Thursday, November 9, 2023

Ludi Circenses


I turned seven in 1973 and remember Bobby Riggs arriving at the Astrodome on a chariot pulled by showgirls before his "Battle of the sexes" tennis match against Billie Jean King.
-- Steve Rushin, Sportswriter, Novelist

I swore I wouldn't do it. 

I did. 

I promised myself I wouldn't watch the damn dumb thing. 

I told people: I'm not watching the Republican debate. It's just stupid. It's not even a debate, it's just the second-stringers trying to score one good memorable line in the morning press. The sad, raggedy assed second-stringers who each and every one are currently so far behind a twice impeached, four time indicted, self-involved rapist who publicly talks about fucking his own daughter and who won't even be there, that their campaigns are a pitiful joke.

I mean, sure, maybe if they ran the debate like one of those Hollywood Red Carpet deals. The candidates arrive in limos, decked out in designer clothes, to flashbulbs and shouted questions from the paparazzi. 

I'm not much on fashion, but I'd be madly interested in Vogue and Glamor's critique of Ron DeSantis' hand tooled Hugo Boss high heeled boots...


Cheap shot at a short Nazi? 

That's fair, but come on and that dig at Caligula's insecurity is the best joke you're going to get around here today. 

Look, I don't need to watch it, I said. I know how it's going to go: 

Ramaswamy will promise something insanely unconstitutional...

DeSantis will promise something insanely unconstitutional while using "WOKE!" in the same tone as dry heaves...

Christie will promise something insanely unconstitutional and then blame Trump for making him do it...

Scott will promise something insanely unconstitutional but like in a really nice way...

Haley will promise something insanely unconstitutional, and in comparison to the others, the Press, Pundits, and Polls will all declare her to be the reasonable moderate.

I don't need to watch it. 

I don't. 

But, of course, once the chariots are rolling and oh goddammit, I'm watching it. You can't look away...

Of course I watched it. And live Tweeted it. And took notes. 

Of course I did. 

I'm not doing it for me, I'm doing it for you

That's right. Please donate. 

Opening Statements:

Peter Quill: When I look around, you know what I see? Losers!


Okay. You got me. Starlord wasn't actually part of the debate, however, I couldn't help but think of the losers scene in Guardians of the Galaxy when literally the first response of the debate was Ron DeSantis: "Trump said we'd get tired of winning. After last night, I'm tired of Republicans losing!"

Get in losers! We're going losing! 

DeSantis' perpetually shouty little boy act while angrily screaming "Losers!" had me belly laughing. The guy always looks like some well-bred delicate aristocrat who accidentally wandered into a dive bar full of boilermakers and pickled egg farts. I can just see him in powered wig and pancake lead makeup, a fancy waistcoat, and those hand tooled high heeled boots wrinkling his nose in disgust. 

Talk about setting the tone right out of the box. 

Losers. This was a stage of racism, war mongering, misogyny, and five year old talking points. And pickled egg farts. 

Open borders! Shouted Ron DeSantis with fire and passion.

Open borders! Shouted Nikki Haley in the tone of a Roman general leading troops over the wall.

Open borders! Shouted Vivek Ramaswamy as if he'd just spotted someone getting a vaccine.

Open borders! Shouted Tim Scott but in a really friendly way. 

Open borders said Chris Christie, invoking the image of a New Jersey mafia boss paying a crooked construction company to close off the exits to an entire town.  

The audience hooted and cheered at each mention of the border. 

Hugh Hewitt sternly chastised the audience in the manner of a substitute teacher addressing an unruly classroom -- and with just about as much success.

Not to be upstaged, Ramaswamy took the handoff: We're a party of looooosers! 

The audience cheered. 

I'm almost certain Ramaswamy is being remotely operated by Donald Trump -- or maybe Don Jr, because the guy sounds like Trump but amped out of his melon on a couple lines of Peruvian flake. "I'm not doing this for me, I'm doing this for YOU!" Oh the heroic sacrifice!   

That's when I opened the whiskey. 

The audience cheered and Hewitt chastised them again. Sternly. Same result. 

Christie said something about terrorism, borders Vladimir pudding... I don't know. I nodded off. Even Chris Christie looked bored by Chris Christie. The guy's voice should be a Schedule 1 narcotic. You think I'm joking? How boring was Chris Christie? Hewitt didn't have to chastise the audience even once. Dead silent. That's how boring.

Scott: The GOP is winning back African American voters! LOLWUT? 

The subject turned to the Southern Border and we reached the kill 'em all, let god sort it out phase of the debate a lot sooner than I expected.

Ramaswamy: I'll smoke the terrorists on our southern border!

I'll smoke 'em! Smoke the terrorists. Smoke 'em. I'm telling you, this guy is some sort of tele-presence remotely operated robo-Trump powered by cocaine scraped from dollar bills still warm and creased by a pole dancer's G-string.   

Ramaswamy made some disjointed rambling statement about killing bad guys but also war is bad, I think there was some mention of colleges in there, then he suddenly called Nikki Haley "Dick Cheney in 3" heels." 

By this time Hewitt is like the substitute teacher who has just completely given up and the class has basically devolved into Lord of the Flies. 

Scott: Diplomacy is a weakness strategy! And then Scott cheerfully explained how he'd strongly lead us into a strong war with Iran which we would win strongly. 

Christie chimes in: We need to ... sorry nodded off something something, I dunno, I heard "evil forces" and didn't know if he was talking about Hamas or a bad case of picked egg farts. 

