Still More on Torture 2

January 25, 2020

Just a quick note on my previous article. The judge in the Guantanamo hearings has finally allowed the word torture to be used in the proceedings — almost twenty years after.

Opera, the Absolute Final Farewell and This Time I Mean It

January 24, 2020

I have been a fan of the Opera browser since you had to pay $30 to run it on the PC. Looking back, that had to be almost as soon as it was publicly available, in 1996 — over twenty years ago. Then, five years ago, things turned pear-shaped. It went from being cutting edge (inventor of multi-tab browsing, speed dial) to derivative (rebadged Chrome) to Linux unfriendly (no updates in two years) to Chinese-owned (with links to China’s Intelligence Service). I haven’t used it for a couple of years.

Now, it’s sunk even lower, opening a predatory payday loan operation in some of the poorer countries of Africa, and dropping 80% of its value in two years.

I might do one more essay, when it files for Chapter 9 7.

Cringely Space

January 23, 2020

Robert X. Cringely is the pen name of a long time tech industry observer. I’ve followed his columns since the mid-80’s. He’s had a bit of a bad patch in the last couple of years, being burned out of his Santa Rosa home in the Tubbs Fire in October, 2017, but he has apparently bounced back by co-founding a space launch company in San Louis Obispo, California, just up the road from where I went to high school, near Vandenberg AFB.

Eldorado Space (no relation to the highschool rocket club in Texas), plans to launch small “cubesats” using a solid rocket booster (Veloce 17) from a Mach 2.2 F-104.

Zoom and Boom

From what he says, Eldorado has cut down on possible competition by buying all the remaining Mach 2.2 F-104’s in the world.

Go Bob!

French Onion Oats

January 23, 2020

Third time’s the charm. I’d nibbled around the edges of FOO a couple of times before, mostly by appropriating the name inappropriately. This time I’m using real french onion soup.

We made soup last night. The recipe I used was an amalgam of several off the web. Essentially, you chunk your onions (we used three, and the chunks should not be too small or they turn to mush) and put them in the pressure cooker for 20min. This is cook time you don’t need to stir or monitor during. When they are done, strain off the water into a bowl, there will be about a cup and a half. That’s the other reason for pressure cooking. In the traditional fry-them-in-a-pan approach, all that lovely flavorsome water boils off. Dump the, still-wet, onions into a pot and spend the next 20 minutes or so getting them to brown without burning. When you are done, add back in the onion water, plus a quart of beef broth, plus any other additives — Worcest…you know…sauce, white wine, herbs, etc. — and cook to blend the flavors. Be sure to save a fat cup for breakfast.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup leftover french onion soup, fat pinch of shred cheese, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Put the cheese at the bottom of your bowl and pour the FOO over it.

Results: Excellent. Worth making lots of soup so you have leftovers. I’m going to do it again tomorrow.

Rating: *****

Still More on Torture

January 22, 2020

The Trump Impeachment Trial in the Senate isn’t the only trial going on this week. There’s also a set of hearings down in Guantanamo, preliminary to the trial of prisoners associated with the 9/11 attacks.

The people being questioned this week aren’t the prisoners themselves, they are the two CIA contract psychologists who designed the torture programs.

I have written about our torture programs before, here, and here. but that was almost ten years ago, and people forget. Let’s revisit some of the issues. I’ll be extracting extensively from my earlier work. We’ll start with an overview.

On objectives
Why would anyone want to torture a fellow human being? I see four reasons:

1. Revenge/Entertainment: It’s the middle of the Counter-Reformation, and I am stuck here in the Spanish Netherlands, fighting the Marsh Germans in mud up to my ankles, with more or less chronic diarrhea, and you are the cause of it. The culture of the day includes dog fighting and bear-baiting and going to executions as entertainments suitable for the whole family. I can’t read, and besides, the Church is suspicious of people who read their own Bibles. We don’t have cable, so we have to make our own fun.

This covers most field expedient tortures over the years, and is really just the troops blowing off steam, which is better than them getting into duels or knife fights or fragging their officers, right? This is what you might call unofficially sanctioned torture.

2. As Punishment/Example: You have done something that the Powers That Be find unforgivable, but that they can’t just kill you outright for, because that would cause talk, and they want to maintain the appearance — on paper — of being a society of laws. Simple imprisonment, even with heavy labor, isn’t likely to change you, so they want you, and others like you, and others who might be thinking of becoming like you, to understand what the penalty is. The classic examples are from the treatment of political prisoners in the USSR. If you can stand two thousand dreary pages of “and then what horrible thing did they do?” reread the three volumes of Solzhenitsyn’s Arkhipelag GULAG. This is officially sanctioned, but informal, torture. Like Abu Grahib, it tends to be whatever the guards can think up. It also tends to fall in the category of abuse of civilians, because it’s not usually an issue with POWs.

3. To extract a confession: Note that I didn’t say information. The authorities don’t care, absolutely and totally don’t care, about the truth of the confession. In fact, even if you are guilty as charged, your details might prove embarrassing. What they want is a signature on a confession that they have crafted, to achieve their ends.

4. To gain information: This case is easily disposed of. It doesn’t work. It has never worked. We have known for decades, if not centuries that it doesn’t work. The tortured will say anything, just to get it to stop, and you are back to Case 3. The only people who do this are ignorant of history.

So, what about the American military’s modern experience with torture? In WWII, Americans in the hands of the Germans were reasonably well treated — “We’re all Anglo-Saxons, right? Not like those bestial Slavs”. In the Pacific, the Japanese torture tended towards Objectives 1 and 2. Post WWII, we had hundreds of GIs captured by the North Koreans and the North Vietnamese. Their goal was Objective 3, extract signed confessions admitting American war guilt.

To counter Communist torture tactics, the Air Force established its SERE program — Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape — and built the USAF survival school at Fairchild AFB in NE Washington state. The resistance portion is particularly tough. One graduate said “I knew I could survive almost anything after walking out of there,” but another one told me that he’d turn in his pilots wings before going through that again.

To reiterate. The torture that the students were trained to resist was the kind used by Communist regimes to extract canned confessions, with no regard for the truth.

Two psychologists associated with that program were James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

After 9/11, Mitchell and Jessen were hired by the CIA to craft a program to psychologically break suspected terrorists, using the techniques they had perfected at Fairchild. We have all seen the results of that.

In his testimony, reported in the linked article above, Mitchell stated that the CIA feared “another catastrophic attack,” possibly involving nuclear weapons, and was trying to stop it, and that his “sole focus was stopping the next attack.” The CIA claims that the enhanced interrogation techniques were instrumental in preventing Islamic terrorists from launching a spectacular attack against western targets after 9/11, but a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded (pdf) that such techniques were ineffective.

This is the heat of the moment, or hot pursuit, or imminent danger excuse. It boils down to asking “would you use torture if you knew a nuclear weapon was going to go off in NYC in the next 24 hours?” Of course, that’s a false conundrum. The real question is “would you use torture [techniques known to extract false confessions] on a person you suspected of being a terrorist, if you thought there was the possibility that someone they were connected with might try to bring a nuclear weapon into NYC sometime in the not too distant future?”

They meant well.

Ukraine Flight 752

January 21, 2020

I was going to do a detailed technical writeup of the shootdown of the Ukrainian airliner outside Tehran, but Forbes beat me to it. You really need to read the Forbes article before you read this.

The best I can do is a little bit of color commentary.

First, the Tor (NATO SA-15/Gauntlet) Surface to Air Missile (SAM) is a short-range, point defense missile, similar to, but newer than, the UK-built Rapier. If a target appears on the Tor radar, that means it has penetrated all other air defenses, and the Tor is the last ditch defense. This adds a certain amount of urgency to launch decisions.

Second, most air defense systems have multiple levels of combat readiness, for example: Hold, Tight, Loose, and Free. Guns Tight means aircraft may be engaged only if positively identified as hostile. Guns Free means the battery may fire on any aircraft not positively identified as friendly. From one aspect, guns free is a reasonable level to declare when you are conducting a point defense of a high value target in a high alert situation — remember, this was only four hours after Iran had launched a missile strike on US-occupied bases in Iraq. On the other hand, it is not an appropriate posture when you are operating close to an international airport. They may have been in a guns loose status, where higher echelon approval is necessary to shoot, but they reportedly had trouble with their communications.

Third, they appear to have followed a fairly standard antiaircraft defense procedure of shoot-shoot-look, but this is normally reserved for situations where there might be jamming.

Finally, the SAM site was defending the Bidganeh test facility, where Iran is assembling its latest ballistic missiles. The site had been damaged by possible sabotage eight years ago, and the Iranians might have been concerned about a retaliatory attack.

So, there we have it. Nervous, possibly poorly trained, missile crew just placed on high alert defending a high value target and expecting a US attack at any moment. Unable to contact higher echelon due to unexplained communications failure. Time urgent decision needed. And the crew made the wrong decision.

Iranian failures:

  1. Failure to close the airspace. If they expected an attack, then all non-military flight should have been grounded.
  2. Failure to properly configure their system. If civilian aircraft were to be operating in the same airspace, then stringent controls were required.
  3. Failure to train the operators. My guess is the missile crew never had a chance in training to see on radar the difference between an airliner and a cruise missile. A crew operating in close proximity to a civil airport should have been given additional training.
  4. Failure to build a robust communications system. My guess is they were using the standard field radios built into the system, with no land-line backup.

Accidents are usually due to a chain of failures. If any one of those four failures had been prevented, it’s likely the shootdown would not have occurred.

Translation flubs in Eizouken

January 20, 2020

I am not a Japanese sprecher, despite having studied it for a while now — I like to say that I’ve been in the Learn Japanese in 90 days program for the last five years. However, there were a couple of errors in Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken that even I noticed.

In Episode 1, when their dragonfly is being chased by the bad guys, the logo on the front of the bad guys’ ship is 氷, which gets labeled as Mizu, which is Japanese for water. However, the kanji for water is 水 — note the missing dot in the upper left. What 氷 stands for is ice.

Wrong kanji

Then, in Episode 2, the subtitle says that Kanamori has a knack for handling stacks of paper. I thought I heard the word kane (かね), which means money, and is more in line with Kanamori‘s personality, as in a knack for handling stacks of money. A check of the manga indicates I’m probably right.

Wrong paper

It has been said that the best translation is a good paraphrase, but these are simple enough to just be oversights.

Anime worth watching, Winter 2019

January 15, 2020

I write so many items about what I don’t like, I decided to track what I think is good each season. These are based on watching just the first episode, so my opinion might change, but I note that this season is thin enough (for me) that I’ve already watched the first episode of In/Spectre twice and Eizouken three times.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken: I’m going to fall in with the in crowd here and say that this had the best start of any anime this season. Eizouken is a bright, cartoony anime about, as one reviewer said, bold girls doing bold things. These are the Shirobako girls before they got the anime club really going. They live in a building complex that looks like Kowloon City, if designed by Miyazaki, with the teacher’s offices in an empty swimming pool and the lane markers still in place.

In/Spectre: In a Montague/Capulet kind of pairing, she’s a Goddess of Wisdom for the denizens of the other world, while they consider him a fiend who eats their flesh. Together, they solve the problems of the spirit world and balance out their interactions with this one …  or something. A sort of a  Bleach meets Natsume’s Book of Friends rom com.

Somali and the Forest Spirit: Cute kid, soft pastel colors; a world full of diverse monsters, living in peaceful cooperation. Despite all that it’s still pretty good.

