Latest Publication: Lord Simon: The Dispossesion of Hannah

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My third novella in The Roesia Chronicles, Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah--is now available FREE on Amazon!

Here is the blurb:
Years before encountering the St. Clair family (as both a scourge and a blessing), the mysterious magician Lord Simon used his considerable (but untested) powers to save a woman under assault. As a result, he bespelled her into the walls of his house, where she remains. Trapped. Driven obsessively to free her, Simon consorts with grave robbers and physicians, politicians and priests, twisting the arms of the powerful and the profane in any profession. As his reputation blackens and his house crumbles, his obsession to save a woman long thought long dead may drive him mad. The third installment in the "Roesia" series, Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah encompasses the events in Richard: The Ethics of Affection and Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation.
Lord Simon is the first saga I have written. It starts when the titular character is twenty-three and ends--I won't tell you when . . . Suffice it to say that this was the most daunting writing task I've taken on and to date, one of the most rewarding. As his character emerged in the other two books, I knew I had to give Simon his own story, and *whew* I have!

Enormous thanks to Eugene for editing the entire trilogy, designing the covers, including the awesome one above, and setting up Lord Simon on Amazon.

Daughter of Time: Research & History, Claims 9 & 10

At this point, Chapter 8 in Daughter of Time, Grant and his researcher Brent begin to debate what actually happened when Edward IV died and Richard III took over. Was it a planned coup? Was Richard, as regent, as surprised as everyone else when Edward IV's sons, including the next king, were declared illegitimate? 

I am not qualified to debate these points. It would entail far more research--likely at the British Museum, like Brent, if anyone wants to pay my way--than I have time for. In any case, my posts address Tey's claims about research. I am not totally invested in Tey being right about Richard (partly because I'm not sure that she is).

What I am qualified to discuss are Brent's claims:

Claim 9: Taught history can be wrong/ misleading.

Although this smacks of the cynicism that I deplore, Brent has a point. He uses the Boston Massacre as an example:
The total casualties were four. I was brought up on the Boston Massacre, Mr. Grant. My twenty-eight inch chest used to swell at the very memory of it. My good red spinach-laden blood used to seethe at the thought of helpless civilians mowed down by the fire of British troops. You can't imagine what a shock it was to find that all it added up to in actual fact was a brawl that wouldn't get more than local reporting in a clash between police and strikers in any American lock-out . . . That's partly why I like to research so much.
Brent is being a trifle dismissive. The point of the Boston Massacre is that it offered a great rallying point for disenchanted colonists. What I've always found far more fascinating than the numbers is that the soldiers involved were defended, in part, by colonial lawyers! John Adams and Josiah Quincy II helped acquit 6 out of the 8 British soldiers. That degree of objectivity (John Adams was already a declared Patriot) impresses me no end.

The important aspect of Brent's self-revelation re: the Boston Massacre is that it leads him to Claim 10: Truth isn't in accounts but in account books.
 "A neat phrase," Grant said, complimentary. "Does it mean anything?"
 "It means everything. The real history is written in forms not meant as history. In Wardrobe accounts, in Privy Purse expenses, in personal letters, in estate books. If someone, say, insists that Lady Whoosit never had a child, and you find in the account book the entry: 'For the son born to my lady on Michaelmas eve: five yards of blue ribbon, fourpence halfpenny' it's a reasonably fair deduction that my lady had a son on Michaelmas eve."
Brent is discussing primary research. He makes a mistake (common to students) in that he assumes that primary research doesn't lie; on my semester research test, I ask, "Is a primary source automatically more credible than a secondary source?" Over half my students get the question wrong by answering, "Yes." But a drunk as eyewitness is far less credible than the CSU investigators who came in after the fact.

Richard Evans
HOWEVER, Brent has hit on the fundamental reality of all good research: if you want to know the truth, you have to check the sources. In the David Irving libel trial (libel suit brought by Irving), the vastly irritated Richard Evans was able to damningly show that Irving consistently misused original source material in defense of German Nazism. Evans was able to do this because he is an expert in these same materials, because he read all of Irving's works, because he could show that Irving spoke and read German exceedingly well (it wasn't a "mistake" that Irving misused the material) but mostly because Evans and his grad students actually checked Irving's footnotes, something that other reviewers of Irving had often failed to do.

Judith Rich Harris
The fact is, scholars usually fail to check footnotes since it is incredibly time-consuming. Those who do are rarely thanked for the effort. In No Two Alike, Judith Rich Harris writes about how an amateur historian challenged popular sociologist Sulloway on his theories about birth order (oldest children support the status quo; youngest children are rebels, etc.). Sulloway was completely offended that an amateur would point out the flaws in his arguments (a detailed description of the controversy, including Sulloway's petulant reaction to being challenged, can be found here: "Science, Sulloway and Birth Order: An Ordeal and an Assessment.")  But all the amateur historian did was actually check Sulloway's research. Sulloway made the elementary mistake of reasoning backwards: since I've decided that all oldest children support the status quo and all youngest children are rebels, this figure from history must have been . . . One of my students writing on birth order made the same mistake and got a number of basic facts about the birth order of major historical figures, including Hitler, wrong.

The fact is, birth order theorizing, while not quite as bad as astrology, is not all that dependable since so many things affect how children behave (a youngest child who has an early growth spurt will often assume a leadership role on the playground, which will ultimately have greater effect on the child than the home environment, etc.). As Judith Rich Harris states, " Getting research mentioned in a newspaper or magazine article is far more difficult than getting it accepted by a journal. I'll bet you've never seen a newspaper article with the headline STUDY FINDS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FIRSTBORNS AND LATERBORNS. And yet there have no doubt been thousands of such studies."

In other words, sometimes following things back to their original source will prove nothing. As Brain Games points out, we are conditioned to make comparisons and find differences even when there are none.

Which is why both Brent and Grant are very brave to take on primary research. It is a daunting task! 

Talking About Politics: The 6 Reasons It Stinks

Over the years, I've started to listen not only to what people say but to how they say it. I've consequently come to the conclusion that most political talk sounds the same (with occasional exceptions).

Political talk--specifically the political talk associated with what I call "crisis media" ("The sky is falling! You must vote for or against this policy, person, law, etc. immediately!")--has six traits:

1. It employs "us" versus "them" terminology.

2. It employs "us" versus "them" terminology at a remove.

Consequently, THEY are always intolerant while WE are not. This trait explains why the liberals in my master's program could say, with no irony, "I'm so glad we are more tolerant than those people." "Us" versus "them" at a remove is the same reason why a discussion about humility so often devolves into a discussion of how other (hypocritical) people should be more humble--certainly not me!

3. It employs labels (and the labels are pointless).

Saying, "Those people are power-hungry" or "those people are greedy" is meaningless. Nobody alive is actually greedy; rather, people behave in greedy ways for a variety of reasons.

Take Charles Dickens: one literary theory is that Dickens wrote the character Scrooge to mirror himself. Dickens was obsessed with money and ultimately worked himself to death. Saying, "He was greedy" is far less revealing than realizing that Dickens was haunted his entire life by the memory of his father in debtor's prison.