Moderator: War with Iran, yes or no? 

Haley: Fuck Yeah! (not verbatim). This woman really wants some war with Iran. I looked to see if maybe the sad wrinkled ghost of John McCain was hovering over the stage, but I could only make out a vague shadow in the shape of Lindsey Graham.  

DeSantis: I'm a veteran! So, uh, yeah, let's do some war! I imagine DeSantis' wife wrote on his hand in Sharpie "VETERAN!" so he'd be sure to start every sentence with it. Combat JAG corps. Keeping the world safe, one power-of-attorney at a time. 

Moderator: How do you feel about Antisemitism? 

Ramaswamy: It's bad! Yeah, bad! Wokism! Colleges! Kids don't know what they're talking about! Woke! Woke! Founding values! You can't use censorship! After a furious random minute of blaming American antisemitism on woke college campuses that he would totally outlaw, Ramaswamy says but you can't use censorship. 

Scott: Actually, we need more censorship!

DeSantis: Deport foreign students. We need the DOJ on college campuses. Send in the Marines.

Apparently the idea here is that antisemitism is solely existent on college campuses. Perhaps even a product produced exclusively by woke education. Certainly, if you listen to those on the stage, antisemitism doesn't exist among the uneducated rednecks that make up their constituency -- and are right now standing in front of Disney waving DeSantis signs and wearing Nazi uniforms. It's totally just colleges and not Trump supporters marching to the chant of "Jews will not replace us!"

Next question: How do you feel about attacks on American Muslims?

Christie: Tells a heartwarming story about how as governor after 911 he protected "both sides" and then goes into detail about sending in the New Jersey National Guard to protect all the Jewish people and somehow never mentions Muslims at all. Christie then dismounts with: Hamas stands for death!

Haley: Antisemitism is totally bad! Okay but the question was about protecting Muslim Americans? I dunno. Colleges are celebrating Hamas!

At this point, a couple things are becoming apparent:

1. These people really, really hate colleges. 

2. They're pretty sure all Muslims are members of Hamas. 

We're on to Ukraine: 

Scott: Something something Ukraine but also Biden stinks. Immediately pivots to support for Israel and starts explaining how we've got to close the Southern border because America is full of Islamic terrorists. 

Moderator, Kristen Welker I think, tries again. As president would you support Ukraine, yes or no?

Scott: Goes into some rambling screed about destroying the Russian military by proxy. Nothing he says makes any sense, but the audience applauds anyway because after six years of Trump speeches that make absolutely no sense why the fuck not amiright? 

Ramaswamy: I was the first to say screw Ukraine! Then he calls Ukrainian President Zelensky, a member of the Jewish faith, "a Nazi in cargo pants" like one of these clever marketing interns who keep trying to get their clever tweets to go viral. They're banning Christians, Ramaswamy shouts! They're banning Christians! Then he goes after Haley again. 

Haley: Claps back at Ramaswamy and the audience cheers. Reality TV. Fight! Fight! Then she launches into pro Ukraine support. Glares at Ramaswamy. 

I'm fascinated how Ramaswamy keeps going after Haley, but not the men. Well, okay, he did poke DeSantis, but I did say men. Anyway. These two really don't like each other. Mostly, I suspect, because Ramaswamy is just such an obvious misogynistic fratbro asshole. 

Christie: I'd support Ukraine. Trump failed. We're the leader of the free world. Jeb? Jeb Bush? Is that you? 

DeSantis: (Fierce glare!) We not going to send troops to Ukraine! I will send troops to the Southern Border! Southern Border! Southern Border! Bring the war to the end. Europeans need to do more. Also what about China?! Well?

Pickled egg farts. 

Speaking of China: 

Haley: We need more ships! Modernize the military. Cut funding for universities. Cut all economic ties with China. Cyber! Space! Arm Taiwan!

DeSantis: More ships! 600 ships! Future of freedom! Fight China here at home! Kick Chinese out of our universities! This guy really loves the idea of deporting students. I think it actually gives him a little chubby. Wouldn't want any of them foreigners getting, you know, Americanized or anything. 

Scott: We can't build more ships because we don't have enough military industrial complex. Need to fight on three continents! Southern border! Have to invest in our military and our MIC. Our ships and planes are SOOOO old. I'll create 400,000 jobs in making war stuff!

I'd like to pause here so you can all just contemplate how we don't have a big enough military industrial complex. 

Rama: Divest to Invest! Need more ships! But China builds our ships and airplanes! What? Fuck it, he's rollin'. We have to cut China out of our defense! Increase ships by 20%. Divest to invest! Cut college funding and entitlements to pay for it! Divest to Invest please make this clever business phrase I just made up go viral thank you!

Christie: China is the enemy. We need more nuke subs! We can hide them in the South China Sea, ready to strike on China. Increase subs drastically. Ships are 2nd. Mostly subs! Nuclear war is fun.


THANK LITTLE BABY JEBBERS. I need to refill my drink.

We're back. And now the topic is TikTok, a huge major very bad threat. 

Christie: Polluting the minds of American young people! Trump should have banned it, but he didn't. In my first week, we'd ban TikTok. 

DeSantis: Ban TikTok. Yes. We win, they lose. Kids have a mind of their own.

Haley: I'm going attack DeSantis and Vivek first. Florida is host to Chinese companies! 