Just three. If I went any higher, this would be what I watched, instead of being what I watched that was good. Unsurprisingly, none of them is from Funimation.

 

Things you can learn from In/Spectre

January 14, 2020

You can learn that かっぱ are very friendly.

These days they are very trendy creatures.

Trendy Kappa

Who recommend good sushi

Kappa Sushi in Saitama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(there’s also a Kappa Sushi in San Diego)

 

and high quality shrimp flavored chips

Shrimp Chips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(you can get them on Amazon)

 

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Winter 2020

January 13, 2020

I wanted to write this whole article in one sitting, but it looks like it will be at least a week before all the new anime have aired. So, we do our best with what we have. Note that, as usual, Funimation hogged all the real stinkers — and got its own TLDR — so we just have to make do with what’s left elsewhere.

Asteroid in Love: A too-generic, too saccharine, cute-girls-doing-club-stuff anime. The girls are supposedly in high school, but they look and act more like middle schoolers. Despite it showing the only accurate portrayal of a real constellation that I’ve seen in anime, it’s 23 minutes that I can find a better use for. Like going outside and looking at the stars.

Room Camp: A short-short follow on to Laid Back Camp. Three minutes is too short to do anything more than come up with a lame camping-themed joke.

The Case Files of Jeweler Richard: Remember 2018’s Holmes of Kyoto? Move it to Tokyo and replace the ditzy girl with an overly serious boy. Both were unassuming lightweights, except that Holmes had the Kyoto tourist spots as backdrops. Holmes also had a budding romance between the appraiser and his employee, but there’s no reason why Jewler can’t explore that trope as well — after all, it’s the Reiwa Period now. However, I decided halfway through Holmes that this sort of slow burn non-mystery mystery show isn’t for me, and this time I’m bailing early.

The Island of Giant Insects: Remember Are you lost, last summer’s TV short about three girls surviving an airplane crash on a desert island? Suppose we gave the same high concept to the team that did Btoom, or maybe Gantz, and tell them to make a movie. Only don’t give them half the budget. Poor animation (it’s a 2020 release that looks like it should have aired in 2010), tired group dynamics tropes with serial death flags. And let’s not mention the ero-horror fan service. There’s a reason the AniList rating is around 40%.

Tokyo Olympic Stadium unveiled

January 12, 2020

The new stadium incorporates materials from all over Japan, and emphasizes the use of wood to give it a warm appearance.

Having been completed, it looks much better than it did when it was under construction.

Akira

Gaming Trump 2

January 10, 2020

I have written before about Trump and game theory, particularly about a specific mathematical game called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. It is a game that explains why you will lie to a used car dealer about the road-worthiness of your trade-in, and he will lie to you about the road-worthiness of the car he’s selling. You both lie because it’s a single-iteration game and you will never see each other again and the logic of the mathematics requires that you lie. But what about if you are in a situation where you both plan to do business on a regular basis? Like, if you are two countries engaged in adversarial diplomacy?

That’s called an Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, and it’s a totally different game. In an IPD, the best strategy, the one that gives the highest payoff, is what’s known as Tit-For-Tat. You cooperate with the other player as long as they cooperate with you. If they cheat on one of the iterations, then on the next one you cheat, once, and then go back to cooperating. Note that cheating and cooperating are technical terms that describe classes of actions, like assassinations or adhering to trade agreements.

It looks like Iran has adopted a TFT strategy. We killed Soleimiani, they struck back with missiles, then backed off. That’s likely to get them a lot closer to their immediate ends, than Trump’s strategies, such as they are, will get the US.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Winter 2020 – Funimation Division

January 10, 2020

For the last couple of years I’ve had this hate-hate relationship with Funimation. Their user interface is clunky, their log-on policies are irritating, and their selection is small. More about all of that in a later post.

I put off fighting the FN user interface for the first week or so of the new season, then plunged in and marathoned all the new shows on two separate nights. Here’s my take on the shows that weren’t worth it.

Plunderer: Young child (maybe five or six) is given a magic billiard ball by her abyss-bound mother and spends the next five years walking over 20km per day* looking for her “Ace with a white star” (no indication of how she survives while doing this). Arrives in a small town, only to be set upon by the village idiot molester, then deceived and assaulted by a no-good Army sergeant, who just happens to have a white star sticker handy to paste on his forehead. Rescued by said molester (who turns out to also be the real Ace, complete with star). Mediocre animation. Overacting like I haven’t seen since my last high school play. Horribly contrived (and poorly thought out) world concept. Child molestation as a plot point, and played for laughs by the so-called hero.

*How do we know this? The associated number** is tattooed on her inner thigh. High up on her inner thigh.
**Don’t ask.

Sorcerous Stabber Orphen: Super sorcerer’s ensorceled sister shape shifts into Smaug and soars away. He’s spent the last five years looking for her. Teams up with a sorcerer wannabe, a couple of larcenous dwarves (if you spell it with an f it’s a small red star) who look like Detective Conan, and the sword-swinging younger daughter of a rich merchant. Supporting cast includes seven people who were introduced by name (including screentags) at the introduction, and then suddenly it’s five years and a thousand miles later, and they appear again. BTW, Orphen is the guy’s name, not his parental status, and sorcerer is his profession, which means that stabber is his hobby or something. Too Saturday-morning kids show for me. I guess the spiky hair should have warned me.

Infinite Dendogram: Highschool boy enters a full-immersion VRMMORPG (like Sword Art, only without the evil sysadmin). Meets a full-featured NPC, a bear shaped sidekick, and a beautiful wrist-mounted embryo. Fights off badly animated CG insects and saves the FFNPC’s little sister. Might be worth a second episode, but right now it’s too much of a generic PC isekai.

Nekopara: A collection of cat-girls, who appear to be in their pre-tweens, help out in a bakery. When not helping, they’re engaged in semi-lewd interactions. At the 9:30 mark I decided I am so not the demographic for this one.

Toilet-bound Hanako-kun: One final wrong-demographic. Really cute, really sweet, girl-meets-ghost. Like an inverted Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, but with less of a horror background (I guess). Artwork is like a children’s book. I’d say something like I wish I had kids, so I could watch it with them, but ya know, the ancillary costs wouldn’t be worth it.

More on Soleimani

January 6, 2020

I am normally reluctant to comment on developing situations, because the situation can … develop … faster than the news can catch up with it, and early reporting can turn out to be erroneous. In this case, current reporting says the situation is worse than we thought.

First of all, it’s looking like the rationale for the attack is collapsing under its own lack of logic, and that our decision-making process is in total disarray. It is reminiscent of how we managed our occupation of Iraq in the post-invasion days. My guess is that Trump made the decision in order to distract from the impeachment proceedings. This is a time-honored ploy of governments who wish to silence opposition. Those old enough will remember that the Argentina military government started the Falklands War in the wake of violent anti-government riots.

Second, it turns out that in making the decision to carry out the assassination of Soleimani when we did, we did not take into account the nature of his presence in Iraq. Iran and Saudi Arabia are long term rivals in the region, and President Trump had asked Iraq to help mediate a reduction in tensions between them. Soleimani was in Baghdad on an official mission to the Iraqi government to deliver the Iranian response. I haven’t seen a lot of US reporting on this, but I expect it will have a major impact on how both the Iranian and Iraqi governments view the act.

Finally, it appears that no-one in DoD expected Trump to make the assassination decision. Pat Lang makes that the first point in his analysis of the situation. People often talk about giving the boss three options: surrender, blow up the world, or follow my plan. Trump chose the blow up the world option.

As Talleyrand reportedly once said, It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.

Asteroid in Love

January 5, 2020

Just watched the first episode of Asteroid in Love. It’s a too-generic, too saccharine, cute-girls-doing-club-stuff anime. The girls are supposedly in high school, but they look and act more like middle schoolers. It will probably end up in my next TL;DR collection.

HOWEVER:

It is the first anime that I can recall — and I tend to pay attention to these things — that accurately portrays an actual stellar constellation.

Orion over my shoulder

Not just the shape of the asterism. The relative brightness and color of the stars are shown as well. Look at red Betelgeuse, and blue Rigel. The belt is accurate, but you can’t see the sword — as is to be expected in urban Japan.

So, credit where credit is due Asteroid, you’ve left a memorable image.

Comparative Burn

January 5, 2020

Here’s a map off of Twitter, showing Australia and the fires, overlaid on a map of the US at the same scale.

Unrolling the map a little, it’s like the entire East Coast, and Gulf Coast were aflame.

Note: a number of people are saying that no fires have been reported in northern Australia. On the one hand, here is a BBC article with a timeline map showing fire dots across the north. On the other hand, here is the latest weather report from Darwin, showing good AQI and rain. No idea what the reason for the discrepancy is. Possibly how the satellite is responding to non-fire phenomena.

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani

January 4, 2020

On Thursday, a US drone strike killed ten people just outside Baghdad International Airport. One was Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The other one was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Of the others, four were Iranian officers and four were Iraqi officers.

The Quds Force is a unit in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) directed to carry out unconventional warfare and military intelligence operations, i.e. the Iranian equivalent of US Special Operations Command (which includes units like Seal Team 6 and Delta Force). The Quds force has been active for years, projecting Iranian power into conflicts from Lebanon to Afghanistan. Sometimes their objectives have coincided with our own, particularly in the fight against ISIS. Much of the time their interests clashed with ours, particularly in Syria. In April 2019, the U.S. made the unprecedented decision (over the opposition of the CIA and DoD) to designate the IRGC — a legitimate military unit — as a foreign terrorist organization. To continue the analogy, it’s as if the US Army was designated a terrorist unit.

Here’s another US comparison: according to retired US Army General Petraeus:

Soleimani was, in US terms, a combination of CIA Director, JSOC Commander, and Special Presidential Envoy for the Mideast

Imagine the US reaction if a Presidential Envoy was visiting, say, Taiwan, and a Chinese drone killed them.

As for al-Muhandis, he was deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi organization tasked with managing the various local militias. The PMF was formed in 2014 and its units have fought in nearly every major battle against ISIL. Last summer, PMF was merged into the Iraqi armed forces. Very vaguely, it is comparable to the US National Guard, and he would be the commander. So, he’s not at the level of Soleimani, but he was a 4-star general equivalent.

Drawing US parallels again, it would be like a supposed ally (say, Canada, or the UK) killing the Deputy Chief of the US National Guard Bureau right after he met a plane at Reagan National Airport in DC.

Trump says that Soleimani was in Iraq to plot terrorist attacks and that those attacks were imminent (however, see this tweet stream by the NYT ISIS specialist), but if so it was a remarkably public visit. From reports I’ve seen, he traveled on his own passport, on a commercial jet, and was met by an official Iraqi government greeting party. There is disagreement over whether or not our action was an assassination (which is illegal by US law) or an anti-terrorist operation (which is not). A number of people have pointed out that embassy security was remarkably lax until the demonstrations, hardly an indication of concern over “imminent” terrorist attacks. Of course, none of this matters, because those are internal US arguments (like the argument over Congressional notification). Things are legal if we say they are legal. Organizations are terrorist organizations if we say they are. The rest of the world doesn’t matter. Except when it does.

Middle East expert Ron Cole points out that one result of the attack will be to tighten the bond between Iran and Iraq. Another possible result could be the Iraqi government deciding to expel all US troops from the county. And of course there’s that whole thing about you kill our leadership, we kill yours.

