Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Post #102 -- LOTR: Return of the King and a Happy New Years!

Dear Readers:

Rene: A slight departure to finish off the year. Believe it or not, we've been blogging for about four months and as noted above, this marks our one hundred second posting. So first, thanks to my friend Kari for suggesting the idea. She said we could try to do what is done over at 2blowhards. It has been lots of fun putting to digital "paper" what is rattling around in my mind. Obviously, an odd mix of stuff is rattling in our respective minds, eh? But I'm happy to do it because I think of writing as mental jogging and thus good for my mental health!

And, of course, a big thank you to our readers both intentional and accidental. Hope you will continue to visit us in our little outpost and will find something thought provoking and entertaining here.

Kari: An odd mix of stuff, indeed. Blogging in this format may not allow for extraordinarily deep analysis, but what we may lack in depth we compensate for in breadth. Movies, classical music, pop culture, architecture, literature, the theory of art, science, exploration, invention, faith, comparative religion, the physical landscape, psychology, philosophy, politics, sports, television, morality, quantum physics -- we've opined on them all.

Rene: Now that I've seen "LOTR: Return of the King" as well, I'd like to share the three most touching moments for me from the film. Since there are spoilers for those who haven't seen the film yet, I've "blacked them out." If you want to read the comments, use your mouse to highlight the text box below and you will be able to see the comments.

(1) Theoden was a beaten man in Two Towers and guilt-laden at the beginning of Return of the King. But he found the courage to go on and lead his men and when he was dying he spoke to Eowyn, he said, "I go to my fathers. And in even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed." That scene definitely got to my heart.
(2) Aragorn in Fellowship of the Ring was reluctant to claim his identity but in each film he grows and by this film, he claims his place in the world. Each moment, claiming the sword, calling the cursed fighters of old and then leading the hopeless charge on the Black Gate. Wow! He gave that Henry V like speech to rally the troops, turned around and wielded his sword charging off *on his own* shouting, For Frodo! That just sent chills up and down my spine.
(3) Sam says to Frodo, I can't carry the ring for you but I can carry you. Yes, it does sound too sentimental but if you have been following these characters through the films, that moment was as natural as breathing. My eyes stung as that moment passed before the screen.

In the end, Peter Jackson used CGI liberally but NEVER lost sight of the fact it was the characters that the audience was in love with. The film series gets my rarely awarded four stars out of four.

What were your three most memorable moments from the film?

Kari: You're always challenging me to stretch my limited html abilities, aren't you? Well, if this works, readers can do the same highlight-to-read trick:

(1) Sam carrying Frodo up Mount Doom was the greatest moment of the character who, for me, became the true hero of the trilogy. I didn't mind the film's too-long epilogue mainly because it allowed us to see Sam happy and fulfilled.
(2) Fighting the Witch King of the Nazgul, Eowyn demonstrated both how vulnerable and how courageous she was. Despite her yearning to fight to protect her land and her kin, she was going to be defeated if not for Merry. But she fought nonetheless, and she had one of the best applause lines in the trilogy right before she slew her foe: "I am no man."
(3) In appreciation of a great actor in what could have been a cartoonish part, I'll choose the moment in Rohan when Aragorn asks Gandalf, who is despairing about the fate of Frodo and the ring, what his heart tells him. Ian McKellen pauses, takes a short breath, and I swear I could see an actual twinkle in his eye before he says "That Frodo is alive." It's a subtle moment, but one that let me feel the tingle of hope the character was feeling.

I will say, despite my rambling about intermissions in the previous post, I enjoyed every one of The Return of the King's 201 minutes, and I can't wait to see the extended version on DVD, because there are many, many scenes that were significant in the book that didn't make it to the big screen.

Rene: Nice thing about blogging is that we can follow our bliss and write about whatever comes to mind. Look forward to the topics we will tackle in 2004. See you next year, Kari. And happy new years to you and our dear readers!

Kari: It's been fun so far. Here's to a great 2004 for everyone.

Kari and Rene

Monday, December 29, 2003

Bring Back the Intermission!

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

So, I've now seen The Return of the King twice, once with my sister, who had been awaiting its arrival as eagerly as I, and once with a date, who had not.

I enjoyed it immensely both times, but I also was acutely aware of how long the film is. The first time I saw it, I was battling a cold, so I had bought a drink to help deal with any nascent coughing fits. It worked, but it also made me need to leave to use the restroom, which I don't think I've EVER done before during a movie (not even during Gettysburg or the re-release of Gone With the Wind, both of which clock in longer than ROTK, but I'll get to why later). The second time, this weekend, the sighs and shifting coming from the seat next to me provided reliable evidence that non-Tolkien-junkies might find a 3 hour, 21 minute movie just a bit too long.

We'll post more on the merits of the film and the trilogy later -- I'm working up a list of criteria for rating The Lord of the Rings against the Godfather, Matrix, and original Star Wars trilogies -- but what I want to rail on today is how long we are expected to sit still for the privilege of seeing a blockbuster movie.

