Friday, January 30, 2009

God, what a pompous ass. Textbook projection. Wanna bet Ron has a heavily foxed, falling-apart copy of Catcher in the Rye somewhere near his bed-post? Probably hidden behind a bookstore-fresh, never-read copy of Franny and Zooey.

Not that I'm much of a Billy Joel fan. "We Didn't Start The Fire" is galactically bad, and most of his stuff is kind of eh. Rosenbaum's right about "Allentown" being crap, but not because of any sort of imagined contempt. The song is phony, artifical and worse, schmaltz. It's a college-student's idea of what life's like, and what it used to be like, in a dying factory town. It's an act of imagination by a not-particularly-imaginative hack. But Joel was occasionally a skilled hack on other occasions - I liked "River of Dreams" and some of his blue-eyed soul stuff - so I'm inclined to give him an existential pass.

Just don't make me listen to "We Didn't Start The Fire" or "Allentown" again.

Jim Geraghty, live-blogging the RNC officers' elections:
Another reporter notes that the RNC has to be out of the ballroom by 5 p.m. because a wedding is slated to use the room starting at 5:30. Besides the RNC Chair, the RNC has to elect several other positions, including co-chair, secretary, and treasurer.

Every con-runner's been in that position. It's just a hell of a lot more... prosaic and small-time than anything you'd associate with the guys running one of the two national political parties.
Well, crap. I don't follow too many TokyoPop titles anymore, but I've already had two or three orphaned manga from them - Suppli and Platinum Garden - and two titles from their light novel line which is now one with the ages. It's better than Viz seizing up & falling over, but it's never good when the former-leader in an industry segment starts zombifying before our eyes like this.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Embarrassing confession time: not only do I regularly confuse Arthur Miller with Norman Mailer, but I also have been conflating Norah Vincent with Sarah Vowell. Oops. Well, at least I managed to *not* give my sister the cross-dressing lesbian journalist's latest socially subversive performance-art piece for Christmas. Lucky for me, it didn't come out in time. Which reminds me, I need to get around to finding my own copy of the Wordy Shipmates to read.

In my defense, they're both semi-comedic writers with last names starting with "V" who've written for Salon, which is probably where I got the idea that they were the same person. Yes, I used to read Salon.

I told you I used to be a very bad Republican.

h/t Glenn Reynolds.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Did you know that Wil Eisner's last comic book was a collaboration with Umberto Eco about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery? Ordered, but geez, that puts some really rank crap into my "Recommendations" listings on Amazon.
When did Momotato Daioh turn into a Unarian math? A few years ago? At any rate, January 1st is Apert for Momotato.
I'm getting kind of wroth with Del Rey & their slipping standards. Yozakura Quartet is an OK-if-not-great urban-fantasy comic, but the translation is just full of holes. They'll translate all the silly crap in interstitials about tertiary characters' favorite musicians and and comedians, but when the protagonist obstentiously writes something portentous in the heroine's mayoral log as the introduction to a big, showy Power Walk, then hey, the readers don't need to know just what the heck he was writing, right? It was just left in the original kanji & kana.

The translator did similar things in previous volumes, where we were just given the original, untranslated Japanese bulonium terms for various invented fantasy elements of the plot, without any explanation of what the hell the characters were talking about for chapters at a time. Now, admittedly, the original terms used were probably gibberish in Japanese as well, but it looks like they were a lot less obscure in the original than in the version delivered to the American audience. And I still say there's too much gassing on about obscure Japanese pop culture references in the endnotes, and not enough explanation of the made-up fantastic elements. It's a serious lack of prioritization of translation, if you ask me.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Wheee! Cartoon binge! Dennou Coil, Red Garden, and various favorite episodes from the Dini/Timm Superman late-Nineties series. I never got around to watching the fansubs of the last few episodes of Red Garden, so it's nice to know how that series ended. Very "Twilight of the Gods", really. The two-part OVA "Dead Girls" was pretty unexpected. I'm not sure what it was I was expecting - some sort of flashback or re-telling of the main story, maybe? But the delivered show was peculiar in a way which I can't really describe without massively spoiling the TV series. Dead Girls was an awful lot like Batman Beyond, actually. Cut maybe with Anne Rice.

