Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Religion: Taking a Look at the Koran, part III

Religions have some features in common. For instance, there is usually some attempt to explain how things got to be where they are now. Religions vary on the degree to which god (of whatever type) is involved. Even atheism, a world view where there is no god, has a way to explain how things got to be where they are now. Their explanation is that evolution explains everything even religion itself. Am not going to debate the strengths and weaknesses of evolution in this blog post but I will state that atheism necessitates evolution. Simply put, if an atheists does not believe in evolution, then they are stuck with no ability to explain reality.

Aside from attempting to establish some narrative to explain the world as it is today, religions offer rules to live by and the Koran appears to offer that as well in the chapter I've been looking at.

The second chapter of the Koran is pretty long, 286 verses.

Sprinkled throughout the second Surah but mostly toward the end of the chapter are various admonitions on how to live: prayer, charity, Ramadan, the Pilgrimage, money and marriage/divorce.

In the second Surah, from verses 1-30, there is much about the right and wrong path and to God being the creator. Koran 2:2, "This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah." Then in Koran 2:29, "It is He who created for you all things that are on the earth."

Interestingly, we meet Adam! Just like in Genesis, we meet Adam and Adam falls, Koran 2:36, "Then did Satan make them slip from the (Garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been."

Other figures familiar to Jews and Christians make their appearances in this chapter of the Koran. For instance, Koran 2:87, "We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride?- Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay!"


Doesn't this sound a lot like Matthew 23:37, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God' messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me."

It is really interesting to see that the Children of Israel are mentioned so explicitly in the Koran. See Koran 2:40, 47, 122, "O Children of Israel! Call to mind the special favor which I bestowed upon you."

Then there is Koran 2:116-117:
They say: "Allah hath begotten a son" :Glory be to Him.-Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him. To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When He decreeth a matter, He saith to it: "Be," and it is.
It would seem that the Koran is saying that Christians are mistaken in assigning to Jesus divine status as the son of God.

Another verse that caught my eye was Koran 2:136-137
Say ye: "We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam)." So if they believe as ye believe, they are indeed on the right path; but if they turn back, it is they who are in schism; but Allah will suffice thee as against them, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.
All very interesting!

No doubt about the fact that the three theistic religions have their roots in Abraham.

My question then is this: if in Judaism the blessing came to Isaac and in Islam, the blessing came to Ishmael, then why is Jacob and Moses and Jesus (all descendants of Isaac) mentioned in the above mentioned passage?

Also, when it makes reference to "the Tribes," are they referring to the descendants of Ishmael?

Perhaps Islam believes that god worked on parallel tracks through both lines?

If so, then why the hostility toward Judaism and Christianity?

By the way, I define hostility in a very narrow sense. I don't think it is hostile if someone tells me I'm going to hell because I believe in Jesus or the wrong conception of Jesus. However, I think it is hostile if someone will try to kill me because I believe in Jesus. My thinking on this has been influenced by Dennis Prager who is a Jewish radio talk show host in Los Angeles. Prager often talks about religion on his program and people have asked him, how do you feel when people of other religions tell him, you are going to hell?

Prager responds by saying, that maybe so but you don't have the right to send me there prematurely!

Previous posts in this series:
Part I
Part II

Monday, April 24, 2006

Travel: Joshua Tree National Park

Took a quick weekend get-away to Joshua Tree National Park.

Spring time visitation of the park is high because it is not too hot (in summer it is boiling) and not too cold (in winter it can snow!) so it is advisable to reserve the campsite in advance or get there really early.

Suffice to say, we did not do that!

We found out all the sites were reported to be full on the phone on the day we arrived at the park. We drove up to the Twenty-nine Palms (north side of park) visitor center where we found an updated report on campsite availability. In the south side of the park, at Cottonwood Springs, there were a few sites left but it is a one hour drive through the park to get there. We hit the road and pulled into the campground and the camp host and a ranger told us the last few sites were taken. We were told that there were some minimal BLM sites just outside the park. We started to drive and pulled off to another lot where there was a restroom under the premise, "See a bathroom, use a bathroom!"

As we were getting back into the car, a ranger stopped by and said, I saw two big RVs pull out of loop B at Cottonwood, if you dash up there you can claim a site. We thanked the ranger and hustled up there and got our campsite!

After setting up, we headed off on the Lost Palms Oasis Trail.

We saw lots of Cholla cactus ...

and some flowering Ocotillo cactus ...

and if you are really quiet and observant you might see a rabbit ...

We took the side loop to Mastodon Peak where you get the panoramic view. Click on the photo to get a larger version.

All around you will notice the interesting rock piles ...

Here I am in my "Moses" get-up! 8-)

With the sun starting to go down, we had to turn back without making it to the Lost Palms Oasis. Ah, another trip sometime!

