The Gears of Destiny

On Christmas Day, I received the limited edition version (which they decided to tag as the "God Box" for no apparent reason) of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny, a game that officially came out two days earlier on the 23rd. (Incidentally, I now have two decent-sized boxes with Nanoha characters on them, that and the 1st Movie limited edition DVD set. Pretty soon I will be able to store all of my stuff in Nanoha boxes.) Since then, I have logged nearly twenty hours of play time, unlocked all the characters, and ran the entire story mode through to completion.

Yes, I like what I got for Christmas. Is it that obvious? Anyway, I figured I'd ramble on about my new game a little, so I guess you could call this a review of sorts?

The game itself is a fighting game at its core. It's distinguished particularly by a mechanic that's carried over from the last Nanoha PSP game, the distinction between close and long range combat. At first, at close to medium range (defined by a circle around your character), the game is a 2D style fighting game, although lacking anything like the combos that you get in most such games. Once you open the range, however, battle shifts to a long range mode, and your controls change over to provide you with a new set of attacks.

Of course, like pretty much any Japanese game I can think of (certainly any of the ones I play), the game has a well-developed story, presented in visual novel style interludes between individual fights. I rather suspect that it helps for the game to call upon an existing cast of characters, and there's no doubting that the story would be much less understandable to someone who didn't know anything about the Nanoha world. (Setting aside, of course, the fact that it is all in Japanese. I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking of translating it, but I haven't bothered checking to see if anyone's actually gotten anywhere with that yet.)

The story itself is very typically Nanoha. Unknown new people arrive in Nanoha's world, and the antagonists from the last game are revived along with a whole host of new issues. The two original characters for this game, Kyrie and Amitie (or usually just Amita) Florian, are at the center of it all, and they're fighting with each other on top of that. Like pretty much every Nanoha story, it's gloriously over the top (time to save the world again!) and yet it's good at bringing out the characters and making them unique and interesting. Especially the original characters, or the original characters from the first game (the Materials, dark versions of Nanoha, Fate, and Hayate), all of whom get their own personalities and idiosyncrasies.

The game play itself is honestly a little more forgettable, to tell the truth. The AI in the game is... somewhat spotty. At close range, it's far more capable than I am, most of the time. Which doesn't stop me from scoring my own points in close range combat, but usually I just back away until I'm back into long range combat. And while the AI in the game is not half bad at defending or dodging in long range combat, it attacks infrequently at best, and even sometimes without thought for its attacks' actual capabilities.

I would like to be able to test the fighting out when playing against another human being, but for that I have to find another human being with a PSP and a copy of Gears of Destiny. I rather suspect close range combat with another human being would be an exercise in irritation, as it's set up somewhat like rock-paper-scissors. Attack beats throw, throw beats guard, guard beats attack. As for long range combat, well, that would be a little more interesting, especially with the wide variety of Nanoha-verse special attacks on display.

On that note, there are 23 characters in the game. Don't ask me who my main is, because I haven't decided. They're all fun to play as, although again I suspect a lot of that is my being familiar with all of them as a result of being a fan of the series in general. Some are better at close or long range than others, depending on their attack strength and available long range attacks. Though the game makes no outward note of this, they seem to have different amounts of health, even. Some attacks are repeated between characters, or at least versions thereof; usually there's some relation between the characters in question, and it's explained away in-universe with the "character X taught a version of that to character Y."

So what does this all boil down to? Like any game of its type, I certainly agree that Gears of Destiny appeals almost exclusively to fans of the source material in question. I'd like to believe that the fighting is exciting and interesting enough to be fun anyway, but first we have to see how long even I stick with it, and a week isn't quite enough time to judge. If you have even a passing interest in the Nanoha series, it's absolutely worth it; otherwise it's an odd kind of fighting game with a lot of shiny explosions and not a whole lot else.


A Japanese (Cultural) Invasion

As long as I'm thinking about games, I suppose I might take a moment to wonder how many other people on this side of the Pacific share my particular gaming preferences. Or to put it differently: is there anyone else in the entire state of Maryland (or Massachusetts) that actually owns a copy of either Weiss Schwarz Portable or Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny? Does the number of people with those games in the entire U.S. break into four digits? Or even three?

Normally, it's safe to say that out of a sufficiently large sample, the odds are that the answer to any question of that type is "yes". I can't be the only one to take an interest in the Weiss Schwarz card game, after all, and I'm certainly not the only one to be interested in Nanoha. But what actually are the odds that I'll meet another such person? Even when I was in Japan, I met pretty much no one who shared my interests. That was, of course, partially my fault, as I failed to seek out Doshisha's anime club. And there's a lesson that could perhaps be discussed about making your dreams happen. But that's for another time and another post.

What is certain is that the normal "well, plenty of other people are out there" is not necessarily as reliable. I know that I like to think - or perhaps "hope" is a better term - that it would be possible for Japanese media to do well in American markets. That if the Nanoha movie was a region 1 DVD rather than a region 2, it could sell as it is (it has English subtitles); if Weiss Schwarz was translated, it could find its own following here.

This necessarily assumes that there are a sufficiently large number of others like me who would buy these things, of course. Is that a valid assumption...? I don't actually know. Of course, some companies are finding out already. Fate/extra is one of those American PSP games I have, and pretty much all that was done to it was a straight translation of the dialogue before it received an American release. (As far as I can tell, anyway.)

Part of the problem is the fan base. We descend now into my rampant speculation... but I would suspect that Weiss Schwarz gets by on fans of each individual anime and game that see their characters in trading card form. Likewise, this new Nanoha PSP game has its own story and even some unique characters, but it's quite obviously directed pretty much entirely at someone who has played the prior PSP game and seen most if not all of the anime series plus the movie.

I'm not going to say that those people don't exist in the U.S., because I'm clearly a counterexample to that. But to bring the card game, or either of the aforementioned PSP games, over to the U.S., they would first have to be translated, and that costs money. So the question is, is there enough of a fan base to make enough money back in return for that investment?

Fans try to make up for the lack of demand by creating fan translations of works. Even I might do that for the Gears of Destiny game... I don't have the skill to create a patch for the game (or the desire, for that matter), but I damn well might translate at least the story. But then, what need is there to create a localized version? The fans have their translations, and can buy the original version. No one else will even notice that the game exists.

In short, if I want to see these kinds of games sold in American stores (as they manifestly deserve to be, in my most likely highly biased opinion), all I can do is ensure that Japanese media gains wider exposure and wider mainstream acceptance in American society. So that's what I'll do.


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

If you're wondering what I've been doing over the past few weeks, well, part of that has to do with finals. Last few weeks of a semester are always heavy on the workload. Of course, I was done with everything several days ago, so what was I doing over the past few days...? That also has a simple answer: Skyward Sword.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the newest incarnation of that all too famous franchise. Had I not been playing it quite intensely over the past few days (I believe I logged over forty hours of play time), I might even be inclined to listen to the usual charge of "making the same game over again." Certainly, Nintendo loves its franchises, mostly because they keep bringing in the money. Mario, Pokemon, and Zelda would count as the big three, I think, although certainly they aren't the only ones. (Metroid also comes to mind.)

And there is a grain of truth to the argument, really. Certainly, playing through Skyward Sword, I saw all of the same elements that I've seen in prior Zelda games. I won't go into too much detail, of course, since no doubt there are people that might read this who don't want the game spoiled. What I will say is this: Skyward Sword deserves to be compared favorably to any of its predecessors. In my opinion, it is the best iteration of the series since, and including, Ocarina of Time.

Yes, I just claimed that it's better than that venerable N64 title. There's a simple reason for that: this game is interactive in a way no modern Zelda game has ever tried to be.

I am a huge fan of the bow, both inside the Zelda games and, to be honest, in real life. (Which isn't to say I have any skill with one.) I fondly remember the Hidden Village from Twilight Princess, which was basically one long excuse to snipe a bunch of enemies. I consider it no spoiler to say that the bow does appear in Skyward Sword as well.

And once I had it, I quickly realized that I could play with it. One of the features that appears in Skyward Sword? Equipment can be upgraded, and you have a limited number of gear slots to play with for stuff that isn't mission critical. In past games, you'd find things like an upgraded quiver and bomb bag, which would then simply be part of your gear. In this one, you have to carry those kinds of things with you, and carrying one means you don't have space for another.