But Dennou Coil. I'm kind of on the fence about how to rave about that show. It's like the demon spawn of My Neighbor Totoro and Serial Experiments Lain, half cheery Miyazaki-NHK children's extravaganza, half gloomy haunted cyberpunkish psychological mystery. On the one hand, bright spritely Ghibliesque crowd-pleasing spectaculars, and on the other hand, complicated emo wangst, tormented little kids in peril, and urban legends about dead girls. I'm not sure if the mainstream would eat it up, or be completely confused and repelled. It's utterly brilliant, but there was perhaps about a half-episode's too much of the wangst and emotional gnashing-of-teeth in the conclusion. It *needs* to be released in North America, but I'm not sure if it'd be successful. It bears strong structural and thematic resemblance to Fantastic Children, and that pretty much dropped into the marketplace & sank without a ripple.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Up late last night listening to the commentary on Big Trouble in Little China. Kurt Russell and John Carpenter have known each other too long to be doing commentaries together. They spent five entire minutes bragging past each other about their respective teenagers instead of talking about the film. It was like a ringside seat at someone's family reunion. What the hell ever happened to Dennis Dun, anyways? Nothing but TV bit parts since Prince of Darkness.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Finally got around to watching the Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz OAVs, and they're complete and total hogwash. Pretty, but horribly, horribly stupid. A meaningless re-tread of the same rattle-brained set of themes as the TV series, which at least had the virtue of simplicity and single-mindedness. None of the characters' motivations in the OAVs made any sense, and stuff seemed to happen just because they had finished storyboards available to animate from. One can't help but figure that randomly shuffling the storyboards wouldn't have materially affected the story.
I'd forgotten just how disgusting some episodes of Requiem from the Darkness could get. I watched the fansubs, back when it was still being called "Hundred Ghost Stories", and bought the Geneon DVDs on the cheap last year. It isn't a show that you can marathon in a single sitting, so I've been watching an episode here and there. Last night, I sat down to eat some cheddar sausages and watch a single episode, and got murder, necrophilia, gas-bloated corpses, and maggots with my dinner. You know it's an ugly show for dinnertime viewing when the least repulsive episode on a disc is about child dismemberment. Lucky I have a strong stomach...
So I was thinking about the other day's Dark Knight drivel, and worrying that I might be wandering into "Grand Inquisitor" territory. Do you think Bruce Wayne's ending position in that movie could be described as Grand Inquisitor lite? It is a deliberate reliance on falsehood and self-scapegoating on the part of an elite to save the souls of the general run of humanity, in short, an argument that salvation must forever travel with a bodyguard of lies.

But then, the Grand Inquisitor is more about freedom and agency than the problem of evil. Different cultures, different politics, different fixations, I suppose. Subjugation for us isn't the issue it was to the Russian intellectual, after all. If Batman in all his incarnations is about anything, thematically, it's about civic lawlessness, urban disorder, the problem of evil in the city.

There is no real hunger in Gotham, as there is in Doestoyevsky's Russia, or the Grand Inquisitor's Seville, and thus all that about bread goes over our heads, whereas in Doestoyevsky, it was intended to go right through the literal gut. "Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!" For those who have seen what virtues the well-fed, fat, lawless poor are capable of, this is an ironic demand. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, "Make us your slaves, but feed us." Oh, how ironic this one is, when the fools of Hollywood pledge their literal servitude to a new king on the day of his crowning.

But really, truly, the cup of "Mystery" and its self-regarding moral pride is a temptation. It's hard to not get caught up with Ivan in his enthusiasm for his creation's towering egotism.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I don't know why, but it feels colder this morning than it did last week, when we had the real Arctic cold round these parts. Maybe because I had the heat turned up further to compensate last week? But I'm sitting at my desk here at work, and my toes are still half-frozen a half-hour after coming into the office. It's not as if I'm the one setting the thermostat here in the the office.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

So, I got the news last night that Neal, my former roommate from the days at Quest Labs, has shipped out for the Sandbox. He & the rest of the 56th Stryker Brigade should be passing through Kuwait into the theatre in the next week or so. Good luck to the Bloody Bucket, and here's hoping the elections go quietly and safely.

