February 28, 2009

Chapter 13 (Dreaming of Paradise)

Kirin are vegans. Exposure to blood—even their own—makes them ill. Prolonged exposure, such as that suffered by Taiki in The Shore in Twilight, can bring them close to death.

This chapter contains more brilliant insights into the perils of political idealism.

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February 26, 2009

After Life

Hirokazu Kore'eda Maboroshi (1995) is less a movie than a prose poem rendered on film. Perhaps four lines of plot and not many more lines of dialogue knit together by almost two hours of stunning cinematography.

In After Life (1998), Kore'eda adopts both a similar and a diametrical approach. He gives himself five lines of plot this time around. And rather than creating the poetic image on the film itself, he weaves it together through dialogue and monologue.

The premise of After Life is that in the first week after you die, you are asked to select the one memory from your (mortal) life which you will retain when you journey onto the next (no other religious POV is pushed in the film). The "veil of forgetfulness" in reverse.

Helping out with this task is a group of "social workers," if you will, who will also attempt to reproduce the memory you select, which you will then briefly get to relive before moving on.

The movie takes place in a run-down government office building staffed by people who look like they belong there. No technicolor special effects. A Hollywood effort like What Dreams May Come tastes like cotton candy in comparison. They are in the world but not of it.

The bulk of the dialogue is constructed as interviews. And many of the interviews are just that. Kore'eda shot much of the material unscripted, and only a handful of the actors have credited parts.

The way the social workers recreate each of the memories their subjects select intriguingly captures the metaphor Kore'eda is striving for. Rather than reproducing the "reality" of the moment as it "really" happened, each memory is dramatized like a scene out of a play.

If the "reality" of a memory doesn't make it precious, what does? What are we remembering when we remember? Do memories only exist in their retelling? In a memory's recollection, are we in fact restaging it, complete with makeshift props and backdrops?

The movie concludes with the relationship between two of the social workers resolving itself in a memory recreated for one of their subjects. Watching it, you can't help but imagine what choice of memory you would make, or whether you would, as some do, choose to not choose at all.

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February 24, 2009

Don't look at that!

If you've ever--you know, accidentally--happened to watch some anime porn (even of the R-rated variety: I recommend I Dream of Mimi), you might find this illustration of the moral and legal perils involved and the editorial fictions invented by importers to ameliorate them amusing.

To better understand what a "figurine" is, go here and click around (at your own NSFW peril).

Of course, there's the irony that characters somebody drew having "sex" are considered more "dangerous" to our moral health than actual human beings pretending to be underage and having sex (American Pie). You can even garner yourself an Oscar for doing so!

Regardless of what the Supreme Court said, anime importers follow the "stagecoach rule" in this regard. "First Amendment" rights are even hazier in Canada, which is also DVD region 1. And just to be safe, outfits like Greencine won't send "porn" to Utah and a couple of other states.

I once came across a hentai tape at a Hollywood Video here in Utah County (it wasn't half bad). The same store also had a copy of In the Realm of the Senses (meh), so it was probably part of the startup stock, and the owners had no idea it was there.

Until the irate parent stormed in, I suppose. Is that why Netflix doesn't ship I Dream of Mimi anymore? They do ship In the Realm of the Senses, which is about a billion times more explicit. Go figure.

Here's the Wikipedia entry for Kodomo no Jikan (haven't seen it, don't want to). The teacher/student romance typically involves a female high school student, and it is ubiquitous enough to constitute a standard girl's comics genre (and is often quite explicit).

The flipside is the "harem" genre featuring a prepubescent boy surrounded by developmentally precocious teenage (and often older) girls, such as the enormously popular Negima! and the just plain creepy Please Teacher, Happy Lesson and Mouse.

To sum up Negima! Imagine that Harry Potter as a nerdy ten-year-old and Hermione as a spunky, resourceful sixteen-year-old, and she and her coed classmates at Hogwarts have a habit of "accidentally" getting undressed around him. Oh, and they share a dorm room.

