Three-way Zombie Apocalypse

Native American and Eskimo/Inuit mythology is full of stories about human overpopulation leading to a catastrophic winnowing of the herd. (And then Europeans showed up and dumped about 350 million immigrants into what had been the Natives’ land! No wonder they love us!)

U.S. population is trending toward levels previously seen only in China and India. I wonder if that has inspired a batch of movies and literature about the near-end of the human race.

Maximum fun and minimum effort: Zombieland: Double Tap (i.e., Zombieland 2). I didn’t see the first one, but this left three of us in stitches. Rotten Tomatoes shows that our cultural overlords liked it (67%) while the rabble loved it (90%).

Maximum awards from critics: Severance, by Ling Ma, a “Best Book of the Year” from NPR, New Yorker, Amazon, et al. “Shen Fever” makes it to the U.S. as fungal spores in the containers of stuff that Americans keep ordering from China. Prior to the plague, the protagonist enjoys a life of casual sex and partying with other young people in Manhattan:

We’d created a makeshift Trump-themed dining table in our living room by arranging collapsible card tables end to end. Over this, Jane had laid a metallic gold tablecloth, weighted by a thrifted brass candelabra, and bouquets of fake plastic flowers she’d spray-painted gold. On the table were ironic predinner canapés: salmon mousse quenelles with dill cream, spinach dip in a bread bowl, Ritz crackers, and a ball of pimento cheese in the shape of Trump’s hair.

She works in a company that organizes book printing in Asia:

Things were different in Art. The clients weren’t so fixated on the bottom line. They wanted the product to be beautiful. They cared about the printing, color reproduction, the durability of a good sewn binding, and they were willing to pay more for it, alter their publication schedule for it. They donated to nonprofits that advocated against low-wage factories in South Asian countries, even as they made use of them, a move that showed a sophisticated grasp of global economics.

The author constructs a CDC-style handout:

In its initial stages, Shen Fever is difficult to detect. Early symptoms include memory lapse, headaches, disorientation, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Because these symptoms are often mistaken for the common cold, patients are often unaware they have contracted Shen Fever. They may appear functional and are still able to execute rote, everyday tasks. However, these initial symptoms will worsen. Later-stage symptoms include signs of malnourishment, lapse of hygiene, bruising on the skin, and impaired motor coordination. Patients’ physical movements may appear more effortful and clumsy. Eventually, Shen Fever results in a fatal loss of consciousness. From the moment of contraction, symptoms may develop over the course of one to four weeks, based on the strength of the patient’s immune system.

Suffice it to say that Manhattan becomes a ghost town and the protagonist strikes out on the road to meet up with a band of fellow survivors to mine shopping malls, houses, etc. Read the book and you’ll enjoy the plot similarities to Zombieland 2, which I don’t expect to be celebrated by NPR any time soon.

Maximum aviation theme and max popularity from readers: The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. The protagonist is holed up at a mostly abandoned residential airpark with his 1956 Cessna 182 (that was the first year of production, so this may not be realistic). The remnants of humanity left in North America mostly attack each other with guns and knives (but why? there is plenty of land for everyone!)

In the beginning there was Fear. Not so much the flu by then, by then I walked, I talked. Not so much talked, but of sound body—and of mind, you be the judge. Two straight weeks of fever, three days 104 to 105, I know it cooked my brains. Encephalitis or something else. Hot. Thoughts that once belonged, that felt at home with each other, were now discomfited, unsure, depressed, like those shaggy Norwegian ponies that Russian professor moved to the Siberian Arctic I read about before. He was trying to recreate the Ice Age, a lot of grass and fauna and few people. Had he known what was coming he would have pursued another hobby.

I don’t want to be confused: we are nine years out. The flu killed almost everybody, then the blood disease killed more. The ones who are left are mostly Not Nice, why we live here on the plain, why I patrol every day.

Mostly the intruders came at night. They came singly or in groups, they came with weapons, with hunting rifles, with knives, they came to the porch light I left on like moths to a flame.

Due to some small but telling lapses in accuracy, I don’t think the author is a pilot (e.g., he writes that the Nearest button on a Garmin GPS “gave my vector” to the nearest airport; vectors come from ATC, “the heading” or “the bearing to” would come from the GPS; he refers to his “pilot’s license number” instead of certificate and says it is “135-271” (FAA certificate numbers are 7 digits with no dash)), but he writes well about the experience of being in a small plane and landing in the backcountry.

