Category Archives: Travel

Comments and observations on the traveling life.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five links!

Regular readers of these virtual pages will recall that yr. obdt. landed another gig, this one in New Jersey; a couple weeks back you’ll recall the week of travel totty pics put up whilst Mrs. Animal and myself were crossing most of a continent to our temporary lodgings.

Well, today sees us headed halfway back, as we discovered the client company could not complete my IT stuff (laptop) and training at the Joisey site, so we have to go to a place up north of the Chicago metro area to get that done.  That will take 2-3 weeks, then it’s off back to Joisey.

Good news:  In the time we’ve already been in Raritan, NJ, where our temporary digs are located, we’ve found it to be a pleasant little town.  The folks are friendly, there is some great Italian food to be had, and the countryside isn’t bad at all – big trees, a nice river through the town.   It’s acceptable.  In fact, if it weren’t for the state’s bat-guano crazy government, it would be a pretty nice place.

So, this morning it’s back in our little travel car/truck/SUV/something (is the Ford Edge a car or a truck?  An SUV?  What the hell do you call it?) and off to Illinois.  Bright side:  We’ll take a weekend in there and go see our oldest kid and my Mom in Iowa, a 4-hour or so drive from the training site.

Self-employment is not an easy life.  But all in all, in the fifteen years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had a pretty good time.  Complications come with the business and you have to learn to roll with them.

Roll we are.  Tomorrow you’ll be stuck with one more travel totty post, then we’ll check in with you all from Illinois.  Fortunately we’ll be well away from the free-fire zone that is Chicago.

Animal’s Daily Sendai News

As mentioned yesterday, we spent last weekend in the northern city of Sendai.  And, as it happens, there is a lot more noteworthy in that city than just the opportunity to partake of whale sushi.

Sendai is also home to the remains of a historic castle and the largest statue of the Shinto goddess Nyoirin Kannon in Japan.  It’s home to one of the biggest traditional shopping arcades I’ve ever seen – and to lots of great restaurants serving a variety of fare, in the case that whale isn’t your thing.

If you’re ever in Japan, I recommend a visit to Sendai if you can make it happen.  Mrs. Animal and I hope to come back some time when we have more than a weekend to spend.  Photos follow – enjoy!

Continue reading Animal’s Daily Sendai News

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Our usual thanks go out to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

This Monday finds us way up north in Miyagi Prefecture, having spent the weekend in Sendai.  Sendai is an interesting town, known for (among other things) it’s fine dining, which includes whale.

Yes, whale.  And yes, I partook.  This first taste was in a sushi joint in Sendai just a few blocks from the shinkansen station.  Whale was surprisingly tasty, although it was lightly cooked in the Japanese style and therefore undercooked by American standards.

Whale sushi. Delicious, delicious whale sushi.

These are little strips of whale meat, lightly braised and served on little beds of rice.  I don’t know what kind of whale it is but I suspect it would be minke whale, since that makes up most of the Japanese harvest.

Note that the minke whale is listed as an animal of “Least Concern” by the IUCN, which should (but probably won’t) fend off most of the squealing by the “save the whales” crowd.  And I confess, pissing off that subset of greenie nutbars is one of the reasons this has long been on my Japan bucket list – precisely so that when I run across one of the “save the whales” crowd, I can agree enthusiastically, adding, “yes, by all means – they’re delicious!”

Yr. Obdt. enjoying whale and Japanese beer.

So, True Believers, if you’re ever in the Sendai area up here in Miyagi Prefecture, the city is known for its whale sushi and various other whale dishes.  It’s also known for beef tongue dishes, but only the real nutbars object to beef.  In either case – try some!  If you piss off only one radical Sea Shepherd type, wouldn’t it be worth it?

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five links!

On this Saturday just past, my own dear Mrs. Animal and I moved from our temporary lodgings in Kinshicho over to the western Tokyo suburb of Akishima, where this job of work begins.  Yesterday we traveled to the mountain town of Takao, named for the mountain at the foot of which it resides.  It’s a beautiful area, and a great place to spend a beautiful Sunday.  Photography follows.  Enjoy!

Click for photos!

Rule Five Love Hotel Friday

Note:  Another short stint in Japan beckons, beginning early next month.  Regular readers know how Mrs. Animal and yr. obdt. enjoy our forays in to the Land of the Rising Sun, so look for some photos and travel commentary from those environs very soon.

With that said, and in spite of the tendency of young Japanese to eschew sexual relationships, the love hotel industry in Japan is still robust.  Excerpt:

Japan’s population is shrinking.

