Intemperate Commentary

I was looking at the headlines on Drudge, and I realized, "You know, I don't want to blog any of these." So, it's time to rant.

They're still going on about the child of that Smith woman who died... how long ago was it now? Explain to me a world in which we have international conflict, large national issues at stake... heck, we even have baseball season now. Why in the world is the kid of someone who I couldn't even begin to guess why she was famous still news at this point?

Meanwhile, there's this whole controversy brewing over what some announcer named Imus said. All I could think upon opening up the story to read about it was, "People got upset over what some guy who looks like he's freshly dug up said? Really?" I mean, sure, I can see why people would be upset over what he said (link here, including the picture I'm talking about), but c'mon, the guy looks warmed over. I'm not sure I could take anything the man said seriously at this point, even if he were just reading out of the phone book. On the serious point for a moment, I think Mr. Boortz has it absolutely right when it comes to the people referring to Imus' statements as racist: "Racism is the belief in the inherent genetic superiority of one race over another. There was nothing racist -- not by definition -- in Imus' remarks."

On a completely different thread, I was reading up on House Resolution 73 earlier. Even though I'm sure it's just a small cross-section of the total number of such occurrences, I was about ready to spit nails upon reading the third point under Findings (section two), about people who were prosecuted for using firearms in self defense. Seriously, if we can't use guns for self defense, what's the point of having them? (Okay, hunting and such aside.) Thankfully, Representative Bartlett is a right-thinkin' kind of guy on this. We'll see what comes of it, though. Death in committee wouldn't particularly surprise me, after all.

Geoff Reviews - Yamanade (v.1-8)

Title: The Wallflower / Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge (volumes 1-8)
Media: Manga
Text: English
Story: Hayakawa Tomoko
Art: Hayakawa Tomoko
Publisher: Del Rey Manga (originally Kodansha)

The person who decided on the English title for this really ought to be caught and put in a small room with no visual or auditory stimulus, there to be confined for an indeterminate period of months. Seriously, though, could you come up with a blander title? Not to mention, it gives absolutely no clue as to the contents of the book.

Anyway, here's the concept. Stop me when you realize just how non-"wallflower" this is.

Four guys are living in a boarding house. One day, their landlady contacts them and says that her niece is going to be living there, and she has a job for them: Make this girl into an outstanding lady. If they do, they continue to live there, at no cost. If they fail, the rent triples. Confident in themselves, the boys agree... But what they couldn't have foreseen was that the girl in question is no mere normal girl. A few tips on grooming and an introduction to polite conversation isn't going to cut it, because ever since the boy she liked called her "ugly", Nakahara Sunako turned into darkness personified.

So, instead of trying their hardest to make a lady out of Sunako, the guys are mostly reduced to attempting to keep the landlady from finding out just how far gone the girl is. Let comedy ensue.

For the most part, this manga can be read out of order. There are few stories that span more than one chapter. Of course, there is ongoing characterization, but it happens at a slow enough pace that it isn't impossible to pick up on it as you go. I would still suggest starting from the beginning, naturally, but if you can't find volume one at your local bookstore, any of the others will serve just as well to introduce you to the story.

The series is currently eleven volumes English-translated, with at least two more due out this year. Meanwhile, the Japanese release is up to volume 18 (as sourced from animenewsnetwork.com), and apparently going strong, since there is currently an anime adaptation ongoing. We can certainly hope that makes its way over here as well.

Hamilton on the Constitution

"[T]here is not a syllable in the plan under consideration which directly empowers the national courts to construe the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution." - Alexander Hamilton

On that note, look for the start of Brushing Up On The Constitution: Article Two later this week.


Don't Give Them What They Want

The obligatory link: Please Bomb Me!

Victor Davis Hanson has interesting takes on a pretty regular basis, but this one struck me. Basically, he puts forth the idea that Iran is trying to get itself bombed in order to raise morale and its standing in the middle east. In addition, he's got a bit of the history of that country's doings. Definitely worth a read.

Adams On Virtue

"We ought to consider what is the end of government before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man....All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue." - John Adams


Train To Zone!

The obligatory link: French train smashes world speed record

I'll state from the start, they're talking about the speed record for trains on rails. Thus, the speed records for the magnetic-propulsion train tests in Japan don't count. Still, the train in question came within about four miles per hour of that record. (357mph versus the maglev record of just under 361mph in 2003.) For comparison, from Wiki, the world land speed record is currently 763mph for four-wheeled vehicles (the unlimited classification) and 351mph for motorcycles.


Witherspoon on Corruption

"Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue." - John Witherspoon

It's Spring, And Spring Means...

Cherry blossoms.

お花見 (ohanami) n. - cherry blossom viewing

夜桜 (yozakura) n. - cherry trees at evening

All of the links go to GIS.


Japanese of the Week

久し振り (hisashiburi) - after a long time

This will often get used in a couple of different ways based off of the main word. The first adds and "o" to the beginning of the word, which adds a level of politeness to the term. The other usage adds a casual flair, dropping the "hi", and occasionally lengthening the "s" in "sa". In either way, or in the normal expression as given, the term is used as, "Hey, it's been a while."

Geoff Reviews - Fruits Basket (v.1-14)

Title: Fruits Basket (volumes 1-14)
Media: Manga
Text: English
Story: Takaya Natsuki
Art: Takaya Natsuki
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Hakuensha)

Fourteen volumes? Yes, fourteen volumes. Fruits Basket, or Furuba, to use the series' nickname, has been called the best-selling shoujo manga in America. I'm sure there are sales figures floating around somewhere to prove that, though that's not really that important.

I hesitate to call Furuba a slice of life series only because I can't recall any slice of my life in which I've hugged a member of the opposite sex who then promptly transformed into an animal. Well, it's supposed to be a closely guarded secret, so I can accept that although it's never happened to me, it could. (Okay, not really, but this gets back to the whole suspension of disbelief thing.)

Before I get started, a quick note on romanizations: The Tokyopop translations stuck a bunch of "h"es in where "o"s and "u"s go. This is supposedly an accepted romanization style for long vowels, or "u" extensions of vowels. However, these mystically appearing "h"es made my life miserable when I was just starting out in learning the Japanese language, so I won't use them. There is no plain "h" in the Japanese language. Don't misunderstand, there are "h" sounds, but they are all "h" plus vowel. (HA, HI, FU, HE, HO, respectively.) Thus, Tohru becomes Tooru, Sohma becomes Souma, and so forth. The same applies to many words with extended vowels, but in a purely English-translated text, the names are the only place that romanization should be an issue. ... ... ... Anyway, rant over, I suppose. On with the show.

Whether or not it can be called slice of life, the series certainly can lay claim to a quality mix of comedy and drama, along with an enjoyable cast. The story opens with Honda Tooru living out of a tent, because her grandfather's house is being remodeled. She happens across a house near where her tent is set up, out in the middle of relative nowhere, which, like the land she's pitched the tent on, belongs to the Souma family, and is inhabited initially by Soumas Yuki and Shigure. It would be nice to say that the Soumas took her in out of kindness and human decency, but saying that it's because none of them could cook or clean worth a lick is much more accurate.

The Souma family, or at least particular of its descendants, are cursed by what are referred to as the "vengeful spirits of the Chinese zodiac". Each of the twelve, plus the cat, have associated weaknesses, likes, and dislikes based on their animal to go along with the general "transforms into that animal when hugged by a member of the opposite sex" bit. Needless to say, this isn't exactly something that the family would be pleased about if it were to become common knowledge.

While it's not really something to recommend a manga based on, the author talk sections are easily some of the most memorable in memory. Just for a taste: "When a character dies in an RPG, my first thought isn't, 'Oh, how sad'... It's 'Please give back the items you had equipped, okay?' Then I feel bad about being so cold-hearted."

At some point, which I didn't think to pin down at the time (probably around volume nine or ten), the story shifts from Tooru living life while trying to hide the Souma family secret to her getting the idea that she might be able to find a way to break the curse.


The review feels like it cuts off quite abruptly, but I'm not sure what else I can say without going into excessive spoilers and ruining things for potential readers. So, I'm going to leave it at that.

