This Day in History Entry #111

March 29th, 2011 by Wordsman

Tensions ‘tween Yorks and Lancasters taut
On Palm Sunday, a battle was fought
Though Ed’s forces were few
A propitious wind blew
Henry Beaufort’s defense: all for naught

Event: Battle of Towton results in Edward IV replacing Henry VI as King of England
Year: 1461
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #47B

March 28th, 2011 by Wordsman

Not only did we have a late entry this week, there were also some contestants who seem to have not quite understood the challenge, which suggests that I did not explain it well enough.  So I’m going to give you folks a second chance at this second chance.  First, let’s review:

A. 奥の細道 B. 古今集 C. 徒然草 D. 問わず語り E. 平家物語

F. 方丈記

These are the six works from two weeks ago.  They are: A. Oku no hosomichi, the poetic travel log, B. Kokinshu, the imperial poetry anthology, C. Tsurezuregusa, the collection of random ramblings, D. Towazugatari, the autobiographical tale of the imperial concubine, E. Heike monogatari, the war epic, and F. Hojoki, the story of a man and his hut.

A. 明石覚一 B. 鴨長明 C. 紀貫之 D. 二条 E. 松尾芭蕉

F. 吉田兼好

These, then, are the six authors of the six works listed at the top.  My intent was for this to be a matching game, not for people to attempt to pull names of classical Japanese authors out of their hats.  In the case of Heike monogatari, of which more than 100 versions are known to exist, I have listed the person associated with the most well-known version.  In the case of Kokinshu–which, being a poetry collection, has many authors–I have listed the most famous of the compilers.

And just to mix things up, I will provide some hints which may not be at all helpful.

A. This name contains a character that is a homophone for the Japanese verb meaning “write.”

B. This name contains a kind of bird and the name of a river.

C. This name starts and ends with the same syllable.

D. This name can be found on a map.

E. This name contains two different kinds of plants.

F. The second half of this author’s name is a homophone for “health,” “high spirits,” and “balance.”

So go ahead and guess again, if you’re not sick of this stuff by now.  Those who correctly interpreted the puzzle the first time may feel free to make additional guesses.  All answers will be judged next week.

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The Called Part 6

March 25th, 2011 by Wordsman

Perhaps afraid that her brother might seize this opening to take the conversation off on a pointless philosophical tangent about the all-encompassing nature of the “mind,” she made a tiny concession.  “But we’ll worry about that in a bit.  Before we can work on how you say it, we need to take care of what you say.  Do you really think you’re here to read my musical résumé?”

Peter had very little idea why he was there at all, but admitting so would be showing a sign of weakness, so he fell back on the oldest weapon in the sibling warfare arsenal.  “I just read what Mom wrote.”

The girl was well on her way to becoming a great filmmaker, for it was clear she thought no better of screenwriters than she did of actors.  “There’s your problem.  Mom’s just playing the proud parent.  They don’t need to know that I won that award, or this trophy, or that I’ve been first chair since I was a freshman.  The music has to speak for itself.”

“So let it.”  Peter was new to the biz as well, but he still knew the first truth of the actor: always pretend you have something more important to do.  “Just say your name and start playing.  You don’t need me.”

“Okay, so it’s not just about the music.”  Then, because letting the talent think that they may have been right about something is often fatal, she added, “And thanks for reminding me that you got my name wrong.  This is for a jazz combo, not an orchestra.  I need to show them that I have character.  Give the genius talent a human side.”

Peter looked at his watch.  His interview wasn’t for a little while, but he didn’t want to have to dash over there because he had wasted time on this introduction.  He needed time to settle into the interview mood.  Ironically, it is this process of “getting in the mood” that causes many people to blow the interview, but Peter, like most people, did not know this.  “And Mom can’t do this because . . .?”

“You’ve already proven that Mom can’t do it by reading her script.  If I do it, it sounds unnatural, and if I get a friend, I’m trying too hard to seem cool.  Older brother is just about right.  A cousin might be better, but you’ve got to work with the tools you’re given.”

