Women starting wars

I recently saw a video clip in which the indescribably funny, witty, and all-around superhumanly brilliant comedian Jordan Klepper attempted to trip up an interview subject and make her look stupid by pointing out that all wars have been started by men. I’ll spare you the context of the exchange, but the point is that Klepper really exposed this woman’s intellectual deficiencies, and it was hilarious. To quote Douglas Adams, I coughed and spluttered with mirth.

Only one small problem though. As I discovered via some deft Googling:

In fact, between 1480 and 1913, Europe’s queens were 27% more likely than its kings to wage war, according to a National Bureau of Economics working paper (paywall). And like Isabella, queens were also more likely to amass new territory during their reigns, found the paper’s authors, economists Oeindrila Dube and S.P. Harish.

Then there are all the women who led revolts and rebellions throughout history – from Sparta to Vietnam to Ireland to Mexico.

Huh. So much for that. Anyway.

Paris

Man, these Paris protests are getting out of hand:

What’s that? Oh, sorry. Those are actually photos from 1968.

Mass socialist movements grew not only in the United States but also in most European countries. The most spectacular manifestation of this were the May 1968 protests in France, in which students linked up with wildcat strikes of up to ten million workers, and for a few days the movement seemed capable of overthrowing the government.

Got my dates mixed up there. Almost exactly 50 years later, Paris is again convulsed by riots:

‘Yellow Jacket’ protests in France leave gas stations running dry; Paris riots worst since 1968

Saturday’s unrest was the worst in central Paris since a student uprising five decades ago.

“Yellow Jacket” protesters blocking access to 11 fuel depots belonging to one of the world’s biggest oil companies have left gas stations running dry in France.

At least 75 of the company’s 2,200 gas stations were out of fuel, a spokesman for energy giant Total said Monday.

For more than two weeks, protesters angry over gas taxes and the high cost of living have been blocking roads across France, impeding access to fuel depots, shopping malls and some airports.

Riot police were overrun on Saturday as protesters brought chaos to Paris’ fanciest neighborhoods, torching dozens of cars, looting boutiques and smashing up luxury private homes and cafes in the worst disturbances the capital has seen since 1968.

More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 arrested over the weekend.

The “Yellow Jacket” revolt erupted on Nov. 17 and poses a formidable challenge to President Emmanuel Macron as he tries to counter a plunge in popularity over his economic reforms, which are seen as favoring the wealthy.

What do the protesters want?

The movement began online as an impromptu rebellion against higher fuel prices but has morphed into a broader outpouring of anger over the squeeze that living costs are putting on middle-class household budgets.

Their core demand is a freeze on further planned tax increases on gas and diesel — the next is due in January — and measures to help bolster spending power.

A lot of the anger is focused on the technocratic, internationalist Macron, who is perceived as an elitist.

But many have also called for Macron to quit.

Public support for the “Yellow Jackets” remains high, with seven-in-10 people backing their protest, according to a Harris Interactive opinion poll conducted after Saturday’s unrest.

The revolt is an example of “open source warfare,” as John Robb puts it. There are no leaders, no barriers to participation, and everyone is united by a plausible common goal. The lack of leadership is a key advantage:

The French government has faced difficulties dealing with the protesters as the movement has no real leadership and has not aligned itself with any political organisation. […]

On Friday, the government tried – mostly in vain – to talk to representatives of the movement.

Eight were invited to meet Prime Minister Edouard Philippe but only two turned up, and one walked out after being told he could not invite TV cameras in to broadcast the encounter live to the nation.

Paris is so romantic this time of year…

Paris protest Burger King

Paul Schrader is a total idiot

Keying Up: The Court Jester

I guess the once-great screenwriter Paul Schrader is washing down his Ambien with a couple of cabernets again – only this time, instead of calling for civil war on Facebook, he is lashing out against his prospective customers:

Paul Schrader has been in the movie business for well over four decades, and the one thing he’s noticed that has changed the most over the last several years is the moviegoing audience itself. Schrader, who most recently wrote and directed the acclaimed “First Reformed,” recently appeared at a BAFTA Screenwriters Series in London and connected the dots between the current lack of quality films in Hollywood and the overall changes in moviegoing attitudes.

“There are people who talk about the American cinema of the ‘70s as some halcyon period,” Schrader said (via Deadline). “It was to a degree but not because there were any more talented filmmakers. There’s probably, in fact, more talented filmmakers today than there was in the ‘70s. What there was in the ‘70s was better audiences.”

“When people take movies seriously it’s very easy to make a serious movie,” he continued. “When they don’t take it seriously, it’s very, very hard. We now have audiences that don’t take movies seriously so it’s hard to make a serious movie for them. It’s not that us filmmakers are letting you down, it’s you audiences are letting us down.”