(Haley and DeSantis now fighting. Audience cheers. Fight! Fight!)

Ramaswamy: Attacks Haley's daughter because he's an asshole. 

Haley: Leave my daughter out of your mouth. You are Scum! Literally called him scum. 

Loud booing. Looks like Vivek stepped on his dick, but he's unrepentant and undeterred. 

Ramaswamy: Not just ban TikTok. We got to go further. Facebook. X! China! China! Silicon Valley! 

(Haley and Rama now fighting. Crowd loves it. Hewitt just drinking bourbon straight from the bottle)

Ramaswamy using Trump tactics constantly interrupting. Constantly butting in. I swear I can see a cable coming out of one pant leg and snaking back to a router box under the stage. Somewhere, a madly sweating Don Jr. is working the controls. 

Scott: Ban TikTok period. Parents bill of rights. Ban China from all apps. Take back control of information. Parental consent. Eliminating TikTok is the first step. China is spying on our kids! Spying on our farmland by our military bases. Stealing our IP. Stealing our precious bodily fluids! I'll stop that Day One! This guy is a real go-getter.

Venezuela now, randomly that's the subject. Super important. Like TikTok: 

DeSantis: Never depend on Venezuela for oil. Kill Biden energy on Day One. Drill baby drill. Turn the screws on Venezuela. Reimpose sanctions. 

Haley: Venezuela refugees suck. Sad. Ugly. Pathetic. We don't want them here. More drilling. More fracking. Calls Ron Red Tide DeSantis a liberal on the Environment. Liberal I said, Liberal it is. 

Economy now. What do you do short term, Day One:

Scott: Sad story about his mother. Excel Keystone Pipeline. More drilling. Energy independent. Energy dominant. Reduce prices. Don't borrow from China. Jobs. Innovation. Export energy. Surplus. Confidence. Prices go down. He's going to do all this on Day One. 

Also, Scott makes the first bible reference -- about the price of oil.

I have a headache now

DeSantis: Sad story about working hard as a child. Work hard. Hard work.  He talked to people in Iowa. People can't afford groceries. Rip up all EO's on day one. Rein in the Federal Reserve. COVID. I have no fucking idea what he's on about. 

Rama: Sad story about being a CEO. Drill. Frack. Burn coal. Nuclear. Increase the supply of housing (On Day One? Okay) Get this done. Bidenomics. Wages slack (he's a CEO, LOL). I'm young. College sucks again. Make more money. We need a CEO in the White House. Gonna give you the business.

Christie: Sad story about being a governor. Energy. Futures Markets. Israel situation. Won't permit Saudi Arabia to jack up prices (how? Fuck it, never mind). Cease fire. Energy is the key. Short term answer (what?)

Haley: Sad story of rural America. Rich richer. Poor poorer. Fortunately she's the first, not the second. Cut fuel taxes. Claw back COVID dollars. Fire the IRS. Stop spending. Stop borrowing. Energy dominant. Ships in the navy. Crisis. National security. (again on Day One? Okay)

On a break.  

We're back and it's Entitlements now: 

Christie: Raise retirement age. Not everybody should be getting social security. Food stamps. Can't raise taxes. 

Haley: Raise retirement age. Social Security, Medicare going broke. Limit benefits. Expand Medicare benefits.

Ramaswamy: Run Social security and Medicare like a CEO would, by cutting employees and other "severe measures." Discipline. Cut foreign Aid. Cut wars. Cut cut cut. Theme from Jaws here. 

Scott: I will protect Social Security. Veteran benefits. Don't take on seniors. Deal with it by growing the economy. Cut taxes...


Sorry, was called away on caregiver duty.

And looks like we're on a break now.

Okay. We're back and it's the border and opioids. Here we go. 

What would you do on the first day?

Scott: Close the border (On day one? Okay). Challenge on the outside. Challenge on the inside. Mental health crisis.

Chistie: Close ports of entry. I can do it quickly (he has experience closing bridge exits and it's basically the same thing). Day One sign EO to partner National Guard with Border Patrol. Basically send the Army to the border. Give 'em tools. Lower demand for opioids. Treat addiction. (On Day One? Impressive!)

DeSantis: Sad story about kid who died from Fentanyl. Elites don't care. Day One send military to the border. Build the Wall, Mexico will pay for it. He actually said Mexico would pay for it. The crowd did not cheer, maybe they can learn. Deadly force Authorized! Deploy the navy. Kill 'em all! "Shoot 'em stone cold dead!" NOW the audience cheers.

Haley: I don't care what the UN thinks. It's war! Oh boy! Compares opioids to Vietnam. Send in SpecOps. Invade Mexico. Defund Sanctuary Cities. Catch and Release! Oops, I mean Catch and Deport. Mental health.

Ramaswamy: Sad story about dead drug addicts. Bioterrorism. Etc. Etc. Send in the military. Got to defend the northern border. I'm the only one on the stage to visit the Canadian border. Build TWO walls, north and south. Send the military to secure the Northern border! Guy really doesn't like Canada. I suspect the feeling is mutual. 

What we've been waiting for, it's Abortion now: 

DeSantis: Sad story about a woman from Jamacia 40 years ago. Loves life. Gotta work from the bottom up. Referenda. Referenda. Referenda. Referenda. It's like I can't stop saying referenda!

Haley: Be honest with the American people (LOL). I'm pro-life. Sad story about her children. I don't judge people (LOLWUT?). Believes in state's rights. Save the babies!

