Wednesday, June 30, 2004

SOI tonight!!

image source

Hey Kari:

Things were buzzing at JPL here in Southern California during the Mars Rover Landings. Well, JPL's "party animal" engineers and scientists are at at it again with tonight's SOI (Saturn orbital insertion) as the Cassini-Huygens reaches a big milestone.

If you are curious, check out the information about the Cassini orbiter.

image source:

And check out the description of the Huygens probe.

image source

Here's hoping for some great pictures post-SOI!


UPDATE: Woooooo hoooooo! Cassini-Huygens is in orbit and sending photos.

image source

UPDATE: Here are the observations from one of my friends who was an invited guest at JPL's SOI watch night party.
We were a jubilant group of family and friends who came out to support and to witness the insertion of Cassini onto Saturn's orbit. The crowd was cheering at every announced turning point of the procedure.

There were no live pictures of the insertion itself but we were provided a live video feed from Mission Control along with audio from various engineers monitoring Cassini and interviews with scientists involved in the project. There was also a doppler graph which took live radio transmission from Cassini. From the graph, you can infer it's speed and the various blips which indicated to us we were passing through Saturn's rings.

Werth it: Dodgers 2 Giants 1

Hello Kari:

If your team gets only 4 hits and suffers 9 strikeouts and looks pathetic flailing away at breaking balls and change ups you wonder how you can win?

Amazingly, the Dodgers won bringing them to 2 1/2 games back.

See the box score for the stats.

Manager Jim Tracy is a big believer in sending out right handed bats against left-handed pitchers and visa versa. Since the Giants trotted out Lowry, a lefty from the bullpen, for a spot start, Tracy countered with a slew of righties in the line up which included three bench players. Stars and bench players were looking mighty foolish out in front of pitches and swinging at stuff off that broke off the plate. But Weaver pitched well and though he gave up hits he didn't give up a bunch of them at the same time.

Two double plays by the Dodger infield erased Giant threats to the delight of the 51,113 fans. Well, actually not all of them were happy at the double plays as there were pockets of Giant fans identifiable by there jerseys and counter chants against the Dodgers when the organist was trying to fire up Dodger fans. A handful of these Giant fans had their "Walker" rubber chickens. Bonds had 4 at-bats and 4 walks, 2 intentional and 2 unintentionally intentional so the Walker's were waved vigorously.

But baseball is like life... a surprise can arise in a moment... and when we heard that glorious crack of the bat most of the stadium rose as one ... hoping ... Werth hit a solo homer in the 5th to the deepest part of center field to tie the game.

Then, in the dramatic bottom of the eighth, Werth got a single to open the inning against Brower who relieved Lowry who had a dominating performance. Cora pinch hit for Hernandez and dragged a perfect bunt down toward 1st base to advance Werth. Grabowski pinch hit for Mota but the Giants changed pitchers so Tracy countered with Ross who was walked. Izturis was safe on a fielder's choice leaving Werth at third. Lo Duca slapped a hit to left field and Werth scored the go ahead run which turned out to be the winning run.

Gagne came in for the 9th and it was game over and got his 19th save.


Go Dodgers!


P.S. I was debating whether or not to post a photo of me with one of the Dodger Blue Wigs they were giving out to all in attendance. I could post it should you or our readership clamour for it as an aid to dieting, i.e. after you see the photo you will not want to have any food of any kind! 8-)

UPDATE: Why is this blogger wearing a blue-wig? Well, the Dodgers took 2 of 3 from the Giants! Woo hoo! And besides, aiding in the dieting of Americans is probably a good cause, you think?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Another corporate scandal

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

Did you ever listen to Air America before it went off the air in LA? It's never been on a station that can be heard out here in the Heartland (except on satellite radio), but I don't think we cowboys are the target audience anyway.

Professor Bainbridge has an interesting post on some of the legal issues surrounding Air America's shall-we-say "quirky" finances.

Aside from its start-up woes, it seems to me that Air America had a business-plan problem from the beginning. I'm not a big Rush Limbaugh fan (for reasons similar to, though not exactly the same as, P.J. O'Rourke's), but the market built his audience of ditto-heads. He didn't get staked a quadrillion bucks to bellow at us; his audience sought him out. Demand drove supply.

