Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Miracle at St. Anna

I recently saw the movie Miracle at St. Anna and then looked it up on the internet. I was surprised to find that it had so many negative reviews. I found it to be pretty good. The film is about four black soldiers of the all-black 92nd Infantry Division who get trapped near a small Tuscan village during the Italian Campaign of World War II after one of them risks his life to save an Italian boy.

Though the massacre shown in the film, Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre, actually did happen, 560 people killed. The film is fictional not a documentary and should be treated as a fictional story. I'd make some type of comment about the real massacre but I don't really know much about it. I know it happened and some of the German's involved were or are recently being put on trial. Those that are still alive are in their 80's. It's very sad that a massacre of 560 people is mostly a foot note of the world wars. There were so many atrocities done by every side that it would be difficult to even list them all.

The acting by the large black guy with the name of Train (nicknamed sniper bait) and the child, Angelo (their in movie names - don't know/too lazy to look up real names), was the best acting in the film. My favorite scene from the movie is when the child first meets Train and calls him Chocolate Giant then licks him.

The movie was long, which doesn't bother me in the least, but I feel that the movie would have been better had some scenes been cut or truncated. In particular the first scene and the ending scene. The scenes weren't really that bad but they add little to the movie and the first one really doesn't make sense. Sure the soldier killing the traitor looked cool (the way he goes about it and then calmly closes up is pretty damn awesome) but it is too much of a coincidence that the traitor would happen to go to that post office, that particular window, and most of all that the postman would recognize him and have German gun (souvenir) from World War 2 on him at the time.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

10,000 BC

I watched the movie 10,000 B.C. not expecting much from it. Knowing that the director of it also did Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow; I was expecting a lack of logic, lack of common sense, and many historic inaccuracies. It was as expected. I had heard about the great action and stunning CGI though. The action wasn't great, the CGI was not as good as it was hyped to be, the acting was very poor, and the plot was not very good.

I was basically thinking that it would be somewhat similar to Robert E. Howard's works without the Lovecraftian influence. If you know of his works, most famous being Conan the Barbarian, you'd know that he often fabricates antediluvian civilizations like Stygia (his version of a pre-Egypt, Egypt). In which they were technologically and magically advanced but things happened resulting in the fall of those civilizations (most of which were the remains of even older civilizations that had collapsed) surrounded by more primitive peoples. It was in part like that, in that there were many anachronism's like metal work, paper, and other such technologies around that wouldn't be invented for thousands of years. It even had a mortal god which is speculated in the film to have came from either space or another civilization that got destroyed (Atlantis). It was no where near as good as Robert E. Howards books though, the acting, action (fight scenes were not that great - the documentary I watched the day before had superior fight scenes to this film), and lack of logic really took away from it (freeing a Saber-tooth cat and expecting it to not kill you for example).

I will now discuss some of the inaccuracies for no reason other than using it as an excuse to talk about early humans and prehistoric animals.