Part of the problem for the US in the Middle East is the “optics” of our actions. It’s one thing to kill an opposition leader when he’s out visiting troops in the field. It’s another thing to do so when he’s on an open visit to the capital of a supposed ally. Plus, it’s really hard to hand-wave away our killing of a high ranking officer of our host country. The press keeps calling the PMF “Iranian-backed”, but the fact is, it is an official part of the Iraqi armed forces. Al-Muhandis’ death was probably just collateral damage — you know, like a bridesmaid at a wedding attended by a Taliban dignitary — but the Iraqi government is no more likely to accept that claim than we would the murder of the Chief of the US National Guard Bureau.

Follow-up. Iraqi Parliament asks the Prime Minister to order American forces out.

But at least Americans in Iraq are now safer than they were, particularly those who obeyed the order to flee the country.

 

 

Anime Preview: Winter 2020

January 3, 2020

Unlike others, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the previews, and who actually read the press releases, I’m going to base mine on pretty much just the title and the cover art.

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels and continuations of stuff I dropped before (Haikyuu, Kabukicho Sherlock), shorts and kids stuff (Egg Car ), movies and OVA’s, and anything with Precure, Railgun, or punctuation in the title

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing, so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps (you can click on the pix to embiggen).

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

WON’T WATCH. The cover art and/or the title tells me more than I ever wanted to know on the topic.

Amazake Oats

January 2, 2020

Almost three years ago I reported on using baseline amazake in oatmeal. Amazake (甘酒 , あまざけ) or “sweet sake” is a extremely sweet non-alcoholic drink made from the lees left over from production of sake. An instant variety (available from Amazon) comes as a small white slab, about the size of the miniature candy bars given out at Halloween, and which looks and feels like a chunk of styrofoam (it even floats). In Japan it is popular at Shinto shrines for the January 1st beginning-of-the-year celebrations. We had a few slabs left over, so I thought I’d see if they tasted any different with a different dissolving fluid.

First up was boxed chicken broth, ’cause that’s what I had on hand when the idea struck.

Experiment 1: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup chicken broth, one slab of instant amazake, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. Amazakingly sweet. Chicken added a robust background.

Rating: ***

Next morning (AKA today), when my brain had caught up with my inspiration, I made a batch of dashi, using a commercial dashi-bag.

Experiment 2: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup dashi, one slab of instant amazake, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. Very … Japanese. Once again, exceedingly sweet. Dashi taste was not overwhelming, but it was there. A touch of shoyu helped, but only a touch.

Rating: ***

These are too exotic to put into the regular rotation, like cake for breakfast, but now and then they make a great change. Since packaged amazake is kindof expensive ($10 for a 4-pack), I think I’ll try a field expedient recipe using leftover rice water, mirin, and sake…plus some additional sugar.

Happy New Year

December 31, 2019

…to one and all.  Here’s hoping we do better this year than last.

It’s 8pm here, which means midnight in New Brunswick, Canada, which isn’t that far off from Brunswick, Georgia, where my sister-in-law lives, so that’s close enough.

We each had a small cup of instant amazake, wished each other a Happy New Year, and will be in bed before the fireworks start in St. Louis.

The most entertaining anime of the decade

December 31, 2019

Picture this. It’s the end of a hard week and you have just popped up a batch of popcorn, opened a bottle of vin exceedingly ordinaire, and chased the dogs off the sofa. What’s your next step?

Hey, honey, there’s a fifteen-hour Hamlet marathon on Netflix, starting with the 1911 August Blom version. Wanna watch?

OR

Hey, honey, what anime do you want to watch tonight?

Yeah. I thought so.

The list that follows is my take on the most entertaining anime of each year this decade. Not the highest quality. Not the most artistic. Just the one you’d like to watch when you want to be entertained and not have to think, similar to how Miyazaki intended Porko Rosso for tired Japanese businessmen. One anime per year.

2010 Highschool Of The Dead: Yes, it’s a fanservice train wreck. Yes, both the anime and the manga leave us hanging. But ya know, it’s darn fine storytelling.

Popcorn! More popcorn!

2011 Chihayafuru: Just because it’s the best anime of the year doesn’t mean it can’t be great entertainment. Besides, it was a pretty thin year.

Burning Goddess of Autumn

2012 Girls und Panzer: What’s not to like? A going-to-Koshien story about cute girls…and tanks…on aircraft carriers? Plus, it has the maus.

Did Rommel really get his start this way?

2013 Log Horizon: As I’ve said earlier, 2013 was a magical year for anime. But Kyousougiga and Kill La Kill make you think too much, and Non Non Biyori will put you pleasantly to sleep…

…but Log Horizon is computer world isekai done right

2014 Witch Craft Works: Another magical year, and WCW just barely edged out Shirobako. But Shiro is serious and WCW is just mind candy.

Saving her princess

2015 Blood Blockade Battlefront. New York, as it lives in the minds of New Yorkers.

After this, it gets weird

2016 Flying Witch: One of the better slice-of-life series. Even the fact that it had an Anime Original Ending couldn’t give it a dramatic arc, and that’s OK.

Where else would she get one?

2017 Dragon Maid: In another great year, DM beat out five other shows, but only just.

2018 Bunny Girl Senpai: Five short stories in one anime. Lots of references to other anime.

Haruhi ears, Lucky Star hair clip, Monogatari warning, Dewey decimal.

2019 Kotobuki: Magnificent flying. I get a bad case of the leans every time I watch it.

Another kill for Kotobuki

Retirement 360

December 30, 2019

I could have said Retirement 365, but that sounds too much like a Microsoft product, and since this is more of a tour dhorizon than a detailed diary, I think that 360 is better.

It’s been one year since I retired from almost twenty years of teaching at Eastern Washington University. Combine that with my retirement from the USAF after over twenty years of service, and it looks like I am really retired, not just mostly retired. So what have I been doing this year just past?

Gaining weight. I ended my teaching career at 220lbs. Last month I brushed 250lbs, so I’ve gained right around two and a half pounds a month. This, obviously, can’t continue. For one thing, my talking scale has started to say things like One of you will have to get off.

Maintaining health. So, there’s the whole myeloma thing, which seems to be in abeyance right now (next check is in January). My blood pressure is under control, except that the meds I’m taking have resulted in a certain amount of edema, and the ever-popular nocturia, so were playing with dosages and things. What I’ve found over the years is that meds that are effective have adverse side effects, while meds with no side effects are not very effective.

Watching anime. At last, something fun. I’ve watched more anime titles this year (86, at the time of this writing) than in any two previous. Of course, watching that many anime means that I’m diving deeper into the barrel, and you can see this because my average score for 2019 was 66, as opposed to my career average of 70. Interestingly, the number of hours that I watched was 241, or enough for only 48 full programs (assuming 300min/season). Obviously, the difference between the number watched (85 programs, or 25500 minutes ) and time spent (13980 minutes, or 46 programs) was due to the fact that I tried a lot more anime this year, and dropped most of them after only one or two episodes. In fact, I only watched 19 shows to completion this year.

Working in my garden. Given that Spokane has a growing season of 152 days, at best, I spend a lot of time planning. However, I managed to grow 67kg of produce, including almost 550 tomatoes of various kinds this year, which is an all time record. Pretty good, considering that it didn’t include any monster field pumpkins.

Writing in the blog. I managed 144 posts this year (of which roughly 40 were about anime), which is pretty close to previous years, but not near 2017’s 160. I’ve had just over 4,000 visitors, which is half what I had in 2015. Maybe I need to write more posts about oatmeal, or High School of the Dead.

Worrying about things I haven’t accomplished. Like getting back my admittedly rudimentary Japanese skills — I’ve been in the Japanese in 90 Days program for ten years now. Like getting back my programming skills — not one line of Python the whole year. Like digitizing my 35mm slides, home VHS, and cassette tapes. Like doing the home maintenance chores MJ wants me to do (but ya know, if a man says he’ll do something, he’ll do it, and it don’t do no good you go reminding him every six months).

Summary. I am pretty much content with my lot. I do miss the teaching and interacting with students — MJ has already heard all my jokes — but not so much that I’d come back. Yes, I’m willing to help out in an emergency, but nothing full time, or in the winter, or at night in downtown Spokane.

Don’t try to engage my enthusiasm, because I haven’t got one.

I don’t feel empty of purpose, the way many retirees reportedly do, because I am my own purpose, and I am pretty much self-motivated (and -centered and -ish).

Forecast. See: things I haven’t accomplished. Full court press on Japanese and Python. Maybe another cruise — we like cruises. I’d like to do another trip to Japan, but 2020 is an Olympics year, and Akira spoiled it for the tourists. So, maybe a trip down memory lane, to see if Brexit has knocked the UK back to their charming post WWII poverty.

Anime worth watching, 2019

December 28, 2019

I’m not going to do a top ten or anything like that. This is simply a list of what I consider to be the single best anime of each season of the year past. If nothing in a season rises to the level of really good, then I’ll leave it blank.

Winter 2019

The Magnificent Kotobuki. The great flying, great characters, and interesting story makes up for the less than great CG character design. 90/100.

Spring 2019

Nothing that made the cut. At 70/100, Bokuben was the best of a bad lot, and no, I didn’t like Demon Slayer.

Summer 2019

Oh, Maidens in your Savage Season. The best coming-of-age anime I have seen. Probably the best anime of the year. 100/100. I note that of 450 anime from the last twenty years, I have given only 8 of them a 100/100.

Fall 2019

Ascendance of a Bookworm. 85/100. Isekai done right. See the essay I stayed up late on Christmas night to write. Sorry, Chihaya, you started late and didn’t end in 2019.

 

Ascendance of a Bookworm: The anime and the novels

December 25, 2019

Ascendance of a Bookworm is one of my favorite anime/light novels this season — and probably number 3 for the year. Yes, it’s an isekai, with all the baggage that term brings with it, but it manages to stand out from the crowd, and it does so without the self-conscious, 4th-wall-breaking, hur hur hur did you see what I did antics that its pack-mates have resorted to. Despite that, the early episodes didn’t garner a lot of love from the reviewers, (also here and here and here) and I’m here to remedy that problem. Let me start by listing how it differs from others of the isekai genre.

First, it’s straightforward reincarnation. Myne, our protagonna, isn’t summoned to this new world via magic. She isn’t killed by accidental act of God, thus gaining an apology and a new life as an overpowered hero. She dies in an earthquake — after almost getting hit by a truck due to reading while walking — and reawakens in her new body. Very Buddhistic. Note: the LN calls her Myne, while the anime says Main, pronounced as if German. The Japanese is マイン, which transliterates as Ma.i.n and is pronounced Mine. I’m using the LN spelling and the German pronunciation.

Second, she is, as you might have already guessed, female. Not a hikikomori highschool boy, nor yet a middle-aged businessman, she’s a girl who is about to graduate from college with a job in a library. This is fairly unusual. Less than 25% of the current run of 78 light novels on J-Novel (dating almost totally from the current decade) feature female protagonists in a fantasy world isekai, and as far as anime is concerned, AniList shows only 20 isekai with female leads in the 40 years since 1990.

Third, she’s not an overpowered hero. As with the males in these stories, the few women in high fantasy isekai tend to have some sort of cheat going for them, usually some God-granted superpower. Not here. Myne occupies the body of a sickly six-year old girl, and brings with her only the knowledge that a widely-read college student with a crafts-otaku mother might have.

