December 2019 news

December 2019 newsletter with links on gene editing, the Replication Crisis, computer latency, and suffering; 4 book reviews, 2 opera/movie reviews, and 2 anime reviews.
newsletter, opera
21 Nov 201907 Aug 2020 finished certainty: log importance: 0

This is the edition of the newsletter; previous, (). This is a summary of the revision-history RSS feed, overlapping with my & ; brought to you by my donors on Patreon.





  • ‘Small multiples’ show change across variables.
    , Tufte 1997 (less of a hodge-podge than Envisioning Information, Tufte walks through, as usual, graphs: how to show multiple versions of things, such as 4D data, on 2D paper? Key case studies are John Snow’s cholera maps of infections vs location vs time, the Challenger disaster’s obscuration of problems vs temperature over the course of Space Shuttle launches, stage magician diagrams of tricks, which illustrate change over time; Tufte then considers showing parallel versions which differ in some abstract dimension; then graphs which must show change in both space & time, such as sunspots or Saturn’s rings, representing Tufte’s usual concept of “small multiples”; in a final section, Tufte highlights favorite art pieces of his which are diagrammatic or symbolic in some sense akin to the foregoing chapters. As usual, a pleasure to read, and it furnished some examples for my .)
  • Surprisingly entertaining if not immediately useful. (third edition), 2004 (I decided to read this based on Rutter’s web version of it; Bringhurst is unexpectedly amusing—I wish I cared about anything as much as Bringhurst cares about typography. No comparison is too strong to condemn a typographical sin: editing fonts, for example makes it “easy for a designer or compositor with no regard for letters to squish them into cattle trains and ship them to the slaughter”—with another author, one would assume the Holocaust connotations were unintentional, but with Bringhurst… Like Rutter, there is a great of material on ratios and page layout which smacks of numerology, but that can be skipped easily, and the rest of the material is useful. The book itself is, of course, nice typographically, exemplifying the use of , and although he surprisingly doesn’t cover it at length (like he does what seems like everything else), he even provides two nice examples of rubrication for my page.)
  • A deeply dishonest harbinger of the Replication Crisis. , Rosenthal 1976 (; consider also Rosenthal’s own description in “Citation Classic”)




  • Recommended samurai movies.
    2012/ 2014/ 2014 (Less a trilogy than a movie + duology sequel, this live-action adaptation of the popular , familiar to many Americans from its years as an Adult Swim staple; as Kenshin is so anime, I postponed watching it, fearing it would adapt badly and exhibit the worst tendencies of Japanese live-action movies—bombastic over-acting, sketchy SFX, fish-out-of-water J-pop singers & implausibly effeminate male leads plagiarized from Final Fantasy, that sort of thing. (One would rarely accuse Hollywood movies of being subtle and sophisticated, but in comparison to many Japanese movies…) The first movie is the weakest, with cartoonish villains and an unconvincing casting of (although to be fair, the casting of is great). But the duology is much more striking: with Shishio as a proper antagonist, the fights come to life and live-action permits a heightened sense of realism & horror which offsets the ‘animeness’ of the source material—the opening sequence of Kyoto Inferno truly dramatizes Shishio’s ideology that this world is a hell where the strong eat the weak, and scenes like that offset the threats to suspension of disbelief that the (toned down but still improbable) swordplay present. The production values are high, and scenes often elegant; the fight scenes are of high caliber as well. Worth watching for non-fans, as long as you enjoy action movies, although if you are pressed for time, you might skip the first one: you can probably infer everything you need to know from context or skimming Wikipedia.)


