Posts Tagged ‘culture’

There’s a completely fascinating analysis of the American political scene, and the 2008 race, at the Atlantic Monthly. Interestingly enough, unlike much of their content, it’s available to nonsubscribers– are they backing a particular candidate? Regardless, the author, senior editor Andrew Sullivan, makes a point which I, as a barely-Boomer, found to be a stunning epiphany.

Sullivan’s premise is that the true dividing line in the USA political scene is the Boomer generation’s experience of the Vietnam War. It polarized people on particular viewpoints against members of their own generation in a fundamental way but was never resolved. The all-grown-up Boomers, now in positions of influence and importance, are still butting heads over Vietnam, and how it defined (for them) what it means to be an American, a patriot, a responsible human being. The clashing impacts of these opposing viewpoints are still echoing down the cultural canyons. Or, to put it more succintly, the Jarheads and the Hippies are still fighting it out, and trying to use the Iraq war to prove their points.

This is a fundamental question, and explains a great deal about seemingly irrational elements I’ve seen operating on politics and policy during my adult life. How can the generation that literally opened fire on each other at Kent State learn to work together again? How can they be prevented from imprinting their culture war on the current generation? Andrew Sullivan’s suggestion is get Barack Obama into the White House. I am inclined to agree with him.

Obama’s reach outside his own ranks remains striking. Why? It’s a good question: How has a black, urban liberal gained far stronger support among Republicans than the made-over moderate Clinton or the southern charmer Edwards? Perhaps because the Republicans and independents who are open to an Obama candidacy see his primary advantage in prosecuting the war on Islamist terrorism. It isn’t about his policies as such; it is about his person. …
What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. …

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

Regardless of your politics, this one’s an interesting read. It may not change the territory, but it sure stretches and refines the map.


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Some friends were praising it highly online, the new Disney/Pixar movie ‘Ratatouille’. I saw an excerpt on TiVo, and discovered that I am turning into a Grown-Up. Clearly I need to go off and do Irresponsible Things.

All I could think was: RAT. There’s a RAT in the KITCHEN. It’s in the PANS! It’s RUNNING OVER THE FOOD!!! OMG.

I actually got a gag reflex thinking about it. Maybe if they’d made the main character less of an obvious RAT, cuted it up a bit instead of the big naked tail and hairless paws and general “Gak! A RAT!” ness of it.

I find mice cute, but I know what rats can do and they squick me. Pet rats I can sort of cope with, even though I’m not into them. Anyway.

I was really surprised by my reaction. And no way would I see the movie!

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…unless hysterical laughter is ok at your work. No, seriously. This is insanely great.

Khraigslist ‘missed connections’. Freakin’ *brilliant*. And oh, oh, oh, so terribly, horribly, hysterically realistic.

Apologies for not citing whomever on my flist who posted this, I’d closed all the LJ tabs before reading the link.

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…including practices that will be thought of as sheerest quackery 50 years from now, as were some of today’s practices 50 years ago. I’m not interested in outlawing science, not even remotely. I AM interested in calling attention to the fact that a lot of *really bad science* seems to insist on being afforded the same respect as good science.


Animals differ amongst themselves and – most importantly – from humans in their reactions to chemicals. Penicillin for instance, therapeutic for humans, will kill a guinea-pig or a hamster; while strychnine, favourite weapon of the murderer, is harmless to the same guinea-pig, a chicken or a monkey.

How, Croce asks, if animals differ so much from humans in their reactions, can one test drugs on them intended for humans? Worse still, how can you test the efficacy of a drug intended for a particular human illness on an animal that does not suffer from the same disease?

The vivisectionist responds by artificially inducing the disease in the animal. In the case of osteoarthritis, for example, the researcher attempts to mimic the human deformity using dogs, sheep and cats by beating joints with hammers or injecting them with irritants. As Croce says, it is incomprehensible that such a procedure, which produces no more than fracture and inflammation in the joint, can be used as an acceptable model of human ostenarthritis.

