Monday, June 27, 2005

LA Scene: Pasadena Pops at Descanso Gardens

The LA Phil isn't the only game in town when it comes to orchestral ensembles. There is the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra led by John Mauceri. There is the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Last Sunday, I got a chance to hear the Pasadena Pops Orchestra under the baton of their artistic director Rachael Worby. They hold their summer series at Descanso Gardens.

The event ran with the title, "MOZART, McCARTNEY AND MORE!" and was a special event funded by Rusnak Auto Group for their customers and employees.

The event theme was all kinds of music by composers starting with the letter M. Worby seemed to genuinely enjoy hamming it up for the audience and later bantering with Joely Fisher who was the headlining vocalist.

The program with the "M" theme included classical excerpts like the Clarinet Concerto by Mozart with solo by Andrew Leonard a talented clarinetist from the USC School of Music, Mendelssohn's famed Violin Concerto with teenage sensation Kenneth Hamao who brought the audience to its feet with his amazing violin work, Mussorgsky's "The Great Gate of Kiev" from Pictures at an Exhibition and Mahler's bright second movement from his Symphony No. 1.

As a pops concert, there was also more contemporary works like Moncayo's "Huapango," an orchestral arrangement of jazz great Thelonius Monk's "Blue Monk," Morricone's main title theme for "Cinema Paradiso" and a medley of Beatles music.

Half the show was the Pasadena Pops working the wide range of music just described. In the other half of the show, they provided the accompaniment to the vivacious singing of Joely Fisher who grew up here in Southern California.

Fisher sang a variety of numbers including material from Barry Manilow, Sarah McLachlan and Alanis Morissette.

She saved the biggest applause getter for last when she started singing Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and was joined on stage with her sister who sang the second verse and then by her mom Connie Stevens who sang the third verse.

The Hollywood Bowl, of course, is a summer institution. But if you are looking for a more intimate setting consider the Pasadena Pops. They put on a really good show!

UPDATE: Here is an item from the Glendale News-Press. Excerpt: It's summer in the city and that can mean only one thing -- there's music in the air. The Pasadena Pops Orchestra is gearing up for its opening performance "Mozart, McCartney and More" this weekend at Descanso Gardens in La CaƱada-Flintridge. The special guest is multitalented stage and film star Joely Fisher. Also featured on the program are soloists, violin wizard Ken Hamao and clarinetist Andrew Leonard.
Another added bonus will be nine members from the Side-By-Side-By-Symphony program, which allows young musicians in middle and high schools to gain experience performing with a professional orchestra.

"These are especially gifted students that are probably looking for careers as orchestra musicians or soloists," Worby said.

As for the rest of the summer concert season, Worby is especially excited about the Pops' inaugural appearance at the 79th annual AmericaFest at the Rose Bowl, Fourth of July celebration, which she describes "as American as apple pie."

Saturday, June 25, 2005

June Gloom: The beginning of the end of the Dodger season?

That was ugly. It had everything that has been going wrong with the Dodger season. Decent pitching but no run support and runs given up by fielding problems.

The sports radio hosts and callers are on a ledge and there is blame all around.

However, what can you say when the facts are these:

The original cast and crew was supposed to be this:
Catcher - Jason Philips - He has been a pleasant surprise
First Base - Hee Seop Choi and Olmedo Saenz - Doing about what was expected
Second Base - Jeff Kent - Doing what was expected
Third Base - Jose Valentin - on the DL
Shortstop - Caesar Izturis - Doing about what was expected
Left Field - Jason Werth - still not 100% after being on DL
Center Field - Milton Bradley - on the DL
Right Field - J.D. Drew - injured but not yet on the DL

Out of 8 position players, 4 are either on the DL, came off the DL or are heading to the DL. And these four were supposed to be the big boppers in the lineup.

And of course the huge hole in the relief corp is Gagne on the DL. Everyone has to pitch a bit more and take up roles they are less familiar with.

In 1990, the Lakers were on their way to a third NBA title when Byron Scott and Magic Johnson got injured. The Lakers were swept by the Pistons. It was frustrating for the Lakers and their fans.

Dodger fans are in the same boat but unfortunately, it isn't even the All Star break yet and we are having to think about next season already.

