Sunday, April 12, 2009

I've tried to work out how to divide my personal writing on LJ from public essays on here, and I just can't. It's all just what I think. On top of that, the Atom API annoys the bejeezus out of me, mostly because of the unthreaded comments. Conversation is half the fun. Plus ads only pay by the thousands of page views, which is not going to happen.

So, everybody back in LJ pool. Sorry for the detour; believe me, it was twice as annoying for me than for you.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Music: Shima Uta

Just to tie in with the last thing I dumped online, today's musical selection is "Shima Uta" ("Island Song"). It's not a folk song, precisely; it was written by a group called The Boom in more modern times, and has been covered by a number of J-pop artists, including much squeakier people like Kuraki Mai. I'm told it was inspired particularly by the stories of lovers separated by the fighting of WWII.

Note that although this version has both English and Japanese subs, the Japanese subs do not match the singing. "Shima Uta" is written in the Okinawa dialect, which is recognizable as close to standard Japanese, but not quite close enough to be mutually comprehensible. Particularly audible are the phrases that end in …よ in the Japanese subs; they're using some other verb tense that I've never heard before, but sounds vaguely related to stuff in old literary Japanese. You can also hear ぬ for の, sometimes. There are other bits, but not so's you'd notice if you don't read kanji. After hearing this, I begin to wonder if some of Gackt's distinctive sound is actually the remnants of an Okinawan accent. It's difficult to completely submerge your natural accent when singing -- listen to Hugh Laurie on House sometime -- and Uchinaaguchi, and even Okinawa Japanese has a different accent than mainland Japanese, most notably a much rounder /u/-sound than the standard.

Also note that of the performers, Gackt seems to be the only one accustomed to full-production stage work. I have no idea who the ladies or the older gentleman are, but I'd bet they typically perform with minimal equipment and amplification. They have no trouble staying on track with one another in open air, but Gackt is used to wearing a monitor earpiece, and can't hear himself properly until he cups a hand behind his ear.

of witchcraft and weirdness

I continue making very slow progress through Gackt's book -- mostly at work, because if I do it there, I can force myself to actually remember some of this stuff rather than lunge for a dictionary every two sentences. I'm about to the middle, the Chapter In Which Life Kicks Gackt In The Head, And Gackt Goes Home To Okinawa To Punch Sandbags And Jog For A While. And by 'home', I mean 'ancestral home', not 'home where he did most of his growing up', which is in Kyoto, thus explaining all of the exceptionally rude Kansai-ben he quotes himself using as a teenager. The family is apparently pretty much straight Ryuukyuu Islander, from what I can gather without hammering away with a kanji dictionary. 'Okinawa' is inconveniently used in modern Japanese pretty much interchangeably for the island of Okinawa, which is the largest in the Ryuukyuu chain, and the administrative prefecture of Okinawa, which encompasses the entire chain, but he makes reference to the first time the ocean tried to eat him being in the Yanbaru Sea, which I think is what we'd call the East China Sea, at the north end of the actual island of Okinawa.

This particular chapter is much more interesting in the original Japanese than in translation. The English translation by darkenciel over on LJ doesn't miss any of the explicitly-stated content, but the transfer from a language with multiple script systems to one which only uses one alphabet smashes a lot of the meta-information attached to the text. Gackt makes mention of things like "kamidari" and "yuta", which darcenciel leaves transliterated in quotes -- sensibly, as it turns out, as Gackt writes them out in katakana in kagikakko, which means the words are not actually Japanese. This becomes slightly more obvious when you see the original; although "kamidari" seems to be the standard form you see in anthropological papers about Okinawa, Gackt actually spells it out 「カミダーリ」, "kamidaari", with a double-length word-interior "a" sound that's almost completely absent in standard Japanese. You see the actual sound fairly frequently when a grammatical particle that ends in "a" precedes a word that begins with "a" (for example, "watashi wa arukimasu"/"I walk") and very occasionally inside of compounds, but does not generally occur inside of words. It seems to be a consistent feature of Okinawan, though, where the actual word for the Okinawan dialect is 「ウチナーグチ」, "Uchinaaguchi". A lot of the time you can at least get some idea of what a strange Japanese word means by checking out the kanji used to spell it, even if you miss the precise context of it, but since Okinawan only has a writing system in the sort of technical academic sense that has inspired many years of argument between the University of the Ryuukyuus and just about every other interested party on the planet, this is obviously not going to happen here.

I have no idea how much Uchinaaguchi he actually speaks, but let's just say Gackt knows some very interesting nouns.