“This is the only tool I was given,” Peter said, raising the “script” unenergetically into the air.  He wondered if three barely legible sentences written on the back of a used envelope could really be called a script.

The director considered this.  She had not had time to vet the script; it had taken her most of the morning just to figure out how to get the camera to turn on.  As they say in the movie biz, and various other businesses, “You can’t get blood from a stone.”  You can, however, get blood with a stone, which is why the director must be prepared to play the role of peacemaker, especially when filming scenes on rocky seashores.

“Tell you what.  I’ll provide a sample, and then you can copy it.  But first you’ve got to do something for me.”

“And that is?”  Peter was the kind of guy who actually read the Terms and Conditions that popped up on his computer screen before clicking “I Agree.”

“Lose the suit.”

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This Day in History Entry #110

March 22nd, 2011 by Wordsman

You could not call his style withdrawn
And it does endless parodies spawn
Yes, the man’s greatest work
Was a Captain named Kirk
And his most famous line one word: “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

Event: Birth of actor William Shatner
Year: 1931
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #47

March 21st, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 奥の細道 B. 古今集 C. 徒然草 D. 問わず語り E. 平家物語

F. 方丈記

Dragon demonstrated terrific perception this week by picking up on the fact that the hut in Hojoki can be disassembled.  This was one of the key points made by the author, who preferred, in this impermanent world, to have a dwelling that he could relocate at will rather than being tied down to a house, which is nothing but a hassle.  Unfortunately, kanji cannot be so conveniently taken apart and rearranged.  The Hojoki (literally “Ten-Square-Foot Chronicle,” referring to the dimensions of the hut) is F.  It also may have been a poor decision to ignore the last character in B, because it means “collection,” which might have pointed her to the Kokinshu, the first imperial poetry anthology.

A Fan gave an impressive display of erudition, referencing many works I have never read and at least one I have never heard of.  He even made a joke . . . I think.  So let’s see how many matched up.  A: no, B: no, C: no, D: no, E: no, F: also no.  And thus we see why the field of comparative literature is a tricky proposition.  Hmm . . . maybe my theory that knowledge of the concept of literature in general will help is not supported by the results.  Shirley certainly seemed to think so, but she decided to take her usual shots regardless.  Sadly, her familiar Japanese author is Endo Shusaku, who wrote in the 20th century, and these works are all from the pre-modern era, so he can’t help her out much here.  Her investigations were mainly in the realm of poetry, though her decision at the last minute to label the Heike Monogatari, the epic war tale, as non-poetry is an interesting one.  You probably can’t really call it poetry, but, like the works of Homer referenced by A Fan, it derives from a recited, performed tradition rather than a strictly textual one (at least, the version we are most familiar with today does).  It is found not at C but at E.  C is Tsurezuregusa, part of a genre known as zuihitsu, literally “following the brush,” referring to just writing whatever comes to mind.  In addition to opinions on style, our friend the monk chooses to share with us his feelings on romance (they’re not very consistent), and even medical tips.

As for the other two, A is the Narrow Road of the Far North, in which a haiku master travels through northeastern Japan to visit famous historical places (and also to do a fair amount of self-aggrandizing, but he doesn’t write about that much in the book).  D is Towazugatari, literally “the tale that no asked asked about,” which tells of the difficulties of being a woman in the imperial court.

And one last comforting note for Shirley: this time around, knowledge of Japanese didn’t help either.  The first character in E, which looks like a character that means “half,” in fact means “flat,” though in this case, as it’s part of a family name, the meaning was unlikely to help much.

This is the first time in a while that no one was able to get a correct answer, so I feel it’s only fair to give you guys another shot at these.  For Round 2, see if you can identify the authors of these six works.  In the case of the poetry anthology, I’ve listed the most famous of the compilers, and for the epic, I’ve listed the man associated with the most famous version (over 100 are known to exist).

