Thousand Years of Dreams Day 22: Bright Rain


For Day 22 we get to experience another remembered dream-memory from Kaim, but this time around the innocent sounding title of “Bright Rain” gives way to something much darker.

Like most of Kaim’s dream-memories, this one uses the theme of war to give some insight to the eternal warrior’s personality. It’s through Kaim’s reminiscing that we get to know how he views how certain groups, states and nations find the excuse to wage war on their neighbors. Whether it’s to continue feeding one’s greed or to gain more power, the reasons always ends up with one powerful nation warring against it’s weaker and poorer neighbors.

We see this illustrated in a most tragic way through the innocence of a young boy who believes the bright rain to be something extraordinary and magical. The brutal truth of the matter is that it’s neither of those things, but instead the ever-widening circle of war dragging in more and more parties until the reason for why the war began has been lost to the devastation and death all-around.

There’s a saying that the first casualty of war is the truth. But going by this tale of “Bright Rain” I believe the first casualty of war is innocence.

Bright Rain

“The bright rain is going to start soon.” The boy says, pointing out to sea.

“The bright rain?” Kaim asks him.

“Uh-huh. It happens every night, way out there.” he says with a carefree smile.

“It’s so pretty!”

“Bright rain, huh?”

“Yeah. I want you to watch it with me tonight. It’s really pretty.”

The boy has never once left the island in the ten years since his birth.

The island is small and poor, and the only ways to make a living there are fishing from dugout boats and gathering forest fruits. One monotonous day follows another, the islanders waking at dawn and sleeping beneath the star-filled sky. The boy does not yet realize that this is the greatest happiness of all.

The boy begins speaking to Kaim, who turns to look in his direction.

Hunkered down on the beach in the moonlight, the boy in profile glows like a chocolate sculpture.

“Over there, where the bright rain falls, is a great, big island, right? I know all about it. That island is way bigger than this one and way more stuff goes on there and it’s just full of shiny things and pretty things and food that’s way better than I can even imagine, right? Don’t worry, I know all about it”

Kaim says nothing but gives the boy pained smile.

Beyond the horizon lies a big island, indeed – a vast continent. Kaim was there until four days ago. Then, rocked in the hold of a freighter for three days and nights, he crossed the sea to this island.

“I know about it, but I’ve never seen it.” the boy says, his voice dropping.

He hangs his head, diverting the moonlight from his face. His chocolate skin melts into the darkness.

“Would you like to go there?” Kaim asks.

“Sure I would.” the boy replies without hesitation. “All the kids here want to.”

“Everybody leaves the island, I suppose.”

“Sure they do! Boys and girls both. As soon as they’re old enough to work, they go to the ‘other country.’ Me, too, in another five years… I’ll be ready in three years. Then I’ll take the boat that you came here on and go to the other country and work hard and eat tons of yummy things.”

The boy raises his face again.

Locked on the ocean, his eyes are shining.

They are eyes full of hopes and dreams.

But they know nothing of the ‘other country’. He can never know a thing about it as long as he stays here.

Not one of the young people who crossed the sea, their eyes shining like the boy’s with hopes and dreams, ever came back.

“Of course not.” the boy would say. “The other country is so much more fun, there’s no point in coming back!”

The boy believes in the happiness awaiting him in the other country. about which he knows nothing.

Only when they leave the island do the brown-skinned people here learn that their skin is a different color from that of the people in the other country.

That the language of the island is of no use in the other country.

That the people of the other country look on the islanders with cold eyes.

That the only way for them to meet people with the same brown skin, the same language, and the same birthplace is to head for the island people’s ghetto in town.

The first words the boy was certain to learn in the other country’s language would be the ones the people of the other country used for people like him; illegal alien.

By the time he learned it, he would be tumbling down the hill in the ghetto.

The boy gallops away from the beach and returns a few minutes later with an overflowing armload of fruit. He says they grow where the wind from the ocean meets the wind from the mountains.

“They’re at their best on nights when the moon is full. Go ahead – have a taste.”