At least from the outside, it appears that Air America hoped to drive demand with supply. Instead of growing organically, it was given a $30 million growth hormone (or not; see PB for details). Certainly, any venture needs start-up cash, but it seems unrealistic in retrospect to think that, without proving itself in the trenches, it could become an instant media powerhouse -- or even a self-sustaining business.


Monday, June 28, 2004

Picture of the day: New day for Iraqis!

source of image:

Friday, June 25, 2004

100 Years, and This is the Best We Can Do?

Hi-De-Ho Rene!

The American Film Institute has published a new Top 100 list -- this one is "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs."

I won't argue with most of the list -- it's pretty subjective, after all -- but there are some glaring omissions and some weird inclusions and inflations. "Let the River Run," from Working Girl? Whaaa? "Ain't too Proud to Beg," from the Big Chill? Was AFI so desperate for 1980s representation that it snuck those two in? The first two '80s movie-songs on the list are "Fight the Power" from Do the Right Thing at No. 40, and "Wind Beneath My Wings" from Beaches at No. 44. Both are ridiculously too high on the list -- a list that puts the iconic "Gonna Fly Now" from Rocky down at No. 58! When I hear "Fight the Power," I don't think first of the Spike Lee joint, although it's an excellent film, and the song is well-used. I certainly don't think of Beaches while I'm reaching for the tuner to change the channel when "Wind Beneath My Wings" comes on. Ech.

Anyway, the list does remind me of another reason I like old movies so much -- songs were often essential to their mood, even if they weren't musicals. While today's movies are scored to the hilt, actual songs usually seem placed there to help sell soundtrack albums. It really irks me that many of those songs only play over the end credits, and yet sometimes the field is so thin that they get nominated for Oscars anyway.

There are some notable contemporary exceptions. Pulp Fiction was on IFC the other night (and will be repeatedly for about a month). Regardless of what you think of Tarantino's use of violence and stylized dialogue, you can't deny he has a knack for matching visuals with music that invokes something very specific. Think of the "Son of a Preacher Man" scene, or "Let's Stay Together" playing under Marcellus' speech. (By the way, nothing from Pulp Fiction is on the list.)

The other great exception, and it's sorely missed, is TV's Homicide: Life on the Street. I recently bought seasons 1-3 on DVD, used, reminding me of the amazing use of songs on that series (not as background music -- but as integral elements to visual montages or cues to the inner life of featured characters). That show rocked. I don't have HBO, but The Sopranos appears to use similar song devices.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"

Hello Kari:

I finally got around to reading The Da Vinci Code which has inhabited last year's bestseller lists and created quite a stir. I heard there is even talk of a movie. So the buzz will re-ignite if the film actually gets made and released.

Have you read it? Have some of your friends read it? What do you think? What do they think?

First, I'll write about it in entertainment terms then tackle it theologically.

It is a great detective story page turner. Really fast paced, neat little puzzles, lots of little cliff hangers at the end of short chapters, a conspiracy nut's dream, twists and turns here and there, likeable if thinly drawn characters, all in all an easy read and lots of fun.

I'll be curious to see who gets cast for the movie. Will they land a big star like George Clooney for Prof. Langdon? Will they cast Jennifer Garner as Sophie? I have no idea who they are going to cast but those are my choices.

Anyway, top notch entertainment for a breezy fictional read.

But how does it fare theologically?

The novel reads like it is rooted in truth and history. And indeed, there are elements of truth in the set up to the story and in details along the way. However, Brown does take some liberties to make the story fly with an air of plausibility.

I'll try not to give away the whole story with my critique but I'll certainly be tipping off some things for those who haven't read and plan to.

The book makes three strong theological claims that rest on some weak history:
(1) Gnostic descriptions of the life of Jesus
(2) Conspiracy over the divinity of Jesus
(3) Syncretism of Christianity with paganism.

Brown's story rests on aspects of Jesus life described in Gnostic literature. In brief, Gnostics believed that some secret knowledge was necessary for salvation or enlightenment. Indeed, Brown's book is about a secret society that has some secret information the church is trying to destroy. Some Gnostic literature described a Jesus that is not the same as the one described in the Christian Scriptures (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Brown uses those Gnostic details in his plot.

