Saturday, November 29, 2008

Culture: Battlestar Galactica - the final episodes

Am late to the phenom.

The humans and the rebel Cylons form an uneasy truce, four of the final five Cylons are revealed and they arrive at earth ... only to find it is a wrecked planet.

And so that sets the stage for the final episodes to begin airing in 2009.

Click here for the teaser video.

Politics: Trying to get beyond "right" and "left"

The benefits of a two party system is that the USA doesn't wind up with kooky coalition governments where a stronger parties have to bring in extremist parties to assemble a government.

The other side of a strong two party system is that some people don't feel truly at home with either party and join one or the other reluctantly or opt out entirely.

This sense of disconnection with the two major parties is most strongly felt by those with religious convictions.

For example, those on the evangelical and Christian left who have strong economic redistributionist views like the Democrats but feel alienated from that party because they are pro-life.

Meanwhile, Christian conservatives who sign on with the Republicans because of the pro-life issue and Protestant work ethic feel alienated when the party is so pro-business it hurts the average citizen.

In response to these kinds of concerns, some authors have published "manifestos." From the left, there is Jim Wallis and his book "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It."

I recently heard a radio interview with an author from the right, Rod Dreher whose book is "Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party)."

Am going to have to look into this Dreher chap a bit more. He sounded interesting on the interview.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

World: Mumbai hit with terrorism

New York, Washington DC, Bali, Madrid, London ... now Mumbai.

The attack was brazen and the results horrible.

It sounds like the security forces of India are starting to regain control of the situation but their appears to be still some hostages as of this moment.

In reading the news item, I didn't remember that the city had already been hit with bombings of commuter trains in 2006.

Whether we admit it or not, there is a radical segment of Islam that has declared war on humanity that does not hold to their vision of the world.

UPDATE: Here is a timeline of the events from Wednesday to Friday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Culture: 24 - Redemption

image source:

Jack is back!

Redemption - to offer something in exchange for something else.

In old days, when I was a kid, my parents would collect books of "Blue Chip Stamps" and exchange (redeem) them for various household items and toys.

In the story, Mr. Benton sacrificed his life in the minefield in exchange to help his boys escape. Jack gave up his freedom in exchange to get the boys into the embassy.

Thus, Mr. Benton and Jack were "Jesus figures" in this story.

Wonder if some theology student has written a Gospel according to 24?

Well, God can be found in unexpected places?!

There is after all a Gospels According to the Simpsons!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Economics: The Current Financial Mess

Russell Roberts an economist at George Mason University explains how we got into the mess and the problems with the way the Feds are trying to fix it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

LA Scene: LA Phil with Ades

Went to see the LA Phil last night.

The Marseillais Hymn was instantly recognizable and the combined forces of the LA Philharmonic and Master Chorale was quite powerful. What I didn't realize was how blood curdling the lyrics were!

This was followed by the volatile Royal Hunt and Storm by Berlioz.

Ades then went on to take the microphone to explain why he chose these pieces to lead into his work, America: a prophecy.

He set his music as a wraparound to words from Mayan poetry.

Lyrically and musically, it didn't do much for me. It represented some of the excesses of contemporary art and music: attempts to shock for the purpose of shocking.

In its defense, in the program notes, it made the point about how the coming of the Europeans to the Americas had multiple perspectives. For the natives, it meant the destruction of their societies as they were defeated by the Europeans who came from the east. But at another level, those societies had very brutal elements tied to human sacrifices and so the Europeans destroyed that and liberated the masses oppressed by their rulers. Of course, the Europeans also did bad things. But then again, the Americas have now grown to be powerful on the world stage and have brought much to the world. Thus, the Americas of 1000-2000 is a complex story. Ades also pointed out that 9/11, the singular event of the new millenia, was once again the East, in this case Middle Eastern terrorists, coming to the Americas.

On this level, I have some sympathy to the consequences of post-modern thought. Indeed, there are multiple realities to historical/cultural events which seems to be the mantra of post-moderns. But, of course, these perspectives only have meaning because the narrative has objective elements that can be used by the person making the analysis which runs against some post-modern claims against the possibility of such knowledge.

If we hold to the traditional definition of knowledge as justified true belief, we would have to say that Ades' effort to provide a narrative about the drama of the American story from 1000-2000 is defensible as his facts are correct.

Thus, I suppose, a true hard core post-modern perspective is self-defeating in that any attempt at weaving a narrative would be nothing more than whisting in a wind storm and would be attempted only for the purpose of pleasure or shock and not for illumination.

The second half of the show had Berlioz music from an opera he never completed. It has the spooky elements consistent with its title about a secretive jury.

The final work was then introduced by Ades as his attempt to paint with musical notes the Ark of Genesis carrying humanity through which he tied to our earth today carrying all of humanity through the universe.

