24 August 2014

I appreciate very much this homage to Diana Wynne Jones, and I want to add a personal reflection on the power of Miyazaki's film version of Howl's Moving Castle

I saw this movie in a cheap theater on a rainy summer night in 2005 maybe a week before I left this country for Britain, where I would end up spending almost two years working and learning.  One way to describe its impact on me would be to say it unleashed my inner child, although I think the story is absolutely made for adult consumption and cogitation too. 

It is no easy task to translate a fantasy novel onto film, and the fact that this film immediately felt so British to me, and kept popping into my daydreams and even my soberer thoughts while in Britain is a testament to Miyazaki's mastery of his medium and cultural sensitivity.  The lumbering, hissing, stomping yet kindly old moving castle of the title is the perfect embodiment of a country where trainspotting was invented.  The bucolic green landscapes, homely cottages, and sheep flocks that Miyazaki's team drew so lovingly (and in such careful contrast to the bustling industrial cities where the story is propelled forward) seem, to a student of Blake and Wordsworth, entirely familiar -- and appropriately fragile, as the specters of militarism and nationalism are shown to be creeping through this fictional society.  War-worship is hardly just a Japanese problem.

"There is never a moment when Jones’s characters seem to exist to satisfy or defy a stereotype, which means that there is space for them to exist in wonderful, human imperfection."  Very true.  As I got to know many many people in Britain, in all their imperfect beauty (sadly I have fallen out of touch with most of them), I think the forgiving spirit of Jones's writing -- communicated to me somehow through the film -- sat beside me and brought me to enter fully into the life of this other country where I did not grow up.





23 August 2014

'Sblood, there The Dish goes again with bad poetry offerings on a weekend.  Today it's Samuel Daniel, who "was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford and made his early living mostly as tutor to the children of exceptionally well-placed people—among them, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke"--surely making him a possible candidate for THE REAL SHAKESPEARE. 

Chastity and beauty, which were deadly foes,
Live reconciled friends within her brow;
And had she pity to conjoin with those,
Then who had heard the plaints I utter now?

All I can think of after reading this is facial-hair lice (and an extremely jealous misogynist lover).  I hope this awful "To Delia" isn't going to displace Shakespeare's Sonnet 147 in any high school English curricula.

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed:
    For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
    Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

19 August 2014

Interesting to see that yesterday at 85 degrees north (that's 556 kilometers from the North Pole) the temperature reached 11.6 Celsius, or 53 Fahrenheit.  I was thinking about how this would have seemed to Franklin, Peary or any of the historic Arctic explorers, having to worry about their food spoiling as they slogged through the great northern ocean, now dotted with salty melt ponds.  I might have written a little essay about this strange new world we live in, remarking in a restrained tone on the dangers of tampering with an amazingly complex global climate system.

But now Charles Mann (in a Sept. 2014 Atlantic Monthly article which I can't find online) has told us that when "eco-campaigners" write about these things they are debasing the national discourse.  If I understand his argument correctly, I should strive for a middle ground between alarmism and denialism at all times, preferably avoiding all kinds of data, because "for the typical citizen" that's "a muddle, too abstract--too much like 10th-grade homework."

I read your books 1492 and 1493, Mr. Mann, and this Atlantic piece is so far below the quality of those that I have to wonder about your good faith in addressing climate change.  You say it is "as yet mostly invisible," blithely ignoring the sweeping changes in ecosystems such as the Arctic around the globe that anybody residing in these places with eyes, ears, or a sense of smell could notice.  "A tiny practical impact on most people's lives?" There's a whole TV show about that tiny practical impact, called Years of Living Dangerously, in which (for example) Syrian farmers can illuminate for you how their country's economy collapsed after extreme drought and how many of them were driven out of desperation to support ISIS-like rebel groups.

(And by the way, give me a frickin' break about "each side [in the climate debate storing] up bitterness, like batteries taking on charge." Bill McKibben is about as far from a bitter nihilist as you can get.  He has not spent so many years raising awareness about climate change because he hates humanity.  Read his books and you will find much more about constructive adaptations and long-term solutions to climate change than you will ad hominem attacks on coal and oil executives.)

15 August 2014

Mr. Weismann over at Slate seems to have missed a slightly-bleeding-obvious point in his investigation of why the local government of Ferguson, Missouri is so white.  Cities of 21,000 people, as Ferguson is, tend not to pay their council members very much, if anything.  Even Madison, Wisconsin -- a city of over 200,000 people -- pays its alders less than $9,000 a year


14 August 2014

I find the Gilded Age novelist William Dean Howells to be the best corrective to today's jargon-loving cabals of "disruptive innovators."  The following comes from Chapter 13 of The Minister's Charge (1886, set in Boston):

A horse-car came by, and Lemuel stopped it.  He set his bag down on the platform, and stood there near the conductor, without trying to go inside, for the bag was pretty large, and he did not believe the conductor would let him take it in.
The conductor said politely after a while, "See, 'd I get your fare?"
"No," said Lemuel.  He paid, and the conductor went inside and collected the other fares.
When he came back he took advantage of Lemuel's continued presence to have a little chat.  He was a short, plump, stubby-mustached man, and he looked strong and well, but he said, with an introductory sigh, "Well, sir, I get sore all over at this business.  There ain't a bone in me that hain't got an ache in it.  Sometimes I can't tell but what it's the ache got a bone in it, ache seems the biggest."
"Why, what makes it?" asked Lemuel, absently.
"Oh, it's this standin'; it's the hours, and changin' the hours so much.  You hain't got a chance to get used to one set o' hours before they get 'em all shifted round again.  Last week I was on from eight to eight; this week it's from twelve to twelve.  Lord knows what it's going to be next week.  And this is one o' the best lines in town, too."
"I presume they pay you pretty well," said Lemuel, with awakening interest.
"Well, they pay a dollar 'n half a day," said the conductor.
"Why, it's more than forty dollars a month," said Lemuel.
"Well, it is," said the conductor scornfully, "if you work every day in the week.  But I can't stand it more than six days out o' seven, and if you miss a day, or if you miss a trip, they dock you.  No, sir.  It's about the meanest business I ever struck.  If I wa'n't a married man, 'n if I didn't like to be regular about my meals and get 'em at home 'th my wife, I wouldn't stand it a minute.  But that's where it is.  It's regular."

23 June 2014

No, there really isn't "a better way" to break ties in the group stage of the World Cup, Mr. Monkovic.  Certainly not "assembling the teams the next day for a penalty kick shootout" -- guaranteed to increase goalkeeper suicides and impose unnecessary costs on host nations as they stage these exhibitions.

What is so wrong with simply drawing an ostrakon , as a last resort, to determine who must be left behind in the round of 16?  This kind of "dumb luck" was integral to Athenian city-state politics and (careful students of Thucydides are welcome to dispute with me on this) it doesn't seem to have been the fatal flaw in the city's constitution.

19 June 2014

The FTL Castaway, based on GetDaved's "Let's Play FTL Advanced Edition," with apologies to William Cowper


Sidereal sights of sector eight loom'd o'er
Th'appointed planet of our greatest clash...

No allied fleet the storm allay'd,
no light of Mantis beacon shone, 
when with the piercing of our hull's last plate,
We perish'd, each alone.

(But I amidst a darker void of rebel space,
embark'd on tougher quests than he.)