You know what, Paul? F*** you. How dare you.

I cannot honestly claim to be a devoted cinephile. But I like movies and I go to the movies when the opportunity presents itself and I feel there is something worth watching. Do you know how often that is? These days, almost never. Because virtually everything that’s playing is the cinematic equivalent of a Hot Pocket. It’s junk, and it’s bad for you.

And I am not some rube who doesn’t know an auteur from an arc shot. I mean, I was reading books about Hitchcock in high school for fun. I only mention this to illustrate that I actually care about movies. I take movies very seriously. Very seriously, Paul. And the stuff that you people are cranking out these days is just unwatchable. It’s terrible. It’s insultingly bad – even when you’re not actively pissing on the fans.

To paraphrase an online comment about Hot Pockets, what you call movies nowadays are in fact “disgusting movie-like items.” You (Hollywood) have literally lost the plot. You don’t know how to tell stories anymore. You don’t know how to captivate the audience using the magic of the big screen. You have a grave responsibility here. We are paying good money to sit in a darkened room for 110 minutes and be entertained. You had better not waste our time. But you are wasting it, Paul. Your industry is wasting billions of hours of our time every year. And we are not amused.

Paul, you are a brilliant screenwriter and it pains me to say this (not really). But in blaming the moviegoing public for the decline of Hollywood, you resemble a capering, jingling fool whose act has worn thin, and now both the rich nobles and the groundlings in the pit are jeering and pelting you with rotten vegetables. You don’t know when to cut your losses, though, so you stay on stage, cursing and shaking your fist at the audience, as an earl in the galleries roars with laughter and empties a bucket of tomatoes onto your ass-eared cap.

Navajo park shuts down to oust gnostic cult

More cult activity, this time in the Southwest:

Monument Valley Tribal Park has closed after a group was filming without a filming permit, leading to a demonstration, according to law enforcement officials.

The group was ousted while filming for “Witness in the Desert,” a project led by Derek Broes, a “gnostic luciferian,” better known as “Global Witness.”

Broes describes his film project as a “YouTube event like any other in history.”

“Multiple channel hosts that represent more than 2 million subscribers will participate in a live event that will be broadcast live from multiple locations in the ancient locations of tribal lands in and around Monument Valley, Arizona,” he said.

Derek Broes, aka Global Witness

Derek Broes, aka Global Witness

“The local authorities of (the tribal park) and local Oljato officials … have learned that the … group … is carrying out an unauthorized cult-related activity,” he wrote.

Law enforcement officers at the scene reported that at least 50 individuals protested against the closure saying doomsday is near, but many were delighted to have spent time in the park before it closed.

“One lady was walking in the middle of the road with a baby and a Bible and was yelling, ‘God forgives you!’” one officer, who did not want to be named, told the Times.

“It seems they have shut down the entire park to prevent us from going in,” Broes said in his latest video on his YouTube channel Global Witness.

Is 2018 the Year of the Cult? What is the meaning of this apparent surge of cult behavior in the US and elsewhere?

Alpha Centauri Sucks

Latest XKCD cartoon:

I believe this is known as a “dad joke.” In any case, nothing wrong with a little mild astronomy humor. Astro-comedy? Reminds me of this quote from Douglas Adams’s The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?”

(See also. And.)

When the world is a prison

Prison Inside Me South Korea

only the prisoners are free:

For most people, prison is a place to escape from. For South Koreans in need of a break from the demands of everyday life, a day in a faux jail is the escape.

“This prison gives me a sense of freedom,” said Park Hye-ri, a 28-year-old office worker who paid $90 to spend 24 hours locked up in a mock prison.

Since 2013, the “Prison Inside Me” facility in northeast Hongcheon has hosted more than 2,000 inmates, many of them stressed office workers and students seeking relief from South Korea’s demanding work and academic culture.

This is no resort, either:

Prison rules are strict. No talking with other inmates. No mobile phones or clocks.

Clients get a blue prison uniform, a yoga mat, tea set, a pen and notebook. They sleep on the floor. There is a small toilet inside the room, but no mirror. […]

Noh said some customers are wary of spending 24 or 48 hours in a prison cell, until they try it.

“After a stay in the prison, people say, ‘This is not a prison, the real prison is where we return to,’” she said.

Koreans take things to the extreme; this may be their defining national characteristic. And the pressures of modern life are so extreme in Korea that sometimes you just need to spend a day in prison to escape from it all.

Russia-Ukraine spat

So, Russia and Ukraine are all over the news again. Apparently the Russian coast guard intercepted and boarded three Ukrainian ships – two patrol boats and a tug – that were trying to pass through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov, destined for Mariupol. Ukraine says Russia rammed the tugboat and fired on the other two ships, wounding a number of sailors. Russia also took 24 crew into custody. In addition, Russia parked a tanker under the Crimean Bridge, the new bridge spanning the Kerch Strait, effectively blocking traffic through the narrow waterway.

