The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dao De Jing: Chapter 18


The Dao De Jing is not only one of the foundational documents of philosophical Daoism, it is also one of the world's classics. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the complete text

18. Hypocrisy

When the Way is forgotten
Duty and justice appear;
Then knowledge and wisdom are born
Along with hypocrisy.

When harmonious relationships dissolve
Then respect and devotion arise;
When a nation falls to chaos
Then loyalty and patriotism are born.

Friday, October 20, 2006

China's Rivers


I found this on Yahoo. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original article.

Estuaries of China's greatest rivers declared "dead zones"
Fri Oct 20, 4:38 AM ET

BEIJING (AFP) - The estuaries of China's two greatest rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow, have been declared dead zones by the United Nations' due to high amounts of pollutants, state press has said.

"Experts warn that these areas are fast becoming major threats to fish stocks and to people who depend upon fisheries for food and livelihoods," the China Daily reported, citing a recent study by the UN Environmental Program.

Dead zones are areas in oceans and lakes choked of oxygen by algae blooms that feed off high concentrations of pollutants such as raw sewage and fertilizer, the report said.

The algae blooms sap the water of its oxygen, which in turn endangers marine life, it added.

According to a separate report by China's State Environmental Protection Administration, the nation's coastal regions suffered from 82 "red tides", a form of algae bloom, in 2005, the paper said.

Large-scale red tides have become an annual occurrence in waters off eastern China's Zhejiang province, where the Yangtze River flows into the sea, and farther north in the Bohai Sea near the Yellow River estuary, the paper added.

Last year, land-based activities in China led to the dumping of 500,000 tons of ammonia-nitrogen and 30,000 tons of phosphate into the sea, it said. The two chemicals are key ingredients in fertilizer.

In June this year, a red tide that spread out in a 1,000-square-kilometre (620-square-mile) area in the Yangtze River estuary killed more than 12 million fish.

The spread of the tide led to safety warnings in Shanghai about eating seafood from the area, the paper said.

More than 20 years of robust economic growth in China have come at the expense of the environment, with local governments and industries shunning ecological protection in the pursuit of short-term profits.

The central government often cites this as a major problem and says it is taking action, but the nation's environmental woes continue to worsen.

Meanwhile, the leading People's Daily reported Friday that it would take at least 200 years to clean up the Bohai Sea, even if no more sewage was poured into it.

The body, located some 150 kilometers (90 miles) east of the capital Beijing, was named the "worst polluted" sea area in China after an investigation by the State Oceanic Administration, the paper said.

Industrial sewage, pesticides, fertilizers and the dumping of garbage had gravely polluted it, the paper added.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Japanese Language Study: Trust - A Man and His Words


I've been busy. This week there was a trade show in town, at which I had to work. I also had to take various bigshots from out of town (many of them from Japan) to various customer meetings.

It was a good opportunity to see how my Japanese Language skills have come along. The bottom line is, that I'm doing ok.

At full speed, I found that I couldn't keep up with my Japanese visitors, but I COULD catch some words, and I could generally get the gist of what they were talking about. My own vocabulary was limited, but again, I could generally get across what I wanted to say. So in the end, I could hold simple, but meaningful conversations.

Right now, I can understand the meaning of about 250 kanji, in addition to being able to read both hiragana and katakana. From labels and markings, I was surprised how much I could make out. Perhaps not the exact wording of something, but the basic meaning.

My Japanese collegue at work will be moving back to Japan early next year. I met his replacement during the show. He'll move here in January some time. His English is a little better (but not much) than my Japanese, but we were able to get by. We agreed to help each other with our language skills after his move. I'm looking forward to it.

My Japanese visitors, most of them being upper management, are very pleased and appreciative of my efforts. In this time of tight travel budgets, one of them extended his invitation for me to come and visit him in Japan; so I'm sure my management will take advantage to send me there sometime next year.

This particular bigshot took quite a bit of enjoyment in teaching me some new kanji. One of them was a component of his name. The kanji is: 信. The character on the left means 'person.' The one on the right means 'words.' The meaning is: trust, faith, fidelity, etc.

A man and his words.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ronin

浪人

One of my favorite 'spy' movies is on cable tonight. Ronin. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to more information about this movie.

