Monday, February 27, 2006

LA Dining: National Pancake Day - February 28

Did you know tomorrow is National Pancake Day?

Does it sound more healthy than Fat Tuesday?

Anyway, my latest post over at La.Foodblogging.com is up.

Devotional Thoughts: Power of prayer

Matthew 21:20-22 is a familiar saying of Jesus. The gist is that with faith one can move mountains. It is a metaphor for God can do the impossible.

I confess, my level of faith is not super duper high. I'm very much in the "doubting Thomas" category of Christian.

However, having said that, I do believe God works in mysterious ways and in what appears to be impossible ways.

Living in Los Angeles and having lived in other big cities like San Francisco and Washington DC means I have seen people who live on the streets. In most cases, it is due to drug or alcohol abuse or both. It is a sad reality of big city life. I feel terrible when I see it.

But there are two amazing things about that circumstance.

(1) There are people who want to help these people. Los Angeles Mission and other organizations like that offer help to these individuals. In the end, I don't know how many percent of the people they serve eventually get off the streets but I admire the willingness to do it. If the world were all like me, I am sad to say, these people wouldn't get helped. I could NOT do that kind of work day in and day out. I'd go once in a while to serve food. I'd give the money. But work there all the time? Nope. I'm not proud to say it but I have to be honest, I wouldn't do it.

The people who work there are mountain movers.

(2) Some turn their lives around. Again, I don't know how many do but it happens. This past Sunday, at my church, a gentleman told the story of how he was homeless in Santa Monica. He was into drugs and alcohol and living on the streets. He was in and out of shelters. But one day, he came to Jesus by faith and his life turned around.

This kind of life change is mountain moving.

Sure, if we saw a mountain pop up and land in the sea, people would say, wow, that is amazing!

But what kind of impact would a changed life have?

Just as seemingly impossible as moving mountains.

Yet, in life, things can happen and the trajectory of people's lives become altered because of God. Somehow, I think God is more pleased to see life changed than mountains land in the water.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Culture: Mozart 250th Birthday Celebration - LA Phil plays the Requiem

If you follow classical music even casually, you may have noticed a lot of Mozart being performed these days.

It is all part of marking his birth 250 years ago.

I finally went to one of the many all Mozart programs that are being offered this year.

The first piece of the evening was Piano Concerto No. 19.

I got to my seat a few minutes before the start of the program and in my hurry, I didn't pick up the program until intermission.

So when I saw the pianist take the stage, I noticed he looked really young!

He did a wonderful job with this happy little piece.

During intermission, I got a program and saw that the pianist was a last minute substitute because of illness. Orion Weiss is merely twenty-four! He is getting some gigs around the USA according to his schedule over at IMG Artists.

There was another substitution also for illness. Celena Shafer joined three other young soloists for the Requiem.


Photo credit: Dario Acosta
Image source: http://www.colbertartists.com/images/artists/thumbnails/shafer1c_TN.jpg

She is managed by Colbert Artists.

The Mozart Requiem is one of a handful of works I have heard on CD many many times and thoroughly enjoy and have longed to hear in a live performance.

The stage was set: young rising stars as soloists, college students for the choir, the renown LA Philharmonic musicians and Christoph von Dohnányi, an internationally known conductor who specializes in blending voice with instruments in operatic works.

Can you feel the anticipation I felt?

The CD of the Requiem played on my boom-box sitting on top of my bookcase does not do justice to the dynamic range of this amazing composition. I've never fully appreciated that this is truly a choral work until this concert.

The power of the Thornton singers just blows the limited dynamic range of my pitiful speakers in my apartment or iPOD. Thus, for this concert, I have to give my highest high praise to USC Thornton Choral Artists. The voices were heard and felt at the Walt Disney Hall and the audience gave sustained standing ovations for the choir director and the Thornton vocalists.

The second observation I would make is the incredible power of the pause!

Dohnányi with a wave of his hand would have the choir stop on a dime and the silence would hang for a moment and then the music or voices would start up again. These incredibly brief respites from sound were powerful punctuation marks. I can't explain it, I just felt it.

Since I don't know Latin, most of the lyrics escape me. However, I have some passing familiarity with the liturgical structure of the mass. The music communicates the emotional content and my limited knowledge provided a rational connection to what my "soul" was feeling.

If you are curious, check out the lyrics of the Requiem.