On the other hand, the NL West is such a weak division that despite all the Dodger woes, they are still in on the edge of being in contention. The Dodgers are one good winning streak from being back in contention. If they can stay in contact with the top of the NL West and injured players start returning to the line-up, it could still be an exciting hunt for October.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Random ramblings...

First off, what do you think of the new layout?

Decided it was time to change the template. Hope you all like it.

Good sports day for Dodger fans. A come from behind win against the NL West leading Padres! Dodgers split the four games down in Petco. The team after EIGHT losses in a row was left for dead. Well, they are still in bad shape but they are still kicking. Three big games against the Angels. The Dodgers need to know they can beat top level teams to have some confidence going forward. After the three-game series with the Angels, it is three more with the Padres.

Game SEVEN. Nothing like those two words in all of sports. The NBA powers-that-be must be pleased that the championship went the full seven. Great game tonight with solid defense and clutch plays by the big names. The Spurs just had a little more left in the tank and it showed in the fourth quarter.

Congrats to the Spurs on their third title. Truly, a team effort with big plays from Duncan, Horry and Ginobli. An amazing block by Bowen late in the game was a big moment. Parker hit a few shots that kept them in the game.

Quick run down of some recent films I've seen:

Finally saw Star Wars - Episode Three - The Revenge of the Sith. Tidied up all the loose ends setting things up nicely for the middle trilogy. The romance between Skywalker and Padme was rather forced and otherwise limp. Special effects were amazing but there is a saturation point. Remember in Episode Four when there were just four TIE fights buzzing around the Millenium Falcon as they were getting away from the Death Star? Well, in Episode Three you have battles probably with 40+ fighters running around. Is it TEN times more exciting? Alas, no.

Saw Sideways on rental DVD. It was okay. Couldn't quite live up to all the hype. I also have to say the foul language and over the top sex scenes really detracted from the film. Paul Giamatti's performance was great. I also have to give kudos to Virginia Madsen. She was absolutely radiant and probably the only character I was really rooting for in terms of finding happiness.

Also on DVD, finally saw Incredibles. AMAZING film. Entertaining, smart, funny, well done, well voiced. Super job. Definitely a thumbs up and continues the high level of work coming out of PIXAR.

Seen on the Web: Grocery Store Wars

I am probably a little late on this but it finally got to me.

This item arrived in my emailbox.

It's hilarious!

Anyway, this parody of Star Wars applied to the Organic Foods Movement is creative at the very least.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

@ the movies: Crash

Reviewers have been generally positive about Crash. Most agree it is "strong coffee" which some found contrived and others refreshing.

The film follows a mix of characters in one and half days in Los Angeles in its full racial diversity. These seemingly separate lives intersect in dramatic and unexpected ways.

Of the many members of the ensemble cast, I'd say Michael Pena might garner a nomination for supporting actor.

I walked away from the film with mixed feelings. It is a hard edged film that allows characters to be fully "politically incorrect" and to say what some might think but are afraid to say in polite company. I felt it presents the state of race relations in Los Angeles and by extension America as very bleak ... too bleak in my opinion. And so, at that level, I found it disturbing. My own personal experience as an ethnic minority in Los Angeles and America is not a bleak as the film portrays. However, I recognize that my life is somewhat "ivory towered" being a scientist.

Despite being disturbed by the film, I was also intrigued because it is a tightly told tale with terrific performances. One comes away from watching the characters with a sense that people are often more than what they appear to be. The film uses racial stereotypes and in some cases they live down to the worst of it and in other cases the stereotype is 180 degree opposite of reality. As an American of Chinese ancestry, I'll be the first to say that I often have "stereotypes" about other ethnic groups. It is almost instinctive and so I find myself telling myself: try to look closer and a second time as every person has a narrative and it may have NOTHING to do with the stereotype.

I also try my very best to avoid seeing racism when there is none. I haven't experienced blatant sit in the back of the bus type racism (Asian immigrants faced institutional racism in the past along with violence and threats of violence) as I'm too young to have experienced such things but to what extent do we still hear that faint echo in subtle ways?

In my case, I've probably been rather fortunate (or is my experience proof that progress has been made?) as I've only seen my share of mocking of the Chinese language -- the sing song sound that the comics in "Whose Line is it Anyway?" use when they mimic martial arts style films -- and so in some contexts I know it is racists and in other contexts it is just humor playing into stereotypes and I usually can tell the difference.