Scott: 100% pro-life. As a president I would impose a 15 week federal limit on abortion. 15 week limit! 15 week limit! Thinks abortions are allowed to up to birth. Support adoptions. Gotta take care of the babies. Fifteen minutes ago he was talking about shooting kids at the border. Whatever. 

Haley: I'll sign anything where we can get 60 senate votes. Ah, so states rights until you've got enough Senators to force your will on the nation? Got it, thanks.

Ramaswamy: Speaking as a man, sexual Responsibility for men! Speaking as a MAN! We're all in this together. Oh shit.

Christie: Abortion isn't a constitutional right. State's rights. Women don't have rights, states do (not verbatim but that's what he meant). I trust the people to make the right decision for themselves. LOL. Then he says when people decide what he doesn't like it's "morally reprehensible." But that's okay. Thanks Mr. Passive Aggressive. 


I need a drink.

I feel like I need a shower.

They need to put one of those electric shock collars you use for dog training on Ramaswamy. The guy just can't shut the fuck up. He's more Trump than Trump. Put one on Trump too. 

Also, I'd like to remind you: If you elect a businessman to run your government like a business, well,  you're gonna get the business. And you're gonna get it good and hard.

And we're back. 

Triumphant music! So majestic.

Final statements:

Scott: We're in a crisis! Culturally and spiritually. We need more Jesus! If god made you a man, you play sports against men! Yep, that's what he said, verbatim. If god made you a man, you play spots against men. Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Bigotry is so much nicer when dressed up in folksy Church wisdom. Okay thanks for coming, Tim. 

Christie: It's a gift to be an American. Americans are exhausted. Americans are tired of petty politics. And so here's some more petty politics. Differences are strength! But you can't love America if you're different from me. 

Ramaswamy: We're in a war between us who love America and those Americans who hate America. They're not real Americans. We're the real Americans. Deep State. China. Renew pride in America! Message to Democrats: Joe Biden isn't the president. Wait what? Joe Biden isn't the President! Joe Biden isn't the Democratic candidate. Who is? Michelle Obama? What the fuck? Message to Democrats end Biden's campaign now!  Okay, crazy cakes, time's up.

Haley: War. War. War. Terrorism. Good and Evil. Be strong. Be proud. Move forward. Join us. Strong. Proud. God Bless America! Like her closing statement was assembled from reading a bunch of bumper stickers. 

DeSantis: (angry face) It's not about me, it's about you.  As a (checks hand) veteran. As a father. As a governor. You can trust me. I'm asking for your vote. I won't let you down. God bless America! Yeah, the only people voting for you, Ron, are the aforementioned Nazis.

And that's it. blah blah blah and good night!

Two fucking hours. And then I had to transcribe my tweets and notes into this post. And you know, I could have just tapped out at "We're looooosers!" and not missed anything but no, I had to watch the whole goddamn lousy spectacle. 

In my defense, I'm currently trapped in rural Michigan without cable TV or decent entertainment. 

Anyway, I honestly can't believe people with this level of vision and leadership, this degree of concern for babies and borders and bombs, are running so far behind a two time impeached, four time indicted, six time bankrupt rapist who led an insurrection against the United States, but then they did call themselves losers and that's probably the only truth any of them uttered last night. 

That's the GOP for you. 

I am Groot!
-- Groot, Guardians of the Galaxy

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Week In Pictures: Bridges, Birds, and Burning Orbs


This week, I'll start of with some industrial architectural shots.

Just in case you're tired of all those colorful bird pictures I usually post. 

This is the Pensacola Bay Bridge, typically called the Three Mile Bridge by locals, across Escambia Bay between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze. Officially it's the General "Chappie" James Jr. Bridge, but I don't know anyone who actually calls it that. 

We had gone looking for sea birds near the bridge, but the weather was bad and there wasn't much in the way of wildlife except for some waterlogged pigeons and a few sad looking seagulls. 

So I took pictures of the bridge instead.

I shot these images from beneath the Gulf Breeze (south) approach. There's a park there, which is mostly roped off and non-functional due to construction of the bridge and damage from Hurricane Sally in 2020. There's a larger park on the Pensacola end that is likewise damaged and mostly closed to the public -- and ironically contains the visitor center for this area. The storm massively damaged the bridge due to astounding negligence on the part of the construction company which failed to secure their large  barges against the storm surge. The bridge was brand new at the time, still under construction, and had just opened a single span for traffic. The barges broken loose in the violent Cat III storm, some drifted across the bay and grounded miles away, but several smashed through the bridge itself and the popular fishing piers and then an enormous barge mounted crane fell onto the roadway damaging the piers and dropping a full span into the water. The bridge had to be closed and traffic rerouted 30 miles around the bay for nearly a year. It was a major disaster with huge economic impact to the area. By the time they got the bridge repaired and the second span completed years behind schedule and many millions over budget, there wasn't any money left to fix the parks or the fishing piers. 

Here's another view, different orientation.

I shot the images in color, but converted them to black and white in post-processing because I thought that was more suited to the ultra modern Tomorrowland feel of the scene.

We now return to our regularly scheduled broadcast.

On the west side of Pensacola, near Perdido Key, is a small state park call Big Lagoon. It's a haven for birds and wildlife, used by kayakers, hikers, and campers. A small bit of wild surrounded by increasing urban sprawl and beach condos. 

