Friday, November 23, 2007

Report from Japan

407 years ago, the Dutch became the only 'barbarians' from the West to do business with a highly secluded shogunate Japan. These incredibly tall gaijin in odd clothing were confined to an island in the harbour of Nagasaki, only allowed to trade goods and little else until the Americans forcibly opened up Japan in 1853-54.

Centuries later, the Dutch still visit Japan, trading in goods such as Hello Kitty products and Wii games. Japanese engineers regularly visit The Netherlands to learn from their advanced levee system (hmmm...good idea, USA!) and relaxed drug legislation. And now, a recent report from Dutchboy/Oakland hoodlum BottleWine:

On my last day in Tokyo my 'personal' guide brought me to an annual Manga/Hentai fair in a huge building in the harbor area. Here teenage punk kids and other Otaku from all over Japan (Yes, they fly in from Hokkaido, I heard) gather here. Many of them bring their own home made (sexy) suits from their favorite Manga story. They pose in the outside area -- they really like camera's! Just ask! Inside the main hall were many stands with free demo's, posters and T-shirts. I could only read the announcement: at 13:30 T-shirt! After I saw the long lines of Otaku patiently waiting and I heard that they only had 120 shirts, I walked away...

Otaku and Protaku alike would identify this place as Comiket, a massive convention in Tokyo. This is where you would see cosplay (we have a book on that...), dojinshi, and below, kigirumers. [shudder]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Author Interview Zettai

One of our authors, Brian Camp, did an interview on CUNY TV's City Talk and it's available to watch online. Good job Brian! His co-author is Julie Davis, co-host of the equally classic Halloween parties.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fred and Tezuka at Tron!

In our recently published The Astro Boy Essays, author Frederik L. Schodt talks about seeing Tron with Osamu Tezuka when Disney first released the film. Wow! I'd seen it a billion times as a kid, never understanding that it was the first major CGI film out there. And to see it with the God of Manga?

Funny enough, I have seen a film with a famous manga creator, Kia Asamiya, and he named his studio, guess what? Studio TRON. We saw XMen at the Metreon...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles

I stole this off of a recent Shelf Awareness.

The following is in essence the title chapter from Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles by Gary Dexter, an expansion of the author's Sunday Telegraph column that tells the origins of the titles of 50 great works of literature. This excerpt, the story of the title Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, published in 1961, is in the British English of the book, a situation Yossarian might call fubar:

'Catch-22' has passed into the language as a description of the impossible bind:

Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. 'Is Orr crazy?'
'He sure is,' Doc Daneeka said.
'Can you ground him?'
'I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule.'
'Then why doesn't he ask you to?'
'Because he's crazy,' Doc Daneeka said. 'He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground him. But first he has to ask me to.'
'That's all he has to do to be grounded?'
'That's all. Let him ask me.'
'And then you can ground him?' Yossarian asked.
'No. Then I can't ground him.'
'You mean there's a catch?'
'Sure there's a catch,' Doe Daneeka replied. 'Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy.'

Orr is crazy, and can be grounded, but if he asks to be grounded he is sane--and he can only be grounded if he asks. Joseph Heller complained that the phrase 'a Catch-22 situation' was often used by people who did not seem to understand what it meant. Given the mental contortions of the catch, this is not surprising. He even described receiving a letter from a Finnish translator, which said (in Heller's paraphrase): 'I am translating your novel Catch-22 into Finnish. Would you please explain me one thing: What means Catch-22? I didn't find it in any vocabulary. Even assistant air attache of the USA here in Helsinki could not explain exactly.' Heller added: 'I suspect the book lost a great deal in its Finnish translation.'
There are no catches 1 to 21, or 23 onwards, in the book. 'There was only one catch and that was Catch-22.' Like the final commandment left at the end of Animal Farm, Catch-22 is an entire rule-book distilled into one lunatic decree. Its very uniqueness meant that Heller had to think carefully before naming, or numbering it. And his choice was--'Catch-18'.
In World War II Heller was a bombardier with the 12th Air Force, based on Corsica, and flew 60 missions over Italy and France. Yossarian in Catch-22 is a bombardier flying the same missions. Rotated home in 1945 and discharged as a First Lieutenant with an Air Medal with Five Oak Leaf Clusters, Heller took a degree at New York University, then an MA at Columbia, before working in New York as an advertising copy-writer.
In 1953 he began writing a book called Catch-18, the first chapter of which was published in the magazine New World Writing in 1955. When, three years later, he submitted the first large chunk of it to Simon & Schuster, it was quickly accepted for publication, and Heller worked on it steadily--all the time thinking of it as Catch-18--until its completion in 1961. Shortly before publication, however, the blockbuster novelist Leon Uris produced a novel entitled Mila 18 (also about the Second World War). It was thought advisable that Heller, the first-time novelist, should be the one to blink, and the title was changed. Heller said in an interview with Playboy in 1975: 'I was heartbroken. I thought 18 was the only number.' The first suggestion for a replacement was Catch-14, but Robert Gottlieb, Heller's editor, felt it didn't have the right ring. 'I thought 22 was a funnier number than 14', Gottlieb told the New York Times Review of Books in 1967. Heller took two weeks to persuade.

