March 29, 2009

Chapter 44 (Angel Falling Softly)

Portland Head Light is the historical lighthouse located at Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

The Valkyrie are female deities in Viking mythology who escort valiant warriors killed on the field of battle to Valhalla. The word means "chooser of the slain."

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March 28, 2009

Chapter 17 (Dreaming of Paradise)

水陽殿 [すいようでん] Suiyou Manor
路寝 [ろしん] Roshin (path + sleep); see chapter 2 of The Shore in Twilight.

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March 22, 2009

Chapter 43 (Angel Falling Softly)

A keiretsu is a group of related companies with interlocking management and financial relationships. A keiretsu has a funding institution at its core, usually a large commercial bank.

A "boiler-room" operation is a telemarketing firm that uses high-pressure and dishonest sales tactics. When selling financial instruments such as penny stocks, they are also known as "bucket shops."

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March 19, 2009

Enishi no Ito

The theme song to Dan Dan is "Enishi no Ito" (縁の糸), meaning "the (red) thread (of fate) that connects us." It comes from an ancient Chinese proverb:

An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.

It is sung by Mariya Takeuchi.

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March 17, 2009

The coming Christian collapse

A provocative screed by Michael Spencer argues that "We are on the verge of a major collapse of Evangelical Christianity." Frankly, in a lot of places in his essay, you could substitute "Mormon" for "Evangelical" and hit the nail right on the head. For example:

The [Mormon] investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of [Mormons] can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

Though I think Spencer underestimates the ability of organizations to sustain themselves through "churn" (any missionary who went through a "baptism bubble" understands that), and to maintain themselves primarily as social clubs and welfare organizations (very 19th century, that).

Religion isn't the opiate of the masses. It's "all you really need to know about philosophy and psychology and child-rearing" for the masses. This is why New Age gurus like Wayne Dyer are such hits on Utah PBS stations, including KBYU. They celebrate the transcendental aspects of religion people are looking for better than most adherents.

What Spencer is detecting rather is the equivalent of a traffic jam "wave function" moving down a highway long after the original obstruction has been cleared. With a belief system centered around "orthodoxy," he foresees that this tide of excitement will move on, leaving him and his theological allies again in the shallows.

But if your only interest in orthodoxy is in disciplinary terms (you need it to determine who can belong to the club), then your overriding concern will be to stay on top of the wave, making sure that wherever the wave is, you are.

Consider how both sides of the abortion debate need each other to keep the issue alive and the wave centered on them. A reasonable accommodation like Scalia's Heller decision--that there is a "right" but it's up to states to determine exactly what it is--and the wave would move on, leaving only the mud flats behind (have I exhausted this metaphor yet?).

Still, I don't think this is a totally egocentric concern. When the waters get too shallow, as in Europe, the next arriving tide of true believers may sweep them all away. The question is how fast the secular holes in the dike will drain away the fervor. Fortunately, like first-world population collapse, the U.S. won't be first in line. Or last.

Though as the latest American Religious Identification Survey shows, over almost two decades, not even the once much-heralded Mormons are growing relative to the U.S. population. (This survey doesn't count butts in pews and the numbers are still only half "officially reported.") Granted, in this environment, minimally holding your own is at least par for the course.

Asian Times columnist Spengler argues that China will be the next Evangelical beachhead. During the 16th century (until the Tokugawa regime brutally repressed it), Catholicism was remarkably successful in Japan. The Jesuits had no army backing them up, except through alliances they forged with local warlords (some of whom became stalwart converts).

Of course, the Jesuits had the intellectual chops to go toe-to-toe with equally well-educated Buddhists priests, something Spencer persuasively argues is lacking among today's Evangelicals, and this applies equally well to Mormons.

One of the sadly funny things about Evangelical anti-Mormon sites is that they assume--based on the tiny sample of Mormon apologists they tussle with--that everybody else knows and cares about "heretical" Mormon theology as much as they do. But practically nobody knows or cares about Mormon theology as much as they do! Including Mormons!

That, I'm afraid, is the church's future. When both sides get tired of offending each other--and when Mormons win the "respect" they so desperately crave--the wave will have already moved on.

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March 15, 2009

Chapter 42 (Angel Falling Softly)

According to the Atlanta Dental Group, "Blood cells contain hemoglobin which carries oxygen. When blood breaks down, iron is released and causes a metallic taste in mouth."

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March 12, 2009

Creativity and economic success

Musing about the role of creativity in economic success, and if "creative, brilliant people" are all an economy really needs, Half Sigma observes that

Anime fans don’t think that the Japanese lack creativity. Whether or not Japan lacks creativity, this hasn't prevented Japan from pulling nearly even, on a per capita basis, with the United States.

