Friday, July 28, 2006

I started watching my DVDs of the first season of Ranma 1/2 last night, as sort of a preparation for the Con, which is coming up next week.

I have an attachment to Ranma 1/2 which is oddly disproportionate to my respect (or lack thereof) for the show. I recognize its flaws, and its inherent limit - how it degenerates so quickly, how it operates almost entirely at the surface, how essentially sexist and borderline racist it really is. But it was the first anime I really connected with in an emotional sense. It really blew my mind when I encountered it at the end of my freshman year of college, and it dominated my attention for months afterwards. I went out & rented a VCR before leaving for the summer, copied a new friend's set of episodes, and watched them into oblivion during that summer. I almost have the dialog memorized - and I don't [technically] understand Japanese!

For me, the first season of Ranma is like the nostalgia equivalent of crank. It gives a memory buzz stronger than the remembrances of lost landmarks, first loves, and great accomplishments. I recognize that these emotions are transferences - the associations and displacements of friendships and worlds for which this goofy fighting-harem show is just a sort of signpost and stand-in for the thing itself.

But even signposts have a sort of value for those who find themselves in strange and lonesome places, mindful of the distant roads that lead us, someday, home.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Have you ever heard of the Buckshot War? This came up in the course of a discussion over whether an incumbent governor of Pennsylvania had ever been voted out of office. In short, yes, such an event took place, in the election of 1838, when the Whig-Anti-Mason Governor Ritner was defeated by his Democratic rival Porter, and the lame-duck governor tried to seize the arsenal in Harrisburg, made faces at crowds of Democratic activists, and tried to talk Captain E.V. Sumner of the Carlisle Barracks into calling out the Dragoons in support of his version of the new State House of Representatives. (Yes, that Sumner.) For an alternate version of the Buckshot War, see here.

I had no idea that the commonwealth came that close to an armed outbreak. It seems, if less violent than the periodic outbreaks of public disorder in Allegheny County (IE, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Battle of Homestead, etc), somehow more alarming in that it was the sitting governor attempting to overthrow the duly-elected legislature by resort to force of arms in the capital. Indeed, the second account almost reads like an alternate-history version of the pre-war machinations in the spring of 1861 in Missouri and Kentucky, with Sumner standing in for Lyons and - hrm, who was the officer in place in Kentucky?

Which really sends me off on another wild-goose-chase, because I just don't know much about Kentucky's early-Civil-War history. I can find an equivalent of Jim Lane or Sigel - that would be Lovell Rousseau. Hrm, this suggests it would have been William "Bull" Nelson, although I don't quite see how a naval officer had control over state arsenals - he wasn't commissioned in the Union Army until September according to Wikipedia.

Friday, July 21, 2006

It's the week of the San Diego Comic Con, and thus new-license time. A lot of the CMX releases sound promising, especially Canon and Variante. But you know what gets my goat? Del Rey went and grabbed up Parasyte/Kiseiju after TokyoPop lost the license. Damnit, I spent a ton of money last year picking up the crummy half-arsed flopped versions. Don't make me go and spend a similar wad of cash to get 'em done right *now*. Well, I never did get the first volume...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Just as a by the by, Skip Beat is just as nifty as I was promised by Big Dave. For all those who've been grousing about the anti-feminist tendencies of shoujo heroines, I offer you Skip Beat's Kyoko.

Kyoko starts out as a sweet-tempered milquetoast worker-bee doormat for her would-be pop-star drone of a boyfriend, Sho. He essentially ran away from home & his parents' attempts to get him to marry some dull girl & take over the family inn. His purpose in doing this was to become a "celebrity" (damnit, I can give you odds that this term was almost certainly "idol" before the translator got a hold of it). As he left his hick town, he idly managed to talk childhood friend Kyoko into running away to Tokyo with him, inspiring her to drop out of school and work multiple jobs in support of his pretty, indolent, rather insolent self. She's his biggest supporter, and aside from a certain manic intensity, is your basic self-sacrificing shoujo heroine.

That is, until she overhears him bragging to his manager how he basically considers her a "servant", is kind of contemptuous about how little effort it took to talk her into leaving with him, and drops the news in passing that he's getting the education she's denied herself & that *she* was the "dull girl" his parents were trying to get him to marry. At this point our heroine kind of suffers a full-on psychotic break, and transforms into a *much* more interesting character, one organized around rage, vengeance, and irritability. All while striving to become an idol/celebrity herself, mostly just to spite her ex.