Deaths now outpace births, marriage is plummeting, and young people aren’t having sex. The media are calling it sekkusu shinai shokogun, or “celibacy syndrome”—an alarming trend that has the Japanese government funneling tax dollars into speed dating and matchmaking services over fears of an impending economic collapse.

But in a neon-lit pocket of Tokyo’s Shibuya district, BDSM equipment, mirrored ceilings, vibrating beds, and condom vending machines paint a different reality. Welcome to Love Hotel Hill, where Japan’s sex industry is flourishing.

Clandestine Encounters

True to their moniker, pay-by-the-hour love hotels cater to millions of Japanese couples every year, and increasingly, tourists. There are more than 30,000 love hotels in the country, and hundreds in Tokyo alone—a multibillion-dollar business that accounts for a quarter of the sex industry.

With increasing life expectancies, the rising age of marriage, and high population density, multigenerational households are ubiquitous. When married couples live in close quarters with elderly parents and children, love hotels offer a practical alternative to thin-walled Japanese homes where privacy is scarce.

Oddly, this isn’t a sign of any renewed fecundity:

Japan’s love hotel industry may be prospering, but the country is experiencing a paradoxical decline in marriage, childbirth, and sex.

More than 40 percent of men and women aged 18-34 in Japan have never had sex, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. If the current trend continues, it is projected that by 2060 Japan’s population will have shrunk by 30 percent—an impending economic disaster.

But in the midst of a stagnant economy, staying single has become an attractive choice.

Now, this next stint will have us in the Tokyo region for 2-3 weeks, where a visit to the Shibuya district is not only possible but likely.  Since our first visit to that country in 2009, I have (unsuccessfully) tried to persuade my own dear Mrs. Animal to undertake a visit to a love hotel, of course strictly in the name of research; you see, True Believers, how there are no lengths to which I will not go to bring you the best reporting on other cultures and the wonders to be found in exotic lands.

However, Mrs. Animal has been and remains of a conservative bent in such matters, and prefers to eschew any role in conducting such research.  Oh well.

Anyway:  I do love Japan and the Japanese people’s demographic trends has been a cause for concern.  As scribe Mark Steyn points out, the future belongs to those who show up for it, and the Japanese seem to have opted out.  What’s more, Japan has evidently decided to die Japanese.  While Europe has become a hotbed of Islamic activism thanks to their unchecked immigration policies – in no small part to attract younger workers to prop up their generous social welfare programs – Japan remains a difficult country to establish yourself in on a long-term basis.

But the love hotel industry gives one hope.  Maybe young Japanese people will rediscover the joys of sex.

Animal’s Daily Imperial Closures News

We are back at the Casa de Animal for a while, having spent a day in Las Vegas and driven across northern Arizona and southwest Colorado.  We saw such landmarks and historic sites as the Mojave, Flagstaff, the Four Corners, Wolf Creek Pass, the San Juan and Arkansas valleys and the famous South Park.

While that was going on, the Imperial government was shut down for… well, a few hours.  Did you miss it?  Neither did John Stossel.  Excerpt:

One day, one of these shutdowns should be permanent. We would still have far more government than the Founding Fathers envisioned.

That’s because even during so-called shutdowns, a third of federal employees — nearly a million people — remain on the job, declared “essential” government workers. Military pay continues, too, although political commentators, eager to make a shutdown sound scarier, repeatedly claimed that military families were being cut off.

Here’s a list of functions that kept going during the “shutdown”:

  • Law enforcement.
  • Border Patrol.
  • The TSA.
  • Air traffic controllers.
  • The CDC.
  • Amtrak.
  • Power grid maintenance.
  • Social Security checks.
  • Medicare checks.
  • Medicaid.
  • Food stamps.
  • Veterans hospitals.
  • The U.S. Post Office.
  • U.S. Treasury debt auctions.
  • Federal courts.
  • The EPA.

Do we need more government than that? Do we even need that much?

If you love the FDA, the Agriculture Department or government websites, you might be frustrated, but the private sector (Underwriters Laboratories? Consumer Reports?) would do drug testing faster; much of what the Agriculture Department does is harmful; and private websites update information faster than government websites.

And don’t forget there are still 50 state governments, plus thousands of local governments. We’re buried in governments.

It’s been pointed out before and will be again, but one of the things we heard about this shutdown-that-wasn’t-a-shutdown, as with others before it, was that “non-essential” government employees would be furloughed.  And, as has been asked repeatedly, if these employees are non-essential, why the bloody hell are we paying them?