-Horses were not domesticated until around 4500 BC
-Woolly Mammoths like elephants were not led by the bull (male) Woolly Mammoths. Instead they were lead by an old female like modern Asian elephants are. Elephants are matriarchal.
-Ice age hunters did not generally live in such large groups.
-Hunter Gather societies would be on the move often following the animals and during winter would have gone to warmer places.
-There were permanent structures and cities dating back to farther than 10,000 BC though. If you look up Göbekli Tepe. You'll find mention of an ancient city dating to around 11,000 BC. Temporary buildings and dwellings were likely built even earlier. Part of the reason so little is known about ancient technology is only things made from stone would really last. Things made from wood or other bio-degradable material would not have been preserved as easily.
-People of that time did hunt Woolly Mammoths and bury the left overs.
-People even before the advent of cities did do some domesticating of the land. Many hunter-gatherers cut or burned undesirable plants while encouraging desirable ones, some even going to the extent of slash-and-burn to create habitat for game animals.
-The usage of nets was widespread at that time but mostly used for fishing. Using a net to hunt Woolly Mammoth would not be very effective. The hunt as shown in the movie would not work very well in real life
-No place on Earth resembles the geographical location shown. There is no place were you can walk from snowy mountains, to jungles, then to dessert in a few weeks time.
-Since there are Pyramids shown it is guessed that this is located in Egypt. Had it been Egypt there would be no Sabertooth tigers and Terror birds. Those were species of the Americas (was some Terror Birds in Australia as well).
- Sabertoothed cats did exist but Smilodons were a species native to the Americas. There were other Sabertoothed cats but they had died out in Europe/Africa around 30,000 years ago. There were terror birds in that area as well but they had died out much much earlier more than 40,000,000 years earlier.
-12,000 years ago, aka 10000 BC, the Nile river was much stronger and the area near it was not a desert, was a savanna. It became smaller and area around it became more desert like around 10,000 years ago when drought came and the desert grew.
-The use of Bronze, Copper, and Iron did not occur until much later. I'd give a date but depending on where in the world your going by it varies since not every place figured it out at the same time or had access to metal deposits. Having said that the oldest known use of Bronze is dated at around 3,300 BC in the Near East (which includes Egypt). Different places developed metal workings at different times - some areas like in the Americas pretty much stayed with using stones, others like South Africa skipped the bronze age and went straight to using Iron after stone. As for copper it was used in some places like south asia as early as 7000 BC but still not as far back as 10,000 BC.
- Woolly Mammoths did not live in the Egypt area. Woolly Mammoths could not live in a desert environment. Woolly Mammoths were never tamed by humans and had nothing to do with Pyramid building. Though Egyptians did know of the existence of Woolly Mammoths. In 1994, a wall painting of a waist-sized mammoth was found in a pharaoh's tomb.
-Woolly Mammoths are shown galloping similar to horses. This isn't possible. Elephants and Mammoths can/could not gallop because leg structure makes it impossible.
-The size of the Saber-toothed cat and the Woolly Mammoth were larger than what they were in real life.
-The Pyramids are not that old the oldest ones date to around 3000 BC.
-The Pyramids were not built by slaves. They were built by paid skilled works.
-The oldest known ships to have existed in Egypt are only 4000 years old (rotted remains found in caves). Though the building of ships is much older than that. Rafts were used by humans to get to Australia over 50000 years ago. Boat building is even thought by some to be even older than that. Homo Erectus may have built boats. The evidence for this is - Stone tools dating over 840,000 years ago were found on Flores which is an island and was an island separated from the main land even a million years ago. Having said that ships with sails did not appear for many millennium closer to modern time than 10,000 BC.
-The seeds given at the end of the movie were corn and beans. Corn is a plant of the Americas and was not grown in Europe/Africa until many, many millennium later (After Columbus's voyage). The plants shown growing were not corn or beans. Though people from the Old World (I.E. Asia, Africa, Europe) did travel to the Americas prior to Columbus - Vikings did it 500 years before he did and there is some evidence that the Phoenician people, a maritime culture which lived from 1550 BC to 300 BC, managed to get to the Americas. These people had little arable land so they mainly were traders. They had made extensive sea voyages. If Herodotus of Halicarnassus, a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC, is to believed they also circumnavigated Africa. Some of the ships used in the Americas resemble their ships and the Atlantic currents do run straight at South America from the coast of Africa so it would have been possible for a lost ship to travel there, and the return voyage would be made easier by following the oceanic currents north then back east across the ocean.
-Deserts are very cold at night, people would wear a lot more clothes while sleeping/traveling at night.

I can go on but I figure I wrote enough for now.

Before We Ruled the Earth

I recently watched Discovery Channels program Before We Ruled the Earth. This is a two-part documentary made in 2003. Each part is 49 minutes long and has no extra's. It is sold on two dvd's instead of one, like it should have been. This program tells of humanoid history from around 1,700,000 years ago to around 8000 years ago. It skips a lot of history and personally I didn't think it was that good. The CGI on this was pretty bad considering the year it was made. The way they showed the Homo Ergaster walking was not fluid/realistic in my opinion, much to awkward to be viable, and while the make up was actually pretty good. I feel they didn't add enough distinct features to the humanoids (though I do realize it might have been difficult to do so - Homo Ergaster for example had a smaller jaw).

