July 31, 2014

"Welcome to Beacon"

In the last episode of RWBY, the plot advanced a bit before being interrupted by spectacular action that was basically gratuitous albeit entertaining. By contrast, this episode is a series of quiet conversations interspersed with teenagers playing something akin to Risk. This was the better episode. 

They've really come a long way from last season with both the animation and in particular the pacing....

...which is finally achieving a sort of balance.

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More Worries

Another, slightly less disturbing map. This time via Moe Lane


I was initially skeptical since I know that Virginia's number one cause of death in the above category is Chessie, however it occurred to me that the map does not necessarily contradict that. 

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This is worrisome.

Map is current as of today and taken from the CDC page

Hopefully, one day you'll scroll back through this blog's old posts and say "Oh look at what that silly twit was all worked up about back then."

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Railgun S First Thoughts

Having watched episode 1 of A Certain Scientific Railgun S I have a couple of very preliminary observations. 

First, I'm struck by the fact that this does not feel like a different series at all. This episode is following right on the heels of the finale of the previous series, for instance Uiharu and Saten still have Haruue as their roommate and the three of them have enlisted Misaka to help them respond to one aspect of the previous show's aftermath. This series is NOT a standalone purchase.

Misaka thus far remains one of the more likable anime heroines I've seen.

On the other hand the episode introduces Shoukuho Misaki and in 2 minutes manages to establish her as of the most repulsive and genuinely scary antagonists I've ever seen. 

This girl needs to die a lot.

She's arrogant, presumptuous, cruel, has no respect for personal space, thinks of people as objects for her amusement, and, being absolutely gorgeous, has a fawning cadre of "retainers".  It's unclear if her fans are simply poor judges of character or are victims as she is a level 5 mind controller. She seems particularly upset that Misaka is immune to her talent and in a momentary fit of pique demonstrates that "Level 5" and "Mind Control" should never be allowed to overlap. 

Which begs the question. What the hell were the people who study and train  these kids thinking? Gracious!

Beyond that the premiere is a standard Railgun episode establishing what decent people Misaka and most of her friends are and why they tolerate Kuroko...because she is very useful to have around when Misaka needs to do something gratuitously awesome. 

This sequel is off to a really fine start. 

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July 29, 2014

TOS Follies

Well, this just popped up in my instant messenger.

So I looked.

Anyway it's below the fold as it might interest some of you who fopllow such matters.

Be warned though that the usual advisory on such documents applies.


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I Probably Should Get Around to Watching the First Two

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Not If

...but when. 

A disturbing view of our future in 70 tweets.

Read the whole thing. It's short and will only take a minute. 

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July 28, 2014

100 Years Ago July 28, 1914

Kaiser Wilhelm the Second's compromise proposal was presented to Emperor Franz Joseph at noon.

At 11:00 AM Emperor Franz Joseph had signed a declaration of war against Serbia. Just before midnight, the Austrio-Hungarian river gunboat SMS Bodrog fired the first shots of World War 1. 

SMS Bodrog The oddity on the bow is a mine-sweeping device.

SMS Bodrog today after service in 4 navies and three wars.

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July 27, 2014

Love Lab

A 13 episode CGDCT series from last year, Love Lab passed beneath my radar though I became tangentially aware of it when I tracked down the source of some animated .gifs I had appropriated for some posts. I initially avoided it like the plague because I looked at the poster and drew the erroneous conclusion that it was based on a dating sim.


Realizing my error, I recently gave it a shot and discovered that it is...different.

Not a vampire...honest.

Meet Riko. She is an athletically inclined young lady from a modest middle class background. While not naturally gifted academically she has worked her  butt off and through sheer force of will succeeded in transferring into the prestigious Fuji Girls School. She's got a couple of things going for her, she's extremely athletic and has that "mysterious transfer student" vibe, and as such a number of the student body are in awe of her. Our heroine is oblivious to this or her nickname "Wild Rinko" in part because she has never been popular. As a kid she hung out with the boys, who she frequently beat up and earned a reputation as demonic horror wench...the fangs probably exacerbated this.