You might be wondering, where is the photo of the Joshua Tree?

I didn't get a photo on this trip as they are much more plentiful in the Northern side of the park.

Click on the photo below of the Joshua Trees to read about one of my previous visits.

The sounds of silence and the interesting landscape are just right for stressed out city folk like me. Also, I'm always inspired by the variety of plants and animals that could live and thrive in such an environment!

Come on out to the desert!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Culture: U2 - Beautiful day

What I'm listening to: U2's Beautiful Day.

Lyric excerpt:
It's a beautiful day
Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
The upbeat music has lyrics that are sad but that's life!
Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I'm not a hopeless case
We can't make it in this world alone. We need community to keep us in the truth and uplift us in love.

I liked the ideas offered by Dan Sawyer (scroll down a bit) in regards to this song. Excerpt:
Much more than a happy day song. Here, U2 captures the promise of hope in the midst of ugliness, as exemplified in the following excerpt: "Sky falls. You feel like it's a Beautiful Day." More to the point, it's a praise song (though not immediately obviously so).
"See the sky in green and blue/
See China [read: RED] right in front of you/
See the canyons broken by clouds
[Natural Beauty]/
See the Tuna Fleets clearing the sea out
[Man destroys nature]/
See the Bedouin fires at night
[Primitive people at one with nature]/
See the Oil fields at first light
[Industrial people raping the earth]/
See the bird with the leaf in her mouth
[the dove from the Genisis Flood]/
After the flood all the colors came out
[God's most enduring symbol of hope and promise]."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sports: 40 years young with 321 wins and counting

Parking: $10.
Upper Reserve Seats: $14
Lemonade and peanuts: $10

What can you say?

This guy made the Dodgers look like minor league players.

He even got an RBI.

He went 8 innings, struck out 6, walked none and gave up only 3 hits and 1 run. He tossed 87 pitches 59 for strikes.

Read the AP recap and box score of Greg Maddux's dominating performance three days after turning 40.

As Maddux was mowing down the Dodgers (the game lasted less than 2 hours!), I tried to get a shot of the new pastel colored seats at Dodger's Stadium.

All the seats in the stadium were replaced this off season as part of the latest renovations of the famed park completed in 1962.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Religion: Taking a Look at the Koran, part II

Religions do share some similarities. In most cases, there is a concern about the choice of how to live: the right way (God's way) or the way of wickedness (our selfish way).

When I read the first Sura of the Koran, I found myself thinking of Psalm 1; hence, the side-by-side presentation below.


In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;

Most Gracious, Most Merciful;

Master of the Day of Judgment.

Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.

Show us the straight way,

The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.
Psalm 1

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

As I continue to explore the Koran, my plan is to note similarities to the Christian faith I'm familiar with. I'll also point out differences and pose questions of things that I don't understand.

Previous post in this series:
Part I

Sports: Dodger Blues

The expectation levels in Los Angeles weren't that high for the Dodgers.

Don't think fans are "out on the ledge."

The Dodgers are tied for number two in runs scored on this day. This is a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, the Dodgers are in the bottom quarter with a dreadful 5.72 ERA. Starters and relievers alike have been serving up fat pitches.

Giants are in town this weekend. Might try to see my first game of the season. We shall see!

Monday, April 10, 2006

LA Scene: Santa Anita 5K

I'm sure across America there are plenty of 5K events. However, one nice thing about life in Los Angeles is that pretty much on any given weekend there is a 5K somewhere and the weather is likely to be quite nice.

Last Saturday, I participated in the Santa Anita Derby Days 5K in Arcadia.

It is held at the Santa Anita Park Racetrack and raises funds for Arcadia High School Athletic Boosters Club, the Arcadia Explorer Program, and the Arcadia Historical Museum.

Here are four participants at the event ... such cheerful, health conscious, good-looking people!

I've rounded the corner heading toward the finish and I stopped to take a photo of the jumbotron of the runners heading toward the finish line ...

After the race, I visited one of the health booths. Here I am with five pounds of fat. You can buy one at

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Religion: Taking a look at the Koran, part I

Like most Americans, I know next to nothing about Islam. I must say even though I live in the cultural melting pot of Los Angeles, I don't know any Muslims personally. I've attended one presentation about Islam which I blogged about and I hear what is in the popular media on television.

As a Christian, I do have a religious perspective to begin with. Nonethess, as a thinking person living in this world at this moment in history, I decided it was time to try to understand Islam a little bit better. I went to Amazon and ordered up a copy of the Koran.

Since the original Koran is in Arabic, there are many English translations.

In Christianity, the Bible's original language is Hebrew and Greek; thus, there are many options for English translations.

I chose the Koran prepared by Abdullah Yusuf Ali because one of the Amazon reviews said this, "This translation is considered the most authentic by Muslim scholars. It is the one that is supported by the government of Saudi Arabia and is most widely read by English-speaking Muslims."