This work was quite a bit easier to listen to than his first work and allowed me and the 2/3 full auditorium to leave feeling a bit better compared to the disquiet of our entry into intermission.

UPDATE: For a music professional's perspective, check out Swed from the LA Times.

Non-profit of the Month: November 2008 - Santa Monica Symphony

Yes, one can sit at home and listen to KUSC or pop in a CD of classic music.

But unless you have a trunk load of money the sound coming from the FM radio in your car or the boom box at home isn't anywhere near the quality of sound of a live performance.

Alas, running an orchestra is an expensive proposition. Thus, community based ensembles have serious financial challenges.

The kick-off of the Santa Monica Symphony's 2008-2009 season was a special affair with KUSC's Rich Caparella making the opening remarks before introducing the Mayor of Santa Monica, Herb Katz. Mayor Katz explained how the SMS is funded by a mixture of sources but that 75% comes from the participating public. Mayor Katz then turned the show over to music director Allen Robert Gross. Maestro Gross encouraged those in the audience who could donate to do so. He also shared that music fans in the Southern California area may have heard that the economic troubles has hit the Pasadena Symphony hard forcing the cancellation of part of their season and possibly the entire season.

I'm not in the business of crowd estimates but I'd venture that there were over 500 in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for the event. It was a delight to see the range of ethnic faces in the audience. Also, it warms my heart so see young and old couples make a date night of a concert.

The program for the night included a mix of crowd pleasing 19th century works.

It began with an operatic work, Siegfried's Rhine Journey from Gotterdammerung. This was followed by the delightful Violin Concerto by Bruch. Katia Popov was the soloist. The final movement of the concerto really makes you sit up and take notice and as the last notes faded into the ether, the audience rose up in applause. After the intermission, Good Friday Spell from Parsifal got the audience ready for wonderful emotional roller coaster ride of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet.

After the show, I made it a point to send a donation to the SMS. They started in 1945 and may they see 2045 and beyond!

Please consider supporting the local orchestra or school based orchestra near you! Let's keep "old school" music alive in the 21st Century!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sports: UCLA basketball is on the air

Expectations continue to be high at UCLA. After 3 Final Fours, the fans are getting spoiled!

Today, my Sport's Illustrated came in and they put UCLA as #3 behind UNC and UConn.

UCLA is playing their 2nd game of the season and have a mere 2 point lead at the half.

The first half was unimpressive. The team lost some key players from last year's team and they seemed sluggish against a serious mid-major in the Miami of Ohio Red Hawks. The expectation is that the freshmen will be impact players. But I am generally skeptical about freshman press clippings.

Hopefully, they will get their defensive intensity in the 2nd half.

But so far, they don't look like a #3 level team.

UPDATE: UCLA barely won the game. Seniors Collison and Shipp came up big late in the game to save the Bruin's bacon. Hopefully, the freshman will continue to grow and realize they are now no longer big fish in a small pond of high school ball but small fish in the big lake of college ball. Also, the front line play of UCLA must improve or they will come nowhere near the lofty final fours of the last few years. GO BRUINS!

Science: HIV in the news also Vitamin D in the news

Vitamin D and breast cancer.

Often times a news item's headline will suggest one thing then as you read the opening paragraphs will suggests another and then you realize, the story is a bit more complicated.

Anyway, the large scale study seemed to show no difference between the women who took vitamin D and those who didn't.

HOWEVER, the amount they took might not have been enough. Excerpt:
For one thing, the dose of vitamin D supplementation used in the trial, 400 IUs, was relatively low. In the years since the study began in 1993, nutritionists have learned much more about the critical role that vitamin D plays in a wide range of cellular functions, and many now recommend up to 2,000 IUs daily for adults. Most people get very little vitamin D from their diet - the richest sources of the vitamin are dairy products and green leafy vegetables - so supplementation is the only way to reach recommended levels. "Four hundred IUs is just not a lot," says Dr. Larry Norton, a breast-cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "The supplementation wasn't adequate to raise blood levels enough in susceptible individuals to have a biological impact." Indeed, the women in the study who began with the highest blood levels of vitamin D's most active breakdown product, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, showed no change in their levels even after taking the 400 IUs daily.
Personally, I've been taking 1000 IU a day.

Meanwhile, an HIV story of someone who might have been cured of the virus that causes AIDS.

The patient had both AIDS and leukemia. Leukemia is sometimes treated with bone marrow transplant. In this case, the doctors looked for bone marrow donors with a particular genetic feature: a defect in CCR5. Think of CCR5 as the doorway that lets HIV into the cell. In a small number of people, this doorway doesn't work so the virus can't get in. Excerpt:
Roughly one in 1,000 Europeans and Americans have inherited the mutation from both parents, and Huetter set out to find one such person among donors that matched the patient's marrow type. Out of a pool of 80 suitable donors, the 61st person tested carried the proper mutation.