Gackt conveniently doesn't really elaborate on any of the Okinawan stuff he's put in quotes, except for "shiro", which you can pretty much guess is a kind of a Okinawan seer or shaman, as he says his grandmother is the reigning one in the family. "Noro" and "yuta" are also terms for working psychics, more or less; I have no idea what the differences are, if there are any, and they seem to be used interchangeably in anthropological articles. The "kamidaari" thing is more interesting. He uses it as an adjectival noun, to describe all of the generally weird spiritual abilities that run in the family, particularly those of his great-grandfather, whom the family seems to think he resembles in many respects. "Kamidaari" is translated in many contexts as "spirit-curse" -- the anthropologists characterize it as a time of severe and disruptive psychosomatic illness that is said to herald the awakening of spiritual powers in one who is to become a seer or shaman. From the descriptions, it sounds like a combination of transient psychoses and a variety of somatoform physical symptoms, usually connected to the sufferer's personality or present circumstance, not unlike the sorts of torment said to be endured by a lot of the saints in Christian tradition. Mostly what it sounds like, is exceptionally unpleasant.

He never links it up explicitly, but the first bits of the book describe being hospitalized for an unspecified illness when he was fairly young. Gackt never says exactly what it was -- Wiki says "gastrointestinal condition", which is unsurprisingly a front-runner for somatoform disorders -- and he recalls getting the distinct impression that they were not going to let him out again until he acted "normal". He fucking hated it then, and he makes it pretty clear that he still fucking hates it when he thinks about it now. He didn't seem all that bothered by the talking to dead people as a kid, but he sounds pretty damn angry that they tried to keep him confined to a hospital over their problems with his weird, which was, medically speaking, unconnected with the physical illness they were supposed to be treating.

He says he doesn't so much believe or disbelieve these days, but this stuff keeps happening and he is much happier when he isn't devoting a lot of energy to arguing with it or ignoring it. It's probably worth noting that he has what I think is a strictly personal quirk about wearing black onyx for protection. He wears a black bead bracelet, which I presume is onyx, around his left wrist -- it's difficult to tell if he's got it in any of the Malice Mizer stuff, since he's usually wearing an annoyingly large amount of clothing in those, but I don't think I've seen him without it after that. You can spot it fairly easily in photos, and in a lot of the closeups on his Sixth Day/Seventh Night tour DVD, which is the one Cat brought home from Japan.

Strangely enough, this also goes a long way to explain why people find him so deeply intimidating. Cat adores the man, and still admits she'd probably be a speechless puddle of wibble if she ever got near him. He comports himself in a manner I've come to find in a lot of people who come from families with long traditions of Serious Weird, including myself. Depending on how you look at it, a family either gains power from working with the spirit world, or a variety of heritable aptitudes and temperaments inspires the people around them to start believing that they work with spirits; either way, once you get that kind of reputation, it sticks rather perniciously. When you come from a family with that kind of rep, and the people raising you believe it, they teach you to deal with it in the simplest way, which boils down to being more stubborn than the cosmos. You use willpower to keep the bad stuff at bay. You simply delineate a personal shell for yourself and inform everything else that it is to keep out. It's not even so much a matter of fighting to guard your outer boundaries -- you just calmly and obstinately say "No, you cannot come in until invited," and that's that.

I don't have any objective data on how well this works on dead people, but I can tell you for damn sure that it works spectacularly on live ones. Roommate the Brown has much the same public persona as I do -- slightly quieter, but still very sarcastic and not easily intimidated -- but her mother vehemently disbelieved in things like that, and mine didn't. She has persistent problems with crazy creeps coming up behind her to smell her hair, and asking if they can lick her boots in public. She hits them with The Complete Works of Shakespeare or whatever else she's reading at the time, and they go away, but she's forever exasperated by the way they keep doing it in the first place. People just don't get that close to me. Full stop. And they don't get that close to Gackt either -- some poor staffer on Moon Child can be seen in the making-of extras, following him around with an umbrella to try and save his hair and makeup when a rooftop shoot is rained out, and even she won't get close to him. She'd rather get rained on than get both of them under the same canopy.

The phenomenon doesn't consciously register with most people; all they know is that they're very uncomfortable standing close to you, and since it's difficult sometimes to distinguish between this kind of boundary and one where a person is angry and antisocial and actively trying to drive people away by inspiring fear, a lot of them take it as a sort of personal declaration of dislike. It really isn't. An invitation to come in closer is very personal, but the wall itself is indiscriminate. Gackt is not actually unfriendly; his body language does open up quite a bit when someone is actually talking to him like a fellow human being, rather than blushing and stammering nonsense, and he seems to go to some trouble to find sunglasses that aren't full-mirrored. (The sunglasses themselves don't mean anything; Gackt and bright ambient light just don't get along. The creepy blue contacts also apparently screen out some of it, which is one reason he's so fond of them.) But he also likes to keep himself inside the boundaries of his shell, and at this point he probably couldn't turn it all off if he tried, which makes people think he's not very approachable.

