September 18, 2014

Poseidon of the East (37)

I've posted chapter 37 of Poseidon of the East.

Aside from using kanji in their writing systems, Chinese and Japanese are grammatically and phonologically unrelated, with Japanese classified in the oddball Altaic language group that includes Korean, Mongolian, Turkish, and sometimes Finnish.

"Shouryuu" is the Japanese approximation (or on'yomi) of "Shanglong," which is how his name would be pronounced in Chinese. "Naotaka"  (尚隆) is how it's pronounced in native Japanese (or kun'yomi), and would be entirely unfamiliar to his listeners.

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September 15, 2014

A scooter in every garage

If you thought the bungled roll-out was an exception to the rule, consider Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold's investigation of Medicare fraud involving power wheelchairs, specifically of the electric scooter variety, detailed in this C-SPAN interview.
Nope, no exception. Business as usual.

Scooter scammers recruited doctors to write "scooter prescriptions" for "patients." Medicare paid the bill for heavily marked-up scooters, no questions asked. They only started asking questions when the crooks got so freaking greedy it was impossible to ignore.

Nor was this the work of criminal masterminds. An analyst cited in one of Fahrenthold's Washington Post articles:

We're mostly getting people who didn't finish high school, who've stolen more than $10 million in three months. Those are the ones we get. And you know the clever people are just invisible.

If that isn't bad enough, do you know how the federal government processes pension applications for retiring federal workers? Dave Barry and P.J. O'Rourke couldn't concoct something this crazy on purpose. As pure fiction, it'd be too unbelievable to suspend disbelief.

Fahrenthold reveals the process in the second half of the interview, which ends up sounding like a really boring post-apocalyptic flick written by a really bored accountant (who's spent his entire career processing pension applications for federal retirees).

Frankly, Obama should have gone for the whole single-payer nine yards from the start, just so we could get that hypothetical out of the way once and for all. Except the processing of pension benefits has been stuck in the 1970s since the 1970s and shows no signs of changing.

So don't count on any of this getting better anytime soon. Keep in mind that the federal government has no reliable way of telling whether you're alive or dead either. (The Japanese government has the same problem.)

James Madison was rightly obsessed with the need for government to be ruled by rigorous checks and balances. The law alone is not enough. China and North Korea are living proof that not even an all-powerful police force can otherwise stem the tide of corruption.

And make sure your rabbit is licensed!


September 11, 2014

Poseidon of the East (36)

I've posted chapter 36 of Poseidon of the East.

A kitsuryou (吉量) is a pegasus with a red mane, white stripes, and golden eyes. Youko rides one into battle in chapter 65 of Shadow of the Moon.

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September 08, 2014

Iwago's Cats

As a tribute to my sister's cat Aurora, who departed for kitty heaven last week at the ripe old age of 19½ (that's 95 in human years), here's a wonderful show about cats.

Though I'm not a pet person, cats project a "leave-me-alone" aura I respect. A neighborhood cat likes to nap on my back porch. Now and then another cat shows up (I don't understand the appeal of my back porch) and they get one of those "When are you going to leave?" vs. "No, you first" standoffs.

Sometimes, company is neither desired nor appreciated. Hottoite (ほっといて): "Leave me alone and mind your own business." The term is discussed in the first video at 6:30 as a particular feline characteristic. "Unfortunately," Iwago observes, "cats aren't necessarily happy to be photographed."

I totally get it.

Dogs evolved to be attentive and empathic human companions, but the whole "give me attention" business gets wearying (that and treating the entire outdoors as a toilet). The neighbor's dog obsessively announces every change in the status quo, including things it's seen several hundred times already.

Meaning everybody and everything it doesn't actually live with. Clouds. Its own shadow. The wind. Passing neutrinos. Bark bark bark bark bark bark. Take a breath. Bark bark bark bark bark bark. And so on and so forth. Cats are infinitely more tolerable mammals to share your immediate environment with.