He wipes a piece of fruit against his worn-out shirt and hands it to Kaim.

“What do you call this?” Kaim asks.

“You’re going to laugh, they pinned such a fancy name on it: ‘Grain of Happiness’.”

“That’s a nice name.”

Kaim bites into a Grain of Happiness. It is shaped like an apple from the other country. But it is some two sizes smaller and just that much more packed with juicy sweetness.

“This is great.” Kaim says.

“You really like it? I’m glad.” the boy says with smile, but he is soon hanging his head again and sighing.

“I like them a lot too.” the boy says, “but I bet the other country has all kinds of stuff that’s way better than this, right?”

Kaim does not answer him but takes another bite of a Grain of Happiness.

The boy is right: there are lots of foods in the other country far more delicious than these Grains of Happiness.

Or, more precisely, there were.

Now, however, the other country has been transformed into a battlefield.

The war started six months ago.

That was when the boy began seeing the ‘bright rain’ every night.

The prosperity of the “other country” is extreme. The most glittering happiness is available there to anyone with enough money, and money is available there without restriction to anyone with enough power.

Might makes right.

Wealth makes goodness.

Those who are neither mighty nor wealthy obtain right and goodness by finding others who are both weaker and poorer than themselves and ridiculing, despising and persecuting them.

The island people, whose language and skin color are different from those in the other country, are seen as the other country’s shadow.

This is not a shadow, however, that forms because there is light.

The very existence of the shadow is what makes the light all the brighter.

This is the only way that inhabitants of the other country know how to think about things.

Eventually, however, strength reaches a saturation point, wealth that has run its course begins to stagnate, and expansion is the only course left open.

Desires can only be fulfilled through a continual bloating.

In order for the other country to remain strong and for the wealthy to stay wealthy, the leaders of the other country made war on a neighboring country.

“Any minute now.” the boy says, looking out to sea again with a carefree laugh.

“The bright rain is going to fall, way out over the sea.”

The war was supposed to have ended quickly. Everyone in the other country believed that with overwhelming wealth and strength, it would be easy for them to bring the neighboring country to its knees.

To be sure, at first war went according to plan. The occupied areas grew each day, and the entire populace of the other country became drunk with victory.

One after another, however, the surrounding countries took the side of the neighboring country. Which was only natural. For if the neighboring country fell, they themselves might be the other country’s next target.

The other country’s entire diplomatic strategy failed. Which was only natural. For no country on earth will make friends with a country that only knows how to flaunt its wealth and power.

An allied force was organized around the neighboring country. Together, the surrounding countries sought to encircle and seal off the other country.

From that point on, the war entered stalemate. Limited battle zones saw troops advancing and retreating again and again, in the course of which the other country’s wealth and power was consumed little by little. Disgust for war began to spread among the populace, and to obliterate that mood, the military circulated false propaganda:

The military situation is developeng in our favor.

Our army has again crushed the enemy’s troops.

The truth was that the occupied territories were being recaptured one after another, and the allied forces now were crossing the border to strike inside the other country’s territory.

I’n response to foolhardy attack by the enemy, our resolute fighting men launched a counterattack, annihilating their forces.

The day for our victory song is upon us.

Stopping war was out of the question. Admitting defeat was out of the question. The people had believed that wealth and power would enable them to rule everything, but now they knew the terror of having lost both.

The allied forces were joined by a powerful supporter. A mighty empire that wielded authority over the northern part of the continent joined the battle as if to say, “Let us finish job for you,” crushing the other country once and for all.

But the powerful empire was not satisfied just to destroy one upstart nation. It turned its overwhelming military might upon the allied forces. As it had so many times in its history, it seized the opportunity of its clash with the surrounding countries in order to further expand its own power.

Having lost its leaders and turned into a wasteland as far as the eye could see, the other country now became the new battlefield.

Outnumbered, the allied army hired mercenaries from other continents.

Kaim was one of those.

For many days he participated in losing battles in which there was no way to tell which side was fighting for the right.