If you feel a little spoked by the "Dies Irae," you have reason to be:
Dies irae, dies illa (This day, this day of wrath)
Solvet saeclum in favilla (Shall consume the world in ashes)
If you feel soothed by the "Recordare," take a look at the words:
Recordare, Jesu pie, (Remember, gentle Jesus,)
Quod sum causa tuae viae (that I am the reason for your time on earth)
Ne me perdas illa die. (do not cast me out on that day.)

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus (Seeking me, you sank down wearily)
Redemisti Crucem passus (you saved me by enduring the Cross)
Tantus labor non sit cassus. (such travail must not be in vain.)
If you feel quiet tension in the air during the "Lacrimosa," you should know some believed (it is disputed) that Mozart was working on that part hours before his death:
Lacrimosa dies illa, (That day is one of weeping,)
Qua resurget ex favilla (On which shall rise again from the ashes)
Judicandus homo reus. (The guilty man, to be judged.)

Huic ergo parce, Deus (Therefore spare this one, O God)
Pie Jesu Domine, (Merciful Lord Jesus,)
Dona eis requiem. Amen. (Give them rest. Amen.)
If at the end of the piece, you walk out feeling hopeful, it is because the music goes out with a flourish and the words are hopeful:
Lux aeternum luceat eis, Domine (May eternal light shine upon them, O Lord)
Cum Sanctis tuis in aeternum (With Thy Saints forever)
quia pius es. (for Thou art good.)

Requiem aeternam, dona eis, Domine (Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord)
et lux perpetua luceat eis. (And let perpetual light shine upon them.)
Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum (With Thy saints forever)
quia pius es. (for Thou art good.)
UPDATE: There is more about the Mozart requiem here and here.

UPDATE: Mark Swed of the LA Times was somewhat ambivalent about the concert. Excerpt:
The Philharmonic had meant its celebration to be more melancholy than most by dwelling on Mozart's puzzling last year and untimely death at 35. But fate stepped in. Flu sidelined Andreas Haefliger, engaged to play Mozart's last piano concerto. As a last-minute substitution, a 24-year-old recent Juilliard graduate, Orion Weiss, who made his Philharmonic debut at the Hollywood Bowl in September, performed the earlier Concerto No. 19 in F, K. 459.

Another young artist, soprano Celena Shafer, was the second last-minute replacement Thursday, substituting for Barbara Bonney, who also came down with the flu this week. Given that the three other soloists in the Requiem — Ruxandra Donose, Eric Cutler and Alfred Reiter — are emerging artists as well and that the chorus was made up of USC students, it took some doing to cast a mellow, autumnal pall over Disney. But Dohnányi did his best.
........
Dohnányi took a grim, majestic approach. The performance was impressive, and not even this intimidating conductor could make the bursting-with-energy Thornton Choral Artists sound anything but exuberant. The four soloists might have been a jubilant opera cast; all were exciting. The orchestra, though, was asked for thickness and weight, and details were lost.

But what a letdown when the music turns, as it does, say, in the Sanctus, unequivocally second-rate. Indeed, Dohnányi's seriousness and the singers' enthusiasm only exacerbated the score's dismaying discrepancies.

Something needs to be done. Scholars have attempted other solutions, trying hard to patch together a version that sounds more like Mozart. Robert Levin has come closest. But new Mozart Requiems are needed that stop pretending to be Mozart, versions that acknowledge what he wrote and what he did not.

The piano concerto in the first half was Mozart in a lighter vein, but it didn't always sound so. K. 459 is boyish music, and in Weiss it had a boyish soloist. He is a pianist more lyrical than boisterous, with a small, sweet sound and an elegant sense of phrasing. He played Mozart as chamber music. Dohnányi did not.

Sometimes, as this uncomfortable evening demonstrated, it really is best to just let Mozart be.

Culture: Giada's White Bean Dip - my variation

Giada De Laurentiis of Everyday Italian on Food Network has a wondefully simple recipe for white bean dip.

The following ingredients are blended into a paste: cannellini beans, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh Italian parsley leaves, salt and black pepper.

I liked it a lot and have made it a few times.

I've recently tried a modification to get a different flavor. I substituted lime juice and shallot for the lemon and garlic.

I think it makes for a milder taste but also very enjoyable!

Give it a try and see what you think!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: judgment falls fast on fruitless fig tree

For this morning, am looking at Matthew 21:18-19.