Most of the time, I only experience the occasional stares or confusion. I attribute these to simply unfamiliarity. If someone thinks I'm Japanese (the most common mistake), Korean or Vietnamese, I don't feel offended. I don't assume racism but rather that the person is curious or uncomfortable because I'm someone outside his/her daily experience. I have had people stare in some parts of the USA. I write it off to puzzlement more than disdain. I mean how many Asian faces do people in Delaware or South Dakota see? I suppose being a guy might makes me less sensitive to this.

I have never felt in any danger being Asian. Probably the only time I felt threatened was playing pool and some people around were a bit drunk and making remarks along racial lines. In that case, I think I would have felt unsafe regardless of being Asian though it was heightened by the racial element of their remarks.

Crash is at times too dark for my taste. One wonders if that pessimism reflects a "Hollywood" desire to see America as more awful than it actually is?

But having just said the above, I have to give credit to the writer-director-producer Paul Haggis for making, at a technical level, a very riveting film and for rising above the pessimism to include elements of goodness and redemption in the story. It is those moments of grace both intentional and accidental that for me is the payoff for going through some mighty uncomfortable things in the movie.

I also have to give credit to the film makers for making the dialog about race more than just a black-white thing. In the film, we see many other aspects of the diversity of LA and the corresponding complexity of our multi-ethnic society.

Jennifer Esposito, Don Cheadle and Kathleen York (left to right) in one of the production stills from the film illustrate the ethnic diversity of the film.

I'm giving the movie a THUMBS UP and THREE stars out of four. Be warned there are some shocking scenes and language that draw its R rating.

The ensemble cast of Crash is remarkably talented such that even though no one character is really on screen for all that long at any one time, I was drawn into their lives and felt they moved beyond a two-dimension stereotype we quickly sketch for them in our minds.

The title of the film is apt as the characters "Crash" into each other. At times it seems forced but that is where we "suspend disbelief" to set up the point of the film: lives intersecting with consequences derived from both correct and incorrect assumptions the characters make about other characters along racial lines... the crash is not just cars but racial stereotypes and conflicts between people. And so if people actually talk about those things in themselves and want to try harder to walk away from those prejudices then the film may have actually done something more than entertain.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

LA Dining: Glendale's Best - Fish King and Portos Bakery

My latest is up over at LA.foodblogging.

I highlight two of my favorite specialty food places.

Portos Bakery
315 North Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91203
tel. (818) 956-5996
fax (818) 956-0696

Fish King
720 North Glendale Avenue
Glendale, California 91206
Phone: (818) 244-2161

Sunday, June 19, 2005

@ the Movies: Waiting for the Clouds

Went to the Los Angeles Film Festival and saw Waiting for the Clouds.

The showing I saw was co-sponsored with Amnesty International. A second showing of the film was co-sponsored with Human Rights Watch.

A representative from Amnesty International spoke briefly before the film sharing that it is often through independent film-making that stories of past injustices can be made known to the world.

I am only vaguely familiar with the more recent conflict over Cyprus between the Turkish and Greeks. The film looks at an event I didn't know and I suspect most people don't: the Turkish expulsion of the Pontian Greeks.

It is often in works of fiction, in an intimate tale of just a few people, that a larger story is told. Saving Private Ryan was a fictional story but the telling of that story highlights the larger true story of World War II and D-Day and the heroism of that great generation.

Waiting for the Clouds is a small story. We are introduced to a mysterious sad older woman who is losing her will to live and a young boy who befriends her. We see them live out their hard scrabble life in rural Turkey. We know she holds a deep secret and the film slowly reveals it.

I hope this fine little film gets more screenings as it is a moving story and it tells us about a past injustice that is little known but not little in the numbers of people killed and affected.

Since the Holocaust, humanity keeps on saying, "Never again." We need to be reminded in many different ways and many times these stories of past slaughters so that we will be vigilient today and in the future. The damning thing for all humankind is that these things still happen today. We know about them and we don't stop it. Exhibit A is what is happening in Darfur, Sudan.

If this film does make it to the local art house theatre near you or gets shown on cable, do try to see it. It will be worth your effort. It is solid film making and it tells about something we should all know about.

