Ghouls

Ghouls is a book for the World of Darkness, specifically for Vampire: the Requiem. It concerns humans who are given vampire blood to drink. They become addicted to the blood and, fairly quickly, come to regard the vampire supplying it as the most important being in their world. The blood also gives them access to some of the powers of vampires, making them stronger than normal humans, but they do not suffer the limitations; most significantly, they can go out during the day. Thus, they are the perfect servants for vampires, and that is their main role in the game.

This book thus serves two purposes. First, it develops ghouls in more detail as supporting characters, serving the player characters or their opponents. Some ghouls manage to maintain a precarious independence, and they can be allies or antagonists in their own right.

Second, it considers the possibilities of ghouls as player characters. Bound by their addiction and forced adoration for a master who is normally abusive, they are not in a particularly pleasant situation. However, for a series of roleplaying games that are about personal horror, this is not at all inappropriate. Indeed, I think they would make a very good viewpoint for examining the horror of the World of Darkness.

There is, however, a problem. Ghouls are almost all bound to vampires. This deprives them of the freedom to take the initiative in setting up stories and adventures, and this is a significant limit on a roleplaying game. What’s more, it would be unusual for a vampire to have enough ghoul servants to make a viable group, and even if he did, he would be unlikely to use them as a group. Mixed groups pose their own problems. Mixed ghouls and vampires face the problem that ghouls are active in daylight. Mixed ghouls and non-ghouls raise the problem of why the vampire allows the ghoul to associate with the others.

In short, the problem is that, although I can see how to build good stories around a single ghoul, I cannot really see how to work them into a group. The book does do some work towards dealing with this, and, of course, this is not the primary intended use of the material, so this is certainly not a major problem.

On the other side, however, a lot of the detail in the book is unlikely to see much use unless there are ghoul player characters. The information on how different clans and covenants of vampires tend to treat their ghouls is interesting, but player character vampires get to choose their own approaches. Similarly, the detailed rules on character creation are redundant if the ghouls are NPCs, and will thus be created to reach an appropriate power level. The information on ghoul families may be an exception to this; it can be used to create a new and interesting antagonist for a chronicle, or a background for a character who takes on a role other than ghoul.

In sum, this is a good book, with good ideas that make me want to use it. However, I’m not sure just how easy it would be to really use most of the information given here. If it had that extra bit of information, it might be a great book.

Once More Unto the Clinic, My Friends

We had another obstetrician’s appointment this morning, so we walked over, because Yuriko needs the exercise. One of things she was told during the appointment was that she needed even more exercise, so I will have to encourage her more strongly to get out and walk over the next few weeks. On the whole, things seem to be going fine. Yudetamago is still growing, up to about 2,700g, and still seems healthy. Yuriko is slightly anaemic, so she’s been prescribed strong iron supplements and vitamin C. It’s only slight, though, so we should be OK.

The only issue is that Yudetamago is showing no signs at all of being born, and that’s why Yuriko needs to get more exercise, to encourage Yudetamago to drop, and the cervix to start dilating, or at least loosening up. Of course, an immediate birth would still be a little inconvenient (we’re still waiting for the cot), but we also don’t want it to be too delayed.

As of today, we are in the period within which birth is normal, so it is no longer possible for Yudetamago to be premature. Any time now…

Koshien

High school baseball is really, really popular in Japan. It’s not just that lots of boys play it, although that’s certainly true; the annual national competitions are televised live, and are often the main news items while they are happening. There are two, one in spring and one in summer, and the summer one is, I believe, the main one. This year’s has just finished.

The competitions are held at Koshien (甲子園), a place near Osaka. One team represents each prefecture, so before the main contest there are competitions in each prefecture to choose the team that will go to Koshien. Just going is a difficult goal for many high schools.

