they can be prosecuted for crimes as adults. But really, 18-22 year olds don't behave like people in their late 20s, or 30s, or like their parents. If the goal is to promote a safe learning environment for all students in a caring and accepting culture, then we have to promote certain conversations built to teach empathy, no matter how uncomfortable those conversations may be.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

I'm not getting sick (I refuse)

There was a time when I worked with kids. I worked for a before and after school program at an elementary school, I worked for YMCAs and a JCC (the YMCA for Jews). I was sick all the time, but I figured exposure to all those little germ factories helped build my immune system for the better.

I don't work at those places anymore, and as a result, I almost never get sick anymore either. So... either I was right, and my immune system is a wrecking ball, or just not being around children all the time means I don't catch anything.

nice catch. but still, don't touch me
However, I still do get sick sometimes, I think it's probably inevitable. Usually I can feel it coming on, and no matter how much I tell myself "I'm not getting sick" it will happen anyway.

Today, I had the feeling. Too many trips to get a tissue, my nose is running. So... I decided maybe I can head this thing off at the pass, maybe there is something I can eat, or drink to make this go away before it becomes super annoying for a few days. 

I looked up a few "cold rememdy" smoothy recipes, because if you're going to concoct something weird in your kitchen, a smoothie is probably the best way to go. I altered the one I found to be most appealing, because who the hell buys echinacea? It sounds like an STD. 

I mixed: 
  • one 11.5 oz bottle of Simply Orange orange juice
  • one lime (quartered, pulped, tossed in some of the peel too, my grandmother always ate them, said it was super healthy)
  • five or six slices of crystalized ginger
  • 1/3 of a pint of coconut milk ice cream, vanilla flavored
  • one big tablespoon of Dawes Hill wildflower honey
I tossed it all into a blender and out came an surprisingly decent disaster. I threw in a shot of dark rum too, because sailors used to mix their lime juice with rum, and it sounded like a good healthy idea. My only regret was the lime peel. The bitterness wasn't the problem, it just doesn't blend very well. Speaking of not blending well, the ginger sinks to the bottom in a slimy jellied mess. There must be a better way to incorporate ginger into this mixture. 

This picture was actually taken after I drank half of it. So... the portions are a little deceiving.

Bottoms Up

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 a female 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 which killed 9. The killer was known to proudly wear the battle flag and other racially charged flags. 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, and later was adopted by the Army of Tennessee. 
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. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Shiny Blue

Wasps are so cool! Probably the coolest insect family there is. I'll explain later.

Today I found something zipping around my apartment. It, like most flying insects, started smashing itself into the window screen, and so I went to take a look, and some pictures. They aren't very good pictures.

It appears to be a Steel Blue Cricket Hunter. A wasp from the Sphecidae family, Chlorion aerarium is related to other thread-waisted wasps such as the mud daubers, and digger wasps. 

They look very similar to Blue Mud Daubers, but I live in the Northeast and Blue Mud Daubers range from Tenessee to Mexico. I live a little too far north for them I think, and therefore I think it's safe to assume there was a Steel Blue Cricket Hunter in my apartment. 

Chlorion aerarium hunts crickets. Like most parasitic wasps, this one uses the crickets to incubate and feed its young. They actually eat sap from plants. Apparently they have been known to sublet Cicada Killer burrows, which I run into all the time.

The good news is I persuaded the wasp to fly out of my window without stinging me. Lucky me, lucky wasp.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Carry our Bodies Safe to Shore

Of Monsters and Men
My Head is an Animal
2011, Record Records
produced by Aron Arnarsson and Jacquire King

Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir - guitars, vocals
Ragnar "Raggi" Þórhallsson - guitars, vocals
Brynjar Leifsson - guitars
Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson - drums
Kristján Páll Kristjánsson - bass

singles - 

  • Little Talks
  • Dirty Paws
  • Mountain Sound
  • King and Lionheart

I love when bands from outside of the US and UK make it big in both markets. Of Monsters and Men are from Iceland. This is a folk/rock band, a genre that has grown in popularity as hard rock and metal are on the decline. The group is fronted by Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir, and grew out of her folk project Songbird. They are very reminiscent of bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire, and Mumford and Sons. However, Of Monsters and Men has two lead singers, which allows them to duet, swap lines, harmonize, and sing conversations. 