Before the transplant, the patient endured powerful drugs and radiation to kill off his own infected bone marrow cells and disable his immune system — a treatment fatal to between 20 and 30 percent of recipients.

He was also taken off the potent drugs used to treat his AIDS. Huetter's team feared that the drugs might interfere with the new marrow cells' survival. They risked lowering his defenses in the hopes that the new, mutated cells would reject the virus on their own.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases in the U.S., said the procedure was too costly and too dangerous to employ as a firstline cure. But he said it could inspire researchers to pursue gene therapy as a means to block or suppress HIV.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Politics: Where is my bailout?

A bit (?) of sarcasm from the people over at Reason!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Multimedia message

Crowds at the polls in my neighborhood! Have 2 more corners to go! Have a great day and God bless the USA!

UPDATE: I cast my ballot a tad after 9AM! I was in line about 75 minutes!

UPDATE: As I drove to youth group this evening, the numbers, as expected, were going toward Obama. At 6:30 PM, Ohio was called for Obama and the hoped for "inside straight" by McCain was over.

Any casual reader of this blog knows I was a McCain supporter. Nonetheless, I extend my congratulations to President-elect Obama. As a proud citizen of America, I have never doubted that an ethnic minority could and would someday be elected president and so on this historic day, my prayers are for God's wisdom to be upon him and the team he will bring to Washington, good health and blessings upon him and his family and a spirit of good will to move within both sides of the political aisle.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Devotional Thoughts: A prayer for the next president

With this post, this blog will go silent on politics until the election is decided. Enough is enough ... for now! 8-)

1 Timothy 2:1-4

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Lord, have mercy on our nation. Help us to see our sins and make restitution. Work within our nation that we may have peace even if we disagree. Work in our world to bring peace to earth through those who follow you living a life that lifts Jesus, the Prince of Peace for all the world to see.

May you strengthen what is good within us. Help us as people and as a nation to seek justice, to show mercy and to be humble. Help us to trust you and not wealth or other worldly power sources. Help us as people and as a nation to seek to do good and have the courage to oppose evil.

Lord, for all our weaknesses, you have blessed America. You made this land bountiful. You have brought people from all over the world to be part of this great nation. And though we don't get along perfectly, we do try. Thank you that America has been a beacon for freedom and generosity. May it continue to be a force for good in this world.

Lord, whomever wins the election to be president, may you bless him. Give him wisdom to make good decisions. Give him strength to bear the heavy burden of the office. Give him good advisors who will help him see issues with clarity and devise plans that help the people whom he was elected to serve. Give those who voted for the man who does not become president the willingness to have good will toward the man who assumes the office. Give those who supported the winner, humility and a desire to work for all the people not just those who agree with their views.

Father, thank you that Gov. Palin, Sen. Obama, Sen. Biden and Sen. McCain have shown their willingness to serve. Thank you that they are gifted in many ways. Yet, they are, in truth, mere mortals with all the weaknesses and flaws that is our humble situation. Whatever the outcome, help them be good parents, spouses and friends to those who are in their lives. Whatever role you have for them beyond Nov. 4 in the life of our nation, may they be faithful to doing their best to serve the people. Amen.

Politics: A few closing thoughts regarding the presidential election

While many people figured Sen. Clinton would easily win the Democratic nomination way back when all this started, I felt that she had none of the charm and all the baggage of President Clinton. As such, I felt it wasn't going to be easy for her to win the nomination.

And then we all saw the meteoric rise of Sen. Obama.

Sen. Obama became the blank slate upon which the American public have written their hopes on. His eloquence in speech, disciplined campaign and nice biography was a political "perfect storm" for this election cycle.

And that is the problem in my book: Obama is a blank slate.

With McCain, what you see is what you get!

His record and the confidence he inspires on foreign affairs shouldn't be discounted because we feel overwhelmed by the current economic conditions.

In regards to the economic situation, both candidates have backed government interventions. However, as a general principle, McCain is more skeptical of government having too strong a role in economic matters.

And so what do we get with Sen. Obama?

What do we really know about him?

He was a community organizer. But what did the organizations he worked for do?

By all accounts they helped fund some somewhat radical education ideas. If he had worked work for something like Habitat for Humanity or some other cause that was a bit more mainstream, I think his support would be tremendous.

He was an Illinois state senator. But what did he do?

He voted along party lines almost all the time and indeed he voted "present" on a number of occasions.

He is a first term US senator. Again, what has he done in the Senate?

Again, he voted almost always along the party line. Also, most of the time he has been in the Senate, he has been running for president!

In a sense, his experience argument is that he is qualified to be president because he has run a successful campaign for president!

So what do we really know about him?