There are a number of private high schools, and a few state ones, with famous baseball clubs. They recruit from all over the country, with baseball scholarships, to build the strongest team possible. Indeed, a couple of months ago some of them got in trouble for being a bit too enthusiastic, and breaking the rules limiting what they are allowed to do. It’s very competitive, and one of these schools nearly always wins. Naturally, as they draw from across the country, they are mostly located in the major metropolitan areas. Waseda High School, in Tokyo, is one such, and they won last year.

This has led to popular manga featuring the tournament. The plot is as follows. A completely ordinary state high school somewhere out in the sticks (Tohoku, Shikoku, Kyushu) puts a baseball team together under difficult conditions (no proper club house, for example), and wins its way to Koshien. At the main tournament, they have to fight hard through all the rounds, but make it to the final. In the final, against a very strong school, they go three points behind. In the bottom of the ninth innings, the main character hits a home run with all the bases loaded, gaining them four points at once and meaning that they win Koshien.

This year, North Saga High School, a perfectly ordinary state high school from northern Kyushu, where the baseball club uses a shipping container as a storeroom, won Koshien after being three points behind in the final. In the bottom of the eighth innings, one player hit a home run with the bases loaded, so they won when they got the other team out for nothing in ninth.

As you might expect, such a storybook ending made the news in a big way.

Caring for Your Baby and Young Child

Or, as I like to think of it, “Paranoid Parents’ Problem Primer”. Seven hundred pages of things that could go horribly wrong with your child.

OK, it’s not quite as bad as that. The first chapters are all about normal development, and thus much less paranoia-inducing. They do talk about the things that can go wrong, but they also talk about what “going right” looks like, which is likely to reduce the level of worry. Those chapters are divided by age, and each includes a box on things you should do to help your child’s mental development. A few things appear on every list: “Provide a loving environment” is one of them. Another is “Speak a foreign language at home if you know one”, so it looks like the consensus in favour of raising Yudetamago bilingual is overwhelming.

The most paranoia-inducing section was the chapter on accident prevention. “All accidents can be prevented!” Translation: “If your child has an accident, it’s your fault.” Actually, this chapter felt like it was written by the AAP’s lawyers, not its doctors. Some of the advice is actually impossible to follow. For example, when shopping, it says that you should not take your eyes off your child even for a moment. To, for example, choose items of the shelves, get money out, or pay. So, if you’re a working single parent, you cannot shop and still be a good parent.

I’m going to be taking the prevention advice with a pinch of salt. Some bits are clearly right; I’ll be getting child covers for the unused plug sockets in the flat, for example, and a fire extinguisher. Other bits add up to being silly. In the section on preventing sunburn, they say that you should not let your child play outside between 10am and 4pm. In the section on preventing insect bites, they say you should not let your child play outside around dawn, late afternoon, and dusk. Obviously, letting your child play outside in the dark is dangerous. Best to keep them inside, safe in their disinfected padded rooms.

The book is also clearly American in a number of ways. One is the discussion of insurance plans, but another is the discussion of moving your baby. The only modes of transport discussed are cars and planes. No discussion of buses and trains. Bicycles are mentioned, but only to say that it’s far too dangerous to mount a child on a bicycle. This is mildly annoying, since we are likely to be transporting Yudetamago on buses and trains, and some advice on how would have been very helpful.

The second part of the book (a bit less than half) is a list of things that could go wrong with your child and what to do. I can see that this will be very useful when Yudetamago is ill; looking through will help to decide whether we need to call the doctor, or whether kissing it better will be enough.

Sometimes, however, it is less encouraging. “This is a serious and perplexing disease”, “However, despite intense research, no bacteria, virus, or toxin has been established as the cause of the disease”, “In most cases the blood vessels return to normal after a few months, but in some cases they remain weakened”. This is the sort of mysterious illness that parents get really paranoid about.

The fact that it is called Kawasaki Disease is not helping.