During an interview, Ragnar responded to the statement "it takes balls to be a musician" by saying they have ten balls and a vagina, so they'll be alright. And so far they have been more than just alright. This record produced four hit singles. The album placed number 1 on the Australian, Irish, and Icelandic charts, number 1 on the US Alternative chart, number 3 in the UK, and number 6 on the Billboard 200, which is the highest charting Icelandic album ever in the US, beating out Bjork's Volta

Also as an aside, these Icelandic names are not easy to spell. Also, you'll note the Icelandic practice of still using the Scandinavian patronymic system

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Mighty Mighty Arabs

I have become invested in mascot name changes for a while now. I've posted about this before a few times, mostly in reference to The Washington Football Team. Recently, a high school in upstate New York has decided to change their 68 year old Redskins name to the Legends (apparently, a legend is a Knight). 

Good for them. It's always nice to see a group of people choose to do the right thing, even though moving away from tradition is difficult. Al Jazeera reported on this in their article here. An eighth grade girl chose the new logo and name and unveiled her winning designs at a town meeting. 

Of course there are opponents of the name change. Nothing is ever easy, apparently. And of course these people oppose the new mascot for the same old and tired reasons. Why should they turn their backs on 68 years of tradition? They apparently had no problems turning their backs quite literally on the 13 year old designer during the town meeting. The president of the town council was interviewed by local television and expressed his disappointment with these people. The news coverage is below. 

Apparently these proud Lancaster people who just want to hold on to their heritage turned the meeting into an ugly display, as reported by the Buffalo News. Some of them thought it appropriate to yell "Heil Hitler", which I don't understand. Are they being supportive of Nazis, or calling the council Nazis? Either way I don't get it. Nazis were all about using offensive and demeaning iconography, but why would you want to bring that up? It doesn't help your argument. And calling the council Nazis makes no sense. They are changing the mascot to be more inclusive and neutral, not because they are fascists who believe in a super race.  

In other name changing news, my favorite "accidentally racist" mascot received a makeover the other day. Coachella Valley has officially changed their name from the Arabs to the Mighty Arabs, and updated their logo from cartoonishly offensive to slightly more dignified. Al Jazeera reported about this too. The logo has been replaced, and the mascot and similar iconography removed. However, it's a pity they will no longer be belly dancing on sidelines. 

As an aside, the State of California has declared the Redskins mascot to be banned in the state as of 2017. I'm sure opponents of this are declaring that their state is targeting the four schools in the entire state that use the mascot. But... that's exactly what's going on. 

The superintendent of Coachella Valley said something truly important about his mascot change, something that opponents don't seem to realize or care about. He said the decision was easy for his school district because communities need to "forever keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to the feelings of others even when no disrespect or harm is intended."

Thursday, June 4, 2015


The other day this little fella made my jump. Totally unexpected, this guy was just hanging out in a fence post. The hyla versicolor is better known as the Gray Tree Frog, or the Eastern Gray Tree Frog. Despite it's colorful name, this guy is decidedly not colorful at all. Apparently this species does change color like a chameleon, only slower, and on a green-gray scale.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Selling of a Loose Knit Dream

Silversun Pickups
Dangerbird, 2006
produced by Dave Cooley

Brian Aubert - guitars, vocals
Nikki Monniger - bass, vocals
Christopher Guanlao - drums
Joe Lester - keyboards

  • Future Foe Scenarios/ Table Scraps
  • Well Thought out Twinkies/ Common Reactor
  • Well Thought out Twinkies/ Mercury
  • Lazy Eye
  • Little Lover's so Polite
The Silversun Pickups, from Los Angeles, released their debut album in 2006. I featured their most recent album on this blog earlier, and I don't have much else to say about the band. They have become one of my favorites, recently. Apparently they can be considered part of the California Indie scene that featured Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley, and Bright Eyes, but I think they are better than their contemporaries. They sound more like Metric. I may be a little biased. I play this album constantly, because I love to sing and play along.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Still Waiting for the Change...

