September 29, 2008

Taro Aso as Edward G. Robinson

Taro Aso, a direct descendant of the great 19th century political revolutionary Toshimichi Okubo, is the brashest and most charismatic prime minister since Jun'ichiro Koizumi (left). But if Koizumi is Elvis (indeed, the only foreign head of state to visit Graceland), then Aso (right) is Edward G. Robinson (middle).

Aso's got a voice like a tough guy in a Bogart film too. He's already proven himself willing to play the heavy with his opponents in the Japanese Diet.

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September 28, 2008

Rome never fell

Milada's quip that "Rome never fell" originated with this review of Fitzgerald's translation of The Aeneid (which I wrote several years ago and recently posted).

2008-2009 will be Keith Lockhart's final season with the Utah Symphony. He was appointed its music director in 1998. He will continue conducting the Boston Pops, which he has led since 1995.

Nobu Matsuhisa is co-owner (along with Robert De Niro) and executive chef of Nobu New York in TriBeCa, New York City.

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September 27, 2008

Chapter 5 (Jougetsu)

六官 [りっかん] The Rikkan (also: Rokukan or Rokkan; "Rikkan" is preferred by Daijisen), or Six Ministries: Administration, Education, Protocol, Defense, Justice, Public Works. Also known as the Ministries of Heaven, Earth, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.

The story of King Chuutatsu as detailed here and in A Thousand Leagues of Wind is a trenchant morality tale about the temptations and perils of legalism.

The Late Empress Yo's vendetta against women is detailed in chapter 59 of Shadow of the Moon.

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September 25, 2008

The youngest cabinet officer

The youngest cabinet officer in Taro Aso's just-appointed cabinet is 34-year-old Yuko Obuchi (the youngest in postwar history). She will be "Minister for Birthrate Policy and Gender Equality Issues." That means she's "in charge of tackling Japan's declining population."

Peter Payne gets right to the point with his blog post on the subject: "Hot Japanese Female Politicians, Lack of Children."

I'm not sure how one goes about "tackling" such a problem. At least she's married and has a kid. Though given current fertility rates in Japan (1.3), she's still .8 children behind. Maybe if McCain loses the election, she could recruit Sarah Palin as a consultant.

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September 23, 2008

Fitzgerald's "The Aeneid"

If the word "classics" intimidates you, consider the Fitzgerald translation of The Aeneid. I never could abide the Dryden long enough to get past the first page: all that incessant rhyming! (I don't understand this compunction to rhyme translated verse—haiku, for example—since it means imposing a form on a form already distorted by the translation process.)

Granted, even with that hurdle mostly surmounted, there are still obstacles: lots of names I have no idea how to pronounce, bounteous references to historical incidents and heroic characters I know too little about, portentous foreshadowings such as Hannibal crossing the Alps and Caesar crossing the Rubicon that I missed completely until I read Fitzgerald's commentary at the end.

Nevertheless, a good story is a good story, and this is a ripping good yarn. A strong authorial voice (it helps to read it aloud in your head as you go along) and a galloping pace guaranteed to fill the cheap seats, while sneaking in enough high-brow commentary to keep the intellectuals tuned in. It convinces me that, indeed, Sam Raimi is the definitive modern interpreter of the Greco-Roman tradition.

Of course, Shakespeare accomplished the same. And like Shakespeare, Virgil is a master of the concrete metaphor and the action verb, as well as being an astute observer of human behavior. His analysis of how small dust-ups can lead (or be manipulated) into all-out war resonates well with contemporary geopolitics.

And there's something for everybody. Today it'd be called Aeneas, the miniseries. Every element of the modern dramatic style is touched upon at some point: man against man, man against nature, man against god, man against himself; you've got romance, adventure, political intrigue. A whole chapter for sport enthusiasts. And lots of combat scenes.

With lots of explicit detail, who stabbed who where, and where the blood and guts went. This isn't depersonalized violence. Before some poor piker gets his head whacked off, Virgil takes a few moments to tell us who he is, where he came from, what he had for breakfast, and how he loved his mom. It's rather disturbing, frankly.

All of this plays out under the gaze of the Roman pantheon, which is half the fun. Jupiter tries very hard to be a good deist—not getting involved unless to answer pleas based on individual merit—except that Juno and Venus are running around getting the rest of the gods involved in their knock-down, drag-out proxy war.