It's a bit of drive for me, especially in morning rush hour traffic (the park doesn't open until 8AM, so I'm always in the thick of traffic on the way over). But it's often worth the hassle for the shots of birds and other wildlife. 

Like this small mullet jumping in one of the tidal pools.

Science doesn't really know why mullet jump out of the water like this.

There are many theories: to remove parasites, to avoid predators, as a form of communication, a possible mating display. Me I think they are fish astronauts leaping into space just to see what's up there. 

I will say that if you want an exercise in patience and skill at photography, spend some time trying to get a decent shot of a jumping mullet. 

Here's one of my favorite birds, a brown thrasher.

And as I noted on Instagram, if there isn't a pro wrestler who goes by the moniker The Brown Thrasher, there should be. 

When I post shots like this, people often ask if I've used some sort of Photoshop trickery to remove the background. 


The image is as shot except for some minor cropping. What I'm doing with these shots is maneuvering to put the bird against a bright overcast sky, then using spot metering to set exposure on darker parts of the bird, then making adjustments to aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, etc, to blowout (overload the sensor) for the background parts of the image while keeping the subject perfectly exposed. Overloading the sensors results in white pixels (100% data. As opposed to 0 data which would be black). This doesn't always work, but when it does, you get an image that looks like one of those hyperrealist drawings from a 1970s Field & Stream. I always loved that look and often try to recreate it with photography. 

You can go the other way, like this very blue image of a great egret in the reeds.

In this case I've adjusted color control and contrast in the camera to produce a colorful image in cloudy gray conditions. These aren't things you can do with film -- well, not easily anyway (the way you do it is to change films, using emulsions sensitive to the colors you want. It's clunky, primitive, and difficult and one of the reasons I'm just as happy to shoot digital nowadays). 

Here's a compromise between the two techniques, a male house finch, fluffed up in the cool wet weather (cool for this area anyway), showing some great color in the bird and the lichen growing on the dead tree.

Or, you can go completely the other way and embrace a dark, gray stormy day. 

Here's a kestrel with dragonfly almost as big as she is. 

Kestrels are small falcons, common to much of North America and Europe. They are fierce little raptors. Falconers raise them to hunt mice and grasshoppers. They are fast maneuverable birds and hard to capture in detail. I'm not particularly happy with the quality of this shot, but it was the best one I got that day. So, it'll have to do.

This snowy egret is a relative of that great egret up above, little smaller with distinctive yellow mask and socks.

I was sitting in my yard comparing various settings between the Z9 and Z8 Nikon cameras. I'd screwed something up on the Z8 and was attempting to figure out which of the several thousand menu settings I'd changed. 

This cardinal made a convenient test subject as I fiddled with the settings. 

Eventually I sorted it out and was able to reconfigure the Z8 without having to reset it back to factory baseline. And I learned a few things along the way. That's always good. 

So I spent a couple hours shooting various small birds at the feeders, like these Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice. 

And finally, today's solar eclipse from the Florida Panhandle. 

No ring of fire here, we were too far outside the eclipse's path. And it was cloudy, but the skies cleared just long enough for me to get a few decent shots a bit after totality. This is a handheld shot using the Nikon Z8, a Nikkor Z 400mm lens, and an ND100 filter so I could point the camera directly at the sun without frying either the sensor or my retina. As I noted on Instagram: I do have a solar filter for my 12" refractor scope, but it's for the eyepiece and won't work with the camera mount. And I don't have an ND100 or solar filter for the big 600mm lens and the Z9. And the 600mm uses a rear mount internal filter anyway and I'm not really comfortable pointing that very, very expensive beast at the sun and letting it heat up the internal components. So, 400mm on the Z8 is the best I could do. And frankly, I'm not really sure how I'd get a better shot with bigger glass. I'm perfectly happy with it. Particularly given that the skies were only clear enough to see the eclipse for about 10 minute anyway.

That's it, that's the week in pictures from Stonekettle Station. 

Thursday, October 12, 2023



“What's to be believed? Or does it matter at all? When mass murder's been answered with mass murder, rape with rape, hate with hate, there's no longer much meaning in asking whose ax is bloodier. Evil, on evil, piled on evil.”
Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

Pick a side. 

Come on, choose.

Tell me, who do you stand with? 

You have to pick a side and you have to declare it to the world and there's only one right answer. Choose, you son of bitch, choose. 

You have to pick a side and you have to declare it to the world and you have to do it in a timely fashion. 

And you have to pick the right side, the righteous side, the side of God! Yes!

As I said to Ted Cruz himself, When you write your memoir, I certainly hope it includes a chapter on your heroic wartime experience with lines like: "I quickly tweeted back..." 

Talk about a regular Audie Murphy.

You've got to pick a side. Return fire via social media. Man the keyboards, launch the tweets, unleash hell! Make sure everyone knows. You gotta be hard, you gotta be first, you gotta take the Facebook beach. 

If you want to get those clicks and likes and engagements. 

For that is the true measure of a patriot, is it not?

Yes, Sir, war is hell. 

This morning Mike Pence is on Twitter wearing a bomber jacket and a steely-eyed squint.

Mike Pence calls for U.S. Special Forces to "be prepared to mobilize." 

What leadership! 

What daring! 

What a man! What bravado! What a warrior! Tweet. Tweet.

As if American military forces aren't already in theater or on the way. As if being ready to deploy isn't literally the normal state of readiness for SOF units. As if US Navy carriers aren't already on station or on the way. As if we haven't been developing war plans for decades for exactly this situation. Gee, no president ever thought of that before. 