Likewise, in the great movie A Woman's World, the Fred MacMurray character is working himself to death (ulcers, heart palpitations) much to the dismay of his wife, excellently played by Lauren Bacall, because unlike the other candidates for CEO, he made his way to the top from the factory floor, not through a college degree. He is driven to never looked back, never give up, never stop.

Both far, far, far more interesting explanations than any amount of labeling.

4. Politicized talk is myopic. 

The tunnel-vision of politicized talk has nothing to do with how much a person reads on the web or, for that matter, how many pundits the person listens to since the how of the talk is about personal investment, not balance: THIS LAW, THIS PARTY, THIS EVENT MATTERS NOW. IT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING!

Climbing on bandwagons is usually the result of this type of thinking. Writing about the Supreme Court's decision in 1989 on burning American flags, P.J. O'Rourke remarks in All the Trouble in the World, "I don't remember what my opinion was at the time but I remember that I had a strong one."

Time changes so much!

5. Unfortunately, those who indulge in politicized talk often also indulge in the "Chicken Little" syndrome. 

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

What is bizarre about this to me is how seldom anyone remembers their own history. I was told that the sky was falling when I was growing up in the 80's at the end of the Cold War. The Day After came out on television in 1983 and Red Dawn (remember: Russians invade Colorado) came out in theaters in 1984; nuclear power was being protested all over the place, and many of my friends believed (or claimed to believe) that the Soviet Union could blow us up at any minute ("I'm going to sleep with my boyfriend before we all die!").

Bunkers and food storage were also big.

Of course, at the end of Henny Penny (variation on
Chicken Little), the wolf eats the folks on
Henny Penny's bandwagon, so the end did come.
Hmmm, self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?
Since my parents were the kind of people who would have expected me to go to school and get good grades even IF bombs were falling ("Yes, I see the mushroom cloud, honey. So how did you do on your algebra test?") and since I was blessed even as a teenage with a skeptical (not, I like to think, cynical) mindset that acts in accordance with Newton's Laws of Motions ("But I don't see any Russians and I'd much rather continue to spend my time thinking about something else."), I never bothered to climb onto the "we're about to be bombed" bandwagon.

Turns out, the Soviets' nuclear weapons were in such bad shape that they would have blown themselves up first.

That's just my own history. A few years ago, one of my students asked me, "Do you think North Korea [which was making belligerent noises] is going to start a war?"

"No," I said and mentioned the Cold War. I then mentioned the Cuban Missile Crisis and Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table at the U.N.  I wasn't alive during the latter two; still, I read history, and--

"All this sound and fury has happened before," I said.

The student was disappointed and assured me that WWIII was going to occur at any moment (I still went home and corrected papers that night; a cataclysmic event has yet to save me from having to take a test, attend an interview, go to work, or finish my grades.)

The student's disappointment leads to #6.

6. Politicized talk demands that others get upset and offended. 

Note: Acting upset is more important in politicized talk than doing anything. After all, one can do something without acting upset. But politicized talk always demands an audience.

I've mentioned in other posts that one thing that has kept my integrity intact over the years is that I read what I want, not what I'm supposed to read and/or value. I think there is a relationship here to ignoring politicized talk. In high school, I had friends who read teen paperbacks ("Will Caroline marry Dan?") and friends who read "heavier" stuff. Reading the "heavier" stuff was supposedly more enlightening, fulfilling, and insightful. But there was no notable difference between the behavior of the two groups. And I never could fathom why reading something that I found rather dull was supposed to lend me instant prestige or intellectual stature.

Along the same lines, if I'd wanted to join the "thoughtful teenagers who show awareness of contemporary issues!" brigand, getting worked up about an impending nuclear war would have been the way to go. But teenagers, even supposedly aware ones, aren't that thoughtful, having a tendency to reduce complex issues and motivations to "if only somebody would simply do X!" scenarios (arguably necessary in some cases;  Joan of Arc never would have gotten anywhere if she hadn't been a teen!). Some adults never grow out of this tendency.

In the end, borrowing the book (hey, I wanted to find out if Caroline chose that guy or not), finding out the answer, discussing it with my friends, then tracking down the book years later through Amazon to indulge in some misty-eyed nostalgia proved more satisfying and useful to the universe than a thousand hours of hand-wringing about an "crisis" that never took place.

Good Manga Art: Three Criteria

From Mars by Fuyumi Soryo

Granted, what makes good art is somewhat subjective (though not entirely: whether or not I like Picasso may be subjective; Michelangelo's David is great art). However, I have noticed certain criteria popping up again and again in my summer manga reading, namely three:

1. Good manga art gets the proportions right WHEN REQUIRED.

A great many manga artists use political cartoon type exaggerations (Obama's big ears; Clinton's bulbous nose, for instance).  Some artists employ a fantastical look, lots of flowing lines reminiscent of Arthur Rackham. And a number give us the muscular superman look of Arnold Friburg.

You will see the type I prefer by the manga examples I post.

The important point is that whatever the style, the proportions are accurate to that style. Every now and again, while reading a manga, I find myself doing the same thing I do when I watch Golden Girls, and I start fretting about the fact that there is really no way the outside of the house matches the inside.

I've been reading manga where I've suddenly yelled, "Look, most people's fingers fall below the middle of their thighs. NOBODY'S ARMS LOOK LIKE THAT WHAT YOU'VE DRAWN! Have you never heard of the Golden Ratio!?"

2. Better than usual manga captures motion. 

This is actually terrifically difficult to do--consequently, much manga falls into two categories (1) beautiful "pauses"; (2) motion.

Those who employ motion, such as the skilled Matoh, will often produce mixed work within a single manga. Compare the three pictures to the left. The one in the middle is off. The other two are beyond excellent. (Matoh does proportional motion better than any manga artist I've encountered.)

Those who employ the pause technique can produce lovely and heartrending stuff. Fuyumi Soryo of Mars and Eternal Sabbath creates stunningly beautiful images (see opening image above.) Although the pieces are more set, they do signal a sense of immediacy: a camera still rather than an oil painting.

The difficulty of manga art is that it needs to be more like the first rather than the second, no matter what art class tells you.
"L" from Death Note

And then there's Takeshi Obata of Death Note who occupies a category all of his own.

3. The manga art conveys emotion.

This is the most important criteria.

Yana Toboso of Black Butler effortlessly captures Sebastian's uncertainty (which is NEVER vocalized in the first volumes: he is a devil after all). Sebastian's outsized confidence is captured best in the cover art below.

Soryo captures young male insouciance at its most quintessential (see above).

Obata captures "L"'s confidence yet concern (see above).

And Matoh delivers a sense of fatigue (to the right) and would even without the thought bubble!

 Like Maximus from Tangled, a  well-drawn manga character can look deadpan or excited, sad or happy, and even exasperated! 

A picture in manga doesn't convey a thousand words--it conveys a thousand states of mind.

Daughter of Time: Research & History, Claim 8

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Source 6: A book by the authority of the period, Sir Cuthbert Oliphant.

Here, Grant discusses (as mentioned previously) how Sir Thomas More "got his account of Richard [from] Richard's bitterest enemy . . . from one John Morton . . . It is on that story that Holinshed fashioned his history, and on that story that Shakespeare fashioned his character."
Henry VII, Richard's royal rival

Claim 8: A more objective source would be more transparent.