The Bible often draws its stories from the ordinary and here is Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem and notices a fig tree.

He goes over to it to see if there is any fruit to eat. Noticing there is no fruit amidst the leaves, he says, may you never bear fruit again! And, at that instant, the fig tree withered.

Interestingly, the same story is related in Mark 11:12-14. The extra detail there is that in verse 13 it says that it was too early in the season for fruit.

So why would Jesus be so harsh on the poor fig tree for having no fruit?

Well, as a city person, I have no knowledge of fig trees. But I do have the internet and a quick search got me to the California Rare Fruit Growers information page about figs.

Also, here is a web page devoted to Figs in Israel!



Image source: http://home.planters.net/~thegivans/israel/sbayi1-le-a.jpg

Anyway, if I am reading it correctly, there are two fruits seasons. The leaves fall off in the fall (of course) of the previous season. And then the first crop of figs grow out before leaves come out in the spring and summer. A second crop of figs grow out as the trees are in full leaf to be harvested in the fall. If you are a fig farmer reading this post, please let me know if I got this right!

Thus, when Mark says it is too early for figs, he is referring to the second crop of figs for the fall. However, a leafy fig tree may still have figs from that first crop. And perhaps, that is what Jesus is looking for.

But is this passage just about agriculture?

I think it maybe a metaphor for judgment. Jesus expected some kind of fruit on the fig tree. Upon not finding any, judgment fell on the fig tree swiftly.

And so it is in our lives: we don't know how long we have to live on this earth and the time when we have to make an accounting of our lives before God is not knowable to us.

Lord, have mercy on me a sinner! Help me to draw near to you that I may be fruit bearing. Fruit that others can partake of for the refreshment of their spiritual health and enjoyment. Amen!

UPDATE: Was reading some books that analyze this Bible passage and I came across another explanation. The time figs can be found on the fig trees is usually when there are leaves. However, the time when leaves pour forth from fig trees is not the same from year to year.

Those who have seen the famed Jefferson Memorial Cherry Blossoms of Washington DC know that there is year-to-year variation of the blooms.



Image source: http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/cms/uploads/pics/blossom_watch.jpeg

Perhaps the fig tree in the Gospel is having an early bloom; thus, when Mark records it is too early, he means it was unusual to see so many leaves (and thus potential for fig fruits) at that time of year.

Would the point of the incident be any different with this explanation?

I don't think so. The bottom line is that the incident is an object lesson on how judgment falls.

One of my friends told me what he thought of the passage. He mentioned that this incident is happening near Jerusalem. Perhaps, the disciples could even see Jerusalem in the distance. The judgment that fell upon the fig tree would be a haunting image to them because they would see Jerusalem sacked in 70 AD which would be about 40 years after the life and times of Jesus.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sports: 20, 21, 20, the right numbers for UCLA tonight

20 points scored by Aaron Afflalo.

21 points scored by Jordan Farmar.

20 unanswered points in middle of the 2nd half to put the game away.

Saw my second game of the season at Pauley. UCLA won 78-60 over the Beavers.

In the first half, the Bruins were out of synch on offense (the Bruins looked especially confused against the OSU 2-3 zone) and the defensive intensity wasn't there. The Beavers were gaining confidence with every minute and went into half-time with a 6 point lead.

The Bruins came out in the second half with some sharp shooting and initially, the Beavers were holding there own. Then, the defensive intensity went up a notch and the Beavers got panicky on offense and boom, a 20-0 run and Oregon State didn't score for 8 minutes.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sports: Olympic posts over at TTC

When the blogger servers were having trouble, I posted a few Olympic items over at my other blog, Two Tin Cans. Items:
Joey Cheek's Support of "Right to Play" a sports humanitarian effort
The difference between first and second in speed skating
The tough day the USA women athletes had on Friday
One reader chided me in the comment section about letting Lindsey Jacobellis off too lightly. I responded to the comment in the comment section.

I suppose I did cut her some slack. Certainly, what she did wasn't a good thing. But in the realm of athletic behavior, her youthful exuberance as a fault doesn't compare to the antics of Bode Miller and the sniping between Davis and Hedrick.