Wonder if Mother dressed him just for this photo op?

Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham declares war on religion:

"We're in a religious war here, I am with Israel, do whatever you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place!"

Religious war. 

War against religion. 

Which religion? Oh, you know the one. 

Do whatever you have to do to defend yourself! 

I'm sure Israel thanks Lindsey for his permission. 

We're in a religious war. Level the place. Scorch the earth, burn the sky, salt the fields! Hoorah Hoorah! We gotta fight 'em over there or we'll have to fight 'em over here! Loose lips sink ships! America, love it or leave it! Better Red than Dead! Kill 'em all and let God sort it out! Oh yes! Now we just need some T-shirts and bumper stickers! 

Like Jesus said, I guess. 

Lindsey Graham never saw a war he didn't love and there's no war he doesn't love more than the idea of war with Iran. If he ever gets his wish, I wonder if our Muslim allies will play his words back at us when we go to them, hat in hand, asking to use bases in their countries to wage war on their religion. 

Meanwhile, the Republican Party's leading candidate for President was in Florida for a rally:

"Instead of keeping terrorists and terrorist sympathizers out of America the Biden Administration is inviting them in. You know why? Because he's got a boss, who's his boss, Barack Hussein Obama Barack Hussein Barack Hussein Obama. Remember the great Rush Limbaugh? BARock HOOOOOSSEIN Obama he'd go Barack HOOOSSEIN Obama, hello lady, unbelievably the corrupt Biden Department of Justice recently invited an Iranian backed judge from Iraq to visit our nation's capital isn't that nice? He couldn't have been too impressed with our capital it looks like shit, no, have you seen what they've done to it...?"


Obama is secretly pulling the strings. 

And Trump knows this because a dead radio pundit used to mock Obama's middle name. 

A few minutes later Donald Trump explained how Hezbollah is very smart, very smart indeed. 

He also told a funny story about how he called China very smart once and the press was all over him. But he was going to call Hezbollah very smart anyway and whatever. Ha ha. 

And then -- and then -- Trump rambled off into a disjointed story about his great Julius Caesar moment, his glorious military victory: the drone strike that assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Bagdad. The crowd listened in confused silence as Trump ended the story by explaining how Israel refused to support America. 

"I’ll never forget, I'll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. That was a very terrible thing I will say that and, uh, so when I see, uh, sometimes, the intelligence, you talk about the intelligence, or you talk about some of the things that went wrong over the last week, uh, they've gotta straighten it out because they're fighting potentially a very big force they're fighting potentially Iran, and, when they have, people, saying the wrong things, everything they say is being digested by these people because they're vicious and they're smart and boy are they vicious because nobody's ever seen the kind of sight that we've seen, nobody's ever seen it, but they cannot play games so we were disappointed by that, very disappointed, but we did the job ourself and it was absolute precision, magnificent beautiful job, and then, uuh, Bibi tried to take credit for it, that was a good, THAT DIDN'T MAKE ME FEEL TOO GOOD, ha ha, but that's all right, so they gotta strengthen themselves up..."

The crowd made this sort of sickly collective laugh and there was some weak applause, but I imagine most of them were wondering how they were going to scrape the Israel Flag stickers off their bumpers without ruining the paint. 

I'm not quite sure how Republicans like Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham who've been screaming for a week about "standing with Israel" will process Trump's remarks, but I'm sure they'll manage somehow. Ted Cruz will probably just pretend Trump called his wife ugly and roll over. 

Speaking of rolling over, in a Colorado court yesterday, Trump's lawyers argued the former president "had no duty to support" the Constitution as president and therefore the 14th Amendment's Insurrection Clause doesn't apply and thus Trump can't be disqualified from the state's ballot. 

"The Presidential oath, which the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment surely knew, requires the President to swear to 'preserve, protect and defend' the Constitution, not to 'support' the Constitution." 

"Because the framers chose to define the group of people subject to Section Three by an oath to 'support' the Constitution of the United States, and not by an oath to 'preserve, protect and defend' the Constitution, the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment never intended for it to apply to the President."

Trump's lawyers actually wrote that down on paper and signed it. 

But, I digress. 

We were talking about the situation in Israel. 

You have to pick a side. 

You have to say the words, I stand with Israel! I stand with the Palestinians! One or the other. Black or white. Right or Left. Us or them. You got to get in line. 

It's just that simple. 


Guess what, Folks?

It's not that simple. 

It's not that cut and dried. It's not one "side" or the other.

You don't have to pick a team in this conflict. Not like that. You don't. 

Hang on before you start screaming at me. Listen for a minute. 

Again, I was talking about the larger conflict, Israel and the Palestinians. Not Hamas. And it's complicated. It's not simple. It's not a simple matter of picking sides, us and them, no matter what the politicians and pundits and preachers tell you.

This isn't a game of dodgeball. 

This conflict, the bigger one, the one between peoples and nations and history, that goes far beyond the current fight with Hamas and it's incredibly complicated. 

There are a thousand years or better of history and politics behind this war.

There are the machinations of a dozen nations, who all have their fingers in it, pulling strings behind the scenes, fighting a proxy war, throwing gasoline on the fire for their own selfish reasons. 

There are the religions of many people, prophets and holy men and true believers all eager to bring about their version of paradise, or Armageddon, in the name of their god. 