Is it really necessary, before a 201-minute movie, to show EIGHT previews? And when exactly did all those long, theatrically produced soft drink and automobile commercials get their noses under the tent? For both showings of The Return of the King, I sat in the dark for 3 hours and 45 minutes. Sure, I was entertained, but only after being highly annoyed for the first 20+ minutes both times.

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, movies came packaged with short films, newsreels, and cartoons, and sometimes on a double feature, so maybe I'm just demonstrating that I share the short attention span of the modern age. But back then, the extra stuff was entertainment too, not pure junk advertising. And most movies, though certainly not all, were much shorter. A sampling of great films and their lengths:

Duck Soup, 70 minutes
City Lights, 87 minutes
The Wizard of Oz, 101 minutes
The Maltese Falcon, 101 minutes
Casablanca, 102 minutes
Singin' in the Rain, 103 minutes
Psycho, 109 minutes
Citizen Kane, 119 minutes
The Searchers, 120 minutes
Star Wars, 121 minutes
Jaws, 124 minutes
The Grapes of Wrath, 128 minutes
The Godfather, 175 minutes
Gone With the Wind, 238 minutes

Gone With the Wind, of course, was released with an intermission, as were longish MGM musicals such as the 170-minute My Fair Lady, and David Lean epics such as the 197-minute Dr. Zhivago and the 216-minute Lawrence of Arabia.

So what ever happened to intermissions? More recently, the 261-minute Gettyburg and the 231-minute Gods and Generals, which I haven't seen, both featured intermissions, but why don't other bladder-testers in the vein of Dances With Wolves, Titanic, and anything by Oliver Stone?

I say we should petition Hollywood to insert intermissions -- voluntarily, of course, like the ratings system -- into any film at least three hours long. Everyone would be much more comfortable, the theaters would sell more concessions, and directors would be challenged to make their films interesting enough for people to go back into the theater after intermission. It's a win-win scenario, don't you think?


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Yoda I am

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

After your thoughtful posts, I thought it would be fitting for me to follow my erudite "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" missive with another high-minded effort. This one involves taking a quiz to see what popular fantasy or science fiction character you'd be. (Not exactly T.S. Eliot, but don't forget that Eliot inflicted Cats upon us.)

This quiz tells me I'm Yoda at heart -- "a venerated sage with vast power and knowledge, you gently guide forces around you while serving as a champion of the light."

Oh yeah. That's me alright.

Ready are you? Help you I can: Find out whether you're Galadriel, Captain Kirk, Agent Smith, Gollum, or a host of other characters here. Do...or do not. There is no try. Report back.


T.S. Eliot: Christmas from the Magi's Point of View

Dear Kari:

I have to say I am not a been a big fan of poetry. There are some poems I like but I couldn't recite them back to you.

Last month I was talking with a friend who loves poetry. He shared something he recently came across that he liked. He read it aloud. The cadence, word pictures and deep emotion was haunting and it lodged itself in my memory.

I had to try to find it again.

There are a number of web sites devoted to the works of T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) and here is one brand name Eliot site. However, the work, "Journey of the Magi," that lingered in my mind was not easily found on the internet because apparently it is still under copyright. I don't know copyright laws and how they work. I know I cannot reproduce the entire poem on the internet. However, would excerpting parts of it in the context of discussing it be acceptable?

There are many aspects to the Christmas story and in "Journey of the Magi," T.S. Eliot takes us into the minds of the Magi in their undoubtedly arduous journey to find the Christ child and then into the transformation of their world view.

Today, we can jump into a car and go somewhere. If we have enough money we can get on a plane and be half a world away in a day's time. But back then, the journey of the Magi would have been a slow one. Eliot wrote:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

Today, when we plan a trip, we can go on our computer to map the route, select our motel stays with a click of a button and tap the keyboard to enter our credit card numbers. Not so in the olden days:

And the cities hostile and towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.

Did the Magi begin to wonder if it was worth the journey?

At the end we preferred to travel all night
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Eliot foreshadowed the significance of the birth of Jesus by a simple picture of His future death on the Cross (three trees) and the liberation from sin and death as symbolized by the departure of the old white horse.

And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Heaven had come to earth in Jesus birth and he described the adoration in a mere two lines but with a powerful under statement in the last half of the second line.

But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

Eliot then nails down the transformation of the experience. Eliot's Magi voice became mostly first person.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our palaces, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

When we hear the words of the Hallelujah chorus (#44 Handel's Messiah) this season -- Hallelujah: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is becoming the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever and ever. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. -- it began with the Child the Magi came so very far to see and once seen, truly seen, we are not the same.

Have a wonderful Christmas, Kari and a happy New Years.

Yours truly,

Monday, December 22, 2003

Nell and John Wooden Court

Dear Kari:

As a sports fan, I'm sure you were aware of the ceremony at UCLA this past Saturday to rename the basketball court, Nell and John Wooden Court. I thought you might enjoy a few excerpts from Bill Plaschke's column on the event.