Good to see the TEAM USA ice hockey women bounced back with the 4-0 win over Finland to claim the Bronze. Katie King the oldest player (30) on the team had a hat-trick (3 goals) against Finland and finished the tournament with the most goals (6) for TEAM USA. Sarah Parsons the youngest (18) got 4 goals to be the second highest goal scorer on the team. Chanda Gunn was goalie in 4 games and had a 1.44 goals against average which placed her third in the tournament behind the two gold-medal winning Canadian goalies. Julie Chu, two-time Olympian had 5 assists which was second best on the USA team behind three-time Olympic veteran Jenny Potter who had 7.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Having trouble with blogger

The last few posts have disappeared.

I think maybe this blog has gotten too large for blogger?

Until I figure it out, I'll be blogging over at Two Tin Cans.

UPDATE: Looks like it was a database problem at the Blogger server side. Anyway, will test post and see if it disappears!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Sports: Only in America - USA Ice Hockey Forward Julie Chu

When you see her photo and her name, Julie Chu, you know right off the bat she is of Chinese ancestry but the USA on her jersey says she is as American as anyone else on the Women's Ice Hockey Team.

Her ancestors hail from the same part of China as mine! Her story reads like a typical immigrant success story. Excerpt:
Chu's father, Wah, was born in Canton (now called Guangzhou), China. The capital of Guangdong Province, Canton is a busy port and a commercial and industrial center on the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River), in the southern part of the country. Wah moved from Canton to then British-controlled Hong Kong at age 1 with his mother, who did not want her son growing up in communist China. In 1967, the mother and son emigrated to the U.S. when Wah was 16. Wah and his mother took up residence in New York's Chinatown, located on the Lower East side of Manhattan. Shortly after arriving in Chinatown, Wah was attending a youth group meeting at a neighborhood church when he met his future wife. Julie's mother, Miriam, lived on the Upper East side and traveled downtown to attend the same youth group. "The kids always joke with me, saying I've only had one girlfriend," says Wah, who married Miriam after attending Cornell University. The pair moved from New York City to Queens and then to Fairfield, in southwestern Connecticut. Wah works for the consulting giant KPMG. Chu's older brother, Richard, graduated from Skidmore College (N.Y.) in the spring of 2001. Her older sister, Christina, graduated from Fairfield University in Connecticut in 2002.
Her entry into ice hockey occurred after finding figure skating wasn't for her. Excerpt:
At one of her first sessions, Chu was skating less than gracefully when she caught a glimpse of her older brother, Richard, at the other end of the ice. He was practicing power skating with a learn-to-skate hockey group, and Julie was seething with jealousy. She knew then she wanted to play hockey. "I was so bad at figure skating," she says. "I never even got to wear the cute outfits. I had on bulky clothes and when I fell down, like a turtle, I had to wait for an instructor to come pick me up." Chu asked her father if she could trade in her toe picks for hockey pads. He agreed.
And the rest is as they say is history. Chu lead the Choate Rosemary Hall high school hockey team as well as the Connecticut Polar Bears. She then made it onto the USA team that won silver at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. After that, she went to Harvard majoring in psychology and has been a star on the Harvard Crimson ice hockey team.

Go Julie! Go Team USA!!

Image source: http://www.nbcolympics.com/2005/1215/5075785_200X300.jpg

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

LA Dining: Bravo Cucina

My latest post is up over at LAFB.

The dinner was at Bravo Cucina in Santa Monica.

The post also reports on a talk about the famous Italian Cookbook, "Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well."

Bravo Cucina
1319 Third St. Promenade
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Phone: 310.394.0374
Fax 310.394.3037
Hours: Mon - Thu 11 am to 10:30 pm
Fri- Sun 11 am to 11:30 pm

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sports: Women's Ice Hockey, USA vs. Finland

Its 3-3 in the 3rd period!

The youngest member of the team Sarah Parsons has two of the three USA goals.

Chanda Gunn is in the nets for the USA. The USA Women have spent more minutes in the penalty box and two of the three Finland goals have been on the power play. Only one of the three USA goals have been on the powerplay.

High drama for Team USA!

You go girls!

UPDATE: Its a final, USA 7 Finland 3. The ice tilted to the USA Women in the 3rd period as they peppered the Fins with 13 shots-on-goals compared to 3. Of the 13 shots, FIVE of the biscuits went into the basket. Angela Ruggiero stepped up big from her post on defense with two goals and one assist in the key third period.

Devotional Thoughts: Give you praise

Am looking at Matthew 21:14-17 this morning.

Jesus had just cleared out the Temple of merchants and money changers. Blind and lame came to him for healing and they were healed. As you might guess those who were healed gave praise to Jesus.