It mentioned in the first documentary, Hunt or be Hunted, that it is unlikely that the humanoids (Homo Ergaster and Homo Erectus) felt grief and it would be like that for hundreds of thousands of years. I don't agree with that. They may not have buried their dead but I think they would have felt grief for the passing of a family member. The reason I say this is early humanoids were social creatures and social creatures express grief at the lose of a loved one/sibling/parent. This is not limited to humans other social creatures have and express grief. Elephants are social animals that express grief often. When an elephant, particularly a baby, gets lost from the pack or dies the entire herd express's grief and some times rage. Elephants have been shown to stay with a dead or dying member for days grieving and have invaded, destroying villages in search for there baby elephants. Many animals have stronger attachments than people think they do. A study on a herd of cows has shown things like a male cow will eat at mid day next to it's mother even when fully matured.

It is not just people projecting human emotions on to animals. It has been shown that biochemical changes in the blood and brain of animals that appeared to be bonded and that then experienced separation and loss for one reason or another occur. This happens in many social species like some birds and dolphins. The animals may not understand death, deal with it like humans do, or have a concept of afterlife but they do understand loss/separation and display symptoms of grief. Animals often become withdrawn, lack an interest in social contact, occasionally kill themselves (some types of birds have been known to kill themselves), and display other signs of depression. There are books on grief in animals/primates. One that I read part of is The Nature of Grief by John Archer, though that is on grief in general not animal specific but does make mention of grief in animals.

The documentary had been split into various scenarios of various times showing mostly people hunting. Quite a bit of this was speculation. The hunting practice of Homo Erectus shown in the documentary makes sense from fossil evidence, except for one part. The Homo Erectus would use fire to coral animals over a cliff side, the fires went out, animals rushed the humanoids injuring some and getting away. The part about this that doesn't make sense is the humanoids leading the animals were only armed with torches. Not a one of the hunters leading them to the cliff was equipped with a spear. Homo Erectus had spears, this is even mentioned that the hunters at the bottom of the cliff had them, why wouldn't those trapping the animals not be similarly armed?

Parts of the scenarios I didn't like, more boring than they should have been, but not counting that they were on occasion showing uncommon events. Considering how little we know and how much has to be speculation, you'd think they would stick to the common battles not uncommon events.

From the second documentary I don't have much to say really except for where were the dogs? The time period of the second documentary, Mastering the Beasts, is from 15,000 years ago to around 8,000 years ago. Dogs were domesticated around 15,000 years ago. There should have been dogs in this. The documentary makes mention of people first crossing the Bering Straight land bridge. When people did that they were accompanied by dogs. It's even thought that dogs had a valuable part in making the crossing possible.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Star Trek - The Forgotten War

The novel Star Trek - The Forgotten War by William R. Forstchen is a decent read. The plot of the book is somewhat interesting but one I have seen before. The Federation is making new contact with an alien species, Tarn, after a long period of time with no contact. Supposedly there was a short war between the Federation and the Tarn 204 years ago. A neutral zone was established and just recently both sides have been given permission to explore the neutral zone. While the starship Enterprise explores the area they find the wreck of a Federation vessel. Of course, being who they are, they explore it and eventually find out that the people had managed to escape to a nearby planet. On this planet they find that the war between the Federation and the Tarn is far from over. It still going on. Though the sides have technologically regressed (they started out with little technology and had to rebuild in a difficult situation) to between World War 1 and World War 2 weaponry. The crew of the Enterprise now have to figure out how to stop a war that has been going on for centuries, without accidentally starting an interstellar war.