So... racism has been a thing for quite sometime and recently it has become a big deal in the media and public conscience.  In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, because you've been living in a box for the last year and a half, or because you're a rich white person who can ignore reality when it gets uncomfortable, let me post some links as examples...

What Happened in Ferguson?

Trayvon Martin Shooting: Fast Facts

The Death of Eric Garner

That ought to bring you up to speed...

The thing about all of this and the whirlwind of media coverage that surrounded each event, and many others, was the lengths major media outlets went to try and defend the status quo. This lead of course to the victims in each case being vilified as criminals doing criminal things. However, the evidence in each case would never aspire to condemn those victims to death.

Underlying all of these events, and many others that gained some level of heightened media scrutiny is race. Each victim in each case was a black man, and each antagonist in each case was white. Every time something like these incidents happen, racist motivations are questioned, as they should be. And every time racism is brought up, the majority cringes.  Some people get outright hostile.  No one likes to be insulted, and the term Racist has become one of the worst things to be tagged.

So... people on the defensive who feel insulted, come up with ways to deflect blame and excuse themselves from the conversation; or just shut the conversation down as quickly as possible. Here are a few ways that is done, especially in the news media:
  1. Its not about race. "This particular issue isn't actually about race. Racism is a thing of the past. There must be another reason".  
  2. Shift blame. ie: Black people ought to take responsibility for their own poor education/high crime rates, etc.  
  3. Reverse Racism. "You can't blame white people for being oppressive. That's racist!"
  4. When someone makes a comment about racism, question their character/education/age/motivations, anything to discredit them as an expert
  5. Demanding undeniable proof, and then attempt to construct strawman arguments to discredit the proof, or counter facts to try and discredit all of the proof to the contrary.  
I think that covers everything. The thing that I find interesting is the perception about what racism is, and what racism actually is. This is probably at the root of the problem we have as a culture when it comes to discussing racism and how to change things.  We should be actively working together to attempt to make the lives of all of our people better. But instead, we keep asking if racism is actually a thing.

It is a thing. But racism is no longer a bunch of Klansmen lynching black people in the dead of night, sponsored by their local governments, nor is it Jim Crow laws that legally force black people to pick up food at the backdoor of restaurants, sit at the back of public buses, or use separate and inferior schools, restrooms, and drinking fountains. With the word Racism comes a picture of an overtly prejudiced person calling for the active oppression and exclusion of an entire group of people. And although white supremacy groups do still exist in this country, they are at the very margins of the society as a whole, and no one in the majority wants to be associated with them.

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Racism does still exist however, in a more sinister covert sort of a way. Slavery was only one (a very big one) of many examples of American culture oppressing a minority group. This history goes back to before the United States was actually a thing, and has been informing our collective behaviors ever since. After slavery states were forced to end slavery, this idea of white people being superior to black people didn't disappear. Racial prejudices had been so ingrained in the culture at large for over 100 years, and continued unchallenged for decades after.

It is easy to forget racism exists today. Instead of advocating openly that black people or any minority should not be given equal rights, the language has changed. Politicians who value their careers can't say anything overtly racist, but they can declare "war" on poor people taking advantage of social programs.  They can make it difficult for poorly performing schools to receive funding. Supporting the war on drugs and mandatory minimums is perfectly acceptable. And voting for voter fraud legislation is okay. All of these seem like legit campaigns, until it is realized the communities who most need social programs, have the poorest performing schools (which are already underfunded), and would be most affected by voter ID laws are the communities with the most minorities. The words urban, and poor have become the new code words for black.

Institutional racism is a term coined by Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s to describe the systemic failure of institutions, public and private, to provide appropriate services to people based on their skin color, ethnicity, or culture. The US has a long history of oppressing their minority populations. Now the language has adapted to help continue barring minorities from enjoying the same paths to success.

This is what institutional racism is, a systemic cancer. It has been infused into our society from the beginning and, at this point, dwells in the subconsciousness of the nation. Most of us have not been willing participants, which is why the majority (white people) get so defensive in the first place. White privilege is a good example of institutional racism. The majority on an individual basis reap the rewards of being part of the majority. I can walk around a retail store without a store employee following me around. I only get pulled over by the police when I actually do something wrong (like speed, or run stop signs). And it is easy for me to believe white privilege doesn't exist, because I never experience life from another point of view.