Which meant that in the end, I was ludicrously bow-heavy. Normally, you can carry 20 arrows; I was carrying sixty-five. With a fully upgraded bow to boot. In between that, a shield, and four bottles (two fairies, two potions), that was it for my gear.

The point being, though? Someone else's final loadout will look very different than mine. Someone else went straight for the slingshot upgrade and stocked up on seed satchels. Perhaps another went for a balanced system that didn't prioritize anything in particular. Depending on how you wanted to play, you could leave all of that at home and focus on carrying useful potions!

Is it the same style game as the last several Legend of Zelda games? Broadly, yes. That doesn't mean that it can't be a fresh experience, in its own ways. And damned fun to boot.


The Modern Republican Party

This morning, I was reading the Boston Globe and found that someone had sent in a very interesting letter to the editor. You know, given the frankly pathetic state of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, it's not surprising that some conservatives might be losing faith a little in their ability to take the 2012 presidential election against Obama. And this letter reflected that slightly, although it was not a gloomy or disappointed one at all.

No, in fact, it was a slight admonishment, because we're all looking at the wrong race, it seems. Who cares about the presidential election? There are 30+ seats up for grabs in the Senate after all. Would that it have stopped there, as a simple reassurance that all is not lost for the Republican party even if they don't beat Obama next year. Sadly, the letter instead chose to leave us with this thought: that the Republicans, in taking control of the Senate, will be able to ensure that Obama can't do anything through 2016.

Seriously? I wish I could say this surprised me, that the goal here is to make Obama look bad by any means necessary. Of course, it doesn't. Pretty much since we started this presidency, we've been seeing this almost blind hatred of Obama from the right wing that's completely disconnected from anything he's actually doing. We've been seeing that the modern Republican Party would rather shut this entire country down than to see it run by Obama. And then they have the audacity to turn around and accuse the left wing of trying to destroy America!

The worst part? If that's the course that the modern Republican Party chooses, we're all going to pay the price.


Safety and Control

Most cities, including Boston, have laws requiring that public events and protests be approved ahead of time, through permits and the like. If there is a justification for removing the Occupy protesters, this could be one possible argument. In this vein, the city argued at the recent court hearing regarding Occupy Boston that said occupation was in violation of fire and safety codes.

Well, they're only concerned about the safety and health of the protesters, right? Surely that's not such a bad thing! Of course, then the Boston police department promptly took away the fire-resistant tent that the protesters tried to bring in. The answer to "how can we change what we're doing to bring ourselves in line with these safety codes, we don't want anyone dying either" was "get out". And besides being somewhat in bad faith on the city's part, that's incompatible with the goals of the Occupy movement.

That's what I've come to realize regarding the situation. After all, one part of the message here is that the people's voice in government has been co-opted by the 1 percent, that the system is set up so that only those people with money are truly able to exercise their First Amendment rights. I was unable to determine whether the proper permits would cost anything to be issued to Occupy Boston. I rather suspect those permit applications would be denied, in much the same way that the city refused to deal in good faith on the protesters' efforts to create a safe protest.

That is a violation of First Amendment rights. A system that facilitates safe protests is one thing, but I don't think that's the system we have. I think the system we have is one that functions to control what protests can happen, in the name of "safety". Unfortunately, it probably wouldn't be easy for the city to ensure that people can safely practice their First Amendment rights, but it is necessary.

I call upon the city of Boston and Mayor Menino to prove me wrong, regarding my suspicions about control. Let Occupy Boston stay, and work with them to allow them to conduct their protest safely while remaining in Dewey Square.


The Limits of Religious Freedom

So I ran across yet another political pledge just recently. Heaven knows that Norquist's bullshit "no new taxes" pledge is doing more than its fair share of harm to Congress's ability to get things done, besides being ideologically inconsistent in its actual application, so I can't say I'm entirely excited by this proliferation of them in this campaign season.

Well, this one's about religious freedom, right? Surely there isn't a problem with that. I suppose I can give it a look.
FIRST, that religious liberty in full is the birthright of every American, as recognized by the First Amendment. It entails the right to believe, worship, and practice in accord with one’s faith, subject only to the limits imposed by the U.S. constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The right of religious freedom must be applied equally to all religious communities in America, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others. At the same time, religious freedom does not mandate belief, but protects the right not to believe.
Restate the First Amendment. Okay, that's fine. I'm actually quite impressed that they listed anything other than Christianity, considering how "religious liberty" is usually used in place of "Christians are so oppressed by the government!" (Spoiler alert: that's what's going on here too, they're just hiding it better than usual.) But I digress.
Religious freedom includes the right to employ religious arguments, or religiously-informed moral arguments, when contending for or against laws and policies...
Aaaaaaand stop. Knew I wouldn't make it all the way through.

In short: No. No it does not. Straight religious arguments have absolutely no place in public discourse.

Now, it's possible my definition of a "religious argument" is different than theirs. What I see that as, though, is an argument purely from religious grounds, one that (for example) argues "given that God has banned homosexual behavior, it should be illegal as a matter of public policy." Unfortunately for that argument, my gods do not give a damn on the topic. The people that believe differently, or those that have no belief at all, simply have no reason to listen to that argument and no reason to support such policy on those grounds.

Basically, creating public law or policy on religious grounds means imposing those religious arguments and beliefs on this entire nation. By definition, it is a violation of my right to the free exercise of religion, as well as that of every other person who does not share the faith in question.

So yeah. Make all the religious arguments you want. And I suggest you not be surprised when they are completely ignored as irrelevant, indeed potentially harmful, to the discussion of law and policy.


November's End

Well, NaNoWriMo is over. Not in success this year, sadly enough. *sigh* If nothing else, I know why it happened. Distractions took over. Too many video games. All the usual, and so on.

Anyway, I will be coming back online here, now that November's over. I don't have anything to post right away, but I've got a few ideas bouncing around that deserve fleshing out into full posts. So look forward to that.


Carved Into Memory

Today, I presented a speech at the twelfth annual Boston Area Speech Presentation, in which Japanese students from several Boston area schools present speeches on topics of their choosing. I was the fifteenth of seventeen students to present a speech.


When I was coming up with a topic, one of the options was to talk about my experience studying abroad. I wanted to do so, but had a hard time picking out any one thing to talk about from my time in Japan. It was when I thought about how my study abroad program ended that I finally found my topic. And so, although it is somewhat of a dark subject, I ended up talking about memories of the 11th of March, and of the events of the next few days.


The full text of my speech (and its English translation) follows.


Carved Into Memory


Last year, I participated in a study abroad program called KCJS, spending about a year in Kyoto studying Japanese language and culture. It was truly a wonderful experience, but the first thing I remember of it is not at all wonderful. Rather than the things that I studied, the people that I met, or the places that I visited... what has been carved into my heart are memories of the 11th of March. On that day, east of Sendai, a massive earthquake struck and dealt a great deal of damage to the Touhoku region.


I do not know whether it is natural for me to say that those memories have been carved into my heart, but one thing I know for sure is that I have felt this complex emotion before. For myself, for Americans, there was the time of the September 11th terrorist attacks. That day, I was in the sixth grade. The principal came on over the PA system, saying that someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center in New York. The one and only thing I can remember of my response was that I had thought that it was some kind of joke.


In the same way, for the Japanese, it is natural to say that the events of that day are carved into their hearts. When you heard that there had been a major earthquake, where were you? What were you doing? These things come immediately to mind. In the same fashion as September 11th is for me, one or two things are clearly remembered. When I was in my program's library, probably about 3 o'clock, one of my friends came running in saying that something had happened. That according to the news, a large earthquake had struck, and that we should check online.


At the time I had no idea what was truly happening, nor had I felt so much as a twitch. According to my host family, they had felt some kind of small vibration. More than that, though, the news from a few days later has been permanently carved into me. It was just a simple video. I don't remember quite where the place was; a town on the Touhoku coastline. The person recording it was almost certainly someone who lived there. They had already evacuated, and he was filming the tsunami from a hill above the village. Repeating over, and over, and over, "the water is coming over the harbor wall"...