With this, plus the eventually forthcoming reviews of the five books of the Belgariad by David Eddings, and The Tempting of America by Robert Bork (and the review that I won't be doing of volumes 5-8 of KareKano), I've clobbered the March reading challenge with room to spare, even if you want to count English-language manga at 3-to-1, 4-to-1, or even 5-to-1. (Go me? Heh...)


Brushing Up On The Constitution (part 5)

Previous entries in the series can be found here: (Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four).

This entry will finish Article One of the Constitution, dealing with the limitations placed upon the congress, and the limitations placed upon the states.

Article One, Section Nine:

A1.S9.C1: The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight; but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.

Congress cannot prohibit the importation of slaves or other individual into any state that was signatory to the Constitution until the year 1808. However, it can tax the slave trade at a rate of up to $10 per person brought in to the country.

According to the article on Wikipedia, Congress did put such a prohibition into effect at the earliest possible opportunity, January 1st, 1808.

A1.S9.C2: The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.

The congress cannot suspend habeas corpus except in specific circumstances: rebellion or invasion of the country.

A1.S9.C3: No bill of attainder, or ex post facto law, shall be passed.

Congress cannot write a law declaring a person or persons guilty and punish them without the benefit of a trial. Nor can it create laws which apply retroactively, whether to make legal something which was illegal, or vice versa.

A1.S9.C4: No capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.

A reiteration of Article One, Section Two, Clause Three, regarding how taxes were to be apportioned amongst the states. Note again that this is purely in relation to population, not in relation to the income of any members of that population.

A1.S9.C5: No tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any State. No preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one State over those of another: Nor shall vessels bound to or from one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties, in another.

Congress cannot lay a tax on items exported from the states. Any laws it creates which apply to revenue generation from ports must be applied equally to all ports in all states. In addition, it cannot tax ships from one state when they enter another state.

A1.S9.C6: No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.

Money cannot be withdrawn from the treasury except if it is required by an appropriations bill. The income and expenditures of the government must be published as a matter of public record.

A1.S9.C7: No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no person holding any office of profit or trust under them shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office or title, or any kind whatever from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

The United States will not confer titles of nobility (though, sometimes it seems like such titles as Congressman and Senator have reached that level, doesn't it?). Also, no public servant is allowed to accept gifts or titles from any foreign dignitary or power without the consent of the congress.

Article One, Section Ten:

A1.S10.C1: No State shall enter into any treaty, alliance or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility.

This places particular limits on the states which join the union. Many of these are either reserved powers of the federal government, or are limitations also placed on the federal government. Specifically, the states cannot enter into treaties, alliances, or other confederations (reserved to the federal government); grant letters of marque and reprisal (reserved to the congress in A1.S8.C11); coin money (reserved to the federal government in A1.S8.C5); emit bills of credit (also A1.S8.C5); make anything but gold or silver coin a legal form of payment for debts (yet again, A1.S8.C5); pass a bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or any law which impairs private contracts (the first two restrictions are shared with congress in A1.S9.C3.); and finally, the states, like the congress, cannot grant titles of nobility. (There goes my dream of being Duke of the Western Rivers, I suppose...)

A1.S10.C2: No State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws; and the new produce of all duties and imposts, laid by any State, on imports or exports, shall be for the use of the treasury of the United States; and all such laws shall be subject to the revision and controul of the Congress. No State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty of tonnage, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, enter into any agreement or compact with another State, or with a foreign power, or engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay.

The states are restricted from taxing imports and exports, as well as unduly delaying them other than as absolutely necessary for inspections. Any money that the states gain from taxing imports and exports must be turned over to the treasury of the United States. Also, congress has oversight over any such laws regarding this taxation as the states happen to enact. The power to maintain a standing military is reserved to the federal government, not the states, as is the power to enter into treaties with foreign powers.


On Suspension Of Disbelief

I've been considering this topic for the past couple of days, so I thought that I'd commit the thoughts to something resembling paper, for a group somewhat resembling posterity. Let's start off with the Wikipedia definition of the term, just for the sake of clarity:

Suspension of disbelief is an aesthetic theory intended to
characterize people's relationships to art. It refers to the alleged willingness
of a reader or viewer to accept as true the premises of a work of fiction, even if
they are fantastic, impossible, or contradictory.

Now, it's really been ever since Crossroad that I've been mulling this over, but it only really came to a head recently. It has to do with what people will actually accept in their suspension of disbelief, and what they won't. In the end, I came to the conclusion that willingness to suspend disbelief for the plot varies in direct relation to how much like our world the story world is meant to be.

Accepting the essentially impossible:

To borrow the example a friend of mine used last night, take Superman. While it's set in a world that resembles ours, it's essentially a work of fantasy. Certainly, you could make the argument that science is slowly working towards giving men Superman-type abilities, starting with such things as bulletproof vests to stop bullets with one's chest, but we're expected to accept that he can do these things with his natural body. Still, even though no man is actually able to perform under his own power the feats that Superman can, most people can accept the premise of a man who is "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound". I would submit that things like this are so fantastic that they cannot disturb our concept of the real world, and thus we can accept them as a premise for fiction.

The same concept would apply to any number of other things: Faster-than-light space travel, aliens with the power to disassemble and properly reassemble the human body practically from scratch, wizards throwing fire or ice or calling down lighting from a clear sky, mahou shoujo or giant robots and their 14-year-old pilots attempting to stave off the annihilation of the earth, and so forth.

Accepting the possible, but outlandish:

Most of the examples I can really come up with here are from science fiction. Perhaps I'm just not reading the right fantasy, but there doesn't seem to be a real equivalent to "hard" science fiction in fantasy. In any event, what the reader is being asked to accept here is something outside of their own experience that either is possible, or can be reasonably said to be possible in the future.

For explanatory purposes, take the idea of humans colonizing outer space. While humanity certainly isn't at that point yet technologically, it isn't impossible to consider ways in which it would be possible. In fact, this case may not be so much a suspension of disbelief as it is a willingness to believe in the creativity and ingenuity of mankind. Still, it falls under the general umbrella.

Likewise, consider the case of an outlandish but possible character: Sherlock Holmes. The reader is asked to believe that Holmes' mental prowess and knowledge far exceeds the norm when it comes to his chosen fields. Here, the problem is not so much believing in the idea that a person could be near or at the top of their field of expertise as it is believing that such a wealth of knowledge and near-perfection could come together in one man.

Accepting the Normal:

This should be fairly obvious. Most people should be able to accept what appear to be normal occurrences, even if they fall outside the realm of an individual's experience. This extends both to plot points (e.g.: a character becomes sick, or is out of town on business) and characterizations (e.g.: the neighbor across the street who gets a beer or two too many in him on a Saturday afternoon, a needy girlfriend who is constantly calling). Even someone too young to be in the workforce, or who has never had a friend or acquaintence like the ones listed can accept and rationalize their existence without any difficulty.

What Qualifies as Unacceptable?

If we're capable of rationalizing both the normal, and the extremely abnormal, why is a term such as suspension of disbelief even necessary? Obviously, there must be points beyond which this concept will not operate. These points may well be different based upon the reader in question, but I would submit that they fall into two primary categories.

Things Which Are Supposed to be Normal, but Are Not:

Going back to Crossroad again, because it is the best example of this in recent memory. To explain it in general terms, it works like this: The world is supposed to be our world. Natural, rational, easy to accept. In fact, there is even a saying, that "life is stranger than fiction", which should cover such things. However, what the author has asked the readers to accept is a cut above. "How these characters got together, while unusual, is not impossible." It may not be impossible, but it is so exceptionally unlikely that the situation in question could happen more than once, perhaps twice, that accepting that it happened four times with the same person involved belies the idea that the world is like ours.

This is more normal-seeming on its face, because it only involves people, but it doesn't really come off any differently than if an author were to write a book set now, in our world, with our current level of science, asking us to buy the fact that humans had developed faster-than-light travel.

