Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Young Life: a good cause to support!!!

Like to briefly profile one of the cool members of the FOR. FOR = friends of Rene ... is it too self-agrandizing?

RM works with youth in Hollywood through an organization called Young Life. She grew up in Ohio and came out here a couple of years ago to work with young people. I met her through my church's "Diner's Club" which is a way for people in our 500+ church to meet other people. Thus, one of the dinner events was at her apartment.

She lives right in the thick of things in Hollywood and spends her days there with youth.

For readers who don't live in Los Angeles, you may have a picture of the motion picture industry and all its glamour and glitz. That is indeed on aspect of Hollywood.

But the reality of Hollywood, the place, is that of a rough neighborhood and the kids need all the help they can get.

And so rare people like RM are giving their all to help.

Let's see if we can't help out a little bit by supporting their work financially. If you are inclined to prayer, that helps too.

Here is an excerpt from their mission statement:

Our Mission
Introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.
We accomplish our mission by ...

* Praying for young people.
* Going where kids are.
* Building personal relationships with them.
* Winning the right to be heard.
* Providing experiences that are fun, adventurous and life-changing.
* Sharing our lives and the Good News of Jesus Christ with adolescents.
* Inviting them to personally respond to this Good News.
* Loving them regardless of their response.
* Nurturing kids so they might grow in their love for Christ and the knowledge of God's Word and become people who can share their faith with others.
* Helping young people develop the skills, assets and attitudes to reach their full God-given potential.
* Encouraging kids to live connected to the Body of Christ by being an active member of a local congregation.
* Working with a team of like-minded individuals -- volunteer leaders, committee members, donors and staff.


Hugh Hewitt is a big supporter and on his blog on the left panel he makes his pitch for support of Young Life.

As listeners to my radio show know, I consider Young Life to be the most effective outreach to high school kids in the country. I had dinner with the Los Angeles Region's director last week. Dawn Finch is a remarkable servant of God and a tremendous force for the good in the city of Los Angeles. She is also fearless and continually looking for ways to serve the teens of Los Angeles. All this week I'll be asking my radio audience to consider making a gift to help send an LA kid to camp. It costs $400 a kid, which might as well be $4,000 for these kids whose families, if they have them, are struggling to put food on the table. Please consider a gift. In fact, consider a generous gift.

Here's Dawn's e-mail to me after our dinner:

"You asked me to let you know about our summer camp plans for inner city L.A. kids :

We are trying to send 200 kids to high school camp at Woodleaf and jr. high camp at Oakbridge. We have quota all through the summer. It costs approximately $400 to send kids to a week at camp, but our kids pay an average of $100. It's all they can afford. Two moms called me today asking if they could pay $50 now and $50 next month.

That means that we have to raise $300 per student in order to send them to a camp they so sorely need. Many of these kids have never been outside of Los Angeles; most have never had a vacation. Their world view is very small. It's confined to the streets they live on. A week at camp gives them a chance to see God's creation. They can't believe how beautiful it is! My favorite thing to do with them is pick blackberries from the bushes at Woodleaf - they've never had that kind of simple experience. They also can't believe that they get 3 meals a day - all they can eat. Most live on McDonald's. They haven't experienced the "family" setting of sitting down to a meal. And for many it is the first time they've been away from their music, the negative pressures of the street, etc. to have the time to hear and consider the good news of Christ's love and forgiveness and the chance for a new start in life. I've seen the hardest kids in tears at the camps, even gang members.

Please let me know if you need any more information . All the kids we send are African American and Latino. The address to send checks made payable to Young Life is 5317 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019."

So, please dig deep. Even if you aren't a Christian, but especially if you are. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get these kids out of Los Angeles to a wonderful camp with hundreds of other kids from around the country. Young Life has been running these camps for six decades, and they know how to make all these teens welcome.

Please give generously. Send a check or cash to Young Life, 5317 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019.

Many thanks. Hugh and Dawn

Inspirational quote

"It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out where the strong man stumbled, or where a doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, and who comes up short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause. The man who at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold timid souls who never knew victory or defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

How capable is NATO?

Saw this item over at Instapundit (Glenn Reynolds) as he cites this item over at OxBlog (Patrick Belton) that says NATO really can't do much outside of Europe.

Excerpt:
Of 1.4 million soldiers under Nato arms in October 2003, allies other than the US contributed all of 55,000. Nearly all allies lack forces which can be projected away from the European theatre. SACEUR General James Jones testified before Congress in March 2004 that only 3-4% of European forces were deployable for expeditions. Then there are the problems of interoperability: there is a recurring problem of coalition-wide secure communications which can be drawn on in operations. Allies other than the U.S. have next to no precision strike capabilities, although these are slowly improving. The US is generally the sole provider of electronic warfare (jamming and electronic intelligence) aircraft, as well as aircraft for surveillance and C3 (command, control, and communications). The US is also capable of much greater sortie rates than its allies.
55,000 non-US troops in all of NATO?

It that right?

I did a search with the key words, size of nato armies, and got this web page. The article supports Beltran's point that NATO isn't very capable but the 55,000 number might be a bit low.

