Friday, February 25, 2005

In memoriam: Jacov Tal (1940-2005)

I recently received news that Jacov Tal died. He was remembered in the journal Retrovirology in an editorial titled, Jacov Tal (1940 - 2005): remembrances of a friend.

When I was a post-doctoral fellow at the NIH, I shared bench space with him for several months. I remember he was a very expressive man sharing stories and opinions about whatever with never a dull moment. I feel appreciation as I look back at that short but good time of our interaction because I received encouragment from him, the seasoned veteran of research life, while I was just starting out. Lastly I sense, as all do when someone you know even if only briefly has passed from the scene, a sadness that time went by so quickly. He returned to Israel after his sabbatical at the NIH and I got an email from him me wondering if I would someday visit Israel and stop by his lab. I emailed back that indeed, visiting Israel was something I hoped to do in my lifetime. He wrote back, well, you know some people's lifetimes are a little further along than others. To my regret, I've still yet to visit Israel.

Be sure to click here to read more recollections.

Oscar blogging

Well, since I'm an LA-based blogger, I have to at least have ONE post about the Oscars!

If you are a regular visitor to this outpost on the web, you see the occasional movie review. I wouldn't be considered a big movie goer though. And as proof of that, I offer you this tidbit: I haven't seen any of films nominated for the big awards!

I'll print out the Oscar nominee list and make my predictions before show time so you can use them! I won the pick'em contest two years in-a-row (several years ago) at Oscar viewing parties - "Past performance is not an indicator of future results" - and on those years I also saw either none or one or at most two of the nominated films!

UPDATE: Here you go, my picks for the Oscars...

The big six:
Actor - Jamie Foxx (won)
Supporting Actor - Morgan Freeman (won)
Actress - Hilary Swank (won)
Supporting Actress - Virginia Madsen (Blanchett got it)
Directing - Marty finally wins one (Eastwood wins it, his third)
Picture - Aviator, though a split verdict to Million Dollar Baby is possible (Million Dollar Baby wins)

The rest:
Animated - Incredibles (won)
Art Direction - Phantom (Aviator wins)
Cinematography - House of Flying Daggers (Aviator wins)
Costume - Aviator (won)
Film Editing - Aviator (won)
Foreign - The Sea Inside (won)
Makeup - Lemony Snicket (won)
Score - Lemony Snicket (Finding Neverland wins)
Song - Shrek 2, "Accidentally In Love" (Motorcycle Diaries wins)
Sound Editing - Spider-Man 2 (Incredibles)
Sound Mixing - Spider-Man 2 (Ray)
Visual Effects - Spider-man 2 (won)
Adapted screenplay - Sideways (won)
Original screenplay - Eternal Sunshine (won)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What I'm listening to: Brubeck "Take Five"

It has got to be one of the most mesmerizing pieces of music!

The producers of West Wing closed out tonight's episode with "Take Five" as three of the story threads wound down at a White House party.

After the show, I cued it up on my iTunes!

Thoughts at the midnight hour

Isn't it odd that sometimes clarity of thought comes at the midnight hour?

I suppose maybe the quietness of the hour has something to do with it.

I suppose because one is not dashing off to go do something might help focus the thoughts of the mind.

Was browsing a book loaned to me by one of my guy buddies.

The book is titled, "Singles at the Cross-Roads" by Albert Hsu from InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Was flipping through the book reading a paragraph here and a paragraph there.

One section caught my eye and after reading it, I had to blog about it.

pp. 156-157 excerpt:

Celibacy is not as foreign a concept as we might think.... It is no higher calling for singles to be celibate than for married couples to be monogamous. Just as married couples vow to be monogamous, these singles vow to be celibate.
...
A single who is committed to celibacy will develop the discipline needed to practice fidelity in marriage.... If one cannot be celebate as a single, how does one expect to be faithful as a spouse?
...
... married couples must learn to relate as friends, not only as sexual partners. [Norris writes] "It is precisely the skills of celebate friendship - fostering intimacy through letters, conversation, performing mundane tasks together (thus rendering them pleasurable), savoring the holy simplicity of a shared meal, or a walk together at dusk - that can help marriage survive the rough spots. When you can't make love physically, you figure out other ways to do it."

What do you think?

What an idea, eh? Celibacy as an honorable thing. Expressing celebate friendship is a form of love just as valuable as marital physical union.

Will this idea make inroads on our sex-obsessed society?

Sure might make us all a bit more healthy and less neurotic, eh?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Isn't the internet amazing? Streaming audio

As I type this, I'm listening to UC Irvine Anteater Basketball via KUCI streaming audio.

Since the Anteaters are a small basketball program, they are not on the big AM sports radio stations.