Excessive Contrivance to Make the (Nearly) Impossible Possible:

This is probably the more common way that suspension of disbelief is abused or defeated. Most of the time, it boils down to an excessively contrived luck. Put in fantasy terms, our hero just happens to be exactly where he's needed every single time in order to prevent the great evil from dominating the world. Even this we can possibly accept for the sake of the story, as long as it isn't made blatantly obvious.

Brought closer to reality, however, the problem becomes obvious. Instead of the dashing hero in the previous example, consider instead the case of a plumber: On his way home from work, he survives a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler, then, in the hospital, he learns that his wife's cancer has gone into remission, and a couple of weeks later, he's won the state lottery. None of these are excessive in and of themselves, but as they pile up, it becomes more and more difficult to accept that the plumber is a normal person in our world.

Going Whole-Hog

The obligatory link: Senate war bill features $20B in pork

I know, at this point, nobody is really surprised by the ways that congress goes about spending money. Sad, but true. Still, you'd think that they could at least keep their snouts out of the trough while passing spending bills relating to military action. ... ... ... Well, no, you wouldn't think it, and neither would I, but I suppose we could wish it.

Meanwhile, senator Byrd was quoted as saying that the bill as laden with pork is "common sense and good economics". To twist a favorite quote to fit the circumstances, "What part of this looks like good economics to you, huh? What part of this?" And who's surprised that they're still trying to appropriate more money because of hurricane Katrina?

Of course, the House doesn't come out of this clean, either. They tacked on $20B or so of their own pork on their version of the bill.


Over The (Lap)Top

The obligatory link: The first million dollar laptop

I suppose if you can have a thousand dollar pizza, you can have a million dollar laptop, huh? The only thing remotely interesting to the technology geek in me is the 128 gigs of solid-state disk space. One would hope the rest of the specifications are also top-of-the-line, given the price, but the article doesn't mention anything other than the drive space, and the 17" screen (nice for a laptop, but not really what I'd call luxury...).


Japanese of the Week

肝試し (kimodameshi) n. - test of courage

Kind of a random pick, I know, but "test of courage" was a clue in a crossword I was working earlier and I needed a word for the week... so, it kind of worked out.

Henry On Liberty

"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" - Patrick Henry

Marshall On Taxes

"An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation." - John Marshall


Of Course It's Not Child-Friendly

So, I was going through my normal roundup of blogs today, and I happened across something interesting linked from Julie's Jihadophobic blogspot. Aside from an image including one of my favorite quotes ("Aside from ending slavery, fascism, naziism, and communism, war's never solved anything."), she had a link to another blogspot, where she'd found the image. Funny how that works out, isn't it?

Anyway, on that page, the writer had included a short rant on some busybodies who take issue with sex, violence, and foul language in television shows and movies, particularly taking exception to their inclusion of '24' on a list of bloody-violent shows. Since a link to the actual site in question, for the Parents Television Council, was included, I decided I'd go take a look. You know, since I'm still a child, and I watch such excessive amounts of television these days.

Now, I understand what these folks are purporting to be doing. They watch the shows so you don't have to, and all that. But let's be serious now. Should anyone be surprised if there's a bunch of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll on prime time TV these days? Frankly, if a parent doesn't want their kid or kids exposed to such things, they're going to be much better off not having a television than trying to pick and choose which programs are least objectionable. After all, doesn't that make the issue even easier? No longer do you have to worry about whether or not a show might be something you don't want your children watching, since they can't access it anyway! Well, on top of that, you'll probably have to toss out the computer, or those sneaky young'uns could find most of the shows on Youtube, at least until the next round of copyright-related takedown notices.

Sure, I'm being facetious to make a point there. Still, if they could then find non-objectionable books, maybe it could be the beginning of solving the functional illiteracy problem? Hmm...

Meanwhile, I found that the only three shows that I'm even minimally willing to brave the 16-minute wall of commercials to view on television (instead of just waiting for the season on DVD like normal) are all red on the PTC stoplight rating system. They are, in case anyone was curious, '24', 'House', and 'Heroes'. I just have to wonder what they'd rate some of the anime that I watch... Maybe they'd have to grow new levels of the stoplight for some of it?

Thankfully, Someone Gets It

The obligatory link: Czech leader Klaus fights global warming 'religion'

It's always interesting when you have to go half a world away to see people talking sense. Case in point, Vaclav Klaus, Czech president. Here we have a man in a position of actual power, rather than in a position of influence such as, say, talk radio, who gets it, and who isn't afraid to speak out on the matter.

From the article: "This ideology preaches earth and nature and under the slogans of their protection – similarly to the old Marxists – wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central, now global, planning of the whole world."

And also: "No government action can stop the world and nature from changing. Therefore, I disagree with plans such as the Kyoto Protocol or similar initiatives, which set arbitrary targets requiring enormous costs without realistic prospects for the success of these measures."

Unfortunately, the alarmists have such a head of steam already that it's going to take plenty of common-sense, level-headed talk like this, probably over the course of years, before we can consign the idea of global warming as man-made to the dustbin of history.


Geoff Reviews - Spiral ~Suiri no Kizuna~ v.2

Title: Spiral ~Suiri no Kizuna~ (volume 2)
Media: Manga (tankouban)
Text: Japanese
Story: Shirodaira Kyo
Art: Mizuno Eita
Publisher: Gangan Comics (a Square/Enix publication)

Volume two of Spiral picks up right where the first left off, with the locked room mystery. As I read through, I keep meaning to go back and look at the similarities and differences between the manga and anime adaptation, since I know there are a couple of changes between the two (primarily to keep the number of incidental knifings down in the anime, is my assumption).

Ayumu quickly proves himself in the finale of the locked room saga, unmasking the culprit with a certain Holmesian flare.

Speaking of differences between the anime and the manga, it was interesting to see, between reading the first two volumes, and watching the first two episodes of the anime, what got left out when the series got animated. Really, the anime truncated the manga storyline, and attached it at different points, involving the same people in multiple events rather than using the original manga characters in order to tighten up the time frame.

Anyway, after the locked room comes what is, in my opinion, the first point in Spiral where I said to myself, "I have to see the rest of this.": The turtle bomb. I know, if you haven't read or watched Spiral, your mental image here probably isn't capturing the event. Essentially, Ayumu has half an hour to somehow decipher a nine-digit disarm code, or the concert hall he was in will be blown to bits (and him with it, of course). Now, you can solve the disarm code yourself, with the right information (and a bit of luck). Just consider what a turtle from China, and a three-by-three grid have in common. The last piece you need is that the number 1 (one) is in the second box of the third column.

Masked Man For Governor

The obligatory link: Wrestler enters political ring

Sure, it's not unheard of for people on the spectacle side of things get into politics. We have a couple of good examples right here at home, between Ventura and Schwarzenegger. Still, I guess the added amusement value of this one is the fact that... well, he's not just a wrestler, he's a masked wrestler. (Yes, the link does have a picture of Murakawa in his mask.)

Interestingly, this isn't the man's first foray into politics, according to the article - he's been involved in local politics since 2003. Now, he apparently intends to run for governor of Iwate prefecture.

For those extreme political junkies out there, while I haven't been able to find any policy statements from Murakawa himself, here's what I have been able to find: Murakawa was a member of the Liberal Party of Japan, which merged with the Democratic Party of Japan in 2003. The party platform can be viewed in English in PDF form here. Really, though, that's reading far too much into a story about a man who wears a vinyl wrestling mask while conducting politics.

Franklin On Welfare

"Repeal that [welfare] law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. St. Monday and St. Tuesday, will soon cease to be holidays. Six days shalt thou labor, though one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them." - Benjamin Franklin

Isn't it interesting that we haven't really come anywhere since then, but the only time I can actually recall that the nation tried this 200-plus-year-old idea, it worked to a degree that surprised (dare I say, shocked?) people? Of course, the whole problem is that it just isn't nice... Well, I never claimed to be particularly nice, either, so I suppose it works out.


Brushing Up On The Constitution (part 4)

My apologies right at the start for the three week break in this series. I'd like to say it's because there was plenty else to blog about (which there was), but chalking it up to my natural laziness is probably a lot more accurate. Setting that aside...