Excerpts:
It is Kosovo which has both brought the problem to a head and made it plain to see. European armies number over 2 million in total and less than 2% of this military manpower is deployed in Kosovo and Bosnia. Yet this is putting an enormous strain on national military systems. Furthermore, despite the significant sums spent on defence, Europe lacks certain basic, up-to-date military capabilities and cannot effectively deploy its forces out-of-area without US support. Something is wrong, clearly.
.........
Recent experience indicates that when soldiers are called on to meet a security challenge today, it is likely not only to be to fight, but to do a whole host of other duties. The Bosnia and Kosovo operations have demonstrated not only the need for soldiers [including of course airmen and sailors] to fight in what for the individuals concerned are very 'high-intensity operations', but also to be capable of a wide range of very stressful and demanding skills that modern 'peacekeeping' requires. These cover the whole spectrum from diplomat through policeman and arbitrator to first-aid worker, hospital manager or city administrator.
............
tomorrow's armies will have to have a much broader range of competence than was the case in the past. The individual soldier will have to be more flexible and have a wider training and education, and the forces will have to be capable of rapid, decisive, and sustained deployment abroad.
............
Ten years ago, at the end of the Cold War, most European countries had relatively large armed forces based on conscription and large-scale mobilization, and designed to fight in defence of national territory. Neutral countries [such as Finland and Switzerland] had to maintain very large force structures capable of independent operation in order to make their defence credible. Members of NATO, secure under the US nuclear umbrella, could afford to spend less and maintain smaller armies, and still have credible defence through mutual support and deterrence.
..............
Ten years on, under pressure of finance [the need to find a peace dividend] and logic [no Soviet Union = no threat of WWIII and therefore no need for large armies], most European countries have reduced their budgets and force structures considerably. But many have not yet fundamentally changed their structure. Instead of large conscript armies for national defence, they now have smaller conscript armies.

Not only that, but these armies, East and West, are today very reduced in capability. This is due to a combination of political and financial reasons. Conscription periods have been shortened [in many cases to below the desirable minimum time]. Equipment has not been upgraded. Munition stocks [especially of the more expensive high-tech items] have been allowed to fall. Training has been cut back [both to save money and under pressure of civilian societies no longer prepared to accept low-flying aircraft or roads blocked with tanks]. European NATO armed forces allowed themselves to become dependent on US 'force multiplier' technologies which were available because of coalition warfare.
.........
If a modern army is to be sustained on operations, experience shows that a simple rule can be applied. Land forces need to have at least three times the manpower of the actual battalions making up the force structure deployed. To generate a combat force [including all necessary direct support functions] of 60,000 will require a total force of some 200,000. In addition, a large number is needed to staff the infrastructure to support the whole. To buy a modern regular army, you need to buy five or six men for every one you want to deploy, and many would argue that this estimate is on the low side.
UPDATE: Did a little more digging around the NATO web page and found this item describing the military command structure. Beltran's number maybe based on this? Since NATO was a defensive alliance for most of its history its military forces were meant to "stay-at-home" and perhaps not very capable at integration with other forces. With the Yugoslavia crisis of the late 90s, NATO deployed outside its area and they were able to assemble 50,000 to do so. Excerpt:
In 1999, following the end of the Alliance's air campaign to end the repression and ethnic cleansing directed against the Kosovar Albanians by the Serb leadership, a Kosovo Force (KFOR) was created in accordance with the decision of the UN Security Council, with NATO at its core, to implement the Military Technical Agreement concluded on 10 June by the KFOR Commander and Yugoslav representatives. The first elements entered Kosovo on 12 June. As agreed in the Military Technical Agreement, the deployment of the security force was synchronised with the departure of Serb security forces from the province. By 20 June, the Serb withdrawal was complete and KFOR was well established in Kosovo.

At its full strength KFOR comprised some 50 000 personnel. It is a multinational force under unified command and control with substantial NATO participation, and arrangements for participation by the Russian Federation. More than 12 other non-NATO nations participated in the initial troop contributions to KFOR.
I wonder if the EU has a military component? Certainly, the economic integration is taking place with the EURO and the opportunities to cross borders to work.

I think NATO has a larger membership roster than the EU. But at some point, will NATO be absorbed into the EU? NATO was founded to defend Western Europe from the USSR/Warsaw Pact. That threat has ended so NATO needs a new mission or should dissolve.

Certainly Europe complains about the US and we need to understand where that comes from. But the US does have a legit concern about Europe's reluctance to use force when needed. Political pressure is fine and good. Economic sanctions can help. But sometimes military force is needed. What if military forces were sent during the Rawanda Crisis? Might the outcome have been different? And right now, another prime candidate for intervention is the potential genocide in Darfur in the Sudan.

Is Europe's reluctance to be a fellow "world policeman" driven by pacifism or a desire to oppose the US or by the practical reality that they can't send anybody?

Europe should consider beefing up its military because there are still places where "policemen" are needed and the USA can't and shouldn't always play that role.

Friday, June 25, 2004

At every age

In the past, I have helped out at church with college and young working adults. I did do a 3-month stint helping with pre-schoolers last summer. Each age has its own distinctive flavor.

Being with junior high these days has been a stretch as it was a number of years ago for me when I was that age. As I look around at what they face, they see so much more so much sooner at such an intense level that in many ways it is a different world then when I was their age. Yet, some things in life are universal no matter what age.

I was introduced to Jesus and Christianity when I was a junior high student. The notion that God loved me sounded so good because as a shy nerd kid I didn't have a lot of acceptance and affirmation.

Thus, God loves me? Wow, that is good!

I can imagine some of our student's level of faith is right there.

I believed that God honors any and all small steps of faith. God worked with me when I was that age and I'm sure God is doing so now with the bundles of energy in our junior high group.

For me, it was in high school with more consistent church attendance that I found myself thinking about what Christ did on the Cross dying on Good Friday as payment for all I (and the world of fallen humanity) have done wrong on and then rising from the dead as proof of victory over sin, death and evil on Easter Sunday. And so I took that step of faith and prayed a prayer to say: God, thank you for all you have done. I accept what you have done for me. I ask that you enter my life to be my Lord and Savior. Forgive me my sins and help me to follow Jesus each day.

Since then, the journey of faith has been an amazing journey with moments of happiness and sadness but through it all, I have sensed that God is there.

I am thinking about our junior high students today. I see them at different places in their journey of faith. Everyone is unique and will progress at different rates. Some show more overt obvious interest in God. Others are there and we hope they are soaking it in and maybe down the road it will sprout. Some are asking honest questions about what they believe and whether it makes sense.

I think that is the neat thing about the junior high age: they are beginning to ask questions and we need to nurture that. We want them to believe but we don't want a belief that is obligatory i.e. the "my parents drag me to church or everyone I know believes" kind of faith.