  • A satisfying finale—good but not great.
    : (; the final season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic; while it never regained the online buzz it had early on in 2013 or so, the series kept on trucking, and racked up 222 episodes & , in addition to the various spinoffs. It’s not quite over—instead of the expected full reboot with a new cast, Hasbro appears to launching a new series Pony Life which will keep the Mane Six but go all-comedy in a chibi style, & although details are scarce I doubt I’ll bother—but the main mane thing is over, so to speak. So how does it cap the series? It’s… fine. Like most of the later seasons, it’s good but not great. There’s a relative dearth of catchy songs, and many episodes are disconnected from a more ambitious plot. A few loose ends are tidied up which didn’t really need it (did we really need another Daring Do episode, fun as they are, instead of dealing with Applejack’s parents?) but more are left dangling. The occasional callbacks of characters like Quibble Pants or Weird Al’s Cheese Sandwich can’t hide the lack of inspiration in most episodes. The climax is fun as the villains demonstrate the power of evil friendships, but then the resolution is the same tired laser-beams deus ex machina: could the writers really not think of any way to have their evil friendship collapse naturally, thereby demonstrating its flaws compared to true friendship? That disappointment is partially offset by the including the best song of the season, and a flashforward epilogue to answer various questions while illustrating Twilight Sparkle’s character development in a huge nostalgia trip. It would be difficult for any fan to come away too angry about the ending. It could have been much worse. Good episodes: , , , , , “The Last Problem”.)
  • ??? (a puzzling entry in the oft-puzzling Monogatari series: the tables are turned as Koyomi must investigate someone afflicted by an oddity: himself, although he doesn’t realize it, as he investigates a seriously mentally-ill classmate, Sodachi, who turns out to have an extensive history with him that he is amnesiac about. This is interesting and Sodachi gets some great lines, but it’s unclear why this interlude exists. Owari fills in a great deal of backstory on Koyomi, like his love of mathematics—except who knew any of this backstory needed filling in? Certainly I don’t recall wanting an explanation for that, or indeed that he had any deep love for mathematics… I took a look at some fan discussions but found little about Sodachi or whether she becomes important later on, so maybe she doesn’t ever. Owari awkwardly transitions to the ongoing Shinobu arc stemming from Onimonogatari, covering the other half of the story from Nekomonogatari Black/White, and info-dumping even more, explaining why Koyomi encounters all these oddities in the first place. At this point, the whole Monogatari universe has become complicated enough I feel I need to restart from the beginning because I’m not sure what any of this means.)1

The Magic Flute

Gorgeous nonsense. (; Met ‘special holiday encore’/cast)

This is a re-broadcast of an abridged performance broadcast through Met HD in December 2006, which apparently was the first ever Met HD broadcast. It demonstrates the improvements in Met HD broadcasts over the years, as it is distinctly lower-resolution than current Met HD broadcasts, and lacks all the featurettes that enliven the intermissions. The abridgement of The Magic Flute appears relatively minimal, dropping a few slow scenes such as Pamina alone in a garden, but nothing major; the real change is that it’s an English adaptation instead of using the original German. I had not been expecting that, and I am not sure I appreciate it either, because they dropped all the closed-captions—making it harder for me to understand than the German would’ve been.

Papageno bird-catcher character is a particular highlight as he athletically crawls or cavorts around the stage, and he seems to be having by far the most fun of anyone on stage. The stage settings and costumes lean heavily into surrealism: the Queen of the Night’s female servants have heads mounted a meter above their blacked-out faces, controlled by sticks, for no particular reason other than it looks cool & they can, and one almost expects the cheerfully-malignant vulture character Monostatos, played by quite a chubby actor, to draw eyes on his chest and a mouth on his belly and make fat jokes. The music is excellent, of course, and the Queen of the Night’s aria is justly famous—one can scarcely believe that any human singer is capable of hitting such high notes, and so loudly, for so long.

Its flaw is that, aside from Papageno & Monostatos, the characters are uninteresting and the plot is bizarrely schematic and completely reliant on lazy deus ex machina & narrative convenience. Further, it can’t quite seem to make up its mind if it’s supposed to be a farce, or ultimately a serious meaningful drama. I charitably assumed while watching that perhaps the opera had been brutally cut down in the adaptation process.

It is easy to see why people reach for Masonic interpretations: surely all these heavy-handed symbols and out-of-the-blue twists and cardboard characters mean it must be some sort of contemporary -like allegory, and there is an esoteric interpretation that renders it a satisfying artistic work as opposed to a series of musical set pieces strung together by a threadbare excuse for a plot? But unless Wikipedia greatly misleads me, no, it’s as absurd as it looks. So Mozart’s The Magic Flute is the of operas—it sounds even better than it looks, throws around a lot of portentous symbolism, but doesn’t make sense so people keep resorting to a Western occult tradition to make it make sense…

I don’t think I will want to watch The Magic Flute again the way I do other operas like Carmen.




  1. An anonymous reader assures me that it does make sense—“continue and faith will come”:

    Oikura Sodachi is the most important character in *monogatari. Superficial, she exists only to provide some background for Araragi and Oshino Ougi. And yet, after watching all 70+ hours of *monogatari ~3 times, it is my opinion that Hanekawa Tsubasa, Senjougahara Hitagi, Araragi Koyomi, etc are but supporting characters who exist to allow Oikura-san to shine. It is Oikura Sodachi who is important. (This is somewhat of an exaggeration, but still, do not neglect Oikura Sodachi. She is no less of a core character then anyone else.)

    Please persevere and watch Owarimonogatari second season and Zoku Owarimonogatari. Rewatch Neko shiro and Kizu as needed. You shall be richly rewarded.