Monday, March 30, 2015

"Why should we allow it?"

You'll often hear the question: "Why should we allow x?" What's implied by this question is the right to restrict the action of others - that the person asking is somehow fit to impose barriers on others and hinder their access to living life by their terms. It assumes the other party must justify their right to exist and live and act. It's the outlook of a tyrant.

A better question is: "Why should we not allow x?" This seems subtle, but the difference is significant. Now the proof is turned to the blocker. The barrier is not assumed to be right or proper - it must prove itself by some suitable ground or be stricken. There are barriers and punishments that can be justified (punishments for murder and theft, for example), so this does not preclude their existence.

It demands that whoever wants to control the life of another must have a better reason than, "I don't like it." A reason that can withstand intense scrutiny and questioning. This is the outlook of someone who believes in allowing humans to live as they will, at least so far as they don't violate the rights of others.

So whenever you hear someone say, "But why should we allow that person to do that/own that/express that?" remember to turn it back on them and force them to justify why they think it ought to be restricted in the first place. Because the burden of proof is always on the one who seeks to control.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Voting Against Puppies and Kitties

Common political tactic:

1) Create a bill. Name it something good. Example: "Puppies and Kitties for America."

2) Load it with all kinds of crap and pork that has nothing to do with the title.

3) Maybe have a page in there related to the title. This is optional.

4) If you opponent votes against it, claim they hate whatever the bill is about. Example: "Every member of the other party hates puppies and kitties!"

Wash, rinse, repeat. So whenever you hear someone say, "This party voted against puppies and kitties," you can be darn sure the one thing they didn't do was vote against puppies and kitties.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Decision Upset

"I made a decision."

"I am upset with your decision!"

"Being upset just proves my decision was right."

This is the kind of nosense I have to deal with sometimes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Traits to Avoid

Two warning signs to avoid in someone as a partner (these apply to men and women equally):

1) They hit on wait staff. It's creepy. People in service jobs are not there for you to make a pass at. This indicates both bad upbringing and a casual disregard for boundaries. It can also indicate the person sees others as objects for their use.

2) Openly discussing the "hotness" of someone else. This typically happens in groups. When guys do it, they come off as frat boy jerks. When girls do it...well, same thing. Even worse is when it's done in front of someone you know is interested in you, since it's pretty much telling them, "Look how inferior you are compared to this person." It's related to some of the manipulation techniques that start by creating a negative seed in the other person. At best, it indicates the person has no manners. At worst, it can be a red flag for an emotional abuser.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rubik Cube Chess

Concept: chess on an 8x8 Rubik's cube.

You start on different faces. Pieces move normally, but only along the face they're on. You get to twist the cube after you move (probably with restrictions such as at least 1 of your pieces must be moved).

For more fun, add a third player and occupy opposite corners.

Another version would have your pieces not occupy a single plane, but be spread out in a regular pattern across two or three planes.

Main difficulty would be balancing the game so checkmates can't happen with a single twist. The fun part would be coming up with strategies that can work on an ever changing field.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tidbits

Idea for a math word problem involving inequalities: Goku's power level can be modeled by a function. In order to defend the Earth from Vegeta and Nappa, Goku needs his power level to be OVER NINE THOUSAAAAAAAAAAND. Calculate how long he has to train.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Freedom from...

Claiming you have "freedom from religion" is like claiming you have "freedom from being offended."

No, you don't.

If someone does something you don't like in public, you can walk away or ignore them. If a lot of people do it, you can choose not to be among them. It's only if they force you to join in that your actual freedoms are infringed. And you definitely don't have the right to force them to stop just because you're offended. That's the same mentality as Mary Whitehouse.

"There are two knobs on the radio. One turns it off. The other changes the channel." - George Carlin

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dealing with Negativity

If someone is always negative, the best solution is to simply not give too much weight to their POV. It keeps you from being offended. Often their constant negativity stems from some issue they have with themselves rather than you.

For example, I've worked alongside a couple people who, no matter how good I do, will always find something wrong with my performance and make a big deal about it. Sometimes they have a point, most times it's a big deal over nothing. They do this to other people they work with, as well. So I take the useful feedback and let the rest wash over me, knowing they are simply a fundamentally unhappy person and I should avoid letting their depressive mindset creep into mine.

I will also poke back with jokes, which I also recommend. Fun ones include, "I wasn't expecting a kind of Spanish Inquisition!" and "In a sea of smiles, your frown is like a little boat. Keep sailing." Comparisons to Grumpy Cat are also good. A lot of times, the person doesn't even realize they've slipped into an overly negative mode, so jokes are a gentle way of snapping them out of it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Call Me Euclid

Random exchange in the hallway at school:

Student: "Sir, you look super gangsta."