First, Grant argues that Oliphant, a fictionalized pompous historian, is biased although he isn't "consciously Lancastrian." Grant points out  that while traducing Richard as an awful monster, Oliphant is "very tolerant of Henry VII's usurpation [even though Henry VII] didn't have a vestige of a shadow of a claim to the throne."

Tey misses a historical reality here; when English nobles of the past became dissatisfied with a king, they would look anywhere for a contender. When English nobles became disgusted with John circa Magna Carta, they went to a very distant relative in France to lead their rebellion (as soon as John died and his 9-year-old son Henry succeeded, the rebels sent the distant relative home).

On the other hand, Grant does make the more than valid observation that Henry VII (and his son Henry VIII) had a chilling  (by any political standard) habit of killing off their opponents using shifty legal means. He later reads from a source that "it was the settled and considered policy of the Tudors to rid themselves of all rivals to the throne, more especially those heirs of York who remained alive on the succession of Henry VII." He marvels on "this placid acceptance of wholesale murder . . . Richard III had been credited with the elimination of two nephews and his name was a synonym for evil. But Henry VII . . . was regarded as a shrewd and far-seeing monarch."

Prince John: A knife! He's got a knife!
Eleanor: Of course he has a knife; 
he always has a knife; 
we all have knives! 
It's 1183 and we're barbarians! 
Grant has a valid point. I have read books about Richard that argued something like, "Well, we have to understand that the medieval era was a dangerous time."

Yes, yes, it was. The problem here is labeling everyone before 1500 (the Renaissance) as brutal, torturing barbarians and everyone after 1500 as enlightened and noble (i.e., "shrewd and far-seeing").

Problems also arise when people decide the opposite: everyone before 1900 was sweet and pro-nature. Everyone after 1900 is cynical and greedy.

The problem in general is assigning valued characteristics to certain eras. Certain eras certainly had certain points of view, not to mention certain attitudes, ideologies, and problems, many of which I'm glad have faded away. Certain eras are, to be fair, better than others. But deciding, for example, All women before 1920 were meek and mild and bossed around by their husbands! shows a complete lack of understanding of the human condition. Women had far fewer rights in the past (in some places, none at all), but there were bossy wives and meek wives and loving wives and hateful wives and tough wives and commonsensical wives and flighty wives just as there were domineering husbands and mild husbands and amused husbands and destructive husbands and protective husbands and
Prince Geoffrey: I know. You know I know. 
I know you know I know. 
We know Henry knows, 
and Henry knows we know it. [smiles] 
We're a knowledgeable family.
indifferent husbands and dimwitted husbands. In some ways, "historical" romance novels are more accurate than many academic essays! The world changes. Human nature doesn't so much.

Likewise, deciding that Richard is barbaric while Henry VII is wily simply because one ruled in the 1400s and one in the 1500s is kind of ridiculous. They were more like each other than either one was like us. And they were more like themselves than they would have been like each other.

After establishing that Oliphant is not completely objective in his assessments, Grant states, "I'm as completely bewildered as Sir Cuthbert Oliphant [by Richard's behavior]. The only difference between us is that I know I'm bewildered and he doesn't seem to be aware of it."

Grant is talking, in part, about transparency, the ability for a source to SHOW how it reach its conclusions. Transparency is the reason academic papers are supposed to list the author's primary and secondary research; it is the reason that shows its math; it is the reason that good pollsters show ALL their questions (see below). A transparent source will show the problems with the research, including the failure of the research to answer all questions/reach certain conclusions.

Not only should an author like Oliphant be able to think critically about his monarchs, he should be able to show that he has thought critically. In Grant's opinion, Oliphant is like the conspiracy theorist who wants to argue that a worldwide conspiracy of big business, government, and the internet controls people's thoughts, then USES the internet to prove his point.

Clip: Yes, Prime Minister discusses transparency.

Thoughts On How People Respond to the Media, Part I

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I am moving this post from 2009 (now split into two parts) into the more current list since I recently discussed it with my artist mother.

* * * 
I just finished watching My Kid Could Paint That, a documentary about Marla Olmstead that came out in 2007. This post and the next is not going to focus on Marla Olmstead's work (except to say that I really like Bottomfeeder, see right). What it will focus on is people's responses to the media.

Part 1: My Response to the Documentary

After watching the documentary, I Googled "Marla Olmstead" and came up with her official website plus a number of blogs, posts, and articles from when the documentary came out. I read through some of the comments and was reminded, all over again, why I don't usually read comments anywhere except on my blog (where the commenters are generally very pleasant and insightful whether they agree or disagree with me--thank you, wonderful commenters!). I am bemused by individuals who seem to exult in passing negative judgment on people they have never met. Passing judgment on movies: I get that. Passing judgment on books: I get that too. Passing judgment on politicians: well, that's kind of a given. Passing judgment on a family viewed for 83 minutes and out of context: naaah, I don't get that.

Yet many writers, posters, commenters have accepted the documentary as THE TRUTH--with one major exception: Doug Harvey from the LA Times.

I find this unquestioning acceptance of a media production bizarre.

Here is my response to the documentary:

As it started, I said, "Nah, the kid didn't paint those" even though, at that point in the film, the documentarian did accept the "authorship" of the paintings. At another point, I said, "Wow, she's really smart" about the hometown reporter, Elizabeth Cohen (frankly, I think she's the best reporter featured in the documentary). I twice made positive comments about the parents. I really liked the mom, who made thoughtful observations about her role as a parent. (More about the dad later.)

Half-way through the documentary, the child's "authorship" is "debunked" by 60 Minutes. I cringed; I've never been a huge fan of CBS news. I agreed that the painting the child created for the "hidden" camera (note the quotes: children are like animals; they know instinctively when an environment has changed [if you don't believe me, watch Mythbusters' animal episodes, especially Jamie trying to get a duck to quack]) was different than the others although I thought, and still think, it resembled Bottomfeeder. (Later, the parents did their own documentation of the child painting.) I accepted the child psychologist's statements on 60 Minutes but decided later that one child psychologist isn't enough to convict anyone (child psychologists are capable of saying really dumb things). I noted that the 60 Minutes piece wasn't balanced. I was completely unphased by the father "losing" his temper: he didn't (more on this later). Besides, what is this obsession with children having pure, untainted childhoods where the parents are so good, they are inhuman? (Has anyone ever met parents like that?)

I was highly amused by one buyer finding "meaning" in Bottomfeeder (the kid's an artist, not a philosopher), but he framed and hung the painting beautifully. I had mixed feelings about the art dealer. He seemed to be distancing himself at one point, giving off a kind of "Hey, this has nothing to do with me" attitude which annoyed me since it seemed like a betrayal, and I think betraying people who have made you money is tacky. I also thought his comment about abstract art being a con because it doesn't take a lot of time to produce to be silly in the extreme. Taking a long time on a piece of art does not, ipso facto, make it good. It's like those Idol try-out singers who think they should get accepted because of how long they practiced, not because they can actually sing.