There were a few plot holes in the story but they don't really take much away from the story. Going by the Star Trek canon universe there were some things that didn't fit. One thing, for example, is that this forgotten war occurred 204 years ago but makes references to things in the Star Trek universe that happened a hundred years earlier by Star Trek Timeline (mainly the Captain of the wrecked ship, Captain Lucien Murat, being a contemporary of Christopher Pike). Though there were internal plot holes/incongruities as well - for example, characters rank were listed differently in different chapters.

The aliens in this book, called the Tarn, are clearly based, at least in part, on the Japanese. While not entirely based on Japanese culture there are some things that point to them being based on it. The author tells us about how a circle (term used for clan) regained honor. It wasn't an exact retelling, 30 instead of 47, and some other details changed but it was clearly based on the 47 Ronin. The aliens had Kamikazi pilots called Tacig - The Chosen Ones of Glory. The committing of ritual suicide to clear one's honor is used by the Tarn and mentioned several times. That is most likely based on Japanese seppuku. Et cetera, Et cetera.

Some things didn't really make sense, at least to me, and took away from the story/lessened the quality of the book. The slow build up of weapons technology, 200 some years, actually makes sense to me. They start out with access to and knowledge of technology that is in advance to current technology. This would give them an advantage and allow them to build up at an accelerated rate. There are other factors like resources and practical knowledge. How many of them actually know the steps to recreating it. A person can use a gun/television/microwave doesn't mean that they know how to build it or even how it works. The thing that bothered me though is something that occurs later in the book. We are shown that the Captain from the ship had been been kept in stasis, meaning they had a power source and access to higher technology. Given the existence of higher technology from the get go, the technology, particularly weapons technology since they were fighting a war, should have built up at a much faster rate. The whole stasis thing should not have been in the book to begin with since besides that point it just didn't make any real sense.

While engrossed in a story you often have to take at face value many things you wouldn't believe in real life. This is called a willing suspension of disbelief. We do it all the time for a lot of things, but some things, even in story, are just too much beyond belief to accept. The thing that happened in this story that I found too unrealistic is that a starship with a crew of thousands of people only has one transporter pad. Weird isn't it what we would accept and what we wouldn't. I have no problem accepting human like aliens, interplanetary travel, transporters, et cetera but a little thing like only one transporter on such a big ship is too illogical for me to accept and distracts me from the story.


Shortpacked! is a webcomic set in a toy store. The main character of the comic is a rabid collector of action figures. I find this web comic to be humorous on occasion. Since it is about toys, most often action figures in particular, it makes many references to anime, cartoons, science fiction, and comic books. I particularly like the spoofing of Batman. I also find that earlier pages are more amusing than the more recent ones.

I personally don't collect action figures. I only have a few, a Ryoko figurine from Tenchi Muyo and a few Star Trek ships. I was never really that interested in action figures. Partially because they cost too much and I have no place in which to put them. Sure I had some toy soldiers and teenage mutant ninja turtle action figures but I mostly played video games, baseball, and read books when I was young. My toys of choice was a rubber baseball and deck of cards (I used to build castles out of cards but haven't done that in years).

This comic does make mention of Ranma. The picture of the top, while not anywhere near the best this strip has, mentions Ranma. The link to the strip is here: http://www.shortpacked.com/d/20050914.html

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Shunbun-no-hi is a Japanese holiday on the Autumnal equinox. This national holiday was established in 1948 as a day on which to honor one's ancestors and remember the dead. Prior to 1948, the autumnal equinox was an imperial ancestor worship festival called Shūki kōrei-sai.

This week is a Buddhist celebratory week. According to Buddhist belief this is the day that the dead can cross the Sanzu river to enter Nirvana. This day is also called Higan no Chu-Nichi. The word higan means “the other shore,” a Buddhist term that comes from the idea that there is a river marking the division of this life from the world of salvation (Sanzu river). This river is full of illusion, passion, and sorrow, and only by crossing to the other shore can one gain enlightenment and enter nirvana. It is said that, when night and day are equal the Buddha appears on earth to save stray souls and help them make the crossing. This is why people visit family cemeteries during this week.