This particular demeanor also happens to also be a remarkably effective non-reaction to things like bullying, which means the technique is doubly-reinforced for people who have both influences in their lives. The combination is not the only way to develop it, of course, but I suspect that the correlation is high enough and the 'look' is distinctive enough that it's one of the things palm and card readers pick up on when assessing clients.

let the unfailing commence

As far as I can tell, there is no such thing as a harness that a rat cannot get out of. The problem may be insurmountable; the way you keep harnesses on cats and dogs is to fasten them around narrower parts of the animal, and your average rat is shaped roughly the same as your average potato. On the other hand, it is possible to construct a harness that a rat will entirely ignore, or at least find that it's more trouble to wriggle out of than to stay in.

I believe I have now achieved this. The rodents have tiny little gladiator-style harnesses made of stainless steel split rings. Split rings are those things you get keychains on, where you pry one end up and jam the key under it, then rotate it around the ring until it's securely on the loop. Working with tiny split rings (I think the main ones are 12 or 15mm) is a pain in the ass, but it's not like rat harnesses are that big, and I'd be wary of using regular craft chain. Anything you buy that's made of metal probably has the tensile strength to contain a rodent, even rodents as fat as ours, but rats are Olympic-grade squirmers. Most craft chain doesn't have the links welded together, and will come apart if twisted enough, which the rats will undoubtedly do.

I didn't even bother putting clasps on them. It's just as easy -- or difficult -- to get it on the rat by jamming it over his head and getting him to stick his feet through the loops. Once on, it should surprise no one that the rats are far more interested in smelling floor objects than escaping. I wouldn't take them outside like this; for actually leading the rat around, the harnesses are nearly worthless, since pulling on it usually just inspires the rodent to slip a foot out to make the pulling less effective. On the other hand, if your main objective is just keeping track of the furry little bastard so you know when you should pick him up and take him away from, say, duct tape, they work wonderfully.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

okay, apparently rat owners = fail, too

We bought them a cage with an exercise wheel. They hid behind it. The exercise wheel is now in the hamper.

We bought them an exercise ball. They won't let us stuff them into it. The exercise ball is sitting next to the hamper.

We bought them little rat harnesses with bells on them. As soon as we get them on, the rats stuff their front feet into the neck hole and flop around all gimpy until they get it off. The rat harnesses are hanging from the bookcase.

On the other hand, Cat just tied one of them into a shoelace -- a goddamn shoelace! -- and not only did he not try to chew through it, he squirmed in protest when she tried to take it off. He wanted it back! And had to be manually reinserted into the cage, when normally both of them will just run down your arm to go home as soon as you open the door. HE WAS SMELLING THAT FLOOR OKAY?

It's just like buying toys for cats. You just know the instant you get their deluxe $79.99 kitty condo tower home, they'll ignore the hell out of it and play in the cardboard box instead.

rodents = fail

Roommate the Blonde is in the habit of taking our rats out and taunting them with threats of being kissed on the nose when she gets home from work in the morning. Last week, she was in a hurry to get to class and accidentally left the cage door hanging open when she went.

I notice this when I go out to the kitchen for something, by which time it had been open for at least half an hour. I do not immediately see any rats.

Oh shit, I think. Our heating grates are on the baseboards and the design has lots of rodent-sized holes. Our sofa is a sleeper sofa and has all kinds of intricate hinges and springs inside. The accumulated laundry of three people covers the living room floor, waiting to be done. I have no idea if we have a solid toekick underneath the dishwasher. None of the other doors in the house have been shut.

As I lean over the cage to check behind the tchotchkes on the adjacent bookcase, where Nick likes to jump, and behind the hamper-cum-cage stand, where both of them are just dumb enough to fall, I hear rodent claws on cardboard. Two little heads poke out of the little box-house on the bottom of the cage.

That's right. Ladies and gentlemen, our rats were too lazy to escape. Roommate the Blonde put them back in the cage, leaving the door wide open, and they went to sleep. Aside from constantly claiming that they're starving, they are complete epic fail at being rodents.

Rommate the Blonde now tells me that her grueling eight-hour shift of wiki-hopping has churned up the information that rats react to valerian like cats react to catnip. (And, actually, how cats react to valerian. Our dogs loved it, too. This makes perfect sense when you realize that valerian smells like stewed gym socks that have been left to dry again in a giant pile in the back of a dank cabinet.) Assuming we can verify that valerian is non-toxic to rodents, my new entertainment goal for the week is to get the rats stoned and see what happens. Although, I seem to recall valerian is used as a sedative in humans, and I'm not entirely sure how we could tell if the little furballs were actually sleeping more.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Who the fuck is this Lady Gaga person I'm suddenly hearing about, and what does she have against wearing pants?