But I reminded myself that interviews in documentaries are often out of context (we don't always hear the questions asked by the interviewer). In any case, the art dealer is very good at his job as when he persuaded buyers to purchase the "proven" (documented) art piece rather than an art piece (by the same child) that they liked better. I think the purchasers did it because they were on camera which struck me as rather expensively touching: a $20,000 or so effort to demonstrate their belief in the artist!

I thought the documentarian breaking the wall between him and the audience was interesting, but I thought he failed to ask the right questions, namely, what does his obsession that he must "catch" the child producing great art say not only about how news is made but about fandom? (Elizabeth Cohen, local reporter, made some insightful comments here.) I also thought he was remiss to bring up the question of "fraud" without interviewing (1) other child psychologists; (2) a variety of art critics. In other words, he seemed to be caught between an objective look at the child's work and a subjective examination of the child and her family. He started both threads; he didn't finish both.

To continue: I had no trouble at all believing that the child painted differently when the camera crews were around from when they weren't. I had no trouble believing (I thought it was self-evident) that the father's anxiety to show what his daughter could do sans camera led him to push the whole painting thing on camera (at which point, like a normal 4 to18-year-old, the kid balked and went, "Do it yourself, Dad!" or  refused to cooperate). I thought one of the saddest parts of the documentary was when the child invited her father to paint with her, and he self-consciously declined: I didn't see it as proof that he had helped her in the past but as evidence of how much the accusation that he was helping her had boxed him into a particular role: spectator rather than participant.

I read absolutely nothing into any of the daughter's comments one way or the other. I have nieces and nephews. Kids are the kings and queens of non sequiturs. I personally am opposed to the use of child "witnesses" in legal situations--children can be coached to say anything and will change behavior based on outside expectations, including the expectations of a documentarian. (At seven, I would read slowly or quickly depending on what I thought my teachers wanted from me: proof that I was a good student or proof that I had trouble reading.) P.S. Cynics, don't read too much into this (see comments below).

I was impressed by the parents as parents. I was also intrigued by their decision to video their child painting (clips are shown on the documentary and on the website). It intrigued me because it underlined the parents' basic "naivety" (as the father put it); if we just SHOW the world what we see everyday . . . It also intrigued me because it backfired (to a degree). As an insightful commenter to one of Harvey's articles pointed out, the believers were actually disappointed by evidence that the painting process is mundane, not magical. (The child didn't go into a trance and sing "Kumbaya.")

I, however, found the parents' personal movie better than magical. The clips, though brief, showed that the child did behave differently when only her family was present. They also showed that she looked over the painting as she worked: where to place a yellow blob, where to add another batch of color. Forget prodigy, people! Doesn't anyone appreciate how amazing a talent/eye that is? The only abstract art I ever painted (in high school) was a drab mess--and at the time, I could produce fairly good representational drawings.

More differences: in one scene where outside cameras were present, the child squeezed out several tubes of color and mushed the paint together. "She doesn't do that when no one is here," the father said, exasperated, and he was right, she didn't. Later, when she was more used to the documentarian, she painted a rather ordinary picture in his presence. As she painted, she carefully selected which tubes she would use, varied her colors, and filled her canvas.

And yet all the documentarian saw was "She didn't produce a work of genius in front of me!" Here we have a four-year-old who sees color, actively chooses which colors to use plus fills her canvas, and all this guy sees is that he wasn't witness to some cataclysmic event? Talk about only seeing what one expects!

Am I open to the possibility that Marla did it all herself (except prime the canvases)? Actually, yes, more than I was before I watched the documentary.

Do I like the paintings? Absolutely. I was a tad surprised since I'm not a big fan of child prodigy singers and such, but hey, art is art is art.

Would the paintings have received as much attention and money if they weren't marketed as painted by a child? I have no idea. I mostly ignored all the stuff on the documentary about abstract art except for Michael Kimmelman's very interesting remarks; I happen to like (some) abstract art, and I don't believe that representational art is intrinsically worth more simply because it is representational.

Should art pieces, in general, be sold for as much as they are? Why not? If the market will bear it . . . (Take stamps. Or Hummel dolls. Those make a lot less sense to me than abstract art.)

Which brings us to the whole issue of capitalism and the free market and the point of these two posts--in a capitalistic society with a free market and free press, it is the job of the consumer to decide what something is worth; similarly, it is the job of the viewer to critically respond to information.

See Part II

Thoughts On How People Respond to the Media, Part II

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In Part I, I discussed my reaction to the documentary My Kid Could Paint That. In Part II, I respond to the sadly uncritical reaction of many commentators and commenters.

The Failure of Many Commentators and Commenters to Think Critically

I went into my viewing experience with opinions; I came out of my viewing experience with altered opinions. And I did some research after the fact. Which is all to say, I find it irritating how many commentators and commenters accepted whatever was placed in front of them without reflection or debate: the beginning of the film says she is a true artist: How sweet! The middle of film is all about the 60 Minutes documentary: Evil parents, bad dad! The end of the film expresses the documentarian's doubts: Frauds! Put them in jail!

A specific example: a lot of commentators (and the father!) accept 60 Minutes description of the dad's urging (in the "hidden" camera part) as "harsh" even though 60 Minutes played the dad's statement, and it didn't sound harsh at all. It sounded exasperated. It was the equivalent of a dad saying, "Stop putting Fruit Loops in your brother's ears!" Actually, it was the equivalent of a dad saying, "You sing for me and mom all the time. Why won't you sing for grandma?!" And yet 60 Minutes said it was harsh, ergo, it was harsh. 60 Minutes created an image of "stage" parents: Ooh, I hate those kinds of parents, let's make nasty comments about them on someone's blog.

Another example: her paintings now are less sophisticated. Why? Because 60 Minutes and the documentarian say/imply so. And maybe they are less sophisticated, but lots of people accepted the Vermeer fakes because they were told they were Vermeers. Gullibility works both ways: people tend to see what they want to see, and a thoughtful person questions his or her own sight, not just other people's. I ran across several comments that went something like, "I'm an artist, and all you people who say you are artists and say she is good—or did this herself—must be bad artists!"


"I'm an artist" may be a valid statement. "Those paintings aren't good" is a debatable but still valid statement. "All you people who disagree with me must be bad artists" is about as huge a leap in logic as anything I've come across. The assumption is: my eye is automatically better than your eye because I say so. I may believe my eye is better than everyone else's—there are some Marla paintings I wouldn't buy—but the claim by itself doesn't make a valid argument. Again, the dearth of any actual critique (as opposed to people slinging statements around) is a huge void in the documentary.

It's as if viewers get locked into one little box, NOT because the documentarian or CBS or the family locked them there but because they won't unlocked themselves. One of the "you are all bad artists" commenters was responding to L.A. Harvey's statement that he paints all the time and sometimes he produces good paintings and sometimes he produces bad ones. I think that's an interesting statement about artistic output and the function of creativity. But instead of responding to the interesting statement, the commenter got right back on the "she's a fraud/no she isn't" bandwagon.

One little box. Even commenters who have defended the family have used the claim on the documentary that a documentary is as much a creation of "truth" as art itself. Semi-interesting idea. But why would you defend your position using a statement by the guy who created the evidence that you wish to debate?