どうしてそんなにはっきり覚えているのでしょう? 僕はアメリカ人であって、日本語を勉強していること以外どんな関係があるのでしょうか?そんな強い関係...いや、絆と呼んだほうがいいかな...それがあるのは、当然なのでしょうか?…当然だと思います。僕だけではなく、世界のみんながその一瞬の出来事で日本を応援するために行動しました。再構築のために、人を助けるために... こころの中に一人ではないという気持ちが溢れ出しました。

How is it that I can still remember this so clearly? I am an American, and beyond studying Japanese what connection do I have to Japan? For that connection... or perhaps it would be best to call it a bond... to be this strong, is that to be expected? I believe that it is. It wasn't just me, but the entire world that, in that moment, came to Japan's aid. For the sake of rebuilding, helping the people there... in our hearts, a feeling of "you are not alone" came pouring out.


That such a feeling can overflow like that is one of the greatest things about the human race. That feeling has the power to bring all of the people of the world closer together. And if we carve that feeling into our hearts, so that we never forget it, I truly believe that we can build an even better future.


National Novel Writing Month!

November should be called "Blog Death Month" for me. I mean, in 2009 my first blog had already died for other reasons, so I suppose that shouldn't count. But last year, when I was yapping about studying abroad, November was the death knell to that blog for the entire rest of the year.

The reason is simple: National Novel Writing Month. I've participated twice before, in 2009 and 2010, and plan to do so again this year. Not particularly because I want to be a professional author (as it stands now, I'm certainly not putting in the amount of work that'd require!), just because I like an excuse to be randomly creative. That's probably also why I like roleplaying and the like...

Anyway, among other things, this is your official notification that posts might very well be light starting from Tuesday, November 1st. I want to try and avoid seeing my blog come to a grinding halt this time around, but I know better than to promise that I'll actually be able to do that. If nothing else, I think I'd like to post excerpts from the stuff that I'm writing, pretty much for my own personal amusement.

What do I plan to write about, you ask? Well, inspired in part by what little I've seen of Madoka Magica, in part by my general enjoyment of magical girl anime, and in part by what I understand of the military, I'm going to be trying to create a (reasonably) serious deconstruction of what it would actually mean in our world for magic to exist. Focusing primarily on the Japanese "magical girl" military force in particular, which I'm calling the Magical Self Defense Force. That will also be the title. The idea practically titled itself, to be honest.

Among other things, this means that I'll be trying to depict the military accurately (although as I am an American, it will probably be more based off of the U.S. armed forces than the Japanese SDF, despite the title), hopefully while adding in the "magic" element in a way that makes it legitimately a "magical girl" style story. I've thought several times in preparing for this that I'm trying to write an anime rather than a book, yes.

The other major part of this, and the other challenge I'm hoping to prove myself equal to, is to manage to write a story that doesn't betray the feminist ideals I've been learning about lately. Writing about magical girls and the way they're portrayed would be a whole other post (probably even a whole other series of posts), so for now I'll just say this: I want to be able to write a story that relies on strength of character and plot to appeal to readers, rather than objectification; I want to be able to write a story that can deconstruct and analyze the problems with society, rather than affirm them.

At any rate! That's what I'm thinking about going into this. November's going to be one hell of an interesting month. These days (ever since I started NaNoWriMo), it always is.


Class Warfare, Redux

I shouldn't have to post about this twice in the same month. And yet the current state of my nation seems to demand it. Suffice to say that if we never hear the Republican canard of "class warfare" again, the world would be better off for it.

And there's a simple reason for that. Creating a system of national healthcare to preserve the lives and well-being of everyone in this country would not be class warfare. Ensuring that there is a social safety net to support people that have fallen on hard times would not be class warfare. Raising taxes all the way to 92% on the top tax bracket would still not be class warfare!

If you want to see class warfare? Look to Oakland. Go and watch videos of police firing on a peaceful demonstration. Ask yourself if that's really justified. Ask yourself whether it was necessary for police to use a stun grenade (at the very end of the video, 3:20) on a group of people gathering to help one of their fellow protesters. Ask yourself if it's a good thing that we're practically looking at a war zone on the streets of an American city!

There are a lot of words that should rightly only be applied to the specific action that they describe. Perhaps it is long past time that "warfare" became one of those. Advocating for progressive economic policies is not "class warfare". Taking a group of people gathered to protest growing class inequality and opening fire, even with "non-lethal" weaponry... now that can rightly be called warfare.


The Role of Fansubs

Oh, right, fansubs. I think it's safe to say these days that I have absolutely zero interest in searching them out anymore. I think it's safe to say that they should rightly be on their way out within the next few years.

There are a number of reasons for those statements, but really the core of it has to do with what you think the role of fansubs is supposed to be for anime communities. I tend to consider them a last resort, rather than a first. The first fansubbed anime I ever seriously picked up was Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, because I didn't see any other way of getting access to the series. Heaven knows it didn't have an American release back when I got it. (It still doesn't, as of the time I'm writing this.)

This is because I think that fansubs are rightly supposed to be a patch. There was (and still is in some ways) a gap between the interest in anime in the United States and the availability of anime in the United States. In Japan, new anime comes out every season, airing every week. Whereas the United States got a fraction of those shows, and even then would often see sanitized, altered, or just plain bad versions. Anyone up for Cardcaptors? No? Didn't think so.

In such an environment, it comes as little surprise that people would get together and put up subtitled versions themselves, providing the anime that people in the United States wanted to watch. It's probably not legal, given that that's distributing the anime without the rights to do so, but the company isn't actually losing anything, because if there's no fansub people simply can't watch the anime. And hey, you know, maybe someday we'll get a proper DVD release and can buy that when it comes out, right? (I seriously doubt that most fans actually do buy the anime they've already watched, but maybe I'm wrong.)

These days, that's changing. It's changing for me on a personal level and it's changing for the entire U.S. anime community on a societal level.

For me, well... I'm studying Japanese. I've been to Japan once and want to go back. I went out and bought anime DVDs left and right while I was there. I don't need, nor do I want, a patch anymore: I want to watch the anime on TV as it comes out, and then buy the Japanese DVDs once they're released. Aside from the myriad of special features on those DVDs, there's the added bonus that I don't have to worry about whether what I'm doing is legal or moral. Because it unquestionably is. And if you take Nanoha StrikerS as an example, well, I have all of those DVDs, and still think that every single cent I spent on those was absolutely worth it.

On the societal level? Well, go look at Hulu one of these days. Go back and look at my earlier post about Fate/Zero. There's anime out there already. Some of it brand new from Japan, in the latter case. That patch that fansubs are supposed to provide, filling the gap between what U.S. fans want and what they have? We're seeing companies moving to fill that gap themselves. They're exercising their right to distribute their anime in the fashion that they prefer, even in the U.S. market.

The role of fansubs is to fill a gap in the U.S. market. If this trend persists, if more companies and studios decide to step in themselves, that gap might not exist in the near future. And then we stop talking about role, and start talking about duty: the duty of fansubs and their creators to recognize that without a legitimate role, fansubs simply should not exist.


Passing Judgment

I don't think I've ever mentioned before on here that I do Mock Trial.

There's a story there. Back when I started my university career, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and then a judge, and then a Supreme Court justice. Use of the past tense intentional. Perhaps I will still go to law school one day, but not right after graduation. That's not at all unusual these days, or so I am given to understand.

Anyway, the point of this is that I still do Mock Trial despite no longer wanting to go to law school. And in some strange sense, it's still fun. I say "in some strange sense" because honestly, it's a lot of work to handle Mock Trial, even as a witness. Catch me at the wrong moment (especially right after practices!) and you'll find me in a really foul mood.

Part of it has to do with the fact that Mock Trial isn't actually trying to replicate a trial. Well, it is, but it's also a performance. And the people that you find to judge that performance will not only often share a specific set of expectations and biases (they're mostly lawyers, with all that that implies), they'll also each have their own little pet peeves and preferences. One judge will consider a certain performance flawless and give it a 10; the other will spend five minutes after the trial pointing out all of the flaws in it after having given it a 6. And sometimes I feel like there's a little too much focus on those numbers, which is all the worse considering that the idea that this is judged objectively is frankly ridiculous in so many ways.

Why do I still do it, then? Of course it's no fun to sit around for an hour having every little gesture critiqued in different ways. (And even that is an exaggeration, although not by much.) And despite my apparent dislike for it, I'm still here. I'd have to say that it's because just like anything else, when everything comes together and works like it's supposed to... well, it's fun.

Perhaps this is too obvious? Passing judgment on something so quickly, just because practices tend to get onerous sometimes, really doesn't make sense. I'll be at a tournament this weekend. And we'll see what happens there.