Stay safe if you can, and kick ass if you have to.
Jessica's requested meme, from One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg, by Eric Wittenberg et al:
Imagine a long column of cavalry winding its way up the mountain side, on a road dug out of the mountain side, which sloped at an angle of thirty degrees just wide enough for four horses to march abreast - on one side a deep abyss and on the other an impassable barrier, in the shape of a steep embankment; the hour ten o'clock at night, a drizzling rain falling, the sky overcast, and so dark as literally not to be able to see one's own hand if placed within a foot of the organs of vision; the whole command, both men and animals, worn out with fatigue and loss of sleep...

It is, itself, a quote from a New York Times correspondent's description of Custer's brigade riding towards what would be a successful ambush of a retreating Confederate wagon train in Monterrey Pass over South Mountain after Gettysburg.
Fabius Maximus tried to illustrate the real-world application of the Dark Knight aphorism about men who 'just want to watch the world burn', and went seriously into the ditches by citing one Baju Bajrangi, a Hindu nationalist-fascist, terrorist and murderer. As Bill Quick points out, Bajrangi isn't a *textbook* pure-nihilist, in that he's clearly reacting to an initial atrocity with reciprocal atrocities. But I'm not satisfied with Quick's answer. It's incomplete, at least partially because the moral tableau established by that movie is incompletely described by Fabius Maximus. Let me explain.

The Dark Knight's action isn't just about a nihilist-terrorist and his hero-opposite. Rather, the movie presents us with The Joker, our man who 'wants to see the world burn', and two would-be heroes, established man-within-the-system District Attorney Harvey Dent, and the masked vigilante, Bruce Wayne/Batman. The Joker's goal isn't physical destruction for its own sake, but rather moral destruction. The world he wants to burn isn't tangible, physical, or ephiphomenal, but rather existential. He wants to burn down moral constructs, what he sees as social fictions. He's looking to find the flaw in the shining lie which is Harvey Dent, Pugnacious Hero-Reformer of the Corrupt City, and smash him utterly.

I can't remember where I picked this up, but somewhere out there is an archaic definition of "monster" as "in fiction, a person warped such that his or her personality presents a moral or ethical lesson." The Joker is convinced of the essential, irredeemable wickedness of man, and is looking for a person to make into his monster, a public soul to carve into the most shocking and monstrous of moral lessons. The middle of the Dark Knight, in which he places Dent into an impossible situation & shatters him into the disfigured, monstrous Two-Face, is The Joker's lit brand flung into the prepared bon-fire which is Gotham. Two-Face is the world set on fire, the atrocious response to atrocity.

In so far as the monster Two-Face is Harvey Dent in flames, he is the world on fire. He's an example of moral corruption and madness, whose very existence spreads the fire as sparks on rooftops in a crowded tinder-dry city. It's only when that fire-brand is extinguished and its very existence buried as in an unmarked grave by Wayne that The Joker's plot is defeated. In order to preserve the Heroic Dent, Wayne co-opts Two-Face's crimes & obscures The Joker's monster by subsuming him in Wayne's own moral lesson, a monster called the Batman.

There's a rich lode of metaphors in this narrative, and the Man Who Wants To See The World Burn is probably the most trivial of these. There are men like this throughout the academy, and all over Hollywood. Every third hip-hop, rock, and punk musician is probably somewhat inclined towards this point of view. Cheap nihilism is more common than not in the absence of proper moral instruction, and that particular duty has been neglected for the last hundred years and more. Socialized sociopathy is the end-result of the refusal to offer proper moral instruction on the part of our teachers and parents. The prisons are full of them, and if the streets are not even fuller, it's only because The Joker's belief that mankind is universally, essentially and irredeemably corrupt is at least as wrong as the belief that man is born free & everywhere lives in chains. Perhaps this is somewhat occluded by the relative rarity of socialized sociopaths with The Joker's corrupted-Calvinist view-point, as the more popular mind-sets are Rousseauian, in either the anarchic or totalizing trends.

