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Showing posts from March, 2009

Baseball And The "State Of Zen"

“I really wish I could be in a state of Zen,” Suzuki said. “I kept thinking of all the things I shouldn’t think about. Usually, I cannot hit when I think of all those things. This time I got a hit. Maybe I surpassed myself.”

- Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Times.

Our human thinking is usually cluttered and there are few moments of true silence on a day-to-day basis. Try thinking about your thoughts. Why do you keep that online commentary going, all the time? Sometimes athletes reach what has been called "The Zone" - a special, prolonged moment of intense concentration and focus - as they achieve greatness. Going for the gold seems to be a trait we all share here on earth.

There is a lot in the reporting about this World Baseball Classic, and the final game of a 16-team tournament, that I don't agree with. But I liked Ichiro's quote, and it was nice that the NYT caught it. Sports journalists should aim for the sublime, and perhaps - in some small way - help fans get over…

World Silent Day

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Silence is golden. Now it is also getting cool. The World Silent Day campaign is based on the tradition in Bali of 24 hours of inactivity to rejuvenate people and give the earth some rest from human activities. This tradition is now offered to the global community as a solution to reduce greenhouse gas emission. Why March 21? The date was selected because of the Northern Equinox and the World Forestry Day, linked to World Water day on March 22, symbolizing life. Even if you can't keep quiet, they suggest that you try to not use your cell phone, or avoid driving your noisy motorbike or car. Try doing something quiet and just enjoy the moment!

I like the idea of a minute of silence at major events, even World Cup football games or the Olympics. Imagine if we could develop this to really all be silent together for something major - like our planet. Silence, you got my attention.

More and a video over at Treehugger.

The Not So Cool Next New Thing

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Global Talk 21 has an entertaining and insightful take on Thomas L. Friedman and his op-ed column The Next Really Cool Thing.

Friedman has visited the National Ignition Facility, or N.I.F., at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 50 miles east of San Francisco, and explains how the government-funded N.I.F. consists of 192 giant lasers — which can deliver 50 times more energy than any previous fusion laser system. The key here is hydrogen, and by using lasers, "we can unleash tremendous amounts of energy from tiny amounts of mass."

Global Talk 21 comments:

...that meaningful amounts of energy can be extracted for use is going to take technological advances that can only be imagined, and only in terms of many decades, not years, if ever. (Or so I remember from my work on climate change in the 1990s.) It’s a long shot, and it’s a long ways off.

I agree with Jun that we probably aren't really doomed, but I strongly believe our current energy consumption* will have to chan…

Time To Thank The Gods For The Mild Winter, Prepare For The Next

Japan's oil consumption is down this winter by a lot - Reuters has the figures from The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan: overall electricity consumption in February dropped by a record 15.8% compared to the same month in 2008.

And with the operating rate of Japan's nuclear power plants down to 58 percent in 2008, the lowest level in 29 years according to a government survey, you know we depend a lot on oil and coal for that comfortable feeling.

However:

Oil consumption for thermal power generation dropped by a massive 52% (Fuel oil) and 83% (Crude oil) respectively. The large drop is thought to be due both to a contraction of manufacturing activity due the recession, coupled with a very mild winter.

So lets all head to the nearest shrine or temple and pray for that particular good fortune ;)

The drop, which was bigger than many had expected, was a reminder that the economy in the world's third-biggest power consumer is in its sharpest contraction since the oil c…

Roger Waters: Leaving Beirut

I should have posted this a long time ago. The song was first released as a single only in Japan in 2004. Most of the song's lyrics are derived from a short story about Waters' hitchhiking excursion in Lebanon in 1961. Roger Waters' reaction to US and UK involvement in the Iraq war is one of the few songs we have protesting the current, ongoing wars. Waters has performed the song at every show on his The Dark Side of the Moon Live tour, replacing the spoken-word recitation with a visual backdrop of the story. The video is based upon the original sketches by Bill Sienkiewicz.

Is gentleness too much for us
Should gentleness be filed along with empathy
We feel for someone else's child
Every time a smart bomb does its sums and gets it wrong
Someone else's child dies and equities in defence rise

More lyrics of this amazing song.

Cloned Meat: No Thanks

NHK World just gave us the straight dope on why cloned meat is not such a great idea:

Cloning has attracted attention in recent years as an efficient way to produce quality beef and pork. But some consumers are concerned about the safety of products from cloned animals, following many reported cases of stillbirths and newborn deaths.
Stillbirths is a term that means the animals can't give birth properly, and their offspring dies inside the womb or during the process of giving birth. Claiming that meat from such animals is safe? You eat it, not me. In fact, let the experts eat it, and then we can all study their health and how they feel. I'm sure the experts will volunteer cheerfully: we can even film them as they shout "Oishi!" like the actors do here on TV all the time.

