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.


Hurricane Irene and Moving Onward

*Sigh* I am tired.

Among the consequences of Hurricane Irene was the power that usually runs not only my computer but my wireless router. I feel like there's been a lot of "this wasn't as bad as the hype predicted" running around in the wake of the storm (like on The Oatmeal), but it's a little hard to take that seriously when you can go outside and see the pair of power lines flanking your driveway that have been sheared off a few feet down from the top.

There's no doubt that this was a weak Category 1. This wasn't another Katrina. But even a Cat 1 verging on a tropical storm can flood rivers and knock down power for entire regions. Which Irene did, and did with a vengeance. Power is still not back at my house, I am told.

I have to be told this because I essentially followed the storm back up the coast. I am back at school now, waiting for classes to begin. Which is nice because now I have power. Packing up in the wake of the storm and having to drive up the coast about a day behind it was tiring all in itself, but certainly survivable.

The other half of "not much damage" is that everyone was warned. The earthquake was sudden, as was the stronger one in Japan back in March that created a tsunami and devastated the Touhoku region. Irene gave everyone plenty of time to prepare... and perhaps because of the hype, people did.

Just a thought. The biggest danger moving forward is actually fairly simple; the next time the Weather Channel hypes up a storm, I could see a lot of people saying, "well, the last time you all said this, it really wasn't that bad". I would hope that we don't allow that kind of complacency, no matter how much hype there was.


Who Leads in Libya

So here we are. Rebels in Libya have taken control of most of the capital of Tripoli, and Gaddafi has been forced into hiding, although loyalist forces still retain control of parts of the country. It has yet to be seen what will become of Libya in the long run, of course, but coming this far is a success in itself. And all of this happened without a major influx of U.S. ground troops.

Apparently that means that there's a lack of U.S. leadership here. That this "leading from behind" isn't actually leading at all. I find it difficult to be overly concerned with that, to be honest. Simply because I don't think the U.S. should be in the lead here.

It seems that the general point of a revolution is to install a new government that is more receptive to the will of the people of the nation in question. Or, "that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness," in the words of our own Declaration of Independence. And that means that the U.S. simply cannot be in the lead. The Libyan rebels must be the ones to institute new government; it is our place to respect their right to self-determination and offer them assistance if they ask.

Put more simply? They are the protagonists here. And complaining that the U.S. failed to lead entirely misses that point - that we should never have been in the lead in the first place.


Chapter 2 notes for Lost Logia Halo

If Chapter 1 of the Lost Logia Incident Report was the first exploration of ship-to-ship combat between the Halo universe and the Nanoha one, Chapter 2 (appropriately named "Boarding Action") deals with personal combat.

The Bureau Marines are the first to respond to the attempted boarding action, and they're hopelessly outclassed. In shipboard corridors with minimal cover against foes with sufficiently powerful weapons, equipped with armor that was most likely designed to defend against magical attacks? And now that the Bureau is reduced to more "conventional" attacks, rather than the ridiculously overpowered Arc-en-Ciel, the Elites' defensive shielding comes into play. All of this combined to create an off-screen battle in which the Bureau Marines got massacred. (Of course, even without the tech balance, it would hardly do to have the problem dealt with before the main characters arrived...)

Chrono, Nanoha, and Fate, however, are an entirely different story. They're significantly more powerful magic-users with both defensive and offensive magic. Truly, this is where the Bureau's advantages matter most: in individual combat where each of the Bureau mages can fight in their own preferred styles. As I see it, Nanoha, Chrono, or Fate are all individually at least the equal of an Elite, with defenses that are at least as powerful and weapons that are usually more effective.

They do have their disadvantages, but in this situation against a limited number of Covenant foes, those disadvantages don't really come into play. Most noticeably, Nanoha herself ends up using her stun setting to attack. In the first two seasons of the anime, her only battles were against clearly inhuman monsters or against single foes in situations where a KO would be just as effective as a kill. For now it doesn't seem to matter; the Elite that she targets is just as out of the fight... but not all of their fights will be as accommodating.

Once the boarding action is cleansed, I took a step back to summarize. The Arthra has severe damage (precisely because the Arc-en-Ciel was so incredibly powerful, it was first on the list of things to disable), but the presence of dimensional rifts and the clearly unnatural ring world override those concerns, and Chrono, Nanoha, and Fate are thrown back into battle. This is another point on which I worry that the decisions made were unrealistic - perhaps Lindy really would have retreated. Of course, if I want the story to continue, I'm not left with much choice. And so the Bureau doubles down, sending its enforcer and two assistants down to the surface of Halo.


