Category Archives: Culture

Culture for the cultured and uncultured alike.

Animal’s Daily News

A great deal of the hand-wringing over the Electoral College and the results of the recent election is due to the undue influence big states like California have on national politics – or how they would, were it not for the Electoral College.  Here’s an interesting idea how to fix that – re-draw state lines along population and cultural lines.  Excerpt:

The answer lies in limiting state size to a human scale in which human beings can still associate, travel, and trade across jurisdictional boundaries without incurring a great cost. The standard for “great cost” is subjective, of course, and over time has changed substantially. The cost of traveling 50 miles in the 16th century, for example, is significantly different form the cost of traveling the same distance today. 

There are ongoing attempts by geographers, however, to determine the “natural” size of a region that encompasses a population’s economic, political, and social institutions. In a recent study, for example, Garret Dash Nelson and Alasdair Rae attempted to identify regions that “have been substantively tied together by the forces of urban development, telecommunications, the frictionless circulation of capital, and the consolidation of both public and private institutions.” 

Basing their standard of scale on tolerance for commute times, the geographers selected 50-mile commutes as an indicator of how closely tied together is a specific region.

Here’s the commute time map and the resulting new state-line map:

Here’s my concern with this idea; note how the new, proposed state lines are drawn.  Note that they are all centered on major metropolitan areas.  Given the increasing urbanization of our population, that’s not surprising.

But the political divides in our country now are primarily rural v. urban, with some suburbs going either way (as you might expect.)  This proposal places a major urban area at the heart of each of the new States; that alone threatens to aggravate this divide.

It’s more likely that the United States will balkanize altogether.  Alaska and Texas in particular have more than sufficient infrastructure and resources to go it alone, given their current populations.  I’ve written on the subject before, and I think it’s a far more likely outcome than completely re-drawing State lines.

But either would signal the end of the United States as we know it.  I hope I don’t live to see either happen.

Rule Five Thoughts on Japan Friday

There’s a lot to be said about Japan.

Just now, about to end my third project in that country – albeit a short one – I’m inclined to share some of my thoughts of a place I’ve grown rather fond of.

I like Japan.  I like the food, the folks, the scenery.  I enjoy the porcelain beauty of so many young Japanese women and I enjoy the strong undercurrent of politeness and consideration that pervades the culture.

I’ve had some memorable adventures in Japan.  It’s a place where you can walk down a dark side street on a Friday night with little or no worries, a few neighborhoods in Tokyo excepted.  Some of my best adventures in Japan have started in just this way; some aimless wanderings in a new town that led to a great little local watering hole or restaurant.  One of these, some years back, was Koharu – “Spring Nights” in English.  Koharu is a little bar in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, that in 2009 was run by three ladies (I’m guessing) in their early to mid 60s.  My friend Paul and I hung out there a lot, and the Mama-sans loved us.

On this trip Paul and I wandered up a little side street in a Tokyo suburb called Fusse and discovered a little local ramen shop, where I enjoyed some of the best ramen I’ve ever laid jaws on.

With all that said, though; I could never live in Japan.  I’m too deeply and irretrievable American, a red-state American at that, to willfully put up with a lot of things Japanese folks take for granted.  Now the Japanese people have the right to choose the government that suits them; they have done so, and I would be the last to say they should change that to suit the whims of Americans, just as I would be the last to say Americans should change our way of life to suit anyone from another country.  But the Japanese culture and still rather unquestioning acceptance of authority has led to some policies that I could not and would not abide.  Among them:

  • No protection against unreasonable search and seizure. I am told the police can legally enter any Japanese home once per year with no cause, no warning, no nothing, just to have a look around; no warrant needed.  In my own Colorado, even were it a police officer trying to force his way into my home, had he no warrant I would have the legal right to part his hair with a shotgun.  Which brings us to:
  • Refusal of the right of armed self-defense. This is not and has not been an issue in Japan, not the least of reasons is their crime rate, which in most places is so low as to be nearly non-existent.  But Japan is a culturally and racially homogenous society, and what’s more a culture that places great value on conformity, on respect for authority, on blending in.  The United States is very different.  America was born in armed rebellion, the exact opposite of respect for authority; Americans today are fractious, rebellious and quarrelsome.  As evidence witness our recently concluded Presidential campaign and its aftermath.  Americans, by and large, favor our right to armed defense, a right defined in the Constitution by men who had just led a citizen’s army to defeat the world’s dominant superpower of the day.