The worst are the commenters who think they have "seen through" the parents: "The father couldn't answer a question in the last interview. So, the parents were lying! They fooled you but not me!!"

To me, this is as pointless as anyone accepting the situation or documentary at face value. It shows a complete inability to understand the complexity of human communication or to understand the issue at any other level than "Me smart. You stupid."

It reminds me of some of the more frustrating moments in my master's program, usually caused when students who felt they were lied to in high school adopted either reverential attitudes towards our professors ("Everything THEY say is true") or cynical ones ("Everybody is controlled by Disney. Nobody knows anything.")


I didn't believe or disbelieve my high school teachers. I didn't believe or disbelieve my professors in my master's program. I don't believe or disbelieve the documentarian of My Kid Could Paint That. This doesn't mean I think truth is relative. What am I suggesting instead is that viewers should not: (1) abrogate their understanding of an issue to someone else's opinion or media presentation; (2) waste their time "outsmarting" all those horrible liars out there and then preening about it (talk about narrowing one's life to a single, rather boring purpose), and (3) rely on one news source.

Here's my libertarian take: In a democracy, it's a person's job to be skeptical but not cynical. And there's no point blaming one's lack of skepticism OR need for skepticism on the government or big business or whatever it is this week. Citizens of democracy, you don't know how free you are! Think for yourselves instead of blaming other people for what you think or don't think.

And think means think--as in, don't judge people on 83 minutes of their lives. That's not thinking; that's just rude.

Final Thoughts on Marla Omstead

Okay, the big question: Do I think the dad helped his daughter produce abstract art that sold in an art gallery? Yes, but I'm not sure exactly what I mean by that. I think he may have told her when to stop (my dad has sometimes done this with my artist mother!). I think he may have presented her with a choice of colors. I think he may have urged her to continue with a certain look or style. He may even have touched up the paintings. I don't believe he actually painted them. His own art looks completely different. There's an interesting issue here about production versus eye--a person who doesn't necessarily create but can make a created thing better; there's also an interesting issue of art and community--few artists throughout history have created in isolation or without input.

Unfortunately, both 60 Minutes and the documentarian made it impossible to explore these issues. The moment they turned their subject into FRAUD/BAD DAD/MY SAD DISILLUSIONMENT, they closed the door on a whole host of way more interesting questions. I thought the father reached the point where he was terrified of saying that he did anything to help his daughter: buy the paints, prime the canvas, anything.

If he were an editor (and she was an adult), nobody would care. We accept that editors do (and should) edit their writers' works, but a painting . . . even when the overall concept and composition is completely unique to a particular individual . . . that shouldn't be touched at all! Especially, the pure unfettered freethinking of a child!!

In the end, it is a pity that the documentarian wasn't a more perceptive person willing to think in bigger terms than the rather puerile ones of controversy and scandal. 

The Failure of the Soap Opera Romance in Manga and Other Mediums

I mention in an earlier post that it helps a shōjo manga if the characters have jobs. I've decided that, at least for me, it also helps if there are actual difficulties for the romance characters to overcome.

In Library Wars, Kasahara has to give
up her memory of the perfect guy
and deal with (grouchy) Dojo as he is.
She learns to do this as they work together.
This criterion creates an instant conundrum because I despise the soap opera romance, where the difficulties explode across every page to the utter disbelief of even the most accepting of readers.

So romance ("luv") by itself shouldn't run the story but neither should the crazy events (she had his baby, then he lost his mind, then his long-lost sister with whom he has an incestuous relationship returned after which the heroine was kidnapped by a wealthy motel owner . . .)

On the OTHER hand, I find Tail of the Moon--with its constant adventures--immensely charming. In fact, most manga series rely on continual external problems for their middle books. (And some manga writers are so good at continual problems, their series' endings fall a little flat.)

So, what's the difference (and I maintain there is one) between the romance run by a good problem and the soap opera romance run by (rolling my eyes) complications?

I think the difference is a direct heir of the "characters needing jobs" motif. The soap opera romance is run by whether or not the couple will fall into bed this time and is less effective (in my eyes) than the romance which is run by how the characters get along as they tackle a specific problem.

The falling into bed may happen in the better type of romance/manga, and it may even be the point, but it will take place within a context that allows the characters to bond and grow, not simply shriek, "You never told me that your long-lost father is my uncle!" Castle rightly determined that simply keeping the relationship unconsummated by increasingly manufactured interferences was rather pointless, especially since the consummated relationship offered far more story potential.

I've said it before. I'll say it again: no one did "romance
while a story is going on" better than Mulder and Scully.
We'll have to see if they can pull it off again.
Now the unconsummated romance of Darcy and Elizabeth IS the point of Pride & Prejudice but the issue on the table is not whether or not Darcy and Elizabeth will be kept apart forever (oh no, Lady Catherine de Bourgh just burnt down the Bennetts' house!). To an extent, their union is a given. The question is HOW Darcy and Elizabeth will come to understand each other as they tackle balls and errant sisters.

Increasingly bizarre and wild complications that separate a couple are far less satisfying than increasing understanding between two characters who face a single obstacle together. Such an approach also convinces the reader that the characters will survive as a couple. All the soap opera approach does is convince one, "Man, that relationship is doomed."

Supernatural and Philosophies of Interference: Sam, Dean, and Castiel

Dean, Castiel, and Sam
Supernatural seasons all deal more or less with the same issue: will one or the other brother's sacrifice save or hurt the other?

And yet every season is distinct because the answer to that question is informed by each brother's previous experience as well as the experiences and opinions of those who know them best.

Over the past 9 seasons (I am currently waiting for 10 to come available through my library), each brother--and Castiel--have formed a personal philosophy about life and people: when to get involved, when to stay removed. The philosophy of each morphs with time yet remains true to that character's personality.

Sam, Death, and Dean (Gadreel)
Sam's merciful approach to hunting--we should find out more before we whack someone (I'm rewatching from Season 1)--is intensified into a near libertarian philosophy by season 9. His approach of non-interference/live-and-let-live is obviously helped along, to a huge extent, by, well, causing the Apocalypse, which would send anyone into his personal crawl space. His seemingly inexplicable decision to not look for Dean (between Seasons 7 and 8) is due to an unfortunately linked self-belief: Whatever I DO will make things worse.

This is not exactly libertarianism which claims, correctly, that sometimes inaction is a positive act. Sam's point of view is far more subjective; consider, for example, the heartbreaking request he makes of Death at the beginning of Season 9: if he dies, it will be permanent and "no one will get hurt" by bringing him back.

To a large degree, Castiel--who has also burnt a number of bridges in his pursuit of the right course--agrees with Sam: it's better not to get involved. Castiel, however, is run by a slightly different set of desires, which continually pull him back into the action.

Sam and Castiel (Benny in the background) in Purgatory.
Castiel loves humanity, mortality, Dean, God*, and his fellow angels. The order varies, but Dean is almost always at the top of the list. This would be maudlin except it revolves around a core truth.