Up today are Article One, Section Seven and Article One, Section Eight. In other words, bills, or acts of Congress, and the powers of Congress. Section Eight is actually why I started on this endeavor in the first place, because I think it highlights just exactly how far the country has gotten away from its founding document. If you need a refresher on what has come before, follow the links to part one, part two, and part three of the series.

Article One, Section Seven:

A1.S7.C1: Sect. 7. All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments, as on other bills.

The House is responsible for starting bills dealing with bringing money into the government. Any other type of bill can start in either the House or the Senate. Even with revenue-generating bills, however, the Senate can propose amendments to them, including material that was not originally in the bill.

A1.S7.C2: Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senates shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve; he shall sign it; but if not, he shall return it, with his objections, to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law.

Even after a bill is passed by both the House and the Senate, it is not law unless it is approved and signed into law by the President. If he does not approve of the bill, he sends it back to the body which originally created the bill (the House or Senate, depending), along with notation of what he did not approve of in the bill. In common usage, this is referred to as a veto. Each body can then reconsider the bill, and if both agree with a 2/3rds majority, can pass the bill into law without the president's signature.

Any bill that the President does not act upon (either sign or send back as unacceptable) after ten working days (Sunday is not considered a working day for these purposes) is considered to have been signed into law. The exception to this is if Congress prevents the President from returning a bill to them as unacceptable by adjourning their session, in which case the bill will not be considered as having been signed into law.

A1.S7.C3: Every order, resolution or vote, to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the same shall take effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be re-passed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the case of a bill.

Any bill that requires the approval of both the House and the Senate must also be approved by the President, or disapproved by him, and subsequently re-passed by the House and Senate by 2/3rds majorities.

Article One, Section Eight:

A1.S8.C1: Sect. 8. The Congress shall have power To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties; imposts and excises, shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Congress can impose and collect taxes, pay the debts of the national government, provide for the military, and for the general wellbeing of the nation. Also, any taxes imposed by the congress have to be the same in all parts of the United States.

Note that this does not say the general wellbeing or welfare of the people, though the courts have construed the term to mean this. This is the technicality through which we have our current systems such as Welfare.

A1.S8.C2:To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

Congress has the power to borrow money "on the credit of the United States". (Anybody know what the credit limit of the government of the United States is?)

A1.S8.C3:To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;

Congress has the power to oversee and put limits on commerce with foreign nations, commerce between the states (also referred to as interstate commerce, and has this power ever been abused), and with the Indian tribes.

A1.S8.C4:To establish an uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies, throughout the United States;

Congress will establish the rules pertaining to naturalization of immigrants (the process of becoming a citizen of the United States), which will be the same for all immigrants, and also laws pertaining to bankruptcy.

A1.S8.C5:To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;

Congress oversees the coining of money and its value (questions have been raised as to the constitutionality of paper money based on the wording of this sentence), as well as the valuation of foreign currency, and sets the standards of weights and measures.

A1.S8.C6:To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;

Congress sets the punishments for counterfeiting the currency of the country.

A1.S8.C7:To establish post-offices and post-roads;

This invests in congress the power to create post offices and roads for the use of the mail system. (The USPS now has the 35th highest revenue of any company in the world, just below Home Depot. They trail by $400,000,000.00, which looks like a lot until you consider that that's all the difference there is between two businesses pulling in $69,000,000,000 each per year. For comparison, this is slightly higher than the $68,815,000,000 GDP of Pakistan. Yes, I know it's constitutional... it says so right here, but the USPS alone is pulling in as much money as a medium-sized country generates per year. Amazing, isn't it?)

A1.S8.C8:To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

This gives congress the power to establish intellectual property laws, written to "promote the progress of science and useful arts". There is some argument now as to how well the intellectual property laws as written are actually promoting the progress of science, but this is the intent of them.

A1.S8.C9:To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;

Congress has the power to create the lesser court system. This, for instance, is where the district court system comes from.

A1.S8.C10:To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas and offences against the law of nations;

Congress defines what constitutes piracy and felony on the high seas, and the punishment of the same.

A1.S8.C11:To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

Congress has the power to declare war, to issue a letter of marque and reprisal (which is, to officially empower a person or persons to go beyond the boundaries of the nation to retrieve or destroy the assets of a hostile person or organization in roughly the amount that said hostile person or organization had done within this country. See the Wikipedia entry for more.), and to create rules pertaining to persons and property captured during military action.

A1.S8.C12:To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

Congress can raise and support the army of the United States, but cannot designate money for the military more than two years in advance. In other words, congress has to oversee the funding of the military on a fairly constant basis.

A1.S8.C13:To provide and maintain a navy;

In addition to the army, congress is also to create and maintain a naval force.

A1.S8.C14:To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

Also, congress is to make rules for the governing and regulation of the army and navy.

A1.S8.C15:To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions;

Congress is to provide for a means to call out the state militias for the purposes of enforcing the laws of the union, suppressing insurrections, and repelling invasions. In common current terms, this generally refers to the National Guard.

A1.S8.C16:To provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

In addition to the above, congress is also to provide organization, armament, and disciplinary measures for the militia, as well as for oversight for any of them who may be employed as part of the national military. However, the states are responsible for the appointment of officers and for the training of their militias.

A1.S8.C17:To exercise exclusive legislation, in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the Legislature of the State in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings;--and,

Congress has the power to oversee and legislate in regards to the seat of government (now known as Washington, D.C.), as well as over other government installations such as, but not limited to, forts, magazines, arsenals, docks, and "other needful buildings".

A1.S8.C18:To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States,or in any department or officer thereof.

Finally, congress has the power to make any law necessary to execute the powers granted to it in the constitution.

1984 For The New Millennium?

This ad, purportedly by Barack Obama's team, may be one of the most memorable (and vicious) campaign ads in memory. I say may be because, unfortunately, there are two problems... First, it doesn't actually use the logo that Obama is using (the "O" in red, white and blue), but rather a vaguely Apple-ish looking "O" with a leaf on the top; and second, I can't find any information on it on the senator's '08 campaign website (which is barackobama.com, if you want to go looking for the ad there yourself).

Wilson On Law And Liberty

"Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness." - James Wilson


Japanese of the Week

春休み (haruyasumi) n. - spring break; spring vacation

No explanation needed; it means exactly what it says, and it gets used exactly as you'd imagine.


Upscale Pizza... Say What?

The obligatory link: Luxury Pie: NYC Restaurant Offers $1,000 Pizza

And here I was thinking that $15 a pie was bad... Seriously, I'm sure there's a market for things like this, but it still boggles the mind each and every time. My only real problem with the pizza isn't the price, though, but the fact that it doesn't sound particularly appetizing... though, it does look nice.

Burning Corn, Sweet Corn

The obligatory link: Corn prices making Coke gulp

As a car guy, I've long been skeptical at best about ethanol. (Yes, this is related, just bear with me.) It requires a lot of energy to make, and a gallon of it only packs 2/3rds of the energy contained in a gallon of gasoline. Needless to say, that alone makes me not the biggest fan in the world.

Now, however, comes the above article, where we find out that Coke is considering a move away from high-fructose corn syrup as its primary sweetener in the Coca-cola blend because... surprise... corn prices are rising due to more of the crop being devoted to the production of ethanol. This is one of those bizarre unintended consequences, and while it's not a really major one in the grand scheme of things, it makes me wonder... "Just what else might happen because the government is subsidizing ethanol, that we haven't even remotely considered?"

Making The Roads Less Safe, One Call At A Time

The obligatory link: Another Driving Distraction: Thank SameLane

I read the article about this new technology, the ability of people to call other people's cell phones on the highway by seeing and keying in their license plate, and I thought, "You know, this is just terrible enough an idea to catch on."

Think about it for a moment, and I'm sure you can come up with generally the same list of issues I did. It's an additional distraction for the driver, and then there are the real issues: Think about the possibilities of this for use in road rage or stalking. Do we really have to go borrowing trouble like this?