Juno, for reasons I am not well-informed about enough to explain, hates the Trojans with a white-hot passion. Aeneas, leader of the Trojans, is Venus's son by a mortal father (these gods are unapologetically polyandrous). Having grown up with the Botticellian image fixed in my mind, Virgil's Venus was a pleasant surprise. None of this demure, floating in on the half-shell stuff. She's tough, feisty, cunning, loyal (to Aeneas, that is; when she snuggles up to husband Vulcan to get him to crank out some quality armaments for the Trojans, he grouses, "You know, I'd do it even if you didn't sleep with me").

There are a number of strong female characters. Camilla, for example, kicks Trojan butt all over the place, and Juturna, Turnus's nymph half-sister, does Juno's dirty work, mostly in order to keep her brother (the villain in the piece) from getting killed by Aeneas. Though in the ends-justify-being-plain-mean department, Juno is way ahead of all of them. Husband Jupiter finally pulls her aside and says, "Enough already!" In an ironic twist, Juno wins for losing: as part of the deal, the Trojan identity is subsumed by the Etruscan Italians.

Fitzgerald comments on the curiosity of the Romans (way, way after the fact) identifying with the Trojans in their founding myths, along with a fair amount of trashing of the Greek demigods (i.e., all the enemies of the Trojans) in the tale. It was a way of one-upping Greek civilization while stealing from it.

What impresses me the most is the extent to which The Aeneid fits into the modern, western, narrative tradition, both in style and subject matter. And, additionally, how un-odd the religious context is. Many scenes of sacrificing animals and beseeching gods could easily be confused with Old Testament accounts.

Consider as well the concept of the hero being the child of a god and mortal parent. The transition from patron god to patron saint is a simple one. I think Virgil would be at home with the theological dynamics of Touched by an Angel. For example, like Juno and Venus, Camilla's patron god, Diana, is limited in the extent to which she can interfere with Fate and keep Camilla from harm once she decides to join forces with Turnus. Human free will seems to rule the liberty of the gods rather than the other way around.

It makes me believe that Rome never fell. In the same way that China absorbed invader after invader, instead of conquering Rome, the barbarians from Northern Europe became Roman, and so brought to Britain and then to America that self-dramatizing, essentially Ptolemaic view of ourselves. The universe revolves around us—we are the cause of everything good or bad that happens—and in the end, if we pray to the proper gods, they will be on our side.

(John Hamer analogizes The Aeneid with The Book of Mormon. I consider the comparison apt.)

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September 20, 2008

Chapter 4 (Jougetsu)

蒲蘇 [ほそ] Hoso (bulrush + revived)

In Japan, the koseki (戸籍), or local census record, is where all of a person's demographic information is recorded and constantly updated. You don't legally exist without a koseki record.

"Hearing Shoukei referred to in such a familiar manner . . . . " The word here is yobisute (呼び捨て), literally "call" + "throw away." It means addressing a person of elevated status without the accompanying honorific prefix, such as -san or -sama, and suggests either rudeness or intimacy.

The most common way immortal life is bestowed is by having one's name listed in the Registry of Wizards. In chapter 2 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind, Shoukei is punished by having her name removed from the Registry of Wizards.

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September 18, 2008

The end of publishing

In the September 14 issue of New York magazine, Boris Kachka documents the decline and fall of the New York publishing business in excruciating detail.

What's amazing is how much the publishing business today resembles the music business a decade ago. The latter thought its business was selling pieces of plastic, not music. The former still thinks its business is selling pieces of paper, not stories. In the real world, paying 99 cents for a three-minute track is generous, and the real world won.

Ditto paying $4.95 for a 100,000 word novel. The panicked reaction to Amazon and the Kindle is telling. The industry is so scared about being overtaken by the next iTunes that can't contemplate becoming the next iTunes. As Kachka quotes one publishing insider, "We're an industry more willing to watch the boat sink than rock it a wee bit."

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September 16, 2008

I want my DTV (part 2)

Setting up the Zenith DTT901 Digital-to-Analog Converter was easier than setting up a VCR (though I had to set the VCR back to channel 3, the default for the DTT901). Then I selected the time zone and set the default RF out to channel 4. The DTT901 sits in the TV-VCR RF loop.

With my hand-made, 300 ohm UHF dipole antenna, the initial auto scan found 18 channels, 10 of which belong to the two PBS stations and the Utah Education Network. Obviously the cost of DTV--once the equipment is up and running--is the programming. And PBS/university stations have lots.