He was escorted on the arm of his daughter, supported at the end of a cane, carried by the cheers of thousands.

Only once Saturday did the 93-year-old guest of honor stand on his own.
It was when the Pauley Pavilion announcer collectively introduced his dozens of former players.

From across the court, John Wooden suddenly rose to face them.

Stooped, but standing. Unsteady, but certain.

While others clapped, Wooden curled both his weathered hands into the tight fists of a young man and pumped them, directly at his students, again and again, mouthing words of encouragement and thanks.

Coach, coaching still.
The young UCLA team dived and skidded across the court during a 64-58 victory over Michigan State.

For the first time, the Bruins did it not only in Wooden's name, but on his name.
Before the game, the floor was christened Nell and John Wooden Court in honor of the only guy in the building who initially wasn't too thrilled with the idea.

"At first I felt, no," Wooden said, typically.

But then UCLA officials suggested that the designation include his late wife of 53 years, a woman to whom Wooden remains so dedicated, he still pens love letters that he keeps on her pillow.

"I thought, well, if they are going to put Nell out there with me … " he said.

The deal was sealed when officials agreed to put her name first.

"She was always first with me," he said. "It just sounds better that way."
The announcer was saying his wife's name. A cheering sellout crowd was shouting his name. Former players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton were clapping like students again.

Wooden stood at the center of the court and felt his throat bulge.

"I lost it a little bit," he said.

But then he found it, magnificently, as only he can find it.

"I didn't come to hear me," he announced to the crowd while pointing to the current UCLA team standing in front of its bench. "I came to watch these young men."

At which point, Coach Ben Howland's throat lumped.

"That's just like him, it's classic John Wooden, it brought a tear to my eye,"

Howland said. "The day is supposed to be about him, but he deflected attention to others."
"I remember each game, I would position myself to look up to her in the stands, where she would give me a signal," said Wooden, fashioning his fingers into an "OK" sign.

Nell died in 1985, a blow from which Wooden has never recovered, initially refusing to attend the Final Four because she wouldn't be there.
Said Mike Warren: "Today is more than a celebration of a great coach. It's the celebration of an incredible relationship."

The day also confirmed that, indeed, Wooden is the sort of splendid antique for whom replication is impossible.

Who else would use his moment of glory to beg the crowd to be nice to … Michigan State?

"Let's be gracious to our opponents," Wooden said. "They are our guests."

It was probably no coincidence that the notorious UCLA student section uttered but one obscene chant the entire game, and only for a moment.

"Somebody like Coach, who speaks out for morals and character, would be pushed to the sidelines in today's world," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Today, it's all about glitz and glamour."

And, in a strange sort of way, about victory.

Not because Wooden demanded it. But because everyone else so badly wanted to give it to him.

"When he told us he was retiring in 1975, I told everyone, no way we're letting him go out a loser, and we didn't," Andre McCarter said. "Today, we have to win this game."

The players felt it and played like it, hustling like no recent UCLA team has hustled, diving across Wooden's name for loose balls, skidding across Wooden's name for steals. They combined old-fashioned jerseys with trademark Wooden effort.

"We knew this was once in a lifetime," T.J. Cummings said.

And when it ended, well, Wooden was amazingly still there, forsaking his usual early-avoid-the-crowds exit.

In his bright eyes, there was 1964. In his wide smile, there was 1972. In his hands was a scrap of paper I forever will believe was a rolled-up program.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Mars Updates

Earth and Moon as photographed by Mars Express which has released the Beagle for a Christmas landing on Mars. Image piped in from http://www.space.com/images/earth_express_pic_030717_03.jpg


Our guest blogger on Mars exploration (Nov. 14, 2003 post), Robby, has given me some updates on what is happening out there.
    He informed me that the Japanese Nozomi probe has failed. It has had a troubled history and the fuel apparently has nearly run out and it won't be able to achieve the orbit they planned for.

    However, the ESA's Beagle mission remains on track as the lander has separated and is set for a Christmas day landing. First signals to indicate it survived the landing should arrive shortly after midnight PST.

    Robby lastly points out some cool publicity trailers from NASA.

I hope the Beagle makes it down safe and look forward to what it finds!


Friday, December 19, 2003

Didn’t I ever tell you about Bumbles?

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

So, growing up as a California kid, did you have any favorite Christmas television specials? I sure did, and I was able to sit down and relive 60 minutes of childhood last week watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

As a child, I thought the show was almost unbearably tense, with all that rejection, loss and lurking danger, but I loved it all the more. As an adult, I notice how much of the hour-long program IS rejection, loss and lurking danger, with snippets of comic relief and short, happy songs interspersed before an ultimately satisfying ending with about 5 minutes to go.