An Attack on Occupy Boston

I fail to see what the Boston Police have actually accomplished with their attack on Occupy Boston last night.

I mean, this summarizes the reasons they're giving for having to remove the protesters from their second location. None of them actually make sense. Increased public safety concern? That doesn't seem very likely, given that people standing around don't really seem like they would be that much of a risk to public safety. Potential property damage? Except the property owner, the Greenway Conservancy, had laid out the rules under which the land could be used, making it clear in the process that Occupy Boston had the green light. Breakdown of communication? That only matters if the protesters are obligated to communicate with the police in the first place, which they are not.

It's the unguarded statements, the reading between the lines, that really gets at the reason. Mayor Menino's line, saying that civil disobedience will not be tolerated, is the most obvious of those statements. (And that particular statement deserves all the scorn and derision it gets, too!)

But in the police statement that I linked to above, you see the same kinds of things crop up once or twice. Prior agreement. Previously approved. This attack wasn't about public safety, it was about public control. Much as the authorities might like to, they cannot shut down Occupy Boston entirely without facing vilification in the media. But neither can they simply ignore the protest as it continues to spread. So instead, they make the choice to control it as much as possible. Go stand in this marked-out corner that we're letting you have, and don't try to expand or overstep your boundaries.

And if the goal was public control, then I don't see how this attack was anything other than a failure. Oh, perhaps the police have preserved a kind of temporary physical public control over a small area of the city. But telling them that they can only have as much ground as the police are willing to give them is not going to make the protest go away. It's certainly not going to make the protest stop growing. And it's not going to change the tone or focus of the protest.

The point of that civil disobedience that Boston's mayor has no patience for? Is to stand in defiance of undesirable public control. Congratulations, Boston Police; all you've truly accomplished is to help spread the message.


Class Warfare

Class warfare! Class warfare! You'd think the Republican Party would get tired of yelling about it after a while. The fact that there are people that can still yell about it (as the links show, primarily Cain, but not just him) in the face of the Occupy Wall Street protests and the "we are the 99%" movement just shows how little of an understanding they have. That they can manage to blame Obama in the same breath for screwing up the economy is just icing on the cake.

These growing movements have everything to do with class warfare: the class warfare that created the 1% in the first place. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention. Unless you managed somehow to miss policies such as taxation of capital gains at a lower rate than the rest of income, the focus on cutting primarily progressive income taxes while refusing to consider touching the regressive payroll and sales taxes, or cutting back on regulations that cut into the profits of big business?

But those improve everyone's lives, or so the argument goes. Wealth will trickle down and all that. Screw that. After all, that requires that the people getting this money make that happen. Businesses are raising salaries for upper management, but not line workers. Nor are they hiring and expanding with their money either. And the very rich don't go around handing out money to the 99% on any kind of regular basis.

But they deserve that money, because they worked so hard to get it, or so the argument goes. Sure, whatever you say. I'm not a huge fan of the idea that pushing a few buttons on a computer to allocate so much money to this investment banking account really qualifies as work that deserves millions of dollars worth of payout. And management is a hard job, no doubt about that, but really one that deserves hundreds of times the income of many non-management positions? Even if it does, none of that is an argument for policies that favor the very rich, I hasten to add. If you make $4 million, you deserve to get taxed like it, regardless of whether those are capital gains or not.

And where does Obama enter this discussion? Cain calls this a distraction from his failed policies. Those would be the policies that failed to get off the ground thanks to Republican interference? Or the ones that went through with Republican assistance? Help me out here.

Gingrich so helpfully informs us that this is the natural product of Obama's class warfare. Fair enough. You might even be right. That isn't much of a condemnation, considering that if this is class warfare it's a justified counterattack.

Neither of those seem very strong though... oh here we go, apparently in Gingrich's world, this flies in the face of the American tradition of working hard. Apparently in Cain's world, this is playing the victim card, that we want the rich to lose something so that we can have more. You wouldn't happen to have seen this, would you? Go on, tell me they're not working hard. I dare you.

All I can say is, if we really are the 99%, I don't see how any of these people have ever gotten into political office. Not when they have such a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be the 99 percent in this country.



I have to wonder what the modern Republican Party's priorities are. I could be cynical and wonder whether or not the Republicans actually give a damn about economic recovery. I mean, a weak economy going into an election is one of the major pitfalls for a sitting president; if the economy is still stuck in this quagmire come next year, Obama might very well pay for it at the voting booth.

That, of course, puts them in an interesting position. Are they willing to compromise to help fix the economy? Will they take any steps forward here? Hard as this may be to believe, I'd be ready to negotiate if I had someone to negotiate with in good faith. Are you all going to come to the table? Or is the real priority to defeat Obama? No matter what happens to the country? Because that's within the Republican Party's power to do. They can use their position in the House, and their filibuster in the Senate, to prevent Obama from accomplishing anything over the next year or so.

But surely they wouldn't do that, right? Their only concern must be the betterment of the American people. If there was a way to help set the economy back on track, even if it meant working with Obama, they'd take that option, I have no doubt. Right?

Oh wait. Maybe not.

Yeah, let's try that paragraph again in reality. Their only concern is the betterment of rich, white, Christian American people. And if there was a way to help set the economy back on track, they'd pretend not to notice until they'd milked the crap economy for every drop of political capital they could get out of it, then claim victory when they "fix" the problem once Obama is out of office.

All we can do is wait and see. And, if they choose to screw us all over for their own political gain, hope that we can make them regret it come 2012.


Continuous War

Well, it looks like we can add the Fifth Amendment to the list of rights that are being ignored by the U.S. government these days. That puts it in company with the Fourth (Patriot Act), Sixth (indefinite detention), and Eighth (torture). Is there anything even left of the Bill of Rights?

I refer, in particular, to the assassination of one Anwar al-Awlaki, a member of al-Qaeda who was originally born in New Mexico and thus held U.S. citizenship. He was officially targeted by the U.S. government under Obama despite that U.S. citizenship, and the Predator drones finally caught up with him earlier today.

Needless to say, Obama defended the strike as a strike against al-Qaeda. Which it certainly was. How does the justification go...? Oh yes, we're at war, we can't afford to drop our guard, do you want another 9-11, all the usual "tough on terrorism" arguments.

Am I the only one tired of this continuous damned war against an enemy that cannot be defeated by conventional means? The point of wartime restrictions is that they are temporary. Things like Abraham Lincoln's denial of habeas corpus during the Civil War were permissible and understandable in the midst of a bloody civil war where restricting those rights until the war was over might mean the difference between victory and defeat. And if we were currently engaged in a war of annihilation against a clearly defined enemy, perhaps some restriction of civil liberties would be likewise understandable.

We're not. We're in the same situation we've been in for decades on end, with non-state actors interested in our downfall. Attempting to carry out a job that they flat-out do not have the capability to do, no less. For anything short of an existential threat, this ridiculous, effectively permanent restriction of civil liberties is completely uncalled for. It's long past time for it to end.


Today in Conservative Projection

It depresses me greatly that there is a Tea Party Nation club on my campus that actually brags on its Facebook page about bringing Judson Phillips in to speak. Haven't these people noticed what this man says on a depressingly regular basis?

For now, though, I'll happily just focus on the first, the things he's said today. (If I bothered with everything he's ever said, I would have to devote this entire blog to it.) This is what he has to say about modern American government:
We need to remember the words our founding fathers put in the Declaration of Independence.

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,”

We must make certain we have new leaders in 2012 to replace the bad leadership we have had. We must make certain that our new leaders are committed to liberty and the destruction of big government. Our government needs much altering. Let us alter government before it becomes destructive of these ends and requires abolition.
Sure, I'm on board with altering the government. But before we do that, what exactly is the goal here? You quoted the part of the Declaration that states our right to institute new government, but you skipped the ends to which a government must be destructive, the ones that would justify taking such action. Let's see...
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Right, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A government destructive of those ends should be altered or abolished, and replaced with new government. Fair enough.

We live in a nation where health care, or insurance that covers health care, must be paid for. Where people that cannot pay for care must go without, and (as a result) die. And the reforms that would create health care for all citizens, that would ensure that the people of this nation actually have a right to life? Are consistently blocked by the right wing, the Tea Party adherents proudly in the lead, arguing that it would be government overreach.