For extra credit, try to guess how long it will take for the government to step in on this. I'm guessing about a day after the first person gets run off the road by someone using this wonderful new technology. Feel free to offer up your guesses.


The Car Guy In Me Cries

The obligatory link: EU suggests speed limit for German autobahns

Quite possibly the best-known stretch of road in the world, and the weenies want to restrict it. No, not because of noise, or because of accidents... or even potential accidents. Sadly, the autobahn may be the next victim of the European Union's war against global warming.

Thankfully, as the article points out, the current minister of transport in Germany is standing up against the idea. We'll see how long that lasts, though.

An Inside Look At The Technical Revolution

The obligatory link: A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection

The linked article and the quotes at the bottom of the post are the work of Mr. Peter Gutmann.

Warning, this is extremely geeky. If the link title did not immediately draw your attention, I wouldn't suggest going back to it now. For those who are still left, though, the article is almost a play-by-play of Vista, and the current evolution of Operating Systems and content protection. There are enough amusing anecdotes and quotes to keep it interesting... if you're into technology.

For those who want the boiled down version, here you go: Microsoft went so incredibly overboard on the content protection for Windows Vista that many of the systems work very poorly, if they even work at all. Take the idea of buying a brand new model of car the day it comes out, multiply by 20 or so, and that's the amount of headache Vista is causing at the moment.

To put it in the words of the article writer, "Just to make this point clear, the level of security that Vista is trying to achieve to protect video and audio is more extreme than anything the US government has ever considered necessary for protecting its most sensitive classified data."

Finally, a few selected quotes, both for humor and informative value:

"Amusingly, the Vista content protection docs say that it'll be left to graphics chip manufacturers to differentiate their product based on (deliberately degraded) video quality. This seems a bit like breaking the legs of Olympic athletes and then rating them based on how fast they can hobble on crutches."

"If it's possible to convince Vista that what it's communicating is premium content, the video (and/or audio) surveillance content will become unavailable, since it's unlikely that a surveillance center will be using DRM-enabled recording devices or monitors. I can just see this as a plot element in Ocean's Fifteen or Mission Impossible Six, “It's OK, their surveillance system is running Vista, we can shut it down with spoofed premium content”."

"I can just imagine the corporate sick day that must have taken place at ATI, nVidia, Intel, VIA, and SiS when it came time to put someone's name to this gem, which gives Hollywood veto rights over your production lines and sales and distribution channels."

"From a chess-playing perspective it appears that the content owners' threat modelling never went any further than “ Hey, I can move my rook over there!”. There doesn't seem to have been any consideration of what could happen during any subsequent moves, or maybe no-one wanted to think about it. "

"The worst thing about all of this is that there's no escape. Hardware manufacturers will have to drink the kool-aid (and the reference to mass suicide here is deliberate [Note L]) in order to work with Vista"

Finally, in a grand display of scientific geekery merging with technological geekery to form a giant mecha of omni-geekery, we have this gem, the explanation of Note C: "Note C: In order for content to be displayed to users, it has to be copied numerous times. For example if you're reading this document on the web then it's been copied from the web server's disk drive to server memory, copied to the server's network buffers, copied across the Internet, copied to your PC's network buffers, copied into main memory, copied to your browser's disk cache, copied to the browser's rendering engine, copied to the render/screen cache, and finally copied to your screen. If you've printed it out to read, several further rounds of copying have occurred. Windows Vista's content protection (and DRM in general) assume that all of this copying can occur without any copying actually occurring, since the whole intent of DRM is to prevent copying. If you're not versed in DRM doublethink this concept gets quite tricky to explain, but in terms of quantum mechanics the content enters a superposition of simultaneously copied and uncopied states until a user collapses its wave function by observing the content (in physics this is called quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox). Depending on whether you follow the Copenhagen or many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, things then either get weird or very weird. So in order for Windows Vista's content protection to work, it has to be able to violate the laws of physics and create numerous copies that are simultaneously not copies.
(Someone has pointed out that Microsoft is trying to implement a quantum encryption channel in software that attempts to make premium content non- observable, detecting problem states and discontinuing transmission if any are observed)."

Missouri On The NAU

It's been a long time since I'd talked about this. Really, I think I've explained my position on it fairly well... That being, it's a terrible idea, but I'm not buying into the idea that the government is stealthily trying to pull it over on us.

That said, plenty of people disagree, and some of those people happen to reside in the Missouri House and Senate, amongst other places. I have to say, I do like the idea of nipping the whole thing in the bud, which is what the resolutions which have been introduced intend to do.

Text of Missouri SCR15

PDF of HCR0033I

(SCR and HCR are the acronyms for Senate Concurrent Resolution and House Concurrent Resolution, unless I miss my guess.)

Other states are getting in on this as well. You can find links to their various resolutions at the bottom of this article on WND.


What Searching Incoming Keywords Turns Up - Christian Mind Control

I'm something of a nut when it comes to checking into the hits I'm getting. Not that I particularly worry about who the people are, but the interest stems from where they happen to be coming from. The hits from China with no referrals are the interesting ones that I haven't really been able to pin down yet, and I keep hoping that one of the regular viewers from that country will leave a comment explaining at least their interest in the blog, to give me something of a handle on it.

Anyway, the keywords are all well and good, but the really interesting stuff are the incoming keywords on blog searches. Today, I had one come in under "First Amendment", so I ran the search myself, and came across an article with an interesting title: How Christian Mind Control Works. Needless to say, between the potential that the person might have some interesting insight into the workings of the religion I follow, and the potential for some serious conspiracy theory crackpottery, I had to click forth.

Here's the only "too long, didn't read" warning you're going to get. The original post was quite sizeable, and being a rebuttal in full to the concepts contained within the original, this post will quite likely be even longer.

I certainly didn't go into this with my eyes closed. Any post at a site entitled ExChristian.net was certainly going to have an obvious slant, but I really did want to give the writer a fair shake. After all, being a Christian, I still want people to give me the benefit of the doubt as an individual before they start in on their perception of the religion as a whole.

After a solid explanation of coercion, and how mental coercion is as or more effective than physical coercion, the writer gets into what he refers to as the "seven main tactic types found in various combinations in the Christian Coercive Persuasion program."

The first tactic mentioned is the attempt to increase a person's susceptibility to suggestion, particularly through use of "audio, visual, verbal, or tactile fixation drills (anything that is "moving" to the emotions as well as to the mind, i.e., worship music, dancing, embraces, stirring preaching or instructional teaching from a pulpit)". Now, I'm not going to try to say this isn't a common or effective tactic, but consider this: What really differentiates common scriptural reading, say, or a common public confession of sins from a group of people in a ballpark standing and singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame"? I mean, really, consider that song for a minute... "I don't care if I never get back", "Root, root, root for the home team" (the Cardinals have gone so far as to just replace 'home team' with 'Cardinals', other teams may well have done the same). Sure, you can say a person would have to be nuts to call "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" a first step in the indoctrination of fans who attend the sport at stadiums, but taken in the context of looking into indoctrination, doesn't it fit pretty well? The same could be said for commercials, the tone of which, if not the actual words, boils down to "Life is better with this, you shouldn't be without it."

The second tactic is the carrot and the stick method, or rewards and punishments. "...
efforts are made to establish considerable control over a person's social environment, time, and sources of social support. Social isolation is promoted ("You are not of the world", "Christ can to bring a sword"). Contact with family and friends is abridged, as is contact with persons who do not share church-approved attitudes. Psychological and emotional dependence on the group is fostered." I'm really not sure which churches the writer partook of, but over the years, I've been either a member or a consistent visitor of several different churches in a couple of different denominations, and I have never felt this trend to establish "considerable control" over my "social environment, time, and sources of social support". More to the point, I rarely (though not never) attend functions outside of normal Sunday services, and while the option is always open to go, the offers made to me are couched as "We've got (whatever) event coming up, it'd be great if you could join us." I don't know about you, but to me, that's a very soft-handed sell. Really, the hardest sell I've had in regards to church-related activities are the repeated requests that I rejoin the choir, since they are consistently short on male singers, and I have a loud voice and don't sing off key (too) often.