It's a ball, and I can only hope the mangaka doesn't let her revert *too* much to her original self-denying sweetness, although there is some suggestion that this will be the essential thematic conflict. That is, our heroine is a bitter, enraged, alarming personage attempting to make it in a career which rewards sweetness, inoffensiveness, and lovability. The people at the talent agency find themselves stampeded a little bit by the sheer intensity of her new-lit bonfire of a personality, but at the same time quite professionally certain that she'll never make it, because she refuses to be "loved". It's a promising train-wreck, if the author can pull it off.

OK, I admit it, I mostly posted this just to get that new Greg Mankiw blog link up on the blogroll. But Skip Beat is pretty keen.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I'm reading the Hagerman book, which isn't as revolutionary as I had heard, but then, older books of analysis can be somewhat underwhelming if you've read the works written since then in reaction. You're getting the points already processed & denigrated or taken into account by those who've followed in the writer's foot-steps.

More striking is the significant number of minor errors of fact, the text often mistaking one river for another - saying so-and-so discussed a 1863 campaign from the Rappahannock to the James, where I'm pretty sure the author meant Rappahannock to the Potomac, or talking about Lee planning a move from Gettysburg to the Rappahannock, where the logic and the actual planning was for a movement behind the Potomac & into the Valley, confusing references to a "Fourth Corps" at a time when there was no such organization with the Army of the Potomac, floating discussions of a "Second Division" without indication of which corps said division belonged to, etc etc. Well, that and all of the nonsense on stilts about Chancellorsville demonstrating the inability of offensive tactical use of artillery & Buford's delaying action before Gettysburg demonstrating the fading of cavalry notions of shock tactics, but those are matters of analysis and not fact.

The reason I bring this up is that Hagerman mentions in passing that Lee was a member of Mahan's Napoleon Club, and this challenged my notions of Lee & my understanding of the events of Lee's life and career. So I went looking online, and the most authoritative online reference I can find is this passage from Freeman's Lee biography. All the other online references are brief notes airily asserting Lee's membership or "sponsorship" in his capacity as West Point commandant. Since those references also erroneously assert that the Napoleon Club was founded several years after McClellan graduated from the Academy, I think I can safely discard them as less than authoritative.

Freeman essentially says that he doesn't know that Lee attended meetings, although he believes that it occurred - the records had been destroyed in a fire, and he spends most of his discussion of the period listing the books Lee took out of the West Point library on military history, instead of on Mahan or the Napoleon Club.

I don't know - the Freeman biography is very old at this point, and perhaps somebody somewhere has done some more work on the subject, but if so, it doesn't show itself online in a quick google. Are there any monographs on the Club, particularly on this alleged sponsorship by Lee as commandant?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sorry about the radio silence. All of the work I wasn't getting last week due to the holiday doldrums came crashing down on my head like the much-recently-threatened-hereabouts flash-flood of legend.

In other news, the landlady's contractor[s] have started working on my roof, in a peculiar and drawn-out fashion, which seems to feature a scrawny guy in a mustache and no shirt climbing around the outside of my apartment & asking me questions through the open windows, and randomly tearing off strips of the roof in no particular order, in obedience to no particular scheme that I can detect or deduce. I'd complain about it choosing to rain just as they started this process, except it's been raining every other day regardless of what we mere mortals have been choosing to do with our time, so it was going to happen whenever the process started, regardless of timing.

Went off to go swimming last Sunday. The pool at Governors' Park is $4 per day for adults, $3 for children, and is open, theoretically, noon to 8 PM. Dunno if that's just the weekend, or weekdays as well. So, I swam. Not as much fun as I remember it being from my childhood, but then, I think it had something to do with socializing and goofing around, and I'm a bit old for that sort of thing, given the age of the crowd, such as it was.

Friday, July 07, 2006

This article in the New Scientist seems to argue that the North Atlantic Conveyer Belt is *not* the primary driver of northwestern European climatic mildness, but is rather dwarfed by atmospheric warming (having to do with patterns driven by the Rockies) and northwestern Europe's natural enjoyment of a "maritime climate". In other words, western Europe has mild weather because the wind comes from the west, over the massive heat sink of the Atlantic, and from the south, due to the atmosphere rebounding from its prior subarctic swing over southeastern North America.