We live in a nation where certain segments of the population are consistently denied their rights, whether that be gay and lesbian people denied their right to marriage and its civil benefits or Muslims denied their right to construct and occupy places to practice their religion. Where American citizens, in the name of security, are forced to endure violations of their civil liberties. And the reforms that would open this country up, bring it closer to that ideal of liberty and justice for all? Are consistently hysterically shouted down by the right wing and the Tea Party, claiming that expansions of liberty would destroy this nation.

We live in a nation where women often do not have open access to birth control and abortion, where the poor are kept poor through a steady refusal to work at fixing the societal issues that contribute to poverty. Where the means by which people can work towards happiness and prosperity are blocked to those without the resources to follow those paths. And the reforms that would cut through those barriers and truly give all citizens of this nation a chance to pursue happiness and prosperity? Are consistently halted (and indeed reversed) by the right wing and its Tea Party supporters, claiming that moral reasoning demands the continued suffering of those people.

If you want to know what the right wing is doing, see what they're accusing the left wing of. Judson Phillips would have you believe that the left wing is responsible for a worsening government, that we are responsible for a government anathema to the ends of the Declaration of Independence. Before tossing that accusation out there, he might want to take a closer look at those ends, and ask himself whether his own movement isn't the problem after all.


Translation Notes: Black Rock Shooter

I blame my school's anime club for this one. Yesterday, we watched the Black Rock Shooter OVA, and that reminded me that I had a song that I had been meaning to deal with. Well, that and I was hoping it would provide some perspective on the events of the OVA. If nothing else, it certainly managed that. (There might, at some point, be a post talking about the OVA. It was actually really interesting. But that's a subject for another time.)

It was a very quick translation that I hammered out. Anime club ended around 2120; the post went up at 2220. Usually I try to spend a little more time considering what exactly I'm writing and whether it actually fits the Japanese source text, but then there's also the fact that there wasn't a single word in here that I haven't seen multiple times over in other places. There's almost a sense of a unique vocabulary for the songs I like to listen to; shared themes results in shared words and ideas.

Of course, one of the other consequences of posting the translation quickly was the lack of the kind of serious consideration of my translation that produces a "notes" page. While this is not going to make up for that in any serious fashion, I can at least put on the pretense of having considered the issue, and will highlight three points of possible interest. And in this case, that means a pair of things that I've actually changed.

In the very second line, I originally translated it in the present tense, "where are you going?" To some extent that instinct is not an unreasonable one, but in this case it was probably not justified; there is a narrative here, and not everything in the song references the same time period. I have changed that to "where have you gone?", matching the past tense in Japanese.

Then there's the "nomikomu" in the second-to-last chorus. I admit this gave me pause when first translating it; I had a momentary internal fight over whether to translate it literally or not. Clearly, "nomikomu" is something applied in a literal sense to actual objects, not to words; I tried to translate it in that literal sense "take in", perhaps in hopes of maintaining the phrasing. Looking at it again, though, I'm not really convinced. That has been changed to "understand", which seems like a better idea than the more esoteric "internalize" (that I was considering as the other option).

Finally, one of the last lines in the song, translated here as "you paid attention to me". One of the more annoying things to deal with in translation is the Japanese tendency of adding verbs that indicate giving or receiving even to actions, such as the "kureru" in the original phrase there. There's almost no way to translate it literally, as the use of that verb implies that the speaker has received something (in this case obviously intangible) as the result of being looked at. Thus, I discarded the original verb entirely (to look, "miru") in favor of an expression that followed the same idea and could be understood in English.

That pretty much covers my thoughts on this for now. If there are any obvious errors, comments, questions, and so on, let me know.


Black Rock Shooter Lyrics

The notes for this translation are here. Please direct any comments about the translation to that page's comment field.


Black Rock Shooter

Lyrics/Composition/Arrangement: ryo

Vocal: Miku Hatsune



Black Rock Shooter...
Where have you gone?
Can you hear me?

もうやめて わたしはもう走れない

How loudly must I yell,
how much should I cry...
Stop already! I can’t run anymore!
That world of my dreams will close someday;
in this darkness there is no light.
On this crumbling path...
it should not be, and yet I feel like the hope from that time
came back into sight...




Black Rock Shooter
This nostalgic memory,
from those times of simple fun...
Black Rock Shooter
But I can’t move!
I will wish upon these stars that run through the darkness,
to run just once more...

夜明けを抱く空 境界線までの距離
わかったの 思い出して
強く 強く 信じるの

A scared, trembling voice whispers,
calling my name...
The sky that embraces the dawn, all the way to its boundary.
I’m just one step out of reach...
These tears that I've endured are about to overflow;
I won’t look down now.
This future will live on!
You understand. Remember this;
believe ever more strongly!


That's right!

痛いよ 辛いよ

Black Rock Shooter
This nostalgic scent...
It hurts! It’s painful!
These words I understand.
Black Rock Shooter
Let these legs move,
and pass through this world!


From the beginning I understood,
for me to be here.
Inside myself,
all of my courage
lights a fire in my heart.
I won’t run away!


Black Rock Shooter
You’re not alone!
Raise your voice, it doesn’t matter if you cry!
Black Rock Shooter
You paid attention to me...
This is from when it begins:
my story.

忘れそうになったら この歌を

And when it seems people might forget,
sing this song.

Police Responsibility

So, who else is paying attention to the Occupy Wall Street protests?

I feel like I've been getting a lot of news on the subject, but then I am a member of the Internet generation with mostly progressive blogs and news sites on my Google Reader feed, following like-minded activists on my (little-used) Twitter account. I know there was little news in the Boston Globe this morning about the events in New York, but that's about it for my knowledge of the media coverage.

And my first indication that something was happening was on Twitter, when I began to see references to the NYPD.

Police forces are one of those things that the government needs to have. The government has a monopoly on the use of force; for the sake of the public good; protect and serve... all that. And there was a time in my life when I believed it. There was a time in my life not too long ago when I believed that the authorities could do no wrong, that they were to be implicitly trusted, that our police and our military were (in the words of the Lee Greenwood song) our "great defenders", our "champions of freedom".

These days, I know that that's what they need to be. And in all honesty, in between my privilege and my optimism, I find it very hard to shake the idea that the majority of them are worthy of that trust. What is damn clear, though, is that too many of them aren't.

We have no choice but to rely on the police to protect us here at home. Taking our protection into our own hands is practically the definition of anarchy, even rebellion... and I am still too much an optimist to believe that that is necessary. But then, what option do we have? Rely on the NYPD to preserve our right to assembly? After they arrested dozens of people for exercising that right? After they used pepper spray on some of the protesters for apparently no reason?

The police are trusted to protect the citizens. In return, they must prove themselves to be capable guardians of that trust. That means not arresting someone unless they're actually committing a crime. That means not pulling out the pepper spray unless you really need it. That is your responsibility, NYPD.

Fail to uphold this responsibility, and there must be consequences. The officer that attacked those protesters with pepper spray needs to be fired. The supervisors that ordered arrests (especially the violent arrests) need to be fired. And the NYPD (and every other police force!) needs to take a long hard look at how they're trained to respond to this, and make damn sure that this doesn't happen ever again.


Lessons of the GOP Debates

So there have been three GOP debates in recent memory. You want to know who won them? In each case, the crowd did.

I'm kind of amused by this whole audience thing at a debate. I mean, it's not like you're going to find Democrats at a Republican primary debate, probably excepting members of the press who have to try for a facade of neutrality. So what we've got here is a crowd made up of the Republican base, eagerly hoping to see their favorite candidates in action.

But even those candidates don't seem to be interested in going as far as the crowd has. We see the crowd at one debate cheering wildly for the 234 executions in Texas; a few calls of "Yeah!" from another when asked if society should let someone without insurance die; boos and jeers out of the last when an active-duty soldier in Iraq asked if Santorum wanted to reverse the progress that let him serve openly as a gay man. It's frightening, to say the least!

Unfortunately for the Republicans, it's also very instructive. This is the party that they're going to try to win an election with. This is the base that somehow has to be encouraged to go out and vote. A base that cheers at the idea of death, encourages that society let people die, and actively and openly condemn a soldier serving his country solely on the basis of his sexual orientation.

That's the other thing that these debates have been demonstrating. That to get the conservative base's favor, they have to take positions that are wildly to the right. I look forward to seeing who emerges from the primaries as the victor... and whether the positions that they had to take to claim that victory will be able to carry them through the general election as well.