This is not actually what I set out to write about today. But there it is. This has all been context for what I actually want to write about, one of my favorite topics: The Washington football team.

There has been a movement that began in the '40s to retire disparaging athletic mascots. I've written about it before on this blog, a bunch of times. Clicky click the label on the bottom of this post for all the other posts.

Slowly things have begun to change in this country. This movement gathered some steam with some help from Civil Rights gains in the '60s. Since 1968 there have been 27 division one colleges to discontinue their Indian mascots, and rebrand as something else. This trend is also prevalent in high schools, but I couldn't find any actual numbers. However, to date, according to FiveThirtyEightSports there are still 2,128 American Indian mascots in the US.

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92% are high schools, and the rest are pro, semi-pro, and college teams. To be fair, that number may be a little inflated, as 780 Warriors and 343 Raiders are included. Personally, the terms Warrior and Raider don't invoke images of Native Americans in warpaint, unless of course the iconography (logos) that matches the name is distinctly Indian, then it counts. Also, if the full name is the red Warriors, or Red Raiders, chances are it is an Indian mascot. However, this data doesn't necessarily reflect that. Regardless, this doesn't take away from the importance of the rest of the information in the graph.

Also in this article on FiveThirtyEightSports are maps showing state populations of actual native peoples, and states with high schools with native mascots. Spoiler: there isn't a correlation. So... if the schools do not represent their actual population, why cling to an outdated mascot? I especially don't understand the need to stubbornly refuse to change to a mascot that is not a representation of an oppressed minority group that still exists.

The backlash to mascot changes is really what this is about.

Internet news is awesome. There are so many new outlets to read from, with a variety of specialized topics, from a variety of places and contexts. However, the downside is the creation of the "comment section". It allows for everyone who reads an article to engage the article, and everyone else who may read it. It allows people to share their opinions, which is awesome, I suppose, but it also exposes individuals' archaic, backwards, and mostly uneducated thinking. And in comment sections regarding changing disparaging mascots, you can witness some horrible examples of racism, ignorance, and apathy.

 Opponents of Change the Mascot campaigns make many of the same arguments heard in conversations about race. In fact, the Washington team's fansite sells a children's book to help rationalize cheering for a team named after a skin color. SB Nation has a satirical review of the book here. It amazes me the team and league can't see this for what it is, a shameless attempt at propaganda. It has it's own website. Google it if you're interested. I'm not going to link it here and provide it web traffic. The page reminds me of white supremist websites, it's pretty disgusting. The part I think is most offensive is that its a children's book, which helps highlight Alex Haley's statement that racism is taught.

But it's part of our history!
Bottom line: defending American Indian mascots is part of this country's love affair with institutionalized racism, and should continue to be part of the ongoing conversation about racism in this country.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Only God can Make a Tree

I pass this tree all the time in my truck. It is pretty epic, and one day I decided to take some time and take a picture.  

This thing is huge.  It's all gnarly and growing out at weird angles, looking like something out of a nightmare.  There aren't too many trees like this in the area.  This is an oak.  Although there are oak trees prevalent in the area, not many get as big.  Most of the wooded areas in New England are much younger forests.  

The sad part of all this is some day soon it will probably be taken down in the name of public safety, or a storm will take it out.  It already appears to have survived several weather events and attempts to keep it from growing into the road.  Bottom line: this tree is a boss.  

The title of this post is from Joyce Kilmer's poem.  

I think that I shall never see
a poem as lovely as a tree

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
against the sweet earth's flowing breast

A tree that looks at God all day
and lifts her leafy arms to pray

A tree that may in summer wear
a nest of robin's in her hair

Upon whose bosom snow has lain
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poem's are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree

Sunday, March 1, 2015

It Doesn't Matter if You're Black or White

This is one of the coolest pictures I've ever taken from a moving truck!

The ducks in these pictures aren't very remarkable, or rare.  The ducks are domestic ducks raised for food.  Domestic ducks are bred mostly from the anas platyrhynchos (common mallard).  They are usually more common in southeast Asia, where duck is a more common cuisine.  They need more space and yield less meat than chickens, which is why they aren't as popular in the west.