Which perhaps explains why Iwago's Cats (「岩合光昭の世界ネコ歩き」) is one of my favorite programs on NHK. It's produced by the same team that does Somewhere Street, NHK's equally understated travel show.

As the title suggests, wildlife videographer Mitsuaki Iwago travels around the world capturing the life of cats in various urban and semi-rural environments. One difference with Somewhere Street is that the visual narrative will break the fourth wall and show Iwago talking about and interacting with the cats.

Like Somewhere Street, it's a serene and laid-back travel show that's more about the people than the places. Iwago treats the cats as the people and shows us the world through their eyes and activities. The cats really do start to take on the attributes of fully sentient beings.

Iwago's Cats is one of those NHK shows that makes wonder why nobody's licensed it. The cultural references are all local. The narration is mostly off-screen and (sounds) improvised, so could be easily dubbed (by a cat-loving actor with a mellifluous accent.) But many episodes can be found on YouTube.

Okinawa and Uruguay:

Hawaii and Okinawa:

Andalusia, Spain:

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September 04, 2014

Poseidon of the East (35)

I've posted chapter 35 of Poseidon of the East.

An emperor commanding his kirin to kill someone is not without precedent. In chapter 32 of Shadow of the Moon, the Emperor of Kou orders his kirin to kill Youko. She instead stabs Youko through the hand.

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September 01, 2014

How to sell a pilgrimage

Every spring, states in the U.S. engage in competitive advertising campaigns to lure tourists to their respective locales. Here in Utah, Wyoming (right next door) probably makes the biggest push. You'll see pitches as well from Texas and California.

Prefectures in Japan are motivated no less, especially those in the hinterlands experiencing profound population declines.

A TV program with a local setting can do wonders for the featured locale. The docudrama Ryomaden was a boon to Kochi, Sakamoto Ryoma's home town. The Tohoku region in Northern Japan is still cashing in on the popularity of the 2013 Amachan series.

As far as that goes, Matsuyama City in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku deserves a medal for merchandizing genius. They're already an established attraction as home to eight of the 88 temples in the Shikoku Pilgrimage (the O-Henro).

But there's no resting on one's municipal laurels with a young demographic out there willing to spend, spend, spend on the (digital) comforts of life. So Matsuyama set out to build a pop-culture media empire based the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

It's called "Oh! My Ring" (there's an English version too), obviously playing off another popular goddess manga and anime series, Oh My Goddess. They'd like to virtually escort you on "An adorable journey around Shikoku's 88-temple pilgrimage."

That will hopefully encourage you to spend your next vacation in Shikoku and experience the real thing.

Each of the 88 temples gets its own cute goddess. Collect them all!

The "ring" refers literally to the loop of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, though it also hints at the Ring horror series, which it turn brings to mind authors like Masako Bando, who made Shikoku the equivalent of Steven King's Maine with books like Inugami.

(Which has much more of a Shinto vibe, but business is business; let's not get all sectarian about the religious affiliations of the various tourist traps.)

The "Oh! My Ring" website is already peddling smartphone apps, online manga, cosplay characters, and badges, T-shirts, posters, and a cafe. Plus actual information about the actual temples. I'm sure the kitchen sink isn't anywhere close to being full.

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August 28, 2014

Poseidon of the East (34)

I've posted chapter 34 of Poseidon of the East. Shouryuu again uses the alias of Fuukan in "Kizan."

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August 25, 2014

The Great Passage

"The Great Passage" is the (fictional) name of an unabridged dictionary being created by the microscopic dictionary department in a large publishing firm.

The title of the movie in Japanese is Fune o Amu (舟を編む), which is even more obscure. It literally means "knitting together a boat," Japanese lexicographer's slang for compiling a dictionary.

The Japanese name of the dictionary is Daidokai (大渡海), literally "great sea voyage." Because a dictionary, the managing editor explains, is the ship by which readers navigate the vast sea of words that encompass life.