I took his word for it and ordered it up.

In the table of content, one finds that the Koran is divided into 114 Suras.

A visit to the University of Southern California Muslim Student's Association gives the following introduction to the Koran:
The Qur'an ("Qor-Ann") is a Message from Allah to humanity. It was transmitted to us in a chain starting from the Almighty Himself (swt) to the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad (saas). This message was given to the Prophet (saas) in pieces over a period spanning approximately 23 years (610 CE to 622 CE). The Prophet (saas) was 40 years old when the Qur'an began to be revealed to him, and he was 63 when the revelation was completed. The language of the original message was Arabic, but it has been translated into many other languages.
Wikipedia offers these items about the Koran:
There are numerous traditions, and many conflicting academic theories, as to the provenance of the Qur'anic verses that were eventually assembled into a single volume. (This is covered in greater detail in Qur'an). Most Muslims accept the account recorded in several hadith, which state that Abu Bakr, The First Caliph, ordered his personal secretary Zayd ibn Thabit to collect and record all the authentic verses of the Qur'an, as preserved in written form or oral tradition. Zayd's written collection, privately treasured by Muhammad's wife Hafsa bint Umar, was, according to Muslim sources, later used by Uthman and is thus the basis of today's Qur'an.

Uthman's version, organized the suras roughly in order of length (excepting the brief opening surah Al-Fatiha), with the longest suras at the start of the Qur'an and the shortest ones at the end. More conservative views state that the order of most suras was divinely set. Later scholars have struggled to put the suras in chronological order, and at least among Muslim commentators, there is a rough consensus as to which suras were revealed in Mecca and which at Medina, with distinctive characteristics observed within these two subgroups. Some suras (e.g. surat Iqra) are thought to have been revealed in parts at separate times.
Hopefully, my examination of the Koran will become a periodic feature at this blog.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sports: Congrats to the Gators and thanks for the memories Bruins!

Florida won easily 73-57 over the Bruins tonight in the National Championship game.

First off, hats off to Florida. They played well and deserve all the praise they are receiving.

UCLA got this far by team effort and they were beaten by a team that was well balanced and executed their plans at both ends effectively.

There is little to say when one side is taller, faster and stronger top to bottom.

Pat Riley, former Los Angeles Laker coach, said of basketball, there are only two states: winning and misery.

The wrong number for the Bruins: 10 blocked shots by Florida. And who knows how many altered and rushed shots. If the Bruins scored on half of those occasions, that is 10 points and the complexion of the game is different. It moves from a blowout to being a potentially competitive game.

But the fact remains: the better team won.

Winning or misery.

Within misery there are two: the loss where you kick yourself for your mistakes and the loss where you are beaten, throttled, and crushed by a superior foe. I suppose one is worse than the other because one lingers and gnaws while the other just hurts.

Nonetheless, thank you Bruins for giving your fans three more wins than expected!

John Wooden offered this idea for the meaning of success:
The definition I coined for success is: Peace of mind attained only through self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you're capable.
Looking at the Bruin season in total, it would have to be said it was an unqualified success.

Sports: Los Angeles abuzz with Bruin-mania!

With a stunning 59-45 upset of LSU, UCLA has clawed its way to the NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship game for the first time in eleven years!

I recall the 1980 UCLA team led by Larry Brown that had a stunning magic carpet ride through the tournament. It was said that Bruin team got into the NCAA as one of the last at-large bids. It went from upset to upset all the way into the final game. Alas, Louisville had just a little bit more left in the tank and won that game.

The following year, Brown's UCLA team flopped in the NCAA and he left to other pastures, eventually one of his many stops was at Kansas where he led them to a National Title. He was the third coach post-Wooden, each lasted a mere two years.

When I attend UCLA, the only championship banner was the 1985 NIT Championship. NCAA appearances were rare and brief.

From 1982-1994, Larry Farmer, Walt Hazzard and then Jim Herrick would coach the Bruins but never could quite climb the mountain.

In 1995, the number 1 ranked Bruins was within seconds of being eliminated in the second round. However, Edney drove the length of the court to hit the game winner. After that, the Bruins were never seriously threatened with a blowout win over Mississippi State, a high scoring track meet with Connecticut and a grinder game against Oklahoma State.

In the final game of that year against Arkansas, Edney started gamely but his injury from the Oklahoma State game sent him to the bench. Backup point guard Cameron Dollar came in and promptly had the ball stolen and the Bruins were behind. But Dollar regrouped and so did the Bruins. The Bruins raced to the lead and never gave it up and got to cut down the nets for the first time in 20 years!