Arguing with Castiel, Metatron (played by the marvelous Curtis Armstrong) proclaims:
And the angel tablet--arguably the most powerful instrument in the history of the universe--is in pieces again and for what? Oh, that's right-- to save Dean Winchester. That was your goal, right? I mean, you draped yourself in the flag of heaven, but ultimately, it was all about saving one human, right?
From a military or economic point of view (both legitimate points of view, by the way), Metratron is right--giving up everything for one man might sound noble; from the above mentioned points of view, it is rather stupid.

From the point of view of heaven, however, it is utterly perfect, even Aslan-esque, hence the undisguised wonder in Metatron's voice. He is flummoxed yet impressed, disgusted yet awed. The preservation of one man is worth everything to Castiel. The individual matters!

Dean's philosophy might be best summed up as "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Dean is a romantic pragmatist who deals with whatever is in front of him at the moment. Unlike Sam and Castiel, he doesn't dwell on possible future ramifications as much as problems in the now. Interestingly enough, as C.S. Lewis would argue, this puts Dean closer to eternity than any of the other characters; C.S. Lewis argued that since the past is gone and the future is largely imaginary, the place where real action, affection, and faith occur is in the present.

Dean is run by a constructive desire--to keep his "family" intact. Out of all Supernatural's core characters from John Winchester to Sam to Castiel to Crowley, Dean managed the best to build a functional home-life (Season 6). And he left only when pushed to extremes.

Dean's disappointment in Castiel.
Who constitutes family in Dean's eyes is based, quite frankly, on who Dean decides should qualify. Once that person qualifies, he or she is in forever (his dad, Sam, Bobby, Kevin, Charlie). So, Castiel--who qualifies--is forgiven just about everything precisely because he belongs. (He is  not excused, however; one of Dean and Castiel's best scenes occurs at the end of Season 6 when Castiel tries to explain his betrayal to a furiously hurt Dean. In Dean's eyes, a family member can mess up but that member also has to shape up.) Blood is not automatically a factor: Sam qualifies but Samuel Campbell, Sam and Dean's grandfather, doesn't.

In sum, Sam wants to lead a life that doesn't cause others harm; Castiel wants to save the individual, and Dean wants to keep his home intact, which entails sometimes siding with Sam and sometimes with Castiel (or, rather, entails non-action or action as needed). All three positions have equal merit and the tension between these positions, which develop and expand with each season, create good drama.

*See Dean--I have my own theory about the missing God and Dean's true identity; see above notes regarding Dean's philosophy.

Thoughts on Gettysburg

A tender moment in the book and movie: Armistead
reminisces about Hancock, with whom he served.
Killer Angels by Michael Shaara: I read this book recently after my brother Dan praised it. It is a remarkable book due in most part to Shaara's generosity.

Michael Shaara has his own opinions about why the Confederates lost the battle. (In the afterword, Shaara states quite clearly that Longstreet's defensive strategies were ahead of their time.) What he avoids doing in Killer Angels (thankfully) is parceling out praise and blame. Characters praise and blame each other and themselves. Yet the author's tone is remarkably free of the kind of finger-pointing found in other books on the Civil War.

I don't know if the battle of Gettysburg is unique here but evidently soldiers, politicians, and authors both after the war and now have spent a great deal of time dismantling every moment of every hour and minute of Gettysburg for the purpose of arguing that if only X had done Y, Z would have happened.

In his book on Civil War battlefields, Jeff Shaara, Michael Shaara's son, acknowledges these arguments before he gently points out, in a similar spirit of generosity to his father's, that they are largely besides the point.

The point being (I am less generous): even if the Confederates had broken the Union line (which some people argue happened), where on earth would the Confederate army--what remained of it--have gone next? Does anyone really believe that they could have made it to Washington at that point and accomplished anything of purpose? The historians who make these arguments treat the battle rather like a Red Sox game--"If only so-and-so had just caught that ball in the third inning!"--ignoring everything except remote outside possibilities that could only have occurred if certain disparate events had managed to collide. (They also tend to ignore things like, "Um, the soldiers have been fighting all day. They literally can't walk another step," and, as my brother Joe has pointed out, supply lines. These aren't chess pieces; these are people.)

Michael Shaara, on the other hand, is concerned more with what happened and what the people involved possibly thought than in discussing "if onlys."

Joshua Chamberlain: Apparently, the Gettysburg National Military Park attendants are tired of people asking only about Chamberlain (because of the book and its movie, Gettysburg). Other things did happen that day! In comparison, I feel a surge of adopted state pride: Go, Maine! (Maybe history is all a ballgame, after all.)

What impresses me about Chamberlain isn't so much the swinging fence bayonet charge (another part of the war that disgruntled historians like to debate), which is admittedly impressive, but what he did before it (the movie helped here with visualization). Hours into the day, to stretch the line, he sent one set of men from the front to the back followed by another set of men rather than sending men at the furthest end out further, so the line would stretch but never be broken.

Regarding the bayonet charge, the argument is that Chamberlain didn't suggest it first, nobody could hear Chamberlain's instructions over the noise, and many other people helped it happen. True! But Chamberlain is like Paul Revere to me--first he is mythologized, then he is demonized, then everybody realizes that the mythology was closer to the truth all along.  

Manga and Austen: Types of Romance Heroes and Heroines

Thanks to my niece Kezia for this
graphic novel.
Eugene's post about Kimi Ni Todoke got me thinking. Many manga series present a strong, silent hero (Sano from Hana-Kimi, for instance) who is wooed and falls heavily for the somewhat more extroverted heroine (Mizuki).

Ah, Darcy and Elizabeth!

So, I pondered, to what Austen couple would a comparatively extroverted (but still introverted) hero like Shota and a far more introverted heroine like Sawako equate?  

Captain Wentworth and Anne, of course!

That takes care of Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion. What about the rest?

Dr. Umeda
Northanger Abbey: an impressionable, imaginative young woman and a slightly older, slightly awkward guy who uses clever quips to get through social situations?

Usagi from Tail in the Moon and Mizuki from Hana-Kimi qualify for the heroine role while the vulnerable young man who uses quips to hide his insecurity is best captured by Yoh of High School Debut.

A number of supporting characters also use snarky quips to hide insecurity, such as Dr. Umeda (Hana-Kimi), Juta (Otomen) and, flipping genders, Asako in Library Wars.

Emma: a bossy, interfering chick and an exasperated, older hero?

High School Debut
This is difficult because NOBODY in Japanese literature compares to Emma. Emma is a woman who imagines what is best for people and then goes and tries to make it happen from behind-the-scenes without checking her facts. Most manga heroes and heroines spend far more time mulling over whether or not to even get involved.

In High School Debut, for example, the madcap heroine is more concerned about living up to what she thinks a girlfriend is supposed to be like than trying to boss other people around while in Hana-Kimi, Mizuki--who always wants to help--frets for several issues over whether or not to speak to Sano about his father.

Library Wars (Dojo scowls a lot :)
Library Wars possibly works since the heroine, Kasahara, is quite impulsive, and the hero, Dojo, gets exasperated while remaining fascinated. And Kasahara does take action. Still, she isn't a behind-the-scenes type.

Neither (switching genders) is Ran of Flower in a Storm, a cute manga (in the over-the-top, too-much-sugar sense of "cute"). Despite being too direct, Ran's unrepentant interference makes him a decent Emma while exasperated Riko makes a good Mr. Knightly.