Actually, if Rowling's Hermione had been more like this Hermione, I might have stayed interested in the books. Stupid "fan service" aside, Negima! takes some interesting plot turns and is far less annoying than Ken Akamatsu's big harem hit, Love Hina.

But as I argue at length here, I've concluded that the Freudian subtext is really all about family formation (and the lack thereof).

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February 21, 2009

Chapter 12 (Dreaming of Paradise)

高岫 [こっきょう] Kokkyou (high promontory), here referring to the Koushuu Mountains (same kanji) mark the borderline between two kingdoms
奉賀 [ほうが] Houga (dedicated joy); the border city between Sai and Sou

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February 17, 2009

I want my DTV (part 3)

A few things I noted in passing, having not paid much attention to the subject of late until Congress decided that the dumb electorate needed its collective hand held (item 7).

1. Flat-screen HDTVs sure do look nice. Still too expensive to justify on my budget. Though I'm definitely not lugging my old tube TV anywhere next time I move. Talk about a boat anchor.

2. Blu-Ray looks great too (in the store, at least). But I'd like to see a side-by-side comparison at ten feet with one of those DVD players that upconverts to 1080i or 720p.

3. Speaking of which, plain vanilla DVD players are tiny and cheap. My five-year-old Panasonic is three times as big and was three times as expensive as a comparable models now. Moore's Law in action.

4. Why is the most popular, off-the-shelf audio/video cable length six feet? Four, three and even two-foot lengths would be preferred in many cases.

5. Why preserve a measly 12 VHF channels for television? Most gripes about DTV are really gripes about UHF reception, and VHF does propagate better at ground level. But that means it should be reserved for more important uses than TV.

6. Come February 17, 2009, how many people are going to just get a new TV? Could this work out to an unintended economic stimulus package? (Lance Ulanoff thinks so too.)

7. Make that June 2009. Watching television is not a Constitutional Right, but to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no Congressperson ever lost a vote underestimating the ability of the American people to procrastinate.

8. Now that 16:9 is the standard screen size the world over, movie directors can stop shooting in eye-squinting aspect ratios over 2:1 just to prove what artsy-fartsy cinematic geniuses they are.

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February 10, 2009

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

The X-Files: I Want to Believe would fit right into the television series, as a decent installment in Scully's "Lapsed Catholic" arc. Mulder's "UFO Conspiracy" arc gets all the attention, but the shows that directly address Scully's wavering religious faith are some of the best. This isn't one of the best, but for an X-Files fan, it's still worth watching.

Granted, we're supposed to accept that that the relationship between Mulder and Scully has advanced beyond the fraternal. But since nobody--actors, writers, or director--seems the slightest bit invested in making us believe this, it fades from memory even while watching the movie.

What had me scratching my head, though, was that nothing about The X-Files: I Want to Believe says MAJOR MOTION PICTURE. There's nothing--aside from Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly--that couldn't have been done for a tenth the budget on the original Vancouver lots. (To give Chris Carter credit, he only spent $30 million).

The reason I bring this up is that because it's a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, they shot the blasted thing in 2.40:1. I could literally see no reason for this. Normally I could have just hit the format button on my DVD player that resizes 2.40:1 to 16:9. Except that Carter stuck those quintessential X-Files datelines way down in the corner of the screen where they got lost.

Even back when I went to actual movie theaters, 2.40:1 bugged me. Either I ended up sitting so far away from the screen I might as well be watching TV, or I couldn't see the whole screen without swiveling my head. In the old days, the director PANNED the camera and used a WIDE-ANGLE LENS! (If it was important, it'd be in the center of the frame anyway.)

Any movie shot in greater than 2:1 will end up letterboxed (losing visual information), or the viewer hits the reformat button and whacks it down to 16:9 (losing visual information). So let's drop the pretense about "artistic integrity."

I hereby declare that unless you (Mr. Movie Director) can prove that you are the freaking reincarnation of David Lean and Akira Kurosawa, you are required to shoot your MAJOR MOTION PICTURE in the worldwide HDTV standard of 16:9! (And, no, you aren't the freaking reincarnation of David Lean and Akira Kurosawa, okay?).