After seeing his mercenary unit wiped out, Kaim headed for the harbor.

The boy’s island has maintained a position of neutrality in the war. It is simply too small to do otherwise. It lacks the war-making capacity to participate in battle, and it possesses no wealth to attract the attention of the countries engaged in the fighting.

But Kaim knows what will happen.

When the battle lines expand, this island will become valuable as a military foothold. One side or the other will occupy the island and it will do one of two things; it will construct a base, or it will reduce the entire island to ashes, thus preventing the enemy from using it as a military foothold. Nor is this a matter of the distant future. At the latest, it will happen a few weeks from now, and perhaps as soon as two or three days…

Kaim has come to island to convey this message.

To tell the people that as many of them as possible should board tomorrow morning’s regular ferry to the nearby island.

He wants them to start by sending away the children.

He wants never again to witness the spectacle of young lives being crushed like bugs.

“Oh, look! There it goes” the boy cries out happily, pointing toward the horizon.

“The bright rain!”

Far out to sea, a white glow suffuses the night sky. The powerful empire has begun its night bombing.

The boy has no idea what the bright rain really is. He can watch with sparkling eyes and murmur, “It’s so pretty, so pretty…”

To be sure, viewed from afar, the bright rain is genuinely beautiful, like a million shooting stars crossing the sky all at once.

But only when viewed from afar.

A dull thud resounds from the sky.

Another dull thud, and another and another.

“Thunder? Oh, no, if it rains we can’t go out fishing tomorrow.” the boy says with a smile and a shrug.

He’s such a friendly little fellow, thinks Kaim.

The boy had seen him on the shore and spoken to him without hesitation.

“Are you a traveller?” he had asked, and went on speaking to him like an old friend.

Kaim wants children like this to be the first aboard tomorrow’s ferry.

“I’m going home now.” says the boy. “What are you going to do?”

“Oh, I guess I’ll take a nap under a tree.”

“You can sleep in our barn. Why don’t you spend the night there?”

“Thanks,” Kaim says. “But I want to watch the ocean a little longer. Tomorrow, I thought, I’d like you to show me around.”

“I get it. You want to see the head of the village. I know a shortcut through the woods – right over there.” Kaim is hoping to convince the village head to evacuate the island. If they act right away, they can make it. They can save a lot of the islanders.

But…

As the boy stands, sweeping the sand from the seat of his pants, he looks questioningly at the sky.

“Funny.” he says, “It sounds kind of different from thunder.”

The dull thuds keep coming without a break.

Little by little, they draw closer.

Kaim jerks his head up and yells at the boy, “The woods! Run to the woods!”

“Wha…?”

“Hurry!”

His voice is drowned out by the deafening roar of the machine guns.

The bright rain has started.

The island has been made a target far sooner than Kaim had imagined.

“Hurry!” Kaim yells, grabbing the boy’s hand.

The woods are the boy’s only hope.

“Hey, wait a minute!” the boy shouts, shaking free of Kaim’s grip and looking up at the sky.

“It’s the bright rain! It’s falling here now, too! Wow! Oh, wow!”

All but dancing for joy, the boy gallops down the beach – until he is bathed from head to toe in the bright rain.

A single night of bombing is all it takes to reduce the island to ashes.

Never realizing the value of the happiness they possessed, never even knowing that such happiness has been snatched away from them in one night’s passing, the people who filled the island with their lives until evening are gone in the morning, all dead except one: the immortal Kaim.

On the beach at dawn, the only sound is that of the waves.

Again today, no doubt, urban warfare will decimate the city streets, and tonight the bright rain will pour down on the town again.

The boy who called the rain beautiful will never again open his eyes wide with wonder.

Kaim lays the boy’s corpse in a small dugout canoe that survived the flames.

He places a ripe “Grain of Happiness” on the boy’s chest and folds his arm over it, hoping that it will sate his thirst on the long road to heaven.

He sets the dugout in the water and nudges it toward the open sea.

Caught by the receding tide, rocketed by the waves, the boat glides far out from the shore.