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Most people grow up so far out of touch with animals that they probably shouldn’t even be doing animal research. Researchers ‘surprised’ by dogs’ abilities? Did any of them grow up with a family dog?

Growing up with one or more dogs, two or more cats, and various numbers of goats, chickens, and occasionally pigs, a steer, and a horse, one not only sees a wide range of animal behavior, one sees how the animals adapt to other animals and to other people. This is a level of experience that ought to be mandatory for folks doing animal research.

One can say that it introduces a bias toward thinking of animals as more people-like or more sentient than they may be. What about the bias of someone who assumes by default that they are not? Already researchers are questioning the dog studies mentioned in the previous article, and saying they may be clever imitation based on hidden cues, a “Clever Hans” effect. Grr.

We already have dozens of examples of animals using language and tools, ranging from the larger primates, which doesn’t seem to shock anybody, to parrots, dogs, cetaceans, various birds, etc. There are the elephant society studies that have recently become news. The whale dialects. The prairie-dog vocabulary, including the ability to invent, transmit, and re-use multi-word constructs (shades of High German). The list just goes on and on and on.

It’s not a specific brain size, kids. Consciousness and self-awareness is a property of life. Do what you need to for survival. Choose what you need for your comfort. Give up what you can in compassion. Start remaking society with your economic choices as well as your personal ones.

I found the pasture-raised eggs people at the MV Farmer’s Market on Sunday. No more ‘cage-free’ or ‘free-range’ eggs from huge, open, ammonia-laden henhouses with a scheduled 4-hour timeslot into a bare dirt pen. 😦 Now I need to find a source of local pasture-raised milk. Or stop drinking the damn stuff. Buying fancy cheese just got both really tough and really easy– a lot of the expensive stuff I usually avoid is from pasture or mountain ranged sheep and goats, even cows.

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posted this great Washington Post article about cognitive reasoning and inference in dogs, who behaved similarly to 14-month-old children in an inference test. And I just have to RANT, seeing the ‘wow, who knew?’ tone of this article (not at him, at the world in general).

I grew up with animals. They really ARE there— there is someone home, they are not meat puppets or objects for our convenience. We are committing slavery and genocide on a vast scale, all over this earth, often for no better reasons than convenience or sheer ignorance.

I don’t deny the legitimacy of (some) scientific research; I deny the legitimacy of LD-50 and Draize tests, of needless vivisection for ‘training’ purposes.

I don’t deny the freedom to choose to eat meat; I deny the system that makes the ‘choice’ a stroll through a bright supermarket, picking up clean, odorless, protein packages adorned with brightly smiling cartoons, while at the same time condemning the animals that become the package contents to a hellish and painful existence in ammonia-soaked feedlots and coops, drugged and mutilated to prevent their natural outrage from expressing itself.

I don’t deny the need of people to spread out and to use land for farming, housing, lumber, recreation; I deny the smokescreen of hype that deludes people into believing that their lawns are safe and sustainable, that their agriculture isn’t creating poisons, that their housing ‘in the country’ isn’t causing the very problems they are fleeing.

I don’t deny the ‘right’ to ‘use’ our public park systems and wild lands; I deny the attitude that “we’re not hurting anything” when we hike, play music, ride atvs and snowmobiles and water jets, etc in wilderness. Ever lived next to a home having outdoor contracting done? They’re not hurting you, are they? They’re just making noise when you may not want it, startling you occasionally, making you think twice about using your bbq outside because you don’t want paint/sawdust/whatever on your food, etc. Every day. Every damn day. Still feeling good about it? But they’re not DOING anything to you. Right.

I deny the mindset that uses terms like ‘vacant’ land for ecosystems, that declares a field ‘fallow’ if it houses a meadow where no farm animals graze. I deny the mindset that judges nature and the earth solely according to its utility and beauty in the eye of human beholders, ignoring any dignity and worth it may have in its own right.

