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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropNow that Inktober's over, I'm slotting in some stuff that's been piling up—today's piece, frex, has been done for awhile, merely waiting on me to photograph it (& make the accompanying page), which, since the owner was visiting last night, I finally got up off my ass and did. Yay for (ending) procrastination, I guess?

To go along this theme of tidying up (& yesterday's Japanese theme;) here are some Japanese themed linkies:

This necklace is itself a form of tidying up, since it's a restring. Enjoy.


cropSo I was re-watching My Happy Marriage, (currently on Netflix) which is basically Cinderella with a touch of Beauty & the Beast thrown in. (Or, if you want to get specific, it's King Cophetua and the Beggar-maid, but that's not a story with which most folks are now familiar;) Set during Japan's Taisho period, a man is forced by his family to marry in hopes that his bride will pass along a hoped-for talent to their children; when their daughter doesn't, and Mom dies young, the man, (now presumably head of family & in charge of his destiny) marries the woman he's fancied all along, and the daughter of that union does in fact manifest talent.

So the older cinderella daughter, Miyo, is relegated to servant status, abused especially by her step mother and step sister, until she reaches marriageable age, at which point she's callously passed off to a man whom her family believes will throw her out, or worse. If this sort of thing is your jam, you'll probably enjoy the series (if it isn't, Miyo's extreme, but understandable, passivity will likely drive you nuts) but that's not the bit I want to focus on.

No, I have a textile nit.

One of the eps features kumihimo, and this blog's devoted 3 readers know I'm always very happy to see kumi in fiction, my favourite example, of course, being the splendid Your Name; but as it's a core part of that story, the animators were careful to get it right. Far more typical is that, along with the pleasure in seeing a favourite craft is frustration at the inaccuracies at seeing it depicted incorrectly.

So it was in episode 4, “The Gift”, in My Happy Marriage. Why? Because the heroine uses a (handheld) braiding disk to make her cord, aaaaaaaaaaannnnnd

there were no braiding disks during the Taisho period!

If you want the reasoning behind this assertion, I've put a detailed explanation on another page, but the short answer is that foam braiding disks (or plates, as they're sometimes called) weren't invented until nearly a century after the story is set.

In a sense, this is a real accolade for the disk's inventor, Makiko Tada, who envisioned it as a device to make kumihimo accessible to everyone as opposed to an ancient craft slowly dying out: it's become so successful that it's ubiquitous, and people (including the writers of the manga and anime of My Happy/Blissful Marriage) have no idea how recent its invention is, and thus, how anachronistic it is to depict one in a story set in 1912–1926.

This is another of those, ‘But who cares about an obscure $discipline or its history?’ (Especially in this case, when equivalent story beats could've been achieved in a historically correct way.) I mean, I could've obsessed over how the series promotes the shufu culture of “good wives and wise mothers”, which originated in the Meiji era and is basically the Japanese equivalent of the Victorian ideal of “separate spheres” in which the woman keeps a clean, beautiful serene home, an oasis for the stronger man coming home after the hurly-burly of public, let alone political, life, for which women were thought too delicate.

I could've angsted over the differences between the protagonists: the male lead is nearly a decade older, a powerful practitioner of his discipline, and very wealthy; whereas the female lead is only 19, has almost no training in anything besides cooking and cleaning, and possesses only the rags on her back and a broken comb.

But I don't.

The Taisho period was a time of great change in Japan, in which the upper echelons (to which all the important male characters in this story belong) were, on the one hand, adopting western dress and customs (such as owning and driving automobiles) while on the other promoting a militaristic and colonialist goals of that era, again in line with competing with western powers who looked down on their Asian neighbor. As in the west, upper class women's power actually become more constrained during this time, as they were expected to stay home and out of the public sphere. (Just walking in public, especially unaccompanied by a husband or other man, was a big deal in the late 1800s—as opposed to, say, the Middle Ages (or WWII) when women had to take over because the men were away.)

He has a life outside of their relationship. She doesn't.

I s'pose it gets a pass because the male protagonist is hugely appealing: he asks his fiancee to be honest with him, encourages her to practise social skills and set intimidating though not unreasonable goals; he also not only treats his sister with respect, even though she's divorced, but considers her a knowledgeable resource. Like Darcy in Pride & Prejudice (another personal fave, why do you ask?) he doesn't tolerate anyone mistreating his elderly housekeeper, and she in turn deeply esteems him. In other words, he sees women as people—a feminist.