Such a friendly little fellow, the boy smiles even in death. Perhaps it is the one gift the gods were able to bestow on him.

The boy is setting out on a journey.

May it never take him to that other country, Kaim begs.

Or any other country, for that matter.

Kaim knows; there is no place forever free of that bright rain.

Because he knows this, he sheds tears for the boy.

The rain falls in his heart: cold, sad, silent rain.

Emptied of bombs, the sky is maddeningly blue, wide and beautiful.

End

 

The Greatest Thing Ever To Show Up On YouTube


Believe it or not, I can occasionally be a little bit moody.  Sometimes, I simply get a frown on my face and not even all the Italian horror films in the world can turn that frown into a smile.  I’m like a lot of people in that I’ve always had to battle that creeping depression and I hate that feeling.

Luckily, whenever I start to feel sad, I go to YouTube and I watch the greatest viral video of all time.  Now, I know that some people will always debate whether or not a 3-minute viral video deserves to be considered entertainment in the same way as a 2-hour film and a 22-episode season of a well-written television series.  I can see both sides of the argument but ultimately, it comes down to the one thing.  The video below never fails to make me feel happy.

Without further ado, here’s my favorite YouTube video of all time: Noisy Kittens Waiting For Dinner!

By the way, I know that most people seem to like the jumpy kitten the best but I think they’re all adorable.  The little quiet orange one is just simply to die for.

Understanding World Golf Ranking and Event Rating Values


Over the past two years, golf has become my favorite spectator sport. I have never played it. I can’t tell you the difference between an iron and a wedge. I definitely can’t tell from a player’s swing whether the ball’s more likely to land on the green or in the woods somewhere. I suppose I’m approaching the sport completely backwards from the vast majority of people who take interest in it.

No, I have zero technical knowledge of golf. When I was growing up my family watched the Masters every year, and my best efforts to ignore it amounted to all I ever experienced of the game prior to two years ago. Then, maybe for tradition’s sake, maybe as a complete fluke, I actually tuned in and paid attention to all four rounds of the Masters in 2010. I had no idea who Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood were, but watching them battle for the win turned out to excite and entertain me as much as any football or hockey game I’d witnessed. The U.S. Open came and went before I ever realized that there were four big tournaments each year, and then the British Open finally hooked me for good.

I haven’t missed a day of the four majors since, but it was the players that dragged me in–the confidence, determination, ease under pressure, and extraordinary patience it took to compete in a major tournament. McIlory’s triumphal return after choking in the Masters, Clarke’s late-career comeback in the face of personal tragedy, Westwood’s ability to stay cool despite having come just short of victory so many times, that aura of greatness that surrounds Tom Watson everywhere he goes–that’s why I fell in love with golf. I’m only slowly learning how it all works after the fact. The physical techniques don’t interest me that much, but it’s time I started to get a feel for what professional golf consists of beyond the four majors.

I figured the logical place to start would be the official world golf rankings, but the data provided there looks pretty wild at first glance. Take Luke Donald, the current top-ranked player in the world. I know relatively little about the guy–he hasn’t stood out enough in the majors I’ve watched for me to really take notice of him. But he’s number one by a pretty big margin. The data, which can be found here, looks like this:

Pt.s Avg.: 10.41
Tot. Pts.: 551.71
# of Evts.: 53
Pts. Lost 2009/10: -181.07
Pts. Gained 2011: 422.21

The gist of it is pretty simple. You gain points based on your performance in events. Donald has 551.71 points over the course of 53 events, making his average points per event 10.41. This is the number by which he is ranked.

Simple enough. The other two columns are what threw me for a loop, and my confusion turned out to be well justified after reading more about the calculation process. No math is going to get you from the Pts. Lost and the Pts. Gained columns to the Tot. Pts. column; They aren’t directly relevant statistics. Here’s what’s really going on:

The # of Evts. column is the total number of events a player has participated in which can award points in the past two years from the current week. That is, not in the past two seasons, but in the past 104 weeks. Points from events diminish over time beginning with the 14th week, in order to give higher precedence to current performance. So let’s say you win the Masters. That’s worth 100 points. For 13 weeks, those 100 points will be included in your Tot. Pts., from which your average is derived. On the 14th week they begin to diminish. So 104 weeks minus 13, that means, as I understand it, for the next 91 weeks you will lose about 1.1 points from your total, until the value of that Masters win eventually reaches 0.