Usagi in Tail in the Moon comes the closest although her trouble is more too-much imagination (see above) and "rushing in where angels fear to tread" than a deliberate desire to force events to a certain end. Still,  like Emma, her "rushings in" cause more problems than solutions. And patient, lecturing Hanzo does qualify for the part of Emma's hero, Mr. Knightly

Mansfield Park: a heroine who lives-in-her-head while observing others and a hero who hasn't a clue what he wants until the very, very, very end.

I failed here. Most manga heroes know what they want by the 2nd volume, even if, as Eugene states, "he's not going to broach the subject with someone he knows isn't going to broach it either. As I mentioned, this can get annoying fast."

Kira of Mars makes a great Fanny (heroine of Mansfield)--she has that core toughness--but Rei is far too aggressive to make a believable Edmund (hero). In general--I'm inappropriately speaking for all women here--a novel where the guy frets over another woman for most chapters isn't terribly romantic. But then, hey, I'm the kind of woman who thinks Eponine of Les Miserables should let Cosette have Marius and focus on someone with more backbone.

Perhaps (flipping genders) . . . Asako and Tezuka (Library Wars) . . . 

Impressive novel! Less fun romance. 

Q is for Quintessence (Including the Quixotic)

No comments:
Ellery Queen: Jim Hutton with the marvelous John Hillerman
Quattlebaum, Mary: I completely and totally and utterly forgot that I read Quattlebaum for the first A-Z list--which makes me wonder, How many more authors have I forgotten!?

Queen, Ellery: I enjoy the short stories; I enjoy the television series with Jim Hutton even more!

Quick Amanda: I started reading an Amanda Quick simply so I could expand this list! She writes romance fiction of the Georgette Heyer variety. Not quite as funny but decently delivered.

Quindlen, Anna: I tried reading Quindlen for the same reason as Quick. Unfortunately, Quindlen writes the kind of stuff that I never read. It's all about terribly-unsettling-things-happening-to-people. I do read realistic fiction, such as the marvelous The Art of Racing in the Rain and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and I've been trying to parse out what the difference is--I think it comes down to a basic idea: I expect drama to have a sense of the ridiculous.

It isn't that I expect drama to always be funny or unrelentingly sarcastic or, for that matter, chipper. I simply expect the author to indicate through tone or worldview or word choice that not everything, even the author's terribly serious worldview, is as serious as the author thinks it is, at least not in the long-run. In LOTR: The Return of the King, Tolkien has Sam reflect on the temporary nature of his and Frodo's suffering while they are still in the middle of Mordor. Sam decides, in essence, There's more to life than our quest. He doesn't think, This too shall pass; I'll look back on my trials as nothing, which would belittle what he and Frodo are going through. He thinks, rather, The universe will keep rolling no matter what, which is far more comforting.

There's more to life than my petty worries. Jesus stated, "It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows. And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented." In other words, stop trying to get people all freaked out by your oh-so-important-concerns (you, radio pundits).

Okay, I added the radio pundit part. But I expect good writers, no matter how serious in the moment, to feel this way in their heart of hearts: I have something to share, and I think it matters, and I want you to take it seriously, but if I start screeching havoc, I'm probably going to feel a little silly.

If a writer doesn't understand this, it is hard for me to take that writer, well, seriously.

Quinn, Julia is a sweet & steamy romance writer. I quite like her Bridgerton series, especially Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, which I consider one of the best sweet & steamy novels I've ever read; the main characters are writers, and the novel includes one of the best discussions of how to write descriptively that I've ever read (see below). Her later books are more chick-lit than straight romance. The difference can be subtle but it is basically the difference between a novel that focuses on the main characters--hero and heroine--and a novel that gives you lots and lots of context. Chick-lit involves way more shoes. Quinn doesn't focus on shoes, but her later books do involve a lot of plot complications. Hey, if that's what the audience wants . . .!

Altogether, this list brings me to a point that often gets ignored: books aren't reality. They are, by necessity, edited versions of circumstances: the writer decides what to leave in and what to take out. And this by itself is a skill.

If you read summaries on IMDB, for example, you can almost always tell those that were written by professionals versus amateurs. Amateurs make the same mistakes in summarizing that freshmen college students make:
This happened, then this happened, then this, oh, and then this other thing happened earlier. 
Bob goes to see Gary and he wants to know why he sold him a bad car and while he is there, there is this flashback and we learn that Gary gave Bob a bad stock tip twenty years earlier and he also remembers . . .
Here is the professional summary:
Bob has to deal with Gary, who cheated him before.
The ability to do the latter rather than the former is an ability, a skill, a talent. Deciding what to share and when, then tailoring those decisions to a specific audience, is the critical thinking behind every piece of writing.

Quinn Excerpt

Give the Romantic Character a Job: Manga Does It Right

Library Wars
Like all literature, including supposedly avant garde literature, the pleasure of reading involves two elements: (1) encountering recognizable and recurring motifs; (2) encountering unique ideas, characters, and viewpoints. C.S. Lewis said it best when he described the human race as desiring new experiences at the same time as regular ritual. Go ahead and travel--but make it home for the holidays.

Go too far in either direction (sameness v. change) and something gets lost. In general, I write in favor of ritual and the familiar. Stock characters, universal motifs: I'll indulge myself in them over and over again and never complain!

Today, however, I'm issuing a slight complaint. SOME distinctions are important, especially in romance fiction.

Case in point: a paranormal romance series (one novel for each hero's story) in which the author created a hunky guy with mad computer skills and a sly sense of humor (think Reese and Finch combined). Throughout most of the series, this character retained his hacker abilities and sarcastic edge. When it came time for his own book, he lost it all! He became the generic warrior who fights demons--no computer skills, no hint of wryness.

Sano high-jumping.
It is hard to know how much of this is the writer and how much the audience. Obviously, the writer was capable of individuating the character in the first place! On the other hand, books in series tend to accumulate a fan base who love the books no matter what the author does (there really is nothing wrong with the audience wanting the same thing again; it's just disappointing to readers who thought a little difference might enter the mix).

The problem of providing genre romantic characters with a difference can often be solved by simply giving the main characters jobs, then remembering what those jobs are. 

Giving the hero and heroine jobs also prevents the after-the-novel-ends question: "Okay, so now they are married. What on  earth will they talk about for the rest of their lives if they can no longer talk about their growing romance?"

Manga writers are especially good at remembering to ground their characters in SOMETHING, perhaps because it is harder to ignore a character's lack of personal application in a visual medium. A list of shōjo manga heroines and heroes with jobs follow:


Mizuki doesn't have a job per se (although she ends up getting interested in photography) but her character is so willing to dive into anything from working at a resort to dressing up for a ball to modeling, the lack of a specific goal is immaterial.

Sano works at the high jump (and keeping Mizuki out of trouble).

Library Wars (can't wait for #14!)

Kasahara is a soldier.

Dojo is her lieutenant.


Kira is an artist.

Rei is a motorcycle racer.