But enough of that. We've had five generations of perfected brand-burning, fire-bombing, and pre-meditated arson. Men like Harvey Dent are even more common than the cheap nihilists, and Fabius Maximus's Bajrangi sounds like a Two-Face to me - not a man who wants to see the world burn, but rather the world itself on fire. He is the atrocious response to atrocity. Jokers are answerable on their own terms, as arsonists to be stripped of their matches, but what do you do with a man on fire? Extinguishing them seems often to be the simplest answer.

Monday, January 19, 2009

So, I ended up helping a friend move out on Saturday. Quite by accident - called as I walked past their place on the way to the grocery store, found out that was the day they were packing up her stuff in a U-Haul. So, I stuck around and helped them pack a U-Haul on what had been promised to be The Coldest Day Of The Year. We warmed up fast, but boy, U-Haul ramps are fun with slush-slicked bootheels. We couldn't get into the self-storage locker at first, and had to take a trenching tool to the ice-pack to free it from the deathly Icy Grip of Winter. We made much fun of her Saarinen-esque stackable chairlike torture devices.

They dropped me off at the grocery store on the way out of town. You don't often see a 24-foot U-Haul making a u-turn in the Weis Market parking lot. Least not around these parts.
Anime licensing wish-list:

1)Bamboo Blade. Hey, Funimation! You bothered to issue cease-and-desists for Enoki Films, why not follow up on that ukase with an actual license? It's a damned good sports anime, relatively light-hearted with a serious, ethical core which places moral development over competitive advantage.

2)Zipang re-release. I bought the first volume of the Geneon singles release cheap at TRSI, and got around to watching it yesterday. It seems like the sixth volume is unavailable, and Funimation/Geneon hasn't talked about doing a re-release in half-season or full-season sets. Admittedly, a time-travel war anime about a JSDF AEGIS destroyer flung back into WWII from the Japanese point of view isn't exactly the best fit for American audiences, but the first four episodes weren't nearly as jingoistic or morally myopic as they could have been, given the typical Japanese blind spots on the Pacific War.

3)Kodocha 2nd season set. This is more of a complaint about the new Funimation release, which is peppered with mysterious Japanese audio drop-outs. At first I thought it was more legal-issue fall-out from the SMAP hissyfit which ate the original Kodocha opening animation & those intermittent appearances by the band in the anime proper, but said audio drop-outs appear periodically in situations where there oughtn't be any sort of musical background. What's up with that?
Since I have nothing of importance to say, I thought I should start nattering on about unimportant crap again, if only to reassure any folks who might be wondering that no, I have not yet made my way for the Grey Havens...

I've been buying a *lot* of manga. It's much, much cheaper in bulk at TRSI, and I went on a serious binge late last fall. As a result, I've got dozens of volumes sitting on my to-read stack on my 'breakfast table'.

One of the pleasant surprises has been CMX's Dorothea, by one-named mangaka Cuvie. CMX is one of those publishers which is a total crapshoot: they seem to just pick licenses out of a hat, so that there's no real guarantee one way or the other. Dorothea is one of the pleasant "hits" - a historical Joan-of-Arcish sword-and-politics comic from their high-end "Mature" imprint. The heroine is an albino swordmaiden-type from a vaguely pagan pocket of the late-fifteenth-century Germanies who goes off to be a mercenary with a Landesknecht company to "see the world with her own eyes", in hopes of preserving her homeland.

The political details and realism is relatively high, and impressively well-thought-out, at least for manga. There's an acknowledgment of both sides of most arguments, and while our heroine's intentions are manga-pure, she still lives in a real, consequential world. She's virtuously opposed to mercenary looting, and yet her intervention is ferociously rebuffed by the protected with the furious observation that she had just personally slaughtered the protector of the household being looted.

I say "relatively" because the details are kind of wonky - German Waldensians were supposedly pacifistic and certainly aren't famous for being witch-burners, and Nauders & Ems are on opposite sides of the Germanies from each other - but hey, you make allowances for mangaka, especially when they start in on abtruse subjects like 15th-century German religious politics. And it's clearly supposed to be some sort of alternate-history...

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Important post on the limits of centralized command in COIN, namely, the perils of "Major Hundred Miles". But I've recently heard a training story about an artillery officer which suggest that there can be reason to ride pretty close on any particular officer's tendency to think with his nifty new smart shell toy.