November 29, 2012

Tonan no Tsubasa (6)

Rikou's line about telling the biggest whale of a lie you can imagine made me think of this delightful movie.

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November 26, 2012

Sunset, sunrise

Last month in The Atlantic, Peter Boone and Simon Johnson sounded the typical jeremiads about Japan, predicting that "Europe's crisis will be followed by a more devastating one, likely beginning in Japan."

Kenneth Cukier more realistically splits the difference, predicting that a "handful of companies, sectors and locations will be extraordinarily successful globally, in an environment of national deterioration."

A more upbeat assessment comes from Jesper Koll, an economist who calls himself "the last Japan optimist." Along with contrarian Eamonn Fingleton, he argues that Japan isn't quite the economic basketcase it's been made out to be since the real estate bubble burst. A big reason is the national character.

There's a difference between ignoring reality (as the Japanese are doing for now, there being plenty of other apocalyptic fare on their plates) and being delusional about it. The Greeks apparently believe that if they just protest enough (and if those damned Germans weren't so stingy), good times would roll again.

It's not going to happen. And one day it will sink in. But not before Greece (Spain following close behind) circles the drain a few more times.

A not uncommon response to lamentations about Japan's declining population is: "Well, things weren't so bad during the Edo period." The same goes for the post-war Showa period, the setting for many a Happy Days melodrama. And families back then were significantly poorer than the Cunninghams.

For all the blather about "shared sacrifice," the Japanese could actually pull it off. They'll tighten their belts and sing the twin unofficial national anthems: "Shikata ga nai." That's how the cookie crumbles (and the earth shakes). And Gambarou! Roll up the sleeves and put that shoulder to the wheel.

In the land of the rising sun, after all, it's bound to come out tomorrow.

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November 22, 2012

Tonan no Tsubasa (5)

Rakushun explains the origins of Mt. Hou/Taishan in chapter 38 of Shadow of the Moon. (Taishan is also one of the "Five Great Mountains" of China.) The function of the yaboku and why one is a good place to spend the night is covered in chapter 53. Rakushun uses a suugu (on loan from Rokuta) in A Thousand Leagues of Wind.
A "blue bird" is essentially a bird-based dictation machine. See "Pen-Pals" from Dreaming of Paradise.

Rikou is featured in "Kizan" from Dreaming of Paradise. He observes that Kyou has had a stable dynasty for ninety years, and later that Youko recently published her Imperial Rescript abolishing kowtowing, which comes at the end of A Thousand Leagues of Wind. This suggests that Tonan no Tsubasa takes place roughly ninety years before the present.

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November 15, 2012

Tonan no Tsubasa (3-4)

Having reacquainted myself with the political divisions of the Twelve Kingdoms, I've fixed a few earlier errors:

国  Kingdom
州  Province
郡  District (comprised of 50,000 households or 4 prefectures)
郷  Prefecture (comprised of 5 counties)
県  County
党  Township
族  Town
里  Hamlet (comprised of 25 households)

Ken County is a detached administrative territory of the capital province. For example, the Bonin Islands, including Iwo Jima, are administered as a subprefecture of Tokyo.

For my own convenience, chapters are numbered sequentially. The numbering convention in the book (starting from "1" in each section) is shown on the first line of each chapter (except for the first chapter in a section) and in the web page title (though if you're using multiple tabs, it might not show).

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November 12, 2012

In medias res

One thing about this season's slate of new television dramas that jumps out at me is how hobbled they often are by unnecessary backstory blunders. Not just that the backstories are clumsily executed, but that they are there at all, and laid out in such a linear fashion.

Vegas got it right. Jack Lamb's backstory is covered in about three lines of dialogue, and then on with the show. The Mob Doctor and Revolution (and Arrow, though I could only stand to watch about ten minutes of it in total) get it wrong.

What they get wrong is starting before the beginning and systematically marching the viewer through the chain of cause and effect that leads to the real beginning of the show. Or, as in the case of Arrow, cramming a dozen excruciatingly long and detailed flashbacks into the first episode.

Ron Koslow's pretty good reboot of Beauty and the Beast (it's really more Beauty and the Incredibly Handsome Hulk with the Cool Scar and Anger Management Issues) got the backstory over with in about five minutes and a couple of refreshingly short flashbacks.

Even then, I would have cut the opening sequence in half.

When a series involves a twist on a familiar formula, like Vegas or Castle, it can be introduced while the story gets underway. The twist in House is all show and no tell, and the pilot episode could have taken place at any point during the first season.

The pilot episode of Person of Interest matches up the ruthless John Reese with the enigmatic Mr. Finch and the "Machine," and we're off and running. The biographical details of all three are revealed slowly throughout the series. House did this to great effect.

In Elementary, the simple mention of "Holmes" and "Watson" tells us everything we know in order to drive this car. The twist of Watson as a woman is self-evident. It was a big mistake to delve into her biography in the first episode. Let it work itself to the surface.

I think the producers and writers were so eager to "hook" the audience with touchy-feely material that they gave away too much too soon. House, by contrast, waited until the time was right to reveal House's backstory, and produced a brilliant episode.

Besides the mechanics of good storytelling, leaving the backstory to later can give the writers enough time to figure out exactly what it is. I have to believe that a dozen episodes watching Miller and Liu work together would have inspired them to create something less insipid.