Today in Serious Research

The headline? Earth to gamer, come in gamer: Video games are warping your view of reality. The article goes downhill from there.

Ostensibly, it is about something called "game transfer phenomena", which the article defines as "gamers doing things in the real world as if they were still playing." Given that I'm a history major, I have nothing to do with this kind of research, so it doesn't really mean much for me to say that I've never heard of this before. I have to wonder, though, how much of this is driven by the need to show that video games are really bad for you, honest!

Here, let's go over the list of behaviors that they found in this study, which interviewed 42 people and (unsurprisingly) relied on the accuracy of their reports (it's not like they could have observed these kinds of things real-time after all). In reverse order:
One interviewee reported seeing a menu of topics that were available for him to think about, while another created a list of possible responses in their head after being insulted.
Don't look now, but I'm pretty sure thinking about how to respond to something is what people do.
In some cases these thoughts were accompanied by reflexes such as reaching to click a button on the controller even when it is not in their hands.
"Reaching to click a button on the controller", hmm? Isn't that equivalent to a finger twitching?
Half of the gamers questioned said they often look to use something from a video game to resolve a real-life issue.
I am more surprised that the other half don't. There are lessons to be learned from any story, after all. Even one presented as a video game.
The most extreme examples included reaching for a search button when looking for someone in a crowd and seeing energy boxes appear above people's heads.
This just sounds so incredibly ridiculous that I'm waiting for someone to come forward and brag about how they trolled an entire scientific study.

And the conclusion that this Serious Research came to, on the basis of all these horribly dangerous and warped behaviors?
A recurring trend suggests that intensive gaming may lead to negative psychological, emotional or behavioural consequences, with enormous implications for software developers, parents, policy makers and mental health professionals.
Oh no, video games are really bad for you! Called it.

I really don't feel like devoting a lot of energy to this, so I'll keep this short: to my understanding, humans (generally) function by drawing patterns and making assumptions, based on their past experiences. Everything "warps" (or the non-judgmental word they should be using, "affects") our view of reality, by affecting the patterns and assumptions that we use to understand the world. That includes school, and reading blogs, and working, and talking to others.

If video games didn't affect the way reality is viewed, they would be the only thing in the world that didn't. And so we're left with researchers telling us something we already knew: that playing video games will have psychological, emotional, and behavioral consequences. What's still left to be proven?  That would be their use of the word "negative". And the behaviors they describe aren't doing anything to convince me.



Well it's long past time.
niwango Inc., known for its "Nico Nico Douga" video sharing website, and Aniplex Inc. have jointly announced today that they will premiere Aniplex's brand new TV series titled "Fate/Zero" worldwide (except for Japan) streaming simultaneously with eight different language subtitles...
I've never really been a fan of Crunchyroll (not quite sure why), and Hulu is rather slow about getting new anime. Either way, I feel like I generally miss out on new releases when they're new; I watched OreImo when I was actually in Japan, but I almost never download fansubs of the newest season.

There's a longer post I need to write about my feelings regarding fansubs in general; I have a very rocky relationship with them. Suffice to say that at best they are a necessary evil, as far as I'm concerned, and I prefer to do without when I can. Shockingly, this means I rarely keep up with new seasons of anime. I pay attention to DVD releases, and now that my computer's set to Region 2, I pay attention to Japanese DVD releases. But I rarely if ever bother with the anime airing on TV in Japan, since I don't have a way to watch Japanese TV at the moment.

Since getting back from Japan, I've really been a little lost when it comes to "what next?" While I was abroad, I went shopping for anime goods and DVDs all too often; I was able to watch anime actually on TV (to the extent that my cell phone could pick it up, because I didn't have a TV in my room... *sigh*) Here, I can't really do either. In a lot of ways I feel like the only solution is for me to go back to Japan.

But now we get Aniplex streaming anime online. Official subtitled anime, practically in unison with its Japanese release. Short of anime showing on American TV (and that will never happen to the extent that it does in Japan!), this is the next best option. I'd like to see more of this; anime companies take note. (Kyoto Animation, I'm looking at you. Do this.)

I'm watching Fate/Zero when it releases online. Who's with me?


Connect Lyrics

The notes for this translation are here. Please direct any comments about the translation to that page's comment field.


Connect (Puella Magi Madoka Magica Opening Theme)

Lyrics/Composition: Shou Watanabe
作詞・作曲:渡辺 翔

Arrangement: Atsushi Yuasa
編曲:湯浅 篤

Vocal: ClariS (link to Japanese website)


押し寄せた闇 振り払って進むよ

I won't ever forget this exchanged promise.
I close my eyes and make sure...
Shaking off the advancing darkness, I push forward!


When will it be that I can
see this lost future again from here?


Again and again I cut through these overflowing shadows of anxiety,
and walk into this world.

とめどなく刻まれた 時は今始まり告げ

Now, this ceaselessly recorded time begins to speak.
Sending out my unchanging feelings,
let’s open this sealed door!


So that my awakened spirit will describe a new future...
Even if I should come to a halt on this difficult road,
the sky with its beautiful blue will always be waiting for me,
and so I will not be afraid.
No matter what should come, I will not be broken down.


If I turn back, my friends are there.
If they realize, I am enveloped in their gentle arms.


Out of everything in this distorted world,
to believe in just one... here is my salvation.


Happiness, sadness... feelings that grow stronger when shared.
If this voice reaches you,
surely a miracle will be awakened!

押し寄せた闇 振り払って進むよ

I won't ever forget this exchanged promise.
I close my eyes and make sure...
Shaking off the advancing darkness, I push forward!
No matter how large the wall may be,
I will try to surpass it, so
believe in tomorrow, and pray...


Drifting through this destroyed world...
as if pulling it toward me, I reached this place.


So that my awakened spirit will describe a new future...
Even if I should come to a halt on this difficult road,
the sky with its beautiful blue will always be waiting for me,
and so I will not be afraid.
No matter what should come, I will not be broken down.


Tomorrow is always waiting...

Translation Notes: Connect

Normally I would not even try to deal with a song that has undoubtedly received so much attention. I have to imagine that every fansub group with a version of Madoka Magica out has offered a translation of at least the TV size version of Connect. In fact, I would hardly be surprised if we did not get an "official" translation, in the sense that the subtitles on the American DVD release will be the direct result of Aniplex's efforts and thus will bear their stamp of legitimacy. So why did I translate Connect?

Part of that would be simply for the challenge. Yes, I'm the kind of person who translates Japanese for the fun of it. I'd hoped that part of it would be obvious already...

Part of it is to hopefully draw out more of a response. I have not even bothered to look at any other translations of this song; the Madoka Magica premiere at Otakon did not have subtitles during the opening sequence, and I have actually not (yet) watched the rest of the anime. So there's every possibility that the translation I've created will have differences, possibly even major differences, from other versions. I'd like to believe that any major differences will be debatable questions and not simply the result of my own error, but I guess we'll see.

And so, some of the things that I dealt with in writing this translation... (It's worth noting that the following is really just my attempt at imagining what someone would ask about my translation. These are the answers I've come up with to fictional "why did you do this" questions. They're fairly extensive, so feel free to just look at the translation and ignore my detailed thought process if it's not your cup of tea.)

In the very first stanza (right after what I'll call the introductory version of the second chorus) the line breaks and Japanese word order gave me no end of trouble. It's clearly a question, of course, but the Japanese word order would perhaps best be represented by "when - lost future - I - here - again can see?" Clearly, some reordering is going to be necessary. Mine does this to a fairly considerable extent, but I think the result is effective.

The next section that gave me some difficulty was right before the chorus, at "hajimari tsuge". It's a simple enough concept in general, but given this particular usage of it, with the subject apparently being "time", it became much harder to deal with. "Tsugeru" could translate directly as "to inform", but that seemed awkward and unclear; what does it mean for time to inform? In the end, I chose to use the word "speak" as a translation, as the anthropomorphism made it clearer as to what exactly was being said. 

The first line of the chorus makes reference to "kokoro". If I had to make a list of Japanese words familiar to people that hadn't formally studied Japanese, that one would probably be on it. I chose to translate it as "spirit" here because its meaning is effectively "spirit", or "heart" in the spiritual sense. Given that there was no need to distinguish it from other Japanese words that might be closer in meaning to "spirit", that was the word I went with in the end.