How does one assess the reliability of ancient documents?

There are several considerations: (1) age of the documents relative to the events they describe i.e. older is generally better (2) numbers of documents consistent with each other i.e. the more independent texts that say the same thing raises confidence and (3) assertion of authenticity i.e. another historical work A makes reference to work B.

On all counts, the Gnostic documentry claims are fairly weak compared with the traditional Gospels.

Brown described a conspiracy regarding the divinity of Jesus. In his book, the characters state that Jesus' divinity was voted in at the Council of Nicea in 325 thus making Jesus divine status a fabrication layered on top of a prior non-divine standing.

This is not an accurate description of the sequence of events. In fact, it is the exact opposite of what happened. The divinity of Jesus was discussed at the very beginning of Christian history before the Council of Nicea. The proximal cause for controversy at Nicea was the teachings about Jesus as less than divine by Arius. Thus, Nicea affirmed the divinity of Christ; it did not invent it.

Finally, Brown's secret society's theology is syncretism of Christianity with Paganism. This divorces the meaning of Christianity from its historic Jewish roots. Judaism held a radically different concept of God and the world when compared to all other religions of its time. Jewish ethical monotheism was incompatible with Paganism (variations of nature worship). I don't doubt that Christianity co-opted some of the symbols and rituals of paganism but its core concepts of God and the nature of the world are Jewish not Pagan.

In the end, the book is entertaining and speculative. However, it has to be taken as nothing more than that. For those who have no religious affiliations or subscribe to one other than Christianity, this book could further bolster their skepticism of Christianity. For Christians or undecideds with less familiarity with doctrine and history, this book could shake their faith and confuse them. Thus, it is incumbant on those who take Christianity seriously to gently but firmly point out where Brown is speculative and mis-reports history and with humility explain the traditional, and I believe correct, understanding of Christianity.

To read much more detailed analysis of Da Vinci Code, check out the articles from this Protestant site and this and this from a Catholic site.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Another Stadium Photo

Hey Kari:

Recognize this ball park? 8-)

Here was the recap of that game I got to see as part of your post-reception event at the ball park for family and friends.


P.S. Dear Readers:

Let us know how you like the new look!

Blogger recently updated their service. They have made available a number of new looks for blog layout. The other big change is that they are now able to host comments on Blogger's servers. Unfortunately, to take advantage of that new feature, we had to give up the old commenting service from Squawkbox and there is currently no way to import them into the new format.

Anaheim Angels

Hi Kari:

The hot baseball ticket in Southern California is for the 2002 MLB champion Angels! I went last Sunday (recap and box score) and saw the Angels defeat Baltimore easily. I normally go for the budget seats but the most afforable tickets that still had availabilty was in the $30 section. Here is a another digital stitch.

No post about the Angels would complete without some photos of items in the tribute to the 2002 championship team. Here is the trophy.

Here is a t-shirt inside the display case.

And of course, here is the charming (to Angel fans) and ubiquitious and annoying (to opponents) Rally Monkey!

Angels have been hit hard with injuries but are still hanging in there in the AL West!

Take care,

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Rah, Rah, Ronnie!

Hi-De-Ho Rene:

I found this image a few months ago and made it into a T-shirt for Brent (paper cut-out on front, jingle on back). Reagan had kindled a political spark in him that now, more than 20 years later, burns pretty darn hot. He wanted to wear it to church Sunday, but opted not to because of last line.


Remembering Reagan

Hello Kari:

Thanks for the invitation to join you and yours at the reception. It was a wonderful occasion to celebrate love and life.

Indeed, the entire weekend was about that as the 60th anniversary remembrances of D-Day were occurring in France. And then, of course, there was the recollections of President Reagan.

As you have seen in the news, the public outpouring of affection for Reagan here in Southern California has been enormous. I had thought about making the trip to Moorpark College to catch the shuttle bus to the Presidential Library. However, I heard the reports that traffic near Moorpark was jammed and was taking hours to cover the final few miles and then the wait for the buses was also taking many hours.