Kids today supposedly like “edgy” entertainment, or at least that’s what the entertainment industry seems to think. But “Rudolph” debuted in 1964 and featured a father ashamed of his son, authority figures (Santa and Comet) quick to disapprove of a nonconformity, an island full of misfits with low self-esteem, kidnapping, violence, dentistry used as a weapon, two apparent deaths, force-feeding, and much disappointment. There’s a lot of pain in that hour, even if soothed by a happy ending.

I remember getting teary-eyed for Rudolph at more than one point in the story, just like I did for Charlie Brown when the other kids made fun of his scraggly Christmas tree in another classic from the '60s, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It seems like today’s entertainment only asks kids to laugh at somebody else’s problems, not share in their pain. But I’m not a children’s television expert, so perhaps I’m judging on too small a sample size.

What do you think?


p.s. Bumbles bounce!

American Experience: The Chinese Story

Hi Kari:

Yesterday was the grand opening of the Chinese-American Museum of Los Angeles. It was a long time in the making and it is great to see it finally happen.

I went to college in an era when ethnic studies was just beginning. My biochemistry major didn't allow for many general education classes. Alas, Asian studies was not on my list of classes I took.

I think there is a place for understanding one's cultural background. Like most people, it is a mix of good and bad and I have to blend it all with my life of being born in the USA yet visibly being an ethnic minority. It has only been in the last decade or so that I learned that Chinese were not well treated by America in the past. However, today, by-in-large, Chinese in America have made incredible progress and we find ourselves with a place in the American family and in positions of power and prestige.

There will continue to be a place for lobby groups with an ethnic flavor because groups that are small in number can be overlooked by the majority. However, what irks me is when those groups appeal to fear and overstate the problems. I personally don't like to assume racism at the outset. Perhaps some would believe me naive to think this way. However, as a matter of personal practice, I just don't like the idea of assuming racism when there isn't any. I don't get that kind of thinking. Why expend energy expecting the worst in people?

There was a time for Chinese when assuming the worst was the safest course of action. But I live NOW, TODAY, HERE. Does that mindset fit the reality I live in?

Aside from assuming racism exists when there might not be any, the other thing that burns me up is when there are attacks from within one's ethnic group. When I hear some in the black community say that Colin Powell and Condi Rice are traitors to their race, I think, have you lost your mind? Where does that kind of muddle-headed thinking come from?

The Asian community isn't as politically vocal but it is learning how to be. I hope they don't go off the deep end like some other special interest groups. I haven't seen as much of the "eat their own" lunacy but there is the whispered slur of "Twinkie" and "Banana". Finally, within the Asian realm there are some historic national rivalries that lurk under the serenity and harmony we often try to cultivate.

In my mind, as Dennis Prager likes to quote Viktor Frankl, "There are only two types of people, the decent and the indecent."

I'll finish off this post by going to yesterday's LA Times where there was an essay by a Chinese American. I appreciated the writer's honesty. He pointed out where there were problems with how Chinese were treated. But he also pointed out the progress. Excerpts:
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred my grandfather and tens of thousands of Chinese from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens and kept others out altogether. Its preamble says, "The coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities." A poster of that era depicted a Chinese man eating a rat, with the slogan, "They must go."

The law, which was amended or modified every 10 years, later included Asians from other nations. On Dec. 17, 1943, at President Roosevelt's urging, Congress partly repealed the law but still limited the number of Chinese who could immigrate to this country to 105 a year. It wasn't until 1965 that this nation finally put immigration from both Asia and Europe on an equal footing.

Growing up in New Orleans during World War II, I had a less ambivalent view of the U.S. than my grandfather. I was proud of my dad because he worked for Higgins Industries and helped to design and to build the landing craft that delivered Allied troops on the beaches at Normandy on D-day and the Pacific islands.
It's astounding how few Americans -- even in high places -- know about this ugly chapter in our history. I asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently if he would support an effort to win posthumous U.S. citizenship for Chinese and other Asian Americans who fought in the Civil War.

"Anyone who has served this country with valor should be recognized," McCain said. Then he asked why it had taken so long to apply for citizenship for these veterans. When I told him about the exclusion laws, the senator seemed stunned.

I told him one of his constituents, Sharon O'Connor of Tucson, was the great-granddaughter of one of those Civil War veterans. Edward Day Cohota, also known as Sing Loo of Shanghai, China, was in the Civil War. He served a total of 30 years and tried unsuccessfully until his death in 1935 to become a U.S. citizen.
The Chinese have contributed much to this country, but the laws prevented them from doing more. Many of the history textbooks have little or no information about the challenges these people faced or tell of their accomplishments.

The Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles, which opens today, will help illuminate some of this history and illustrate how Chinese Americans helped to build a better nation. I'm confident that if Grandfather Chu Lin were alive today he would say, "Much more needs to be done, but America has changed for the better. I'm happy that I brought my family here."

Taking the last line and adjusting it for myself, "I'm happy that my ancestors brought our family here."


Thursday, December 18, 2003

Male & Female: So What's the Difference?