Also in the first line of the chorus, I found it difficult to deal with the word "hashiridashita". Its position before "mirai" suggests that it's supposed to modify the idea of "future" in that line, but my first thought upon seeing "hashiridashita" is effectively "begin to run", which is a little awkward and then doesn't quite make sense. Given that it can also be applied to less concrete things like "project", I decided that the best way to represent this was with the word "new"... since the definition of "hashiridasu" is connected to starting something, the reasonable assumption is that it's newly formed. Of course, that isn't the only possible interpretation, and I'm not sure I'm entirely satisfied with this one...

Shortly after that chorus, I ran into an addition that I felt obligated to make. The next stanza after that ends in "yasashiku tsutsumareteta", which would probably translate literally as "gently enveloped". Unfortunately, as usual, Japanese omits the subject and lets the reader/listener figure it out. I felt that the direct, subject-less translation would have read too strangely in English, and so I added a subject, linking the previous line to this one.

Finally, the hardest part of this translation was the part immediately after that. That next stanza seems like it could be one sentence, assuming "shinjireru" and the parts before it are modifying "koko". But "yuitsu" seems like it isn't referring to anything, and I couldn't come up with a connection for that. What I've written as a translation seems like it could be reasonable and fit in with the rest of the song... but if I had to pick out the spot where a serious error is most likely, it would be right here.

... I talk entirely too much about these kinds of things. Over-thinking much? *sigh* Do let me know if there are any other comments/questions/concerns about the translation.


Remembering September 11th

Ten years ago today, I was sitting in an English class in middle school when the principal came on over the PA and announced that an aircraft had hit the World Trade Center. I remember thinking it was some kind of accident. Making jokes about how a plane could have hit two towers. Laughing and carrying on with my day as if nothing had happened. And then getting home bare minutes before my mother, who ran in almost panicking. Almost as if she thought we might not have been waiting at home for her.

It was in that moment, ten years ago today, that I realized. Terrorists had carried out the most successful and most effective attack against the U.S. that history has ever known.

I wasn't aware of the true magnitude at the time. It took a while for the details to sink in. A hole in the side of the Pentagon. A hole in the New York City skyline. And most poignantly, a hole in the Pennsylvania countryside where a fourth plane had gone down.

Oddly enough, it's that last one that still stays with me today. Not the thousands dead in New York, or the hundreds in the Pentagon. The forty people on board United Flight 93 who decided to retake the plane at the probable cost of some or all of their own lives. I think that was the first time I truly realized what it meant to have something which you would defend, even if it meant your life. And I have often wondered since if I will ever be able to do the same, should a moment come that requires it.

I wonder how many other people share my doubts. I wonder how many people look at Flight 93 and realize how resilient America can be. And I wonder how many people look at the thousands dead in New York and decide that that is the true lesson of the attacks. That they are a travesty to be avoided at any cost.

There is a reason why I called this the most successful attack against the U.S. that history has ever known. In the comparatively short 200ish year history of our nation, the United States itself has been attacked only rarely.

When the British North American colonies demanded their independence from the British Crown, sparking an eventually successful war of revolution that nevertheless left tens of thousands dead on each side.

When the newly minted American republic challenged Britain to war again in 1812, a war that left Washington D.C. in flames but ended with the successful defense of the United States.

When the South split from the North in defense of slavery, leaving hundreds of thousands dead on the killing fields of the Civil War, and prompting Lincoln to come down with a heavy hand on the border states and their rights in order to hold the Union together.

When the Japanese aircraft appeared in the sky over Pearl Harbor, sinking the battleships of the Pacific Fleet and provoking the United States into entering the Second World War.

The attacks on that morning ten years ago are the least of this company. And yet ten years later, we still act as if they were the most devastating attack ever known. We continue to act as if the only thing of any importance is stopping the next September 11th. We passed the Patriot Act a month after the attacks, a bill that continues to be used to deprive American citizens of their rights ten years later. And we see the most peripheral of invasions rammed through with the admonishment that "of course you don't want to show quarter to terrorists, do you?" We have done more damage to ourselves in the ten years since than any attacker has ever even come close to causing.

This is damage that I can counter. Damage that I will meet with a promise. I will live my life unbowed by fear, even to the very moment that it ends. I will live my life as a free citizen of the United States. I will take reasonable precautions to ensure that my life does not end prematurely -  reasonable precautions that do not include sexually assaulting people that wish to fly, viewing darker-skinned people with a book about airplanes or a headscarf as a threat, or torturing anyone I please. And I will do my absolute level best to ensure that all people within its borders, no matter what their religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political views, will be able to enjoy those rights that this nation promises.

That is because I will defend the United States, its people and its ideals. And whether or not certain precautions would make us safer is not the point. They make us less like the United States that we are trying to create: the one that exists in our ideal, our nation's promise, of freedom and justice for all.


Midchildan Music chapter 4

The next chapter of Midchildan Music, my Nanoha/Vocaloids crossover, is up.

Chapter 4: The Research Facility

The beginning of the story is here.

Chapter 4 notes for Midchildan Music

"The Research Facility". It's about time for me to explain what the heck's going on here, I think.

The downside to that is that Miku is not part of this chapter at all. Especially writing this chapter, I realize that this story isn't really much of a Nanoha/Vocaloids crossover. It's a Nanoha story with some Vocaloid elements (mostly the character appearances) taken to appear as characters.

The most egregious example of that is the arrival of Kaito in this chapter. Or rather, a "Kaito" that bears no resemblance to the Kaito of the Vocaloids, acting only as a weapon to be used by Doctor Haynes. He's not a Vocaloid, even if he does have the element (the Musical Ritual System) that defines the Vocaloids in this universe. Perhaps that will change someday, if I ever write a sequel to this story, but for the moment Midchildan Music is and will remain primarily a Nanoha story.

This chapter also introduces the two main antagonists of the story. We've had glimpses at Doctor Haynes before, through his conversations with Chrono and Fate. I went to no effort then to try to add a whole lot of nuance to his character, and honestly there's not a whole lot there now. His only goal is to advance his research, in the truest vein of evil mad scientists everywhere. I'd like to think my description of his physical side breaks the mold a little, but that's not much of a nuance.

Michael, on the other hand, is still a villain despite a reasonable amount of favorable characterization. He is open and honest with the Sergeant, assuming (wrongly) that he will be working together with him in the future. And acting on that assumption throughout, he helps the Sergeant to upgrade Miku, and inadvertently gives him a tool that will become very useful in the next chapter. All the same, Michael has no concept of Miku as anything other than an object. He sees nothing wrong in programming Miku to want to sing, knowing that the Miku he wants to create will never be able just to sing without activating a new magical weapon.

And speaking of new weapons: the Musical Ritual System, the MRS of previous chapters. I will happily join the tradition of creating a new weapon and setting a story around it. The Belkan style from A's, the combat cyborgs and AMF of StrikerS, and now the Eclipse Virus from Force... every new season of Nanoha invents a new and ever more deadly type of weapon, magical or otherwise, and challenges the protagonists to deal with it.

The MRS began as an excuse to factor the Vocaloids' songs into the story, but at this point I would call it a new addition to the Midchildan style. The Nanoha-verse seems to lack what I would call true ritual magic, spells with complicated and lengthy preparations that can only be directed in one fashion. The series has a definite focus on functional magic, so this comes as little surprise. And the Sergeant can try to add in functional upgrades all he likes; Miku's magic will never be as fast or as variable as Nanoha's or Fate's. Whether he can use it in combat all the same... well, that's a question for the next chapter.


Today in Cognitive Dissonance

Here's a particular contrast that I found to be mildly interesting. Take two articles from the same website, back in February. First comes this random note about the state of the American DVD industry. Four days later, we see another article that criticizes a hacker for promoting video game piracy. (And if we look two months forward, there's the doubling down in April, calling out Anonymous this time!)

I'm not really sure what to make of this. I could ask myself how much we actually need the American anime market to exist, but that's a fairly dark line of thought. Condemning the author of those posts is right out; partially because that's a weak contradiction, but mostly because I feel like I have the exact same level of cognitive dissonance here.

I like anime, of course. (Although I post about it less than you might think.) And I like watching new anime just as much as anyone else. The problem is that new anime doesn't exist in the United States. Broadcasts in Japan are so rarely shared with the United States. (Although, streaming is becoming more and more common. That's another interesting essay that will have to go unwritten for now...)

