Thursday, August 14, 2014

World War I Commemorations Pop(py) Off

As Britain kicks off observances marking the 100th Anniversary since the beginning of World War I, poppy fields prepare to grow sparse as the flower will likely be in high demand over the next four years. The popular remembrance flower became a focal point in art installations and reenactments alike. If you don't know what Remembrance Day is (me), you may be wondering why the Commonwealth countries love their poppies.

The best example of poppy symbolism comes from Westminster Abbey. If you watched the Royal wedding a few years ago (you did), you noticed the renowned tomb of the Unknown Warrior that Kate Middleton had to sidestep around in order to walk down the isle. The tomb greets all who enter the church and is framed by its signature slew of poppies. 

Image source: Puzzles Games

Poppies first came to symbolize fallen soldiers in John McCrae's 1915 poem, In Flanders Fields. After the Flanders Fields battles of World War I, poppies were the only thing that sprouted from the distressed battlegrounds in Belgium. Shortly thereafter, the red flower became synonymous with a soldier's sacrifice.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
So, World War I commemorations have begun and the poppies are a'flowin. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge along with Prince Harry helped plant a few of the 888,246 ceramic poppies along the moat of the Tower of London symbolizing the nearly one million lives lost. The art installation titled Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red will come to an end on November 11th, after the last poppy is to be planted, symbolizing the end of the war in 1918. 

Image source: Smithsonian

Image source: Smithsonian
Image source: Telegraph

Created by artist Paul Cummins, the poppies are available to buy online for £25 each (or if you live in the United States $75 total, including shipping), which you will receive sometime after the installation is over. I totally bought one. Proceeds will go to various service charities. You can take a look at how the poppies were made here:

Rounding out the week in poppies, historical reenactors staged a World War I battle as a million poppies rained down upon them, once again symbolizing Commonwealth casualties in the war. Held at the Tank Museum in Bovington, southern England, there was a replica tank, an airplane display, and a remembrance service.

Image source: Buzzfeed
I generally associated poppies with the flower field in The Wizard of Oz that rendered people comatose (also, opiates) BUT the flower's symbolism has been running strong in Commonwealth countries for the last 100 years.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hurricane Charley in Pics, 10 Years Later

Hurricane Charley rocked Florida’s southwestern coast ten years ago today with 150 mph winds, making it the strongest hurricane to hit the United States in over a decade. Still one of the top 10 most costliest hurricanes in US History, this megastorm caused over $15 billion in damage, leveling neighborhoods and forever altering Florida’s coastal landscape.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A Sitting Duck
Florida’s peninsula juts out between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico with a big fat ‘X’ painted over it as a landing zone for warm water storms. Although the proverbial hurricane state has faired well in recent years, Hurricane Charley made a lasting impact, making landfall on Florida’s southwestern coast and quickly blanketing the entire state. 

Image source: AccuWeather

Fast Motion
In a sudden change of course, Charley hit nearly 100 miles south of what was anticipated, taking many unexpected (and unprepared) people by surprise. As Juvenile’s Slow Motion topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Charley ripped through Captiva Island and the coastal towns of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte with fierce 150 mph winds.

Image source:

Book Light, Anyone?
Already on high alert due to Tropical Storm Bonnie ravaging Florida’s northwestern coast not even 24 hours prior to Charley, approximately 1.42 million people had evacuated their homes. Nearly 50,000 residents were placed in shelters across the state to ride out the tumultuous beginning of the 2004 hurricane season.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Survey Says
After Charley made its way through central Florida and dissipated along the coast of New England, the survey of damage began. Areas of Punta Gorda were virtually unrecognizable, looking as if someone chewed them up and spit them out.

Image source:

Debris Stew
On the same day popular chef Julia Child passed away, Hurricane Charley whipped up a masterful stew of trees, power lines, power poles, transformers and other debris and gave one heaping serving to those in its path. Producing only 4-6 inches of rain during its tenure in Florida, Charley made up for his thriftiness by spawning several tornados.

Image source:

School’s Out
Public schools in the path of the hurricane were closed for weeks following Charley’s aftermath. All 59 schools in central Florida’s Osceola County were reported damaged. The extended summer vacation gave this little girl more time to enjoy her new bedroom view.

Image source:

Orange You Sad?
Charley’s agricultural impact was astronomical in Cuba and Florida. The agricultural losses to Florida’s citrus crop alone reached upwards of $200 million. Local businesses were leveled, very much like this liquor store (which seemingly may just be someone’s emergency hurricane preparation kit).

Image source:

You Loot, They Shoot
The fast-moving storm crossed Florida’s peninsula in seven hours leaving 2 million homes without power. Some areas were not restored for weeks. Desperate people do desperate things, and this man was everything but subtle in his way of letting looters know that he doesn’t mess around.

Image source: US Geological Survey

Florida Coast Gets a Makeover
At least 11,000 homes were severely damaged or destroyed, 27,000 roofs needed replacing, and three hospitals were taken down in Florida; but one irreparable alteration was that of its coastline. The coastline is noticeably different as the high winds and pelting gulf waters pummeled the shoreline, as seen here at North Captiva Island.