We want them to have a personal knowledge of God and daily relationship with God and that only comes by wrestling with what it means, experiencing joys, facing up to doubts, sensing peace in troubles, voicing fears and expressing gratitude to a God who is there.

I hope that as we spend time with them talking about some of the ordinary things there will be moments when we will be able to talk about the extra-ordinary things of God. I hope as we try to live out our faith sharing the joy and confessing the mistakes that they will see that devotion to God is real and that if we can be honest about it they can be too.

One Sunday talk was by a college student. He shared that as he reads his Bible, he writes notes in the margins. Sometimes it is something that hits him about how he is living his life and needing to face up to changing the way he lives. Other times there is encouragement. And other times there are questions: what the HECK does that mean?

He challenged the students to be honest about faith and looking at what the Bible has to say. He says it has been around a long time and it has a lot of good wisdom there, in fact, it points to God and that is where LIFE is found.

Amen, yes, sir, preach it!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

@ the movies: 1000 months

Went to a the LA Film Festival and saw "Mille Mois" (1000 Months) a Moroccan movie by Faouzi Bensaidi.

Here are some web pages that mention the film:
Arabic News report on the film.
Review of film during Palm Springs Film festival.
Another review from England.
Summary from Hollywood Reporter.

The film revolves around the life of a young boy during the month of Ramadan in a rural town. It is a slice of life kind of film that maybe too slow for American audiences. The story is also somewhat sad as you watch the difficulties the poor people of the town have to face. I have to wonder how the government of Morocco feels about the film as it is far from a rosy portrait of life there.

I very much liked the young boy, his mom and his grandfather. They played roles of simple dignity amidst their difficult circumstances. In some ways, that aspect of the film is very universal and reaches people.

The film also touches on some aspects of Islamic faith and practice which is very educational for me as a Christian living in America who doesn't know any practicing Muslims.

I saw the film with two friends one of whom is from Morocco.

He felt the film was realistic up to a point. It portrayed the hard scrabble life of the rural areas. It also showed different aspects of the culture, politics, gender roles and religion. The geography and scenery is typical of that area of the country. He did feel it focused on the rather negative parts of life there. He really enjoyed hearing his own language on the movie screen and laughed along with some of the humor that is very true to that culture. But overall, it was a bit of a downer of a movie.

We all agreed it was a bit of a downer. Movies are inherently narrow cast portraits of the lives of people. But for me, the quality that makes it worthwhile is that it is a ground level view of the lives of people I've never met and what is uplifting is the life of the family that is the center of the story.

I'm giving the movie 2.5 stars of 4.

Last gasp?

The latest news from Iraq is dreadful. But could it be desperation on the part of the foreign fighters and of the dead-end Baathists?

In reading the article, most of the dead and wounded are Iraqis and not American troops. The insurgents are going after targets that can't hit back so easily. Hopefully, the Iraqi armed forces will stand up and take the fight to the insurgents with the help of the US forces.

The June 30 transfer is fast approaching. Bush had warned that violence could escalate and it definitely has. The key is how the average Iraq feels. Do they realize it is the Hussein loyalists teaming up with foreign fighters to take away the freedom they have garnered from the old despotism. Will they fight for their freedom?

Freedom is not free.

How will the media be spinning this? Anybody hear "Tet Offensive" analogies?

Winning is hard work. Sullivan reports this item on how the 1st Division defeated Al-Sadr's forces.

Now is definitely the time to stand firm.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Worst kind of evil: done in the name of god

South Korean hostage has been slaughtered by beheading. Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, Paul Johnson and now Kim Sun-il.

The Jihadists kill people in all sorts of way but these are particularly grisly because of the videotapes.

On the Dennis Prager radio show today, Prager wondered why are they doing this in such a public manner? It could only stiffen the resolve of the US and others who are trying to help Iraq.

The guest suggested these videos aren't just to scare people out of Iraq but they are recruitment videos too.

A very radical brand of Islam actually believes they will be rewarded for killing Infidels (non-Muslims) and these videos will induce glee among those who subscribe to these notions and garner more recruits.

Many people want to avoid speaking of this as a "war of civilizations." In one sense it isn't because only a segment of Islam actually holds a theology that demands and defends such actions. But in the minds of these Jihadists, they believe it is a "war of civilizations." They believe that they have a divine mission to kill off the infidels.

West Wing: a man falls into a hole story

As a fan of the show, there are some moments I remember rather fondly. One is the story Leo tells Josh as Josh struggles with the after affects of being shot in one of the cliff hanger episodes.

The story was told in Noel which aired in the show's second season. And you follow the link to this page for the story from Leo.
"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.
"A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
"Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on
"Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"

Sounds like a lot of money

This item in the NYT says Americans gave $240.72 billion in 2003 to charities!

To see the original press release go here.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Who was Cain's wife?

Most anyone who has read the Bible or hangs around people who read the Bible is likely to run into this question.

That question is the formulation of one of many criticisms of Genesis.

The critique goes like this: Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel. Abel is killed by Cain. Cain goes on to get married and have children. So where did Cain find a wife?

Logic says Cain would have to have married his sister or a niece.

An internet search of "who was Cain's wife" yields LOTS of web pages. Some use that question to trash Christianity and others come up with a response defending Christianity. Check it out if you have the curiosity.

Below are summaries of three explanations I read and discussed with a few theology minded friends.

One defense is that indeed INCEST was OKAY in the initial phases of human existence because genetic damage as a result of the FALL had not accumulated to the point of being a problem. Thus, Cain would have married a sister or a niece. Such additional children of Adam and Eve are mentioned in Gen 5:4 and since Adam lived a long time (930 years) and we assume Eve lived quite long as well so they probably had LOTS of children.

The linkage of genetic damage to the Fall is consistent with a holistic approach to humanity. The Fall is about disobedience and there are spiritual consequences. But there are also other consequences that affect our humanity: getting the ground to produce food became difficult and childbirth is painful (physical) and there is conflict between men and women (emotional and psychological).