But the journey from 18 to 22, although tortuous, was worth making. The reason is this: 22 has a thematic significance that 18 or 14 do not.
The doubling of the digits emphasizes a major theme of the book: duplication and reduplication. When the book was first published, critics objected to its monotony and repetition. 'Heller's talent is impressive,' said Time magazine, 'but it is also undisciplined, sometimes luring him into bogs of boring repetition. Nearly every episode in Catch-22 is told and retold.'

This is true. In Catch-22 everything is doubled. Yossarian flies over the bridge at Ferrara twice, his food is poisoned twice, there is a chapter devoted to 'The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice', the chaplain has the sensation of having experienced everything twice, Yossarian can name two things to be miserable about for every one to be thankful for, all Yossarian can say to the dying Snowden is 'There, there', all Snowden can say is 'I'm cold, I'm cold', Yossarian overhears a woman repeatedly begging 'please don't, please don't', and Major Major is actually Major Major Major Major. The critic JP Stern identified a pairing approach to the characters:
Most figures in Catch-22 are arranged in pairs; e.g., the medical orderlies Gus and Wes; the HR clerk Wintergreen and the Chaplain's orderly--both nasty characters; the two CID stooges; Major Major and Captain Flume--both persecuted; Generals Dreedle and Peckem--both harshly satirized; Snowden and Mudd--both dead; Piltchard and Wren--both enjoy combat missions; Aarfy and Black--men without feeling; Nately and Clevinger--upper-class college boys, both get killed; the nurses, Duckett and Kramer.

The mad pairing reaches its apotheosis in the catch itself. As the novel says: 'Yossarian saw it clearly in all its spinning reasonableness. There was an elliptical precision about its perfect pairs of parts that was raceful and shocking, like good modern art, and at times Yossarian wasn't quite sure that he saw it at all, just the way he was never quite sure about good modern art...'
Doubling is thus a stylistic device suggestive of the qualified nature of reality. Nothing is singular, unblurred or unambiguous. The title, with its doubled digits (2 representing duality, itself doubled to make 22) conveys this in a way that Catch-18 could not.
It seems clear therefore that what happened when Simon & Schuster found out about Leon Uris's book was a piece of great good luck.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Taiwan! My few hours there in transit

My flight to/from Mumbai involved EVA and layovers at the international airport in Taipei. Like many airports these days, this one was more of a shopping mall that simply has parking for jetliners.

Granted, the airport had free Internet cafes, a relax zone where you could sit in massaging chairs while listening to Taiwanese forest sounds, and a museum store with amazing window shopping that doubled as an excellent lesson in Taiwanese history and culture. Plus, I had a noodle soup with the freshest-tasting chicken I could find. Sadly, I didn't get to hear the muzac version to the 'What's Happenin' Now' theme song as coworker Chris told me to listen for in the hallways.

But EVA/Taipei's airport has the best corporate obsession, I mean, partnership, with Sanrio! I didn't get to fly in the jet pictured, but onboard the attendants word Hello Kitty aprons and offered Hello Kitty instant noodles (I had to decline because the noodles had shrimp). There were crazy limited edition Sanrio stuff in the skymall catalog but I kept from buying anything because of my India budget.

And then both times at the airport I visited the Sanrio Gift Gate. That pussy gets around! Loads of more EVA/Sanrio limited edition stuff plus the unique stuff that you'll never find now that Target seems to be the main place to get Sanrio stuff. But the best bit was that the place included a small playground for children and a big screen playing Hello Kitty cartoons. It's a lifesaver for kids in transit and their parents. As for the rest of us, the crazy Hello Kitty seats had no armrests, and was the best place in the airport to lie down without getting in trouble (believe me, elsewhere I got in trouble for trying to sleep on leather couches and then the floor).

Friday, November 2, 2007

Brilliant! Connecting Employers and Workers in India

In the article "In India, Poverty Inspires Technology Workers to Altruism," the New York Times recently reported an Internet service that helps laborers find work without having to have a computer or the skills that are needed for one. This is a great way to circumvent the tricky situation of putting such opportunies into the hands of the majority of people who can't afford a computer! Let's hope that it works. No doubt there will be abuse in some form or other, but that's just about every major service online. Hopefully this will be copied in other countries, perhaps even the US, although I can't help but picture government agencies or anti-immigrant groups using it to catch illegal workers.

In the meantime, good luck Babajob!