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.