I see the occasional foreign film and the first thing I noticed is that compared to American films they tend to unfold slowly. As I was watching Waiting for the Clouds, I noticed there were moments when there was no sound at all: there were people, they were going about their lives but there was no musical soundtrack and no dialog and sometimes not even environmental sounds or only the sounds of daily life faintly heard.

At first, I found this a bit disconcerting being so used to the wiz-bang of American movies. But as I settled into the rhythmn of the lives of the characters on the screen, it began to make sense: the film maker is telling a their story of rural Turkey and life is hard and quiet. And indeed, in the story, as in life, when we know someone is harboring a secret from their past, all is NOT revealed right away. We, like the little boy in the story, are slowly revealed what the real story is behind this older woman's past. We walk the journey with him and her.

Plot spoilers below!

Don't read further if you are going to see the film and don't want to know the story line.

We are first given a clue when she calls him, "Niko." Since that is not his name, he wonders who Niko is or was. The older woman begins occasionally to speak a language foreign to the region and boy wonders what is going on. The boy notices an elderly man visiting the area who speaks the same language. He brings this man to her and they converse and we find out the story: she is the older sister of Niko but they were separated when the Greeks were forced marched away by the Turkish. Their mother died and she was taken in and adopted by a local Turkish family while Niko wound up in an orphanage. She had not seen him since he was very little and wondered if he was even still alive. Between re-visiting the place where this all took place in the mountains and her budding friendship with the little boy, the memories have all flooded back and she is guilt-ridden.

The older man eventually returns to his regular life but has decided to see if he can find Niko and sends the older woman a letter saying he believe he may have found her long last brother and provides the address. The final part of the story is her journey to meet him. At first, he doesn't believe her. But his wife takes pity on her and asks her to stay. Eventually, Niko shows her pictures of his life and tells stories about his life. He asks rhetorically, you aren't in any of these pictures? She reaches for a crumpled old photo of her with him when he was very small to show him and the film ends.

Stick a Fork in 'Em? Are the Dodgers Done?

As of this writing, the Dodgers are down 3 1/2 games. They play MLB best White Sox in tonight's ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. The Dodgers will face the NL West leading Padres SEVEN times in the next two weeks. The Pods could deal a knockout punch to the Dodger season.

Here's hoping the Dodgers find that timely hitting that got them off to a great start and that has been sorely lacking the last two months.

Friday, June 17, 2005

LAT's Plaschke on Dodgers and Gagne

Plaschke reminds us why the Gagne story has that deja vu all over again feeling. Excerpts:
June 17, 2005 
Bill Plaschke

Somebody Should Have Saved Gagne

When taking the mound for his first game this spring, baseball's toughest pitcher didn't swagger, he limped.

When throwing his first pitch to an opposing hitter this spring, baseball's most fearless pitcher didn't fling, he lobbed.

Why didn't I rail about the lob?

After Eric Gagne's first appearance in late March, in the quiet of the Vero Beach clubhouse, I approached him with the intention of writing a column.

He was altering his mechanics to compensate for an injured knee. He should stop pitching immediately or risk damaging his arm.

I had seen it a dozen times before. It was Baseball 101. The story was clear.
Today, Eric Gagne, with a torn elbow, is on the verge of a surgery that could change a career, alter a season and spark an eternally Blue question.

It is the same question asked in 1990 when another Dodger pitcher two years removed from a Cy Young Award blew out his shoulder and was never the same.

It is the same question asked later that season when yet another Dodger Cy Young Award winner lost his velocity — and eventually his job — at the reported age of 29.

Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, and now Eric Gagne, franchise cornerstones forever cemented together by a single shaky thought.

Could the Dodgers have prevented Cy Burnout?

Even if they could, did they have a choice?

Hershiser won a World Series almost single-armedly, and said he had no regrets about the 15 complete games and 267 innings required to get there.

Valenzuela rose from a small Mexican village to become a Dodger icon, never once complaining about being ridden for more than 250 innings for six consecutive seasons during the journey.
Flash back to last Aug. 1, when the clubhouse was reeling from the trade of Paul Lo Duca and Mota, when the Dodgers desperately needed a settling win.

Gagne pitched a season-long three innings and they defeated the San Diego Padres in what Manager Jim Tracy later, and correctly, called the biggest victory of the season.

It was also the beginning of a six-day stretch in which Gagne appeared four times and threw 109 pitches. And that doesn't include the countless tosses in the bullpen.