A. 明石覚一 B. 鴨長明 C. 紀貫之 D. 二条 E. 松尾芭蕉

F. 吉田兼好

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The Called Part 5

March 18th, 2011 by Wordsman

A new character appeared on screen, her back facing the lens.  From that angle all that could be seen was a tremendous mass of curly red hair, hair so extensive it had not only its own personality but its own culture as well.  It resisted attempts to tame it like a cat resists being put in bath water.  It had been so long since this hair had felt the touch of scissors that it had forgotten what they were.

Other than that, this low-budget film’s leading lady was much shorter than her co-star, and while her clothes were more casual, her attitude was not.

She unsympathetically examined her brother.  Peter stared defiantly back.  You could see that already the healthy bond of mistrust that characterizes any great actor-director relationship was forming.  If the girl had been a more experienced director, she might have known that she would get much more natural speech out of the talent in this pose than when she stood him up like a condemned man in front of a firing squad.  Sadly, though the camera had been left on, it was out of negligence rather than as a cleverly candid approach to filming.

“First issue: wardrobe.  Who told you to wear a suit?”

As a man who hoped one day to be the one doing the asking, he took pride in his ability to hold his own under harsh questioning.  “A man doesn’t need to be told to wear a suit.”

“Translation: Mom said you should put it on.”

Peter skillfully dodged the question a second time.  “I have my interview this afternoon.  That’s why I’m wearing it.  Besides, suits look cool.”

Though she was facing away from the camera, you could still somehow feel the director roll her eyes.  “Suits look cool on some people, in some situations.  For example, they never look cool when the person wearing them is the son of the person they originally belonged to.  And since, unlike you, I’m not applying to be a bank manager—”

“I’d correct you, but . . . why?”

“—we’re going to go for a different look.  Lose the tie, lose the jacket.”  Peter did not make the demanded adjustments, though his facial expression left open the possibility that they would be carried out later.  “Unfortunately, the biggest problem isn’t how you look; it’s how you sound.”

“You do realize that people train for years in order to be able to sound normal on film, right?”

“Hmm.  If only there were someone in this house who had been practicing to be a public speaker since he was in elementary school.  Oh wait it’s you.”

“This is different.”

The girl shook her head, a dangerous maneuver.  The camera, fearsome though it was, narrowly avoided being struck down to the ground.  “Only different in your mind.”  The young director had already learned the first truth of her profession: actors know nothing.

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This Day in History Entry #109

March 15th, 2011 by Wordsman

Nick the Second, when he had to flee
Did the man think to blame history?
Did his thoughts go back far
To the very first “czar”
Who on that day went down tragically?

Events: Nicholas II abdicates the Russian throne; Julius Caesar killed
Years: 1917; 44 BC
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #46

March 14th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 風邪 B. 結核 C. 天然痘 D. 破傷風 E. 水疱瘡 F. 流感

Life has a funny sense of humor sometimes.  Last weekend I created a challenge about diseases.  Based on this, the universe decided that I am extremely interested in diseases and would like to learn more about them, preferably by experiencing them firsthand.  So, this week, when I am responding to a challenge about diseases, I have caught a kaze, one of the six sicknesses featured.

Dragon started off by assuming that kanji are nothing more than a funny way of writing the Latin alphabet.  To be fair, for someone who has no actual knowledge of kanji, this is probably as good a strategy as any.  Unfortunately, she didn’t read it quite right.  That last “letter” there may look like a B, but in fact it is a dented D, representing the fact that people are not in tip-top shape when they are sick.  Then, moving to the left, you can clearly see a large, somewhat angular letter C that has been rotated clockwise, and inside it is the letter O with an L running through it.  So you see that A is obviously a COLD, which is my current predicament.

Shirley engaged in a comparison study, with sadly predictable results (based on the general helpfulness of kanji in KYPC).  F may look somewhat out of the ordinary, but it is the all-too-common influenza virus.  And while A and D share a character, they have little in common, other than both being illnesses.  A, as already mentioned, is the common cold, and D is tetanus.