Back then I took up flying with the sense of coming to something I had been meant to do all my life. Many people who fly feel this way and I think it has more to do with some kind of treetop or clifftop gene than with any sense of unbounded freedom or metaphors of the soaring spirit. The way the earth below resolves. The way the landscape falls into place around the drainages, the capillaries and arteries of falling water: mountain slopes bunched and wrinkled, wringing themselves into the furrows of couloir and creek, draw and chasm, the low places defining the spurs and ridges and foothills the way creases define the planes of a face, lower down the canyon cuts, and then the swales and valleys of the lowest slopes, the sinuous rivers and the dry beds where water used to run seeming to hold the hills and the waves of the high planes all together and not the other way around. The way the settlements sprawl and then congregate at these rivers and mass at every confluence. I thought: It’s a view that should surprise us but it doesn’t. We have seen it before and interpret the terrain below with the same ease we walk the banks of a creek and know where to place our feet.

The protagonist’s best friend is his dog:

I used to worry about the engine roar and prop blast, I wear the headset even though there is no one to talk to on the radio because it dampens the noise, but I worried about Jasper, even tried to make him his own hearing protector, this helmet kind of thing, it wouldn’t stay on. Probably why he’s mostly deaf now.

They bred dogs for everything else, even diving for fish, why didn’t they breed them to live longer, to live as long as a man?

The typical virus apocalypse book or movie assumes that humanity is in this together. One interesting twist in The Dog Stars is that, as best as the survivors in North America can tell, there are societies on the other side of the planet that are continuing to function normally.

Readers: Are we entering the golden age of zombie apocalypse literature?

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Visit to the National Museum of the American Indian

From September, some photos of an awesome exhibit of commercial exploitation of Native American culture at the National Museum of the American Indian. The building itself is as beautiful as ever.

Hundreds of products are featured, including a Tomahawk missile:

Elvis played Indian characters twice in films. Also depicted is Justin Trudeau’s cousin:

Let’s not forget South Park:

Sorry for the poor image quality, but this Post Toasties ad is essential:

Adjacent to this exhibit is one that claims Pocahontas “saved America.” As much of a Pocahontas fan as I am, to the extent that she helped European invaders, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that she helped destroy America?

It is interesting to compare this museum with the nearby National Museum of African American History and Culture, also run by the Smithsonian. More than 95 percent of Native Americans were killed by European immigrants, either through violence or the diseases that Europeans brought (which then spread via mosquito). Their land was stolen. Yet their museum is mostly positive and celebrates Indian achievements in art and culture. The African American museum, on the other hand, is at least 2/3rds negative, focusing on African Americans as victims. A railroad car with identical (but separate) seating for blacks and whites, for example, gets a sign explaining how the black passengers were deprived of “oversized luggage bins” and a chair inside the restroom:

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Visit to the Hirshhorn Museum

From a late September visit to the Hirshhorn Museum

Walk past the Smithsonian Castle:

In front is a crushed car sculpture by Jimmie Durham, who identifies as a Native American (see “Why It Matters That Jimmie Durham Is Not a Cherokee”):

He has long claimed to be Cherokee but that claim has been denied by tribal representatives: “Durham is neither enrolled nor eligible for citizenship in any of the three federally-recognized and historical Cherokee Tribes: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation.” He has “no known ties to any Cherokee community”

A sculpture by a white cisgender heterosexual man:

Viewers of this Andy Warhol might have imagined that we were never experience a worse president than Richard Nixon (who created the Environmental Protection Agency):

Artists who identify as “women” and call themselves the “conscience of the art world” establish a 10 percent quota for an art gallery not to be shamed:

Then they discuss how to identify “an art world token” (“8. Everyone knows your race, gender and sexual preference even when they don’t know your work.”):

Some more from this group…

(If art by people who identify as “women” costs only one third as much as art produced by those who identify as “men,” wouldn’t all real estate developers and hotel owners purchase art exclusively from “women”? Why pay 3X the cost for the same quality?)

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National Museum of African American History and Culture

The crowds are thinning out at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I simply showed up on a recent Sunday afternoon and was able to walk in (in theory this is possible only on weekdays in the off season).