Higan is a time of year when Buddhist people pay special attention to the Six Paramitas (Perfections). The six perfections are:

1 Dana - generosity
2. Sila - virtue
3. Ksanti - patience
4. Virya - effort
5. Dhyana - meditation
6. Prajna - wisdom

The higanbana, red spider lily, marks the autumnal equinox observance (pictured above).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Abridged Series

I recently had access to high speed internet and used it to watch several abridged series on video sites like youtube. An abridged series is a fan made parody of an anime/television show/movie. I watched Yugioh abridged, Lupin 3 abridged, Sailormoon abridged (there are several), Avatar abridged, Teen Titans abridged, and Elfen Lied abridged. The best of the abridged series that I watched was Yugioh abridged.

I, many years ago, used to watch Yugioh on television. It wasn't a very good show but was better than the other shows on during that time slot. When you do not have cable or satellite, only freely broadcast television access, your options are limited. Since then local over the air broadcast has stopped showing anime/cartoons entirely (with the exception of Saturday morning). Yugioh abridged is, in my opinion, superior to the actual show. This isn't true about the other abridged series I watched. Teen Titans and Lupin the 3rd actual episodes were funnier than their abridged versions.

Abridged series though are very good at pointing out incongruities and plot holes. They also point out/ridicule stupid actions made by the characters. They do point out things that while watching the originals had you wondering why did they do that or what was the point of that. I considered making my own abridged series, but then remembered that I am lazy and it is too much work.

Most of the series have more than one abridged version but these were the better ones for the series that I had watched:

Yugioh Abridged: http://www.yugiohtheabridgedseries.com/
Lupin the 3rd abridged: http://www.youtube.com/RedJacketThief
Avatar abridged: http://www.youtube.com/user/GanXingba
Teen Titan abridged: http://www.youtube.com/user/Chaltab
Elfen Lied abridged: http://www.youtube.com/user/BennettTheSage
Sailormoon abridged: http://www.youtube.com/user/Megami33 also located at: http://www.sailormoonabridged.com/

Monday, September 15, 2008

keiro no hi -Respect for the aged day

The third Monday in September is a national holiday celebrating the elderly. This holiday was established in 1966 and used to be celebrated on September 15. It was moved to the third Monday of September in 2003. Prior to 1966, this was still a holiday, though not officially, Toshiyori no Hi (Old folks day) since 1951. It supposedly was first celebrated in 1947 in Hyōgo Prefecture and later spread.

This is a relatively new holiday and has very little specific customs. The point of the day is to celebrate people living a long time. Things done on this day includes: praying for elderly peoples health, calling/visiting an elderly person, talking about and thinking about welfare issues confronting the elderly.

In Tokyo, elementary school students make handicrafts for the elderly and make trips to nursing homes. The government has a ceremony and sponsors events, like visiting centenarians and giving them a gift. The Japanese are a long living race and there are a lot of centenarians, 36,276 people are over 100 in Japan this year according to Japans Health and Welfare Ministry. 86% of them are female.

As time passes this holiday will become increasingly more important. The reason for this is according to U.N. projections, Japan's centenarian population is expected to reach nearly 1 million by 2050.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Weird, True & Freaky

Weird, True & Freaky is a television show on Animal Planet. I recently watched two episodes of it. Personally I don't find the show to be very interesting. The first episode I watched showed animal birth defects, mutations and biological animal oddities. If you like seeing weird things you'd probably like this show. I didn't really like it since I do not really like seeing animal oddities put on display. The show would have been more interesting had it been more about the science as to why and less on how the animals look. Of course seeing these (which I have seen before) makes it easy to see where myths on cyclops (they showed a cyclops pig) and creatures like the Hydra (snakes with more than one head) came from.

