Japanese of the Week

I wanted to use this one last week, when the word was used on CPR, but I didn't get the chance to. So, a week late, then...

博聞 (hakubun) adj-na,n. - well-informed; erudite

The more appropriate word for the week, on the other hand, would be this:

忙しい (isogashii) adj. - busy; irritated


State of the Union (my take)

It's the nature of doing something like this after the fact, that I get to pick it apart to my own content. For those who want the speech in its entirety, I got it from whitehouse.gov, here.

Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on -- as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done.
Well, you know, the first part of that is pretty accurate. Of course, it shows more in the fact that more people believe that the Democrats are the small-government party these days than anything else... I wouldn't go so far as to say that there isn't a lick of difference between them, but there probably aren't all that many licks.

Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and to help them to build a future of hope and opportunity(...)
Gag me, please, somebody. Their jobs are enumerated very clearly here and here, in this document. Maybe I'm not reading close enough, but the concept of helping the people build a future of hope and opportunity isn't popping out at me.

In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years. (Applause.) I ask you to make the same commitment. Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the federal government, and we can balance the federal budget.
Brilliant. Let's see it.

First, I propose a standard tax deduction for health insurance that will be like the standard tax deduction for dependents. Families with health insurance will pay no income on payroll tax -- or payroll taxes on $15,000 of their income. Single Americans with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $7,500 of their income.

States that make basic private health insurance available to all their citizens should receive federal funds to help them provide this coverage to the poor and the sick.
Here comes mean, heartless me, full in my belief that this isn't part of the government's enumerated jobs, either. Really, they'd do better by calling for and offering less tampering, such as getting laws out of the way that would let people actually... y'know... buy the insurance they want, rather than being restricted by legal requirements.

(...)we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border -- and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. As a result, they won't have to try to sneak in, and that will leave Border Agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists.
As far as it goes, it sounds good in theory. What is left unsaid, though, and is the real crux of this matter, is that it would be extended to people who already broke the law and entered the country illegally. There's a world of difference between people who would like to come in given a reasonable chance, and people who blatantly ignore the rule of law.

Now, I'll grant you, an argument could be made that we don't even need the temporary worker program. Still, if we were in a situation where we had to accept such a thing in turn for it not being applied to those who are already illegal... is that enough to accept it? Or is there a good reason for wanting to throw it out altogether that I just haven't come up with, or happened across?

We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country without animosity and without amnesty.
It doesn't take animosity, or amnesty. It takes finding them, picking them up, and dropping them off back in the country they came from. Last time I checked, after all, the word illegal still meant something. Maybe not, though... I suppose it's possible that they pulled it from the dictionary around the same time they removed gullible.

We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. (Applause.) We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol -- (applause) -- using everything from wood chips to grasses, to agricultural wastes.
Tell you what: There are a bunch of companies in this country who are in the business of energy. Let's get the government regulations out of their way and let them figure out how to solve our energy problems. I have a great deal more faith in their ability to do such a thing, and I have sneaking suspicions that the cost in dollars and time will be significantly lower, as well.

Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. (Applause.) When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.) At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks -- and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

Let me say this right now, as a car guy, rather than a small-government conservative. Get your damned government regulations out of my car. The sludge passed off as fuel they call ethanol only contains 2/3rds as much power per gallon as regular old gasoline. It costs more in money and energy to produce, and it's more inefficient. Frankly, I twitch just thinkin' about it.

And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Why not triple or quadruple it while we're at it?

We have a shared obligation to ensure that the federal courts have enough judges to hear those cases and deliver timely rulings. As President, I have a duty to nominate qualified men and women to vacancies on the federal bench. And the United States Senate has a duty, as well, to give those nominees a fair hearing, and a prompt up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.
Well, at least it's really one of their jobs. Unfortunately, the likelihood of any action being taken on this resides somewhere in that invisible margin between slim and none.

Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented, but here is some of what we do know: We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terror cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them.
Can we make more of this, please? It's hard enough to find the good stories as it is, so it's certainly nice to hear about them.

These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.

The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.

Earlier, I made mention of some comments made by Neal Boortz. While a lot of them are well worth reading, this seems to put the lie to the concept that the president didn't properly name the threat in his speech. "Islamist radical (movement)", which one would assume to be made up of Islamist radicals, and so forth.

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.
I can't understand why people refuse to understand this idea. The alternatives to what we are doing are not any better, and most of them end in scenarios a good sight worse.

American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger and poverty and disease -- and that is precisely what America is doing.
May I have a moment to go bang my head against the wall? ... ... ... Thank you. I don't really feel better, but at least now I can blame the source of my growing headache on the fact that I just banged my head against a wall. Here comes the broken record again: This is not the job of the United States government. There are plenty of private charities who see to this sort of thing, with less bureaucracy, and fewer overhead costs. This may strike some people as a radical idea, but what if government got out of people's pockets to the extent that they're in them to pay for this sort of thing, and we'll see people who have that extra money that they can then give to such charities if they so choose.