February 08, 2009

King Hezekiah

"And so you have done what is good in your eyes."

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover."

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, "Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (2 Kings 20:1-3 NIV)

By the end of the chapter, consider what King Hezekiah has bargained for and what he ultimately trades away.

"Is that what troubles you? Why life is given to the bitter of soul?"

Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave? (Job 3:20-22 NIV)

" . . . whose way is hidden and whom God has hedged in?"

Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? (Job 3:23 NIV)

"If he wills that you tarry till he comes, what is that to thee?"

Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. (John 21:22 KJV)

"Perhaps a time to prepare to meet God"

[T]herefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead. (Alma 12:24)

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February 07, 2009

Chapter 10 (Dreaming of Paradise)

大司寇 [だいしこう] Daishikou; head of the Ministry of Fall
小司寇 [しょうしこう] Shoshikou; vice-minister of the Ministry of Fall

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February 02, 2009

The information superhighway off-ramp

My DSL connection had been degrading for a while and finally gave up the ghost, only sustaining a connecting during very cold and dry weather. The Qwest tech who came out to take a look confirmed that I was sitting at the maximum radius of the DSLAM for my current speed, and the slightest degradation in the signal resulted in a storm of errors until the packet losses mounted and the connection dropped.

After a bit more poking around, he determined that the line coming in from the street wasn't terminated correctly at the curb, which would have caused more lossy signal reflection. Ultimately, the only solution was to crank down the data rate to within the tolerances of the local loop. I'm off the information superhighway and toodling around on the side streets. Better than dial-up, to be sure. But pokey in comparison.

I was considering Comcast, but literally the day before the Qwest guy came by, a Comcast guy spent the entire afternoon restoring the signal to the apartment right below me. It's the same problem: thanks to all this ancient wiring, the break could be anywhere. With DSL, at around two miles, I should be within 1.5 Mbps tolerances, and that's what Qwest reports when I plug in my address (based on geography).

The wiring in my neighborhood is buried. It's nice aesthetically, and eliminates worries about wind, rain, snow or ice bringing down power and phone lines. But the near quarter-century-old system is showing its age. Plus, every time a line is extended or new line added to the existing hodgepodge, yet another impedance mismatch is created, resulting in all kinds of signal reflection and degradation.

The Qwest tech was pretty sure that a new DSLAM going in sometime this year would cut the distance of my local loop more than in half. After that, a minimum 1.5 Mbps down was guaranteed. But in a new subdivision at that range, I should get ten times that.

A job for President Obama's Economic Recovery Plan! One of those "shovel-ready" projects helping to upgrade U.S. Internet infrastructure. Forget about twisted-pair and install fiber-to-the-home. It'd require pulling wire through existing conduits, and some backhoe work to get it from the curb to the buildings. Heck, while they're at it, hire a bunch of contractors (more employment!) to install fiber in all the buildings.

To be sure, that business about pigs and lipstick applies here. This is one super-massive chunk of pork-barrel spending--which I am supposedly against philosophically--masquerading as a swan. But if pork is going to be spent, then I want it spent on ME! (Samuel Palmisano, chairman and CEO of IBM, argues that spending money on me is good idea too, except he uses cool terms like "smarter infrastructure.")

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February 01, 2009

Hannah, Samuel, and Eli

The story of Hannah, Samuel, and Eli is told in the Old Testament, comprising 1 Samuel, chapters 1-2.

"That man came from going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it."

And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. (Job 1:7 KJV)

"Tell me, where are my fourteen-thousand sheep and my six-thousand camels and my seven sons and three daughters?"

The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. (Job 42:12-13 NIV)

1 Samuel 3:14 (KJV):

And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.

Proverbs 19:21 (NIV):

Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.

"Pascal's wager" refers to the syllogism put forward by the 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal. He argued that in terms of eternal salvation, it is better to bet that God does exist. If God does not, then the gambler loses nothing. If God does, then everything is gained.

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