Thus, after the Fall, in the physical realm, genetic damage built up and at some point, incest became problematic.

One wonders also if the prohibition against incest has basis in emotional harm to those involved in the context of disruption of family structures? Given that life spans are reported to be so much longer in the early part of Genesis and the potential for have such large numbers of children, the disruption to family structures would be reduced and once a large population has been generated the opportunity for marriage with individuals of greater familial distance is more likely.

In any case, by the time of Moses and the Law, incest was explicitly prohibited (Leviticus). However, one must wonder if that was merely a codification of an earlier conclusion. Perhaps even in some middle to later part of Genesis, incest became NOT kosher. As we all know in Genesis there is a lot of polygamy going on and we know that is NOT right.

However, we can say this for sure: God's grace is greater than our sin. Jacob's polygamy was wrong and the constant bickering between his wives is the practical proof that polygamy is a bad idea. Yet, God used him and his family anyway. Whether Abraham's incest was explicitly wrong at that era of Jewish history I don't know but if it was, again God used him anyway.

There are at least two other resolutions to the who was Cain's wife problem.

One idea suggests that there were other humans besides the line of Adam which is hinted at in Gen 6:1-4. It would be safe to say that this is very speculative and not all would make that conclusion from the unusual descriptions of these beings. Theologically, it is also problematic if we believe in the unity of the human race in that we all descend from Adam and Christ is the perfect Adam to effect our redemption.

A third solution is of course that Adam and Eve and other early Genesis persons are non-literal in that they are the personifications of "everyman" and "everywoman" thus incest isn't an issue as the early chapters are generic to describe the human condition i.e. God is the Creator, how sin entered the world, conflict between men and women, sibling rivalries, etc. etc. etc.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Unity beyond demographics

What divides teens from each other these days?

What divides people from each other these days?

That is what the youth group at my church talked about a little while ago.

Probably more or less the same things in past generations but it sure seems like things are more pronounced: rich vs. poor (economics), outgoing vs. quiet (psychological), intact families vs. disrupted structures (social).

The rich vs. poor thing, we have had for all time I suppose. But with today's media advertising and hyper consumer society, I suspect the difference seems more in your face. I don't know if the income disparity today is greater than in the past. Some say it is. I think what is clearly different though is the accessibility of the glamour look of the rich and famous, of the movie stars and popular musicians made instantly available by TV, print media and the Internet. We simply can't escape the "rich and famous" and the "handsome and beautiful." Thus, the desire of young people to catch a little bit of that appearance and aura amplifies the differences in the dollars in their pockets.

There have always been outgoing kids and quiet kids. I was and still am on the quiet side. Certainly as a teen I was extremely self-conscious about it. As an adult, I learned to be a functional extrovert for short periods of time and to grow comfortable with the way God wired me. However, like most humans, I still have my "teen" moments of insecurities. Frightening isn't it that I can be a middle aged person and still feel such moments of terror!

Stats say that divorce is a lot more common these days and so the intact vs. disrupted family structure factor is more evident today. Life isn't fair in this way. Some start the race of life knowing the love of a mom and a dad while others are weighed down with a troubled family life.

In the final analysis though, that is why Christ is so important. In Christ, we are in the same boat and we have our start to having our existential needs met and our wounds can begin to be healed. It is in the community of faith, that we can find what we don't have. And because of the variety of peopled called into the church, we can be matured by giving and receiving love with people different than ourselves.

Now, how do you encourage teenagers to look beyond their own anxieties to help each other out?

How do I do so myself?

LA Film Festival

It is that time of year again for the LA Film Festival. I suppose if I was in "the industry" I'd be all over it. I'll have to look over the schedule and see if anything strikes me and falls at a time I can go see it. As a molecular biologist, I only have a passing awareness of it. I've gone to one film once since I've learned about the festival a few years back.

I sent the link to my friend in "the industry" in Hong Kong who is on top of Asian films in particular. Here are his comments:
For the LA Fest, a lot are American independents which I'm not familiar with. I notice "Pyaasa" is playing which is the classic of Indian cinema. "Hero" from China is beautifully made, but most people here can't buy its political standpoint. The Korean films are always interesting and feel fresh though they may not always be that well made. But I always enjoy the experience of seeing them. "Untold Scandal" is a re-make of the "Dangerous Liaison" story set in ancient Korea. I was in Italy in late April attending a film festival there and saw some good Korean films. But none of them appeared in LA. Pity.

When do you order the airstrike?

A few days ago, I speculated on if and when torture might be "okay."

What about an airstrike on a target where you have indications that terrorists are located in the midst of civilians?

The latest news from Iraq is that several houses in Falluja were hit killing 22. The reason the location was targeted was because some people in the Zarqawi's network were believed to be there.

How do you decide?

If you wait for a totally clear shot, you may never have the shot?

Then given that the terrorists know that the American public and the Iraqi public will be outraged at innocent civilian being killed they will ALWAYS put their headquarters and hold their meetings in the midst of civilians.

So when do you give the order?

How many innocents do we kill going after the guilty?

In our legal system, we have a "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard which means it is possible that occasionally the guilty go free in order we do not imprison the innocent. Of course, in practice, we now and then hear that news that DNA data revealed somebody was convicted incorrectly. There is no perfect system.

Are the standards different in war?

UBL pretty much hides out in caves in the mountains, but what if one of his top level aides is holding a meeting with two mid-level operatives to pass along plans for the next attack against the USA. They don't want to drive into the mountains and risk giving away UBL's location. Instead, they set up a meeting right in the middle of an elementary school, do we hit the target?

In Iraq, what if we find out some Hussein loyalists are plotting to kill the top leaders of the new provisional government. They hold the planning meeting in the back room of a restaurant. Do we raid the restaurant and risk killing 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. civilians who have no idea what is going on in the back?

Again, I have no answers, just a headache thinking about it.