It also doesn't hurt that the female protagonist is slowly gaining self-confidence and courage.

But, he's a member of a) the aristocracy and b) the military. At least in early episodes his household encourages Miyo exclusively in her shufu duties: cooking, cleaning, makeup, wearing kimono. (They're not married so she's not yet expected to pop out babies, but being a mom is pretty much baked into Japanese expectations for female protags. Unless, say, they're cyborgs, a la Ghost in the Shell.) Braiding kumi, to my eyes at least, was the most creative use of her time that Miyo has had, though by episode 7, it's implied she hopes to learn cha-do (tea ceremony) and ikebana (flower arranging) as well as the more western style skills of ballroom dancing and entertaining. She also is skilled enough in sho-do —calligraphy—to write her name in kanji, but I'd say that—as in most anime (& manga) featuring idealized feminine portrayals, her real love is preparing food. —This is undoubtedly an art, just not one that especially excites me;)

We won't even get into the class issues, hmmm?

So I suppose I let the patriarchal, military-focused society in My Happy Marriage slide by for the same reason I do in the Vorkosiverse: it's background for what is essentially a love story that centers the growing kindness and respect two people are developing for each other.

So, having hand-waved that away (however ineffectually), why the angst?

Part of it, I suppose, is the love of one's passions. While realizing that no-one has the ability to live all parts of their lives at a hundred percent (let alone the 110% which those stupid capitalist-inspired “philosophies” try to extract the maximum from their beleaguered peons) and as such, recognizing that time-pressured manga-ka and animators simply haven't the resources to spend hours researching a brief depiction of a craft that, even today, most people can't—or would see the need—to do, still I do believe that everyone should have one (or a few) passions for which they do care.

In the context of kumi, it doesn't really matter all that much. Anyone interested in it can easily learn how it actually works, disk, marudai or even loop manipulated. But for some other things...it does matter. While I was struggling with this page, I read another, by my favourite computer security blogger. He's retired now, busily making things like...Japanese inspired knives. But it's clear, when he writes about his experiences, that he's in the same rarefied echelons as Bruce Schneier, who, if he isn't the very best computer security expert out there, certainly is the most famous. (Kumi's equivalent, btw, would be that self-same Makiko Tada whom I cited above;)

This guy wrote a long (& far more entertaining) post about his frustrations with reporters who refused to nail down conspiracy theorists’ slapdash and indefensible “JAQing” off about voting machines and the lies about stealing the 2020 election. Their claims were so self-evidently stupid, inconsistent and simply the-moon-is-made-of-green-cheese levels of unbelievable, whyyyyyyyy could not even the most junior journalist not take those ridiculous theories apart?

He then went onto explain all the obvious questions said journalists could've and should've asked, yet failed to do so. —I'm an artist, and what knowledge I have of computer security therefore comes from living with someone who worried about this sort of thing, both professionally and personally (as it affects our home network); some of the stuff was truly easy to understand, other bits not so much. (Certainly all of it was far more self-evidently obvious than why a Japanese braider could not possibly have used a wooden kumihimo disk a hundred years ago, nor even, in fact, why such an object [as depicted] can't even function.)

But it was one of the commenters (#6, JM) that finally brought all the strands of why this topic has obsessed me (well, besides autistic tendencies, ofc): forget all those details: just ask for hard evidence. Over and over, if someone's making wild claims, then they need to show evidence for them. Detailed evidence. Not, voting machines are rigged, but ‘how do you know they were tampered with, exactly?’ Then it's up to the liars, who won't, in fact, be able to show that the paper audits mismatch the electronic votes, or that there are unauthorized thumb-drive accesses in the kernel logs, or whatever.

(This allowed me, finally to distill my rebuttal to one sentence. With all the technical stuff elsewhere.) Meanwhile, I could wish this bit had been accurate, because the manga truly is beautifully drawn—I love all the sprays of flowers and Mucha-esque borders—and dream of a crowd-sourced day when, in fact, that such things could be fixed—while acknowledging the world is imperfect, yet worth the effort to make it ever more so.