Interestingly, the text records that the Temple leaders were alarmed and with specific mention of what the children were saying.

In verse 15, it said, even the little children in the Temple shouted, "Praise God for the Son of David."

Verse 15 continuing into verse 16 said, the leaders were indignant and asked Jesus, "Do you hear what these children are saying?"

Jesus responded, "Yes. Haven't you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, you have taught children and infants to give you praise."

Why was this so troublesome to the religious leaders?

I suppose (1) Jesus healing people showed his power which would draw the people's loyalty away from the them (2) Jesus accepting the designation "Son of David" would be a claim to royalty and a Messianic title and those leaders probably wanted to be the ones to bestow that title to someone (i.e. they wanted to be the king makers) and (3) the quote by Jesus was perhaps a poke at them.

What part of the Hebrew Scriptures was Jesus referring to?

Well, in most Bibles, there are footnotes and mine says Jesus was referring to Psalm 8:2.
Psalm 8
1 O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!
As you can see this Psalm is all about praise and glory to God. Created things and living things all point to the greatness of God. And even the youngest of humanity (verse 2) recognizes it.

What does the last half over verse 2 say?

Hmm ... if I had to paraphrase it: Because there are those who oppose God, God shows his power by using the praise of children and infants to silence them.

Eugene Peterson of "the Message" paraphrase put it this way:
Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;
toddlers shout the songs
That drown out enemy talk,
and silence atheist babble.
The Temple leaders would know their Psalms. They would have realized that Jesus was throw a jab at them. Those leaders were upset because of Jesus miracles and garnering the attention they wanted for themselves. Jesus was getting the praise of even the kids there. And now Jesus is putting them in the place of being the opponents being silenced by the worship coming from children.

The tensions are rising: a triumphal entry, the clearing of the Temple, healing people, receiving praise and putting the religious leaders on the defensive.

A Jesus with a blank look making cryptic sayings would hardly inspire opposition and inspire followers who would ultimately span the globe through the centuries.

Ralph Winter, in a class I attended, put it this way: the Jesus of the Bible is hardly the mellow fellow of some Hollywood movie portrayals.

The Jesus of the Bible, now that is a Jesus worthy of praise and the fullest measure of our devotion.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sports: Olympic Backstory - Chanda Gunn



image source: http://media3.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/photo/2005/11/30/PH2005113002239.jpg

Was surfing through the Olympics web page by NBC and I stumbled across the story of USA Women's Hockey goalie, Chanda Gunn. Excerpt:
Gunn was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 9. The affliction, which has caused her occasional seizures, forced her to give up sports deemed unsafe with the condition, such as swimming. It changed her life and was one of the reasons she pursued hockey.
Wow!

Talk about persistence in the face of an obstacle!

The biography also described how her hockey career nearly came to an end in her first year in college. Excerpt:
Gunn began her collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin, where she only played seven games before leaving the program to deal with her epilepsy. When she was ready to return to school, Wisconsin didn't have the room. "There weren't a lot of college hockey teams in the market for a goalie who had been in and out of the hospital," says Gunn, who opted for Northeastern.
..........
As a senior, she was named NCAA Sportswoman of the Year and finished her career as the school's all-time leader in saves and save percentage.
What an inspirational story!

She is a southern Californian from the OC (Orange County) in Huntington Beach who played street hockey and was a Los Angeles Kings hockey fan as a kid growing up.

On the web bio there are two short video clips where she shares her story. She has the All-American girl next door good looks and the presence of someone you would want your kids playing sports to listen and learn from.

NBC undoubtedly shot many times more of these features than will be shown on their coverage. But if the USA women get to the gold medal game and Chanda has been the goalie keeping the scores down, the rest of the nation will hear her remarkable story.

Speaking of All-American girl next door good looks, check out the photo shoot of the hot (!) team members of our ice-hockey squad.

UPDATE: Here is a local newspaper item on Chanda. Excerpt:
At home, Gunn is best known for her hockey clinics with the Cal Select girls team that practices at Skate Zone.

"The first things out Chanda [Gunn's] mouth is always do your best and be a good sportsman," said Melinda Koppel, whose daughter plays with the 14-and-under team. "She's great at giving girls words of encouragement. It's amazing what a giving, thoughtful person she is."

Figure skating coach Necia Kroger said there's always a void whenever Gunn is absent from the rink.