As to the concept of choices of social support, I've got my family first and foremost, followed by my friends. I do understand that many people do count the church as a first rung of support for issues in their lives, but consider as well that many people count any number of other organizations in that area as well. Support organizations come to mind as an obvious example.

The concept of social isolation seems to have been taken out of context, as far as I can tell. The term "in the world, but not of the world", as I'm given to understand it, refers not to the idea that Christians should withdraw themselves from non-Christian peoples or places, but that they should refrain from personally engaging in immoral or "unChristian" acts. Now, a fair argument could probably be made as to that being a source of indoctrination in and of itself (I'm commenting on this article as I go, so the concept may well come up later), but consider the kinds of things that the religion is attempting to keep its adherents from doing with the "in the world, but not of it" concept: Murder, theft, lying, adultery, and so forth. In other words, things that are against the law of the land, and that people in general, not just Christians, consider to be bad things. Certainly, if extraneous commands originating from the pastor or ruling body of the church in question, not based on actual command from scripture are added on top of these things, the idea can get out of hand in a hurry, but the actual intent of it is by no means isolationist.

The very first sentence of the third tactic is... interesting. And I don't particularly mean that in a good way. "Disconfirming information and nonsupporting opinions are prohibited in church communication." Again, the experience the writer has had in church (or churches) is wildly different from my own. If anything, the statement would read more truly when applied to something like global warming supporters, who go to great lengths to downplay or even discredit and destroy people who hold viewpoints antithetical to their own. Unfortunately, the writer does not go into any specific circumstances surrounding this statement, so it is difficult at best to comment upon such situations (having none in my own experience to draw on).

"Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss with outsiders." This seems pretty open-ended on the face of it, but aside from going back to the application of the "in the world, but not of it" premise, I can't think of a general set of rules for permissible topics of discussion. And even then, those same rules would apply to people within the church as well as those outside of it. If the statement is meant to refer to proselytization, it is, from my experience, patently false. The actual sharing of faith with an "outsider" consists both of the promises and the requirements of the religion. In other words, the general concepts of Christianity are all laid out up front.

"Communication is highly controlled, especially communication from God. God's communication is one-way, via the bible, and nothing is to contradict that communication." This sentence certainly follows certain concepts in Catholicism, but it is not true of protestant Christianity. The difference is the requirement of the intercession of priests in the Catholic faith, while protestants take the view that anyone at any time can avail themselves of prayer and thus communion with God.

As to the concept of an "in-group language", what group of people with similar interests does not develop such terminology. Certainly, I use a lot of specific terminology amongst my friends and fellow fans of Japanese animation and manga that would be incomprehensible to people without an understanding of at least Japanese, and often the actual subject matter at hand. For instance, to this "in-group", the word "Moe" is not always a man's name. (More likely, it never means a man's name, unless the Three Stooges are being mentioned, and is not pronounced like the name, but instead as the name, followed by the letter A.) Instead, it refers to a nebulous concept of a character's inherent cuteness and likability. Similarly, someone who is not an initiate of the baseball "in-group" would be stumped by such terminology as a "six-four-three double play", or a "ground-rule double". In any such case, people slowly learn such language upon their inclusion in the group in question.

Quoting the fourth tactic: "Frequent and intense attempts are made to cause a person to re-evaluate the most central aspects of his or her experience of self and prior conduct in negative ways. Efforts are designed to destabilize and undermine the subject's basic consciousness, reality awareness, world view, emotional control, and defense mechanisms as well as getting them to reinterpret their life's history, and adopt a new version of causality."

This isn't wrong, to begin with. Frequent and intense attempts are made to get people to re-evaluate their experiences and prior conduct. The concept of them being in a negative light flows from a realistic concept that people are not perfect. Who hasn't made mistakes? What is necessarily bad about reflecting on the past and looking for ways to improve, or desiring not to repeat bad behaviors? Again, the variation here comes from the behaviors that the scriptures themselves are actually attempting to proscribe versus what gets tacked on by overzealous people, or through misunderstandings or misinterpretation.

What can be called an effort "designed to destabilize and undermine the subject's basic consciousness", etc, can also be called efforts at realism. Consider, plenty of study has been done on human consciousness and memory, and the tendancy of people to modify their memories to put themselves in a better light. In general, people don't want to consider their mistakes, or to see that they have, in fact, acted poorly in the past. Actually taking an unvarnished look at one's past can fairly be said to be a reinterpretation of one's life history, but the fact that something is a reinterpretation does not necessarily end in the fact that such a reinterpretation is necessarily false.

Again, the fifth tactic includes "intense and requent attempts", this time, to "undermine a person's confidence in himself and his judgment, creating a sense of powerlessness. The only power that can help is God, or more precisely, the specific church's or Christian group's version of God. The eldership, church leaders, or "advanced" Christians are usually relied upon to understand the bible and for "encouragement" to "have the mind of Christ."".

Again, the writer has the gist of the thing, while missing the actual idea. While Christianity does instill a sense of needing the help of God, the concept is actually in reference to the necessity of being saved because no person is perfect on their own, and thus cannot stand up to the requirements of perfection in the law. Setting aside the law as stated in scripture, it is highly unlikely that an person has even perfectly kept all man-made laws, whether breaking them through willfulness or ignorance (consider various laws relating to driving, for starters). And while "the eldership, church leaders", etc, are relied upon for understanding the Bible, they are not, in the protestant traditions, put forth as infallible sources. Again, this differs from traditions such as Catholicism, with their belief in the essential infallibility of the pope.

On the matter of non-physical punishments, the writer has this to say in his sixth point: "Nonphysical punishments are used such as intense humiliation (private and public confession of sin), loss of privilege (suspension or excommunication from the church or Christian group), social isolation (from the world and the "unbelievers" as well as from erring or heretical Christians that doesn't agree with their church or group..."

While there can fairly be said to be an element of humiliation to confession of sins, the actual idea stems from the ability to be free of these worries after offering them up to God. Also, the point seems to go back to an aversion to admitting to mistakes.

Suspension (or excommunication) is an interesting topic, and, as part of the "in-group" language discussed above, is quite probably one of the more misunderstood concepts in Christianity. It is actually an extreme step taken to attempt to convince a person of their mistakes after other measures have been exhausted. The idea being that if all reasonable means of helping a person to see the error of their ways fail, that they should instead be allowed to continue those ways outside of the group until such time that they come to an understanding that what they are doing is wrong. Actually, this contrats sharply with general cult behavior, wherein such a person would generally be taken more sharply into the group and focused on more specifically for further indoctrination. While it can be said to be an extreme punishment, what differentiates a suspension is the lack of further attempts on the part of the church to deal with the individual's transgressions.

Social isolation is another mistaken representation of the ideals of a church. While Christians are called to be "separate", the concept is not of a physical separation, but rather of a separation where they attempt to live a life by the ideals set forth in scripture rather than those of the world at large. In fact, the idea of physical separation of believers from non-believers is antithetical to the mission and intentions of the church's mandate to propagate the spread of the faith. In other words, if Christians never had contact with non-Christians, this propagation would never take place.

The seventh and final tactic mentioned is again correct on its face, but incorrect in its application. "Certain psychological threats (force) are used or are present: That failure to adopt the approved attitude, belief, or consequent behavior will lead to severe punishment or dire consequence, (e.g. physical or mental illness given by God, the reappearance of a prior physical illness, worldliness, personal economic collapse, social failure, divorce, failure to find a mate, etc.)."

Certainly, there are implicit threats involved in Christianity. The simplest one is, "If you do not believe that Jesus Christ is your lord and savior, and that belief in Him is the sole manner of access for sinners to enter Heaven, you are going to Hell, a place of eternal damnation and torment." That's a pretty hefty threat, whether or not you believe it to be true. There are also matters of church discipline, relating to the activities of individuals. This latter category does actually involve punishments, the extreme of which, excommunication, is actually discussed above. On the other hand, I still haven't found the portion of scripture where people get the concept from that God is going to shower misfortune on them if they misbehave. Particularly, such examples as "the reappearance of a prior physical illness" or "failure to find a mate" fall into the realm of absurdity. This is not to say that God as believed in by Christians is incapable of such things, but rather, that He is not solely a God of fire, brimstone, and lightning bolts from the clear blue sky at the slightest offense. God is not, as my current pastor likes to say, "sitting in heaven with a lighning bolt in hand waiting for you to commit the tiniest sin, so he can say "Gotcha!""