Aaaaand, finally, here's the very imperfect disk braid that—at least in terms of length and possibly thickness and colour—might've been appropriate for Kudō Kiyoka's hair tie:)


cropHappy All Soul's Day. For those of you into it, trusting you also had an enjoyable Halloween—now that the f2’s are grown up and I don't have kids to take ’round for candy collection, I don't do much aside from enjoying other folks’ decorations, especially the ones that photograph well, and those I surely do appreciate:)

As it's been a good week since I last posted, the links have once again been piling up.

  • Black cyclist retraces this very cool historical route: I Chased the Ghosts of the Army's Forgotten Black Bicycle Troop. The illustrations are great too:)
  • Another small victory: folks preserving India's heritage cultivars of mangoes
  • Free, Open Source Map
  • Bookstores, especially independent ones, are awesome. These get my thanks for their patriotic service defending freedom of speech.
  • Cowboys and the ‘Wild West’ is deeply embedded into US mythology; but historian Steven Conn makes the case that the rural farm, as depicted in the classic American Gothic, is equally mythology as argued in this long-form New Yorker magazine article.
  • This long-form article on local, artisan flours is interesting, but I wish the whole grain folks would be a little more honest about just how difficult it is to transition from white to whole-wheat flours—I've had access to local white whole wheat flour for years through my co-op, which is bred to look and behave more closely to traditional white flour, and I've learned to incorporate it successfully into some things, especially strongly flavoured quick-risen muffins; but it's just hard for me to do traditional baking with whole wheat flours and get the resulting bread to rise properly or taste right. (To be fair, it's difficult to get the results I want even with King Arthur white flour, so poor technique is absolutely a factor.)
  • Finally—ending as I started, with history, swarm charms for directing bees have fallen out of favour as our scientific understanding of bees has improved, but they're a (heh) charming piece of history.

And here's three doodles to round out the end of my efforts towards 2023 Inktober.


cropHappy friday, folks.

Honestly, today's links start out dismaying. This stuff makes me what I used to call crazy, but I guess that catch-all term for anxious/depressed/despairing for humanity is out of vogue now. It's not that I like putting myself through stress over events for which I have little influence and no control, but I feel compelled to keep abreast of them, at least a little...perhaps to avoid being deceived, as this former Trump supporter decided he was after delving into materials to he initially read to support his beliefs, but led to undermining them completely:

  • (Via bb) a tiktokker explains why his views shifted away from Trump. This little essay is only about 5 minutes long, but if that's too much, well, the teal deer is ...he read Michelle Alexander's (splendid)[1] The New Jim Crow, i.e. how the prison industrial complex extracts felons’ labour for pennies on the dollar (seriously, prisoners are sometimes paid less than a dollar an hour. In the US.) and how this was so deeply unjust was really driven home when...well, watch the video. It's gonna be far more persuasive than some middle aged white lady on the internet.
  • Journalist Vincent Bevins has a new book out, If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution, and talks about why the many 2010s revolutions failed in an interview with Mother Jones. It was so deeply depressing I can't claim to have done much more than skim (the interview, let alone read the book!) but the teal deer seems to be that the uprisings for which we had so much hope a decade ago in the 2010s basically all got co-opted by authoritarian power-seekers, who stepped into the horizontal, anarchic power vacuums to take over and subvert the original, democratic aims of the initial protestors.
  • While depressing, it should hardly be surprising—this MIT article ends on a somewhat hopeful note for rescuing the internet, but starts out reviewing its similarly open (source), rather anarchic history (once it escaped beyond darpanet, of course...); which, as we all now know has been colonized by large, profit seeking companies (not to mention professional trolls) primarily interested in money, not the betterment early optimists hoped for.
  • Marcus Ranum, an amateur historian on Freethoughtblogs, attempted to clarify his (and our) thought processes concerning the horror that is the Israel-gov't/Hamas conflict using International Humanitarian Law...and failed as he admits in the comments. Perhaps the most telling observation is that this situation is a foreshadowing:

This year of conflict is a dry run for how the international system is going to cope with the mass migrations, crop failures, fires and floods brought by climate change. In case you haven’t been watching, the prognosis is not good. Humanity is going to need to work together, but instead we have, well, a massive chunk of the taxes I pay going to the US war machine and not so much toward social services. War, after all, is a continuation of national privilege by other means.