Friday, June 18, 2004

What we are up against

Heard the news on the radio that the terrorists beheaded their hostage, Paul Johnson.

Went to the web and saw the newsflashes on the major news web sites I checked: FoxNews and CNN.

Went to Sullivan to see if he had the story and a comment. He did and he links to Drudge where there are photos.

This is what we are up against.

Angel's #2 in average home attendance!

Check it out.

Only the Yankees have a higher average home attendance in the MLB....   that new owner must really be pleased and his marketing team is doing a great job.

The dream of home ownership

Seems so much a part of American life. But here in Los Angeles, home prices are so high that it is largely out of reach.

Postrel shares about an article she saw from the SF Chronicle. She quotes from it and I'll quote a portion of the quote she used:
Leamer calculated the average P/E for homes in several California metro areas by dividing the median price for a single family home by the average annual rent for a 2,000- square-foot apartment in each region. (You can get more and better data for apartments than rental homes, and the two tend to track each other.)
............
When the economy is booming, investors are willing to pay higher prices for stocks and houses because they think the earnings from these assets will grow faster than normal. Occasionally, they throw common sense out the window and start believing that earnings will continue upward in a never-ending spiral, untouched by forces like competition and economic equilibrium.
Her advice: If you're buying for the short term, don't.

Late night blogger

Can't sleep. Just can't. Listening to the radio. Organized the cupboard. Wrote two snailmail letters. Still can't sleep. So I'm blogging now. Is anybody reading out there at 2:30AM PDT?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Lakers steamrolled by Detroit

What can you say? It was no contest.

Losing game 1 was understandable. It happens. Lakers had too many days off; they were out of synch. They took game 2 so all was looking okay but the fact that it took a miracle shot made fans nervous.

But after the defeat of game 3, it became obvious, the Lakers were done. Detroit was the better team. It was theirs, they would only lose the NBA Title if they beat themselves.

I watched only until the 2nd quarter of game 5 and I knew. I switched to the Dodger game.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The trouble with torture

Honestly don't know what I would do if I was a field commander.

My guts tell me that torture is wrong and that 99.9% of the time you don't do it.

But what do you do if the person you have in custody might have information that may save lives?

Suppose he knows where the cache of roadside bombs are hidden? Suppose she knows which apartment building has the communications headquarters that is directing rocket attacks? Suppose he knows the next time and place a bomb will go off in a crowded shopping mall? Suppose she knows where the car where the nuclear bomb is parked?

These kinds of issues face our soldiers and intelligence agents in the current climate of terrorism.

I got introduced to the TV show 24 while flying back from Geneva. They showed 3 episodes from season one. I eventually rented the DVDs to see the remaining episodes of that season.

I went on to view season two and decided to start watching 1/2 through the season with episode 13.

In the 9pm to 10pm episode, scenario #4 is played out.

In the story, a woman knows where the nuclear bomb is within Los Angeles. Tens of thousands of lives are a stake. She has been shot and wounded. To get information from her Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) doesn't give her any pain medicine. Later, he gives her a short acting mild pain killer and the woman feels better but eventually the medicine wears off and Jack again questions her. He places his hand on her wound so the pain is greater. Eventually, she tells him where the bomb is. Jack looks at her and trusts his intuition and realizes she is lying.

Is torture wrong in this situation? Is it always wrong? And if not always wrong, under what circumstances is it "okay"?

I don't have any answers and thinking about it is giving me a headache.

Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code



I finally got around to reading The Da Vinci Code which has inhabited last year's bestseller lists and created quite a stir. I heard there is even talk of a movie. So the buzz will re-ignite if the film actually gets made and released.

Have you read it? Have some of your friends read it? What do you think? What do they think?

First, I'll write about it in entertainment terms then tackle it theologically.

It is a great detective story page turner. Really fast paced, neat little puzzles, lots of little cliff hangers at the end of short chapters, a conspiracy nut's dream, twists and turns here and there, likeable if thinly drawn characters, all in all an easy read and lots of fun.

I'll be curious to see who gets cast for the movie. Will they land a big star like George Clooney for Prof. Langdon? Will they cast Jennifer Garner as Sophie? I have no idea who they are going to cast but those are my choices.

Anyway, top notch entertainment for a breezy fictional read.

But how does it fare theologically?

The novel reads like it is rooted in truth and history. And indeed, there are elements of truth in the set up to the story and in details along the way. However, Brown does take some liberties to make the story fly with an air of plausibility.

I'll try not to give away the whole story with my critique but I'll certainly be tipping off some things for those who haven't read and plan to.

The book makes three strong theological claims that rest on some weak history:
(1) Gnostic descriptions of the life of Jesus
(2) Conspiracy over the divinity of Jesus
(3) Syncretism of Christianity with paganism.

Brown's story rests on aspects of Jesus life described in Gnostic literature. In brief, Gnostics believed that some secret knowledge was necessary for salvation or enlightenment. Indeed, Brown's book is about a secret society that has some secret information the church is trying to destroy. Some Gnostic literature described a Jesus that is not the same as the one described in the Christian Scriptures (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Brown uses those Gnostic details in his plot.

How does one assess the reliability of ancient documents?

There are several considerations: (1) age of the documents relative to the events they describe i.e. older is generally better (2) numbers of documents consistent with each other i.e. the more independent texts that say the same thing raises confidence and (3) assertion of authenticity i.e. another historical work A makes reference to work B.

On all counts, the Gnostic documentry claims are fairly weak compared with the traditional Gospels.

Brown described a conspiracy regarding the divinity of Jesus. In his book, the characters state that Jesus' divinity was voted in at the Council of Nicea in 325 thus making Jesus divine status a fabrication layered on top of a prior non-divine standing.

This is not an accurate description of the sequence of events. In fact, it is the exact opposite of what happened. The divinity of Jesus was discussed at the very beginning of Christian history before the Council of Nicea. The proximal cause for controversy at Nicea was the teachings about Jesus as less than divine by Arius. Thus, Nicea affirmed the divinity of Christ; it did not invent it.