The DTT901 grabbed Larry Miller's independent (owner of the Utah Jazz), but as with the CW station, it gets iffy at times, like a scratched DVD. KUPX, an Ion affiliate, never came in well in analog and didn't come in at all, even though it's got the most powerful transmitter.

Checking the signal locator site at TV Fool, I see that the digital transmitters in Salt Lake City are all in the same place. I reoriented my dipole closer to 312 degrees north (adjusted the strings holding it to the bookcase). A rescan added the four Ion channels.

Two of the problematic channels are 46 and 48, and my dipole is tuned for the bottom of the UHF spectrum (meaning when I made it several years ago, I just guestimated). The next project will be to retune the dipole (which can be done with a pair of wire clippers).

Otherwise, my initial impression of DTV is the same as when I got TV Japan: Wow! No static! A completely clean signal. One of my hobbies when I was a kid was fixing old tube TVs (going extinct at the time). Static and interference and hum and signal echoes were facts of life. No more.

The only glitch so far is the remote. My current One for All universal remote handles all the functions of the TV, VCR, DVD player and Dish receiver. But not the converter. I'll have to get a new one that can be programmed with the necessary functions of the DTT901.

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September 14, 2008

Voyage of the Basset

James Christensen's Voyage of the Basset (text by Alan Dean Foster and Renwick St. James) is the illustrated story of one Professor Algernon Aisling's journey in search of the ancient evidence of modern myths and legends. The title was inspired by Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle.

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September 13, 2008

Chapter 3 (Jougetsu)

失道 [しつどう] shitsudou, or "Loss of the Way," the illness that afflicts a kirin when the king violates the Divine Will. The Royal En explains its implications in chapter 59 of Shadow of the Moon.

孫昭 [そんしょう] Son Shou (grandchild + shining)"; Shoukei (祥瓊) is in fact her azana, derived from her official given name, Shou (昭).

Shoukei's story is told in full in A Thousand Leagues of Wind.

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September 12, 2008

Matyas Rakosi

In Hungarian, the /cz/ in "Rakoczi" is pronounced similarly to the /ts/ in "bats" or the /tz/ in "Yahtzee" (as a single syllable). In the phonetic drift westward, English speakers would typically reduce the consonants just to /z/.

The name was inspired by Sigismund Rakoczi, who reigned briefly as Prince of Transylvania from 1607 to 1608. But a reader who was born and raised in Hungary sent me the following historical clarification:

I appreciated you weaving my Vaterland into the story, but on a gut level I was disturbed by the choice of name for the vampire sire, Rakoczi. That name evokes one of the most revered figures in Hungarian history, Prince Francis Rakoczi II, who led an uprising against the Habsburg empire between 1703 and 1711. The uprising (like most Hungarian ones) was crushed and he spent the rest of his life as an exile to Turkey. His figure is one deeply respected by most Hungarians.

She also helpfully provided a list of infamous Hungarian villains. Topping the list was Matyas Rakosi, the brutal dictator who ruled Hungary from 1945 to 1956, and described himself as "Stalin's best Hungarian disciple."

In all future editions of the novel, the "cz" will be changed to "s."

My correspondent also brought to my attention Countess Elizabeth Bathory, "possibly the most prolific serial killer in history," accused of killing "hundreds of girls and young women." I wish I could say that Milada was based on her, though I am intrigued by the similarities in retrospect.

Wylde Medical Informatics employs the same technology as the Utah Population Database at the Huntsman Cancer Institute:

The central component of the UPDB is an extensive set of Utah family histories, in which family members are linked to demographic and medical information. The UPDB includes diagnostic records on cancer, cause of death, and medical details associated with births. It also includes claims data from statewide inpatient hospital discharge records. The UPDB provides access to information on over 6.5 million individuals and supports more than 75 research projects.

The institute is named for Jon Huntsman, the founder of Huntsman Corporation, one of the world's largest chemical companies. His son is the current governor of Utah.

Louis Rukeyser, the long-time host of Wall $treet Week, coined the term "Elves" to refer to technical stock analysts. Technical analysts evaluate only the performance of a security in the financial markets in order to predict future behavior, not whatever product or service the company actually sells.

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September 10, 2008

I want my DTV (part 1)

I'm sure you've see the PSAs for the impending February 2009 DTV switchover. Despite the fact that I've spent a good part of my life around high tech, I'm a late adopter. My last computer was a Frankensteined Windows 95 box. My JVC television is over a decade old as well.