When America serves others in this way, we show the strength and generosity of our country. These deeds reflect the character of our people.
What generosity is forced generosity, exactly? If you have no choice in whether or not the money is donated, then is it really generous, or a donation at all?

The stories that the president ended on really are quite inspiring. I would certainly suggest reading them, if you haven't had a chance to do so.

Short Shots

The Hotline, a blog affiliated with the National Journal, says that "freshmen" is out and "new" is in for referring to the freshman class of electees. I've seen some pretty meaningless semantics in my time, but this one has to rank up there.

In checking around on how people found me, I noticed that one person had gone so far as to translate my page into Japanese via Google for their reading pleasure. Problem was, any time that I'd used any Japanese, it came out wholly garbled as incomprehensible gibberish. On the plus side, however, I took a look at the blog roll, and noticed that Google's translation had completely kanjified the link to the Radio Patriots, as follows: 無線の愛国者 (Musen no Aikokusha, musen being the word for wireless or radio, and aikokusha being patriots, or those who love their country).

In continuation of the above, something interesting happened on the way to translating the title tag. Hakkiri Shinasai remained unchanged, but the Please Make It Clear portion was actually translated as "Sore wo meikaku ni sasenasai".

Every time I see a story about how Americans are spending more time on the computer than they are with their family (such as this one from the Denver Post), I get the feeling that I'm skewing the curve for you all.

Just when you think you've seen everything, you find out that police in Tijuana are having their firearms confiscated and replaced with slingshots. Granted, the issue at hand is serious enough for Tijuana, but on the face of it, there's something amusing about the mental image.

Having been a sometimes writer as a hobby, I have to hand it to this guy, who managed to convince a publishing house to turn out copy of a novel done entirely as text messages, including crappy spelling and grammar. It should probably go without saying that I have no desire to read such a thing, however... (but I said it anyway, in the interest of completeness.)

For those who like shooters for the PC, I'd highly suggest this site. Demos of various games, and freebie full versions where applicable. If I might make a couple of suggestions, Perfect Cherry Blossom is, in my estimation, the best of the Touhou top-shooters. There is a fan translation patch that works on the demo here. Other worthy contenders for playtime are (though certainly not limited to these alone) Tyrian 2000, Warning Forever, and any of the other Touhou top-shooters that happen to be laying about there.


State of the Union

Due to work, I haven't had a chance to go over the speech in full yet myself. However, Neal Boortz has already gone over the text, and has a few insights I wish he didn't have to share, regarding freedom, liberty, security, democracy, and republic.

The obligatory link: State of the Union Speech

So You Want To Learn Japanese?

There are several reasons I've heard for wanting to learn the language, and pretty much all of them were represented in the J103 class I took a year or so back. The people who have to learn it for work will do so whether they actually enjoy the language or not. The best advice for them really is classroom learning, due to the structured environment, and the fact that the teacher isn't likely to teach outside of the niceties.

For everyone that does not apply to, however, I can try to offer a little advice.

First and foremost, if you don't have a reason better than "well, I just kinda want to", I wouldn't really suggest trying. Learning any language, not just Japanese, isn't something that you can put on a hobby level akin to building models. The reasoning for this seems simple enough - that being, doing something outside of necessity requires a good helping of self-motivation... and unlike watching that model boat take shape (a tangible motivation), learning a language "just because" does not offer such immediate rewards. There were many people like this in J103, and not a single one of them went on to J104. (The caveat to this, of course, would be the person for whom learning other languages is a hobby.)

The interest has to come first. Sure, it sounds simple, and I suppose it is, but it's still a true enough statement for all that. My interest (unsurprisingly, amongst the kid through twenty-something age group) started with anime and manga, so I got into the language with that in mind.

Here's how I got as far as I have so far, in order, to the best of my recollection. Note that I don't really suggest going about learning the language this way, unless it's truly incidental to the enjoyment of entertainment of Japanese origin. You could call the following the hard way, or the scenic route, depending on your preference.

Some time in 1996, two of my friends independently suggested a couple of anime to me. At the time, I had no idea what made it different (we all watched English dubs in those days, since dub/sub did not come on the same VHS... yes, VHS tape, and the Japanese with subtitles version cost an additional ten bucks a pop), other than that it was generally much less episodic than what was normally shown in the various afternoon cartoon blocs. This appealed greatly, since it struck me as more akin to novels, as opposed to the short story structure of the cartoons of the day.

Two years later, give or take a few months, I started my first attempt at translating a manga. It almost goes without saying that I made negligible headway on that project. Not that it was a bad idea, really, so much as that I made a bad choice as to which manga to try to translate.