Fast forward eleven years, the Bruins are back in the National Finals with a team nobody, well, almost nobody thought would get this far. 2.2 % of Yahoo! Fantasy Sports participants thought they would get this far.

As a fan who has followed this team all season I saw them struggle in some victories in the out of conference schedule and get beat by some marquee teams like Memphis and West Virginia. But the hopeful thing was the team never seemed to give up even when getting beaten. The team got better as the season went along. With the arrival of the NCAA, realistic fans were saying Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight. A rare few on sports radio were saying Final Four and National Championship. I tended to discount them because they were on the Bruins radio network!

Nonetheless, GO Bruins!

A solid performance at both ends of the court will be needed to even have a chance against the well balanced athletic Gators from Florida.


I've recently discovered

Below is a video clip of the Bruins cheering during the LSU game being led by Ed O'Bannon, one of the stars who led the 1995 championship team.

6:21 PM PDT. Florida. UCLA. National Championship.

Here's hoping that there will be some cheerful clips from the Florida game!


U - C - LLLLLLLLLLLLLL - A! UCLA Fight Fight Fight!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sports: Dodger baseball, springtime of hope

Last year, the Dodgers made large changes to the lineup. The springtime of hope turned into an injury plagued season and then a fall of watching others play on.

In the off-season, the manager and GM were fired and once again, it is a springtime with a new Dodger team on the field and new seats in the stands.

On the field, this appears to be the lineup:

At catcher, veteran Alomar will share time with Navarro who came up from the minors in the second half of last season.

At first, Garciaparra will get most of the time with Saenz coming in to give him the occasional break.

UPDATE: Garciaparra is on the 15-day DL and Loney has been called up.

At second, Kent remains from last year's team.

At short, Furcal was brought in. Izturis is still recovering from surgery. As it is, he may become trade material if everyone stays healthy.

At third, the veteran Mueller hopefully will provide some good defense and some much needed offense. Robles who was a pleasant surprise last year from the Mexican league will probably be the utility infielder.

UPDATE: Robles didn't make the roster, Martinez has been retained as the utility infielder.

At left, Cruz remains from last year's team.

At center, Lofton, a veteran aquisition from the off-season.

At right, JD Drew who had an injury plagued season for the Dodgers last year.

Platooning with these three in the outfield be Werth, Repko and Ledee.

UPDATE: I missed the detail that Werth is on the 60-day DL! Lofton is on the 15-day DL and so Ross has gotten the call up to the bigs.

The starting rotation appears to be: Lowe, Penny, Perez, Tomko and Seo.

In the bullpen: Gagne is back as closer. Brazoban and Baez will probably be set-up but may have closer duties if Gagne isn't fully recovered from last year's injuries. Haven't followed closely enough to know who will be the middle and long relief and situational specialists.

UPDATE: Gagne need more surgery and is expected to be out about 2 months. Baez has taken up closer duties. I'm not sure if Grady Little has figured out the precise roles yet for Brazoban, Carter, Osoria, Kuo, Saito and Hamulack

The Dodgers are going with a veteran line-up to tide them over a season or two when they hope their minor league prospects will be ready. Last year, injuries decimated the team. Hopefully, this year, the team will be able to stay healthy and be competitive.


UPDATE: Lofton is on the DL and Garciaparra is injured and couldn't start opening day and may go on the DL. Hmmm... hopefully, not a sign of things to come!

Sports: The gutty little Bruins are the banged up Bruins

Unfortunately, the Bruins have had the injury bug bite yet again.

Two players were injured in practice. Excerpt:
Ryan Hollins suffered a a contusion to his right knee, just above the kneecap, in a collision with teammate Alfred Aboya during practice today.

"We started to ice it, and he did not practice the rest of the time." Howland said. "He has swelling there and will not participate in shoot around."

When asked what treatment Hollins will undergo before tomorrow's game against LSU, Howland said, "He's going to be with our trainer, Tony Spino, all night. He'll be hooked up to a Stim machine, and be 'stimmed', iced, they'll be massaging it."


In other injury news, Lorenzo Mata who broke his nose on practice on Wednesday had a CAT scan done on the injury.

"Our trainer did a good job of snapping it right back into place. The doctors looked at it and were impressed," Howland said.

"Lorenzo practiced today with his mask on. Hopefully he can stay healthy here the rest of the way." Howland quipped.
Howland will have to quickly determine how effective Mata and Hollins are today in battling with the LSU frontline. If UCLA has to play Ryan Wright and Michael Fey significant minutes they will be in huge trouble unless those two play the best games of their lives to keep UCLA in the game.

In 1997's regional finals against Minnesota, UCLA's biggies, McCoy was hampered by injury and Henderson picked up an early fourth foul leaving the frontcourt depleted and UCLA lost that contest.

Here's hoping the banged up Bruins will be able to keep the game close down to the end when anything can happen.