From there, the writer goes on to quote another writer's eight points on Thought Reform and its relevance to cults. I'm particularly curious to see how this statement plays out: "If you are an exchristian or presently a Christian you will be able to see that every sentence of these following points are prevalent within Conservative, Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity."

Point one: ENVIRONMENT CONTROL. Limitation of many/all forms of communication with those outside the group. Worldly books, magazines, letters and fellowship with unbelieving friends and family are taboo. "Come out and be separate!"

This is essentially a reiteration of the second and third tactics listed in the writer's own list, as well as at various other points in the writing, and I'd like to think that I covered the inherent flaws in it fairly well in my discussion of those two points.

Point two: MYSTICAL MANIPULATION. The potential convert to the group becomes convinced of the higher purpose and special calling of the group through a profound encounter or experience, for example, through an alleged miracle or prophetic word or spiritual feeling while within the group.

Another statement that begins as "true, as far as it goes". (I'm getting really tired of saying that... It's almost enough to make a guy think that people are only looking at the parts of Christianity to fit their preconceptions of it, rather than the truth of it... But that would be judgmental, now wouldn't it? Heh...) Yes, there is a "higher purpose" or "special calling" involved in Christianity. However, that calling involves a great deal of work. Christianity is not a "get out of Hell free card", nor is it a "salvation and forget" kind of thing. The emphasis is often misplaced, however, when people start discussing Christian behavior in regards to salvation. Salvation is not a result of good behavior, of saying and doing the right things. Rather, these good behaviors, and sayings and doings come about because salvation happens first. Certainly, you can say, "That sounds mystical", but that's why we call it faith, not empyrical fact, after all.

Also, for every miraculous conversion story that you may hear, there are a great many people who never had any kind of inexplicable experience on their way to faith. This does not mean that their faith is any less, or any less valid. For instance, my conversion came about while I was talking to my cousin in bed one night when he was sleeping over... hardly equivalent to the original miraculous conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus.

Point three: DEMAND FOR PURITY. An explicit goal of the group is to bring about some kind of change, whether it be on a global, social, or personal level. "Perfection is possible if one stays with the group and is committed."

Didn't I just get done saying I was tired of these "starts out true, ends up false" statements? Well, this is another one. While Christianity's explicit goals are to bring about changes on all three levels mentioned, the concept that "Perfection is possible if..." is wildly inaccurate. Rather, Christianity explicitly says that human perfection is not possible in this world. Whether "one stays with the group and is committed" or not is essentially irrelevant. Now, if we're going to take the concept of the afterlife into account here, then perfection becomes possible, through the work of God, but again, this is not necessarily predicated upon remaining a member of any particular group or body of believers.

Point four: CULT OF CONFESSION. The unhealthy practice of self disclosure to members in the group. Often (but not always) in the context of a public gathering in the group, admitting past sins and imperfections, even doubts about the group and critical thoughts about the integrity of the leaders.

Who, exactly, is the authority that has decided that the practice of self-disclosure of one's own faults to other people is "unhealthy"? Without any real frame of reference for this, attempting to offer an argumet against the point is meaningless.

Point five: SACRED SCIENCE. The group's perspective is absolutely true and completely adequate to explain EVERYTHING (A knowledgeable Christian can rebut any critical question presented and Christianity is the Truth and is capable to explain everything about life and spirituality). The doctrine is not subject to amendments or question. ABSOLUTE conformity to the doctrine is required. "(Mat 7:28) And it happened, when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were astonished at His doctrine." "(Mat 7:28) And it happened, when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were astonished at His doctrine." "(1Ti 4:16) Give attention to yourself and to the doctrine; continue in them, for doing this, you will both deliver yourself and those hearing you."

The idea that "a knowledgeable Christian can rebut any critical question presented" strikes me as fallacious, though I can't put my finger on it at the moment. And the doctrines as used in the church certainly are open to amendment or question, provided that such amendment or question is valid. In fact, this entire concept is what lead to the protestant split from the Catholic church.

Absolute conformity to true doctrine is, in fact, required. However, a distinction needs to be made here. While such conformity is required, it is not expected. This itself could be said to be part of doctrine, that being that man is inherently fallen and incapable of perfection. Now, this does not mean that a person should not strive for perfection and conformity, or that anything goes. Rather, it is a realistic acknowledgement of the fact that people are not perfect. And while there is discipline involved in the matter, it is not, in its actual form, a kind of retribution, acted upon in viciousness, but rather done in a manner of kindness and a purpose of instruction... No different, really, from giving a kid detention in school rather than letting him go out to recess because he's been misbehaving in class. As with any such punishment, of course, it can be misused, but what we're attempting to discuss here is correct usage, not misapplication.

Point six: LOADED LANGUAGE. A new vocabulary emerges within the context of the group. Group members "think" within the very abstract and narrow parameters of the group's doctrine. The terminology sufficiently stops members from thinking critically by reinforcing a "black and white" mentality. Loaded terms and clich�s prejudice thinking.

Again, we're not given specific examples to deal with, so I'll have to work at this in a "very abstract" way. Loaded language, as explained here, is hardly the sole property of cults and religions. You can see the usage and effects of it every day if you read the morning paper, get your news from the internet, listen to a politican's speech at the stump, or tune in to sports-talk radio on the drive home.

Point seven: DOCTRINE OVER PERSON. Pre-group experience and group experience are narrowly and decisively interpreted through the absolute doctrine, even when experience contradicts the doctrine.

The writer being quoted here says this, but again does not give any real points of reference, instead assuming that the reader can supply his own. I see this as being open-ended enough that, if I were to try to address it in all the manners I can consider the writer attempting to apply it, I'd be here for the next several days. Again, I don't want to go stabbing around in the dark trying to come up with a reply to the author's actual intent.

Point eight: DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE. Salvation is possible only in the group (Christianity). Those who leave the group are doomed.

The concept of the group is being accentuated here, when it is not actually the point. The group is a set of people who already believe. In other words, salvation is a characteristic shared by all the people in the group, much as physical fitness is a characteristic shared by people in the group called "athletes". (As a quick aside, this is why it makes no sense to me to call people such a racecar drivers athletes. While it is a preferred characteristic, it is not a required one in the way it is for, say, long-distance runners.) Likewise, leaving the group is not the cause of damnation (or being doomed, as the point puts it).

The writer of "How Christian Mind Control Works" then goes on to say the following: "Any group that has most or all of these points is a destructive mind control cult." I'd like to think that I've shown that most, if not all of these points do not apply to Christianity as it actually exists, but only to the strawman version of Christianity that the writer has put forth for the purposes of his article.

"The Christian mind cannot see its own blind-spots. It sees no contradictions, no dangers, no imperfections, yet this is the Matrix that is the Christian Coercion Persuasion Program." Again, this is true of the strawman Christianity, but not necessarily so of the religion as properly practiced.

The remainder of the article goes on to build on the points that the writer has attempted to set forth. Obviously, without believing that Christianity is fulfilling the criteria given, attempting to critique the remainder of the article is difficult at best. The essential point is that Christianity, being functionally a cult, should be overseen, and its first amendment protections removed because it does not act in the interests of a free society. However, this point is predicated upon a proof that Christianity is indeed a cult which relied not on actual Christianity to make its points, but a propped-up, idealized version of the religion which suited the author's purposes.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for staying for the entirety of the four-hour-long lecture. Class is dismissed.

Geoff Reviews - 300 (the movie, not the graphic novel)

Title: 300
Media: Video
Audio: English
Story: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael Gordon (screenplay); Frank Miller, Lynn Varley (original work)

This is one of those movies that I have to qualify as the "see in theatre" type. And I have to say, I wasn't disappointed in the least by that decision. Visually, 300 is exactly the kind of movie that deserves a large screen and loud speakers (exceptionally good ones probably aren't necessary, but the loudness is). While I'm certainly no art critic, there was enough well-done cinematography in the movie that even I could notice.