Vice-President Dan Quayle giving the famous Murphy Brown speech
photo courtesy of Eric Montgomery (emontgomery@cox.net)

Dear Kari:

Remember the fellow in the photo above?

Dan Quayle was Vice-President of the United States from 1989-1993. The photo above was taken by Eric, one of our loyal readers, who is a professional photographer and was a White House photographer during the G.H.W. Bush administration. He sent me the photo after reading Monday, Dec 15's post where I had a link to an article which referred to Quayle's famous "Murphy Brown" speech. Quayle was scoffed at for that speech. But upon reflection, even his opponents began to see he was onto something as seen in this Atlantic article from 1993. Two hat tips to Eric for the photo and the Atlantic link.

The Claremont article I cited argues that we are raising a generation of boys who are either barbarians or wimps because we have so diminished and denigrated the role of fathers and the necessity and virtues of true manliness. Very strong words but probably all too true.

Interestingly, even ESPN.com has weighed in on this topic when wildly popular Stacey Pressman wrote her concerns:
I would venture to say that our culture is in dire need of an injection of testosterone -- not Botox.

Last Friday night, I attended a symposium on current issues in society put on by the Torrey Honors Institute. The various speakers touched on a wide range of issues. Gender issues didn't receive the lion's share of the time but some of the most passionate comments were made regarding it. One speaker, philosophy professor John Mark Reynolds lamented how our society has foisted on woman such an incorrect notion of beauty that eating disorders are rampant.

Another speaker, writer Frederica Mathewes-Green observed that maleness is under attack in our society and reported seeing a t-shirt that said, "Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them." The audience laughed a nervous laughter because at its face it is so silly yet that kind of thinking exists. What do the more strident feminists say, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?"

It is said a good lawyer never asks a question she doesn't know the answer to. Bloggers aren't under the same constraint. Let me toss out two statement for you (and our readers) to consider.

At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationships.

At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man's differing relationships.

These two statement are from author John Piper.

One of my buddies and I have discussed this topic on and off over the last few years and the quotes are from a book Piper edited. I haven't read that book so I haven't digested the exposition of the proposed definitions. I appreciate Piper's boldness in attempting to define the differences that are self-evident in my mind. However, I find the wording wanting. It is a good start of a discussion and I like some of the thoughts in there but I can't fully embrace it.

What do you think? Agree, disagree, how would you modify what he said?

Be well,

P.S. Dear Readers, please don't be shy about clicking on the comment's link below! Would love to hear what people are thinking on this topic!!

Monday, December 15, 2003

Celebration of friendship

Hello Kari:

Thought I'd take a crack at a "fluff" post. With our female-male duo blog approach, we have mentioned in passing those gender differences in your post entitled, "Well, at least I didn't Scream" (October 16, 2003) and in my post entitled, "Matrix or LOTR? Eowyn or Arwen?" (November 16, 2003).

While web surfing I came across this article by Camerin Courtney. She tackled that age old question of can men and women be friends? In her characteristic honest and humorous style, she shared stories and said, yes, under the right circumstances.

I've decided to go ahead and tackle the topic from the guy's side and I would say her categories more or less have analogs in the Martian perspective.

Men and women can be friends when the guy sees his woman friend as "The Kid Sister." She may or may not be actually younger but most of the time she is. This type of friendship usually involves a good amount of good natured kidding around and giving of grief. After all that is what big brothers tend to do to their kid sisters. But when she needs help or is hurt, she has the guy's undivided attention. There are women friends in my life who I periodically call or email just to check in on them and see how they are progressing on whatever it was they were last working on or concerned about. Often it will be accompanied by some teasing remarks going in both directions. But indeed, if something is amiss, I'll more or less drop everything and make some time to listen to her issues. This type of friendship draws upon the part of male nature that seeks to protect those he cares about.

Men and women can be friends when the guy sees his woman friend as "The Off the Wall Woman From Far Left Field." One of the wonders and joys of friendships is that you can enjoy friends who can complete your sentences and you can also enjoy friends who leave you shaking your head in bewilderment. In DC, I got to know a woman who worked as a clerk to an administrative law judge. Being an attorney she had an opinion (I disagreed probably more often than not) about almost everything and let me know it. She also had an off beat irreverent sense of humor. She was both puzzling and delightful. As two workaholics in DC, we managed to find a little time here and there to enjoy each other's company. Now, I live in Los Angeles and I've been blessed with some women friends who have acting aspirations or musical talents. As you might guess as a molecular biologist, I'm not cut from the same cloth. Yet, they are a joy to have around and they bring a perspective to life I would otherwise never get. This type of friendship draws upon the part of male nature that enjoys an adventure.