After struggling throughout a hot August stretch, Gagne regained his form in September, but batters were whispering that he seemed tired.
If Gagne needs Tommy John surgery, he should be nicely asked to shut up and shut it down.

By the end of next season, he could be playing again. Remember, he recovered pretty well from his first Tommy John surgery in 1997.

The odds against a player requiring that famous procedure twice are high indeed.

But, counting Darren Dreifort, the el-blowed Dodgers have now had two of them.
For non-Dodger fans, Darren Dreifort has had so many surgeries to repair so many things that his career is over. I'm told, at one time, he had great stuff but injuries piled on and the great potential was lost. Fans have dumped on Driefort for the big contract while on the DL seemingly all the time. Yet, all the Dodger radio broadcast reporters have described him as a tireless worker in rehab and physical therapy but simply the body kept breaking down.

Gagne will be examed by famed Dr. Frank Job to see if surgery will be needed.

Dodger Stats - How are some of DePodesta's picks doing?

On sports talk-radio here in LA, one host likes to call Dodger GM, Paul De-Stupid-Podesta.

Some other hosts are a bit more willing to give the student of Billy "Moneyball" Beane a chance.

Let's take a quick look at the stats of some key players that DePodesta moved out and brought in and see how those choices have turned out. The stats for the players are as of June 15, 2005.

DePodesta took a lot of heat for giving up Paul LoDuca. He was a fan favorite. And certainly, at the time, giving up LoDuca and Mota for Penny (who got injured) and Choi (who did nothing late last season) looked pretty bad. But how about now?

Penny is the #2 starter on the team and Choi is doing much better.

But back to the catcher's spot. Here are LoDuca's numbers: 200 AB, 22 R, 2 HR, 26 RBI, .295 AVE and .345 OBP.

DePodesta picked up Jason Philips during spring training and here are his numbers: 176 AB, 17 R, 4 HR, 28 RBI, .273 AVE and .320 OBP.

No complaints here. LoDuca's numbers are better but not by a lot.

DePodesta traded away first-baseman Shawn Green; thus, Hee Seop Choi is playing most (against right-handed pitchers) games at first-base.

Green's numbers: 245 AB, 38 R, 9 HR, 36 RBI, .282 AVE and .342 OBP.

Choi's stats: 164 AB, 24 R, 13 HR, 29 RBI, .262 AVE and .332 OBP. Choi is platooning with Olmedo Saenz whose numbers are: 111 AB, 18 R, 7 HR, 29 RBI, .306 AVE and .349 OBP.

Once again, no complaints. However, I have to say the way the negotiations were handled with Green was very poor. Green had been a very loyal Dodger and was never a trouble maker on the team. He deserved better treatment.

The Dodgers gave up the veteran Steve Finley who has put up okay power numbers but not so great averages with the Angels: 228 AB, 25 R, 8 HR, 39 RBI, .228 AVE and .290 OBP.

Instead, the Dodgers plunked down some cash and got some hitting and a veteran in Jeff Kent. He has been the biggest bat: 234 AB, 43 R, 13 HR, 51 RBI, .286 AVE and .366 OBP.

So clearly, here, the Dodgers have gained some offense.

Finally, DePodesta took a lot of criticism for not re-signing Adrian Beltre. It would appear that, at this moment, he made the right call. Beltre's numbers have been under-whelming with Seattle: 238 AB, 34 R, 5 HR, 30 RBI, .244 AVE and .279 OBP.

Instead, DePodesta did spend some big bucks on J.D. Drew and though his numbers are better than Beltre's, they aren't up to what fans expect for someone getting so many dollars: 214 AB, 40 R, 12 HR, 30 RBI, .276 AVE and .397 OBP.

Overall, on the offensive side of the equation, the Dodgers are better off.

However, the Dodgers are clearly struggling on the pitching side. Derek Lowe and Brad Penny haven't been the dominant you can count on them one-two punch they hoped for. Jeff Weaver continues to be erratic. Odalis Perez is injured and four pitchers (rookies D.J. Houlton and Derek Thompson and veterans Wilson Alvarez and Scott Erickson) have tried out for the fifth spot with mixed results.

But where would the Dodgers be if they kept last year's rotation?