In any event, one day she is instructed by a teacher to drop some papers by the student council office, where, having forgotten to knock, she makes a horrifying discovery. 

First some background...Maki, the student council president, is extremely good at her job, a straight "A" student and greatly admired by the student body and teachers alike, so to walk in on her and find her making out with a comfort pillow named Huggy in the student council office is officially scandalous. 

Well it gets worse. It seems that Maki has been using the student council to conduct experiments, and role playing sessions (with Huggy). She's turned it into a Love Lab in order to prepare herself for...romance.

She's already mastered the dramatic bloody cough

 The fact that any contact with boys is grounds for expulsion only makes this abuse of school facilities more scandalous and dark secrets must be kept. Riko is drafted into being the POTSC's aid, partly in order to keep Maki's secret and partly to give a non-pillow perspective on Maki's ideas. When Riko points out that most of Maki's notions are stark-raving cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,  Maki gets the impression that Riko's extensive experience with boys is actually extensive EXPERIENCE with boys. Riko's failure to clarify this complicates everything further and hilarity ensues as several other oddball students are drawn into this dark circle of depravity. 

Love Lab breaks no new ground but it has very high production values and is a thoroughly pleasant show. The soundtrack is minimalist but surprisingly effective. I laughed and enjoyed it though the series has very limited rewatch value  as most of the humor is based on surprises. It does get sappy towards the end as things begin to come to a head and some late series developments are not really resolved, I'm not sure if it was cut short or ran an episode too long. Nevertheless, I did not feel robbed or insulted and the show is upbeat, amusing and double entendres notwithstanding, not at all vulgar. 

No really...

That is a matter of personal opinion. 

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A Few Random Thoughts About the Ukraine

A spirited discussion on this topic has sprung up in the comments. My latest reply went long so here are a couple of random observations and opinions on the topic..

Russia is being a jackass in the Ukraine. However, their interest in Crimea and Sevastopol in particular is of vital importance to their nation. The Crimea is overwhelmingly ethnically Russian and Cossack so even if we were going by Wilsonian as opposed to Westphalian doctrine the ethnic self determination angle might give Russia a defensible position in that case. 

We don't HAVE a doctrine at the moment , Wilsonian, Westphalian or even Carteresque, so that's irrelevant. 

Which is one reason the parallels to 1930's Chekoslovakia cause concern.

Ukraine has grievances against Russia that are numerous and legitimate, including a large swath of their country that's uninhabitable for extended periods and mass graves filled by by Stalin with their brethren. 

However, Ukraine is not a bunch of angels, with some very vocal members of their polity having anti-semitic and even neo-nazi ties. They have been using the Balkan conflict as a how-to manual rather than a cautionary tale. They are also pretty much a failed state.

We (the US) have, in the 20th century, normally supported self determination as a matter of national policy and a big chunk of eastern Ukraine is ethnically Russian.

Russia, like us, is fighting islamic extremists and would be a natural ally in this endeavor. In fact Russia has given a lot of assistance in that regard including overflight privileges to facilitate our fighting in Afganistan and providing intel on Chechen terrorists in the US which we ignored, thereby facilitating the Boston Bombing.

The plane shoot-down was a dreadful calamity, but the airline ignored warnings not to fly over a FRICKKING WAR ZONE where 3 transports had already been shot down. I don't think that Russia intentionally shot down an airliner. I cannot conceivably have gained them anything.

Is this patch of black earth which is a huge ethnic and political mess a place we want to really get involved in? 


But there is a problem with that. 

We guaranteed The Ukraine that we would protect their territorial integrity  if they acquiesced to our demands that they give up their nukes. So we actually do have an obligation to do something. It is a matter of global interest that we encourage non-proliferation. this is not achieved if a country that gives up its nukes is dismembered by others that did not.

Like, you know, Libya, who we promised not to poke at if they gave up their nuclear program. A promise we honored until the president leveraged the fact that the UK and France wanted to pay less for oil to support Muslim Brotherhood affiliated revolutions. Now North Africa is awash in weapons, thousands of MANPADS are in the hands of terrorists and Boko Haram is spreading pain and woe with weapons they got from Quaddaffi's arsenals. OTOH the oil is not flowing near as  much now.