Finally, Brown's secret society's theology is syncretism of Christianity with Paganism. This divorces the meaning of Christianity from its historic Jewish roots. Judaism held a radically different concept of God and the world when compared to all other religions of its time. Jewish ethical monotheism was incompatible with Paganism (variations of nature worship). I don't doubt that Christianity co-opted some of the symbols and rituals of paganism but its core concepts of God and the nature of the world are Jewish not Pagan.

In the end, the book is entertaining and speculative. However, it has to be taken as nothing more than that. For those who have no religious affiliations or subscribe to one other than Christianity, this book could further bolster their skepticism of Christianity. For Christians or undecideds with less familiarity with doctrine and history, this book could shake their faith and confuse them. Thus, it is incumbant on those who take Christianity seriously to gently but firmly point out where Brown is speculative and mis-reports history and with humility explain the traditional, and I believe correct, understanding of Christianity.

To read much more detailed analysis of Da Vinci Code, check out the articles from this Protestant site and this and this from a Catholic site.

Friday, June 11, 2004

More Reagan Remembrances

Postrel is probably similar in age to myself so as I read her analysis, I couldn't help but feel as if she was speaking for my generation.
Those young people aren't young anymore. We're middle aged, and the world bears little resemblance to the one we grew up in. It is, despite its obvious ills, a lot better.

Whatever impressions nostalgic TV shows may leave with those too young to remember the real decade, the late 1960s and 1970s were a scary time to grow up. The world just kept getting worse and worse, and nobody seemed to know why.
.................
Many of his conservative allies, taught by the terrors of the 20th century, firmly believed that history is a tragedy, that the best we can do is to fight a long, twilight struggle. They believed that evil is as strong as, perhaps stronger, than good, and that tyranny is more powerful than freedom. At the time, I believed them too.

Reagan believed in the triumph of good and the strength of freedom. He acted on those convictions, and he was right.
I was writing some emails to some younger friends (20-somethings) trying to explain why Reagan was such a big deal. I was not quite a teenager yet but I knew Nixon resigned in disgrace, Ford was the target of assasination twice, Carter grew old in front of our eyes, the economy was a basketcase and the USSR seemed as powerful as the Empire in the Star Wars movies.

Reagan came along in 1980 and as he was sworn in as President in January 1981, the Iranian hostages were released and there was possibility in the air. Then, the news was filtering throughout my high school: Reagan had been shot and at the hospital, Brady was dead (incorrect but Brady was seriously wounded), a Secret Service agent wounded and a looney guy with a handgun had been arrested.

Hope was dashed. The world was still mad afterall. No one could do the job of President.

But Reagan survived the wounds and the nation eventually rallied with his buoyant spirit and policies.

Reagan was derided for being simplistic with statements about "morning in America," USSR as "Evil Empire" and America as a "shining city on a hill."

But sometimes the simple is the profound because they are true and provide hope.

Jerusalem by William Blake


A search yields many pages so here is just one.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
I heard it before I ever read it. It appeared in the film "Chariots of Fire" and today, it was sung at the Reagan Memorial at the National Cathedral.

I'm inspired by these words.

Each of us has something we can do to make this world a better place. Each of us can help advance the Kingdom of God.

Reagan did his work on a large and public stage. God will welcomed him home with the words, "Well done good and faithful servant."

In our own little corners of this planet, let's give our best too.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

@ the movies: Chronicles of Riddick


It was a free promotional movie night so why not? Riddick is kind of Matrix (lots of hand-to-hand combat and gunplay) meets Lord of the Rings (multiple races and hints of mythology) meets Star Wars (high tech spaceships and some mysticism). I am guessing the audience was loaded with Vin Diesel fans because beats me what gets people in to see a movie like this aside from it being free.

Anyway, the special effects are not bad but clearly they don't have the near unlimited budget Jackson and Lucas work with. The fight scenes though vigorous don't have the detailed ballet quality of the Matrix. And as for establishing a mythology for the Riddick world, I didn't see the first film so I don't know the set up and to be honest the "hero" of the story is not clearly good nor bad and thus lacked the emotional punch that a more direct moral tale like Lord of the Rings had. I don't expect my movie heroes to be flawless but Diesel's character is somewhat ambivalent at times.

On a technical note, the sound and film editing at times wasn't as seemless as I'd expect. I'm not in the industry so if I notice it felt a bit odd then it must have been pretty out of kilter.

2 stars out of 4. If you want an action flick and aren't looking for anything too complicated, this film will do.

On a side note, will Alexa Davalos become a star? Some of the fans at IMDB seem to think so.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Two Brothers


Went to an audience test screening of Two Brothers. I'm told by industry friends that they want to measure audience reaction like laughter, cheering, clapping and any obvious reactions to what is going. The film goes into general release at the end of the month; thus, I'm told, the final edits maybe guided by this kind of test screening.

As a condition of seeing the movie for free, I can't say anything about the film in terms of details. I will say though that I liked it. I wondered how you can make a movie so dependent on animals and they did a remarkable job.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Doing the DVD rental thing: Lost in Translation

It sure had a lot of hype last year. People were raving about it. Sofia Coppola nabbed an Oscar for her screenplay.

Did you see the film?

I finally got around to seeing it on DVD.

I'd give it 3 stars out of 4.

Some of the ethnic stereotyping was a little tiresome. But other than that, I was intrigued by the film.

The sound of the film is mesmerizing; the sounds of the city and the pulsating music score. There is also the karoake and lounge singers setting the emotional contours of scenes. Try watching the film with the close captioning ON -- it helped make the film so enjoyable for me. The music playing in the background isn't just for mood but the very lyrics of the songs are integral parts of the scene. Astute viewers can catch it without the captions but they helped me.

As I watched, I wondered how is Sofia getting away with a movie with so LITTLE dialog. It is easy when you have songs that say what you want the audience to know about the characters. Also credit Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson for being terrific non-verbal communicators.