"She definitely has a presence around here," she said, while taking time out to watch her game Tuesday. "You don't get that caliber of a role model very often. She's incredibly humble, even with the kids."

Kroger said Gunn even made fans of the young figure skaters, an odd accomplishment in the ice world where skaters and hockey players enjoy a healthy rivalry.

"They're all totally freaking out that she's on television," Kroger said. "It's pretty funny to see figure skaters watching hockey."
And here is an item on the Epilepsy.com web page about Ms. Gunn. Excerpt:
As a person with epilepsy Gunn believes it is important for people with epilepsy to support one another and maintains that, “There’s no reason why a person with epilepsy can’t play sports or pursue their dreams.” She admits to being afraid at first of playing ice hockey because of the potential for having a seizure while on the ice. But, she says, “I’ve learned to live with it, the fear of the unknown, because I want to really live life and for me living means playing ice hockey.” She advises people with epilepsy to live their lives to the fullest while quoting Paul Cantalupo MD, “Love absolutely everything that ever happens in your life.”
In the era where athletes often come across as way too self-absorbed, it is so wonderful to read about such a terrific role model!

Am sure there will be lots of celebrating in Huntington Beach at the rink when she comes home from Turin!

Well done Chanda!

Sports: Bruins defeated by the Huskies

Bruins edged out by the Huskies, 70-67.

Five losses so far this season: two to the Huskies, Memphis, West Virginia and California Bears.

Putting a positive spin on it, these are understandable losses. It is likely all of these teams will be in the NCAA.

On the other hand, people might ask, who has UCLA beaten?

Of the 20 wins, how many of these teams are going to be in the NCAA?

Not many.

Its been a tough season with injuries.

Farmar, the star point-guard has sprained both ankles and who knows how many (or few) games this season where he has been 100%. Against the Huskies yesterday, he had too many turnovers. I don't know if it is carelessness or the injuries left him out of synch.

Afflalo, the other half of the backcourt duo, sometimes can get shut down as he was yesterday with a mere 5 points.

The frontcourt is getting better and if it weren't for them, the Bruins would have been blown out. Aboya who is recovering from off season knee surgery kept them in the game with 8 rebounds and 15 point. His fellow Cameroonian Mbah a Moute got 11 points. Senior Bozeman got 8 points. Senior Hollins got 9 rebounds and 7 points.

I would anticipate that the Pac10 will get 5 teams into the NCAA. The Bears, the Huskies, the Bruins, the Wildcats and maybe the Cardinal. Stanford had such a horrible start and their RPI is the weakest of the 5 that they might not make the field of 65 in March.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Culture: Controversial Cartoons Muslim

I ran the Google search: "controversial cartoons muslim."

Here is one hit with reproductions of the cartoons.

And over in Wikipedia under the entry: Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.

So what do you think?

I can't help but think of the upcoming film, "Da Vinci Code."

The film based on the book has the premise that Christianity and in particular Catholicism is a conspiracy to hide the true identity of Jesus and that Jesus had a child with Mary.

To read a response to the Da vinci Code, go here.

To my knowledge, there have been no riots regarding the book or the film and Dan Brown is probably working on his next novel.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sports: UCLA Bruins up in the Northwest

When you go on the road, all you want to do is somehow get the win even if it is an ugly one.

The stats are looking terrible at the moment (as of 11:58 in the 2nd half) with the Bruins up 32-18 over Washington State.

UPDATE: Its 36-18 with 10:12 to go in the game. Farmar is leading the way with 13 points.

UPDATE: UCLA isn't exactly lighting it up but their defense is holding WSU's shooting percentage down at 24.4%. UCLA leads 36-20 with 9 minutes to go.

UPDATE: With 7:52 to go, the score is UCLA 36 WSU 20. Looking around the Pac10, Arizona and Oregon are in a close contest with Arizona leading 56-51 with 9 minutes to go.

UPDATE: Early in the 2nd half, ASU leads OSU 40-31. USC plays Washington and Cal plays Stanford later tonight.

UPDATE: 5:06 to go and UCLA still holding on to a double digit lead 43-26.

UPDATE: 4:15 left and UCLA is up 45-26. Farmar and Afflalo are both in double digits leading the Bruins.

UPDATE: Farmar hits a three! 48-28, UCLA leads with 3:30 to go! As Chick Hearn used to say, "Its in the refrigerator, the light is off, the butter is getting hard and the jello is jiggling!"