An excerpt from that page:

Released in 1998, Ronin is an action/thriller that tells the story of a group of former intelligence agents who team up to steal a mysterious metal case. Starring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth, and Katarina Witt, with Jonathan Pryce and Michael Lonsdale in supporting roles.

The movie was written by J.D. Zeik and David Mamet, and directed by John Frankenheimer. David Mamet served as a script doctor on the screenplay, being billed as "Richard Weisz". The Writers' Guild refused to allow him to get top billing for the writing credit, so he refused to allow his real name to be used.

The title is derived from the Japanese term ronin, used for samurai who had no master; some of the characters in the movie are unemployed agents set adrift by the end of the Cold War. The movie also makes a lengthy reference to the classic Japanese story, the 47 Ronin.

It is notable for a number of car chase scenes, the last being a particularly lengthy one through the streets and tunnels of Paris; some scenes utilized up to 150 stunt drivers. Car work has been a specialty of Frankenheimer, a former racing driver[citation needed], ever since his 1966 film, Grand Prix. Although action sequences are often shot by a second unit director, Frankenheimer did all these himself. While he was aware of the many innovations in digital special effects since then, he elected to film all these sequences live, to obtain the maximum level of authenticity. To further this, many of the high-speed shots have the actual actors in the cars: Sudduth did nearly all of his own driving, while other cars were right hand drive models with stunt drivers driving - crashes were handled by a stuntman.

The contents of the metal case are never revealed (see MacGuffin). Mamet has written that he believes revealing such details can be anticlimactic, that a director is wiser to allow the audience's imagination to answer the question. This is a technique Mamet has used repeatedly in his films.

Ron Jeremy had a small role, credited as Hyatt. However, scenes involving him were eventually cut by the studio.

There has been speculation as of late that a sequel was to be filmed somewhere in Asia, with De Niro and Reno reprising their original roles alongside actors James Franco and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.

Synopsis

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Ronin opens in a small café in Paris. Several former covert agents, from various countries and backgrounds, are meeting there to receive information on a new assignment. They are taken to a warehouse where a young Irish woman, Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), informs them that they will have to steal a mysterious, silver-colored case. Deirdre is deliberately vague about the case and many of the details of the job; she only tells the team that the people who possess the case are “unpleasant.” It is also handcuffed to a man’s wrist and he is protected by an elite security detail. One of the agents, Sam (Robert De Niro), is suspicious from the outset, particularly when Deirdre rudely ignores his questions about the case’s contents.

The next evening, part of the team travels to a secret location near the River Seine to purchase the weapons they need for their mission. The deal goes badly when Sam spots a sniper, provoking a gun battle with the arms dealers. The team speeds away into the streets of Paris with the weapons, stopping momentarily when the agent who arranged the pickup, Spence (Sean Bean), becomes violently ill. He is later fired by Deirdre after Sam proves his incompetence.

Deirdre is informed that the retrieval of the case will be in Nice. Sam becomes a de facto negotiator for the team, demanding more money for each member since, as he correctly perceives, the job promises to be highly dangerous. Deirdre agrees to their new demands and they travel to southern France. With Deirdre’s assistance, Sam performs reconnaissance to determine the ability of the security detail protecting the man carrying the case.

The team goes forward with the theft. A furious chase ensues, ending near the waterfront in Nice. Sam’s team find themselves in a gun battle with the case’s security guards. During the fight one of Sam’s team, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), switches the case for a fake one. Gregor slips away after giving the fake to Sam, who discovers the switch. He throws the case away right before it explodes, injuring Larry (Skipp Sudduth).

Gregor intends to sell the case to a rich Russian gangster, Mikhi (Féodor Atkine), and meets with one of Mikhi’s subordinate’s to receive payment. After a brief conversation where Gregor reveals his murderous nature (he nearly shoots a little girl on a playground), the man pulls a hidden gun on Gregor. Gregor manages to overpower and kill the man and calls Mikhi to tell him that a new exchange will be arranged on Gregor’s terms.

Sam and the remainder of the team track Gregor to the city of Arles. Gregor meets with more of Mikhi’s men in the Arles amphitheatre but refuses to give them the case, believing he’ll be betrayed yet again. During his meeting with the men, Sam takes him hostage and demands to know where the case is. Gregor tells him that he mailed it to himself in Paris. Using some tourists as a distraction, Gregor escapes after a brief chase through the amphitheatre.