What acted as my ‘but does this guy know what he's talking about’ cross-check was a couple of book recces at the end, particularly Bloodlands, which I've seen praised multiple times:

To those who are interested in the conflict in the Levant, I recommend Tim Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe between Stalin and Hitler which goes into a gruesome amount of the history of how power politics and racism turned Europe into a wasteland for Jews, which led to mass migration. And, Collins and LaPierre’s O Jerusalem which is an eye-opening account of zionism and the founding of Israel. Neither book is fun reading but both are fascinating.

On a somewhat more upbeat note:

  • The gorgeous sculptural legacy the Piccirilli Brothers left us in NYC
  • Continuing with art, there's a graphic novel adaptation of Watership Down that looks pretty good! I'm hopeful, anyway—this story has already been a splendid novel, and the original animated film is equally good—a rarity in my experience.
  • On the science side, this Wired article discusses work proposing a mechanism for preferential chirality (right and left handedness, or mirror image-ness) of chemicals in the formation of life. Basically, the earth's magnetic field and the spin of electrons (which comes in two forms) interacted to cause it. The theory is still being tested, but provides a geologic reason (the earth's field) that's a pretty cool explanation.
  • Google is using AI to program traffic lights better. Another wired article, in which I assumed Google was using its massive map-based databases to adjust traffic signals in realtime. (I mean, I thought this was a thing in some rich cities, but evidently it's still sf.) As it happens most lights can't be adjusted this way; they're adding or subtracting a second here or there, or in really complicated cases, co-ordinating two consecutive lights—sometimes, by sending a traffic engineer to manually adjust the light's timing. As a pedestrian I noted that their advice can fail in some circumstances because it doesn't adequately compensate for the needs of public transportation or pedestrians. But hey, it's a start.
  • Albatrosses may rely on ultra-low frequencies of waves to determine the best flight paths—heh. I too am attempting to read waves, albeit with my eyes, and couldn't help fantasizing how this perception might help sailors navigates potentially dangerous seas....

So, that's this week's collection. Or you can have a little doodle.

[1]Pair this with Isabel Wilkerson's equally fabulous The Warmth of Other Suns for a highly readable, engaging sense of the Black experience and [recent] history.


cropHeh, here we are, barely halfway through October, and I'm already losing steam, even at my half-assed level of effort, for Inktober. However, I wanted an excuse to post a link about the annular solar eclipse happening tomorrow—which I won't see, we're having clouds and heavy autumnal rains all day, as is typical in this region—cuz eclipses are cool.

Soooooo, since one of the inktober prompts is angel, and this has an angel, with ink, and the prompt list is published early I guess this means I'm just really ahead of the curve, here.


cropSince yesterday's intro was kinda heavy, here's some happier links, leading off with

[W]e could help make sure that their products are developed with safety in mind.

Again, all of society could demand that products, digital and otherwise, be developed with safety in mind—but we too often see it as an add-on, and only after a bunch of people suffer the consequences.

  • Simon Biles continues to be amazing.
  • Alas, the black manosphere is not. You would think an oppressed group would be sympathetic to the problems of a different oppressed group, but as these folks and white feminists demonstrated, not so much. Le sigh.
  • The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is, well, novel: new to our immune systems. I've encountered this thinking of it will eventually be sort of like a cold before, (in fact current cold viruses are thought sometimes to have started out as epidemics) as well as pushback to same; though in the main this makes sense to me I still have no desire to risk long covid, textbook virus or not.
  • What we're calling AI is cool, I guess—I haven't done anything with it, as it looks difficult to use (well)—but it suffers from the same problem other technologies (say, photography of dark-skinned people) that shows up our culture's baked in prejudices. (This story made me want to draw a traditional medicine African doctor treating poor white children, if only I could do respectfully...)
  • Like Scalzi, I'm not much of a pot fan, and I can only shake my head at all the dispensaries that are popping up everywhere, like fungi fruits after a lot of rain, but I'm still glad it's now legal, so that kids can't be convinced by cops to turn their parents in for smoking weed.

Well. That concludes today's link dump. No wonder I'm not getting any drawings done, I spend too much time reading crap on the internet. So here's some old inktober from two years ago.