Category Archives: Culture

Culture for the cultured and uncultured alike.

Animal’s Movie Reviews

dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apesLast weekend, along with a few million other people, we went to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Before discussing this particular installment:  So far this reboot (unlike the unfortunate Mark Wahlberg effort) has been brilliantly handled.  The CGI/motion capture technology has worked movie magic that was not dreamed of in the times of the Charlton Heston/Roddy McDowell originals, and where it would have been easy to turn the new Apes franchise into a special-effects-fest (Michael Bay, are you listening?) the movies have not gone in that direction.

Now, on to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:

Technically, the film is brilliant.  Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance made the character of the ape’s leader, Caesar, a compelling and powerful presentation.

But there was one jarring flaw in the penultimate fight scene:  The defense set up by the human leader, portrayed by Gary Oldman, was simply awful.  Oldman’s character was supposedly a military veteran of some unstated sort – but who, with any modern military training, would:

  1. Facepalm-bearSet up a compound with no defense in depth, no fallback positions, no prepared firing positions, no interlocking fields of fire?
  2. Store almost all of the weapons and the sole functional armored vehicle outside of the compound?
  3. Mount a defense on one line, and from on top of a wall?  What did they think this was, the Middle Ages?

Aside from that rather distracting series of mistakes (seriously, how hard is it to hire a military advisor?) though, the movie was enjoyable.  It had good character development, a noble, well-intentioned leader (Caesar) who comes to a realization that his own prejudices have endangered his people apes, and a rather ominous ending leading us right at the next film, which presumably will be Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

All in all, three and three-quarters stars.  It’s worth the price of admission.

 

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Our thanks once again to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links, and we hope you enjoyed the vacation Rule Five posts.  Las Vegas was, as usual, fine in limited doses, and much steam was blown off.  Yr. obdt. is now in much improved state of mind and ready for more work.

Which is a good thing, as I find myself back in northern Indiana this morning for another on-site stint.

But I digress.  Back to Las Vegas for a moment:

Vegas by Night.
Vegas by Night.

Las Vegas is a place that is not quite like any other place in the United States, except perhaps (and only perhaps) Atlantic City, and never having been there I can’t really compare.  But Vegas is a great place for:

  • Shows
  • Food
  • Gambling (if you’re into that)
  • Best of all – people-watching.

On shows, we went and saw , the Cirque Du Soleil show currently running at the MGM Grand.  I recommend this how if you’re ever able to take it in – like most Cirque Du Soleil shows it is magnificent in scope and execution, with amazing acrobatics and a stunning soundtrack.  We took it in on a Tuesday evening and the auditorium was only 2/3 full, making for a comfortable experience.

Food:  Vegas used to be known for cheap, high-quality meals.  The first time I went there the Strip was loaded with “Prime Rib, $3.99″ signs, the objective being to draw you in for your gambling dollars.  No longer.  Eating there is expensive; you can enjoy all manner of food from hot dogs to the ubiquitous massive buffets to elite dining, but you’ll pay for all of it.  If you’re on a budget, take a cooler and sandwich fixings to stretch your food dollar.

Gambling:  I don’t.  Mrs. Animal has a small fondness for penny slot machines, but keeps herself on a tight budget.  This time she came home about $30 ahead, a nice little bonus.

VegasAnd last but far from least:  People-watching.  I don’t just mean girls, although that’s certainly a high point.  Las Vegas is a popular destination for people from all over the world, and you can find yourself in conversation with people from such disparate places as Australia, eastern Europe, China, Japan or (as Mrs. Animal and myself did this trip) Jordan – that last being a young Christian couple from Jordan who (wisely) decided it was time for people of their religious persuasion to GTFO of that area.

Vegas is a place I can take for four or five days, then I’m ready to leave.  But in another two or three years, I’ll be ready to go back.

And now work beckons, so we now return you to your Monday, already in progress.

Animal’s Rule Five America!

2014_07_04_Rule Five Friday (1)Happy Fourth of July, True Believers!

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry said to the Virginia House of Burgesses, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Now, two hundred and thirty-nine years later, that liberty has been vastly diminished.   The minions of the Imperial Federal government pry into our financial affairs, they regulate every aspect of our businesses from start to finish; they interfere with us in our very 2014_07_04_Rule Five Friday (2)homes.  The Imperial City sits like a Colossus on the Potomac, having proven itself a dangerous servant and a dreadful master, far from the limited and transparent servant of the people our Founders envisioned.