At the same time, Deirdre’s boss, Seamus (Jonathan Pryce) appears nearby and finds Larry in the getaway car. As Gregor approaches, Seamus captures him. Deirdre finds them both with Larry dead in the driver’s seat.

Sam and teammate, Vincent (Jean Reno), encounter Mikhi’s men in the amphitheatre. One of them, recognizing Vincent, is about to shoot Vincent when Sam distracts him. The man gets a shot off and the ricochet hits Sam in the side. Vincent shoots the man. Vincent and the injured Sam make their way to the getaway car just in time to see it leave. They steal a bystander’s car and drive into the nearby mountains.

Seamus and Deirdre take Gregor to Paris to retrieve the mailed case. It hasn’t arrived, infuriating Seamus, who takes Gregor to the Paris hideout. Seamus beats Gregor severely and harshly criticizes Deirdre’s handling of the job. Deirdre reminds Seamus that he’s a wanted fugitive and shouldn’t have resurfaced in Arles.

Vincent takes Sam to a friend’s house in the mountains. Under Sam’s instruction, Vincent and Jean-Pierre (Michael Lonsdale) remove the bullet lodged in Sam’s abdomen. Vincent asks Jean-Pierre to find Seamus, Deirdre and Gregor. Sam recovers quickly and finds Jean-Pierre working on an elaborate diorama depicting the story of the 47 Ronin. Sam sees the parallels between his current work and the masterless samurai of the story.

Vincent and Sam travel to Paris and find the rest of the team as they pick up the case from the post office. Another chase ensues, this one traveling through several city tunnels, at times up the opposing traffic lanes. Vincent is able to disable Deirdre’s car, causing it to flip over and fall off the end of an unfinished bridge. All three manage to escape the explosion, Gregor with the case.

Vincent and Sam figure that Gregor must be trying to sell the case to the Russian mafia. They track him to a local skating arena. Gregor meets with Mikhi in a control booth and demands, in addition to the money for the case, that he be let free of any commitment to Mikhi. Mikhi shoots him. As Mikhi tries to leave the arena, he is shot dead by Seamus, who takes the case himself.

However, Sam stands between him and the escape car, driven by Deirdre. (Sam also reveals to her that he, in fact, never left the agency he worked for and is actually there to apprehend Seamus himself.) She drives away and Sam chases Seamus back into the arena. In the pursuit, Vincent is shot, as is Sam. As Seamus closes in to kill Sam, Vincent shoots him dead.

The fate of the case and its contents are unknown, however, a montage of news audio clips tell us that the killing of Seamas was somehow instrumental in ceasing the violence between the British government and the IRA. Vincent and Sam meet at the café from the beginning of the film, hoping to make contact with Dierdre, after concluding that she will not show, they part ways as friends.

In the original ending (included on the DVD), the viewer also sees Dierdre returning to the café, when she is abducted (and presumably killed) by her former IRA associates.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Haiku site


"Awakened at midnight
by the sound of the water jar
cracking from the ice"

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a website that has all SORTs of scholarly information about haiku. History, themes, interviews with haiku masters. If you are interested in this form of poetry, please pay a visit.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Zen Filter Blog


There's been a lot of activity at the Zen Filter Blog recently. If you click on the title of this post, or the link over at the right, you'll be directed there. Please pay them a visit.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Who needs fiction: Drag-boat racing?


If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

Ethnic games tainted by cross-dressing cheats

BEIJING (Reuters) - Touted as a celebration of sport, culture and national unity, the Ethnic Minority Games held in southwestern China descended into a farce of cross-dressing cheating and mob violence, state media reported.

Athletes representing China's 55 ethnic minorities assembled in southwestern Yunnan province last week to compete in blow-pipe darts, horse-riding events and other traditional sports.

But blind pursuit of victory lead to some unorthodox tactics, Xinhua news agency reported.

Results of the women's dragon-boat racing event were reviewed after athletes complained of "big women with Adam's apples", Xinhua said. Referees subsequently found that several of the competitors were actually men wearing wigs.

A dispute between a team from the games' host city, Zhaotong, and another from Wenshan city in Yunnan province over the result of a wrestling final turned into a brawl, Xinhua said.

The Wenshan team was eventually chased away by a local gang with blades and sticks called in by the Zhaotong team, Xinhua said.