UPDATE: Meanwhile in a shocker, Oregon has taken the lead over Arizona! Arizona is having a rare off year and may miss the NCAA for the first time in who knows how long.

UPDATE: UCLA is running out the clock. They take obligatory shots as the time runs down. UCLA leads 48-30 and Farmar is at the line for free-throws. He makes them both to bring the lead up to 50-30.

UPDATE: Its a final, UCLA wins it 50-30. Meanwhile, the Ducks are close to finishing the upset of the Wildcats. They have a 5 point lead with less than a minute to go.

UPDATE: Arizona has taken the lead but Oregon has the ball with 9 seconds left! Will be liveblogging UCSB vs. UCI.

UPDATE: Arizona wins it 70-68!

News: Downtown LA Tower Plot Foiled

Today's news about a terrorist plot to hit downtown Los Angeles was not surprising. We always figured that it was a target but it has now been officially acknowledged by the Bush administration.

Here is a photo of the US Bank Tower formerly known as the Library Tower.



image source: http://you-are-here.com/skyscraper/1988_library.jpg

Devotional Thoughts: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable

Am looking at Matthew 21:12-13 this morning.

This is the incident where Jesus goes to the temple and drives out the merchants and money-changers.

Since people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, they wouldn't bring the animals with them. They would use money to buy them there and then use them for sacrifices. And I suppose if they came from far away they might need to exchange currency.

Jesus takes these people to task saying to them, "The Scriptures declare, my temple will be called a place of prayer but you have turned it into a den of thieves."

Jesus' objection to them seems to be that the merchants and money-changers short changed and short weighed the customers and thus were acting like thieves. Another possibility is that this activity was taking place on temple grounds (perhaps in the outer court) and not just near the temple.

To read about the temple, check out this article from the non-religious online info source answers.com.

Historically, there was the First Temple built by Solomon which was the grandest. That was sacked by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. By 536 B.C., the Persians allowed the Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. The story of the building of the Second Temple is found in the book of Ezra in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, it was nothing like the spectacular one Solomon built. Eventually, the temple was renovated and expanded around the time of Jesus and became known as Herod's Temple (click to see diagram). This temple was destroyed completely by the Romans in 70 A.D.

To read about the temple from a Jewish perspective, see the pages from TempleMount.org. As you might guess the idea of building a Third Temple is highly controversial because the site of the previous temples on Mt. Moriah are now home to the Muslim Shrine known as the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

But back to the driving out of the merchants and money-changers from the temple.

We have a picture of Jesus as serenely holding a sheep and blessing children. I don't doubt that that picture of Jesus is true. We have many episodes in the Christians Scriptures where Jesus is compassionate and gentle. But we also have incidents, like this one, where Jesus takes to task those who have done wrong and mistreated and misled the people.

There is a cliche, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

I think that describes Jesus very well.

If one approached him in humility and in recognition of ones sinfulness and neediness, then Jesus offered forgiveness and restoration.

If one approached him in pride and arrogance, then Jesus pointedly showed that person that they have fallen short of the standard of God's righteousness.

Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Forgive me and help me to live a worthy life. Help me to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" as I walk in humility through my day with the people I met. Help me to do so always calling upon you and pointing others to you in my words and deeds. Amen.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Religion: Animism

Had a very brief conversation with someone the other day who claimed to believe in animism.

I said, I'm not sure what that is. I think it is some kind of nature worship?

He didn't confirm nor deny my proposed definition. He went on to say, all cultures have some animistic beliefs and they are very ancient beliefs. All the other organized religions came later and are expletive deleted.

I asked, perhaps you could fill me in on what you believe animism to be.

He opted not to and that was the end of the conversation.

I decided to look it up. M-w.com offers this definition:
1 : a doctrine that the vital principle of organic development is immaterial spirit
2 : attribution of conscious life to objects in and phenomena of nature or to inanimate objects
3 : belief in the existence of spirits separable from bodies
As a Christian, how do I react to these three definitions of animism?

(1) Christians accept to some extent definition one. Humans are material (body) and immaterial (soul + spirit). And we believe that God is a spirit. There is a world view called naturalism that holds that the material world is all there is. By definition, a person holding to naturalism will also be an atheist. An animist I suppose could be pantheist (god in everything) or polytheist (multiple gods)
(2) I suppose the key is what the definition of "conscious life" is? If one means divinity in all nature and all inanimate objects then that would be getting toward the pantheist realm. It could mean that some things contain this divinity while some things do not which I guess seems like a form of polytheism.
(3) The third M-W.com definition seems similar to number one.