As George Washington pointed out, government is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.  It should be – nay, must be – tightly constricted.  A part of that constriction must be in place in order to avoid wasting taxpayer’s money.  Nobody reasonable can look today at the Imperial Colossus and see anything but rampant, runaway waste.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Thanks as always to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Just in case you needed reminding that people are assholes, read this.  Excerpt (odd-ball Canuck spelling reproduced verbatim):

Shawn Kathleen became so annoyed by rude passengers while working as a flight attendant in the U.S. that she started writing about them in a blog.

Many people didn’t believe her stories — until she also started posting photographic evidence.

She was fired in 2013 — she believes because her employer discovered she was behind the blog.

But the job loss didn’t end the Ohio resident’s mission to expose bad behaviour on planes. Instead, the blog morphed into an Instagram site called PassengerShaming, which has more than 522,000 followers.

Based on photo contributions from air travellers and flight staff worldwide, the site shows it all: passengers making out in their seats, clipping nails and nose hairs, tossing garbage on the floor, flying shirtless and even watching porn on their electronic devices.

And yes, people are assholes.

I’ve seen the whole run of the kinds of losers lovingly depicted on the PassengerShaming blog; from people with barking dogs to kids that won’t stop kicking the back of your seat to one bonehead on a  trans-Pacific flight who wanted to play his fucking bongo drums until I suggested (to applause from my fellow passengers) that his continued health and well-being hinged on his ceasing and desisting “…and I mean RIGHT GODDAMN NOW.”

Maybe I’m getting to be a cranky old man.  But when I pay for an airline seat, I expect a little politeness from the people who are jammed in that sealed aluminum tube with me.  If this blog can do just a little bit to shame the assholes who may recognize their own bad behavior, good for Shawn Kathleen.

But I doubt it will make any real difference.  People who behave like this in the first place can’t be shamed.  But venting has a purpose as well, and sometimes it might help to browse PassengerShaming after a long flight so we might tell ourselves, “at least I wasn’t sitting next to that guy.”

 

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

It’s hot here in the San Jose area this time of year,  but if one is seeking a break from the heat you can always drive down to the coast at Santa Cruz (leave early to avoid the beach traffic) and enjoy the uniformly cool 65-70 degree days on the coast.

On Saturday last Mrs. Animal did just that.  We visited the rather wonderful University of California/Santa Cruz Arboretum.  It was cool and slightly foggy while we were there, but not too foggy for photos.  If any True Believers are in the area, it’s worth a visit.

We followed up the Arboretum with a drive up the coast.  Photos follow beneath the fold.
Click for more.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

If you – like me – spend a fair amount of time in airplanes, you may find this interesting.  Excerpt:

America’s airlines are suffering from the same problem plaguing Gotham’s mass-transit system — 36,000 feet up in the air, just as three stories underground, sheer numbers of people are overwhelming our travel systems, making everyone miserable. Airlines have encouraged people to fly, and so they do: Last year, 821.8 million people took a flight on a US-flagged airline, a full quarter higher than the number of people who flew in the year 2000. People are flying partly because it’s cheaper: In 2016, the average domestic fare was $347, down from $472 back then (in today’s dollars).

On lots of statistical measures, airlines have gotten better at managing all this traffic. But when they screw up, they screw with more people’s lives, just because of the huge numbers involved.

Last year, for example, airlines bumped six people for every 100,000 passengers, down from 10 in the year 2000. But because there are so many more passengers, these bumpings annoyed 66,600 people, up from 49,300 seventeen years ago.

You can bet those extra 17,300 stranded people didn’t cheer themselves up with statistics as they stayed at the airport Residence Inn trying to scrounge up some food.

The article goes on to suggest some things that the Imperial government and the airlines can do to make flights easier on fliers.  I won’t present the whole list, but there are a few I don’t agree with.  Here are two; first, from the “what the airlines can do” list:

Make it easier to get to the airport.  The article cites Boston’s Big Dig as an example, and having flown in and out of Logan a fair amount over the years I  have to agree that Logan is now much easier to access; but Logan is across the harbor from the city proper, and therefore an unusual case.  My own home airport of Denver is very easy to get in and out of, as it is built on the eastern plans with nothing but prairie around.  These things can be evaluated on a case by case, but it’s not a panacea.  Also this is something municipalities have to do. the airlines can’t rebuild highways or dig tunnels.

Next, from the “what passengers can do” list:

Friendly Skies.

Remember that you get what you pay for.  The article blithely recommends passengers unhappy with ever-shrinking airline seats should shut up and shell out some shekels for an upgraded seat; United, my airline of choice, charges as much as $75 for the slightly roomier Economy Plus seats.  I disagree that passengers should meekly accept being squeezed ever tighter; a little judicious bitching might just reverse this trend.