Me: *sarcastically* "Yes, I am the most gangster person at this school."

Student: "You look like Heisenberg."

Me: "Yes, I will blow up the school with my meth lab. Call me Euclid!"

By this point the whole hallway was cracking up.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Video Games as Art

Video games, as with comics and film, are one of the significant art forms. That is not to say that every video game is a significant art piece with many layers. Certainly the bulk of games, as with the bulk of films and comics, are simple and superficial affairs. However, games are capable of the same artistic impact of film, literature, or theater.

Saying it doesn't exist - as some of the "hardcore gamers" do - belies a fundamental lack of understanding of how games fit into the broader spectrum of art. I'd argue that not comprehending this potential is grounds for dubbing such people as strictly casual, the same way people who don't process the shows they watch is a casual viewer.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Romanticism in Anime: A Primer

Many studies of Romantic works look at the products of western culture. Mention romanticism in the movies, for example, and there is considerable study done of the rise of superheroes and their romantic virtues. Discuss young adult fiction and you’ll find compare-contrasts with the values presented by Twilight, the Hunger Games, and Divergent. One major area of pop culture that is largely overlooked: anime.

Background

For over 40 years, one of the major sources of animation has been Japan. Since the 1990’s, Japanese animation - anime - has reigned as the dominant form of animated entertainment around the world. Anime is a broad term, spanning dozens of genres, and a surprisingly fuzzy classification, since not everything animated by Japanese studios (such as Inspector Gadget) is counted as anime. The standard criteria is that anime is animated by a Japanese studio, written/directed by Japanese creators, and primarily aimed at the Japanese market.

Manga, the sequential art counterpart to anime, has largely supplanted western comics with young readers in Europe and North America. Michael Bitz in New York City noted that his students preferred to read about Japanese heroes than Spider-Man or Superman. Comiket, Japan’s main convention dedicated to manga, dwarfs San Diego Comic Con as the most attended comic convention in the world (130,000 for SDCC vs. 560,000 for Comiket). As a form of pop culture, anime has seized a sizable portion of the modern market and become absorbed into America’s consciousness, inspiring American homages such as Avatar: The Last Airbender.

One might think that as a product of Japan, anime might fall victim to plots praising the superstitious, condemning individuality, and praising conformity and collectivism. Japanese culture, after all, is both far more liberal than the US and its nationalist wing even more virulently pro-war than American Neocons. There are any number of Eurocentric cultural purists who decry the influx of Japanese culture for these very reasons.

However, there are an astounding number of anime that - whether purposefully or not - embrace romanticism and its ideals, both philosophically and symbolically. It is therefore possible to illustrate the concepts of romanticism to young people today by using these titles. By making them aware that a show the enjoy is romantic in nature and giving them the tools to critically evaluate and find other works, it helps encourage a more formal study and pursuit of romantic ideals in art creation by the next generation of producers.

Romanticism in anime falls generally into two categories: sense of life and symbolic. By its very nature, there is very little realism in anime. The subjects tend to be fantastic and otherworldly, such as super-powered battling warriors or magical female guardians. Frequently embedded in these visions, though, are depictions of man living as his own ends and shaping the world around him through force of will and volition.

The Types

The three major classifications of Japanese comics are kodomo, primarily for children of both sexes; shounen/seinen, primarily aimed at males (boys and men); and, shoujo/josei, primarily aimed at females (girls and women).

Kodomo work are simple moral plays. Doraemon is a popular and long running example. Episodic in nature, they will have a clear beginning, middle, and end with the actions of all involved reinforcing whatever virtue the writer wishes to encourage. Many of the lessons here can range from the innocuous - “Remember to wash your hands” - to the important - “Jealousy doesn’t justify theft” - to the insufferable - “Selfishness is evil.” There’s not much analysis to be done on these works as a whole - each individual episode stands and falls on the merits of the virtue it tries to express.

Shounen

Shounen series are aimed at the young male demographic, while seinen are for older males and contain more mature and explicit content. As works intended for teenagers, they are by design focused on conflict often with the main resolution method being combat. Protagonists and antagonists will be clearly defined, with well formed - if simple - motivations for all sides. Three of the major shounen series today - One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach - each follow this formula with varying levels of mastery. With such simple philosophical clauses, most of the focus is on the struggle and growth of the protagonists over time and to illustrate the value of will in achieving one’s dreams.

In Naruto, the male lead represents the strength that comes from unifying people cooperatively and from serving as an inspiration by his dogged determination. Meanwhile, several of the villains express varying degrees of frustration with the world that they intend to solve through ruthless violence. This clash is wrapped in an aesthetic of battling ninja clans and the protagonist's coming of age (an expectedly common feature of shounen series given the demographic). This gives the manga a clash of ideals at its core - cooperation vs. coercion - that gives the work its romantic edge.