Among those gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence were three ancestors of Mrs. Animal and yr. obdt.  Two are in my father’s lineage, Thomas McKean of Pennsylvania and Delaware and (tenuous connection) Abraham Clark of New Jersey.  Mrs. Animal’s mother’s line can be traced back to Maryland’s Charles Carroll.  Our ancestors fought to establish this country, but that gives us no 2014_07_04_Rule Five Friday (3)special privilege or standing, merely a large dose of pride.  America is still, for the most part, a land where we are judged by what we do, not by who our parents were.

What would the Founders think of what their brainchild has become?

Consider the words of another Founder, Samuel Adams:  “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!

2014_07_04_Rule Five Friday (4)It is a pretty pass we have come to.

Still, I try to remain cautiously optimistic.  While many in our nation freely accept the chains Mr. Adams warned us about, the chains of government dependency, the over-reaching Presidency of Barack Obama may have rekindled some small appreciation for liberty.  The upcoming Millennial generation of which my younger children are a part show strong sympathies with libertarian principles.  So perhaps it is not too late to bring the Imperial City to heel, to retake the rightful control of our affairs which Washington has usurped.

So today is a holiday for most Americans, and most of us (yr. obdt. and family included) will enjoy a day free from toil, a day to enjoy the company of family and friends.  But we should remember that this is also a day in which a small band of rebels threw off the chains of the greatest empire in the world to bring into being the greatest nation in human history, a nation that for whatever faults it has remains the best and last hope for peace, freedom and civilization in the world.

In a  1961 speech Ronald Reagan said “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

We must guard our liberty with great and overwhelming jealousy.  So much has already been chipped away, but if you look at the rest of the world – the Dark Ages mentality of much of the Middle East, the socialist morass of Europe, the fast-approaching demographic calamities of Russia, China and Japan – we’re still in pretty good shape.

The shining city on a hill has lost some of it’s luster.  But we should not be ready to give up on America yet.

2014_07_04_Rule Five Friday (7)

Animal’s Daily News

Bear SpeechA good bit on higher education:  Americans Think We Have the Best Colleges.  We Don’t.  Excerpt:

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

Yet a recent multinational study of adult literacy and numeracy skills suggests that this view is wrong. America’s schools and colleges are actually far more alike than people believe — and not in a good way. The nation’s deep education problems, the data suggest, don’t magically disappear once students disappear behind ivy-covered walls.

For another take on this, read Stuart Schneiderman’s analysis here.

Both articles miss one of our major problems with our institutions of higher education, and that is the continued – nay, the increasing offering of crap degrees.  The recent, unwashed, unfortunate “Occupy” movement was rife with examples of recipients of such degrees:  Dupes who, having been awarded degrees in such areas as Derp BearWomen’s Studies or Underwater Dog Polishing, are now unable to find “suitable work,” and are protesting to have others (taxpayers, the productive, people who made better life decisions than they) pick up their tab.

With a crap degree one may expect to have a crap career.  As stated a thousand or more time in these pages, it is not the legitimate role of government to protect people from the consequences of bad decisions.

With that said, it is bordering on fraud for universities – which are taxpayer-supported – to offer crap degrees.  The several States should take steps to correct this.

Rule Five Friday

2014_06_27_Rule Five Friday (1)This is something that has been much on our minds of late.  Read Mental Illness And Crime: What The Legacy Of Dorothea Dix Hath Wrought.  Excerpt:

In the 1830s, jails were an all-purpose solution for a lot of issues. Inmates lived in squalor and people truly did not want to be there so there was a lot less crime. The downside was that nobody really cared about the people who did not belong there, like those with ‘retardation’ who had been abandoned, or people who were mentally ill but not criminals.

Dorothea Dix was the activist whose efforts led to the first generation of American mental asylums. At the age of 39, she happened to visit a local jail to do a Sunday school sermon for female inmates. She found that 2014_06_27_Rule Five Friday (2)criminals, retarded people and the mentally ill all lived together in terrible, unheated conditions. When she asked why, she was told  “the insane do not feel heat or cold”(Viney&Zorich, 1982). Not exactly evidence-based.

No, but here is something that is evidence-based:  All of the high-profile multiple murders committed in this country in recent years have a common thread, that being under-treated or untreated mental illness.  Adam Lanza should have been in an asylum; ditto for James Holmes.  (Islamist murderers fall into another category and belong not in asylums, but in graves.)

2014_06_27_Rule Five Friday (3)Too many people are walking around that shouldn’t be.  (Much of Congress and the Executive Branch may well belong in asylums, but that’s a discussion for another day.)  Upon a time these people would have been locked up – perhaps cruelly and in lousy conditions, but locked up.