Back to the Clinic

We were at the clinic again today, for the “Final Period Check-up”, so we must be entering the final stretch. This involved a blood test, to make sure that Yuriko isn’t anaemic, and the non-stress test. The non-stress test involves recording the pressure in the womb and the baby’s heartbeat for twenty minutes, to make sure that the baby isn’t under any stress. She should be moving from time to time, and not get all panicky if the womb contracts. She did, it did, and she didn’t, so no problems there. We had another ultrasound scan, which looks a bit like an elephant, or possibly the dead alien at the beginning of Alien, and now we know that she weighs 2,300g.

She is, apparently, showing absolutely no signs of feeling like being born. This is generally a good thing; the more time we have to prepare for the arrival, the better.

We did a bit of preparation over the weekend, visiting a couple of Yuriko’s friends who have small children. One of them is pregnant again, just a bit behind Yuriko. Both children were quite shy to begin with, but the little girl warmed to me after a while, and spent quite a long time showing me all her toys. The boy never quite got to that stage, although he had loosened up a lot by the end of the visit.

The girl was born in Finland (although both her parents are Japanese), and only came to Japan a year ago. (OK, she’s only two and a half.) She could, apparently, distinguish English, Japanese, and Finnish, so I tried talking to her in English. She went quiet, listening intently, and then, when I was finished, giggled in an embarrassed fashion. That’s what most adult Japanese women do when you speak to them in English, as well.

Anyway, we have to go to the clinic every week from now until the 40th week. If Yudetamago still hasn’t been born at that point, we have to start going twice a week. It mounts up; antenatal care is not covered by health insurance in Japan. Fortunately, it’s a lot cheaper than not-covered-by-insurance antenatal care in the US, but still, not cheap.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I ordered this book from Amazon Japan, and it arrived on the day of release. The packaging had a sticker on saying “Deliver after 8:01 am on July 21st”, so that it would be after midnight London time, but it didn’t reach me until about 1pm. This is clearly discrimination.

I did still manage to finish it on the day of release, and thus avoid spoilers, but that didn’t leave time to write about it. And then there’s a backlog of book comments to post to my blog, so it got held up more.

The downside is that I don’t get to look like a cutting-edge opinion former, posting my review almost as soon as the book hits the streets.

On the bright side, that reduces the chance of my blog spoiling it from someone who really wants to read it. By this point, I suspect that most people who really want to find out how the series finishes by reading the book have done so, and can’t have it spoiled for them. Still, there might be a few left, and on the off chance that they are reading my blog, I’ll hide the actual spoilers from the front page.

So, if you click to read more, you will find out what happened. You Have Been Warned.
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Still Warm

Yesterday, the highest recorded temperatures reached 40.9 degrees, in two places; that’s the highest temperature ever recorded in Japan. Today seems, to me at least, to have been a bit cooler, although maybe I’m just getting used to it. Maybe tomorrow morning the news will tell us that it reached 41 today.

The news this morning included an amusing report on Yamanashi city, the previous record holder. Last year, they made tee-shirts: “Yamanashi — Hottest Place In Japan”. The plan, apparently, is to slightly modify them to read “Yamanashi — Third Hottest Place In Japan”. In Japanese, this is the change from 日本一 to 日本三, and thus can be done by simply adding a couple of lines to the design.

It’s a Bit Warm

The first item of news on the morning TV show this morning was about the weather. Temperatures in the Kanto area (around Tokyo) reached 40 degrees Centigrade (that’s about 104 Farenheit) yesterday, and were predicted to be similar today. Yesterday saw the seventh highest temperature recorded in Japan since records began.

It is, indeed, a bit warm. Normally I can manage without air conditioning, but not at the moment; it’s a bad sign when the air conditioning is set to 28, and still has to work constantly. I am managing with it turned off part of the time, but Yuriko needs it on when she’s around. We’ve invested in some shades to go outside the windows, which should cool things down a bit, but lots of other people seem to have had the same idea, so we haven’t actually received them yet.

This is not good timing. The earthquake in Niigata a month ago knocked out the Kasiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station, the largest in the world, and one of the ones supplying Tokyo. Thus, Tokyo Electric has significantly less supply than normal, and is facing significantly higher demand. They’ve been running adverts on television asking people to use less electricity. Yes, they are paying good money for adverts saying “Please buy less of our product”.