So the "We gave our word" and "nonproliferation" carts have left the barn. The sort of brinksmanship necessary to protect Ukraine's integrity would be fraught with opportunities for catastrophic, 1914 style miscalculation and tragedy even if we had level-headed, grounded professionals running our foreign policy. 

We don't have that. We have the crew that threw away an admittedly phyrric victory, in the process giving Mesopotamia to ISIS, set North Africa aflame, and has been making fools of themselves in the Levant.  

Given that the Libyan fiasco has pissed away any non-proliferation mojo that might be preserved by an adventure in Ukrania, poking the bear* does not survive even the most cursory cost benefit analysis.  The moral calculus is dubious at best.

The only realistic way to deal with the destabilizing and dangerous situation that is our shattered credibility is to wait two years and say "Sorry...he was a fluke. We're back now".

Even then, our policy in this squalid European mess probably ought to be to bolster our newest NATO allies and provide humanitarian aid. 

*the actual bear

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One Hundred Years Ago Today

On July 27, 1914 the German Kaiser returned from his cruise earlier than planned. Below is an excerpt from page 103 of Daniel Allen Butler's Burden of Guilt.

The British sent another offer to moderate the dispute. It was passed along by Germany, but the German foreign secretary deliberately omitted a key bit...an addendum by the Kaiser endorsing the peace plan and stating that the Serbian agreement to most of the demands removed the legal case for war. .  In Austria-Hungary, Emperor Franz Joseph's "top men" were therefore unaware that the return of the Kaiser meant the German's public pronouncements that they desired peace were suddenly sincere.  

Russia, taking a less bellicose tone, offered a counterproposal to Austria-Hungary. It did not get past the Austrio-Hungarian foreign minister, who was more concerned that the window for war might pass without an invasion.

Also that evening, the British parliament became quite aware that something really bad might be imminent on on the continent and began debating what to do about it. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill did not wait. Having kept the reservists at their stations the previous day and rescinded the order to disperse the active fleet, he ordered the Royal Navy to go to full military alert and rig for battle. The magazines were filled with live ammo, and the ships were stripped for action. This caused the German stock exchange to collapse. 

Through the night of the 27th the Kaiser drafted a compromise proposal whereby Austrian troops would temporarily occupy Belgrade alone in substitution for having police powers in the whole country. He gave it to his foreign minister to deliver to the Austrians...

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July 26, 2014

A Minor Tidbit...Scarcely Worth Mentioning

An interesting peek at what Disney is doing with the franchise. 

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Creepy Horror Story Takes Unexpected Turn

Via Ace of Spades, we have a follow-up to that disturbing story about the dolls who appeared on the doorsteps of young girls (each bearing a resemblance to the girls in question). It has been solved. Astoundingly, the resolution did not involve dreadful discoveries in a basement or shallow graves.
It appears that the dolls were intended to be gifts from a woman who attended the girls church.
It was a scary story involving dolls, yet it appears to have just been someone being nice. Who on earth would have expected THAT!?

Who else?

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100 years Ago Today

Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire was reasonably satisfied with the Serbian response to his governments demands and ordered the Serbian Chief of Staff to be released with apologies. On the same day and perhaps in response to this act, his Army Chief of Staff and Foreign Minister quietly exchanged letters
 Berchtold: "We should like to deliver the declaration of war on Serbia as soon as possible so as to put an end to diverse influences. When do you want the declaration of war? Conrad: Only when we have progressed far enough for operations to begin immediately—on approximately August 12th. Berchtold: "The diplomatic situation will not hold as long as that.”   [/quote] 
(Quote via Wikipedia)

....Meanwhile, the diplomatic heads of both Austria and Russia rejected an offer by Sir Edward Grey (the British Foreign Minister) to mediate the dispute.

In July of 1914, the British Royal Navy was conducting a reserve mobilization drill. This once in a decade endeavor involved calling up reservists and bringing old ships out of reserve, getting them seaworthy and conducting training maneuvers with the active navy which was largely recalled to home waters for the affair. This drill was scheduled to end on July 26th, however, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, ordered all hands to stand fast and the fleet to not disperse as planned.  From this moment the RN was on a full war footing, something that would normally have taken months to achieve.