But here’s one from the “what passengers can do” list that I like, and have been saying myself for years:

Stop bringing all of your earthly belongings with you.  You can always spot the amateur travelers, not least because they are usually struggling into check-in with half a dozen suitcases and the family dog.  But what really burns my bacon is the chap who brings an enormous backpack in and tries to stuff it in the overhead bin, taking up the entire space.  The airlines do provide guides to see if your bag is within the allowable carry-on dimensions, but they rarely bother to enforce these rules; the schmuck with an enormous dog-coffin “carry-on” is all too often allowed to proceed.

Flying is stressful enough as it is.  We shouldn’t have to put up with assholes into the bargain.

Rule Five Thousands Standin’ Around Friday

I travel by air, well, a lot, and I haven’t personally had any issues with the Transportation Security Agency (TSA.)  Maybe I’m lucky.  Maybe having a Pre-Check pass spares me some of that.  But plenty of people have had issues with TSA, and they aren’t improving.  Excerpt:

“Food can trigger lots of false alarms because of the density of some items,” the Wall Street Journal recently reported about the Transportation Security Administration’s justifications for imposing yet another round of tighter and more-intrusive airport carry-on baggage restrictions. “Chocolate, for example, can look like some types of explosives to X-ray machines.”

As a result, some airline passengers around the country—soon to be all of us—are being asked to remove such items as books, electronic devices, and food from carry-on luggage for separate screening.

This makes an odd sort of sense (not really). An internal investigation of the TSA, leaked in 2015, found that many types of explosives apparently look to agents quite a bit like chocolate. Guns seem to closely resemble Tom Clancy novels in their eyes. Knives may be easily mistaken by the thin uniformed line against especially dim terrorists for those fuzzy troll dolls, though that part is a bit unclear. Well, maybe that’s not all true. But such confusion would explain why “TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints.”

“In one test an undercover agent was stopped after setting off an alarm at a magnetometer,” ABC News noted, “but TSA screeners failed to detect a fake explosive device that was taped to his back during a follow-on pat down.”

Well, they should obviously have used chocolate in the test. Maybe a few of those suspicious-looking Toblerone bars kids sell door to door would have set their spidey-senses tingling.

After that embarrassing failure, the TSA’s working theory seems to be, if you make everybody dump their sandwiches, tablets, and paperbacks into separate bins at the security checkpoint, we vastly increase the chance of intercepting backpack nukes and rocket-propelled grenades, which themselves could be mistaken for sandwiches, tablets, and paperbacks. Sure, the guards may still need some guidance as to which confiscated items are safe for noshing, but the security measures will be covering all bases.

Maybe one day someone will have a sudden rush of brains to the head and re-institute the Fourth Amendment at the nation’s airports.

We talked (well, I wrote, you read) about privatizing air traffic control just the other day.  Why not privatize airport security as well?  As recently as 2001, plenty of airports contracted security to private companies.  As part of the post-9/11 pants-shitting over security issues, the Imperial government implemented our current security theater.  New York’s Chuck Schumer, that master purveyor of malapropisms, claimed “to professionalize, you Federalize.”

Schumer’s statement here is the purest form of corral litter, suitable only for enriching lawns.  But then he has a long history of such.

Security theater isn’t just in place at airports, of course.  A couple of years back I was summoned to the Arapahoe County courts for jury duty.  On my way in to do my civic duty, I had to pass through an Arapahoe County Sheriff’s office security point.  In my pocket, I had a tiny Swiss Army knife – one of the little $10 models with a nail file and a <1″ blade.  A Sheriff’s deputy made me take it out to leave in my truck, stating it was classified as a “weapon.”

“Seriously?” I said.  “This?”

“I know,” the deputy replied.  “I don’t make the rules.”  He looked embarrassed.  I know I would have been, in his place.

But back to the TSA.  Why don’t we just chuck the TSA while we’re chucking the Imperial air-traffic control system?  Privatize the whole shebang – I’ll bet next week’s invoice that airport security will be faster, more efficient and more thorough.

If that pisses off Chuck Schumer, well, consider that a bonus.

Better yet – make one more thing a part of the security contract:  Take a few lessons from the Israelis.  While our TSA folks look for weapons, the Isreali security folks look for terrorists.  They profile – oh, hell yeah, they profile – and their agents are trained to spot behavioral cues, to spot when someone is lying to them.

Let’s convert our airport security theater into something that’s actually effective.