But with streaming audio, I'm listening to the game against Long Beach State.

42 seconds left and the Anteaters have the ball but are behind. They just missed the shot and had two follow ons but failed to score. The Beach get the rebound.

UCI is now down by 4 with 18 seconds left. Missed the 3 and goes out of bounds. Long Beach State has the ball and immediately fouled.

10 seconds left.

Its a final. LB 55 UCI 50.

UCI drops to 7th in the Big West.

Monday, February 14, 2005

LA Dining: Cafe Pinot

Looking for some downtown dining? Looking for a place for the pre-show dinner or the post-matinee dinner? Give Cafe Pinot a try.

Cafe Pinot is part of the Patina Group of restaurants.

Food:
Terrific food. I had the Caesar salad for appetizer. For entree, I had the lamb loin. My other dining companions had the duck and the veal. I got to sample a bit of the meats from the other two meals and they were excellent as well. Portion sizes are appropriate and well presented. Obviously, you aren't going to Cafe Pinot to stuff yourself! For dessert, the three of us split the creme brulee and the chocolate decadence. Yummmmm...

Service:
Service from the staff was friendly and generally good. However, we were there with the post-matinee opera crowd AND as the pre-musical crowd was arriving there so things got pretty busy and some customers were unhappy.

Atmosphere:
Nice indoor and outdoor seating. We had outdoor with the heat lamp which works pretty well. The outside has a view of the towering buildings of downtown which was quite spectacular especially at night.

Price:
Dinner for three with tax and tip came out around $150. A real bonus of Cafe Pinot is *no* corkage fee! We found this out from the posts over at Chowhound.com.

Check out the Citysearch review of Cafe Pinot where it won a "highly recommended" rating.

Location:
Cafe Pinot
700 W 5th St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Phone: (213) 239-6500

LA Scene: LA Opera performance of Verdi's Aida

I've gone to the LA Opera once a year for the last three years. It is a great excuse to dress up and to experience the emotional power of the performing arts. Indeed, it is a little expensive but for an annual treat, it is just fine.

I've seen Turandot, Madama Butterfly and now Aida.

As an opera novice, I don't have a large pool of knowledge to draw from to comment but as I compare it with the other two I've seen, it is more emotionally satisfying than the other two. Not more emotionally intense, that prize goes to Butterfly but more satisfying in that I don't leave the opera house feeling terribly sad (Butterfly) or having a ambiguous sense of the reality or non-realty of the love of the two characters (Turandot).

It is a running joke about opera that everyone dies at the end though in Turandot that isn't the case but there was the threat of death!

Well, in Aida, I hope it doesn't ruin it for you, dear readers, for me to say that death happens at the end. However, unlike the tragic solitary death of Butterfly by suicide in Madama Butterfly, the sorrowful end of Aida is elevated by love and companionship in death. See the opera or read a synopsis and you will know what I mean.

Aida as a stage production is rather lavish. Lots of great colorful costumes and as a four-act story, there are some set and scenery changes which are pretty neat.

An element I didn't know about in advance was the extended ballet and dance sections in the opera. These were set to beautiful music, lively choreography and excellent usage of props.

The beauty of the music works at two levels for me: since we have supertitles in English, there is the cognitive element of the words that reaches the mind first then stirs the heart as the emotion of the words take root; and the other level is the sheer beauty of the aural quality of voice and music that conveys emotion directly bypassing the intellect as I don't know Italian and I'm not always watching the supertitles.

My final comment about the event is the demographics of the audience. In the past, I had a picture of opera in my head as an "old persons" kind of thing or of the "Frazier Crane" snooty crowd. The reality is, after seeing three operas now, the opera audience is actually quite diverse and even I dare say young. And LA is LA after all and the crowd though well dressed is far from 100% swanky.

Here is the LA Opera page for the current production of Aida which ends this week.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Bruin Basketball

The last time I saw a Bruin men's basketball game was three years ago. That team was the second to last group that was under coach Steve Lavin. On that night, UCLA pulled off the upset of Arizona when Jason Kapono hit a go ahead three pointer. Arizona had one final possession with very little time on the clock and didn't score.

That UCLA team was hot and cold all year and promptly flopped in the Pac-10 tournament in the first round but then in the NCAA stunned U of Cincy Bearcats in the second round to make it into the Sweet 16. The Bruins led slightly against the Mizou Tigers in the second half but then ran out of gas going down to defeat.

The Bruins have not made it to the NCAA since.

The Pac-10 has been on the decline and it is generally believed that only the top three teams will go to the NCAA this year. Currently, UCLA is in third place but today face Arizona.

I saw UCLA defeat ASU last Thursday night 95-76.