I think the questions I would ask an animist are the following:
(1) Is there a creator of nature and the universe around us?
(2) If yes, what do you believe about this creator?
(3) If no, then what is the immaterial spirit that inhabits all (some) of nature and all (some) objects?
(4) In your world view, what is the origin of morality?

In response to the four questions, Christians might say something like this:
(1) God is the creator.
(2) The Creator desires to have a relationship with us.
(3) God is separate from the creation. God made the stuff of the universe that is in a rock but God is not a rock and a rock is not God.
(4) God is good and the source and standard of morality. Humans have fallen short of this standard of good and that is why God sent Jesus to restore us to himself by transferring our sins onto Jesus at the Cross and transferring Jesus' righteousness to us.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Culture: Friday night lights and my downtown

In the old days before blogging, one (and I did so) could take pen and paper and write bad poetry to get things out of your system. Now, with the internet, one can do so on the computer and have the whole world read it on a blog! 8-)

And so a bit of relentless navel gazing with tangential angst ridden blogging prose; the cyberspace equivalent of bad but cathartic poetry.

Last night went to see a basketball game.

I left there feeling happy again.

Seeing the parents and friends and students cheer for every basket whether it was made by a star like Stepheson or one of the far-end bench-warmers sent in to finish a blowout game was a good feeling after a long week in the life of a solitary lab rat.

I'm of a certain age and one of the songs I know is the old Petula Clark hit, Downtown:
When you're alone
And life is making you lonely,
You can always go downtown
When you've got worries,
All the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
Downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown, no finer place for sure,
Downtown, everything's waiting for you
I like the peppy tune (I bought it off iTunes and it sits in my iPod and its playing as a write) and the sentiment of the song.

I suppose because I live in Los Angeles, Downtown of LA doesn't hold a lot of appeal. And I suppose also, my personality type doesn't make the song's Downtown world that appealing in terms of actually heading Clark's advice.

However, I find a certain solace in a sporting event. It could be top level professionals or it could be a high school game; the feeling is the same.

So with apologies to Petula ...
Don't hang around
And let your problems surround you
There are sporting contests
Maybe you know
Some little places to go to
Where they never will be famous
Just listen to the rhythm of the chanting student section
You'll be cheering with 'em, too, before the night is over
Happy again
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go ...

Sports: Friday night lights - high school basketball

Went to see a high school basketball game last night.

The contest was between Harvard-Westlake Wolverines vs. St. Francis Golden Knights. HW won easily, 88-42.

It was the final home game of the season and senior honor night. The crowd cheered for each senior as announced and the senior would present a rose to a parent. After that, the game began.

It was close for part of the 1st quarter. But it was clear that the Wolverines were taller and more athletic. And in particular was the star of HW, Alex Stepheson who vacuumed up every loose ball and played above the rim. Suffice to say he has been heavily recruited. In the end, Roy Williams of the UNC Tarheels was able to sign him for his dominent play.

The atmosphere of the game was energetic. On one side of the gym was the home team bleachers which was almost full. The opposite side of the gym was the guest bleachers and the team benches. That side was about half full. I went to the home side of the gym and at one end, the parents and family of the team sat on the bleachers while on the student side of the bleachers, the students stood the whole game.

Probably for 95% of the kids, this will be the pinnacle of their basketball careers. The lessons learned in discipline in practice and the value of loyalty and teamwork will serve them well in life.

All the best to the graduates of Harvard-Westlake and St. Francis!!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sports: UCLA against ASU

UCLA escaped their last game against ASU by a mere one-point.

And it looks like another tough game tonight, as UCLA leads 32-30 at the half.

The stats show it is the Farmar show tonight with 15 points. Afflalo is cold again shooting 1-5 with only 2 points so far. Afflalo needs to step it up along with one of the front-line guys if they are going to hold serve at Pauley.

UPDATE: Neither side is doing anything in the 2nd half. 8 minutes into the second half and UCLA has scored only 8 points and ASU 3. UCLA still holds the lead 40-33.

UPDATE: Its a final: UCLA 69 ASU 60. Afflalo finished with 17 points. Good to see some of the forwards chip in on the offensive end too: Bozeman 10, a Moute 8 and Hollins 6.