Let’s not even get into the parallels between electrocution as capital punishment and the standard manner in which farmed fur such as fox and mink are dispatched for ‘processing’, namely being taunted into biting a metal muzzle grip and having a cattle prod shoved up their ass to electrocute them. Fluffs the fur nicely, you see. Now all you little goth wenches go out and give your giggly little fox tail the decent burial it deserves. I’ve got one scheduled for mine. 😦

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Once again, Phil Agre comes out and says, far more eloquently than I could, some things I’ve been thinking lately and takes them a few steps further:

The need for a new culture.
–Phil Agre, excerpted from RRE News

The world is being swept by new materials, including computational devices that can be embedded into anything. These new materials are full of knowledge; far more knowledge goes into the average hunk of steel, glass, fabric, computer circuitry, display screen now than ten years ago. If you look around at a hundred sectors of industry, you see people exploring a world of new design options.

What’s missing from this picture is the most important kind of
knowledge: the knowledge of how to live. We have an opportunity to redesign our lives, and I want to argue for a new culture in which we use this wave of new materials to reinvent the way we live. We’re at a crossroads. We can be good little consumers and buy all the shiny commodities, or we can be active participants in shaping the culture.

This active design orientation has a precedent in the Internet world; the Internet is designed so that end users can build on top of it, and the Internet’s development has repeatedly headed in unexpected directions because of the ways that end users have taken hold of it. We need to bring that orientation home and apply it to a much wider range of technologies.

Knowing how to live has many facets: having a purpose, being useful, evolving rituals instead of ruts, advancing professionally without tearing oneself apart, keeping in touch, using TV and other drugs in moderation, physical and mental health, balance, cultivating tastes, eating the right things, standing for something, and advancing the art of having a life. But I want to consider a few aspects in particular.

Quiet. Access to computers will soon be a solved problem, but access to quiet is something else. All sorts of machinery can be made more quiet with new materials and computer-intensive methods of vibration analysis. This includes HVAC and compressors generally. And noise-cancellation devices will soon be cheap enough to scatter everywhere. It’s time to start auditing our homes, workplaces, and public spaces for noise. Some noises are good. Others are bad. We’ve gotten used to too many unnecessary bad noises.

Indoor air quality. We know that indoor air is choked with fumes
from carpets, paint, and plastics. The problem isn’t getting solved because it’s invisible, but we’ll soon be able to get small devices that automatically analyze the air. Then we’ll be in a position to force the issue.

Adverse selection. Homes today are designed to look good for the half-hour you spend on the tour, instead of what they’ll be like to live in. When everyone is online we can help people find other people who live in similar houses from the same builder, and a lot of new questions can come to the surface. What would it be like to have a service that enables people to communicate based on the stuff they own on common, or are thinking of buying? It’s an easy problem on a technical level and tough on a social level. You have to deal with privacy issues, spammers, and perverse incentives. But maybe there’s a way.

Intellectual life. In a world of terabyte databases and superabundant bandwidth it’ll be much easier to explore the art, music, and ideas of the world. We’ll be able to discover what we really find interesting and what we really care about. And it’ll be much easier to find other people who care about the same thing. Then will we we make time?

Boundaries. As cell phones mature into always-on technologies
that keep us connected to everyone else, we’ll have incredible power to keep in touch. But we’ll also have to decide where to draw the line. E-mail addiction will move from the desktop to restaurants, vacations, recreation, and the middle of the night. We’ll have to set boundaries: at which points exactly during your kids’ Saturday soccer game are you letting them down if you’re hooked to a device and not to them?

The tidal wave of new materials can be used to amplify the negative forces that are pushing the world out of balance. And that is the most likely outcome unless a new culture of living well takes root. We can drive ourselves into fragmented, hyper-competitive, over-scheduled lives, or we can learn how to use the new technologies positively to design healthy lives of involvement and balance.

This exploratory period of new technologies is important: technical standards are a parliament of early adopters. Companies produce products, but only real people in their real homes can tell what’s useful, and only real people in their real lives can understand how the pieces fit together. People with a strong design orientation lead the market and effectively make choices for everyone else. That’s why we need a movement of creative people designing good lives for themselves, and why we need it now.

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