In fact, a later episode did explore her backstory, and would have been much better if we didn't already know what it was. (The writers on Elementary also seem to have no idea what to actually do with Liu; Martin Freeman, by contrast, glues Sherlock together.)

Especially in science fiction, this compulsion to explain everything all at once can rob a show of a substantial source of tension and conflict. (Though Star Trek: TNG did wait way too long--almost to the end of the series--to figure out why Riker never got his own command.)

Anime writers love post-apocalyptic plots as an excuse to overturn life-as-we-know-it, but they know that "why things turned out this way" is such an intriguing question that the smart thing to do is wait to answer it. Let the viewer find out the same time the characters do.

In a series like Yokohama Shopping Log, the "how" and "why" are only ever hinted at, the focus of the narrative being on the here-and-now. "What if all the lights went out" is sufficiently "high concept" to drive the story for a long time before delving into the backstory.

If at all.

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November 08, 2012

Tonan no Tsubasa (2)

A "tracery window" refers to a sukashi-mado (透かし窓), meaning a decorative window that frames the view like a landscape painting.

All names follow Japanese convention, with the surname given first. I delve into the intricacies of Chinese naming practices here.

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November 07, 2012

About nothing

So I stood in line for an hour to add a purely symbolic +1 to the vote totals. Chaffetz (House), Hatch (Senate) and Herbert (governor) won by ginormous margins. And every news organization on the planet gave Romney the state the microsecond the polls closed.

Of course, nobody moves to Utah County for the political drama. Jim Matheson squeaked by Mia Love in the 4th district, which made me laugh. Every ten years, the Utah legislature does its level best to gerrymander Salt Lake's liberal precincts out of existence.

They stab it with their steely knives,
but they just can't kill the beast.

One of my fantasy constitutional amendments would require that House districts be apportioned based on the local and existing political boundaries. Salt Lake County is going to vote democratic. It just elected a democratic mayor (again). Live with it, guys.

Nationally, social conservatives were very often their own worst enemy, and that includes Romney, who couldn't quite flip the flop. I'm hoping that this election will invigorate fiscal conservatives and economic libertarians, happy to leave such matters to the states.

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November 05, 2012

Much ado

As I've noted before, I'm wary of the apocalyptic mindset. Once the province of the religious right, Matt Ridley recently documented in Wired magazine how it's been thoroughly embraced by the secular left. Doomsday economics is currently all the rage, with "fiscal cliffs" and monetary meltdowns in Europe and Japan, and the like.

In the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, archeologists pointed to the numerous stone markers found in the coastal foothills of Japan, warning future generations not to build permanent dwellings below that elevation. Warnings that were forgotten in a generation or two. So much for learning from history. And yet Japan remains with us.

And so we gamely muddle on. As Michael Wood points out in The Story of England, many towns and cities across Europe took centuries to recover their pre-Black Death populations. And yet not only did they do so, but in the process relegated that cataclysmic event to the stuff of entertaining PBS documentaries.

Mother Nature could squash us like bugs. It's our job to scurry out of the way of her big feet like cockroaches. Which we've gotten very good at over the past 10,000 years of human civilization. If nothing else, human beings are the masters of muddling through. The Greeks will, the Japanese will. And so will the American voting public.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow. I'll just be glad when it's over. Though I can't complain too much. One advantage of living in a solidly Republican state like Utah is being spared most of the electioneering hubbub.

Only the newly-created 4th district is a close race, as it includes a big chunk of Salt Lake City and its liberal (!) enclaves. I switch the channel every time an ad from either side comes on the air. I can't imagine what it'd be like to live in a state like Ohio, where the voters are evenly split.

The local punditry has concluded that veteran Jim Matheson erred in switching from the 2nd to the 4th. He expected to run against a bland Republican newbie. Instead, Mia Love currently has even odds of riding Romney's coattails to Washington and becoming the first Republican African-Haitian-American woman in Congress. Change!

In the 3rd district, where I live, Chaffetz is leading his challenger 68 percent to 15 percent. Nobody wastes money campaigning with polls like that, for which I am very grateful.

One of my ideas for saving the Electoral College would be a quasi-parlimentary system that allocated Electoral College votes according to each House district. Winning the House would (usually but not necessarily) win the presidency. Of course, that would turn contests like Utah's 4th into scorched earth battlefields.

So, maybe not. In any case, on November 7th, the proper reaction to whatever happens on November 6th is to shrug and continue muddling through.

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November 01, 2012

Tonan no Tsubasa (1)

Ryou'un (凌雲山), lit. "skyscraping mountain," is the name of the mountain that houses the palaces of the emperor/empress and province lords in each kingdom. The Royal En describes the Sea of Clouds in chapter 57 of Shadow of the Moon.
The education system is briefly explained in chapter 50 of Shadow of the Moon:

Shire-level preparatory schools are called jogaku and prefectural academies are called shougaku. Students aiming for a district academy (joushou) can do their preparatory work at a prefectural academy, or can attend a prefectural polytechnic college (shoujo).

A successful student would proceed from there to the provincial colleges and finally to the Imperial University.

「木」 is a tree, so 「森」 is a forest. 「虫」 is an insect, so 「蟲」 is a swarm. Another species of mushi shows up in Mushi-shi (蟲師), the manga/anime/feature film created by Yuki Urushibara.

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