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I don't think that word means what some Russians think it does.

 "de-escalation”—the idea that, if Russia were faced with a large-scale conventional attack that exceeded its capacity for defense, it might respond with a limited nuclear strike. 

It's probably just a translation glitch. Do read the whole thing.

The gist of the article is that Russian policy is such that in the event of a major military confrontation in their immediate sphere of influence (Chechnya is specifically mentioned) , a very limited nuclear strike will cause the other side to pause and reflect., thereby defusing the situation. There is another, albeit rather dated, article on this policy here

Russia is not the only country that does not have a no first use policy. The same is true of the US and France for instance and US policy has been that if attacked with non-nuclear WMDs (especially a severe biological attack) nukes might be used. However, the Russian policy is odd in assuming that this will lead to a racheting DOWN of tensions. Once nukes start popping off, the potential for things to go completely pear shaped becomes very great indeed. 


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July 25, 2014

100 Years Ago Today

Austria-Hungary turned down a Russian proposal to extend the deadline on the terms previously presented to Serbia. Serbia, to everyone's astonishment, agreed to nearly all the humiliating demands by 5:58pm on the 25th. However they did not accede to the demand that Austria-Hungary be given legal jurisdiction and arrest powers inside Serbia's border. Their response was otherwise humble to the point of groveling. At 6:30pm, the Austrio-Hungarian  consulate evacuated their embassy in Belgrade. The Serbian Chief of staff General Putnik, on his way back from consultations in Russia was arrested that evening in Budapest. Taking the hint, the Serbs voted on, and their monarch signed orders for a full emergency mobilization. Most of their government then abandoned the capital and relocated to the more defensible city of Nish. 

It should be noted that Germany's Kaiser was on vacation during this time, golfing cruising on his yacht and was only gradually beginning to understand the gravity of the situation. Likewise, Franz Joseph returned from his retreat where he had been since the funeral of his nephew. He was 84...in 1914. Though he was aware of the negotiations with Germany and the seriousness of the Russian assurances of their Serb allies, he was reportedly quite surprised at the harsh language of the ultimatum sent to Serbia by his ministers. 

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July 24, 2014

Well THAT was an Amusing 15 minutes.

RWBY is back and is simulcasting on Crunchyroll.

"Yay! We're back!"

The episodes are a bit longer this time around (14:45 with credits) and they really have upped the production values. There is also quite a bit of action, though not at ALL what I'd expected. 

We do learn a few important things.
The preview trailer is somewhat misleading.
Soda cans in Vale are NOT made out of aluminum. 
It's strongly implied that Blake is in a lot more trouble than has been apparent. 
Turkey and scallions do not go together as well as I'd have thought. 

The voice acting is still uneven, but Jessica Nigiri does a very good job as Cinder (there was some speculation that her brief scene in last season's stinger was a fluke). 

Also, as a catch phrase, "Don't play with your food." is wanting.

However, this was, all in all, a very promising kickoff for the second volume. This is definitely on the watch list. 

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I Had NO Idea This Thing Was Real

Do want!

I'd seen this thing in some TV shows but I'd always thought it was a special effect. 

The Williams WASP was designed to meet an Army  from the 1970's.  It actually fulfilled all the requirements but twas not adopted as the Army beleatedly decided that the requirements were ill-considered. 

Good grief!  With a range of 30 miles it's really not all that much more impractical than a motorcycle for commuting. It can fly above traffic and the fact that it flies means it's significantly less dorky than a Segway.

This is the future we were denied!

Someone must make this happen. 

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If Nightmare Fuel is a Nonrenewable Resource

...then perhaps we are pumping it at such a rate that our reserves will soon be exhausted!

This story (which i got via  Ace) has me especially enamored of the 'peak nightmare fuel' idea. 

 Eight families in San Clemente have been targeted in a disturbing pattern under investigation by authorities: porcelain dolls have been left at their homes resembling young girls who live there. 


The horror novel writes itself. 

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Oh. I misunderstood.

I saw an excerpt from an opinion piece this morning and assumed it was satire.

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