February 2008

You may remember that I’m nutso for Oblivion. So I’m happy that my clever, sexy, and freakishly short friend Chris has been working on his Livin’ in Oblivion blog, which chronicles his attempt to be an NPC.


He does his best to earn a living, avoid any and all adventures, and find a few friends in Tamriel.  He’s more or less promised to continue the blog… let’s hope he does so for years and years.

Wow.  Frank Rich at the NYT has a devastating critique of Hillary Clinton and her campaign:


Executive summary… er, without PowerPoint I guess it’s just a summary: Hillary arrogantly assumed she’d coast to the nomination; she never found a reasonable way to differentiate herself from Obama; Obama was many times more organized.  It’s a sorry performance from someone whose chief selling point is supposed to be her political experience.

The independence of Kosovo is a reminder of the West’s worst idea: nationalism.  Western Europe spent about four hundred years developing the notion that a nation should be based on ethnicity (preferably accompanied by a single language and religion), and the last fifty trying to undo its mistake.  The major problems:

  • People don’t neatly sort themselves into easily separated regions.  After Yugoslavia’s breakup, Serbia had a province full of Albanians; after Kosovo broke away it has a bunch of districts populated by Serbs; if they broke away there would undoubtedly be Albanian villages left out. 
  • It produces nearly endless wars.  The vast majority of the wars in Africa since the end of colonialism are conflicts between ethnic groups (e.g. the civil wars in Nigeria, Sudan, and Angola; the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi; the current troubles in Kenya).
  • It produces mini-nations which are a geopolitical burden to the great powers.  Woodrow Wilson’s bright idea of dividing Eastern Europe into national states helped lead to WWII, as these small states tempted their larger neighbors and couldn’t defend themselves.
  • When things go badly, and they do, nationalism descends easily into oppression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

What’s the alternative?  Cosmopolitan non-ethnic states, of course.  These come in several flavors:

  • Culturally homogenous, like the US.  (Our political divisions are striking, but on the big picture they’re not really that large– liberals and conservatives agree on more things than they disagree about.)
  • A marriage of convenience, like the EU.  The jury is out on how well this will work.  It’s done pretty well so far for being hobbled by a completely absurd institutional structure.  Being rich covers a lot of problems.
  • Empires.  The Ottoman Empire, for instance, worked admirably well, arguably much better than most of its successor states.  Ethnic tension was minimal, as its subjects didn’t think of it as a Turkish but as a Muslim state.  (Consider that two lasting headaches of the modern world, Israel/Palestine and the Kurds, simply were not problems under Ottoman rule.)  Despite this, it was quite tolerant of non-Muslim minorities, giving them local autonomy and ample chances to serve the state.

Nationalism is often justified by oppression; but that oppression is generally itself nationalistic– e.g. the Kosovars fighting against Serbs trying to secure Greater Serbia. 

 Of course nationalism isn’t the only evil in the world, nor the only cause of war.  But for such a source of misery it retains an astoundingly high reputation.  We now repudiate other historical evils (slavery, racism, sexism, religious wars), but many people still think that “—-ia for the —-ians” is a pretty good idea.

I don’t think I’ve knowingly read a single Liefeld comic, but I still found this hilarious.   


The increasingly exasperated text is great too:  “Check out Spider-Man swinging in on a jungle vine.  Jesus Christ Liefeld drew a dog’s hindquarters on him.  Just straight-up a dog’s ass and legs.” 

I’ve always loved animation.  There’s a great blog, Cartoon Brew, that seems to thoroughly cover whatever’s new in animation, plus tidbits about the classics: http://www.cartoonbrew.com/

 One of their finds: Usavich, a series created by MTV Japan, featuring two prisoners in the USSR, a striking visual style, and a very strange sense of humor.


 Watch episodes 1-7 and 14-21 on the official site http://www.usavich.tv/movie.htmland the rest here: http://www.usavich.org/cartoon/

 Another fun video is Lollipop, created by Bonzom for Mika: http://www.passion-paris.com/flash.html#myreel=v548&page=myreel  Mika manages to sound a lot like the Beatles with reversed lyrics (e.g. instead of All you need is love this one is Love’s gonna get you down).

 Finally, John Kricfalusi of Ren & Stimpy fame has a blog: http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/  I can’t say Ren or Stimpy blew me away, but I love the blog; it’s an advanced course in animation, copiously illustrated.

Wow– with Wisconsin and Hawaii, Obama has ten victories in a row.  Of course, as we learned from the Pats season, that doesn’t mean that you’ve wrapped up the big prize.

 It looks to me like Democratic voters have been, over the last couple of months, slowly giving themselves permission to vote for Obama.  Last year Hillary was consistently outpolling him; she seemed like the safe choice.  But once he started winning, people slowly decided that he was actually viable.  With each set of primaries he breaks more barriers.  He’s won over voters in all areas of the country; he’s getting white votes; now he’s beating Hillary among men and among low-income voters.

 Hillary does not seem to be rising to the occasion.  Her response seems to be to go negative and start thinking about dirty tricks (like counting the Michigan delegates Obama didn’t compete for).

An interesting page by Greg Prindle on how the Harry Potter books are translated into Chinese (mainland and Taiwanese), Japanese, and Vietnamese: http://www.cjvlang.com/Hpotter/index.html

  • Most of the names are translated phonetically, even when they have transparent derivations in English.  Harry is 哈利波特 Hālì Bōtè in the PRC, ハリー・ポッター Harii Pottā in Japan; Hogwarts is 霍格沃茨 Huògéwòcí.
  • Cho Chang is pseudo-Chinese and has been turned into real Chinese: 张秋 Zhāng Qiū , using the common surname Zhang (same as Fushia’s); q means ‘autumn’.  This must contrast strangely with concoctions like Fúléidé Wéisīlái for Fred Weasley.
  • The spell names were translated from pseudo-Latin to Chinese (I don’t know if they have a wényán feel).  E.g. Incendio becomes火焰熊熊 huǒyàn xióngxióng ‘fire-flame-bear-bear’.
  • In Japanese, Dumbledore is given a ‘venerable old codger’ dialect similar to other eccentric old men in manga.
  • There’s a section on how the wordplay was translated… in general, pretty badly.

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