I'm not sure why these particular birds were hanging out in the middle of nowhere, but the recent suburban trend of raising farm animals for eggs, and milk, or just unique pets means there are plenty of strange things wandering around.

I like the colors here, and the monochrome pattern.


Friday, February 27, 2015

The Second Coming of Janis

Alabama Shakes
Boys and Girls
ATO, 2012
produced by Andrija Tokic

Brittany Howard - vocals, guitar, piano
Zac Cockrell - bass, guitar
Heath Fogg - guitar
Steve Johnson - drums

  • Hold On
  • I ain't the Same
  • Hang Loose
This is probably the best record of 2012 that no one talks about. There is so much nostalgia concerning the music period between 1965 and 1975. Everyone loves the Beatles, and the Stones, and Led Zeppelin, and Hendrix.  I feel there isn't quite as much fanfare for a new contemporary band that plays in similar styles while keeping their sound fresh and distinct. This makes no sense.

Alabama Shakes debuted in 2012 with their hit song Hold On. They are from Alabama, but I won't hold that against them. Their soul/blues/rock fusion sound is a throwback to the era when Hendrix and James Brown were kings, and it seemed that every big rock band was influenced by the blues. They totally deserve more coverage than they receive, and certainly more recognition than just an award for album packaging (ridiculous).  

There is a renewed push for women's rights and healthy body image, and it surprises me that Brittany Howard, fronting Alabama Shakes, hasn't become beloved of feminists everywhere. Her voice is amazing, and she doesn't necessarily fit into the pop/diva ideal.  But who cares, she's awesome.  

The similarities between Howard and hippie icon Janis Joplin have been made before. However, I feel this comparison may not be the best, and might actually be a little insulting. Joplin was a great talent, but she borrowed her style from singers like Etta James, Big Mama Thornton (also from Alabama), and Bessie Smith. I'm not going to discuss race here, but you can arrive at your own conclusions. If we are going to compare Brittany Howard to Janis Joplin, it would only be fair to also include these other women first.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

As Surrealistic as a Pillow

Jefferson Airplane
Surrealistic Pillow
RCA Victor, 1967
produced by Rick Jarrard

Marty Balin - vocals, guitar
Grace Slick - vocals, piano, organ
Paul Kantner - rhythm guitar, vocals
Jorma Kaukonen - lead guitar, vocals
Jack Cassidy - bass, rhythm guitar
Spencer Dryden - drums
Jerry Garcia - guitar

singles - 
  • Somebody to Love/ She has Funny Cars
  • White Rabbit/ Plastic Fantastic Lover
In 1967, The Jefferson Airplane replaced their original drummer and female singer with Spencer Dryden and the iconic Grace Slick. Grace Slick had been part of her first husband's group the Great Society. When she joined the Airplane, she brought two songs from her former group, both would become hit singles for her new band.

Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, is known to have been involved heavily on this record, although his actual involvement is debated by band members and producers. Depending on who you ask, Garcia's participation varies from absolutely nothing, to playing on several tracks, producing most of the album, and even rewriting a few songs. He is credited on the record as "spiritual advisor", and it's been said he named the album too, by stating the record was "as surrealistic as a pillow".

The Rolling Stone listed Surrealistic Pillow #146 out of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I Don't Fly Around Your Fire Anymore

I think it's sort of odd that we tend to think of Butterflies as being beautiful and lucky, but moths, which are from the same order as butterflies, are seen as dirty pests.  I don't really get it, as both have a variety of species which can both be harmful and helpful, and plenty that look pretty darn cool.

The other day I found this fella, hanging out, I nearly sat on him, actually, but managed to save him from getting crushed.  This is a moth from the subfamily Catocalinae.  As far as I can tell, it is either the Sweetheart Underwing (Catocala Amatrix), the Penitent Underwing (Catocala Piatrix), or the Dark Red Underwing (Catocala Ultronia).  It is difficult for me to tell, they have similar coloring, and my pictures aren't clear enough to make any sort of intricate distinction.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The EP: singles edition

I've posted a few times about the EP (extended play) format.  Part one is here, and here is part two.  So, I guess this is part three, the vinyl edition.