Weaver and Perez would still be the same. However, DePodesta let go of Kaz Ishii who hasn't done much on the NY Mets and Jose Lima who hasn't done much on the Royals except one great game against the Dodgers. With that rotation and musical chairs for the fifth starter, the Dodgers would probably be a sub-.500 team right now.

Last year's team made the playoffs but had nothing left against the Cardinals. DePodesta was charged with making some changes to see if they could go further. One can't be sure how well the team would be doing if they kept last year's team intact. But a quick look says last year's team probably wouldn't be doing any better and maybe even a little worse than this year's team.

At the moment, the NL West hasn't been very strong so the Dodgers remain in the hunt for October. Hopefully, Choi will continue to improve as a hitter and J.D. Drew will perk up some more. The starting rotation needs to step it up a notch lest a probably Gagne-less bullpen will throw too many innings and have nothing left as the race goes down the wire at the end of the season.

The Padres are in front of the NL West because of pitching. Their hitters are doing about as well as the Dodgers.

Tim Wallach has been lauded with being a great hitting coach and hopefully he will continue his good work. Jim Colburn, the pitching coach, has his work cut out for him. But with injuries to the pitching staff there is only so much he can do.

UPDATE: More thorough defense of Dodger GM picks over at Dodger Thoughts.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Dodger Blogging

Found this item of Dodger blogging. I'd have to agree that all the fire Jim Tracey talk is pre-mature.

For that matter, I'll go out on a limb and say that all the Paul De-stupid-Podesta talk is also overblown.

Since I've been blogging I have come across Dodger Thoughts and 6-4-2. I also came across Sarah Morris' Dodger Place because of Bill Plaschke's column a few years ago. Morris now writes a periodic column for the Dodger official web page. And finally, I noticed on the official Dodger web page that Tommy Lasorda has a blog.

Gagne to DL and possible season ending surgery

The news doesn't look good. Quote: The Los Angeles Times reported that Gagne has a partial tear of the elbow ligament and may need season-ending surgery.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

LA Dining: Rib blogging over at LA.foodblogging

My latest is up where I mention four different rib places. I'm looking forward to the comments from the readership to discover new places.

I mention Mr. Cecil's, Dr. Hoggly Woggly's, the Pig and Zeke's Smokehouse.

Dr. Hoggly Woggly’s Tyler Texas BBQ
8136 Sepulveda Blvd (near Roscoe)
Van Nuys, CA 91402-4305
Phone: (818) 902-9046

Mr. Cecil’s California Ribs
12244 Pico Blvd (Amherst Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 442-1550

The Pig
612 N La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036 View Map
(323) 935-1116
Cross Street: Clinton Street

Zeke's Smokehouse
Montrose Location
2209 Honolulu Avenue
Montrose, CA 91020
T: 818.957.7045

W. Hollywood Location
7100 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90046
T: 323.850.9353

Friday, June 10, 2005

This is LA Baseball: Dodgers 6 Twins 5

Attended my sixth game of the season.

The Dodgers and Twins last met in Dodger's stadium 40 years ago in the 1965 MLB Championship. Koufax didn't pitch in game one because it fell on Yom Kippur. Drysdale started and got shelled. The Dodgers dropped game two and headed back to LA with their backs to the wall. They took three straight in LA, lost game six but Koufax finished off the Twins in game seven. In the pre-game, players from that championship season were introduced.

Tonight, a very dramatic game. The Dodgers jumped to a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the first. The Twins cut the lead to 4-3 in the top of the second and then took the lead 5-4 in the top of the third. The Dodgers managed to tie it in the bottom of the sixth. Sanchez took care of the seventh, Brazoban took care of the eighth and Gange took care of the ninth.

Hee-Seop Choi stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and whacked the first pitch! The fans in our lower reserve section rose as one to see if it would stay fair ... it plunked the pole in the right field corner and the stadium erupted in celebration of the walk-off homer!

A few of my favorite things

Am mesmerized by John Coltrane's jazzy version of My Favorite Things.

Thus, it was natural to use that as a basis for planning my birthday celebration.

Am doing birthday baseball, bicycle and bbq ribs ... a few of my favorite things and I'll be sharing them with a few of my favorite people ... that crazy quilt of friends that God has brought into my life.

Will be seeing the Dodgers vs. Twins who haven't played each other since the 1965 World Series. I love baseball. Call me old-fashioned but there is something about the pace of the game that matches the rhythm of life. And there is something soothing about the vastness of the ballpark.