The most prominent funders of the museum are white do-gooders:

And they are challenging stereotypes by serving fried chicken and collard greens in the cafeteria:

Slavery is presented as something that white Europeans did to African blacks. This sign regarding Olaudah Equiano is about as close as the museum ever gets to noting that black Africans were predominantly captured and sold into slavery by fellow black Africans and/or Arabs.

The museum confidently presents an economic history in which black labor is the basis of American wealth:

The Smithsonian does not explain how it is possible that enslaved blacks generated most American wealth and yet the South was much poorer than the North, to the point that it lost a war where the defense had a big advantage.

Suppose that the $250 million number for the value of cotton produced by slaves in 1861. A guesstimate of U.S. GDP at the time was $4.6 billion (source, in which it is noted that the $8.3 billion number for 1869 might be good, but earlier numbers are extrapolations).

Also, if slaves guarantee long-term wealth, why aren’t the other parts of the world that had a lot of slaves in the mid-19th century very rich today?

Most of the exhibits consist of “artifact plus explanatory written sign” that would have been familiar to a visitor to the British Museum circa 1759. And the collection is actually kind of short on artifacts, so much of the experience becomes reading while standing in a crowd. Will this be compelling for visitors in 25 years after everyone has grown up wearing AR glasses?

That said, there are some cool artifacts. A Stearman open-cockpit biplane trainer used by the Tuskegee Airmen:

The most shocking revelation to me was that the future P-51 fighter pilots were also doing needlepoint:

A KKK hood from New York and Chuck Berry’s Cadillac:

An updated touch-screen lunch counter for sit-ins:

The museum explicitly notes that “the critical role played by women in the Civil Rights Movement has not received enough recognition,” that attention should be paid to a “black lesbian feminist group,” and that the Third World Women’s Alliance “encouraged women to recognize their ‘triple jeopardy’: racism, imperialism, and sexism.”

After telling visitors that women are important, the museum shows that one man’s achievements far exceed those of all women collectively:

The shrine to Barack Obama, whose connection to formerly enslaved African Americans is never explained, continues in the bookstore:

A giftshop section “Because of Her Story” does not come close to tilting the scales in favor of women against Barack Obama:

(Unrelated, but fun:


Does black gay man beat black straight woman in the Victimhood Order of Hands? If so, the museum is ready:

African Americans are the group whose prosperity is most injured by low-skill immigration (Harvard study) and the museum notes that “Caribbean immigration increased 1,000 percent from 50 years earlier.”

(Result: lower wages, but some awesome calypso albums.)

The art museum part of the museum has some great pieces that are conventionally organized and presented:

The first African American to star in a TV drama is a challenge for the curators:

Fortunately, we will always have Oprah:

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Vanity Fair on Amazon Prime

In preparation for three weeks away from decent Internet, I downloaded a five-hour adaptation of Vanity Fair, the mid-19th century novel, from Amazon Prime.

To appreciate the achievement of Gwyneth Hughes, the screenwriter, download the Project Gutenberg text of the novel. It is heavy sledding compared to modern works and contains minimal dialog. Hughes had to create characters’ speech patterns from whole cloth. A woman refers to Becky Sharp as a “treasure-hunting jade”, but I couldn’t find this phrase searching the text of the book. I’m not sure to what extent she leaned on previous TV miniseries, but very little seems anachronistic.

Readers: If you’ve seen this, what do you think? Can anyone compare it to previous adaptations?

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Asking museum visitors for feedback… and getting it

The (awesome) Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark holds five restored 1000-year-old ships:

The museum also features seaworthy replicas on which visitors can travel in the summer.

One fun part of the museum was the feedback wall:

Dressing up is popular:

There is some passion for American culture:

The Vikings had only two gender IDs:

“Send Them Back” stickers in the adjacent parking lot:

I wonder what would happen if American museums allowed this kind of open feedback whiteboard!

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ARKEN: Copenhagen’s contemporary art museum

Some pictures from a summer visit to ARKEN, a waterfront concrete museum that opened in 1996.

The entrance…

The regular collection is heavy on Damien Hirst…

More exciting… Benedikte Bjerre built an airport conveyor system out of IKEA bed parts (she says “the work addresses our dreams and hopes of the good capitalist life and social mobility across global borders”):

The museum was doing a big show of work by Australian Patricia Piccinini:

Does your dog like to jump up and share the bed?