Fourth, she’s not part of the aristocracy. Other fantasy isekai heroes tend to be summoned by kings, reincarnated as daughters of nobles, or manage to meet with high-ranking nobles before the end of Episode 2. Myne is, as the title of the first volume says, the daughter of a soldier. Actually, I think a better description would be ‘member of the city guard’, not a soldier. She never meets a noble throughout the first three books.

THE STORY (with spoilers, and incorporating elements of both the anime and the light novel).

Our story opens with Motosu Urano, a graduating college student who loves books, killed by the collapse of her bookshelves during a minor earthquake. She finds herself in the body of a sickly six year old — who she hears dying from a fever, even as Urano is resurrected in her body. The world she finds herself in is covered in grime (those sheets started out white), colorless, and devoid of books.

She goes briefly mad, trashing the house  in her search for books, or newspapers, or calendars — anything with words in a row. I should pause for a moment, and talk about Myne and books, or rather, Urano and books. All she wants to do is read. She has her own room with floor to ceiling books (which are what kill her). She’s like me. If there’s no book nearby at breakfast I’ll read the back of the cereal box. Heck, I’ll read the side of a cereal box. I’d be perfectly happy to be a brain in a jar, as long as I had one eyeball, and a finger to turn the pages. That’s what Myne is like. I bring this up because it’s the driving force of the story. The LN dedicates the entire Prologue to building up Myne’s bookish character. The anime starts off with a bit of a spoiler, showing the High Priest doing some sort of mind meld to find out why she likes books so much. In any event, at the end of the first episode she has decided to make her own books.

The early arcs deal with her learning to live with her new world. It’s so unlike modern Japan that she doesn’t even recognize her sister’s favorite toy as a hand-made doll. Her family is not poor, but is definitely lower class despite her father having a government job. They are living essentially a hand-to-mouth existence — her sister has to forage in the forest for firewood and edibles. There’s no food storage, so most of the meat is fresh-killed — right in front of you.

They live on the 5th floor of what the LN calls a 7-floor townhouse, but which is more like a Roman insula, an apartment complex where the apartments are cheaper the higher up you live (partly because your chances of dying in a fire are higher). Sanitation is non-existent — as in pee in a pot and pour it out the window.

In fact, Myne’s Japanese sense of cleanliness is what drives her first impact on her family and society. She spends part of each day cleaning the family bedroom. She can’t take an ofuro style bath, but she can have her sister wipe her down. She can’t really wash her hair, so she creates a vegetable oil shampoo based on memories of what she remembers from her crafts-otaku mother. Ultimately, that shampoo will be her first commercial product.

Myne is busy in other ways. She teams up with Lutz, a local boy her own age, who wants to be a traveling merchant, and begins trying different ways to make paper so that she can write books. She introduces the art of crocheting, and makes her sister a hair ornament for her baptism.

She also spends time at the town gate (where her father is guard-commander), in the care of Otto, a soldier who keeps the books for the guard unit. When he finds out that she can do math (in spite of not being able to read the local writing), he has her help him with the bookkeeping. She asks Otto to give Lutz some advice on being a merchant, and Otto introduces both of them to the merchant, Benno.

This marks the beginning of a close and profitable relationship. By the time we get to the end of Season 1, Benno has contracted to make the shampoo, two different kinds of paper, and has stuck a deal to subcontract to Lutz and Myne and her family for the production of baskets and the crocheted hairpins.

Not all is well, however. In addition to being a sickly child who often is confined to her bed with a fever, Myne has a much deadlier disease, called The Devouring. It’s a disease of those who’s bodies produce too much manna, the driving force in magic. It manifests as a burning furnace inside that’s hard to damp down. Sooner or later it will overflow and kill the patient. The only way to survive it is to dump the excess manna into a magical item, but commoners normally don’t have access to such. The only way to gain access is to do what her rich merchant friend Frieda did, sign a contract to become the mistress of a noble (at age 7). Myne decides she’d rather die with her family.

Myne has several minor attacks of The Devouring, but as she gets older, they get worse. Finally, she has a major, life threatening, attack that gets staved off only because Frieda is willing to sell her a broken magic item that will absorb some of her manna and damp down the fires. That’s good for about a year.

At the end of the anime, Myne turns seven and is baptised, and finds out that not only does the church have lots of books, it also has lots of magical items and is in need of people with manna to keep them charged. The High Bishop tries to kidnap Myne right in front of her parents (they are, after all, mere commoners), but Myne shows what she can do when she gets her manna up and foils that plan. They end up with an agreement that Myne will become a shrine maiden, with unprecedented permission to live outside the cathedral and continue with her commercial activities. All ends well, at least until Season 2.

Throughout this, Myne can come across as a not-very likeable character. Her obsession with books can be somewhat off-putting, but it’s what drives the story (of course, my reaction to her obsession is ‘well…yeah’). She spends much of her time bad-mouthing her new world, but the fact is, medieval Europe was a terrible era to live in, particularly if you were poor. Her reactions are much more realistic than those of more popular isekai, where the hero looks around and says “Oh, yeah. Medieval Europe. Cool.” Finally, to some, Myne comes across as somewhat smug. I think it’s more the internal thought processes of a 20-year-old dealing with people who think she’s six. Where it counts, she’s considerate. She helps out her older sister. She advises Lutz on his career choices. After he challenges her on her identity, she offers to “go away”, despite the fact that her dying probably won’t bring the old Myne back. Later, she says she prefers to die in the arms of her family than whore herself out as a mistress to the nobles she despises. In the end, she’s a lot deeper than she first appears.

The only real problem I have with Bookworm is one that is endemic to any isekai. Assuming that the purpose of the story is to show how the protagonist prospers using their Earth-originated talents, it’s hard to make that happen without cheating. So you have isekai with smart phones, with overpowered protagonists, with knowledge of the future. Bookworm eschews all of that for simple crafts, but of course, the question then is, if they are so simple, why didn’t the contemps think of them already? Like using the vegetable water as broth (really?), or using the parue fruit dregs as human food. Of course, there are examples from our world, like spaghetti — while Marco Polo didn’t import it from China, it was still fifteen hundred years after the foundation of the Roman Republic that something resembling pasta appears in Italy. It all boils down to the reader’s willingness to suspend their disbelief. At least it wasn’t mayonnaise.

Meanwhile, Bookworm is an important addition to the genre because of how it deals with the poverty and the major class divisions built into the system, something rarely talked about in any fantasy isekai, or indeed, any Medieval-Europe-inspired fantasy.

Admittedly, Bookworm doesn’t talk about the dirt-poor, the beggars, the homeless. But it does show us the life of the working poor. Families working two jobs, not knowing if they will have enough food for the winter. Families who huddle around a table in front of the fire until it’s time for them to all sleep in what might as well be one bed in their one bedroom. (Side note, I’m surprised Myne hasn’t introduced the kotatsu). Families with zero access to healthcare, even for their children. Children who forage in the forest for firewood and food for their families until their baptism at age 7, when they enter the workforce, and for whom schools are unheard of. Without harping on the poverty, Bookworm provides a very good picture of what daily life is like at the bottom.

The other thing that Bookworm makes clear is the extreme difference in the social classes. The three main ones are the nobility, the church, and the commoners. The anime doesn’t go into great detail, but every now and then Myne complains about noble privileges, e.g. their books and magic items. As shown more by the LN than the anime, the nobility and the church overlap somewhat, with the typical tradition that third sons will go into the church. The commoners don’t overlap with either of the others — their speech, clothing, and concerns are totally different. Commoners rarely enter the church other than on the day they are baptised, and a commoner is powerless in the face of a noble or a high church officer. The church has its own commoners — the orphans who have been left in their care and who are essentially slaves. In the LN, in volumes beyond Season 1, we find that the orphans have never been outside the cathedral, or been exposed to the concept of money or of being paid for their work.

Finally, we see in later volumes of the LN that Myne’s work is on the verge of having an impact far beyond her own little circle. Her first book, printed on her own paper, using stencil technology that she learned in crafts, is one of simplified stories from the local Bible. The High Priest is surprised that she can create 30 copies of the book so easily. He is troubled because he sees a book as a work of art, where Myne views it as a store of information. He is also confused both by the fact that she put a flower on the cover, and that she could put a flower on the cover. Her second book is one of secular stories for children (written for her soon-to-be-born sibling, conceived, presumably, in the bed next to Myne), starting with Cinderella. The High Priest says that the tale is totally unbelievable, even as a fantasy, and by the time he is done editing it, the story is unrecognizable. Neither one sees (although Myne should, having read about the impact of the Gutenberg printing press) that once this technology moves beyond a single city, making cheap books available for all and encouraging commoners to learn to read (and therefore to think), there will be a social revolution that will sweep away both the nobility and the church.

 

 

Anime Postview: Fall 2019

December 23, 2019

This is not a real review of the anime season just ending. Instead, it’s a look at how well I did in my Fall 2019 Preview, which you might want to look at first.

Ones I said I WILL WATCH:

These three were a mixed bag, not because of quality (well, that, too), but because of timing and availability.

Chihayafuru 3: I am a big fan of Chihaya, so I am working my way through the first two seasons again, plus, it started late in the season, which means I have not yet watched any of it. That’s OK. Trust me on this one. It’s good.

Rifle is Beautiful: Dropped after two episodes. Cute girls not really doing anything with things that aren’t really guns.

Ascendance of a Bookworm (AKA Honzuki…): I think it’s great. Others are not so sure, primarily because of the slow start. Just found out there will be a second season, which is good, because there’s no way they could wrap up the plot threads after a mere 14 episodes.

Ones I said I MIGHT WATCH:

Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average: Watched it. It’s great. One of the better fantasy world isekai I’ve seen.

Stand My Heroes: As I thought. Boring. Bunch’a cute guys. If I wanted to watch cute guys do cute stuff in cute outfits, I’d go to more basketball games.

Afterschool Dice Club: Dropped it one episode in, I didn’t like any of the characters. Not-so-cute girls doing not-so-cute things with games.

Ones I said I WON’T WATCH:

I didn’t.

Summary: Nine shows. Six I said I’d watch. Three were good (I’m counting Chihayafuru), which gives me a 50% success rate. Meanwhile, Oresuki and Bokuben were not on my radar (well, I liked S1 of Bokuben) but I ended up watching them anyway, and they were pretty good (except for Oresuki‘s buy-the-DVD non-ending). So overall, it was a good season, with five watchable shows. To which I added Garden of Sinners, a collection of one hour arcs based on the light novel Empty Boundaries, and a rewatch of Devil is a Part Timer, which mostly was a demonstration of how much Funimation sucks as a streaming platform (of which, more later).

Curried Potato Pumpkin Soup….oatmeal

December 19, 2019

We are getting down to the end of our home-grown winter squash. Last night, MJ took our two pie-pumpkins, added some potatoes and curry and made soup. Of course I then took the soup and some broth and made breakfast. The broth was what we call a second pressing — MJ likes to make chicken soup the long, slow, simmer on the stove way. I then take the dregs and nuke them in the pressure cooker for 45min. The resulting broth is a little thin, but good enough.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup chicken broth, one fat dinner tablespoon of pumpkin etc. soup. two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add soup at the beginning and the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. Needs something more to help it level up — salt, ground pepper, gin…something.