More specifically, per-capita GDP is $35,300 in Japan and $48,000 in the U.S. However, of the G7 nations, Japanese workers put in the longest hours and are the least productive. The problem is not a "credit crunch" but an "effort crunch." At the end of the day, they're all worked out.

This, as Satoshi Kanazawa documents, is a perpetual worry in Japan. The educational system equally and unproductively exhausts students. When Japanese TV writers need a quick way of indicating that a character is really, really smart, they'll tell you that he attended . . . Harvard.

The author Kaoru Takamura concurs. In the typical Japanese corporation,

employees are unable to make their own decisions and must constantly refer to their superiors. But because these superiors are also unclear about their own authority, they can't make responsible decisions. Problems just get shuffled around and everyone ends up working longer hours.

So knowing how to build a better mousetrap is not enough. You've got to protect the idea, get a business license, attract investment, arrange for manufacturing, set up a retail chain, and hire a bunch of talented people willing to work for you knowing you may go broke in six months.

And then still have the faith and freedom to go back and do it all over again. That requires a high trust environment with a strong--but not overbearing--rule of law. This combination strikes many as the opposite of "creativity," but is necessary for creativity to join hands with capital.

The U.S. is still one of the best places in the world to meet all those conditions (without paying a lot of bribes). John Stossel did a segment about this for 20/20. (Though in another report, he did discover that the easiest place in the world to get a business license was Hong Kong.)

The creative successes of anime and manga are due in large part to the fact that manga artists work as freelance contractors (retaining copyright), and anime is mostly produced by small, independent studios, rather than huge corporate entertainment entities (who just do distribution).

Watch the "making of" segment on an anime DVD like Kanon and you can't help but be struck at what a small, hands-on operation Kyoto Animation (and even Ghibli Studios) actually is.

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March 10, 2009

Mormon porn

Over at the Gene Expression blog, Razib points to a study by Benjamin Edelman (Assistant Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School) that examines subscriptions to online adult entertainment sites on a per thousand people, per thousand home Internet users, and per thousand home broadband users basis.

Utah tops every list.

There are several more variables that Edelman hints at but doesn't consider directly. First is the "private" (or "secret") nature of online subscriptions, making them easier to hide from a spouse or parents than a magazine or DVD. In other words, morality should always be considered in the context of propriety when analyzing religious behavior.

The more Mormons in one's general vicinity, the greater the incentive for a Mormon seeking out-of-the-mainstream diversions to practice discretion. I'll bet that the only Mormons who ever bought one of those glossy sex books at the Orem Barnes & Noble were from Salt Lake City (if they ever sold any).

Equally important is the extent to which local anti-porn laws are enforced. Even though these cases rarely prevail in court, the willingness to charge brick & mortar rental outfits creates a powerful economic disincentive. Greencine, for example, won't ship porn DVDs to Utah zip codes. This increases the attractiveness of online offerings.

As James Taranto notes:

Local laws and mores make retail porn less available in conservative areas--which might also account for their greater consumption of porn online, which gives at least the illusion of privacy.

And a commenter at Gene Expression observes:

I drive through Oklahoma to Texas often and have noticed that there are no porn outfits on I-35 or I-44. This contrasts Texas where porn stores on highways are relatively common. In this study, Oklahoma has higher porn subscription than Texas.

As a general rule, squeezing the balloon in one place makes it blow up elsewhere. But from Edelman's analysis, we don't know how big the total balloon (rental + cable/satellite + periodicals + live entertainment) is. Small behavioral movements among sinners seeking legal alternatives would bias the tiny sample sizes.

To start with, I'd suggest that Edelman regress Greencine's list of restricted zip codes against his data.

The fact that the Idaho ranks near the bottom in Edelman's study confirms this. Idaho is basically Utah with fewer blue laws and polygamists (but more survivalist nutjobs waiting for the coming apocalypse). And Alaska? Hardly any Mormons there, but a big retail supply and demand problem.

However, the popular perception that Edelman is onto something might explain why Mormon church leaders are so obsessed with the subject. Though this obsession has also made online porn the current "sin of choice" among Mormons, the confession of which being used (as a moral "theory of everything") to absolve all others.

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March 08, 2009

Chapter 41 (Angel Falling Softly)

Mathew [sic] Hopkins (1620-1647) was the most famous witchhunter during the English Civil War between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists. Puritan supporters of the Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, were known as "Roundheads." The term "witch pricker" refers to literally poking suspected witches with needles to see if they bled or not. Hopkins also employed the "floating witch" test popularly derided in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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March 07, 2009

Chapter 14 (Dreaming of Paradise)

文姫 [ぶんき] Princess Bun ("Bunki")
沙明山 [さめいざん] Samei Mountain (sand light)
正殿 [せいでん] Seiden ("true building"); the main building of the palace

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March 03, 2009

The atonement of Pacifica Casull

In contrast to the ending of Scrapped Princess, I found the atonement scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to be a weak representation of the material being analogized. Furthermore, it makes no sense disconnected from its Christian eschatological framework. And requires a huge suspension of disbelief to make sense of it even when it's not.