The whole "spread the wealth around" controversy is a window into how Obama views economic issues.

The USA does indeed engage in some wealth redistribution.

In America, we have a progressive income tax structure. The rich pay a higher percent than the vast middle and some in the lower incomes don't have any income tax to pay. Thus, the rich pay more taxes so the poor collect welfare - wealth transfer.

The young pay social security taxes and the retirees collect - wealth transfer.

This "socialism lite" is an accepted part of our free market economy.

As a society, we have decided some kind of safety net should exist. I applaud this.

However, should we us the tax system to have more "spreading the wealth" around or use it to encourage small businesses?

McCain acknowledges he isn't an expert on economic issues! However, his inclinations are more with the people rather than with government and thus he embraced "Joe the plumber" as a symbol of their differing views on government's role in economic matters.

The way the Obama campaign trashed and belittled "Joe the plumber" was very troubling to me. This incident gave the public a window into the Obama mindset and to me it was not an appealing picture.

The Russia incursion into Georgia was the one time in that foreign policy poked its nose into the campaign.

Sen. Obama's initial reaction was a vague morally neutral statement. Sen. McCain clearly came out in support of Georgia.

McCain made the tough decision to call for the troop surge and changed the strategy in Iraq. This kind of clarity despite public opinion being against it is an important trait in a commander-in-chief.

McCain also understands diplomacy. He was one of the strongest supporters of renewing contacts with Vietnam. McCain, the Vietnam war veteran and POW tortured by the Vietnamese, was able to see the bigger picture and sought to heal that divide.

A McCain presidency will probably only be able to do a few things on the economic front where agreement can be found. Instead, he will spend a certain amount of energy putting the brakes on an ambitious and potentially over-reaching Democratic Congress. But in the realm of foreign affairs, whoever is president will have to make tough calls and in the final analysis, who do you want answering that red telephone when it rings?

In this election cycle, the life issue hasn't been a major topic of discussion. However, it is quite clear that McCain has the stronger pro-life record. It really troubled me when Sen. Obama ducked the question from Rick Warren about protecting the rights of the unborn with the comment, it is above my pay grade. It seemed odd that Sen. Obama would say, I don't want may daughters to be punished with an unexpected pregnancy.

Finally, as important as electing a president is, in the end, we are only electing a president. When I hear rhetoric like, we are the change we have been looking for and we are going to bring fundamental change to America, I cringe. It is one thing to be confident and bold but it is another thing to offer such high flying rhetoric that defines hubris.

Instead, I'll be using my ink-a-vote pen for Sen. McCain.

His decisiveness and vision of America's role in the world make him the stronger candidate for commander-in-chief.

His record of public service where he has taken on both sides stands above Sen. Obama's rhetoric of change and record of party line voting.

McCain is pro-life.

And finally, no one who runs for president has any shortage of ego!

However, the flowery language of the Obama campaign stand is sharp contrast to the plain spoken words and lifetime of service that that is Sen. McCain's record.

From the stirring conclusion of his acceptance speech:
I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need.

My country saved me and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

My friends, if you find faults with our country, make it a better one.

If you're disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our Armed Forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed.

Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier, because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.

I'm going to fight for my cause every day as your president. I'm going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank him, that I'm an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on Earth. With hard word, strong faith, and a little courage, great things are always within our reach.

Fight with me. Fight with me.

Fight for what's right for our country. Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.

Fight for our children's future. Fight for justice and opportunity for all.

Stand up to defend our country from its enemies. Stand up for each other, for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.

Stand up, stand up, stand up, and fight.

Nothing is inevitable here. We're Americans, and we never give up.

We never quit.

We never hide from history. We make history.

Thank you, and God bless you, and God bless America.

Politics: The Electoral College Maps

As you may (should!) know, the president of the USA is officially elected by the Electoral College.

So what are some scenarios?

Playing with the maps over at RCP ...

The 269-269 tie.

McCain pulls off a Harry Truman.

Obama landslide.

Map as of 9:36AM Saturday, November 1 based on the latest polling numbers.

Why I support the Electoral College?

Because it forces candidates to appeal to a wider range of voters.

If all the candidate has to do is run up the popular vote totals, then they would spend all their time in the big media markets (NY, LA, Chicago, SF, DC, and other big metro areas) and ignore the rest.

Why would a candidate try to squeeze out an extra 10,000 votes in Nevada when they could try to get an extra 100,000 votes in California? Why hold rallies and run TV ads in Missouri to eek out an additional 20,000 votes when you can get at 200,000 in nearby Chicago?

If you think the battle over the swing states makes the country divided, imagine if BOTH parties ONLY pander to the big media markets on the East and West Coasts? Would that be a better state of affairs?

America is not a homogenous country and the electoral college system forces the candidates to compete in different region thus making candidates broaden their appeal.