There is the legacy of war, many wars across generations and how memory of that violence and those dead bodies shape and twist history and justify even more violence.

There are crimes and atrocities and grievances and slights that go back not just decades, but centuries, things that few outside the conflict can really, truly understand -- or care to understand, for that matter.

And underneath all of that, well, there are the very real conditions of hunger and poverty and sickness and hate and fear and a need for opportunity and a thirst for freedom and a thousand other things that drive humans to do what they do, right or wrong.

I don't know that peace is possible in this larger conflict. 

I don't know that it's not. That wasn't my profession or area of expertise. 

If an end is possible, I certainly don't know how to bring it about -- and I doubt you do either, dear reader. Not really. 

But, what I do know is that no American politician, president, senator, congressperson, or dog catcher can end that conflict. 

America can't end this fight.

But we can for damn sure make it worse

Some of you are in this fight because you have to be. 

Because it's your country, your people, your family, your religion, your history. 

You didn't choose a side, it chose you. 

And I am certainly not about to tell you you're wrong. 

I went to war myself, once upon a time, because it was my sworn duty to do so. I willingly went to fight those who committed atrocities against my nation, against those who murdered my people and threatened my family. I did it. I did it for my own reasons and I'd do it again, and I would never be so crass as to deny you a similar choice. 

Here's the thing though: we won our war, but we lost the peace

We won our righteous war and we made the world all the worse for it. 

I would caution you to learn from our bitter mistakes -- though you probably won't. 

America can't end this fight, but we can for damn sure make it worse

See, the rest of you, well you don't have to pick side. 

You will, of course. Probably already have. But you don't have to. 

You don't have to declare who you stand with on social media. You don't have to make some chest beating declaration of loyalty to one side or the other.

And you most certainly don't have to condemn others for not doing so, or not doing so hard enough or fast enough or the right way. 

You don't have to pick a team. 

Those of us who are not in this conflict, the only side we must choose is the side of civilization. 

The only stand we must take is against terror and barbarism. 

You don't have to join a team. You don't have to use this moment to attack your fellow citizens. You don't have to pick any side other that of humanity in order to be righteously outraged, to be furious and appalled and disgusted, at the atrocities of the goddamned barbarians trying to tear civilization down. 

You can support and criticize Israel and the Palestinians both without engaging in apologia for terrorism.

Because there is no justification for barbarism. Full stop. 

No matter how righteously aggrieved any people might be, no matter how oppressed, no matter how wronged, there is no justification for the murder and rape and kidnapping of innocents. 

You don't have to pick a side to stand against that

You don't have to pick a side in order to offer support and sincere sympathy and aid. 

You also don't have to dismiss the things you care about, whether it be Israel's right to exist and/or the very same for the Palestinians. You can care about those things and still stand with both peoples against the sons of bitches who carried out these attacks. 

America can't end this conflict, but we can most certainly make it worse. 

And there are those who are determined to do so for their own selfish ends. 

Because they never miss a chance to use war and atrocity and terror and fear and hate to further their agenda, so long as none of that horror ever actually touches them

In the wake of September 11, 2001, the world stood in solidarity with us, America. Even our sworn enemies offered us their sympathy and support, aghast at the barbarism that killed 3000 Americans. 

And I will never forget how our leaders, right and left, stood on the steps of the US Capitol with the smoke of the burning Pentagon still in the air, and swore to us that they would put aside their differences and their partisan rancor and work together as Americans. 

They gave us their solemn word in the name of their god. 

And that promise lasted just long enough for those faithless sons of bitches to walk up the steps and return to their offices. Some of them are on TV and social media right now attacking their fellow Americans. 

So much for their sacred word. 

We Americans, we pissed away the world's goodwill in 20 years of conflict and occupation. 

We won our war, yes we did, and make no mistake. We won every battle.

But we lost the peace. 

We made the world all the worse for it and our children will have to live in that reality.

I hope the Israelis will do better than we did, but history suggests they won't. 

You don't have to pick any side other than that of civilization. 

You don't have to pick a side in order to comfort the dying, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to provide for the homeless, to aid those in need, to confront evil, to stand with your neighbors whoever they might be. 

You don't have to make things worse. 

You don't have to make the same mistakes again. 

But you probably will. 

“Listen, are we helpless? Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix in an unending sequence of rise and fall? Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage, Rome, the Empires of Charlemagne and the Turk: Ground to dust and plowed with salt. Spain, France, Britain, America—burned into the oblivion of the centuries. And again and again and again. Are we doomed to it, Lord, chained to the pendulum of our own mad clockwork, helpless to halt its swing? This time, it will swing us clean to oblivion.”
― Walter M. Miller Jr.A Canticle for Leibowitz

Saturday, September 30, 2023

The Week In Pictures: Migration


Summer is coming to an end and many North America birds are beginning their annual migration south.

And so it was for me this week, traveling from north to south, Michigan to Florida.

I was in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, in farming country south of Grand Rapids along the Thornapple River. The place used to be a mill town long ago with a dam on the river creating a miles-long pond to power the wheels and stones that once ground corn and wheat from local farms into meal and flour. Those products were first carried away to the city on horse-drawn wagons and later by train. 

But those days are long gone and so is the mill and the train, though the dam and the pond remain. 

The farms are still here too, but nowadays their products, corn, soybeans, diary, are carried away on trucks bound for modern processing facilities far away, and the town has become a bedroom community wrapped around a modern plant that manufacturers hot water heaters. It's a clean, quiet, safe little town with a block-long main street of small stores, a few good restaurants, and an absolutely excellent coffee shop. 