Can you explain this traffic accident to Hertz?

Is it fair to say that not all concepts for Little Mermaid sequels are successful?


Many of the artists claim to be concerned about “marginalised individuals and groups,” but how many of those folks will ever purchase or view a contemporary artwork?

Exit through the gift shop…

And then fold your big Danish frame into a tiny Danish car…

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Movie: The Last Breath

Apollo 11 is an interesting way to relive the first moon landing through documentary footage (restored and organized into a 1.5-hour experience).

The Last Breath (streaming on Netflix) is the flip side of Apollo 11. The mission is equally dangerous, but the direction is down into the sea rather than up into space. Instead of certain fame and possible fortune that astronauts enjoyed, the aquanauts of The Last Breath will receive a modest paycheck at best.

The movie involves a group of people who choose to live on a small ship being tossed around in the North Sea. (No gender IDs are provided explicitly, but male pronouns are used for everyone in the film who goes onto or under the water. This page shows that 0% of people certified to do the kind of diving shown in the movie identify as “women.” Therefore I will use male pronouns in this post.)

Being part of the crew is horrible, battered regularly by 45-knot winds and 20-foot waves. But the divers must live at 100 meters of pressure (10 atm) for 28 days straight, the monotony of living in a small pressure chamber broken up only by visits to the ocean floor. For 28 days they will breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen and depend on technologies such as diving bells, diving suits, and umbilical cords.

Typical of the Scottish understatement that permeates the film… Regarding the Donald Duck voice from breathing helium: “The first thirty seconds is always quite humorous. After that, the novelty wears off.”

I don’t want to ruin the suspense by saying more, but I recommend the film and would be interested to see comments from readers who have seen it. (Folks who don’t want any spoilers can refrain from clicking on the comments.)

Readers: Obviously the pay is going to be better than what one could receive working in a supermarket, but what else motivates men to take these kinds of jobs?

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Taxpayer-funded favoritism for one gender

There are approximately 58 gender IDs (NBC News story on Facebook). Yet government officials apparently feel comfortable saying that 1 out of these 58 is more important than the other 57.

Convicted (by NYT and Facebook) rapist and Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh: “I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.” (NYT)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Justice Kavanaugh made history by bringing on board an all-female law clerk crew. Thanks to his selections, the Court has this Term, for the first time ever, more women than men serving as law clerks.” (Washington Examiner)

Here are the items that were featured in July 2019 at the front of the American Art Museum (Smithsonian, which receives $1 billion/year in taxpayer funds) gift shop:

What else did they have at the museum, you might ask? A 19th century sculpture of sleeping children embracing:

… and they also have another sculpture of two humans embracing. Before you look, see if you can guess to which of the 58 above-referenced gender IDs they might belong…

Louise Nevelson, famous for (a) being a great artist, and (b) explicitly saying “I am not a feminist” (she refused alimony, for example, and one pillar of modern feminism is getting regular paychecks from male former sex partners), is parked in the “Feminism in American Art” section:

And some works that don’t relate to gender ID at all, e.g., Nam June Paik’s Electronic Superhighway.

Circling back to the main topic… why is it okay to use taxpayer funds to promote one gender ID above the other 50+ gender IDs?

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Keep obscure languages (such as Irish) alive via free videogames?

My Irish host’s son is just finishing what we would call high school. At great cost to the Irish taxpayer and himself he is now fluent in Irish. I asked whether this had any practical value. “Not really,” he replied. “There are only about 80,000 speakers of Irish.” Had he ever used Irish outside of the classroom or organized immersion program? “No.” Would he be able to use Irish to shop at the local supermarket or any other nearby merchant? “Not a chance.”

Did the Irish language have any communication value? I.e., among those 80,000 speakers were there any who did not speak English? “Maybe somewhere on the Aran Islands you could find one person.”

How can he possible maintain his fluency under these circumstances?

One idea: Dedicate 1 percent of the current Irish instruction budget to developing video games and apps that require reading, writing, listening, and speaking Irish. Give them away free. Refuse to make a version in any other language, no matter how popular a game becomes. If successful, maybe young people in China will learn Irish so as to be able to enjoy the games.

Readers: Could this work? Would it be more cost-effective than other methods of keeping a mostly-dead language alive?

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