Men and women can be friends when the guy sees his woman friend as "The Gal Pal." As I just mentioned there are some friends who can complete your sentences. You simply share a lot in common and the two are equals in most ways. It is this kind of woman friend a guy can go to for help or confide in and because of shared history he knows she won't think less of him. Likewise, the woman can count on the male friend to do the same for her. In this type of friendship, the friends do things of mutual interest; yet, she is still a women and will bring a different take to the enjoyment of that shared activity. This type of friendship draws upon the part of male nature that desires to grow and give as a human being. He knows some aspect of personal growth comes from hanging out with the guys and some by being with women he respects.

God has indeed made men and women different and thus uniquely able to delight and help each other in life. Of course, in life, people don't fall into these neat categories I've described. There will be elements of all three in most friendships, but I think one aspect tends to be more prevalent.

What do you think?

Thus, from the left coast, male and molecular biology trained side of this blog, let me lift up my glass to toast the wonders, confusions, and joys of female friends, including one blogger from the mid-western, female and social science trained side of the world.

Be well,

UPDATE: Saw this interesting article mentioned on Hewitt's site about the decline of manliness in American society.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

News flash: Hussein Captured!

Dear Kari:

How did you get the news?

Turned on the radio this morning and heard the news. Turned on the TV to see the details and went to the internet to read a bit more.

Date: Sun, 14 Dec 2003 07:15:06 -0500
From: CNN Breaking News
Reply-to: newseditor@MAIL.CNN.COM
Subject: CNN Breaking News
-- U.S. officials confirm former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein captured.

For web surfers this Sunday morning who stumble onto this site and still haven't heard the news, read about it here.

Now, that is what I call terrific news and a big step forward for the freedom and future of the people of Iraq.


Friday, December 12, 2003

The Remedy

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

So I hear you have come down with "the junk" -- if not the flu, then at least a sore throat. I had the beginnings of a nasty one yesterday, but tried the barrels-blazing approach of not one, but three, home remedies. It ain't science, but it worked. So if any of our readers feel similarly cruddy, they might try the following:

Mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. Gargle mouthfuls twice, swallowing the second mouthful. (It's not too bad, really -- kind of like a sweet but very acidic salad dressing.) Repeat hourly (you can use the same glassful for a couple hours). Supposedly, the acidity works wonders on bacteria, and it's soothing too. I think it's even better than gargling salt water, which has not helped me much over the years.


Take a teaspoon of Tabasco or tabasco-like chili sauce straight. Hold in the back of your throat for several seconds before swallowing.


Eat dry roasted peanuts (unless you're allergic, of course...).


If the apple cider vinegar is too strong for you with water, try mixing it in equal parts with honey (no water, so it's a thick mixture), taking a teaspoon every hour.

I did the first three, and today the sore throat is gone.

Disclaimer: These can supplement and should not replace medical treatment, if it is necessary.


Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Picture of the day?


Scanned a portion of picture by Eric Boyd (Los Angeles Times) found in Los Angeles Times Tuesday 9 December 2003 F11 Outdoors Section.

Text in photo reads:
The Relic Lures company produces character-based fishing lures, including a Simpsons line featuring the Homer shallow-diving wobbler, a mutant crankbait fish with three eyes and the Duff topwater chugger, below.



Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Language: culture and reality

Dear Kari:

One of the nice things about having friends who are in the performing arts is that I get to be exposed to events I would ordinarily not hear about.

The other day I had the chance to see Brian Friel's "Translations" at the Crossley Terrace Theatre.

In the world of drama, there are only a finite number of story devices and each movie, play, novel or whatever have some variant on familiar concepts. Indeed, Translations has a love triangle where two of the characters are hopelessly star crossed, tensions within a family, in this case, a father and his two sons, and the struggle of the old versus the new.

In this play, these threads were woven in the small fictional Irish town of Ballybeg at the beginning of England's take over of Ireland. The event that sets the play in motion was the arrival of the British military whose job was to rename everything in English for maps. Thus, language became the fault line for the story arc of the three threads which tied together form an exploration of the significance of language to culture and how it affects reality and progress.

The theatre for some reason was rather warm that night which made things a bit uncomfortable. The play was a little slow starting up in establishing the characters and the premise but not excessively so. The story has moments of deep emotion and other parts that were quite funny. The set design was simple but effective as were the costumes. The actors were on top of their game and portrayed the characters with sympathy and authenticity. In all, I would give the production 2.5 stars out of 4 and a thumbs up.

The first production of this play took place in 1980 in Friel's native Ireland where it would resonate considerably because it would not only have the emotional content of the story which is somewhat universal but also the historical context of the personal experience of the audience and its collective memory.

I do not know the history of England's take over of Ireland and to what extent it was resented. The perspective in this story was England imposing its English on the natives. My Chinese ancestors had ties to America as immigrant laborers but my generation was the first to be born here in the USA. Thus, our introduction to English was voluntary and desired as it was for one of the characters of Translations.

As an American born Chinese, I would reflect the views of someone one or two generations after the setting of Translations. Thus, my relationship to the tensions discussed in Translations would be more looking wistfully at a lost past while the characters (most of them) in the play look forward fearful of the life they will lose.