These people take words seriously.

Ryuhei Matsuda, who did very well as a roving talent agent in Amachan, plays against type as Majime Mitsuya, a clinically introverted linguist who gets chosen (practically at random) to replace a veteran editor at the onset of the project.

The not-uncommon name "Majime" is an Oscar Wilde-worthy pun, as it has the approximate meaning as "earnest" (or "Ernest").

Majime has been living by himself in a boarding house (plus a cat and the landlady), having taking over all the other rooms to store his books. And then the landlady's granddaughter (Aoi Miyazaki) moves in.

Aoi Miyazaki, who put in fine performances in Nana (also with Ryuhei Matsuda) and Atsuhime, is perfectly cast here, cute without being unrealistically pretty for the part.

You could be forgiven at this point for expecting a classic "geek gets the girl" story. However, that subplot is pretty much wrapped up in the first half.

This really is a movie about making a dictionary. The whole fifteen-year process. Collecting and collating the entries. The endless revisions. Looming deadlines and shrinking budgets. Frantic searches for missing entries.

It's a fascinating tale from start to finish. Granted, you have to love lexicography to enjoy this movie, which apparently some Japanese movie critics do.

"The Great Passage" won Best Picture at the 2013 Japan Academy Awards. It's made the film festival circuit in the U.S. The title is on Netflix (with no availability listed). Amazon stocks a region 3 DVD. A region 1 should show up sometime.

In the meantime, here's an extended preview (Japanese only).

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August 21, 2014

Poseidon of the East (33)

I've posted chapter 33 of Poseidon of the East.

In T.S. Eliot's version of the death of Thomas Becket, Murder in the Cathedral, King Henry II complains aloud, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" A contemporary of Becket, Edward Grim, records a less poetic version:

What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?

In either case, several of the king's men took this to not be a hypothetical question and killed the priest. The difference here is that Atsuyu intended the ends to justify the means from the start. All he wants is plausible deniability.

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August 18, 2014

August 15

As previously noted, Emperor (with Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones) is a needlessly boring and unjustifiably self-important melodrama that misses a great thriller right under its nose.

Early in the morning of August 15, 1945, a group of young Imperial Japanese Army officers attempted to forcibly prevent the Emperor's surrender address from being broadcast that afternoon.

It was an eerie repeat of the "February 26 [1936] Incident" (and even the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877), when a similar coup d'état was launched with the goal of "purging the government and military leadership of their factional rivals and ideological opponents."

The "August 15 Incident" ran out of steam when die-hard War Minister General Korechika Anami refused to lend his moral or material support (unlike Saigo Takamori back in 1877, whose participation ensured a lot more people dying for no reason).

The best cinematic account of the events of August 15 is Japan's Longest Day.

Kihachi Okamoto's 1967 docudrama (based on the book by Kazutoshi Hando), with Toshiro Mifune as General Anami, is rather too hagiographic about Hirohito's role. But it faithfully portrays the suicidal spasm of fanaticism that ended the war for good.

What makes it all the more fascinating is that, almost immediately following a "war without mercy," the war did indeed end for good, as John Dower lays out in detail in the best history of the Occupation, Embracing Defeat.

Popular culture perhaps makes an even stronger argument. A number of surprisingly decent Hollywood movies--fair and fairly accurate--with marquee stars were set in--even made in--Japan not long after the end of the war.

Tokyo Joe (1949, with Humphrey Bogart)
House of Bamboo (1955, with Robert Ryan and Robert Stack)
Teahouse of the August Moon (1956, with Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Eddie Albert, and Harry Morgan)
Sayonara (1957, with Marlon Brando, Patricia Owens, James Garner, Miiko Taka, Red Buttons, and Ricardo Montalban!)
Escapade in Japan (1957, with Jon Provost of Lassie fame)

Go for Broke! (1951, with Van Johnson) is about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed of Japanese-Americans. They fought in Europe. It depicts the Nisei soldiers in a quite positive light. The screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.