The *logic* seems solid, although I naturally know next to nothing about the model-work, nor do they really offer any details. But essentially, they're arguing against the idea that a sort of Young Dryas redux is anywhere in the cards, and seem to suggest that any modern shut-down of the North Atlantic Conveyer by global warming will be swamped by the accompanying warming itself, leaving western Europe pretty much at scratch.

Link via Jonah Goldberg at the Corner.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Here's the AoD blog round-up on licenses. What's that Honneamise thing? Bandai Visual? Whoever they are, they're idiots if they think that anyone will find Wings of Rean interesting. It's been a really long time since the original Gunbuster was available, though. That might be a good 'un, although perhaps it's the sepiatones of nostalgia speaking, there.
Hmm. I really liked what I've seen of Black Lagoon, not sure what I think of Geneon licensing it. They have a nasty habit of refusing to release bricks & thin-paks until their stock ends up in the hands of liquidators. Eh, we'll see. Maybe ADV and Bandai'll chase 'em onto the thin-pak bandwagon.
I had been thinking when I heard that Right Stuf snabbed the second season of SuperGALS out from under ADV, that it was a show made for rental, but then I noticed that they're releasing it sub-only, in a single brick for under $50. Maybe I can talk Big Dave into buying it, since he picked up the first season on the cheap way back when... y'know, to complete his collection. I mean, I'd like to see the rest of it...
Yeah, if you're finding subversion in Aishiteruze Baby, you're looking too hard. I won't say it's all surface, but that mangaka isn't really one for deep thoughts or elaborate games. She's set out to draw out a triangle where the essential emotional arc isn't romantic, but rather parental. Kippei demonstrates his worthiness by being a good mother to poor abandoned Yuzuru, and thus attracts Kokoro, whose traumatic childhood loss of her mother couldn't be more obviously Grown Up Metaphorical Yuzuru if the mangaka had hung a sign to that effect around her neck. It's about as family-values as shoujo comics get.

Well, ok, maybe it's a little subversive. But only if what is being subverted is the notion of romantic love as the be-all, end-all of narrative. And really, that's a pretty abstract sort of subversion.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I read that $.25 copy of Forrest Gump I picked up in a bag-sale at the Bellefonte library a while back. The first page reminded me of something I had read once, but had forgotten until now: the book and the movie are wildly divergent works of pop art. The only appearance of the "box of chocolates" metaphor in the book is on that first page, where Forrest informs the reader that "Bein' an idiot is no box of chocolates". It's really quite amusing for the first third of the novel, like a smartass fanfic version of the movie, full of snark and meanspiritedness and general ill will.

Winston Groom's original Forrest Gump is a polar opposite of the dunce-saint I remembered from the movie. He's faintly bigoted, has actual political views (everytime someone asks him about Vietnam, he says "it's a lot of shit"), smokes so much pot that he gets addicted to the stuff, is enough of an idiot-savant to play chess grandmasters, screws around, and in general behaves like a regular, fallen member of mankind. In many ways, this alternative Gump is barely any kind of idiot at all, which I suppose is where Groom was going with the final message-line of the book, having Jenny say something about everyone being some kind of idiot or another.

The Gump of the novel gets around a lot more than the movie-Gump, pelting the Clerk of the Senate with his Metal of Honor, saving Chairman Mao from drowning, becoming an astronaut, and spending four years as the slave of a tribe of cannibals in New Guinea, picking cotton. Did I mention the racism? Groom seems to be a real piece of work, and I swear this novel set back my opinion of the "New South" at least fifteen years.

At first I was delighted with the differences from the movie. The book reads like a meanspirited *satire* of the movie. However, by the time this Gump had gotten back from Vietnam and was auditing a Harvard literature class on "Idiots in World Literature" I was kind of pining for the Tom Hanks fool-saint and his passion-play decency. The difference between the movie-version and the book-version of Lieutenant Dan really brought home the difference, illustrated the *value* of Hollywood moralities. All of the pathos, the moral stature of the Lieutenant Dan arc had been an invention of the screen-writers, and the original Dan, stripped of all of that inventive family history and sense of destiny denied, turned out to be nothing more than a legless, drunken scumbag. There's no redemption in Groom's Gump, and that kind of sucks.