From there, anime on video evolved to the new media, DVDs, and at that time, the English dub track and the Japanese track were included on the same product for the first time. I'd like to be able to say that we made the choice due to some high-minded idea like wanting to watch the shows in their original form, but it's far more likely that we were just sick of hearing the same English voices miscast time after time, and switched to the Japanese language track for a change.

The rest went rather as one might expect, given the circumstances. Picking up a word here, a word there, and finally building something that might be called a vocabulary... though, certainly not one to be used in polite company. A lot of the trick in J103 was remembering which words I knew that I shouldn't use. Other than that, though, I was probably over-prepared for an entry-level course.

So, how would I suggest going about this, having my own piecemeal experience to look back on?

1) Starting with your interest is fine, but once you know it's not a passing fad for you, start taking classes. If you're not sure where to look for such a thing, your local community college is probably the best place to start. If you have a choice in the matter, I'd also suggest getting a native speaker as your teacher.

2) After that, supplement your education with whatever sources of the language you can find. Japanese restaurants aren't a bad place to try out your education and vocabulary, either. Old subtitled samurai movies aren't bad, either, though you'll get a lot of archaic word usage in them.

3) For the written language, once you have a base of the hiragana and katakana systems, I'd suggest trying to translate manga. Aside from the amusing stories, manga for younger people also tend to include furigana, which are small hiragana (individual syllables - ひらがな, for instance, which are the four hiragana that make up the word "hiragana") to the right of the kanji (advanced ideograms - 漢字, for instance, which make up the word "kanji") which give the sound reading. This makes the kanji in question easier to look up in some instances, since you can search for it via the given hiragana reading, instead of trying to pick out parts of the kanji itself and looking the word up that way.

4) In addition to the above, try to find a good set of kanji flash cards. Working with these during commercial breaks of your favorite show or sporting event seems to work pretty well, in my experience. At the very least, you notice the commercials less.


It Just Takes One Idiot... And A Bunch Of Enablers

The obligatory link: Unilever sends knives to families, children hurt

Y'know, just once, I'd like to be in the meetings where people discuss how to try to drum up more business by sending out random stuff in the mail. After all, plain old letters don't cut it anymore, and coupons are almost as cliche. So, ladies and gentlemen, what else could we possibly send to our mailing list of consumers to entice them to buy more of our margarine? A pen? Nah... A keychain? What are we, a tourist destination? I know, I know! A knife! They can use it to spread the margarine!

How is it that the people in the room don't collectively smack their hands into their foreheads upon hearing something like that? Leaving aside the safety implications, which obviously came up, what person in their right mind is going to attach "knife" to "brand XYZ margarine"?

Marketing... go figure.


Japanese of the Week

I didn't get a chance to do this last week, so rather than try to pass off the translation of the Cyril card trick as one, I'll just do two this week.

一寸 (chotto) adv,int. - just a minute; short time; just a little; hey!

It's very rare to see this printed in kanji, honestly. Much more likely is to see it as ちょっと (in hiragana). Really, chotto is one of those incredibly common words... which brings to mind a sensei-ism. "Chotto is almighty."

To explain, chotto is the word you use to trail off a sentence rather than coming right out and saying something. The power, or, should I say, the almightiness, of it is that it spares the speaker of the need to offer a real explanation... at least, as a matter of Japanese. I'm not even sure of the level of verbal gymnastics that would be required to get around chotto in a polite setting.

Oh, on a note related to the language, I found that while I cannot copy/paste directly from JWPce into the Blogger compose box, I can circumvent it by going from JWPce to Notepad to the compose box. (Note that this requires your computer to have support for Japanese characters.)

So, Who's Miserable?

The obligatory link: Most miserable day of the year

On one level, I can understand the need of some people to be able to quantify something like misery with a number. Not that it helps them do anything with it, mind you, other than being able to think, "Well, at least I'm not as miserable as I was back in XYZ..."

Here's the (supposedly) relevant formula:

Dr Arnalls’ formula is 1/8W+(D-d) 3/8xTQ MxNA.

Key - W: Weather. D: Debt. d: Money due in January pay. T: Time since Christmas. Q: Time since failed quit attempt. M: General motivational levels. NA: The need to take action.

Now, what I wanted to do was plug things into the formula, just for kicks. However, as you may've noticed if you looked at it, there are a lot of variables that are unworkable without an understanding of their normal range.

Take, for instance W (weather). What's the range for weather? Is a sunny day a 1? A 10? How about if it's cloudy, but not raining or snowing? How about taking the first letter from the word for the given weather and converting it into its equivalent number? (Cloudy would be 3, on that scale, for instance.)

Debt and money due in pay in January are easy, and it's probably safe to assume that the formula wants time since Christmas in days, as well as time since failed quit attempt. But how are we supposed to turn general motivational levels and the need to take action into numeric values?

I suppose the rest of us will have to rely on more seat-of-the-pants calculations... And by those calcs, I'm feelin' pretty good.