Image source: Tampa Bay Times

Back and Better Than Ever
Fifteen people met their fate at the hands of Hurricane Charley. President George W. Bush declared Florida a federal disaster area and millions of dollars in aid was soon released to the battered state. The community began putting back together the pieces, such as Punta Gorda’s Professional Center, which was replaced by modern retail shops, office space, and restaurants. 

The name ‘Charley’ will forever go down in infamy, as it has no other choice. Due to its severity, the World Meteorological Organization retired the name from its list of tropical cyclone names in 2005.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Beginning of the End to the 1994 MLB Season

Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the Major League baseball strike which ultimately led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. After curling up in the fetal position wondering how this could have happened to America’s most beloved pastime, baseball fanatics bounced back and verbalized their anger, disappointment, and angst through posters and protests at the beginning of the 1995 season.

Image sources: ABC 7 News DenverTimeCleveland.comESPNOccasional Planet, and

The strike stemmed from a salary cap proposed by team owners that would level the playing field for competition. The players weren't happy. Owners claimed that bankruptcy would be inevitable if player's salary demands were met, and players claimed they were already underpaid and were sick of the exploitation (the salary has since increased roughly 180%, but that's another story for another time).

Players banded together and left the field on August 12th. Nearly 1,000 games were scrapped, including the first World Series to be cancelled in 90 years. After 232 days, the strike was resolved and the players came out on top. Most teams continued living in multi-multi-multi million dollar heaven, while one eventually disappeared. The story of 1994 cannot be told without mention of the now defunct Montreal Expos, the team with the best record in baseball at the time. With the second-lowest payroll in MLB, the Expos were guaranteed a playoff spot for the first time since 1981. As the season came to an abrupt end, the 1994 Expos are now considered one of the biggest 'what-ifs' in baseball history. The World Series-less Expos moved to Washington 10 years later.

Image source: This Great Game

Individual players got screwed as well. Tony Gwynn, batting .394, was on his way to finishing a season over .400 (Ted Williams was the last player to do so in 1941) and Matt Williams (who had 43 homers at the time) was on track to beat Roger Maris' 61 single season home run record. Michael Jordan was just dipping his toes in the baseball pool when the strike happened. He ran back to basketball the following year.

When the strike ended at the beginning of the 1995 season, people were still pretty pissed off. Game attendance and television ratings plummeted. People flocked to stadiums to solely demonstrate their anger. A Cincinnati fan paid for a plane to fly over the Red's stadium carrying a banner that read "Owners & Players: To hell with all of you!" Three men attending a Mets game wore matching "Greed" t-shirts and jumped on the field to toss $1 bills at the player's feet before being restrained by security.

People eventually moved on. Overall, baseball in 1994 was far from being a complete tragedy. On the heels of 1993 blockbuster films Rookie of the Year and The Sandlot, the strike year spit out classics Angels in the Outfield, Cobb, Little Big League, and Major League II. The films were what the fans needed: a glorification of the good ole' American tradition (underdogs, miracles, family, happinessblahblahblah), while staying away from the seedy political side.

Monday, August 11, 2014

We Begin Bombing in Five Minutes

"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."
Today marks the 30th Anniversary of those infamous words uttered by Ronald Reagan that left many Americans scratching their heads. As the former president was doing a sound check for his weekly Saturday address on National Public Radio, he thought he would make a little joke about bombing Russia. The thing was, it kinda sorta got back to the Soviet Union. And we were kinda sorta in the middle of the Cold War, so it didn’t go over well.

The cold war era joke upset more Americans than Russians, to whom Reagan later apologized to. Many believe it indirectly contributed to the Soviet Union's collapse (USSR goes into high alert = they spend more money on their military to compete with America = eventual collapse of economy = eventual collapse of political system).

Reagan's popularity declined in its aftermath but he went on to win a second term anyways.

Image source: Briscoe Center

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dicks of Antiquity

It's alright Jonah. Unbeknownst to you, you were only exploring an ancient theme of artwork. The world's oldest erotic graffiti was found last month chiseled in limestone at Vathy, Greece, dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries BC. The big ole' phallus is accompanied by an inscription that reads "Nikasitimos was here mounting Timiona," a proclamation believed to have been made by two soldiers stationed on the Aegean Island peninsula.

These "triumphant inscriptions" give insight into the private lives of citizens of ancient Greece while also proving that literacy was thriving at a time when Athens had not yet reached its highest potential. Dr. Andreas Vlachopoulos, a specialist in prehistoric archaeology, says the men "claimed their own space in large letters that not only expressed sexual desire but talked about the act of sex itself and that is very, very rare. By using the verb in the past continuous [tense], it clearly says that these two men were making love over a long period of time, emphasising the sexual act in a way that is highly unusual in erotic artwork. "

Less sexy artwork among the rocks features oared ships, daggers, and spirals. The peninsula which was known for its ancient cemeteries of mass graves containing the remains of newborn infants now has a much different claim to fame.

Image Source: Gawker