For those who aren't aware, once you get back through the movie and the graphic novel, the story itself is based on the Battle of Thermopylae, between the Greeks and the Persians. While some storytelling undoubtedly went on for the sake of making an enjoyable movie, the premise remains the same: The king of the Spartans, along with 300 of his men, and (in the historical event) 700 diverse other Greeks, met and held back the invading hordes from Persia for several days.

In the end, it's the story of men who loved their country so much that they were willing to fight to the death to defend it. My first thought was actually a Heinlein quote, so I'll just end with that:

"The noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and war's desolation."

Those Who Do Not Remember The Past...

Are doomed to repeat it: British Skynet Satellite Launched

Well, now we know who really started Skynet, don't we? Just remember, when robotic killing machines are out hunting down our friends and families, we can thank the British for it. Okay, Terminator references aside, what they've actually launched is a directable communications satellite. A nifty piece of technology, to be sure. Just... let's keep this a secret from anyone named John Connor, shall we?

Samuel Adams On Vice And Liberty

"Since private and publick Vices, are in Reality, though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost Pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of children, and the moral Sense kept alive, and that the wise institutions of our Ancestors for these great Purposes be encouraged by the Government. For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders." - Samuel Adams

Ouch. That cuts right to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? Now, I'm not trying to sound too doom-and-gloom here, but upon looking around, it really does seem that he hit the nail on the head...

Madison On The First Amendment

"The civil rights of none, shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed. " - James Madison

The differences between this and the final version of the amendment are rather interesting.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Honestly, I have to say that Madison's version is at once clearer and more powerful, even though the two statements are covering essentially the same material. If only he could have managed to stick with the "nor shall any national religion be established" portion, it might have saved us a few headaches.

Well, at the least, it's an interesting window into what people are now calling original intent.


Japanese of the Week

This week's Japanese is:

責任 (sekinin) n. - duty; responsibility

Very useful as an exhortation: 責任を執りなさいよ (Sekinin wo torinasai yo - "Take responsibility!")

Geoff Reviews - Kare Kano (v.1-4)

Title: Kare Kano (volumes 1-4) (also known as Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou, or His and Her Circumstances)
Media: Manga
Text: English
Story: Tsuda Masami
Art: Tsuda Masami
Publisher: TokyoPop (originally Hakusensha)

It's been years since I had contact with Kare Kano, and that was in the anime form. Going back and actually reading the manga, it's interesting to see the differences that Gainax added in. Yes, added in. The story is exactly the same, at least as far as my admittedly shoddy memory is concerned... It just lacks all of the references to previous Gainax works (primarily Shinseiki Evangelion) that the anime had.

Anyway, as to the manga itself, Kare Kano is pretty typical shoujo fare. That is, girl meets boy, girl falls for boy (after a bit), new couple faces trials. Of course, the trick to the genre is not so much in the premise as it is in the characterization and execution, both of which are done quite well.

The main character for the story is Miyazawa Yukino, and she's perfect. Okay, well, that's a blatant lie, but you'd never convince her classmates of that. Top of the class, pretty, good at sports... If the character were written today, rather than twelve years ago, the entire school would be her onee-sama following. Instead, for the first time in her life, she has competition for the top spot in everything: Arima Souichirou. And so, completely undeclared, the war for the number one spot is on.

Another Encroachment Against Freedom

The obligatory link: France Bans Laypeople from Reporting Violence

Ouch. So, if you're not a journalist, you face jail time if you happen to catch real violence on film? Besides being ridiculous, it's a dangerous precedent to set.

"The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned on Tuesday."
Now, if you have a dark sense of humor, you may find the next bit here amusing. What date did the French Constitutional Council choose to unveil this law? None other than the 16th anniversary of the Rodney King beating (captured, of course, on film by an amateur with a video camera).

What are they actually trying to target with this law, though?

During parliamentary debate of the law, government representatives said the offense of filming or distributing films of acts of violence targets the practice of "happy slapping," in which a violent attack is filmed by an accomplice, typically with a camera phone, for the amusement of the attacker's friends.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call swatting a fly with a nuclear warhead.


Ban Legos For Great Justice!

Welcome, new readers from Adventure Rider's forums!

The obligatory link: L'Eggo My Lego

Honestly, I can't say that I'm surprised by this. Saddened, sure, but not surprised.

The children were allegedly incorporating into Legotown "their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys." These assumptions "mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society -- a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive."
That's certainly the meat of it. Is anybody else downright sick of the constant stories of teachers at various levels of education heading for indoctrination long before they'll actually head for teaching? We're not talking about college students here, who should be capable of discernment on their own, or even high school students, who we would hope would be capable of the same. No, these teachers are busily trying to strike down the notion of private property in kids aged 5-9. (Scroll down to the section titled "The Investigation Begins" for that information.)

We haven't gotten to the really sickening part, though. After quite some time, the teachers did allow Legos back into the classroom. However, now the kids are talking about them in these glowingly communistic terms:

"A house is good because it is a community house."

"We should have equal houses. They should be standard sizes."

"It's important to have the same amount of power as other people over your building."

Somebody pass the barf bag, please. I have a sudden desire to be exceptionally ill.

Anti-Americanism In Comics, Cap, And Escaping To Manga

As many people have already covered, including Brainster (and he's got links to several of the others), Marvel has finally gone and done it. They've killed off Captain America.

I'll admit from the start that I wasn't much of a comics junkie as a kid. Not from any dislike of the medium mind you. It was more of a matter of what was around to read, which was generally more along the lines of Tolkien and Lewis. Still, a friend of mine was, so I eventually got to go through significant portions of his collection.

It's a strange thing, to be at a point in your life where you're just forming your political opinions. It becomes exceptionally clear when people are disagreeing with those views, and what I was seeing in comics certainly counted. Now, it wasn't that I hadn't heard ideas like those voiced before, but I'd always considered fiction, with pictures or without, to be a realm unto itself, and the sanctity that I'd ascribed to it was being violated to an impressive degree.

Simply put, I don't get it. I'm not about to claim that America is perfect, but we've still got the best thing going in the world by such a long shot that it's not really arguable. I can put myself into a mindset where the problems that people like many comic writers exist, but I can't see how they get there from here. The view that this country is bad, evil, and the scum of the earth is so antithetical to reality that the disconnect can only be bridged by a suspension of disbelief more rigid than the one required for reading Crossroad.

Now, I haven't given up on comics wholly, but it's a near thing. Most of the particularly egregious examples that I can recall, and it's tough, since I have read much outside of 100 Bullets and Y: The Last Man in about three years now, are coming out of Marvel's comics lines.

Meanwhile, I've found my own alternative. While Brainster has mentioned that he's gone back to the golden and silver ages of comics (when heroes were heroes, villains were villains, and heroes thumped villains because it was the right thing to do, darn it), I've gone across the Pacific for my fix. Personally, I'm pleased with the results, though your mileage may vary. To me, it's going back to the day when a story was a story, rather than old favorite characters slapped on top of a political diatribe.

There may be something to be said here for the fact that characters in manga aren't forever, like they are in American comics. As I see it, there are only so many times the X-Men can fight off Magneto before a change of pace is needed. Rather than having a distinct starting point, a defined story, and a distinct end, the arcs simply blend and continue. And while there is something nice about having characters with a long history, having that long, involved history makes getting into some characters and stories more difficult. (Hence a lot of the re-launches of characters in the past few years.) So, instead of getting new characters, new villains, and new storylines, we get old characters, old villains, and old storylines, with a couple scoops of the political cause du jour on top to make it look different.

Well, if it sells, it sells, I suppose. Meanwhile, I'll just stick to stories for their own sake, and get my politics from the news sites.

P.S. - In the interest of fairness, there are questions about the presence of anti-Americanism in manga and anime. The best work I've read on the topic is here, at Hontou ni Sou Omou.