Strangelands/Poppel Grave
Dirt records, 1995
Ben Aylward - Guitar, vocals
Nicola Schultz - Bass, vocals
David Lord - Drums

From Australia, this band broke up aparently forever in 2002.  You can place them in the shoegazer category with Ride, Lush, My Bloody Valentine, and Mazy Star.  This is more of a single than an EP, complete with a B-side like traditional singles.  The packaging, however, is more common for an EP.  Although the music is pretty good, I bought it for other reasons.  It's packaged in brown cardboard, with a few record label stickers, and a weird-ass art print.  Also... blue swirled vinyl!  


US Bombs
Tora! Tora! Tora!/ Yer Country
TKO, 2001
Duane Peters - Vocals
Kerry Martinez - Guitar
Wade Walston - Bass
Chip Hanna - Drums

The US Bombs is one of the best oi punk/street punk bands with a political bent, much like Anti-flag.  In true Punk fashion, this EP comes with the president with a Hitler mustach, on a cut-and-paste DIY style cover.  The song is about Nationalism as an excuse for violent revenge, which was a big deal following September 11, 2001.   Tora! Tora! Tora! is paired up with Yer Country as a B-side.  

1 of 500 pressings

Minor Threat
the first demo tape
Dischord, 2003
produced by Skip Groff
Ian McKaye - Vocals
Lyle Preslar - Guitar
Brian Baker - Bass
Jeff Nelson - Drums

So, this is a release of previously unreleased stuff recorded in 1981.  All of these tracks appear on other albums and releases like In My Eyes, Minor Threat, and Out of Step.  However, these are the demo versions of the songs, so, that's something.  Also, you get pictures of a young Henry Rollins rocking out and wearing a dress.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Things I Don't Understand: Hockey Edition

It used to be called the least of the four major American sports. Now with the advent and continued growth of Major League Soccer, hockey is now the second to last popular of the five major American sports. Congratulations!

Based on my posts about the Boston Celtics, I think it's safe to say I'm a Boston sports fan, for the most part. I like the Bruins too. But, my question today is not about the Bs or the Hub of Hockey. It's about one of the Canadian teams.

Ottawa received an expansion team in 1990, and was allowed to use the name The Senators when they began league play in 1992. Now... before we go further, it is important to understand that I used the word "allowed" for a reason, as the NHL owned the rights to the Senators name. There was an Ottawa Senators that was founded in 1883 and played until 1935 when they were purchased and folded by the NHL.

All of this information is easily looked up on Wikipedia. So, it really isn't a mystery, or a surprise. What I don't understand is why the league and the team don't claim any continuation between franchises. The original Senators won 11 Stanley Cups with 34 hall-of-famers. The titles alone would tie them for third most Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

I do understand that a new franchise may not want to ally themselves undeservedly with legendary winning squads. But then, why choose the exact same mascot, with the exact same colors? If the team truly wanted a clean slate, they could have named themselves anything else and used any other color scheme. But they chose the Senators, probably to throw back to the great Ottawa hockey club of the past. Why then, would they not decide to go all the way and claim the entire legacy and history?

The other reason I can think of for this bizarre decision, would be ownership and licensing issues. There is a long history of teams moving cities and changing nicknames in all the five major sports.  For example, the Tennessee Titans are actually the Houston Oilers, and reserve the rights to the older team's colors and logos. The Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes, Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder, and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals are some other examples.

However, the Ottawa Senators don't suffer from that issue. The Ottawa Senators moved to St Louis for one season, but then were bought by the league and closed. The team didn't go any where else. There isn't another city/franchise/ownership that can claim the Senator's heritage. There doesn't seem to be a legal issue that would bar the team from claiming continuity, or team history. Even if there were more complicated relocation issues, the NFL and NBA have done stranger things with franchsise continuity recently with the Cleveland Browns and the Charlotte Hornets.

I couldn't find an answer to my question anywhere on the internet. Not on Wikipedia. Not on the Senators or NHL websites. Not on fan sites either. If anyone knows the answer, please share.