And that long gone railroad is now a rails-to-trails conversion, part of the North American Birding Trail, used by joggers and cyclists and people out for a morning walk with their dog. A paved portion of it runs right through downtown, next to the old dam, between the river and what's left of the millpond. The pond is now overgrown with returning native wetland plants and a hundred of varieties of birds, mink, muskrat, bobcat, fox, woodchucks, and other species. 

It's also become a stop on the migration route for birds traveling between Canada and their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

Like these Canada Geese flying in formation. Their honking filled the air one evening as I hiked along the trail.

And these mallard ducks.

Or this great egret (also known as a great white heron), who I watched each morning while he hunted his breakfast of small fish, leeches, and fresh water mollusks in the shallow waters. 

And this pied-billed Grebe, a small waterbird with rear-facing legs like a penguin (unlike penguins, grebes can't walk on land), and massively webbed feet like twin propellers giving the bird the ability to move torpedolike through the water. They have short bills with sharp tooth-like serrations that they use to grab their prey of small fish such as brim, perch, and bluegills, which they then swallow whole. Grebes aren't common in this area, they're just passing through on the way south. 

And speaking of passing through, Sandhill Cranes stop each night to rest and feed along the edges of the millpond, and are gone again in the morning before first light. 

This eastern phoebe was probably my favorite picture from Michigan. I snapped her in the early dawn, just before sun up, when everything was damp from the fog and the whole world was still and silent. Looking through the big lens, I could just make out that spiderweb, highlighted in fine droplets from the mist, and realized she was watching it. Phoebes are flycatchers and she was guarding that web and ready to take advantage of the spider's hard work should the opportunity present itself. I was pretty proud of this image. It was a difficult shot in the low light. I posted it to social media ... only to realize later no one could see the web on their tiny phone screens and the small drab bird didn't impress anyone very much. Sigh. The tribulations of a bird photographer. 

Speaking of social media, this yellow-rumped warbler was also a favorite shot. They're very common birds in this area (along with about a dozen other species of warbler), but not easy to photograph as they tend to hide in the thick brush. Not only did I get a clear close-up shot, but one framed in beautiful fall colors of red and yellow. But when I posted it to social media, all anyone could talk about was that the leaves are poison ivy. I had to take the image down when people started complaining about being "triggered" and the conversations devolved into snide passive aggressive arguments -- as if they were somehow going to get a rash from looking at an image on a phone screen.  I'm honestly not sure how some of these people manage to make it through the day. 

And so long as I'm posting pictures of poison ivy, here are some bluebirds among colorful ivy leaves covering an old pine stump deep in the swamp. The light filtering through the forest canopy gives the silvered wood a blue cast, which I thought was a perfect compliment to the birds. 

I drove out into the country to an Audubon sanctuary I happen to know about. I didn't find any birds, but the fields were full of butterflies and bees, like this Viceroy -- a monarch mimic.  

I left Michigan and drove a thousand miles south to the Florida Panhandle. 

Migration isn't quite in full swing here yet. 

I caught this this female kingfisher in the pines of Santa Rosa Island near Fort Pickens. I feel a kinship with her, given that's the same WTF? expression on my face most of the time these days.

These feather-legged scoliidae wasps were busy gathering nectar in the flowers outside my office. They look fearsome indeed, but they're the good guys. They are non-aggressive pollinators and they destroy the larva of invasive tree bark beetles. Scoliidae are an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Plus they just look so damn cool. 

The hummingbirds are still passing through on their way south, though most of the males have gone on ahead now and I mostly only see the less colorful females and juveniles. Like this beautiful lady, backlit by the morning sun. 

I spent much of yesterday out near Perdido Key and in Big Lagoon State Park with a friend and fellow photographer.

We'd barely gotten out of the car and were still setting up our equipment when this lone bald eagle appeared over the bay. 

I must have at least 10,000 shots of Great Blue Herons, but I'm always taking more pictures of these birds.  I can't help it. They're such weird dinosaurs-looking creatures. Like this one, standing in the wind-whipped grass of a small barrier island off Perdido. 

Note the bird's pupils are different sizes, one in the light, one the shadow.

Osprey (seahawks, aka river hawks) are very common in this area year 'round. There's a boardwalk and an observation tower at Grand Lagoon where you can watch them diving in the inland waterway for fish. This shot is a composite, a stack of five images merged together showing an osprey in the last moments of her dive. Note how the legs and talons swing forward, going from a high-speed low-drag aerodynamic shape to forward-facing grapples ready to snatch the bird's prey on impact. 

She was successful, catching a large mullet. 

But, she dropped it about twenty feet into her climb out. That's got to be disappointing. 

She later caught another mullet and settled into this treetop to finish the meal. This is probably my favorite shot from yesterday. I love the stark, almost black and white pencil sketch look. I'm going to print these in large poster size on canvas. 

And finally, there is this young red shouldered hawk, hunting the pine barrens over Perdido Key. The wind was blowing hard and he was beating into it, hovering, looking for prey in the scrub below. One of those moments where everything just lines up, the camera was ready and programmed to the correct settings for the conditions, the light was behind me, and the bird held position for several minutes. I got these amazing shots ... and then he was gone, gliding effortlessly off in search of a meal down the coast. 

That's it. That's my week in pictures.