The Pts. Lost 2009/10 column is an oddly worded category, since you can lose points earned in 2011 as well. It should (and elsewhere does) read Pts. Lost 2011. It really means points lost due to diminishing values in the 14 through 104th weeks as of the start of the 2011 season. With that in mind, if Luke Donald has 551.71 points right now, gained 422.21 this season and lost 181.07, he must have ended the 2010 season with 310.57 points. And that he did. So this column is a mildly abstract way of tracking a player’s improvement between seasons. The result is a chart that simultaneously measures success over a 104 week period and performance in the two most recent calendar years.

Of course, the ultimate ranking is derived by dividing total points by the number of tournaments participated in, and this opens a whole new string of questions. In order to rank at all, a player has to have participated in 40 tournaments in the past 104 weeks. The maximum number of tournaments is in the process of changing, but by January 1st will be 52. That is, once you’ve competed in your 53rd tournament in 104 weeks, the results of your earliest tournament in that timespan will be dropped. It’s the minimum of 40 that intrigues me though. It begs the question of qualification for recognized events.

Let me shift focus to Tiger Woods. Currently ranked 44th, his world ranking stats are:

Pt.s Avg.: 3.03
Tot. Pts.: 121.02
# of Evts.: 40
Pts. Lost 2009/10: -239.66
Pts. Gained 2011: 45.42

If you watched the PGA Championship, you can’t have missed the commentary on Woods. By failing to make the cut, he dropped out of the top 125 points leaders for the 2011 season, and that is the qualification standards for the FedEx Cup. This cup consists of four tournaments and is currently underway. Since Woods can’t compete, did in 2010, and currently sits at 40 events, I gather that a week from yesterday he will cease to be a ranked golfer.

Digging into the consequences of that, I found that the standards to compete in an average tournament aren’t so high once you’ve got tour membership. Tiger Woods, as I understand the qualification process, is already a lifetime member of the PGA Tour. With the exception of a few tournaments with specific demands, like those of the FedEx Cup, I’m pretty sure a PGA Tour member is eligible to enter any tournament in the rotation, with the available slots going in the order of priority listed here. In other words, whatever all Woods’ fall has cost him, it’s not going to prevent him from playing with the other pros if he wants to.

In the process of verifying that, I found some other links of interest. Phil Bundy, a middle-aged fellow on a mission to play on the PGA Tour, wrote up some informative articles on 5 ways to become a member of the PGA Tour and How to qualify for a PGA Tour event without a membership. They answered a lot of my residual questions.

I’m still a little thrown off, because pgatour.com’s official list of active members includes a number of names not on the exemption chart I just linked. To this I found no clear answer, but it might just be that the active list isn’t as up to date as the exemption list.

At any rate, my last questions return to the topic at hand. Sure, players gain points by performing well in tournaments, but how many options do they have, and what exactly determines how many points a tournament can provide? The second, third, and fourth ranked players in the world aren’t even on the PGA Tour, so there’s got to be a lot more to it than that. A quick glance across wikipedia will show you just how extensive the opportunities for ranked matches can be. The PGA Tour alone includes 49 events this year, and while it might be the most prestigious tour, it is still only one of twelve from which a golfer can earn points. The European Tour stands almost equal in its number of matches and potential rating values, followed by the Japan Golf Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia, then the Sunshine Tour (South Africa), Asian Tour, and Nationwide Tour (USA), then the Challenge Tour (Europe), and lastly the Canadian Tour, OneAsia Tour, Tour de las Américas, and Korean Tour. Not all are quite so large, and each has its own method for attaining membership, but generally speaking there are a lot more opportunities out there to participate in matches that factor into the World Golf Ranking than I’d thought.

