January 20th, 2010


Reporting from the State that's not as smart and principled as you thought we is

What are we to make of the Obama victory (massive landslide in Massachusetts) quickly followed by the Scott Brown victory? "We want change--only not so fast/so much?" I think a lot of people just do what FOX news tells them to do.

Coakely ran a completely incompetent campaign, and never once showed a sign of Charisma, or distinguished herself in any way that rang clear, but who cares? Republican is Republican. Voting for these people is an expression of hate and fear. It's a terrible black mark on Massachusetts. It was bad enough we voted in Weld as governor--and that was just because the Democratic opponent Silber was unrepentantly loathesome--which led to three consecutive Republican governorships completely out of inertia. But that showed that Mass wasn't impenetrable to Republicans--as long as they were articulate and relatively handsome young men.

Let me type it out for anyone who thought they were "sending a message:" The Republican party pretends to care about working class people and social issues in order to get votes, and it works. EVERY SINGLE POLICY they put into place actually removes social safety nets, removes rights from minorities, and consolidates wealth into a chosen elite. They don't actually care about gay marriage or abortion, but since Joe Pickup does, they coast on those issues while deregulating the banks and closing the mental hospitals (and work to eliminate gay marriage and safe and legal abortion).

The silver lining is that we only have to put up with this embarrassment for two years, and in the meanwhile Capuano or someone else worthwhile can build up a decent head of steam to get rid of this guy. In all likelihood, I won't be in Massachusetts to help, but that's okay, Massachusetts doesn't feel very special this morning.

Right now I feel like: where's my handbasket?

Urban Nature Pictures day 20; 50 more Urban Species #2: Winter Crane Fly

Winter Crane Fly, Trichocera sp. (pretty sure, although that urban entomology handbook would be very helpful right about now)

Twice in different workplaces I have been present when this insect caused alarm. First was at Drumlin Farm, on the mosquito netting meant to protect captive birds from West Nile Virus. (I posted about it, but I'll be darned if I can find that post.) It was long past mosquito season, and it made me nervous: just how many months a year did I have to worry about these things? Well, I learned it was a crane fly, a harmless creature that looks mosquitoish. I had previously known crane flies to be quite large insects, much bigger than mosquitoes, but it turns out there are many species of many sizes, and this kind was just the right size to fool me.

Then last week, a coworker called me over to a dumpster on zoo grounds, mostly empty but for some debris and puddles. Here it was early January and it was swarming with flying insects--quite mosquitoish in appearance. I swung my hat through the swarm and snagged one to look at, expecting to see a non-biting midge. Instead I recognized the small crane fly from six or seven winters ago. Today I found one resting on the ice on the roof of a golf cart, and took the picture above.

If you're still having a hard time distinguishing this animal from a mosquito, look first at the posture. Most mosquitoes stand with their heads down and their rears up, with their back legs up like the dainty pinkies of a tea drinker. They also have scales along the veins of their wings--a difficult field marking to notice at a distance, perhaps, but distinctive once you learn to see it. And of course, their mouthparts are very different--mosquitoes bearing cruel and complex probosces to exsanguinate us (or somewhat reduced probosces to draw up nectar if they are males) while winter crane flies, well, you can see their mouthparts are a blunt little affair. I haven't found out what it is that they eat, and they may very well eat nothing at all--a situation not that unusual among insects. Their larvae live in and eat wet rotting organic material.

Some winter crane fly species survive as inactive larvae or pupae from spring to fall, and emerge as adults in winter to breed. This schedule allows them to avoid most of the aerial predators like dragonflies, swifts, and swallows. Their maggots are likewise protected from flesh flies, rove beetles, and other insect predators. Winter crane flies are sometimes called "winter gnats" especially in Britain.