And why are cloned animals often sick or deformed? You can read about the causes of stillbirth on wikipedia, but I warn you, it is not for the weak-at-heart. Neither is this quote from The Yomiuri:

Wh…

JR East Struggles To Find Alternative Power Source

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Ouch. Asahi notes that East Japan Railway Co. has halted operations at its Miyanaka hydropower plant in Niigata Prefecture as it was illegally using too much river water. JR East is searching for alternative power sources but says the number of trains running in the capital could be reduced:

The plant, capable of generating 450,000 kilowatts of electricity, supplied 23 percent of the power used by JR East, including that for its main lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area... [JR East President Satoshi] Seino acknowledged the company is now "walking a tightrope" in securing the necessary power to keep all of the lines operating. He said the company cannot rule out the possibility that the shutdown at the plant could affect train operations.

The 367-kilometer Shinanogawa in Niigata is Japan's longest with one of the largest total water flow. If you live in Niigata, you will be very familiar with this river, which flows from Saitama all the way up north across Honshu to central…

My 5 Favourite Trains In Tokyo

Living in Japan, I really got to appreciate the public transportation, especially the trains. Over 70% of rail services are electrified, and since the Shinkansen started operating in 1964, this country has enjoyed fast, reliable trains that pollute a lot less than if everyone was driving their own car. Now, JR East has troubles with its hydroelectric power supply, and this city just wouldn't be the same without it.

1. The Yamanote line loop was completed in 1925 and carries an average of 3.55 million passengers a day, which translates to a patronage figure of 1.3 billion passengers a year. Amazing.

The Yamanote Line will take you around central Tokyo in exactly one hour. It is a loop line connecting Tokyo station to Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Shinagawa - and back to Tokyo station again. The trains keep coming at rush hour at brief intervals of just minutes. The E231 series trains from Kawasaki Heavy Industries are real work-horses which everyone living in this city will …

How Shall We Get Out Of The Recession?

Nikkei Business Publications recently announced the results of a survey conducted with engineers in Japan's manufacturing industry on the current global recession. They were asked hard questions about the impact of the recession and measures to cope with it.

I am a little surprised that they turn out to be such tree-huggers: an overwhelming number thinks solar cells, electric, fuel-cell and hybrid vehicles - and even wind power - could provide the breakthroughs we need to get out of the current recession.

The survey results showed strong confidence of frontline design and manufacturing engineers in Japan's solid industrial infrastructure and high-level technology, notes Nikkei BP:

A key to break through the recession is development of 1) solar cell, 2) electric vehicle, and 3) agriculture / food, in descending order.

The respondents were also surprisingly positive when it came to which country would be first to recover from the recession: 26.7% of the engineers thought Japan woul…

Honeybee Shortage Worries Farmers In Japan

You have read about the crisis US farmers are experiencing as honey bees are affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Has it hit Japan, or what is going on? Why are bee keepers like Osamu Mamuro, president of Mamuro Bee Farm in Yoshimi, Saitama Prefecture so worried this year?

Japan is home to many small-scale beekeeping operations, and has a long history of bee keeping. Unlike the US, beekeepers in Japan do not often transport their honeybees long distances, meaning there is less stress that could affect the survival of the insects. There are no genetically modified crops cultivated commercially here. The honeybee shortage this year is noted as there has been a sharp decrease in the number of bees kept by beekeepers. But noone seems to know "why" this is happening. The Mainichi has more details.

It is estimated that over 90 food crops are benefited by honey bee pollination and the value of this service to the United States agriculture was at least 18 billion dollars in 199…

Departures (Okuribito) Trailer

I meant to post this last week, when Departures (Okuribito) got the Academy Award for Best foreign language film, but you know how it can be. This is a trailer with subtitles, thanks to Youtube. Here at Kurashi, we tend to talk a lot about the living, and while death is always just around the corner, we ignore it at our own peril.

At the temple in Okayama where I stayed 6 years ago, we had to care for the (very) old retired priest, who finally died late one night, maybe around this time of year, just after my shift to care for him had ended. The following day, I had to sit at his side (with another, much more experienced shugyosha from Seattle). Our duty was to greet visitors who wanted to say a final farewell to him, and to keep the incense sticks burning. Many people knew him as a great tea teacher. The old priest looked very peaceful. Sitting next to a dead person half a day: it wasn't as difficult as it sounds, and not strange at all. We buried him the next day, with some of t…