Coppola and her team have provided a visual and aural gem that evokes that discombobulated feeling any one has in a crowded big city. That feeling is magnified when you don't understand the language and culture. I've been a tourist and that "stranger in a strange land" feeling is at once alluring and intimidating.

Coppola has followed the adage about dialog that sometimes less is better. There are longish scenes where you follow Johansson or Murray around their solitary lives wordlessly that so sharply highlights their existential loneliness. The jet lagged sleepless nights for the two characters are just the physical manifestations of their emotional restlessness.

The characters are there for different reasons and fate puts them in each other's orbits and eventually they talk and connect. If you check out this quotes page you won't find any long monologues and in fact it contains much of the dialog in the movie!

Here is an example of the dialog:
Charlotte: I just don't know what I'm supposed to be.
Bob: You'll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.
Sparse but effective.

On a personal note, you know you are "getting old" when you find your self relating to Murray's character in this movie! When I heard that line, I just smiled. I've said variants of that to younger people in my life.

Murray's Bob Harris character settles into his role as the person Charlotte can confide in because he has seen and experienced all she wonders and fears about her future. Likewise, Johansson's Charlotte listens to his regrets but also provides a youthful spirit of adventure to rekindle the spark of life in Harris. Thus, this unlikely pair provide for each other exactly what they need at this season of their life.

A strong connection between the two develop but the circumstances of their lives cannot be escaped.

Coppola's screenplay brings these two people together in a setting that will assure they have to part. She took us along for the ride with these two but now she has to take them away from each other and from us. I'd be really curious to know how much of the finale was Coppola's ideas and how much was improvised as Johansson and Murray worked the scenes together?

We are treated to one final good-bye when they embrace amidst a crowd of people on a noisy busy street and our odd couple share a few words we aren't allowed to hear. Whatever was said transforms their sadness into a bitter-sweet sadness that allows them both to go on back to their lives a bit better off than when we first met them.

What would you have said?

Sunday, June 06, 2004

A weekend of history: Reagan passes from the scene and D-day is remembered


News on Saturday started with various stories about the D-day remembrances in France but by the afternoon, attention switched to California as the report came in that President Reagan died. As the weekend progressed, plans for how the memorials will be scheduled took shape.

My first presidential ballot was cast in 1984 and it was to re-elect Ronald Reagan. Many will write about his contributions far more eloquently and with greater detail than I. I voted for him simply because he took a stand regarding the danger posed by the USSR, pointed the way toward a more modest role for government and restored America's sense of its place in the world.

60 years ago, the danger was Nazi Germany and America stood up to take on the great challenge of liberating Europe. Be sure to take time to read at least some of the stories of heroes and details of D-day. When I read the accounts of what it was like to storm the beaches and jump out of planes, I am just amazed.

It is good to know that there are still people who have that kind of courage today.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Thank you for your service


One of my friends has a child graduating from the US Air Force Academy. Well, that child is now a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force and serving our country. I made sure I sent an email note to say thanks.

Here is the graduation speech from President Bush given on June 2, 2004 at the USAF Academy. Excerpts:
This is a week of remembrance for our country. On Saturday we dedicated the World War II Memorial in Washington, in the company of veterans who fought and flew at places like Midway, and Iwo Jima and Normandy. This weekend I will go to France for the ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of D-Day, at a place where the fate of millions turned on the courage of thousands. In these events we recall a time of peril, and national unity, and individual courage. We honor a generation of Americans who served this country and saved the liberty of the world. (Applause.)

On this day in 1944, General Eisenhower sat down at his headquarters in the English countryside, and wrote out a message to the troops who would soon invade Normandy. "Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force," he wrote, "the eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you."
...............
Like the murderous ideologies of the 20th century, the ideology of terrorism reaches across boarders, and seeks recruits in every country. So we're fighting these enemies wherever they hide across the earth.

Like other totalitarian movements, the terrorists seek to impose a grim vision in which dissent is crushed, and every man and woman must think and live in colorless conformity. So to the oppressed peoples everywhere, we are offering the great alternative of human liberty.

Like enemies of the past, the terrorists underestimate the strength of free peoples. The terrorists believe that free societies are essentially corrupt and decadent, and with a few hard blows will collapse in weakness and in panic. The enemy has learned that America is strong and determined, because of the steady resolve of our citizens, and because of the skill and strength of the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and the United States Air Force. (Applause.)

And like the aggressive ideologies that rose up in the early 1900s, our enemies have clearly and proudly stated their intentions: Here are the words of al Qaeda's self-described military spokesman in Europe, on a tape claiming responsibility for the Madrid bombings. He said, "We choose death, while you choose life. If you do not stop your injustices, more and more blood will flow and these attacks will seem very small compared to what can occur in what you call terrorism."

Here are the words of another al Qaeda spokesman, Suleiman Abu Gheith. Last year, in an article published on an al Qaeda website, he said, "We have the right to kill four million Americans -- two million of them children -- and to exile twice as many and wound and cripple hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, it is our right to fight them with chemical and biological weapons."

In all these threats, we hear the echoes of other enemies in other times -- that same swagger and demented logic of the fanatic. Like their kind in the past, these murderers have left scars and suffering. And like their kind in the past, they will flame and fail and suffer defeat by free men and women. (Applause.)

The enemies of freedom are opposed by a great and growing alliance. Nations that won the Cold War, nations once behind an Iron Curtain, and nations on every continent see this threat clearly. We're cooperating at every level of our military, law enforcement and intelligence to meet the danger. The war on terror is civilization's fight. And, as in the struggles of the last century, civilized nations are waging this fight together.
...................
This is the great challenge of our time, the storm in which we fly. History is once again witnessing a great clash. This is not a clash of civilizations. The civilization of Islam, with its humane traditions of learning and tolerance, has no place for this violent sect of killers and aspiring tyrants. This is not a clash of religions. The faith of Islam teaches moral responsibility that ennobles men and women, and forbids the shedding of innocent blood. Instead, this is a clash of political visions.