It raised questions for me about how interlinked language is with culture and identity. I found myself thinking about the incredible choice immigrants make in leaving their language and culture for something unknown and alien. I felt the tension between keeping the best of the old and wanting the best of the new. It was true then and it is true today. A work of non-fiction that illustrates that tension is The Lexus and the Olive Tree. NY Times writer Thomas Friedman used The Lexus to symbolize the aspirations for economic progress and the Olive Tree as a metaphor for traditions that define identity.

Am I making sense here?

Take care,

P.S. For our Southern California readers, the show runs until December 14, 2003.
For more information contact:
Actors Co-op

Weekend sports round-up

Hi Kari:

Are the BCS people laughing all the way to the bank because they got everybody talking and interested or worried they will have egg all over their faces?

The USC as #1 in human polls but not in the BCS championship game scenario that floated around as the scores from Arrowhead were coming in came to reality on Sunday afternoon.

My feeling has always been either bring back the old bowl system or go with the playoffs. The BCS has neither the charm of the old traditional bowls nor the clarity of a playoff. It is time for the BCS to go. Ian O'Conner of USA Today defends the BCS. I think his argument suits me fine as a reason to go back to the old bowl system.

As a UCLA alum, it will be a tough day on Rose Bowl game day. The BCS supporters want Michigan to win because they want the Sugar Bowl to be the championship game. The East Coast sports pundits want Michigan to win so they can continue to bash the Pac-10. The Big-12, SEC and Big-10 fans want Michigan to win. USC, a sympathetic team? USC, against the world as underdogs? ARGH! What is a UCLA partisan to do?

Meanwhile, this UCLA bball fan is happy with the good effort in the 52-50 defeat to Kentucky. Last year was truly Bruins in ruins.

Have to also say I was pleased that Stanford played some good ball in their win in the other game of the John Wooden classic. Sorry, Kari, I had to mention it. I suspect the jubilation over the KSU mauling of OU in football outweighed a non-conference loss by KU in basketball. Please know that I know it is early in the season and it was a road game so I'm not making any pronouncements about the future success of your favorite basketball team. Coach Williams left lots on the shelf for Self to work with. But for now, how about a mighty roar for the Pac-10?

UCLA is facing hard times with the shelf somewhat bare from the Steve Lavin era. It will be an interesting test case of whether coaching really makes a difference. Lavin's recruits do have potential -- that most dreaded word in assessing athletic talent. Bozman is a junior and showing signs of improvement at the point. Morrison is the kind of athletic hard working gym rat every team needs. Thompson is the offensive star who is starting to play some defense under defense-minded Coach Howland. Fey and Hollins, the two 7-footers, are second year guys with lots of upside. Finally, Ariza, an impact freshman, could be a star when he gets back from a collapsed lung and Cummings can score points for the team in conference play if he regains academic eligibility. These seven should get the lion's share of the minutes. There are several others who may get into the game under some circumstances but aren't expected to be big contributors.

How is the Big-12 looking this year?

Arizona and Stanford are the top dogs in the Pac-10. UCLA, USC, Cal, Oregon and Arizona State are the middle of the pack teams. Oregon State, Washington and Washington State are anticipated to be the bottom feeders.

It is really amazing how poorly the two Washington schools are doing. Gonzaga has taken over as the basketball program in Washington playing in that "powerhouse" West Coast Conference. They took care of Maryland pretty easily and will be facing Missouri and Stanford soon.

Besides UCLA, I'll follow the UC Irvine Anteaters of the Big West Conference. As you know, I went to graduate school there and that the team has never made it to the NCAA March Madness. As someone with a fondness for underdogs, you've understood my affection for the Zots. They are predicted to finish third in the Big West in preseason polls. However, since the Big West is a one-bid conference, if the Anteaters can peak for the post-season conference tournament, they can make it to the NCAA. I'll be sure to blog back now and then about the Anteaters as they clearly fly well below the national media radar.

Be well,

Monday, December 08, 2003

What State is Perfect for YOU?

Hey Kari:

Saw this quiz at Postrel's site who got it from Hold the Mayo (Dec 3) who got it from Accidental Jedi (Dec. 3) who got it from Jay Solo. Whew.

Oh, they say my perfect state was MAINE! As a jogger which wasn't one of the possible answers in the quiz, I selected fishing which yielded Maine. But when I did the quiz again putting gardening instead of fishing, I would up, you guessed it, in California.


California is where you should live. Unless of
course you lied on the quiz which would be
stupid. It's crowded as balls there but the
weather is perfect, except for the occasional
earth quake.

What State Is Perfect For You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Maine is your state. It's pretty and nice and
quiet and not crowded. I love Maine, so do

What State Is Perfect For You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Do I Really Want to be Drew Carey's Neighbor?

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Found an interesting site this weekend that enhances the idea of the World’s Smallest Political Quiz by adding a few more questions and the metaphor of a village made up of neighborhoods of political thought.