It was their best all around effort this season. Defense was solid. They only had 13 turnovers and held their own in the rebounding department. It was also a career best for Dijon Thompson who scored 27 in the first half and finished with 39 total.

Jordan Farmar got 18 points in the second half. Brian Morrison also contributed 13.

Clap - clap - clap - clap - clap - clap - clap - clap - U - C - L - A!!!

The famed floor. Now, called the Nell and John Wooden Court.



The last banner, ten years ago which was the first and only banner after Wooden retired with a championship team in 1975.



The 2004-2005 edition warming up.



Game in hand ...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Sherry, I can relate...

One of my periodic blog visits is to Scheherazade's Stay of Execution. Sherry, for short, is a recovering lawyer living in Maine who writes beautifully and honestly.

Obviously, one can't really "know" somebody really well via a blog but it does provide a window into their thinking and their world and often times I find myself saying, yup, you said it right, Sherry.

Demographically and from what personality traits that show through in her blog says we are probably polar opposites in many things. Yet, I find I visit her site time and again because she is able to put into words the thoughts that are bouncing around in my brain looking for words.

Here is a sampling of some of her recent posts:

On politics...
I worked at a venture capital firm for a while and really do love capitalism and the creativity and innovation that accompany entrepreneurship.  I am sometimes impatient with my more liberal friends at how easily they seem willing to hamstring businesses (always calling them "big corporations" as though that makes them evil somehow).  I don't like paying taxes.  But I am now a registered Democrat because I also believe that we need to take care of one another.  We need to be kind.  It is too easy to be selfish -- I know too many good intentioned people who are selfish, including me -- for us to take away the safety nets that government run social services provide.  I would love to believe that private charities would do social services better, more efficiently, without pork and waste, but I'm afraid I just can't see it, based on what I have experienced of human nature.  I care a lot about public education, although for the life of me I can't figure out how to fix it, or even at what level (city, state, nation?) it should be addressed.

I feel much the same way about things with the exception, I opted to register Republican. I too want a social safety net. I recognize that locally run private charities might not be up to the task as she does. However, I guess where we differ is that she has more confidence in the government to get it right than I do.

On feminism...

I can say that I am glad to be born in the generation of women that I'm in.  I've never felt limited -- professionally, intellectually, financially, socially -- by my gender.  I mean, maybe from time to time I have, but those moments are rare and strange.  The general water I swim in is full of possibility.  I'm accustomed to being the only woman in a room full of men and am not a bit shy or self-conscious about it.  A lot of times I hardly notice it, in fact. 
................
I can also say that I'm trying to figure out what it means to be "feminine."  And that I'm interested in it.  I'm learning, I think, how to be more feminine, not in terms of artifice and makeup and fashion, but in terms of how I respond to the world and to my own feelings.  I think I've lived a lot of my life trying to be exclusively rational, assertive, competitive, jovial, and self-determining.  I'm learning how to be more intuitive, responsive, connected, emotional, and fluid.  I'm not sure it's so much learning how to be those things as it is relaxing and not trying to pretend I don't have those parts of me.  I don't know what this has to do with feminism but it has a lot to do with me trying to figure out how being a woman affects how I move in this world, and what my impact and influence will be.

As a guy, I respect what Sherry is saying here. I like the idea and fact that women are equals and when I meet a woman who is living up to that, I like that. I also like the idea and fact that these same women who are my equals are also seeking to understand that they are women and thus there is something different about being female and relishing that.

As a guy, I like treating my women friends as equals. Yet, interestingly, there are times when being a guy means being the one who seeks to protect and serve the women in my life in ways that are appropriate to the relationship I have with her. And it is really great when I perceive that, act on that and my woman friend appreciates me for doing so.

On Valentine's Day...

The thing I don't like about Valentine's Day is that it makes me ashamed to be alone.  It doesn't make me feel any lonelier than I do ordinarily -- and these days, I'm pretty contented.  But it makes me ashamed.  I feel like it's not socially acceptable to be single; like there's no place for me; like I'm a loser.  I feel like I need to explain myself or come up with a good excuse.  I've been sick.  The dog ate my boyfriend.  I don't have a good excuse.  I'm single.  I'd like, I suppose, not to be single. 

Sherry, I can relate ...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Friedman on Iraqi Vote

This item in the NYT will not be free for much longer. Thus, here are some excerpts from International Affairs writer Thomas Friedman.
As someone who believed, hoped, worried, prayed, worried, hoped and prayed some more that Iraqis could one day pull off the election they did, I am unreservedly happy about the outcome - and you should be, too.

Why? Because what threatens America most from the Middle East are the pathologies of a region where there is too little freedom and too many young people who aren't able to achieve their full potential. The only way to cure these pathologies is with a war of ideas within the Arab-Muslim world so those with bad ideas can be defeated by those with progressive ones.