Rating: ***

Isekai of the Future

December 17, 2019

An interesting sub-genre in light novels is one where the protagonna gains knowledge of the future and strives to create an alternative history timeline by correcting her earlier, or forthcoming, mistakes.  So far, the two ways this can happen are by tapping the memories of RPG game playing in a former life (on Earth), or by straightforward reincarnation into an earlier self.

J-Novel is currently running three light novels like this, while a fourth LN I have only found in manga form:

 

 

I Refuse to be Your Enemy

14-year old girl in a fantasy world, living a life that is only a couple of steps better than an early phase Cinderella, has dreams that she’s watching someone play a computer RPG, one that turns out to parallel her real life. Realizing that the in-game character that is her is on the route to the bad ending, she runs away from her boarding school, and the threat of an arranged marriage, vowing to change history if she can.

This is still on Volume 1, but she appears to be making the right kind of friends.

 

 

 

 

 

My Next Life as a Villainess

Bratty 8-year old girl in a fantasy world wakes up after an injury, with all the memories of her “previous life” as a 17-year old Japanese girl who played a computer RPG, one that turns out to parallel her real life. Her problem is that she is not the heroine of the game, and each of the main characters has a reason to dislike her, either because of how she interacts with them, or how she treats the heroine. This is why all of the paths in the game provide a Happy Ending for the heroine, and a Bad Ending for her. This is the only one of the three LN’s on J-Novel that has run to completion of the first arc, so I can say without spoiling too much that she finds an unexpected ending, which keeps them all alive. I haven’t read beyond that, but the succeeding volumes cover how she deals with running off her RPG map.

 

 

 

It Seems Like I Got Reincarnated Into the World of a Yandere Otome Game

This 2014 LN (I can’t find the LN, so I’m reading the 2018 manga) is similar to Villainess — 10-year old protagonna goes through life with a sense of disquiet and deja vu, due to memories of a prior life leaking through. Upon seeing a betrothal painting of her arranged-marriage fiance, she suffers a memory cascade, revealing more details that life. It turns out that, as in Villainess, her world parallels the RPG she “remembers” playing, and that she’s the doomed rival of the RPG’s main heroine.

For a LN with a premise that’s almost identical to that of Villainess, it’s fascinating to see how fast the two plotlines diverge. It’s also a little creepy to see everyone exposing their yandere side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tearmoon Empire

20-year old Marie Antoinette-like princess is beheaded during a revolution, and awakens to find herself back in her 12 year old body again, with all of her memories intact, along with the blood-soaked diary she kept during the intervening 8 years. She vows to avoid the mistakes that caused the revolution. Unfortunately, the diary (which changes as her actions change the future) only concerns her own doings, and not things like lottery numbers or race results.

Volume 1 is still incomplete. Her experiences have changed her personality, shocking those around her, and she is working to create a situation that will help her avoid the axe. What makes this LN particularly fun is the way everyone makes totally wrong assumptions about her motives. At one point, just for e.g., she gives her maid some walking-around money, because she deserves some time off [Use this as you see fit], which her maid assumes is some fiduciary trust [Mistress wants me to spend these funds in the most effective way possible, I’ll buy gifts for the workers].

Some people might say that these are not true isekai, because they involve her home world (not Earth). While it’s true that these books involve an inhabitant of the world under discussion gaining knowledge of the future, while remaining their own persona, they are using that knowledge to create an alternate timeline, a different world.

So far, only Villainess has been chosen to be an anime, scheduled for Spring, 2020.

Medieval Anime

December 15, 2019

The Medievalist just published an article discussing five anime that are based on inspired by Medieval Europe. The five are a bit of a grab bag: Saint Seiya, Record of Lodoss War, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Berserk, and Fate/Zero.

One can tell right away that the links to both Medieval and Europe can be pretty thin. Saint Seiya is based on Greek mythology. Berserk and Record of Lodoss War both draw on Norse mythology. The Heroic Legend of Arslan, which comes closest to meeting the definitions, is set in pre-Islamic Persia. And Fate/Zero’s most tenuous link of all is based on the presence of Artoria Pendragon, AKA Sabre.

Unfortunately, the author misses at least two recent programs with demonstrably stronger ties to Medieval + Europe. Ulysses: Jeanne d’Arc and the Alchemist Knight, a poorly regarded show from last year, actually involved a European setting in a Late Medieval time frame. At the other end of the scale, this year’s highly rated Vinland Saga is, despite the name, about the Viking conquest of England in the Early Medieval period.

Still, it’s good that the outside world is getting a look at what anime can be. I’m all in favor of this sort of thing, even if I don’t totally agree with the choices.

Are there any shows that I missed? Any other anime set in Europe and environs, between say 500 and 1500?

 

Why should Trump get special treatment?

December 12, 2019

The Horowitz Report absolved the FBI of running a politically motivated investigation of the Trump campaign, based on the flimsiest of evidence. It did, however, take them to task for various errors and lies-by-omission in reporting that evidence to the FISA court for permission.

There are those who look on this as evidence of a political motivation, echoing their reading of a similar report by IG Horowitz 18 months ago.

There are others who say this is just the latest of a long history of failure by the FBI and other agencies. Not failure, as in: we did our best but just didn’t make it, but failure as in: we knew we were supposed to do it this way but couldn’t be bother with all this complying with the law foolishness.

The FBI and NSA and CIA and others who do collections against American citizens have always used the flimsiest evidence and trumped up excuses to convince the FISA court to let them do what they want to do, and the rubber-stamp FISA court generally goes along with them. Read Snowden’s book on what gets collected and held by NSA. Read the reports on the FBI’s history of just-this-side of entrapment of easily-led Moslem youth.

My question is, if they are doing that to normal Americans on a day to day basis, why should they treat Trump and his cronies any differently? Or, as TechDirt’s tagline said, this news is from the and-if-the-FBI-does-this-to-the-big-people,-imagine-what-it-does-to-the-little-people department.

 

Afghanistan and the American Military

December 11, 2019

The Washington Post has just published what is being touted as the Afghan War’s Pentagon Papers. Like the Papers, this report was originally a summary of what had gone before, and like the Papers, it constitutes a damning indictment of American political and military leadership. Here is a somewhat shorter summary.

The actual facts are not particularly new. Much of this has been buried in plain sight in official reporting for years now. Some of this echos what Middle East expert Pat Lang said last September (quoting things he has said and repeated, for years).

What is new is that it’s our first clear admission in official documents of our failures in nation-building. It’s also our first clear statement of how our government lied to the public. They lied, and they exposed a pathological predilection for governmental lying that extends well beyond Afghanistan. War on drugs? Poisoned water? Airline safety? We’ve been lied to about all of them. The list could go on, but let’s get back to the topic at hand. We’re talking about Afghanistan, and our failures there.

Essentially, we went into that country without a clear goal, without any idea of how we would know when we’d won. And since we didn’t have a goal, we couldn’t have a path, either to a goal or to a way out. This wasn’t Land in Normandy and march all the way to Berlin. This was more like, yes, Vietnam, and our failures in Afghanistan, just like our failures in Vietnam, tell us much about the culture of our military and political leadership.

Just over a year ago there was a flurry of essays published by the Modern War Institute at West Point, arguing over what was needed in a general officer. One said optimism. One said cynicism. Another said realism. The examples they quote were, for the most part, situations where we had a clear goal, and ultimately won. They all miss the point.

They miss the point, because they are trapped by the modern American military culture that says, as in football, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. An officer doesn’t get promoted for failing. An officer gets promoted by achieving the goal, no matter how limited the resources they are given. As one recent article said, a Navy Captain who refuses to take his ship to sea because the crew isn’t ready will be quickly replaced someone who will take her out. This is how you get promoted. Also collisions and groundings. A general who says that we can’t do the job without three times the troop strength, will be replaced by someone willing to charge in and make it work, even if it won’t

In 1990, in the run-up to the first Gulf War, Colin Powell, Vietnam veteran and CJCS, set forth the conditions under which the US would conduct military operations. Essentially he, and the rest of the senior military leadership (also Vietnam veterans) were laying out what it would take to get military leadership backing for a war. Essentially, they said that they would not support a war that did not have clear, limited goals.

Unfortunately, most of our modern wars, sorry, conflicts, have been goal-free.

You would have thought that we would have learned our lesson from Vietnam — a war that burned up a generation of American youth, that crippled the Great Society, and absolutely destroyed the US space program. Oh yeah, and pretty much trashed the US military, as well. You would have thought that we would have learned from the Russian experience in Afghanistan, which broke the Soviet Army, and ultimately the Soviet Union.

Optimism, cynicism, and realism aside, what we need are generals with moral courage. Ones who will not only say “We need three times the number of troops you are talking about,” but who will follow that up with “and if you are not prepared to provide them, then here’s my resignation.” We don’t have those kind of generals, because we actively suppress those who would do that. There’s the story about an Army Captain who was arguing with his general about something and who finally said “Sir, did you make General by being a yes-man?” The general thought a minute and said “Captain, no I didn’t, but that’s how I made Major.” And the fact is, that if he was a yes-man in all the years prior to making Major, there’s no way he’d be any different the rest of the way to General.

So, the lessons learned from Afghanistan are:

  1. You can’t win a war if you don’t know why you’re fighting
  2. You can’t trust either the US government or the military leadership when it comes to reporting lack of success, and
  3. The current military mindset will not help us win any wars in the immediate future.

 

Pensacola

December 9, 2019

Just a quick comment on the shootings at NAS Pensacola. These are more general thoughts than an organized essay, and since this is a still-breaking story, I wouldn’t be surprised if I turn out to be wrong. You have been warned.

Basic facts are that a RSAF 2d Lt in the flight training program there walked into the classroom building at about 6:45AM and opened fire. He was in a three year program and was scheduled to go home in August.

One of the things that people seem surprised about, and the press keeps harping on (and the DoD Public Affairs folk keep having to explain) is the fact that there are Saudi military personnel on US bases. There are hundreds of them, plus hundreds more from other countries.

We’ve been doing this for a very long time, for very many countries. Forty years ago, when I went through Squadron Officers School at Maxwell AFB, our class had Saudis, Jordanians, Germans, Canadians, British, and Cambodians. NOTE: While we were there, Cambodia fell to Pol Pot, and the poor Cambodian AF Captain no longer had an air force or a country. He went back to help his family, and was undoubtedly shot as soon as he stepped off the plane.

The various programs are expensive, so why do we do this, particularly for countries of dubious friendship? One reason is that we use it to strengthen ties. The Luftwaffe pilots I met in Europe had done basic training a Williams AFB in Arizona, and all they wanted to talk about was fun times at Willy, and how they missed Mexican food. As for other countries, possibly less friendly countries, well, the idea is that the more we people can familiarize with the US, the more likely we will have friends in high places in some distant future. Remember, unlike the US, in many countries the military is a stepping stone to high political office. If some future Minister of the Interior has been exposed to American standards of government, that can only help.

Back to Pensacola. The issue with the Saudis is that they are the most fanatically religious of all the countries we seek to maintain good relations with. Not all Saudis, but many, and the ones associated with the Royal Family in particular. See this writeup by Middle East expert Pat Lang.

We can assume that, since the shooter was an officer in the RSAF, selected for training overseas, that he had high level connections and was fully vetted by their security services. Like all Saudis, he would be intensely proud and deeply religious. At 20 or so, he probably wasn’t emotionally ready to be thrown into the US fighter pilot culture (see Top Gun). At one point, an instructor called him “Porn ‘stash”, because his thick mustache looked like something you’d see on a porn star. This is not unusual military locker-room humor. He couldn’t take it, and filed a formal complaint.

