Thursday, June 25, 2015

Toads!

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

singles-
  • 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 Tea 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. 

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

Frogs!

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.