Intellectual Common Sense

Courtesy of Paul Krugman, I took note of this editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Not being an economist, I'll let better minds (like, well, Paul Krugman) deal with the economic argument there. I do, however, want to explore a little the idea of what is or is not common sense.

There's a page on TVTropes (a website devoted to detailing common themes in fiction, for those of you who haven't heard of it) titled Reality Is Unrealistic. The title is pretty much self-explanatory; the page covers things that seem unrealistic usually because they faithfully depict a reality that goes against what's expected.

And really it's the biggest problem with the Wall Street Journal's editorial, beyond even any issues with its treatment of macroeconomics. The editorial explains that Americans, especially students, seem to hate economics because the theories produced by it defy common sense. Which leaves me asking... so what if they do?

I'm going to a good university (and spending a decent amount of money for the privilege), so perhaps I may be biased on the matter. But hasn't it already been a given that common sense is not all there is to know about the world? If I wanted to just uselessly throw away huge sums of money, there are easier ways to do that. Employers want to see college degrees when you go to get hired. There probably is some kind of point to all of this, no?

A true application of common sense would realize that. Would realize that there are some things for which common sense alone, unsupported by knowledge and training, cannot effectively deal with. This is the entire point of studying such things - to increase one's knowledge and learn where reality diverges from what might be expected. The Wall Street Journal had a great deal of fun bashing on Keynesian economics for diverging from common sense, but they might want to consider how much common sense it shows to discourage the use of intellect in general.


Government and Transportation

Every single time. I swear. From the Washington Post's editorial page, an editorial talking about how to reduce the deficit:
6. Eliminate outdated, ineffective and wasteful programs. Across-the-board domestic spending cuts perpetuate bad programs and penalize the good. This ensures lousy government. Subsidies for farmers, public broadcasting and Amtrak, among others, should end.
Hey look, there's Amtrak again! Funny how that seems to come up whenever spending cuts are talked about. I mean, it's not like we consider highway spending (eight and a half times that of railway spending) or aviation spending (over twice that of railway spending) to be low-hanging fruit worthy of cutting. I wonder why that is...

Right. Transportation is one of those necessities. Modern society simply cannot function without access to effective, safe, reliable ways of moving goods and services around. What's more, it's not something that can be easily privatized, despite calls to do so. There's no profit in paving a road, not unless you make it a toll road. (And with things the way they are, you'd more likely get people following alternate routes if you tried to charge the kind of tolls that profitability would require. Or you'd just force them not to take the road at all.)

Airlines and shipping companies may be private corporations, but the air traffic control grid or the network of interstate highways rely on government spending to build and maintain. Such spending is tolerated - must be tolerated - not because these are profitable enterprises, but because having them is an absolute necessity.

And yet railroads have to be profitable before they can be built. Setting aside the sheer impossibility of building them as a private enterprise (more on that in a moment), I'm curious as to why rail transport is held to a higher standard than anything else. Maintaining highways or air traffic control don't have to be profitable, and yet we spend money on them.

Rail transport, done right, could get me from Washington D.C. to New York in an hour and a half, or from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two and a half. Even if that wasn't profitable (and the experience of the model on which I'm basing these numbers, the Tokaido Shinkansen in Japan, suggests that it very well could be even with reasonable fares and competition from airlines), the ability to travel quickly and easily between those cities would almost certainly provide a noticeable boost to their economies, wouldn't it? Never mind the jobs involved in building and maintaining railway lines.

Private corporations are never going to do it though. Not when building such a rail system would cost hundreds of millions, if not billions (good luck getting that loan!), for the sake of something that pays off slowly if at all. No, transportation is and will remain one of those things for which we rely on the government to support. It's past time that we accepted that for railroads and high-speed rail, as we have for everything else.


Who's Paying For the Recovery (Or Trying To)

It annoys me that this Wall Street Journal story is behind the Journal's pay wall, since I almost think I'd like to read the rest of it. Not enough to bother sending any money to the Journal, though. (Needless to say, the full article is not available at that link unless you have subscribed to the Wall Street Journal.)