Theoman started off by assuming that a disease that can be caused by more than 200 different types of viruses can be accurately labeled as “simple.”  But he got it right anyway, coming up with the only successful diagnosis of the week, proving true the age-old trope of medical TV shows, in which first you have to make a mistake in order to eventually get things right.  His second guess, however, was off the mark.  We’ll assume that he meant to write “D” rather than “C” because of his reference to matching characters, though it doesn’t really matter, as neither one is the flu.  C and E are our two poxes, small and chicken, respectively, who have decided most unhelpfully to not look anything like each other.  And B is TB, so it’s a shame that A Fan chose not to ring in this time.

Now, I know some of you might think this challenge is unfair, given that one regular participant knows some Japanese and the rest do not.  So I’ve decided to even the odds a bit this week.  I also believe that those regular participants who do not know Japanese consider themselves fairly knowledgeable about literature.  Thus, this week’s challenge is about Japanese literature, and that way everyone will be familiar with half of it.  Specifically, the options will all be things that I studied this quarter in school, covering primarily works of the medieval and early modern periods.

Since I’m guessing you won’t be familiar with most of the titles, I’ll give you summaries to go on instead.  One is the first imperially-commissioned poetry anthology.  One is the memoir of a hermit who decided to abandon life in the capital and live in a hut in the mountains.  One is an epic war tale depicting the rise and fall of a mighty warrior clan.  One is a series of seemingly random and often contradictory observations written down by a monk.  One is the autobiographical tale of a woman forced into service as an imperial concubine.  And one is a combination travel log and poetry collection composed by a haiku master as he journeyed through northeastern Japan (a region that is very much in our thoughts and hearts this week).  So use either your knowledge of Japanese or your knowledge of literature and pick out whichever of those you would most want to read.

A. 奥の細道 B. 古今集 C. 徒然草 D. 問わず語り E. 平家物語 F. 方丈記

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The Called Part 4

March 11th, 2011 by Wordsman

He coughed into his fist, an awkward, contrived gesture that he had never before used in a public speaking situation.  “Good morning.  Or, um, if you’re watching this in the afternoon, then good afternoon, I guess.  And if you’re watching it at night . . . no, why would you be watching it at night?”  A not-so-faint groan could be heard coming from somewhere off-camera.

The cough was repeated.  “In any case, my name is Peter Hamlin, and I am here today to introduce my sister, Louisa.  She has been playing the trumpet since she was eight years—”

“Seven,” said the off-screen voice.  The number was delivered in a tone of exceeding obviousness; it was not the “seven” that was the answer to “In what year was Publius Quinctilius Varus appointed governor of Germania?” but rather the one that follows “What comes after six?”

“Right.  Seven.”  At this point the actor became flustered—well, even more flustered—and wondered if perhaps he should have spent more time—any time—memorizing his lines.  A more expensive camera (this one had been purchased for $35 at a garage sale) might have picked up the cold front of sweat that was forming along his forehead and preparing to rain into his eyes.  But Peter Hamlin was a fighter, so he continued his valiant but ill-advised struggle against the evil red light.

“She has performed in the Laragheny County Youth Band for four years, and was recently awarded the Most Promising Musician, uh, award.”  He looked up hopefully, but the light refused to wink out, meaning his trial was not yet done.  His script, however, was.  Peter Hamlin, who had once come up with a ten-minute speech on financial deregulation off the top of his head, improvised.  “Um, her parents are Paul and Joan Hamlin . . . her grandparents are—”

If this had been a full-scale feature film production, he might have heard a “CUT!”  Instead he got, “I don’t know what to do with you.”

Peter took the opportunity to collapse on a nearby ancient couch beyond the bounds of the impromptu film studio.  Free from the camera’s terrible gaze, he could relax, at least as far as a man in a suit and tie can relax.  “Let me go?”

“Oh no.  You’re not getting away until we finish this.”

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This Day in History Entry #108

March 8th, 2011 by Wordsman

Jimmy S. was a hero, all right
For his lost cause he fought the good fight
But the rest of the time
It’s not quite so sublime
Talking all day, and on through the night

Event: U.S. Senate introduces the cloture rule, allowing filibusters to be cut off
Year: 1917
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