My guess is that what triggered the final actions is that he was not doing well in class. We don’t flunk our foreign military students unless they really screw up (remember, the main objective is to build linkages, not train pilots), but if they don’t do well in the class, they will not do well at home (“professor, if you flunk me they will cut off my head back in the village”).

So, he’s young, he’s emotional, he’s in a country that’s the total antithesis to his religious learning, and he’s stressed.

Now, this worked out over some period of time. He got a hunting license, which let him buy a weapon — a distinctly non-hunting pistol. He reportedly watched terrorist vids with friends. Middle East expert Ron Cole wonders if this doesn’t point to a terrorist cell of young officers in the Saudi military. Given that terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology, it might be better to say reactionary cell, or maybe reactionary elements. That would be consistent with our picture of him.

Finally, and coming back to the general public reaction, a lot of politicians, including many who should know better, are saying that we should close these foreign training programs, that they pose too high a threat to Americans, that we should not allow foreigners on US military bases. These are the cheapest of cheap shots, by people who know that what they propose will never happen, or who won’t be adversely impacted if it does.  Using that same logic, and considering the shootings on Pearl Harbor Navy Yard two days prior to the Pensacola incident, perhaps we should ban all sailors from navy bases.

Pearl Harbor Day 2019

December 7, 2019

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you will have noticed that the attack on Pearl Harbor is a particular interest of mine. Partly that’s because my father was there, and partly because it is a classic Indications & Warning problem, the bedrock of half of my professional military career. As per an old family tradition, we were watching the movie Tora, Tora, Tora this afternoon — that’s how one knows that it’s the start of Christmas season in our household — and some thoughts occurred to me about the technology available in those days, and its impact on military operations.

Pre-war military technology was primitive by our standards, or by immediate post-war standards for that matter. Communications were by telephone (if local, and you had to go through the operator first), or by hand-keyed Morse code over HF radio for long range communications, radio that was susceptible to degradation by fluctuations in the ionosphere. A submarine cable linked Hawaii with the Mainland as early as 1902, but it was low-bandwidth telegraphy only — there were no telephone cables until after the war. In the movie, when the military couldn’t get a signal through to Pearl because of “atmospherics”, they gave their war-warning message to AT&T Western Union for cable transmission as a telegram.

Telegram to the Governor of Washington State. Presumably post-attack.

Similarly with radar. The Opana radar site had only been established ten days before the attack. The equipment used, the SCR-270, had been operational elsewhere on the island for about six months, but few people were trained in how to use it, and the chain of command was clueless on how to best employ it. In addition, the equipment did not operate the way radar does today. The user interface was crude, producing an oscilloscope display rather than the PPI scope of later systems.

See? Those are enemy planes. Or maybe echoes from the mountains in our backlobe

There were a lot of issues with the limitations of the technology of the day. The interesting thing is that as primitive as the tech was, it was still new to the military, and they were still figuring out how to use it. One key shortfall was lack of a proper organization to handle the new capabilities. I will talk about that, and the lack of a proper war-fighting mentality when I write about Pearl Harbor again, next year.

 

Memories of Anime, 2013

December 3, 2019

2013 was a magical year in anime. I watched more hours of anime that year than in any other year this Century. And most of it was good, with a personal score on AniList of 73.3, a full two standard deviations above my overall score of 70.7.

Just look at 2013!

So, what made 2013 such a good year? Well, of the 36 titles I started, 14 had an AniList score of 75% or higher, and only 6 were bad enough that I dropped them partway through.

Kyousougiga
A girl and her hammer

The good ones included new-that-year blockbusters like Kill la Kill and Silver Spoon, Kyoto-centric Kyousougiga and Eccentric Family, and follow-on seasons for Monogatari and Chihayafuru. Not quite in the top tier were Log Horizon and Devil is a Part-Timer, excellent isekai and reverse-isekai shows.

Eccentric Family
A boy and his mother

Long form movies were Miyazaki’s retirement masterpiece The Wind Rises, and newcomer showcase Little Witch Academia. At the other end of the length spectrum was the feel-good short Encouragement of Climb and AIURA (which gave Yuyushiki a run for its money, despite being only one eighth as long).

In addition, there were a number of shows that I rated highly, but which others didn’t appreciate as much as I did, including Beyond the Boundary, Arpeggio of Blue Steel, and Maoyu: Demon King and Hero.

Meanwhile, every year has its duds. Some, we all can agree on: Galilei Donna (but the goldfish airships are nice), Dog & Scissors (too weird), and Vividred (too many shots of middle school crotches), for example. Others, it was just me: Yozakura Quartet (too shonen), Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (fell apart at the end), and Golden Time (fell apart at the beginning).

So that was 2013, over five hours a week, every week, all year. I don’t know why I had so much free time that year, but I’m glad I did.

Memories of my youth: Do you deliver?

November 28, 2019

We lived in East Anglia in the early 1970’s, and living there, as opposed to just visiting, we found that the English do things differently. Take deliveries, for example. If you subscribed to a magazine*, it wasn’t delivered to your door by the Royal Mail. Instead, it was sent to your local newsagent, what we would call a news-stand, and you went down once a week (or month, as the case might be) and picked it up. That started a family practice of swinging by the newsagent’s right after church of a Sunday, to pick up my copy of The Economist and MJ’s copy of whatever tabloid had a Royal on the cover, then stopping at our local for leisurely reading and lunch, along with a pint or two (proper Imperial pints, of the 20oz variety), followed by a nice afternoon nap in front of the telly, watching 40-over cricket.

Similarly, while the English were big on take-out meals — fish and chips or Indian curry were favorites — they didn’t do delivery. To compound the problem, there were almost no pizza places in the whole country, other than London, but they, as Kate Schecter famously complained a decade later**, didn’t deliver either.

Well, what did they deliver? Milk. Milk in glass bottles, with little tinfoil caps (which the birds enjoyed poking through with their beaks so that they could get to the cream). Milk that was Pasteurized, but not homogenized (see, cream). Milk that came clanking off the truck at dawn, cold and sweaty.

And you know what? They still deliver. Even to postal code CB7 5QP, out in the wild fens of Cambridgeshire.

It’s $1.25 a pint, or $2.50 per quart, but it’s only the pints that come in glass these days.

Not only that, but Milk & More, the national distributor, will also deliver beer, right to your front door. Sadly, only in London. At least Kate would be pleased.


* Kids, a magazine is like a web page that you print out, and which  only gets updated once a month

** Kate Schecter is a Douglas Adams character:

London was the place she liked living in most, apart, of course, from the pizza problem, which drove her crazy. Why would no one deliver pizza? Why did no one understand that it was fundamental to the whole nature of pizza that it arrived at your front door in a hot cardboard box? — Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Things to be thankful for 2019

November 27, 2019

Every Thanksgiving I build an essay about things we should be thankful for, like, at least we haven’t been hit by a dinosaur killer asteroid recently, or looks like we dodged a global nuclear war again this year. This is all part of my Civilization Goes Away project — cautionary tales of why we can’t let that happen.

This year I’m going to discuss why we should be thankful that we haven’t been killed by a global pandemic, disease outbreaks that spread fast and kill lots. We know they can happen. We’ve seen diseases like zika and ebola, that may be deadly, but moved very slowly from their rural origins. We have organizations in place to deal with them, but they are mostly private, and funding limitations hinder their effectiveness. In addition, Trump cutbacks have limited our ability to detect pandemics while they are still just epidemics.

One example is the flu. A 2018 simulation by the Gates Foundation showed that over 30 million people might die in the first six months. At the end of this essay are links to five episodes of Extra History that deal with the Flu Pandemic of 1918.

Or maybe it’s an airborne flu-like lethal respiratory pathogen that could kill 80 million in two days.

In addition, all this could be exacerbated by those people, easily led or nefariously inclined, who deny that anything is happening at all. They can have an impact, even when their numbers are small.

So, are we prepared for this? Not really. Particularly not when actual biowarfare is involved (although that’s likely to be the least of our worries, given the possibility of a natural pandemic). Even on an individual basis, our options are limited.

Bacteria and viruses can be engineered, (see also) but they can also engineer themselves. Some efforts at genetic engineering are benign, but they can get out of control, and we are woefully incapable of predicting this. We might also find ourselves beset by plagues we thought we had killed, only to find that revenants have been set loose by accident.

UPDATE: And now we see a new form of coronavirus spreading out of China.

The good news is that these plagues are not likely to wipe out humanity, nor, by themselves, bring down civilization. But they might push us over a tipping-point, where some other scourge drives us down, like maybe a last-gasp nuclear spasm by a country that feels itself about to collapse. Or maybe they come in the wake of (or just  before) a nuclear war, or asteroid impact, when our global ability to fight them off has been limited by something else.

The problem isn’t the raw number of deaths. Over ten million people are born each month, globally, so the Gates Foundation estimate of 30 million in six months will be made up before it happens. The problem is, as I said in the article linked to at the start of this essay, we only get one shot at civilization. Once we lose it, we don’t have the cheap, easily accessible resources that would let us rebuild it.


So, here we are, five 10-minute clips on the flu pandemic of 1918. A perfect alternative to watching another bowl game:

 

 

 

Pre-Thanksgiving Pileup on I-90

November 26, 2019

So, early this afternoon we had a brief but intense snow cell pass over the area. They are comparing it to a thunderstorm cell, only with less lightning. In twenty minutes it dumped half an inch of snow on I-90, near the still-under-construction Amazon warehouse, and caused a couple minutes of zero visibility. The result was a 60+ car pileup.

That was at 2:30 or so. It’s now 6:30, and here’s a still from the trafficam:

Been like this all day

The Amazon warehouse is in the upper right.

I wondered why traffic was so bad in downtown Cheney this afternoon, a two-stoplight, one Starbucks town that rarely sees heavy traffic except on Game Days. Everybody was trying to skirt around the pileup.

You had one job, Part 2

November 24, 2019

I have talked before, just over two years ago, about the effectiveness of the Electoral College in doing its job and what that job might be, and how we are currently failing the Constitution (some of this article repeats the arguments of that one). I am writing about it again because there’s a new opinion article out, on the  Bloomberg website, essentially saying that I am wrong. The author, Noah Feldman, teaches law at Harvard and thus is eminently better qualified than I am to address the issue. And yet, and yet…

Feldman’s case is that the Constitution gave the states the power to regulate elections, and that this power therefore includes the ability to prohibit so-called Faithless Electors, those who vote their conscious rather than as the people of the state have directed them. He points out that one possible result of allowing FE’s might be that the Electoral College elects someone the citizens would never have voted for.

…the presidency wouldn’t be decided by the voters, but by mostly unknown electors, who are unknown precisely because no one seriously thought before that their job was to second-guess the voters and pick the president.

Except that it is their job. It’s all there in the Federalist Papers #68 (words by Alexander Hamilton, emphasis mine):

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

So, the states can organize elections, and the election of Electors, any way they want, but once the Electors gather, their job is to deliberate on a judicious combination of reasons and inducements and let those deliberations guide their choice.

Look at it this way. Why have an Electoral College at all, if all they are going to do is rubber stamp the state process? What were The Founders thinking? Well, the reasons for including such a cumbersome process are not as outdated as Feldman seems to think, and speak directly to today’s political mess. Hamilton again:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.