The Journal points out something that I'm pretty sure has been obvious for longer than this: that major corporations' supplies of money have increased since the 2008 crisis, and are currently up 59%. To me, that says that corporations have been making money while the rest of us have been repeatedly hammered by the continuing economic crisis. I can appreciate the desire to have a cushion in case of trouble, but... aren't you supposed to prepare for a crisis before it hits, not during and after?

Well, I'm not an economist, nor am I a financial adviser. Perhaps there is something to this strategy of being comfortable while the economy burns around you. And then I got to the final line that was available before the article cut off:
"Yet the validation of companies' conservatism may ultimately be bad news for the economy. The recent turmoil affirms executives' caution, and may prompt some to curb spending and bolster their..."
And that's all that I've got, having not paid any money to the Journal. I think perhaps we need to replace the word "affirms" with "is caused in part by"... and the only way that sentence is going to end well is if it ends with the phrase "thus compounding the problem."

That's because even without being an economist, I'm pretty sure that someone has to be spending money if the economy's going to improve. And even the Journal admits that companies haven't been doing so. Worse yet, even Obama seems to be trying his hardest to ensure that the government spends less, and that's before the efforts of the current dysfunctional crop of congressional Republicans.

I guess that means everyone else pays.


Blog note

So due to circumstances, I'll have less than regular Internet connection over the next few days. Which isn't to say that my posts are heavy on the best of days, but now they'll be even less common for the next week or so. Sorry about that.


Reports from Otakon 2011

And so another convention comes to a close.

Over the last weekend was Otakon 2011, the largest anime convention on the East Coast and the second largest in the nation. I've been going to Otakon since 2009 (in other words, not very long, considering Otakon's been around for 18 years), and I almost always have fun doing it.

Although, usually Otakon ends up being just an excuse to go and buy things that you can't normally find in the U.S. while admiring all of the well-made cosplays. I rarely end up going to panels, and usually end up skipping a lot of the major events like the Masquerade or the AMV contest.

This year's exception was brought about by Atsuhiro Iwakami, the producer for a lot of major works. Most recently, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and OreImo (Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai, There's No Way My Little Sister Is That Cute) in terms of anime that I really like. (Bakemonogatari seems like it would also be good, but I still haven't really gotten into it yet.) Let's just say that if going to panels is rare, getting autographs is very rare.

Still, I don't regret taking the time to do so, even if that ended up being over three hours of waiting. It put me third in line for the autograph session, after all, and I actually got to say hello to him and compliment his work. In Japanese, of course, because I needed the practice. Besides, the poster that he signed for me is now even more awesome. It was already, being a Madoka poster for the sake of Japan relief efforts, but now...

Of course, now I need to somehow watch the rest of Madoka Magica, since only the first three episodes were shown at Otakon. I'm disinclined to just download it, but that may be my only option until it's released over here... that or buy the Japanese DVDs, which I may end up doing anyway next time I get the chance to go to Japan.

Typically the other high point of a convention is the cosplay, and this year didn't disappoint. I chose to cosplay as Kaito, one of the Vocaloids... I think it would have worked out a little better if we had given more time to work on it, of course. I swore I wouldn't procrastinate this year, and look where it got me... Well, that and if I had more ability to work on it. I'm getting tired of relying on friends/parents/others to make costumes for me. I should just learn to sew already.

It didn't help that there were plenty of other Vocaloids, usually with more detailed costumes. There were probably at least another dozen or two people wandering around as one of the Vocaloids, and that estimate's on the low end. The majority were Hatsune Miku and/or Kagamine Rin, with a few Megurine Luka and (to my count) three or four other Kaito cosplayers. And then there was a scattering of other, less well-known Vocaloids.

In terms of sheer numbers, though, far and away the most common cosplay seemed to be the Homestuck crowd. It's very possible that I was just tuning out the more familiar common cosplays, but it seemed like you couldn't take two steps in that convention center without running into another group of trolls. There were also several God Tier John cosplayers, one of whom was armed with the Warhammer of Zillyhoo. (Yes, it is at least as ridiculous as it sounds.)

One interesting note I should mention: it's not that I don't want to show pictures of all of these things... it's that I don't have them. I ended up just not taking any pictures at all this year, which is a departure from the norm. It seems like the only thing I end up doing with such pictures is posting them to the Internet, and I've been wondering lately if that's such a good idea. At any rate, the decision is made. Time will tell whether I regret it, but I don't think I will.

Besides, I have more than enough memories of all the fun times at Otakon, from the karaoke hall to the video games, from the anime showings to all the people that I met. In the end, that's all I need.