There’s a lot to be said about Japan.  But it’s a very non-libertarian society.  I like the place and would gladly return to visit, or to work, for a while.

But live in Japan?  No.  I’ll take Colorado and, in a few more years, Alaska.

Rule Five Darwin Award Friday

2016_11_25_rule-five-friday-1Ever seen anyone doing anything stupid while posing for a selfie?  You’re not alone, and some folks manage to kill themselves in the process.  But now there are folks trying to help prevent that.  Excerpt:

Now a team of computer experts has analyzed the causes of selfie deaths and they think they have a solution: an app that would warn people they are in a death-by-selfie zone.

“We found that most common reason of selfie death was height-related. 2016_11_25_rule-five-friday-2These involve people falling off buildings or mountains while trying to take dangerous selfies,” Hemank Lamba of Carnegie Mellon University, Ponnurangam Kumaraguru of the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology and colleagues wrote in their report, which was published online at the open-access site arXiv.

Drowning and being hit by trains run a close second, the team found.

Kumaraguru, who studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon, said he and the team noticed news reports about the trend and decided to try to use data mining techniques to do something about it.

2016_11_25_rule-five-friday-3“It is important because people are losing their lives because of taking dangerous selfies,” Kumaraguru told NBC News.

Now, think on that for a moment; I’m all in favor of humanitarian instincts and all that jazz, but none other than Robert Heinlein once pointed out that the real cure for hemophilia was to let hemophiliacs bleed to death before they bred more hemophiliacs.

Could we – should we – apply the same logic to would-be Darwin award winners like selfie-taking idiots?

Personally I’ve never understood the compulsion some people have 2016_11_25_rule-five-friday-4to continually photograph their own grinning mugs.  Recently when Mrs. Animal and I were mooching around the Sustina river valley north of Anchorage in some of Alaska’s more scenic country, I encountered three Millennial-looking kids posed on the edge of the river with a range of gorgeous mountains in the distance.  They were, of course, taking pictures of themselves.

But back to the point at hand.  It’s a standard tenet of the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis in biology that, on balance, individuals in a population that have greater fitness to withstand the rigors of their 2016_11_25_rule-five-friday-5environment have greater reproductive success.  That’s what leads to evolution – genetic variation, genetic drift, random mutation and differential reproductive success.  Is it the worst thing for the human species to lower the reproductive odds of someone that is stupid enough to try to snap a selfie at the edge of a raging, flooded river, or while driving on a winding mountain road?

Thoughts?

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Animal’s Daily News

bears-cute-awesome1-11Guess who won the Nobel Prize for Literature?  None other than America’s Songwriter – Bob Dylan.  Noted libertarian, magician, Las Vegas entertainer and debunker of bullshit Penn Jillette weighs in.  Excerpt (Article is by Nick Gillespie and Meredith Bragg, not Jillette):

Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

As justified as the prize is, the award committee’s words are an understatement. In a career that spans 50-plus years, Dylan’s impact has long exceeded popular music, influencing every arena of creative expression, from film to writing to politics.