It’s Politopia, a project of the Institute for Humane Studies, a freedom-loving outfit at George Mason University.

Take its questionnaire here, and see who your neighbors are. Turns out I live in the Northwest neighborhood of libertarians, although close to the border with “Centerville.” According to the site, I live just south of Drew Carey (!) and a hop-skip-and-a-jump southeast of Ayn Rand. I’m northwest of George W. Bush, whom the site pegs as living on the northern limits of Centerville. (You’ll see what I mean when you check it out.)

So, where do you live?


Saturday, December 06, 2003

K-State 35, Oklahoma 7

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Oh yeah.


Thursday, December 04, 2003

Love songs, nothing but love songs

Hey Kari:

A few posts (Nov. 18) back you sang the praises of songs that make no sense. Indeed, you found some real oddities. Thoughts about that have been bouncing around in my mind and I decided to go ahead and make a full blown post out of a few disconnected bits of stuff cluttering my mind.

In a non-blog-mediated interaction you mentioned to me the unusual lyrics by Jimmy Webb in MacArthur Park. For non Los Angeles readers or people not familiar with LA, there is a MacArthur park near downtown.

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

Is the song about that park? With strange lyrics you never know.…

What is the song about anyway?

When I talk with friends about the meaning of songs, we usually say love song. After all, what, probably 75% of all songs are about love? Kari, readership, higher or lower? Hmmm…

Popculturemadness.com says: Given that the song was written in 1967/1968, the general consensus is "bad acid".

The readers at popculturemadness even voted it the worst popular song of all time. To see the list of other works so honored, look here. I'd be curious to know what our readers think of that list.

But back to MacArthur park, believe it or not, somebody tried to organize all they could find about the song on the internet.

Unfortunately, the two most intriguing links are outdated so I can't check the validity of the quotes. Excerpts:

And then there's "MacArthur Park," made famous -- or infamous -- by Harris in 1968. The song has been ridiculed as classic '60s excess because of the overblown orchestra of the original version and the song's strange lyric -- that troublesome metaphor of the cake in the rain, etc. Columnist Dave Barry named it the worst song in history, or something like that, a few years ago.

But Barry and other detractors are just plain wrong. This is the inner cry of a young Okie kid lost in Los Angeles with a heart full of sorrows and a head full of acid. He has been crushed by love, but he vows to rise again, though he knows his loss always will cause him pain.

And then there is this:

"I always think that whatever is art, need not and should not be explained, as someone once said. "But I'll tell you: MacArthur Park is clearly about a love affair ending, and the person singing it is using the cake and the rain as a metaphor for that. OK, it may be far out there, and a bit incomprehensible, but that is what I was trying to get at. I suppose the whole thing was that I wrote the song at a time in the late 1960s when surrealistic lyrics were the order of the day. It was written around about the same time as Strawberry Fields, so it probably seems a bigger deal now than it was back then. Still, the lyrics never stopped Richard Harris, Frank Sinatra, Donna Summer and any number of trash garage bands from doing it - and who else can say that about one of their songs"?

What do you think Kari?

Speaking of love songs and Jimmy Webb, I have to post the lyrics to an unambiguous love song Wichita Lineman.

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road
Searchin' in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin' in the wire, I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
I know I need a small vacation but it don't look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

As someone who loves to drive and be on the open road, this kind of song has a resonance with me. I haven't heard it on the radio in a long time and it isn't in Apple's ITunes yet. But the echo of Glenn Campbell singing those haunting lines still rings in my mind.

Be well,

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Art of Performance

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

I was reading an article that struck a chord with me (disclaimer: the article is about the art of the piano, but I really wasn’t trying for a pun…), and I thought you might be interested, as much of what we write about concerns the meaning of art.

Denis Dutton writes about music theorist and pianist Charles Rosen in a wide-sweeping book review that concludes with a discussion of atonality, a topic we have touched on here before. But what got me thinking was Dutton’s description of Rosen’s reaction to the contemporary urge for musical authenticity. Many musicians strive to interpret and play music as it was “intended” by the composer, using only the musical conventions and technology of its original era.

But Rosen believes that, even when first performed, the art is in the performance itself, and that by focusing too much on the composer or even the work, something has been lost, both for performers and audiences.

Dutton writes:

…He is skeptical, even cynical, about the capacity of study to bring a musician to an ultimate inner truth in a musical work. His attitude strikes me as almost deconstructive: there is no hope of discovering some inner “presence” of the composer’s mind in the work, because no such entity exists.

When we talk about classical music, we almost exclusively talk about composers. When you posted about the two recordings you own of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, we discussed the difference in the interpretation, and I jumped at once to proclaim Bernstein’s inferior because he did not embrace the composer’s narrative. But while Bernstein’s version may be less “authentic,” is it more or less valuable as art?

Performance art brings up questions like that all the time. How many versions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet have you seen? How different have they been? Is the art in the text, or in the interpretation and performance? You don’t have those questions looking at a Picasso or a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.