Then into the 1960s, we have:

Cry for Happy (1961, with Glenn Ford, Donald O'Connor, and Miiko Taka)
My Geisha (1962, with Shirley MacLaine, Yves Montand, and Edward G. Robinson)
Walk, Don't Run (1966, with Cary Grant, Samantha Eggar, Jim Hutton, and Miiko Taka)
You Only Live Twice (1967, with Sean Connery as James Bond)

You Only Live Twice canonized the silliest of modern stereotypes about Japan. Japanese audiences, though, were delighted with the whole thing. The same can be said about The Last Samurai, which is about as historically insightful as an old western B movie.

It seems a little Orientalism can be good for art. I'm sure Hollywood found the "exoticism" of Japan fascinating. But it was exactly this fascination that allowed them to take the non-exotic parts at face value, rather than filter them through their own biases.

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August 14, 2014

Poseidon of the East (32)

I've posted chapter 32 of Poseidon of the East.

The tonkou (遁甲) is the way shirei can move through the winds in the sky, through veins in the earth, and through the currents in the water, while remaining hidden from view. A similar term, tonjutsu (遁術), is defined as the "art of ninja escape."

In Japan, the Tsuina (追儺) festival is known as Setsubun (節分). It's a spiritual spring cleaning ceremony for driving out evil spirits along with the dust, accomplished by peppering people dressed up like ogres with roasted soybeans.

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August 11, 2014

Eric Raymond on SF

Computer programmer and open source software advocate Eric Raymond is also a big fan of "classic" science fiction, by which he means "linear narratives, puzzle stories, competent characters, happy endings, and rational knowability."

Such preferences, of course, are anathema to

critics/authors/editors who are bent on imposing the deep norms of other genres onto the SF field. Such people are especially apt to think SF would be "improved" by adopting the norms and technical apparatus of modern literary fiction.

Raymond identifies the malady at the root of the problem as LSE or "literary status envy."

Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th and then 20th-century literary fiction . . . They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.

In a later post, he warns that

LSE is a wasting disease. It invades the brains of writers of SF and other genres, progressively damaging their ability to tell entertaining stories until all they can write is unpleasant gray goo fit only for consumption by lit majors. One of the principal sequelae of the disease is plunging sales.

He provides a list of symptoms to watch for, such as:

1. [Author] desires to be considered a "serious artist."
2. Idea content is absent or limited to politicized social criticism.
3. Heroism does not occur except as anti-heroic mockery.
4. All major characters are psychologically damaged.

I especially like number 7:

7. Inability to write an unambiguously happy ending. In advanced cases, the ability to write any ending at all may be lost.

The rest can be found here. As Kate points out, the symptoms of LSE show up in in lit-crit critiques of pretty much all "classic" genre fiction, for example, the works of Agatha Christie.

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August 07, 2014

Poseidon of the East (31)

I've posted chapter 31 of Poseidon of the East.

Choumei Palace (長明宮) is one of the  buildings of the Naiden (Inner Palace or Inner Court). It means "long light." The Inner Palace is the residential compound of the emperor (or the province lord).

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August 04, 2014

Twelve Kingdoms (update)

I've revised Shadow of the Moon and A Thousand Leagues of Wind. The biggest changes are in the terminology, replacing "royal" references with "imperial" and "king" with "emperor/empress" (I still refer to Shoukei as the "princess royal").

This, of course, had a downstream effect on other word choices.

Along the way, I've edited for clarity and readability, standardized the formatting and nomenclature (especially capitalization), corrected several translation errors, and have undoubtedly introduced a whole bunch of additional typos.

A Thousand Leagues of Wind is in a bit rougher shape, as it's longer and I haven't given it as much attention as Shadow of the Moon. But I think this version is a definite improvement.

New mobi (Kindle) and ePub files are available on the download page, and I've updated the online web pages.

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