While it’s impossible—and perhaps ultimately pointless—to distill the essence of the figure behind songs, albums, and prose as different as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” Blood on the Tracks, Slow Train Coming, Time Out of Mind, Chronicles, and Shadows in the Night, I’ll take my chances. Among other things, Dylan incarnates the urge for endless self-discovery that is at the very heart of America’s mythic identity. We are a nation that is always in the act of becoming something different, something new, something at once influenced by the past but free (or struggling to be free) of it. “He not busy being born is busy dying,” he sings in “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”

And Mr. JIllette’s comments:

 I don’t know as I’d call Dylan Shakespeare’s equal; not quite.  But he is, as I mentioned earlier, America’s Songwriter.  His genre-hopping, constantly re-inventing style has now spoken to several generations.  What’s more, even in his seventies he has stamina matched by few musicians half his age.  He is still touring all over the world, doing a concert every few days.

It’s an interesting choice for the folks in Stockholm.  The Nobels in softer disciplines have been downgraded in credibility quite a little bit in the last few years.  The Peace Prize lost all meaning when they gave one to Yassir Arafat, and that prize was further degraded when they awarded one to the newly-inaugurated President Obama for, apparently, existing.

But the Literature prize still means something.  Picking a poet, musician and voice of America is an interesting choice.  I like it.

Animal’s Rule Five Preference Cascade Friday

2016_09_23_rule-five-friday-1The Donald continues to pull away from Her Imperial Majesty in the polls in several key states.  He’s made an impressive run, aided by Her Majesty’s serial scandals and gobsmacking, unrepentant dishonesty; what’s more, he’s managed it in spite of being outspent by orders of magnitude (so much for the corrupting influence of money in politics, eh?)  Bear in mind that polls are lagging indicators.  The Trumpmeister may actually be farther ahead than the polls would indicate.  He still has a pretty good hill to climb in the Electoral College, but it’s becoming a serious race.

Could we be seeing the beginnings of a preference cascade?

2016_09_23_rule-five-friday-2A preference cascade, as stated in the link above, is defined thusly:

In short, average people behave the way they think they ought to, even though that behavior might not reflect their own personal feelings.   Given a sufficient “A-HA!” moment when they discover that their personal  feelings are shared by a large portion of the population their behavior  may change dramatically.  An example of this is the British colonists before and after publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.  A year before the Declaration of Independence, America was full of patriotic British convinced that things could be worked out with King George, but on July 4, 1776 the colonies were full of Americans determined that they needed independence.  Another is the relatively recent “Arab Spring.”  The catalyst there has been credited to the self-immolation of  Tunisian merchant Mohamed Bouazizi in protest of his treatment by government authorities.

2016_09_23_rule-five-friday-3Veteran blogger Robert Stacy McCain proposed the possibility four years ago.  At that time, the polls between Romney and Obama were closer – at least in the Electoral College – than they are now, but the momentum wasn’t in Romney’s favor.

 As of this writing, it’s pretty clear that this year’s race is turning in The Donald’s favor.  In Ohio, there seems to be an exodus of Democrats to the Trump camp.  The Donald has pulled ahead in at least one poll in key states Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio, and he’s narrowing the gap in Virginia, Wisconsin and our own 2016_09_23_rule-five-friday-4Colorado.  Florida is definitely in play, and The Donald seems to be making plays for Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Remember the Electoral College, though, True Believers; The Donald has to flip pretty much all of these states in play if he’s going to walk into the Imperial Mansion in January.

 Still; this late in the game, momentum is the key, and the momentum – at least now, in late September, seems to be moving Trump-wise.  Which brings us to the preference cascade.

Her Imperial Majesty has based her whole campaign on one thing – “Trump is awful.”  That’s not enough.  But with a complicit legacy 2016_09_23_rule-five-friday-5media in her corner, it does carry some weight, for a while.  But as the tide turns towards The Donald, it may turn dramatically – the aforementioned preference cascade may well be taking effect.  If it does, we’ll see a Trump landslide in November.

As I keep saying, the first debate on Monday will be key.  Trump needs to come out swinging, he needs to keep Her Royal Highness back on her heels, he needs to come out clearly and unequivocally the winner.  Her Majesty is rumored to be preparing for whichever Trump shows up to the party, but what she can’t prepare for is the fundamental flaws in her own personality; namely, that next to Trump she appears exactly what she is:  Old, tired, sick, dull, and boring.