C.S. Lewis's hand-wave in this regard is "deep magic," which I think is his way of saying, "Stop asking why." I don't blame him. The "Doctrine of the Atonement" in the Catholic Encyclopedia covers all the arguments and analogies the dedicated church-goer of any faith has ever heard of and dismisses them one by one as "close but not quite." Ultimately, it can't do much better than the tautology it begins with:

Atonement is the Satisfaction of Christ, whereby God and the world are reconciled or made to be at one.

That sounds awfully Deepak Chopra. The saying, "Fish discover water last," resonates here. Lewis tremendously advanced the cause of Christianity by reframing it in the context of medieval legend and mythology, his areas of expertise. But I think it's necessary to look further afield, to audiences not culturally conditioned to make snap connections between the analogy and the thing being analogized.

Taking Scrapped Princess as a case in point, I can't say whether author Ichiro Sakaki and director Soichi Masui intended the metaphor to be extended this far, but Scrapped Princess frames this bedrock principle of Christian theology with a clarity and logic I've never seen before.

The Earth of Scrapped Princess (which could be viewed as a sequel to The Day the Earth Stood Still) was long ago on the losing side of a literal war in the heavens. After the surrender, the planet was stripped of its advanced technology and sealed inside a kind of global "Biosphere Two." Now called "Providence," it is ruled by a computer system that makes its will known through the "Church of Mauser."

The system maintains Providence in a permanent Middle Ages. The primary means of control is the church (an obvious nod to Rome). But there are several other subroutines running as checks and balances to this goal. Aside from the human Inquisitioners, angel-like beings known as "Peacemakers" (self-aware but cruelly stoic robots) that can trigger Armageddon and reboot the Middle Ages all over again.

Human nature being what it is, sooner or later people start getting too big for their britches, begin discovering the "old technology" (a nod to the Renaissance), and generally causing problems. And so the slate has to be wiped clean.

The other, seemingly contradictory routine is the "Providence Breaker." This independently-running program is designed to terminate the entire system when certain conditions are met, and return to the human race their free agency. It tests for these conditions by raising up a "savior" who is prophesied to destroy the world. If she dies before her sixteenth birthday, then nothing happens and the subroutine restarts.

The anime series doesn't explore all the alternative options, but the following exegesis does fit the material: a Napoleonic figure who rises precipitously to prominence and plows through church and state wouldn't trigger the Providence Breaker either. Because that would inevitably result in a repeat of the same situation, the reason for the world being in this state in the first place.

Rather, the savior has to die to save the world, literally have her blood shed to trigger the Providence Breaker. In the end, Pacifica is betrayed by her own kin, just as Mauser, the original designer of the system, originally betrayed human freedom for "the greater good." (Compare to King Hezekiah trading away future liberty for a present peace in 2 Kings 20:16-19.)

Up to that point, Pacifica has been protected by her mecha "Dragoons" (Knights Templar), and by her followers. If they are not strong and resourceful enough, she will die before her sixteenth birthday. If they are too strong, then their power will corrupt absolutely and nullify the effort. It is only on the razor's edge between these two extremes that her atonement becomes efficacious.

In the end, telling Pacifica that "you were born to destroy me," Mauser's virtual ghost leaves the final choice between peaceful tyranny and chaotic freedom up to her. When Pacifica chooses the latter, like a good deist, Mauser instructs the human race that it is now time for them to take responsibility for their own actions and their own future. And shuts itself down.

This interpretation comes to a logical conclusion and makes a clear, comprehensible point. Not that it's necessarily doctrinally correct (depending on what doctrine you adhere to), but as my old violin teacher used to say, if you're going to play the wrong note, at least play it well. That shouldn't be too much to ask of religious theologies that claim to have the power to damn or save us for all eternity.

Related posts

The catechism of Angel Beats!
Scrapped Princess
The passion of the magical girl
Three visions
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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March 01, 2009

Chapter 40 (Angel Falling Softly)

Solar urticaria is a rare photodermatosis that results in rashes and hives when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation (sunlight). It is an allergic reaction--treatable with antihistemines--and overexposure can cause anaphylaxis.

Fexofenadine hydrochloride is the active ingredient in Allegra. Terfenadine is used to treat solar urticaria (in humans), but was restricted as a prescription antihistamine in 1997 after being linked to cardiac complications.

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