So Hamilton was worried that some person with talents for low intrigue, etc., might become popular nationwide (sound familiar?), and the Electoral College was the Founders way of preventing that. And how else could they prevent it other than by voting for someone else?

In addition, Hamilton, et al., were afraid of corruption and foreign influence:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter [sic], but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.

Once again, Presidential collusion with foreign powers is an issue today.

Finally, Feldman’s argument that electors should be restricted to voting for whoever got the most votes in their states is actually a strong argument for awarding the office based on the  national popular vote. And in any event, if all the electors are is a rubber stamp for a state’s Director of Elections, then they could be replaced with a rubber stamp. One you don’t have to use very often.

Oatmeal Bay 2

November 21, 2019

We’ve had a pretty good squash crop this year, and are slowly working our way through it. We picked them all at the end of the growing season, and since we don’t have a root cellar, we’re storing them in the bathtub in the guest room. MJ doesn’t like it that they are so close to the toilet, but I told her it would be all right, as long as you wash your hands after eating them.

Last week, MJ made squash soup with our butternut squash. Lots of very thick soup, very squashy. Meanwhile, I found a recipe on line for a Jamaican variant, with shrimp and Old Bay seasoning. Since there wasn’t much left of the soup by the end of the week, I decided to try this version: can of minced crab and a scant measuring teaspoon of Old Bay to maybe a quart of soup. You don’t want to use too much, ’cause it’s heavy on the black pepper.

It was…not great. Too peppery. Not enough crab taste. Even adding cheese didn’t help much. About the only thing it was good for was…oatmeal!

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, 1 cup chicken broth, 1/4 cup Old Bay Squash Soup with Crab, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the souplike substance about two minutes before the end (so it didn’t interfere with the oatmeal absorbing the broth) potatoes about a minute before the end.

Results: Meh. It’s been six years almost to the day since my last Old Bay & Squash Soup recipe (and, interestingly, I haven’t used Old Bay in any others, ever). This time, I found that a 4:1 mix of chicken broth and OBSS in my oatmeal produced something surprisingly bland. It wasn’t pure oatmeal/eating white socks bland, but there wasn’t the squash/ pepper/ crab flavor I expected. There was flavor (and bits of ground up crab shell), but only in a mild, unidentifiable way. I decided not to go any higher on the OBSS input because that would take it out of the oatmeal-for-breakfast category and make it, I don’t know, a Thanksgiving side, or something. You could try it if you like. I’ve got a couple cups left over.

Rating: **

A show of their own, 2019

November 16, 2019

Anime has many supporting characters, characters that are interesting enough to deserve shows of their own, in much the same way that Mary Tyler Moore spun off Rhoda, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer spun off Angel, or maybe I should come up with an example from this century. I have talked about this before, collecting characters from multiple years. This time around I thought that, rather than waiting another four years, I’d try selecting four characters from the current year (one from each season) and nominating them for their own series.

Of course, there are some constraints. It had to be a show I watched, and watched long enough to establish an opinion. It had to be a character who obviously had a backstory, not told in the original anime, and it had to be a character who could stand on their own. It didn’t have to be a character I particularly liked. Also, and this is what removed a lot of good shows from the running, it had to be a character that wasn’t one of the stars.

And, also of course, once I set myself this task, I find that the source material is thinner than I expected. Winter had a couple of high quality candidates from Magnificent Kotobuki plus Kobayashi Masaki from Domestic Girlfriend. I plan to write more about Kotobuki later, so Masaki gets it.

WINTER Domestic Girlfriend

Kobayashi Masaki

He’s ex-yakuza.* He owns a bar. He’s gay.

We see a little of his backstory as the anime progresses, but there’s still so much more to learn. His father was head of a Yakuza branch, and presumably Masaki was being groomed to take over, when he fell in love with a man from an opposing clan. This clash of houses cries out for someone with the skills of, say, Shakespeare, to write their story.

*Can you ever be ex-yakuza? I thought membership was as permanent as his tattoos. Maybe he’s on sabbatical.

Spring was equally thin, with Demon Slayer not holding my interest and BOKUBEN not having any interesting supporting actors. The best I could do was The Helpful Fox Senko-san:

SPRING The Helpful Fox Senko-san

Koenji Yasuko

She’s the helpful girl next door, a student and a mangaka. She provides a possible love interest that isn’t a loli-fox-goddess.

An anime spin-off could cover her life as a student — What’s her major in school (art, graphics design?), how did she get into mangaka-ing? — as well as her interactions with the apartment next door — will she ever figure out that Senko-San isn’t a cosplayer? Will she be there when Senko-San leaves (or will Senko-San continue housekeeping for this guy for the next eighty years)? Will she and Nakano Kuroto hit it off, or will he continue his foxtail fetish, forcing her and Shiro-San to go off on their own yuri adventures?

Summertime had more shows, but most of them fell at the first fence, or were very good, but didn’t have useful side characters. So, Demon Lord, Retry got dropped early, and Oh, Maidens has too strong a main cast, and I won’t admit to have watched Hensuki. That meant I had to break two of my rules, and pick a major character from a TV short. Fortunately, there was a good one available.

Summer Are you lost?

Onishima Homare

Homare-chan is the lead character, and the emotionally strongest of the Lost Girls. We see bits of her backstory in almost every 15min episode, showing how she was trained up by her survival-otaku father. What we don’t get is a sense of continuity.

A  anime would tell how her father got interested in survival skills, and what it was like, eating strange food somewhere up on the Fenno-Scandian Shield (Mynd yoü, Homare, there’s other pärts of å mööse that taste bætter)? Each one of the vignettes of  Lost would make an entire episode in Let’s go Camping, Homare

Fall has presented problems of its own. Out of eighteen shows that I spent at least some time on, only five have made the I’ll watch it cut. Of those five, two were sequels and two were harems and three were team efforts and one started late. When the dust settled, only Ascendance of a Bookworm remained, and only Otto, the gate guard, stood out (Lutz might have been preferable, but how much backstory does a 7-year-old have?).

FALL Ascendance of a Bookworm

Otto

Otto is a soldier, who was a traveling merchant. He bought citizenship in this city so he could marry the girl he loved. He does all the bookkeeping for the gate guards, and he employs Myne as a sometime assistant accountant and teacher.

An anime would address what his life was like before he settled down. Who were his people? Where are they now? How did he meet his wife, and how did he make the transition from traveling merchant to stolid burgher? It could start in a wagon somewhere in Isekailand, and end with him meeting his boss’s daughter, Myne.

Oatmeal SOS

November 14, 2019

I haven’t been doing too many of these oatmeal recipes lately, because I’ve pretty much run the gamut of things one can usefully blend with oatmeal, and I absolutely refuse to use durian fruit. However, a cooking website I follow mentioned using cream instead of oil for frying eggs. That got me to thinking. Using all cream/milk in your oatmeal makes it sweet, and traditional. But suppose one mixed broth and cream at, say 3:1?

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, 1/4 cup half and half, 3/4 cup home-made chicken broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. As MJ said, what I had invented was chicken gravy! I’ll tell you what it tasted like, and it wasn’t chicken. It tasted like a favorite military mess-hall breakfast of ground beef in a cream sauce over toast, AKA SOS. I’m making it again, tomorrow, and next week I’ll try beef broth.

Rating: ****

The problem with NEWT

November 11, 2019

You know NEWT — the Never Ending War on Terrorism. It’s been going on since the AUMF — Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists — was passed on 9/14, and decisions made on that day have killed more Americans than 9/11 ever did.

Once again, Laws and Sausages has an excellent explainer — it’s really why I got started on this essay. Because of the urgent need to Do Something, our politicians were stampeded into giving Presidents open-ended power to wage war wherever and whenever they like, as long as they say the magic T-word first. Our ongoing wars around the world were justified under the AUMF, including combat operations in the Philippines, Kenya, and Djibouti, to list just a few countries the press hasn’t mentioned recently.

And of course, the panic didn’t stop on October 14th. Less than two weeks later Congress passed the Patriot Act, the most sustained attack on citizen rights under the Constitution since our founding. The act was 342 pages long, and changed more than 15 existing laws, in addition to adding new layers of government powers. There was no way that Congress could have read the entire document as submitted by the Administration. For that matter, there was no way the Administration could have read the entire thing. They just copy/pasted the wish lists of every federal agency with any kind of security mission and let it go at that. It’s likely that the biggest problem they had was coaxing Microsoft Word’s autonumber feature to get the paragraphs right.

So, today is Veteran’s Day (not to be confused with Memorial Day or Patriot Day or the 4th of July), yet another day where we celebrate all those times when the politicians marched the American military off to senseless slaughter. It started off as Armistice Day, memorializing four years of senseless slaughter that at least had a worthy goal and an endpoint. Now, Veterans Day is used as another celebration of militarism in pursuit of NEWT. Veterans don’t need our own day. Veterans need — to name but one thing — available and affordable medical care to treat the physical and mental wounds inflicted by eighteen years of fighting an enemy called “terrorism”.

The trouble is, as L&S points out, you can’t fight a war on “terrorism”. Terrorism is a tactic, an asymmetrical use of force by the weaker party in a conflict. Declaring war on “terrorism” is like declaring war on artillery, or flank attacks. Of course, that’s the whole point. Since it’s not a real declaration of war, as understood by international law, it carries no real responsibilities and respects no limits as defined by international treaties. Were AUMF a real declaration of war, we couldn’t waterboard Afghan taxi drivers, nor deny Guantanamo prisoners their rights, although it might not prevent us from declaring everything within 100 miles of our borders to be a Constitution-free zone.

So, think of that, this Armistice Day, and ponder the reaction of those men and women who died in the “war to end war” if they were to see what we’ve made of their sacrifice. And whatever you do, don’t say Thank you for your service to a veteran today. We really didn’t want to be part of a NEWT, and it will only embarrass us.

WA Election Results

November 6, 2019

The race to the bottom continues. Washingtonians are notorious for wanting more government services while refusing to pay for them. Because the citizens have rejected an income tax multiple times, the state depends on regressive sales and property taxes and licensing fees for most of its income. Here’s a quick summary of both state and local issues:

1. Initiative 976, to cut car licensing fees, was approved 56-44
As a result, WA will lose ~$700million/year in revenue. Spokane will lose about $3million, about half its pothole budget. If I were in charge of road repair, I’d look at those precincts that voted for this, and spend zero funds on fixing or snowplowing their roads.

2. The local school levy was defeated, 2,167 YES-2,189 NO
Baseline education funds are provided by the state. The local school levies are voter approved enrichment, bond, capital improvement levies in excess of the regular state levies.

I don’t remember the last time a local levy was passed — not having kids, I don’t pay attention. I do know that I will now have a constant stream of urchins on my doorstep, seeking money for things the school district should be paying for. Should I tax myself to pay for their activities, allowing the rest of the community to be free riders, or should I drive them away, telling them to get their parents to work harder at passing proper levies? I know I got only one flyer this election season, from a guy who wanted me to (a) vote against the levy, and (b) vote for him for the local school board.

3. Advisories: In Washington, advisories are non-binding citizen comments on laws that the legislature has already passed. They have no direct impact, but they show the trends in voter opinions. Ten advisories, mostly about tax and license fee increases, were recommended for repeal, and two, a vaping tax and a tax on international business, were recommended to maintain.

So, the vaping crisis was well timed, and everybody hates them foreigners.