Am going bike riding as well. Thank God for good health and the opportunity to enjoy Southern California.

And having dinner at Zeke's Smokehouse. I'm a carnivore. I admit it!

And of course, all this with various friends.

Have to say as I ponder marking off another birthday, I find the thoughts written by Sherry seem right about where I'm at. Excerpts:
... basically, right now I am about as happy as I'm going to be. Of course I want things, lots and lots and lots of things, and I imagine they will make me happier. I want more money and a sense of safety. I want to fall in love and have a family. I want to feel professionally accomplished. I want to be a leader in my community. I want my yard to be less of a mess. I want to be in better shape. Blah, blah, blah. And of course I'm anxious about things: I'm not doing a good enough job on this project, I wish I understood that better, I haven't been attentive enough or persuasive enough or helpful or kind or generous enough in various arenas of my life. But the point is, although these drives and goals are linked to external things, the underlying feelings aren't. ... Excitement from good things wears off, as does the pain of bad things. If you can unhook from those big achievements and setbacks, and appreciate the daily constants that fill up your life, I think you can bounce back from most things.
The fact of the matter is we don't feel happy 100% of the time - yes, you came to the right blog for amazing insights into life! Indeed, of course, sometimes, I feel rather sad about this or that. As I see it, we should experience what we feel without denial and turn it over to God in gratitude and humility.

When we are happy, we should enjoy that moment and have gratitude for the reasons and if there are no obvious reasons then we should be grateful simply for the experience of joy and life. We don't sit there thinking, I shouldn't be happy, stop being so happy. If we are taking glee at evil then something is wrong. But otherwise, we should enjoy the ride and ride that wave of happiness as long as it lasts.

Likewise, when we feel sad, we shouldn't sweep it under the rug. Often, I find that sadness confirms what is valuable to me. When I spill something, I'm upset for maybe 2 seconds. It just isn't that important in the grand scheme of things. But when I read a tragic story in the newspaper or a friend relates a difficult situation or I feel sad about something in my own life, I need to admit I feel sad and to recognize that there maybe and probably is something valuable at stake. Inside each of us, and from religious teaching, we have this sense of what is important and how things should be which leads to some of our experience of happiness and sadness. And so, just as we don't say, stop being so happy when we are happy; we really don't need to say stop feeling sad when we are sad. The sadness washes over us and we experience that and in a moment, though sometimes longer than we'd like, we bob to the surface and feel the warmth of the sun and the brightness of life once again.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

LA Dining: Darya Restaurant

Have foodblogged over at about the Persian restaurant, Darya on Santa Monica Blvd. and Bundy. A fine looking place with good food and attentive service, go give it a try.

Monday, June 06, 2005

What is love?

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Where does that come from?

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ... a passage in that good old book the Bible.

Heard it hundreds of time and it still hits home. Heard it again this past Sunday at church.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Dodger Update

Well, the Dodgers are hovering around .500 which was what was expected by experts at the beginning of the season.

Went to my fifth game last night where the Dodgers lost to the Brewers 7-5. The home run hurt the Dodgers as the Brewer runs came on a grand slam before their was one out and a three-run blast in the eigth.

Tonight, the Dodgers managed to win 2-1. Emergency starter, D.J. Houlton gave up 1 run in 5 1/3. The relief of Wunch, Sanchez and Brazoban held the lead and Gagne got the save.

If the radar gun is accurate, Gagne is definitely not quite up to full speed yet as his fastball was at 92 mph and he threw a lot of change ups clocking at 84 mph.

I've seen the Dodgers beat the Giants and Colorado and lose to Arizona, Atlanta and Milwaukee. Hopefully, when I see my sixth game they will win bringing my viewing record to 3-3 which would mirror about where they are anyway.

Dodger offense has slipped from earlier in the year when they were near the top in run scoring. But the other huge problem is the ERA which is near the bottom of the MLB.

Friday, June 03, 2005

@ the movies: Cinderella Man

Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti in Universal Pictures' Cinderella Man

Russell Crowe as Braddock with Paul Giamatti who plays Braddock's manager and trainer.

Thumbs up. Make that two thumbs up. My friend and I agree that the film was great!

Three stars out a possible four.