Surely we can do better now?

Why do we not have a new breed of mental institution, where the conditions are humane, where the treatable can be treated and the untreatable maintained away from peaceable society?

The Science 2.0 article linked here concludes:

We have so many more mental patients in jails not because we have returned to the America of the 1830s, where the mentally ill are just thrown in jail so we don’t have to think about them, but because mental illness has been turned into a scientifically subjective loophole and therefore part of a cultural agenda.

2014_06_27_Rule Five Friday (4)The author is missing a cogent point.  We have more mental patients in jail because we do not attempt to remove potentially harmful people from society until they have already committed a crime.  Adam Lanza was known to be potentially dangerous.  So was James Holmes.  Why were they running around loose?

I make my living in large part by teaching high-tech companies how to do root cause analysis.  One of the ways you find a root cause is to look for commonalities in the circumstances of repeated events.  As noted, the common thread in the high-profile multiple murders we have seen lately is untreated or undertreated mental illness.

Until we address that, nothing else we as a society do will prevent another Adam Lanza or James Holmes from running amok.

2014_06_27_Rule Five Friday (5)

Friday Evening Culture

Jim Croce was taken from us much too soon.  When I was in high school in the Seventies he was still getting a lot of play on the radio, and hearing him always takes me back to those days.  Here, from 1973, is a live performance of what I always thought was his best song:  I Got A Name.

Animal’s Daily News

Facepalm-bearTrigger warning:  this post may offend the hyper-sensitive.  (Fuck ‘em.)  Parental Guidance Requested.  Excerpt:

Students have demanded trigger warnings at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan and George Washington University as well as UCSB. The Times reproduces an excerpt from an Oberlin “draft guide,” which reads: “Triggers are not only relevant to sexual misconduct, but also to anything that might cause trauma. Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other Issues of privilege and oppression. Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.” (“Cissexism” refers to prejudice in favor of men and women who identify themselves, respectively, as men and women.)

Seriously?

Kudos, by the way, to article author James Taranto for looking up “cissexism;”  I had not the slightest idea what that was.  You learn something every day, eh?

But I digress.  This story begs several questions, at least three of which are “what the fuck?”  Are college students really so fragile, their poor little minds so insecure, that they are threatened by the fact that someone may disagree with them?  Note that I’m not talking about rape victims or combat veterans who may well be set off by images of graphic violence; I’m talking about the precious little snowflakes who may be butthurt if someone expresses (gasp!) homophobia.

Grizzly-Bear-FaceWhat good is an education – and I use the word in the broadest possible sense – if a student doesn’t learn to handle the fact that someone may not think like they do?  The obvious answer to the rational purpose is “not much,” but apparently some students feel the need to be sheltered from anything that might make them feel a little uncomfortable.

When I was a young fella we had a word for people like that.

We called them pussies.

Animal’s Hump Day News

2014_05_14_Hump Day
Happy Hump Day!

A couple of interesting Mittwoch tidbits from the folks at Reason.com this morning.  First up:  U.S. Customs Seize Kentucky-Bound Hemp Seeds.  Not marijuana – hemp.  Excerpt:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have seized a batch of hemp seeds heading from Italy to Kentucky’s Agriculture Department. As of earlier this year, cultivating hemp—a type of cannabis plant related to marijuana in form but not function—is no longer illegal in the United States, ending a hysterical, decades-long ban on growing this totally non-psychoactive plant. But apparently no one bothered to tell customs?

Of course nobody bothered to tell Customs – or perhaps Customs knew and just didn’t care.

What the hell was the problem with hemp, anyway?  Marijuana at least is an intoxicant – although it’s unclear, at least to yr. obdt., why alcohol is legal and marijuana isn’t.  But let’s set that aside for now, and focus on hemp.

My grandfather grew hemp during the First and Second World Wars, and somehow nobody was driven into a cannabis-fueled frenzy.  Hemp has a wide variety of industrial uses, from rope to cloth to paper to biofuels.  But because of it’s relation to marijuana – or more accurately marijuana being a type of hemp – the Imperial Federal government has decided to disallow it’s growth in the U.S.?

Someone explain why that makes any sense.

ThisBig-BearThe second tidbit from Reason is more lighthearted:  Are Video Games Art?   Being a casual gamer myself, and having played games like Skyrim and it’s MMO successor The Elder Scrolls Online, I’d say yes, sure – there is an enormous amount of graphic and literary creativity that goes into these works.  It’s one bright spot in American productivity right now – video games are making their creators a lot of money, and they’ve earned all of it.