4. SJR 8200 Constitutional amendment allowing the government to implement emergency measures for something other than an enemy attack was approved 65-35. Canadian army seen pulling back from the border.

5. Referendum 88 was a referendum on an affirmative action initiative (I-1000) that was passed earlier this year. The referendum was rejected 52-48, which means the initiative won’t become a law, saving the state $1.5million. I don’t have anything useful to say, because I haven’t been following this issue. I do know that somebody was spending a lot of money on TV ads to defeat this.

Overall, these are pretty typical Washington election results. One knock-on effect of this is that a cash-strapped legislature will continue to cut funding for higher education. I am already hearing from my former colleagues that EWU is hurting financially, and that I retired just in time. This will only make things worse.

Anime worth watching, Fall 2019

November 3, 2019

So far this season my reader has been bombarded with an unrelenting list of what I’ve decided not to watch. That’s so negative, ya know? I mean, there must be something worth watching. Well, there is.*

I seem to be on a snarky, self-aware anime kick right now. I find I’m unexpectedly pleased with shows that go out of their way to give me plot twists, and inversions of standard tropes.

Didn’t I say to make my abilities average in the next life?
Mile, our protagonna, was a high-performing student in this world and just wants to be average in the next. Unfortunately, her definition of average — skills and powers appropriate to the average person, the median, if you will — isn’t God’s definition. God says that you take the power of the highest and lowest creatures on the planet, add them up and divide by two. That’s like taking Bill Gates and a Seattle homeless person and finding the average of their net worth.

This is why we have the concept of the Median

The humor in the first few episodes comes from Mile trying to hide her powers, and failing miserably. When she decides to just copy a spell one of the other students used, only at a lower power setting, she finds that she was copying a unique, personal spell of a wizard girl, and doing it with no training. So far, it’s a one-joke anime, but they find ways of keeping it from going stale.

The other source of humor is her use of information from her past life. So when the friends are telling stories at night, she draws on tales of the TV, in the mythical land of Nihon. The result is that the girls end up forming a Magical Girl/Power Rangers style team, complete with poses and color coding.

Crimson Vow!

She also uses her in-depth knowledge of shonen anime to come up with training regimes that allow her team mates to level up rapidly.

So, a self-aware isekai that knows how to look at the standard tropes from a slightly absurd viewpoint. What’s not to like?

ORESUKI: Are you the only one who loves me?
At first glance, ORESUKI seems to be a standard high school RomCom. Protagonist has two girls who seem to be interested in him — the standard childhood friend and the Student Body President. He also has a best buddy, an athelete on the baseball team. One day, each of the girls asks him out for a date on the weekend, because they have something they want to ask him. Confession Time! Well, not exactly.

On two successive days, each girl sits with him on the same bench, and with identical words and body language confesses that they are in love with …  his baseball-playing friend and would he help them out? Next scene, Pansy, the librarian girl he doesn’t like, sits with him in the library, on an identical bench (which she ordered from Amazon), and using identical words and body language tells him, that she, this girl he doesn’t like, is in love with … well, him, actually. Finally, the next day, his baseball buddy sits with him on an identical bench that just happens to be behind the gym, and tells him, again with identical words and body language, that he is in love with … Pansy, and would he help him out?

ORESUKI doesn’t so much play with the high school RomCom tropes as it rings the changes on them. How many ways can the Protagonist be messed with by fate? How many different geometric figures can a love triangle be twisted into? What totally silly thing will happen next?

Ascendance of a Bookworm**
Finally, an isekai done right. Recent college graduate [Yay! Not a high school student!] Urano Motsu [Yay! Female!] and lover of books [Yay! Not an otaku! Well, she’s a book otaku] dies in an earthquake that buries her in her books. Finds herself reincarnated in the body of a small girl, Myne, who is dying of a mysterious fever. The old Myne dies, but the new Myne (nee Motsu) retains her memories, as well as her own memories of modern Japan.

The challenge the book-loving Myne faces is that she’s been reincarnated into a rigid, stratified, medieval, essentially illiterate, society. Oh, yeah, and she’s a sickly six year old female. Her overriding goal is to find some way to read books again, even if she has to write them herself. Even if she has to print them herself. Even if she has to fabricate the materials to print them on.

Unlike other isekai protags, Myne doesn’t have any super-powers or high powered knowledge. She knows some crafts, like crocheting, and she grasps the concepts of things like paper, and teaching theory, which the contemps don’t. She also has the internal maturity of a 20-year-old, can read and write (just not with the local script, at first), and can do mathematics. These last are immensely helpful when she has to deal with the adults of this world.

The artwork is clean and simple. The characters and clothing are appropriate for the subject — no monster boobs or bikini armour here. Some reviewers complained about the drabness of the palette, particularly in the first episode, but that was just a way of emphasizing the life of the lower classes in a semi-literate society.

Having read ahead, I can say that Bookworm is rolling out the story fairly slowly, and that there are some interesting reveals ahead. It comes across as a slice-of-life, but Myne is a woman with a mission, and there really is an ongoing dramatic arc.

So far, it’s my favorite anime of the season.

*Note that Chihayafuru 3 isn’t on the list, yet. I’m saving  that until I’ve marathoned the previous two seasons.

**Full disclosure — I’m reading well ahead of the anime via the light novels on J-Novel.

Re-set your clocks tonight

November 2, 2019

And remember, we set them back in the Fall, not forward.

Courtesy of http://www.gilescartoons.co.uk

They love us for our freedoms

October 26, 2019

A few days ago, retired 4-star general and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was in Spokane for a fund raiser. In his speech, he talked about an Iraqi national he talked to just after the man had been apprehended while planting a roadside bomb. Mattis made two points in this story. First, the guy was attacking Americans because we were there in his country, because we were invaders. Second, the Iraqi asked what his chances were, if he were a model prisoner, of emigrating to America with his family, once he got out of prison.

American politicians, primarily Bush and the others who got us into this mess in the Middle East, have kept up a drumbeat demonization of the Muslim inhabitants of the region as the other, as evil villains who hate us for our freedoms. The fact is, as demonstrated by the Mattis story, while they don’t want US invaders in their countries, they love the idea of America.

Of course, Trump, and the others of the GOP who see our wars in the Middle East as an opportunity to loot their oil supplies, are doing their best to see that when we are done, they really will hate us.

On Thermonuclear War

October 19, 2019

If you want an animated look at what one nuclear weapon will do to one major city, here’s a link to a nine-minute YouTube, which sounds like it’s being narrated by the guy who did Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only not as funny.

Back in 1973 I was assigned to the Military Airlift Command Indications and Warning Center at Scott AFB. Our job was to keep an eye on everything that went on around the world, if there was the possibility it could require some sort of MAC involvement: war in the Middle East, non-combatant evacuation from Congo, airlift of relief supplies to Bangladesh. Support the rest of the US military when fighting a nuclear war.

Shortly after I arrived, we had a visit from the newly-assigned USAF Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Major General George Keegan. He was traveling to every I&W Center in the AF, and he had one message, that he was delivering personally:

Your primary mission is to prevent a nuclear war.

He knew, and we knew, and anyone who has been associated with the things knew, that a nuclear war would be an unmitigated disaster, and that we needed to expend all our efforts, 24/7, to making sure that such a war didn’t occur.

As the animation says, a nuclear attack is like a wildfire, hurricane, earthquake, and nuclear reactor meltdown all at once, only worse. What it doesn’t say is, in a nuclear war this will happen everywhere at once. Don’t plan on any kind of outside help, because help isn’t coming.

I’ll talk more on this topic later, but for now, watch the video.

UPDATE: Here’s an article on our tactical nuclear weapons in Europe

 

Yes, we are rural

October 19, 2019

Our long autumnal rains have just started, here in the NENW, and the urban quail are not liking it.

About 20 quail sheltering under my car (click to embiggen).

I didn’t want to scare them off, so this is a zoom shot from 30ft away.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Fall 2019 Part 4

October 15, 2019

I don’t know which is more amazing, how many anime I am finding uninteresting this season, or how many anime I’ve had time to watch this season.

To start with, the cute girls doing cute things with weapons lode is just about mined out, and now we are reworking the tailings.

AZUR LANE

I’m really sorry to have to drop this one, but it’s a cheap knock-off of the real thing. It’s like someone randomly merged sentences from the elevator pitches for KanColle and Arpeggio, and studio Bibury said “How hard can it be?

The ship/girl mechanics are confused, the combat mechanics are confused, the battles are confused, and the Sakura Fleet carrier pairs seem driven primarily by lesbian incest. Now, I’ve got nothing against lesbian incest, but c’mon, girls, time and place, time and place.

You should see how I’ll repair the holes in your flight deck

On top of that, the pre-tweens keep getting treated like sex objects, and one of them has a bad case of crabs.

Chidori RSC

A straightforward high school club anime about target shooting. So far, it’s mostly club activities that don’t actually involve target shooting.

Most of the time they’re eating snacks and buying clothes

I’m getting a K-On with laser rifles vibe, only without the K-On part.

Then there’s the police procedural/modern crime anime. Most are not bad, as such, but I’m finding that, as with period costume drama, these just don’t hold my interest. Last week it was Special 7. This week, it’s:

BABYLON

Even if they’ve got a neat superpower hook.

I was the new guy

and

Case File nº221: Kabukicho

A Sherlock Holmes non-thriller with a cast of dozens. Tries to make up for lack of substance with all sorts of gimmicks, most of which are of the funny once variety.

Not even Ladybeard could help it.

Besides, it’s on Funimation, and the interface is terrible.

To wrap things up, we’re now to the point in the season where I’m watching anime from years past, trying to find something to fill the newly emptied time slots.

Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist

I started this 2013 anime because it was featured on a list of really good OP’s. Two episodes in and there still was no sign of any female characters. There were a couple of false alarms, and one curvaceous person that appeared in the ED, but that was it.

The question is, are either one of them female?

So far it’s all male, with lots of bonding and opportunities for shipping. Sorry, guys, but if you’re going to make something about a band of brothers, I’d much rather it was Band of Brothers, ya know?

That’s the last time I take programmatic advice from a fujoshi.

Side Note: Five of the shows I was interested in were Funimation exclusives. Three were crap, and two were uninteresting. Given that watching stuff on FN is a painful experience, I might just have to rethink my subscription.

Backing up the President

October 11, 2019

On 24 February 1964, President Johnson announced the existence of the YF-12 supersonic interceptor (a variant of the SR-71), based at Edwards AFB in California. Unfortunately, there weren’t any YF-12s at Edwards. They were all at Groom Lake, Area 51, in Nevada. What to do? Well, you don’t want to make a liar out of the President (these were more innocent days), so they rushed two of them at supersonic speeds down to Edwards. Despite the announcement, any details about the aircraft were still secret, so when they landed they were quickly rolled inside a hangar. It turns out that even such a short flight, at close to Mach 3, heats up the skin of the aircraft considerably. They rolled the aircraft into the hangar, closed the doors, and the fire suppression sprinkler system went off.

I bring this up because President Trump just announced that all US troops were now out of Syria. That’s wrong. Not only are there hundreds of troops assigned to other places than the northeastern border, even the thousand or so removed from the Kurdish areas were merely relocated further south (although, not so far south that they couldn’t be hit by Turkish artillery).

Obviously, the military didn’t get the word, and is at risk of making the President look a liar.

I’d suggest that the only way to back up the President’s words is to pull all our troops out of Syria now, and pull them out fast enough to set off the sprinkler system.