The second episode was more interesting than the first one I saw. In it they showed people eating various animals usually not thought of as food (at least in the targeted audiences point of view). I already knew people eat weird things. This is also a matter of personal opinion and social mores. The show, showed people eating things like rats, insects, scorpions, snakes, etc. Really not that weird. Many things that can be found in the USA are just as weird. There is even a club, Explorers club, that meets annually and eats weird foods, like roaches. I had read a short story about a more diabolical version of them before with them eating a phoenix but no longer can remember who wrote that.

Many things that people eat; other people would consider weird or disgusting. Japanese Shashimi -raw fish, the Koreans eat live still living octopus (which is not common in Japan - they eat it raw but kill it first), Insects in chocolate or hard candy can be found in some stores here in the USA, the French eat snails, English eat blood pudding, and the Scottish eat haggis all of which many people in the USA would consider weird/disgusting foods.

Some of the things seen in the Ranma manga would have been able to have been put on this show. One such example is mamushi-zake (snake in drink). Ranma's clone in the mirror arc has this. Mamushi-zake is an old folk remedy made by soaking a mamushi (snake) in sake or other alcoholic beverage for about a year. The snake can be used three times traditionally. It is said that this drink increases male sexual stamina. There are other foods seen that maybe considered weird but that is all a matter of opinion -like Takoyaki which is balls of fried or baked, diced or whole baby octopus. Which Ranma and Genma fight over in the story arc in which Akane's body is taken over by a vengeance doll.

Friday, September 5, 2008


A kamidana is a small Shinto shrine in peoples houses. It literally means kami shelf. Made of plain cypress wood with talismans from local shrines. They are placed high on a wall and resemble a miniature shrine. Offerings to the kami are placed in front of it. Common offerings are rice, salt, and water special occasions sake or food are sometimes placed there. Usually the kamidana enshrines the local kami and perhaps a kami connected to the family in some way. Before worshiping at the Kamidana, it is ritually important to cleanse your hands.

Traditional Japanese Dojos in Japan have kamidana. They are usually located on the North wall if can't be put there then should be on the West wall (so Kamidana's doors open to the South or East). It is very bad luck to put it on the south wall. When entering a dojo it is customary to bow toward the kamidana.

In the Ranma manga and anime the kamidana can be seen in the dojo frequently. It can be seen in the picture above. The kamidana falling down is considered an ill omen. This can be seen in the Ranma manga as well, when Happosai manages to get free from his entrapment in the cave the kamidana falls down.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


In Japan, Chinese herbal medicine is called kanpô. A doctor of Chinese style medicine is called kanpô (or kampó). He prescribes herbal medicines and practices some traditional Chinese treatments like the ones listed below.

Anma - Massage treatment. It eases muscle aches, stimulates blood circulation, soothes nervous tension, etc., thus giving relief from fatigue and minor pains.

Shiatsu - Is finger pressure therapy. Using the fingers, especially the thumb, at specific points of the body called tsuba (acupuncture points) to stimulate the circulatory system and nervous system to work better.

Kyu - Moxibustion
A medical treatment in which cones of moxa are placed on acupuncture points and ignited. Moxa is made from the hairs that grow under the leaves of mugwort. This treatment is believed to help cure illness by restoring a proper balance of ki and is very similar to acupuncture.

Hari- acupuncture
Inserting needles into the body to aid the proper balance of ki to ensure good health. Came from China to Japan in the 6th century. They use extremely fine needles several centimeters long. They insert them into the skin and underlying tissues along specific meridians to reach certain points called tsubo connected to the pain. The needles are so fine that they are rarely even felt by the patients. Require a license to practice.

In the Ranma manga Dr Tofu is a kanpó. Many of the traditional Chinese healing techniques mentioned above are seen in the Ranma manga though usually not for healing purposes. Ranma uses massage on Akane when she is angry, offered Nabiki one to repay destroyed ticket, and on the Ashura to relieve her back pain. Happosai used a moxibustion to take away Ranma's strength. Cologne used shiatsu to make Ranma more susceptible to heat, Shampoo used a shiatsu to control Akane, Ranma hit a tsubo point in Ryoga to knock him out, etc.