If there is to be a preference cascade, that’s what will kick it into high gear.

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Rule Five Bare-Naked Friday

2016_09_02_Rule Five Friday (1)Yes, the juxtaposition of this story and the usual toothsome Rule Five Friday totty is indeed intentional.  The story?  Science suggests (tongue planted firmly in cheek) that all clothes should be banned.  Excerpt:

A lot of people have been upset by images of French police forcing a woman to take a burkini off on a beach, in full view of the public, in accordance with the controversial French burkini ban. There are many reasons to be outraged by this ban: the suppression of individual rights and apparent hypocrisy in the name of “secularism”, the misogyny-tinged policing of women’s clothes specifically, the public display of intimidation, and so on.

(Note:  I doubt the burkini ban is “misogyny-tinged,” and applying that term to a reaction to a culture that is viciously and at times violently misogynistic is a species of hypocrisy.)

2016_09_02_Rule Five Friday (2)All of these complaints are misplaced. The real problem with the burkini ban is, it’s too limited. Forbidding a specific type of swimsuit won’t achieve anything: we must ban ALL CLOTHES! And the sooner the better.

This may sound like a ridiculous notion. But, more ridiculous than banning a swimming costume in order to fight terrorism? I think not! Plus, there are many scientifically valid reasons for us to do away with clothes.

Firstly, clothes cause problems. Look at the long history of clothes being used as a tool of oppression and control, often resulting in political problems.   (Note:  As in much of the Islamic world, where they demand women dress themselves like trash bags.)  If we didn’t have clothes, we wouldn’t have the means to use them to make people’s lives harder. Even today, in these more “liberated” times, clothes regularly cause problems. How many T-shirt controversies have there been now? Considering how much time has been wasted arguing over them, clothes have probably held back human advancement significantly.

2016_09_02_Rule Five Friday (3)If you doubt this, let’s not forget the time a questionable shirt completely overshadowed a major achievement in space exploration. None of this would have happened if we didn’t have clothes. We’d probably be on Jupiter by now! Admittedly, that would be depend on whether you define “space suits” as clothes, seeing as how they’d be banned, but the point still stands.

I have one major objection right away:  All too many people fall into the category of “people you don’t want to see naked,” yr. obdt. among them – not even Mrs. Animal wants to see me in birthday attire these days.

Time does have its way with us all.

But on to the point:  Clothing originated with humans as we moved from the original environs of the 2016_09_02_Rule Five Friday (4)hot, dry savannas into colder climates.  They began as utilitarian protection from the elements, but that didn’t last; the oh-so-human need to decorate took over.

Nowadays clothing is an essential part of each person’s individuality.  Certain articles of clothing could even be considered protected under the First Amendment, from caps supporting political candidates to t-shirts proclaiming one’s religious faith.

And that brings us to the point of the somewhat farcical article:  France’s ban on the burkini.

The article concludes:  And what this shows is that, even if you can back up a decision with compelling and reasonable-sounding arguments, it doesn’t mean it isn’t ridiculous. Like banning a bathing suit.

2016_09_02_Rule Five Friday (5)I suppose I can understand the French people’s favoring of such a law.  Given that the burkini is a religiously-inspired garment, it seems obvious that here in the States the First Amendment would prohibit such a ban.  And it also seems obvious that such a ban is pointing at one of the smaller symptoms of a global problem, that being the rise of fundamentalist Islam.  The rampant, vicious and violent misogyny of fundamentalist Islam is only one of the threats that ideology poses us.

But I think we’d be far better off fighting the causes of Islamism rather than wasting time fighting symptoms.

And, while we’re on the topic, if the lovely display of Friday totty here pisses off some Dark Ages Islamist shitbags, so much the better.

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