Based on a true story, Crowe plays James Braddock, an aging boxer injured in the ring who had to scratch out a living on the docks during the Depression. Zellweger plays his wife, Mae who exhibits love and strength as she and Braddock struggle to raise their three children during one of the most difficult times in America. Faced with poverty, Braddock does whatever he can to provide for his family. Out of the blue, he is offered a chance to return to the ring, as a publicity stunt by the promoters, where he fought to provide for his family and unexpectedly wins and became an inspiration to the downtrodden of the Depression Era. This isn't a boxing movie but rather it is a film about a life well lived that happens to have boxing in it.

Connor Price and Russell Crowe in Universal Pictures' Cinderella Man

Braddock (Crowe) with his eldest son played by Connor Price in one of the many moving scenes in the film.

Ron Howard has a gift for re-creating the atmosphere of the times and allowing his actors to fill the frame and carry the film. Like Apollo 13, he captures all the truest and best of human courage and devotion.

Renee Zellweger and Russell Crowe with director Ron Howard on the set of Universal Pictures' Cinderella Man

Lots of credit to Zellweger for her portrait of Mae, Braddock's loving and supportive wife. Though this is obviously a vehicle showcasing Crowe's talents, Zellweger is invaluable in scenes with Crowe and has a few potent scenes on her own with the children.

I was very moved and inspired by the film because it portrays good characters you can root for and point to as role models of how to live life. It is a tale of love, doing what is right and persevering through tough times.

One theme this blog has touched on a couple of times (here and here) is what is "masculine spirituality?"

We often have a picture of spirituality as some ethereal detachment from the world. I suppose that is one brand of spirituality. However, there clearly is also a rugged tenderness in the rough and tumble of daily life that exemplifies true male spirituality. This film will provide good discussion for what that looks like. I imagine some clips from the film will be used in some Sunday School lessons.

My guest and I saw the film as guests of Grace Hill Media.

Images from Yahoo! Movies production photos page.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Days of our lives

If there is someone in your life who you love and who loves you, that together the two of you do good for others and happiness flows between you, thank your God and that special person.

And if you would, give a little extra grace and understanding to those who don't have what you have.

Here are some thoughts from a single person:

There are certain days on the calendar that are awful: New Years, Valentine's day, birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

New Years: no girlfriend to kiss to ring in the New Years.

Valentine's day: my dream of proposing and giving her an engagement ring remains a mirage in the distant desert horizon as I taste the sand and sweat of my solo journey.

Birthday: no wife who feels that the date of my birth is a big deal because that was the day her husband came into this world.

Thanksgiving: no falling on my knees thanking God that my wife will soon be the mother of our child.

Christmas: no video cameras to take to the school play where my kid is the Christmas lobster (from the film Love Actually).

Decades of life and these 5 things remain beyond my reach, desired but just dreams that dissolve upon the waking of my real life.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Life: Taxi Driver Tips

As a resident of Los Angeles, I rarely ride the taxi.

But the other day, I had my car in the repair shop. I was planning to walk back to the shop (about 2 miles) but I got off work too late to start walking to show up to claim my car before the service bay closed.

Thus, I called for a taxi.

The stereotype is the talkative taxi driver. In my limited experience, there are indeed such chatty cabbies.

We started talking about whatever and I soon found he wasn't a silent steerer of the sedan though he was far from talking up a storm.

Somehow, we got onto the economics of being a cab driver. He mentioned that each day the cab company gets the first $120 of fares. The rest are his.

He dropped me off and my fare with tip came out to $10 for a 20 minute ride.

If he gets three such fares in one hour, he gets $30/hour and he pays off the cab company in four hours and the rest of the day's passengers provide his wages. If he drives an additional eight hours that is $240 for the day. Do the math: 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year means $60,000 before taxes.

Would you like to drive a cab for 12 hours a day for those wages?

However, does he get three fares an hour?

I'm sure at certain times of the day he might. But there might be stretches of time where he gets no fares. In a 12 hour shift, how many fares does he get?

Do the math.

As for me, I don't ride cabs often. But when I do, I'll be sure to tip generously.

But since I hardly ever ride cabs, what is a typical tip?

This is an item from CNN-Money with a guide to the various suggested tips for different service personnel.

Their advice: Varies depending on locality. Assume 15% will be enough; an extra $1 to $2 for help with bags.

What do you all think?