Here’s a map of the sea:

Sea of Azov

Note that the Sea of Azov is divided between Russian and Ukrainian control; it is not international waters.

As is often the case in today’s insane world, establishing the facts of what happened is not easy because the two parties to the dispute are saying opposite and mutually exclusive things. Ukraine claims that the vessels followed the safe passage protocols, hailing the Kerch authorities and asking permission to pass through the strait as they were supposed to do, but received no response.

Russia, however, says that the ships did not hail the Kerch port for permission to pass through and did not respond to hails from Russian authorities as they approached Russian territorial waters on the eastern side of the strait. The Russians claim that the ramming took place in their undisputed territorial waters.

One side must be lying, and I have no idea which side that is. Neither, in all probability, do you. There is another way of looking at the situation though, and that is by asking: Cui bono? It’s hard to imagine that Putin would have moral qualms about escalating hostilities with Ukraine, if he felt it was in Russia’s (or his own) interests to do so.

In that respect, this article from bne IntelliNews is interesting. The author does not appear to have a pro-Putin bias, as he is sharply critical of Russian policy towards Ukraine. As he sees it, though, the big beneficiary of this military clash in the Sea of Avoz is not Putin, but Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko:

With presidential elections now only four months away, Poroshenko is trailing badly in the polls at least 10 percentage points behind his nemesis opposition leader, former prime minister and head of Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party Yulia Tymoshenko, and unlikely to make it to the second round after the poll on March 31, 2019, let alone win. Ukraine watchers admit that he has failed to deal with corruption, failed to solve any of the journalist murder cases, failed to jail anyone responsible for the deaths during the Euromaidan protests and in general failed to deliver on the promise of the Revolution of Dignity. Ukraine is now the poorest country in Europe and recent polls say 85% of the population believe the country is going in the wrong direction.

A sharp military showdown with Russia, a strongman image of decisive action in the face of an external enemy, the imposition of martial law (and the potential ability to cancel the elections at will) and the opportunity to wear his military uniform in public often is exactly what Poroshenko needs to rescue his campaign. Indeed, these were exactly the tactics Putin used to bolster his flagging support in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimea, and later led to a sweeping victory with a record margin in the Russian presidential elections in March. If Ukraine didn’t provoke this clash then Poroshenko has just had an extraordinary piece of political luck – and for this reason alone the question must be asked.

The whole piece is worth reading. Until the true facts of this murky military dispute come to light (if they ever do), Americans should remain agnostic about which side is to “blame” and extremely skeptical of calls for a stronger US response. The absolute last thing the US needs right now is to get sucked into another miserable, pointless conflict far from home.

The most relaxing song on earth, according to science

Here is “Weightless,” a song specially designed to be the most relaxing piece of music on earth:

Listen and feel your blood pressure and cortisol levels ebb.

It’s science:

According to Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International, which conducted the research, the top song produced a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date.

In fact, listening to that one song — “Weightless” — resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.

That is remarkable.

Equally remarkable is the fact the song was actually constructed to do so. The group that created “Weightless”, Marconi Union, did so in collaboration with sound therapists. Its carefully arranged harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines help slow a listener’s heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

An awful lot of photons

NASA Fermi 5 years gamma

Or, to be precise, 4×10^84 (that’s 4 with 84 zeros): the total amount of photons emitted by stars in the entire universe.

Clemson University scientists, relying on imagery from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, claim for the first time to have measured all of the starlight ever generated throughout the history of the observable universe.

By the numbers: According to the new data, which was published in the journal Science on Friday, the number of photons — particles of visible light — emitted by stars amounts to 4 times 10 to the 84th power.

Ancient Japanese inn

This traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) has been run by the same family for 46 generations. When it was built, in the year 718, the Tang dynasty ruled China, Islam was still expanding into Western Europe and Charlemagne had not yet been born:

 

“To keep this ryokan in this ever changing world, that’s our priority. So sometimes, we have to sacrifice family.”

From the creator of the video, Fritz Schumann:

Houshi Ryokan was founded around 1,300 years ago and it has always been managed by the same family since then. It is the oldest still running family business in the world.

This ryokan (a traditional japanese style hotel) was built over a natural hot spring in Awazu in central Japan in the year 718. Until 2011, it held the record for being the oldest hotel in the world.

Houshi Ryokan has been visited by the Japanese Imperial Family and countless great artists over the centuries. Its buildings were destroyed by natural disasters many times, but the family has always rebuilt. The garden as well as some parts of the hotel are over 400 years old.