After the national ceremonies in Washington DC on Friday, Reagan will be interred in a private ceremony at the Library. I'm sure for several weeks after that, visitations to the library will be high. I'll make the trip there at some point to pay my respects to one of the giants of the 20th Century.

Being a few years older than you, I did indeed cast my first presidential ballot for Reagan's re-election in 1984. At the time, I was an registered independent and was somewhat of a swing voter. In the years following, my views would shift toward center-right conservative with a sprinkle of libertarianism partly because of Reagan.

Here is a list of 10 memories piggybacking on some of yours and tossing in a few other ones.

1. I too watched the first space shuttle launch. In the West Coast, the coverage started quite early in the morning! The launches became routine and the morning of the Challenger launch, it was just a little bit on the radio... there was a delay due to some issue or another as I headed out the door for school. My friends and I were on the road and had a top 40 pop station on the radio. As we approached UCLA, the DJ broke from the usual music playlist to give reports on what happened. Reagan's short speech that night allowed us to mourn, remember and hope.

2. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" I've visited the Reagan library once and a piece of that Wall is there. Reagan had a unflagging vision of what was right.

3. "These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war."

4. The bear in the forest ad of 1984... some people don't believe there is a bear in the forest or that it isn't dangerous but doesn't it make sense to be stronger than the bear? As you might guess as a college student I got a steady diet of protestors calling for a nuclear freeze and for no Pershing missiles into Europe and deriding Reagan as a cowboy who wanted war.

5. News of the assassination attempt circulated in our high school all day long and when I got home I was glued to the television news. It was a scary time but as the years have past, what I now remember more was Reagan's humor through it all. To the doctors at George Washington's ER: I hope you are all Republicans. And to Nancy: Honey, I forgot to duck.

6. Reagan to Mondale: I will not take advantage of my opponent's youth and inexperience.

7. Election night 1980. The polling data was showing a move to Reagan over the weekend but it was still close. It turned into a tidal wave with gains in the House and the GOP taking the Senate.

8. Election night 1984. 49 states!

9. It may be somewhat of a historical footnote but on Reagan's watch there was the invasion of Grenada. At the time, it seemed to confirm the worst fears of Reagan's critics. However, as time went by and more details came forth, it was obvious the island was turning into a communist military base.

10. "Well, ... "

Take care,

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Random Reagan thoughts

Hi-De-Ho Rene!

I'm back to blogging now that the wedding and reception are recent history. Thanks for flying to Middle America for the festivities.

Since Saturday, I've talked to a bunch of people of all political stripes and backgrounds about their reactions to Ronald Reagan's death. More precisely, we've talked about his life and his legacy, and while some may dispute what's positive and what's negative, few disagree with the assessment of him as a giant of the 20th Century.

The blogosphere is also full of personal reactions, but I thought maybe we could just do some free-association reminiscing about the Reagan years. I'm too young to have voted in 1980 or 1984, except in classroom mock elections, so remember that as you read the following:

1. "There you go again..."
2. Airplanes DIDN'T collide midair, despite Reagan's tough stance with the air traffic controllers.
3. When Reagan was shot, I remember sitting on a tree stump in our yard and worrying about whether there would be a war (having just learned about the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand and the begining of World War I).
4. I remember Dan Rather reporting that Jim Brady had died, tearing up, then reading the White House statement correcting that rumor.
5. "Morning in America" -- a great ad because it captured the turnaround from 1980 to 1984
6. In high school, my English teacher (a favorite) ranted about how Reagan was a dangerous loon because of the famous "We begin bombing in 5 minutes" mic check.
7. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
8. The first space shuttle launch was exciting -- we watched it live on TV. Five years later, a kid in my class who was not known as a reliable source told everybody in Band that the Challenger had exploded, and all the astronauts were dead. We didn't believe him. Later, we had to: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."
9. I got my first taste of liberal superiority in a college current events class I took the summer before my senior year in high school. Two grad students argued that the only reason Reagan was so popular was that uneducated people supported him. Earned my A in the class by interjecting that college graduates had been more likely to vote for Reagan.
10. Reagan's speech at the 1992 GOP convention reminded everybody of what were missing.