Reports from Katsucon 18

So I'm over a weekend late on this one, but whatever - I did end up going to Katsucon 18, which was held the weekend of the 17th, a little over a week ago. I must say, it was interesting taking the overnight train from Boston all the way to D.C. for once, and having only a few hours of sleep from the train made the con even more interesting! Thankfully breakfast was available - I've learned over four years of college that I can function (with some loss of ability) without adequate sleep or without adequate food, but trying to function without both causes problems.

Anyway! Honestly, I feel like there's not all that much to report. Admired all of the well-done cosplays, again without taking any pictures. Went to the dealer's hall and spent way too much money, mostly on new games and new figurines. Oh, and one of the dealers refused to take a five dollar bill that I had on me, on suspicion of it being counterfeit - I really need to get around to running that down to the bank to get it checked out in more detail. I only wish I could remember where I got it from. Thankfully I had another five on hand.

There was also the video gaming hall. Oddly enough, they were charging money for the Bemani machines, so I had to actually use some quarters on the DDR one. But, no huge loss, and as always the chance to play on an actual DDR machine was well worth it. Also, there was Project Diva set up on a PS3, with an arcade-style controller no less. So it's not like I couldn't find things to do.

Honestly, the highlight of the convention was the workshop near the end of the day on Saturday. I rather suspect most people have not heard of the Weiss Schwarz card game, but I have - while I was studying abroad, I ended up buying some of the cards, and I think I've mentioned the portable game before. Well, apparently there actually are people on this side of the Pacific who've also heard of the game! And they were running a workshop about the game.

Most of it was stuff I didn't need - I know the rules already, thanks to the aforementioned portable game and a decent command of Japanese. (As I said when we were talking about understanding the cards, "Or, like me, you could spend three and a half years studying Japanese. That's probably not for everyone though.") I did learn that these cards are in fact distributed in the U.S., by Heart of the Cards, which makes it easier for me to get cards and does absolutely nothing for my ability to find people to play with. Anyone in the Boston area? Anyone at all?

Honestly, I feel like I don't do much at conventions these days. I wasn't really cosplaying, but I did go for a black cloak and the Hero of Space god tier T-shirt from Homestuck. Not really a cosplay of anyone, unless you count my own entirely fictional session in which I am the Knight of Space as a valid cosplay target, and frankly I myself wouldn't count that.

It was absolutely worth it though. Conventions usually are, and Katsucon didn't disappoint.


Jon Stewart on Contraceptive Coverage

Where would the world be without Jon Stewart? If nothing else, we'd have one less epic takedown of this entire invented controversy over birth control.

If there is one takeaway quote, it is this: "You've confused a war on your religion with not always getting everything you want!" But the entire video is absolutely worth watching. You should do that now.


The Rise of Rick Santorum

Well, it looks like it's Santorum's turn to be the Flavor of the Week in this Republican primary.

This is something that scares me deeply. Mitt Romney is a classic politician, in that he can be trusted only to say whatever will put him farther ahead in the race in question. He was solidly center of the road during his time as Massachusetts governor, to take one example, going to far as to seek Planned Parenthood's endorsement of his campaign. To be fair, even that kind of centrism is farther to the right than I prefer, truly... but at least it's something I could live with, for four or even eight years. That of course is assuming he is more center-right, in contravention of the way he's been acting this primary season.

Rick Santorum is a right-wing ideologue in the sense that I am a left-wing ideologue - he is a True Believer in the cause of conservatism. Really I shouldn't need to say any more than that to clarify why I fear him and his ideas taking the Presidency; we are representatives of diametrically opposed visions of the way American should be.

But I'm going to point out some things anyway. Not to clarify my intense dislike for him, but to demonstrate why he and I are not the same. While we are both firebrands, his vision of America is destructive in a way that mine is most assuredly not. In short, I explain what precisely I fear to show why everyone should fear his ideas and his vision of America.

I could point to specific policy ideas: his stance on certain military issues is beyond ridiculous. (He is also not a fan of gays openly in the military, despite that now being a settled decision.) Women and gays should, by all rights, be able to serve in the military just as well as anyone else, and inventing this kind of random pseudo-sciencey "women are more emotional" bullshit displays a fundamental disrespect for half of the human population.

Or I could suggest that he has no idea what he's saying. Requiring religious institutions to cover contraceptives is not new, given that the groups complaining often employ people who are not Catholic and should not be bound by Catholic dictates. There already is a narrower exception for specific groups that do employ primarily members of their same religion. And the idea that Rick Santorum should make this about government control is patently absurd. This is the same Rick Santorum who believes the government should be able to ban contraceptives outright, is it not?

And in large part because of his ideology, he is simply immune to criticism. The idea that the modern Republican Party spouts anything even approaching the truth on a regular basis is absurd. While I am so rarely called out on anything I believe, I would like to think that I am capable of listening to valid criticism and changing the way I act, however high my standard of "valid" might end up being.

For Santorum and the conservatism he represents, though, nothing short of a scorched earth policy will ever be appropriate. If Rick Santorum ends up in the White House from January 2013 onward, the society he will work to create will be frightening to behold: a regression to the world of centuries past, where women could be shoved back into the kitchen, where the One True Religion dominated society and government, and where the rich happily took all the money while oh-so-generously handing out tiny scraps of food to the poor.

What scares me more than anything else is that a large part of the Republican Party seems to agree with him.


Milestones in Japanese

I'm taking two history classes this semester. In at least one of them, the fact that I'm taking my notes in Japanese seems to have become somewhat of an open secret. Although I would have no idea whether or not the professors (of either class) are aware of the situation. It's not something I bothered to hide last semester either, really. In my classes on the two World Wars, I did the same thing, and in those classes the professors did find out.

Simply put, my Japanese is now at the level where simply trying to study disconnected vocabulary and grammar points becomes somewhat pointless. Certainly, I still need to work on my vocabulary, but then that will be true for years to come. At this point, what I need to focus on is using Japanese.

My trip to Japan for study abroad was probably what drove that point home. Prior to leaving for Japan, I was reasonably confident in my Japanese ability, and I was looking forward to using it to get me from the airport to the hotel where my program was gathering. I don't think I had fully accounted for a few things. Like the difference between classroom and reality, or the existence of jet lag, or a number of other problems. And two quick encounters, one at the airport's train station ticket counter and the other in the taxi at Kyoto Station, made it abundantly clear how much harder it is to actually use the language.

This is why I think study abroad is such a powerful boost to language, and why it served that purpose for me. Mastery over a language comes with its constant use, and studying in a country where that language is spoken ensures that you can (and in some cases, must) use it for literally everything. Here in the U.S., that's harder to do. I make up for it by surrounding myself with Japanese as much as possible;  all of my music is in Japanese, I watch Japanese anime, I even try to read Japanese books and manga sometimes. But then again, I did that before I left for Japan, too.

Part of that does speak to the necessity of classroom-style learning. Taking someone who knows no Japanese, or very little Japanese, and asking them to process the language anyway only works when the person in question is unusually motivated to learn Japanese, which few people are. Once the base knowledge is there, using the language for anything (including asking about new words or grammar points) becomes important; before that point, doing so usually just sparks confusion at best.

The other half of that, though, suggests that even that isn't enough in the end. Listening to music, watching anime, even reading a book... they're all input. And no matter how much that helps me understand Japanese (which it does), I still need to be able to generate the language as well. So, I take notes in Japanese -  because this is the kind of thing I need to be able to do if I want to be able to function entirely in Japanese.