I want new anime. But I don't want to pirate it, which is what fansubs are, in the end. That leaves me with zero palatable choices. I mean, even Japanese fans would have to wait for the DVD releases, and I waited with everyone else for the OreImo Japanese DVDs when I was actually there. (Sadly, I had to leave before all of them were released.) But usually American DVDs are even more delayed than that.

So what do I do? If I download a fansub, I am essentially stealing the anime, much as anyone who simply downloads a game is pirating the game. I can't condemn the latter without damning fansubs with it. If I wait for the DVDs, I end up being a month behind everyone else if I import them from Japan (which is hideously expensive) and several times that long if I wait for American DVD releases.

According to Wikipedia, "cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously." I want to maintain my personal moral code; I don't want to have to wait to watch new anime... that's an accurate description of my current state of mind, all right.


Why I Dislike Skype

I'm reaching the point where I actively despise Skype. By all rights I should be uninstalling it entirely from my computer right now. (The only reason I'm not is because Skype has some people on there who I don't really talk to any other way.)

Skype has this annoying "feature" whereby it doesn't actually ever ask you if you want to upgrade or add anything. No, the first sign I get of an impending Skype update is when my computer's User Access Control window pops up asking if I want to let Skype continue with... well, with whatever it's doing.

That's bad program design, right there. I want to have control over my computer. I can't imagine who doesn't want to have control over their computer. That means that programs on my computer need to ask me before they do anything, not rely on Windows to do that for them. Skype needs to tell me what it wants to do and request permission to proceed. Period.

And then, after every such automatic update? It tells me to close all of my Google Chrome browser windows. No explanation, no nothing. Just "Please close all Chrome windows before continuing" and two buttons. I have hit Cancel every time. The first time I did this, I was surprised to have it tell me... that it had failed to install the Skype toolbar.

Yep, that's a critical upgrade, right there. Um.. not so much. Especially when you don't even ask if I want your toolbar or your "click to call" button, you just assume that I want everything you have to offer. Yeah, that kind of makes me inclined to uninstall all of the little gadgets you foist off on me and leaves me seriously considering uninstalling your program entirely.

So, Skype: I need you to tell me what you're doing and ask if I want you to do it from now on. If you can't do that, I may very well decide in the near future that I don't need you around after all.


Interest and Learning

So I tracked down an article related to teaching, an article that discusses engaging students in the classroom. It was actually quite timely for me, considering that I have a tutoring job this semester here at Brandeis, and one of the challenges I am assuredly going to face is how to get my fellow students to engage with the material and with my efforts to help them understand it. Of course, as a student myself, I have a slightly different perspective on the matter than the article, which is written by a former teacher and directed at teachers.

I found the conclusion especially interesting:
We tell more than we ask; we direct more than we listen; we use our power to pressure or even punish students whose interests don't align with ours. This has any number of unfortunate results, including loss of both self-confidence and interest in learning. But let's not forget to number among the sad consequences the fact that many students quite understandably choose to keep the important parts of themselves hidden from us.  That's a shame in its own right, and it also prevents us from being the best teachers we can be.
Perhaps it is my different perspective. But I had thought that would have been obvious long ago.

I began studying Japanese because I wanted to know Japanese. Nothing more. It had nothing to do with my major (at the time!). It wasn't precisely a required class; although I did need to take a foreign language, it didn't have to be Japanese. It was as close as I could get to a class that literally had no pressure on me. And way back then, my freshman year of college, it was probably the one class that I really, honestly had an interest in taking.

Three years later, it is my major, and probably my most significant marketable skill. That's not an accident.

No matter how many punishments are laid down, you simply cannot force someone to do something that they do not want to do. Punishment and coercion is usually viewed as such, as forcing someone to do something. But that's not actually the case. All that does is change the equation for the person actually making the decision: don't want to learn this? Well, how about now that you'll be expelled if you don't? And the problem with that is that the student can still say "no" even when the punishments grow severe. Can still go through the motions without actually doing anything of value.

Interest has to be central to learning. How to keep students interested, or how to change the system to encourage keeping students interested...? If only I had the answers. All I know is that whatever they are, we need to find them.


An Open Letter to the House Republican Majority

You can't make this kind of crap up.
Hayworth, R-Mount Kisco, said she would only vote to replenish the federal disaster fund if new spending was offset by budget cuts. She said those cuts should come from "non-defense discretionary spending." Hayworth likened her position to a family skipping vacation if it was overwhelmed by bills.
Which isn't to say she's alone in this stand. Led by House Majority Leader Cantor, we've seen several Republicans make similar statements in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

I think this deserves a response a little more pointed than most. While I may be delayed in responding to Cantor himself, I sent the following to Majority Leader Cantor through his online system all the same, and am republishing it here in its entirety. If you happen to agree with my statement, you may feel free to adopt it as your own. I think this is a message that Cantor and his Republican caucus need to hear, and I think we need to get him to hear it.

Contact the House Majority Leader through this online form.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor,
I am writing this to you in regards to your recently publicized stance on disaster relief and your demand for spending cuts to offset any relief that may be requested. This letter applies not only to you, but to all the members of your caucus that have made similar statements.

Let me make this clear. There are people across the east coast of the United States that have been hammered hard by Hurricane Irene. Flooding widespread in the Northeast. Roads destroyed in North Carolina. Power out for entire counties in Maryland. Thanks to careful preparation, we were fortunate enough to have few casualties, but infrastructure has been hit hard along the entire northern half of the East Coast. Repairs are underway, but repairs are going to cost money.

Paying those bills is not an option. Restoring the infrastructure that has been destroyed and ensuring the flow of critical supplies into those affected areas is not an option. It is something that must be done. By threatening not to allow disaster spending unless you get budget cuts, you have chosen to hold the health and well-being of thousands of people (some in your district) hostage to your desire for a smaller government.

Should you actually follow through on that threat - fail to get spending cuts and vote against disaster relief - you will have chosen to preserve the harm that Irene has dealt out to thousands of American citizens. And that merely to prevent the "harms" that come from big government... harms that do not even come close to destroyed roads, widespread flooding, and mass power outages, if they truly exist at all.

This choice is one that I simply cannot understand. Your role as a representative is to stand for your constituents and for the people of the United States. With this, you threaten those same people with continued hardship if your demands are not adequately met. I submit that this is not appropriate behavior for a representative of the people of the United States.


What I Can and Cannot Do

Want to get on my bad side quickly? Tell me I can't do something.

This is, of course, an exaggeration, and requires some careful explanation. I will not be offended if you tell me that I cannot fly by flapping my arms. Nor will I be offended if you were to tell me that I could not run a marathon tomorrow, although I would probably be a little irritated for a few minutes. And at the end of a long period of training and preparation when I actually did run a marathon, I would most likely be mildly insufferable, assuming I remembered the earlier incident at all. (Which I probably wouldn't.)

"Should" is a different word than "can", of course. Questions as to whether I should believe in God or how I should treat others are usually questions that deserve discussion, and I will not be offended if someone comes to me with a legitimate interest in having that kind of discussion. Without that legitimate interest, you likely will offend me, and telling me what I should or should not do without so much as an explanation will provoke a similar response.

So now that I've explained the exceptions, what was I getting at in the first place? Given that I am a college student, and classes start tomorrow, I might as well draw on those experiences for my examples.

Back in my freshman year, I signed up for what was billed as a lecture class in the politics department. This was back when I thought I wanted to be a politics major, and the class offerings that semester were very slim, thus leading me to sign up for this class that I had little interest in merely to preserve my "politics" credit, so to speak. When I got there on the first day and realized that limited sign-ups had turned the class into a seminar (requiring much more active participation from all students, usually aimed at upper-class students) with an extended research paper, I knew I was in for it.

The problem was that from the beginning, the professor knew that too. Could I have gone to her and said "I want to give this a shot"...? Well, we can't know now. All I can say is that it was alternatively disheartening and irritating for me to talk to her saying "I don't know about this" and to have her reply, effectively, "you're absolutely right to be worried because you shouldn't be in my class at all." Needless to say, pretty much the first thing I did was go and drop the class.

That was with a class that I didn't want to take. I agreed with the professor and still found it incredibly disheartening. When it comes to a class that I do want to take, a task I want to complete successfully, a field in which I want to be skilled? Well then, we'll find out what I can and cannot do when I do it, or when I fail.

And if I want to do something, I don't usually plan to fail.