The last bit of math we have to do to figure out exactly how players move up the ranks–how many points a particular tournament can award–involves Total Rating Values. I googled this term and golf and got 8 results, so perhaps there is a more common phrase used than the official one, but all you really need to understand it is the pretty thorough breakdown provided on the Official World Golf Rankings website. This looks pretty complex at a glance, but it’s actually really straight forward, and while you might need a calculator and a lot of free time to figure out how the points will break down for a given tournament, the necessary data is all quite accessible.

The most important thing to note on this chart is that Total Rating Values and Ranking Points are completely different sets of numbers. A tournament’s Total Rating Value determines which Ranking Points column it will fall into. If a tournament has a rating value of 35, for example, the winner will earn 14 ranking points, second place will earn 8.4, and so on. There is a minimum column for each Tour and Premier Event, but theoretically any tournament willing to open its doors to the top 200 players in the world can have a Rating Value of 925, and if the top 30 in the world all happen to be part of that Home Tour–were they all, for example, PGA Tour members in a PGA Tour event–the tournament would have a Rating Value of 1000. A 1000 Rated tournament is thus entirely possible but completely unrealistic.

The World and Home Tour Event Rating Values listed on the bottom of the first page are what give you the tournament’s rating value. As you can see by the breakdown, each tournament’s Rating Value goes up based on the number of high ranking pros participating. The top ranked player in the world, just by participating, adds 45 points to an event’s Rating Value. If the event is on that player’s home tour, the second smaller chart’s value is added on top of it. So Luke Donald adds 53 rating value to any European Tour event he attends. The effect this has on how many actual ranking points are awarded to each position diminishes the higher up the Rating Value gets. For example, adding 32 rating value points to an event that would otherwise have zero (if say, a Canadian reached world #3), would bump the ranking points awarded to the winner from 6 to 14, whereas in an event that would otherwise have a 556 rating value, adding 32 makes no difference at all.

Here are some other examples in case it’s not clear. Even though a Canadian Tour event can have a minimum Rating Value of 0, if Luke Donald was eligible and willing to participate it would be bumped into the 41-50 bracket. If Westwood joined him it would already be up to the 76-90 bracket. So if that was it–Donald, Westwood, no one else but players under 200 in the world rankings–the winner would take home 22 ranking points. This is the number that’s divided by a player’s number of tournaments to create their average, the final determiner of their world rank. If, on the other hand, not enough high ranking player participated to bump the tournament out of that 0-5 column, the winner would take home 6 (so long as we’re still talking a Canadian Tour event.) If it was a PGA Tour event and the entire world top 200 decided to sit out, the winner would still gain 24.

Note that an event’s Rating Value always starts at 0, not at the minimum. The minimum only comes into effect if the combined total of all world rank-derived Event and Home Tour Rating Values of participants fails to exceed it. (Thus if Donald and Westwood were the only players in the top 200 in a European Tour event, its rating value would not be the minimum (91) plus 97. It would be just 97. These minimum values come more into play in “Alternative” events. An Alternative event takes place at the same time as a Regular event, designed for players who couldn’t get into the Regular. An Alternative event’s Rating Value is cut in half, so the minimum pretty much always kicks in.

The big exceptions to these (and thus the most important matches of the year ranking points-wise) are the four majors and the Players Tournament. The majors each have a fixed value of points awarded by position independent of Rating Value, and the Players’ minimum is set to the maximum possible–the 906 to 1000 column, making its point distribution likewise fixed.

This might all sound like a bunch of useless detail to you, but I’ve had an interesting time figuring it all out. It’s nice in any sport to see a big list of numbers and be able to tell what it all means, and golf rankings are a bit less straight forward than the fantasy football stats I’m used to reading. It’s taught me a couple of other things too: that the Players is decidedly the fifth most important tournament of the year, and that if you’re really wondering how important a given tournament will be for the World Golf Rankings, you just have to look at who all’s playing in it.

Well, there you have it.