I get TV Japan through Dish Network, but the satellite dish points off towards Hawaii, and except for a couple of public access channels (like the Pentagon Channel), doesn't provide any domestic programming. I'd have to get a second dish to get the regular slate of programs.

So I depend on terrestrial broadcasting. In other words, I was a prime candidate for one of those 40 dollar coupons.

This really is against my principles--nowhere in the Constitution is enshrined the inalienable right to watch television--but how can I turn up my nose after Congress went to all that trouble? And a cheap, high-tech toy with a remote? My geek genes light up like a Christmas tree.

Because I pay the "starving artist" marginal tax rate--well below the median--that means the rest of you are subsidizing my DTV. Thanks, everybody! (Though I suspect that sans those 40 dollar coupons, the retail price of a converter box would be, oh, about 40 dollars less.)

I did a little googling and ended up with the Zenith DTT901 Digital-to-Analog Converter (list $59.99). Circuit City had a small mountain of them in the TV section. Not one of those decisions I wrung my hands over. The only thing I'm debating now is how to hook it up.

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September 08, 2008

AFS blog reviews

A very nice review of Angel Falling Softly posted by Maralise on Blog Segullah, who not only calls the book "a good read," but

would even venture to say that it's a great read. Having ardently stayed away from Twilight and almost all vampire related fiction, I was at the very least pleasantly surprised when I was captivated by the tight and nuanced writing in Eugene Woodbury's most recent release from Zarahemla Books.

Notes Maralise, "[The author] presents an unlikely story filled with real people and then lets human nature write the rest." Which is precisely what I set out to do. Nothing beats having one's intentions being taken exactly as intended.

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September 06, 2008

Chapter 2 (Jougetsu)

青辛 [せいしん] Sei Shin (blue + adversity), also known as Kantai. He first appears in chapter 52 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind.

Kei Province in Hou (恵) and the Kingdom of Kei (慶) are "spelled" with different kanji.

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September 04, 2008

AFS blog reviews

Thmazing reviews Angel Falling Softly as part of his Erotic in LDS Lit series. He notes some stylistic problems at the beginning. I'm not surprised. This is where we did the most last-minute editing to tighten up the narrative.

Lacking specifics, though, I've pretty much lost the ability to judge this kind of thing (maybe in a year or two when I've regained some objectivity). At any rate, "most of the book [is] fine." Thmazing's conclusion:

[Angel Falling Softly is] a good book and I liked it. Yes, the sex is over many people's tolerance levels--I can respect that. Yes, it asks some interesting questions--I demand that. But no: it's not evil, it's not destructive, it's not even badly written (once, you know, you get a few dozen pages in).

And he suggests a new word to use when categorizing paranormal "spiritual" fiction: spirinormal.

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September 03, 2008

It's alpha female time

In a previous post, I opined about the reluctance even in liberal Hollywood to truly address the full implications of female sexuality (and the risks and responsibilities that go with it). Steve Sailer provides an up-to-date political context in this comment about Sarah Palin:

Human beings have extremely strong emotions on the topic of [female] fertility. It's an obsession--look at the celebrity gossip columns these days. The who is sleeping with whom stuff bores people [right] now compared to the pregnancy news.

We're still addicted to the pack mentality: the desire of we lowly betas to know what the alphas are up to, because for our primordial geek ancestors studiously evolving bigger brains, the survival of the mentally fittest depended on the proper utilization of that knowledge.

The genetic software is still running in the kernel of our biological operating systems. One plausible reason for condoning patriarchy is that it gives the low man on the corporate or religious or military totem pole a pecking order and a little tribe of his own where he can be top dog.

Yes, I believe that the primary purpose of civilization is the civilizing of randy and violent young men. Just look what happens when society breaks down and anarchy breaks out. A feminist utopia it ain't. It's all primordial Big Man rule.

Nineteen-year-old Mormon missionaries are experts at spotting a pecking order and aligning themselves to it in perfect Gaussian distributions: those who salivate at the sight; those who shrug and resign themselves to it; and those who run fast in the opposite direction.

As Sailer concludes, "Modern people tell themselves they don't care about stuff like that, but they do. Oh, they do."

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September 01, 2008

Shadow of the Moon


The translation notes for Shadow of the Moon are included as endnotes in the doc and ebook files.

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