In the terrorists' vision of the world, the Middle East must fall under the rule of radical governments, moderate Arab states must be overthrown, nonbelievers must be expelled from Muslim lands, and the harshest practice of extremist rule must be universally enforced. In this vision, books are burned, terrorists are sheltered, women are whipped, and children are schooled in hatred and murder and suicide.

Our vision is completely different. We believe that every person has a right to think and pray and live in obedience to God and conscience, not in frightened submission to despots. (Applause.) We believe that societies find their greatness by encouraging the creative gifts of their people, not in controlling their lives and feeding their resentments. And we have confidence that people share this vision of dignity and freedom in every culture because liberty is not the invention of Western culture, liberty is the deepest need and hope of all humanity. The vast majority of men and women in Muslim societies reject the domination of extremists like Osama bin Laden. They're looking to the world's free nations to support them in their struggle against the violent minority who want to impose a future of darkness across the Middle East. We will not abandon them to the designs of evil men. We will stand with the people of that region as they seek their future in freedom.
...................
Some who call themselves "realists" question whether the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be any concern of ours. But the realists in this case have lost contact with a fundamental reality. America has always been less secure when freedom is in retreat. America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.
................
In the years immediately after World War II ended, our nation faced more adversity and danger with the rise of imperial communism. In 1947, communist forces were pressing a civil war in Greece, and threatening Turkey. More than two years after the Nazi surrender, there was still starvation in Germany, reconstruction seemed to be faltering, and the Marshall Plan had not yet begun. In 1948, Berlin was blockaded on the orders of Josef Stalin. In 1949, the Soviet Union exploded a nuclear weapon, and communists in China won their revolution.

All of this took place in the first four years of the Cold War. If that generation of Americans had lost its nerve, there would have been no "long twilight struggle," only a long twilight. But the United States and our allies kept faith with captive peoples, and stayed true to the vision of a democratic Europe. And that perseverance gave all the world a lesson in the power of liberty. (Applause.)

We are now about three years into the war against terrorism. We have overcome great challenges, we face many today, and there are more ahead. This is no time for impatience and self-defeating pessimism. These times demand the kind of courage and confidence that Americans have shown before. Our enemy can only succeed if we lose our will and faith in our own values. And ladies and gentlemen, our will is strong. We know our duty. By keeping our word, and holding firm to our values, this generation will show the world the power of liberty once again. (Applause.)

For four years, you have trained and studied and worked for this moment. And now it has come. You are the ones who will defeat the enemies of freedom. Your country is depending on your courage and your dedication to duty. The eyes of the world are upon you. You leave this place at a historic time, and you enter this struggle ahead with the full confidence of your Commander-in-Chief. I thank each of you for accepting the hardships and high honor of service in the United States military. And I congratulate every member of the Rickenbacker Class of 2004. (Applause.)

May God bless you.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

LA County Seal controversy


The ACLU threatened to sue LA County because of a small Cross on the county seal. The County as of now plans to remove it.

Dennis Prager is calling for people to call the Supervisors. Volokh is on the story, here and here.

This is just unbelievable. If you look at the seal, the biggest item is the goddess Pomona. So anybody want to sue the county for promoting paganism?

Just leave the seal alone, it is fine the way it is!!!

UPDATE: I faxed my support for the seal and encouraged the supervisors to resist the ACLU. My supervisor is Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (2nd District)
Office number 213-974-2222
Fax number 213-680-3283

Here is text of what I sent:

Dear Supervisor Burke:

I'd like to register my support for the current county seal and encourage you and the rest of the board to resist the ACLU's attempt to selectively erase a part of our city's history. Please do not allow this kind of pressure from the ACLU to succeed. It is a highly selective attempt on their part to suppress a part of our county and nation's heritage. Thanks for your consideration.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

@ the movies: Shrek 2


Saw the film a few days back. In brief, 3 stars out of 4 and a thumbs up.

Sequels are tough and they did a wonderful job with a nice story, humor, fun music and great computer animation work.

However, I have to say, I felt the first film had more charm.

This go around they larded it up with a lot of pop culture references. I got some of them but it was pretty clear I am not as in tune with things as the rest of the audience. That kind of wink-wink in-the-know humor works up to a point but is lost on people who aren't as culturally in tune.

Also, having seen the first film, I could guess how this film would turn out.

Nonetheless, go out and see if you want a feel good romantic movie.

Myers, Murphy and Bandaras are pretty funny.

Not as much time for Cameron Diaz and she was definitely a highlight in the first film.

Al-Qaeda October Surprise?


One has to wonder what UBL and his braintrust have in store. It is likely that they carried off the major terrorist strike just before the Spanish elections so that the Spanish people would vote out the incumbent party supportive of participation in Iraq.

Al-Qaeda has to be eyeing the US November elections.

Kerry is making noises in his speeches that he would be tough on terrorism and the opposition in Iraq. However, would a President Kerry stick to that if there were to be more casualties in Iraq? When more deaths occur, would he be able to resist the wing of his party that wants to pull the troops out of Iraq?

Al-Qaeda has to make a political calculation about the US elections: would a terrorist strike on American soil help or hurt Kerry's chances to become president?

If the attack is foiled or partially foiled or of relatively small impact, would that strengthen Bush's re-election? What if a large attack proves successful, would the US rally behind Bush or be like Spain and vote him out?

UBL also has to consider the possibility that doing nothing maybe the better strategy for his war on the infidels. As the American public thinks the terrorist threat has receded, they may toss Bush out like the way the British voted out Churchill after WW2?

If they opt for an attack, what would it be? And where?

Living out here in Los Angeles, do we have the same sense of urgency like NY and DC? Would our city be ready? One wonders...

But just as the people of Israel live with daily threats and go on about their lives, we must to.

Let's give a shout out to the brave men and women of the armed forces and various other law enforcement and emergency responders and un-heralded analysts working behind the scenes trying to keep us safe.