The forecast is for the heatwave to break over the weekend, which would be nice.

Troubles for Tolerance

A little while ago I wrote a post about problems for the idea that it would be good if everyone were equal. That is an easy target for me, because I don’t think that it would be good if everyone were equal, in part because of those problems. Today, then, I want to look at something that’s a bit harder for me. I think that tolerance is a good idea, and I would like to see more of it. There are, however, some problems for the concept.

Let’s start with a rough characterisation of tolerance. A tolerant person allows people to live according to ethical and aspirational systems with which he does not agree. It is a central aspect of tolerance that you allow people to actually put the ethical and aspirational systems into practice; it is not tolerant to pretend to allow them to do something, but to take everything away afterwards, or undo all their work. Someone who removes graffiti as soon as it goes up is not tolerating graffiti.

Now, there is an obvious problem for tolerance, and one that everyone grapples with. This is the person who wants to go around killing people. You can’t tolerate that behaviour, the argument goes, because it infringes on the rights of others. I agree. Tolerance should not extend to tolerance of murder, and the problem of where to draw the line is a difficult one. Here, I want to suggest that it is even more difficult than most people are inclined to think.

It is common for tolerant people to believe that the line over what you should tolerate should be drawn in general terms. It should not deal with the specific details of any actions, such as whether they happen on a Sunday. Rather, it should deal with broad ideas, such as “any action that does not harm anyone who is not a voluntary participant in the action”. This is harder than you might think, but I want to suggest that it may be a complete non-starter. I will consider a couple of very minimally tolerant standards, and argue that accepting either has difficult consequences.
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Catching Up

I’ve let the blog slip a bit this week (book reports get written in advance, in case you hadn’t guessed), but today I have a bit of space, so this entry will be a quick overview of what we’ve been up to.

On Monday, we had another appointment at the clinic, and got to see more ultrasound pictures of Yudetamago. She’s still growing right along the average curve, which is good, and there were no grounds for concern.

This week, Yuriko’s mother was in Yokohama for the International Esperanto Conference, and Wednesday was a day off for excursions. So, instead of going to see tourist sites in Japan, she came to see us. I was working most of the day, so, more specifically, she went shopping for baby things with Yuriko. They bought lots, and had it delivered here, so that it all arrived on Friday. We now have almost all of the basic necessities, plus a push chair, which we can’t use immediately. The only things I think we’re missing are the cot itself (coming), and nappies. There was another moment of it all seeming more real when I looked at the baby clothes Yuriko had bought, and realised that we were going to be putting our daughter in them.

I did have time to have dinner with Yuriko and her mother on Wednesday, and we went to a relatively new soba restaurant near Mizonokuchi station, which was nice. We talked about the baby, and about Esperanto, and I discovered that I can already basically read Esperanto. It’s based on European languages, so a background in English, French, and Latin makes it pretty easy. Since it was designed to be easy, I might be able to learn to speak it fairly quickly, too, but I don’t think it’s a high priority.

Work has been busy. I’m doing preparatory reading for a new writing project, and it’s been taking a lot longer than anticipated. I’ve nearly finished now, though; I suspect that I will actually finish tomorrow. Then, of course, I have to do the writing. I might be able to get it done before Yudetamago is born; I certainly hope so. However, that depends, to a certain extent, on exactly when she decides to join us.

My teaching is in a slightly odd state. On paper, I have plenty of students. However, with the summer holidays, I’ve had rather less than I’m aiming for every week for the last four weeks. So, I might get a brief period at or above the target level, before I have to take time off to help look after Yudetamago, and everything gets disrupted again. While freelance work definitely has its benefits, stability and predictability are not among them.

We have a few things left to do before the baby arrives, and then we’ll be as prepared as we can be. Of course, there’s no way we can fully prepare for the event; all we can do is look forward to it.