In some ways, Kira is the ultra-quiet, ultra-feminine character who "tames" wild man Rei through her gentleness (although, interestingly enough, her gentleness occasionally causes problems). Black Bird character Misao falls into this category (see below). Kira's interest in art, however, gives her a distinct edge, especially since Rei admires her ability and even agrees to model for her (he almost always falls instantly asleep--to the point where one character says, "Kira, why are all your pictures of Rei sleeping?")

Kare First Love is similar to Mars in the sense that it follows the growing relationship between two people in a realistic, modern setting: Karin (student) and Kiriya (student and photographer). Karin's job as student is taken quite seriously (see Dengeki Daisy below).

Black Bird

Misao doesn't have a career. I present her as an exception to the usual rule since she is serious about being a companion/wife to Kyo in a way one rarely sees in American YA literature. Both American and Japanese literature tackle the supposedly female role of cooking, cleaning, raising children, looking after hubby. For understandable reasons, American authors are far less comfortable with a female character who decides, yes, that is the job I want--Is that really okay? Isn't it limiting?   

Although manga series will raise these questions (and regularly decide, yes, it is too limiting), the Japanese wife/mother character who does embrace that role is applauded with equal fervor. She is also, often, a force to be reckoned with. Misao has a similar personality to Kira (see above), being quiet and self-effacing; like Kira with Rei, she will call Kyo to account loudly and directly with no loss of face.

Kyo is the leader of his clan.

Tail of the Moon

. . . which has got to be one of the silliest, most adorable manga series I've ever read.

Usagi is a wannabe ninja and skilled healer who gets into trouble at the drop of a hat.

Hanzo is a ninja who spends most of  his time worrying about Usagi.

Dengeki Daisy

Teru is a very good student who wears herself out to get stellar grades; she is supported in this by her supposedly delinquent boyfriend. See, in Japan, even the delinquents take schooling seriously! (Okay, sorry, that was a total stereotype.)

Kurosaki is a custodian/hacker/computer programmer/supposed delinquent.

Give your characters something to do--it is always more interesting than letting them sit and around and get angsty!
Teru and Kurosaki work on school grounds.

Daughter of Time: Research & History, Claims 4-7: Don't Bother Arguing with Politicians

No comments:
Robert Shaw and Paul Scofield as Henry VIII
and Sir Thomas More from the excellent
1966 version of A Man for All Seasons
Source 5: The History of King Richard III by Sir Thomas More

Grant reads the "official" version of Richard III, The History of King Richard III by Sir Thomas More. He finds it less than helpful.

Claim 4: Sir Thomas More was not an eyewitness to Richard III's rise to power and subsequent death.

This is true.

Grant's revelatory moment regarding Sir Thomas More is worth quoting (mostly) in full:
Grant had switched off his bedside light that night, and was half asleep, when a voice in his mind said, "But Thomas More was Henry the Eighth." This brought him wide awake. He flicked the light on again. What the voice had meant, of course, was not that Thomas More and Henry the Eighth were one and the same person, but that, in that business of putting personalities into pigeon-holes according to reigns, Thomas More belonged to the reign of Henry the Eighth . . . How old was More when Richard succeeded? He was five . . . Everything in that history [by Sir Thomas More] was hearsay (emphasis added).
This is the kind of revelation that political students, not historians, get freaked out by: ohmygosh, all history is a lie! Grant is a detective, so he treats the matter like a detective:
And if there was one word that a policeman loathed more than another it was hearsay. Especially when applied to history. He was so disgusted that he flung the precious book on to the floor before he remembered that it was the property of a Public Library and his only by grace and for fourteen days.
Grant's insight leads him to Claim 5: More was biased in favor of the Tudors.

Grant does not actually use the word bias--thankfully. I personally dislike the word since it smacks of deliberate, conspiratorial deceit. "Bias" can be deliberate. Most of the time, however, the author simply has an invested interest, the term I use when teaching research. Tey points out that Thomas More was Henry VIII's Chancellor. Even though Henry VIII sent More to his death (eventually), More worked for Tudors, not Yorkists.

This title demonstrates the kind of
SHOCK I find irritating. See notes below*
When I teach research, I try to push my students to be skeptical without being cynical: to realize that every source has its own agenda or purpose but to not slide too far in the "ohmygosh, all history is lie!" direction (see caption to Loewen's book). There is nothing particularly notable about realizing that there is more to a story than the small bit one currently knows ("Ohmygosh, I was lied to in high school!") or that different eras emphasize different aspects of history. There is always more to learn, and there are always more sources to uncover. That doesn't make history "relative"--it simple makes historical research complicated.

Grant's disgust at Sir Thomas More doesn't lead him to conclude that the War of the Roses never happened. He leads him rather to Claim 6: The character of the writer does not automatically make his or her opinion accurate (likewise, someone's poor character doesn't make his or her opinion wrong). 

Grant reads The History of King Richard III because he was recommended the book by people who admire More as a man who died for his principles--therefore, anything he writes must be true.  Grant reflects:
The fact that Sir Thomas was a martyr and a Great Mind did not cut any ice at all with him, Alan Grant. He, Alan Grant, had known Great Minds so uncritical that they would believe a story that would make a con man blush for shame.
Grant and his soon-to-be-hired researcher will later argue Claim 7: Someone other than Sir Thomas wrote The History. I consider this final claim regarding More's book to be a mistake on Tey's part (although she isn't the originator of it). Claims 4, 5, and 6 are enough to bring The History into doubt (it is usually considered literature, not history, in any case; Tey's point is not that it isn't literature but that it shouldn't be used as history). Trying to protect More's reputation by putting the book at  someone else's door is unnecessary.

My position: Ignore This Kind of Thing
However, Tey's first three claims here are completely valid and they count on both sides of the equation. That is, Tey uses them to demolish intellectual hoity-toityness but they can be used to demolish popularity-based or politicized history and science as well. Whenever I'm sitting in a meeting where people start throwing their pet experts at each other to support their pet political positions, Tey is whom I think of--no matter what that position is from the evils of GMOs to the evils of gays to the evils of fundamentalists to the evils of the NRA (or not) to the evils of Healthcare reform (its messy and stupid, not evil) to the evils of the Tea Party to the evils of evolution to the evils of creationism, blah blah blah blah blah.

"My expert is really smart," one political advocate yells at the other, "and everybody agrees with my expert-- even the press says so--and we can totally see it happening in these selective news reports that I got from my favorite radio or television pundit--and if don't believe me, the world will fall apart tomorrow--I'm the ultimate Chicken Little, and the sky is falling. Listen to me!!"

Ignore them all. Grant and his soon-to-be-hired researcher will start over their research of Richard III with primary evidence (more posts to follow) because Tey is right: if you aren't sure which expert to trust, then figure out where the experts are coming from, don't leap on the bandwagon of the person with the loudest voice and weepiest cause.

*Loewen's title demonstrates the kind of SHOCK I find irritating. It would be more accurate to write, "Half-truths my teachers taught me because like all people, including me, they have their own opinions." Or "inaccurate and incomplete information my teacher passed on due to lack of time." The idea that high school teachers are either deliberately teaching untruths or too stupid to teach the truth is a logical fallacy and does not prepare students for the ordinary and normal (mis)uses of information that occur in a democratic society with a free press.

Learn to discern, not to blame.