We can't fight that war. Only the Arab progressives can - only they can tell the suicide bombers that what they are doing is shameful to Islam and to Arabs. But we can collaborate with them to create a space in the heart of their world where decent people have a chance to fight this war - and that is what American and British soldiers have been doing in Iraq.
.............
But wait - not everyone is wearing a smiley face after the Iraqi elections, and that is good, considering who is unhappy. Let's start with the mullahs in Iran. Those who think that a Shiite-led government in Iraq is going to be the puppet of Iran's Shiite ayatollahs are so wrong. It is the ayatollahs in Iran who are terrified today.
.............
Then there is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This Charles-Manson-with-a-turban who heads the insurgency in Iraq had a bad hair day on Sunday. I wonder whether anyone told him about the suicide bomber who managed to blow up only himself outside a Baghdad polling station and how Iraqi voters walked around his body, spitting on it as they went by.
.............
In other words, this election has made it crystal clear that the Iraq war is not between fascist insurgents and America, but between the fascist insurgents and the Iraqi people. One hopes the French and Germans, whose newspapers often sound more like Al Jazeera than Al Jazeera, will wake up to this fact and throw their weight onto the right side of history.

It's about time, because whatever you thought about this war, it's not about Mr. Bush any more. It's about the aspirations of the Iraqi majority to build an alternative to Saddamism. By voting the way they did, in the face of real danger, Iraqis have earned the right to ask everyone now to put aside their squabbles and focus on what is no longer just a pipe dream but a real opportunity to implant decent, consensual government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.

Monday, February 07, 2005

What I'm listening to: Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel (track 11 "In Good Company" soundtrack)

A friend sent me a surprise gift of music.

In Good Company

One of the tracks, Solsbury Hill, in particular tele-ported me to my youthful days.

According to this web page, the song is autobiographical about Gabriel as he prepared to leave the group Genesis.

Here are the lyrics:

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
(I) just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home."

To keepin' silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho' my life was in a rut
"Till I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" he said "Grab your things
I've come to take you home."
(Back home.)

When illusion spin her net
I'm never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No on taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don't need a replacement
I'll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" I said "You can keep my things,
they've come to take me home."

When I first read the lyrics, I have to say I thought of death. For those who believe in an afterlife, a metaphor for death is going home. Also, there is a sense of liberation in death and you see that in the imagery of an eagle flying free in the first stanza and in the last stanz the release death affords leading to that "smile on my face."

Indeed, if Gabriel was writing about his departing from the group Genesis, the whole sense of "death" and "loss" makes sense because he was a part of that group and it hurts to leave. But then there is also freedom and liberation at finally breaking the ties that had become burdens as in " Which connection I should cut... I was feeling part of the scenery... I walked right out of the machinery."

Stay tuned for more music blogging as there are many wonderful tracks on this CD! I'm hunting the internet to find out when "Soundtrack of our lives" (2 tracks on the CD) will be in LA. I'm also curious to know more about "Iron and Wine" (3 tracks on the CD). In addition to lifting music from these groups, Stephen Trask supplies a few nice little instrumental tracks which just fits into the film so well.

Just another Patriot Super Bowl victory

What can you say?

They have won 3 of the last 4.

You have to take your hats off to them.

The key stat: THREE interceptions of McNabb.

One less interception, the Eagles probably tie or win the game.

As for the infamous TO, you have to give him credit for taking the field and being a factor in the game.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

LA Dining: Echigo

Looking for a real sushi place?

Give Echigo a try.

They only serve sushi items. No noodles. No teriyaki. No California Rolls or any other mutant forms of the real deal.

Food:
I'm not a huge sushi fan but this place was recommended by a friend who is. I think my prior experience with sushi may have been skewed by trying not so good places. At the risk of sounding unsophisticated, some of my prior sushi meals left me feeling like I was eating bait. I have gone fishing and use fish bait and it has that fishy aroma. None of that aroma as you walk into the restaurant and none of that in the 9 individual items I had. Clearly they are passionate about what they are doing as each item was hand crafted on the spot. Some items are artfully decorated with a bit of chopped vegetable while others have tiny swirls of sauce.

Service:
Eager service from the staff. As each sushi item was prepared, it is brought over without fanfare and the occasional word of advice, no sauce please.

Atmosphere:
Simplicity. Mostly tables for two and a some tables for four. Sushi bar seating for "chef's choice" option. A la carte for the tables. Not really a "date" type of place unless you both happen to be sushi fanatics!

Price:
Dinner for two with tax and tip came out to around $62.

Location:
Echigo Restaurant
12217 Santa Monica Blvd. #201
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310-820-9787