Arguably the most powerful sense of life anime created to date is Gurren Lagann, a shounen series featuring giant robots and a post-apocalyptic Earth. What begins as a simple struggle of freedom vs. tyranny evolves into a conflict in which the very concept of self-actualization and the will to power become weapons against a foe that embodies mandatory stasis and stagnation. A sample exchange in dialogue illustrates the series’ use of symbolism as the main hero, Simoun, confronts and defeats the Anti-Spiral, a godlike being who condemns man’s sense of life as destructive:

"How can this be? Where are you drawing all this power from?"
"We evolve beyond the person we were a minute before. Little by little we advance a bit further with each turn. That's how a drill works."
"That is the path that leads to extinction. Why can't you see the pathetic limitation of the Spiral race?"
"No, that's YOUR limitation! You sit here closed off, locking away other lifeforms like some kind of king. That's nobody's limitation but your own! Mark my words, this drill will open a hole in the universe. And that hole will be a path for those behind us. The dreams of those who've fallen, the hopes of those who will follow. Those two sets of dreams weaved together into a double helix drilling a path towards tomorrow. And that's Tengen Toppa. That's Gurren Lagann. My drill is the drill that CREATES THE HEAVENS!"

Shoujo

Shoujo anime and manga caters mostly to girls, with josei as the more mature works for older women. Shoujo is where many of anime’s most realistic - and, sadly, naturalistic - work is found. In most of the romance stories that are common in this archetype, life is depicted as simply “happening” to the main leads and their only goals are often just to stay together. There is little depiction of agency and little if any ideals expressed by the character other than banal affection.

Fortunately, shoujo is also home to its own brand of strong female protagonist, known as mahou shoujo, or “magical girl.” (Magical girls are not the only strong heroines of shoujo, but they are arguably the most common and well known.) Magical girl series are considered notable because they commonly feature one or more female protagonists heroically saving the day, often with minimal male assistance. This feature has rendered them abundantly popular with American female comic readers and the genre is typically more widely read than any of Marvel or DC’s female character titles.

Similar to shounen titles, magical girl series will give the protagonists and antagonists simple but clear values that bring them into conflict. Unlike shounen series, aggression is not always the primary means of resolving this clash. Some series, such as the original Pretty Cure, do feature magical girls who rely on physical attacks to beat their opponents into submission. Others, such as Fancy Lala or DoReMi, focus more on the heroine’s own journey toward personal excellence or the achievement of a dream; stardom for the former and becoming a witch for the latter. Revolutionary Girl Utena goes a heavily symbolic route, with each character embodying concepts such as nostalgia and regret. The clash of values becomes a literal sword duel between characters.

The most popular magical girl series of all time, Sailor Moon, has an explicit contrast of love and light versus chaos. Each villain is said to be an aspect of chaos, reflecting negative emotions such as jealousy, hate, and violent conquest. Each victory by Sailor Moon is portrayed as the virtue of “love conquering all.” In several cases, rather than vanquishing her foe, she redeems them by bringing them to her point of view through an outreach of goodwill. Whether you agree or disagree with the value system present, the series featured a clash of ideals and characters who behaved consistently with the values they expressed.

Conclusion

Why does anime favor strong conflicts of values and powerful main characters who control their lives? It’s a function of the target audience in Japan. While most media for teens in the US is vacuous and devoid of meaning, in Japan, they seek to inspire with tales of strength and ideals. This is a function of Asian culture in general: the embrace of stories with ideals, rather than empty naturalistic tales, has been embedded in east Asian culture for thousands of years. Journey to the West is a centuries old tale of man’s quest for knowledge and the struggle against various forces who oppose it, with most conflicts centering on Buddhist teachings and values. That modern Japanese tales would embrace heroism and seek to inspire readers is a derivative of that storytelling tradition.

Producers of anime are largely immune from the same kind of critical eye that targets and scorns romantic works in the west. Even when western organizations take umbrage with their products, the companies have largely ignored the complaints and continued as they were. Japanese creators have thus far remained free to release and spread their visions beyond their borders. So long as it creates revenue - and the popularity of romantic work has long been noted and proven - it will be produced, thanks to the Japanese adherence to market principles.

There are numerous romantic anime series, too many to list here fully. There are also many anime series that are boring, trite, or just poorly done. Casshern Sins, for example, was broadcast on Toonami and was a laboriously slow, depressing, and anti-existence affair. It failed to find an audience and was soon dropped from broadcast entirely. As in western media, there are a host of anime series that exist merely to pander to prurient interests or as cheap imitations of key touchstone series. Something being anime alone is not a guarantor of quality, but for those desiring romantic fiction, it can be a fruitful area of pop culture to explore.