Thursday, May 25, 2006

Culture: 24 crosses the finish line

Will season 6 pick up the story where we have left off?

I don't think they have ever done so. We will probably be given some exposition early next season to explain how Jack gets out of the slow boat to China.

BTW, for fans of the show, do you all think it was Logan who tipped off the Chinese spies as to where to get Jack?

I started following 24 during season 4.

I saw most of the episodes for season 1-3 on DVD.

Anyway, season 5 just finished and it was a brisk finish.

The frantic pace of the earlier episodes this season was impossible to sustain and the show lagged in energy level toward the end. But the finish ramped up the excitement level once again.

On a television "political reality check" front, I wonder how Logan will be handled in the off season. It is entirely possible that there isn't enough actual evidence to prosecute Logan. However, the public release of the tape, testimony of various people and disclosure of circumstantial evidence would be enough to be destroy Logan politically. Will that be enough leverage to get him to roll on his co-conspirators?

Anyway, will be very curious to see what the writers come up with for Day Six.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Culture: The Da Vinci Code and Sexual Mysticism

The movie is out and it pulled in $77 million in its opening weekend.

Tonight, I'll be heading off to hear a talk that tackles a different angle on the Da Vinci Code phenomena.

Here is an excerpt describing the lecture:
Indian philosopher Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi will suggest that Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel, The Da Vinci Code, has the potential to turn the eccentric fringe movement of sexual mysticism into a mainstream phenomenon. Brown condemns the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and in its place offers the "APPLE" of secret "knowledge" (Gnosis) to help men and women realize their divinity through sexual union. Many teachers and gurus in the last century have promoted sex as a path to mystical Enlightenment. But The Da Vinci Code teaches "sacred sex" not on the basis of Pagan, Hindu, or Buddhist philosophies but by invoking the authority of Jesus - albeit a Gnostic rather than Jewish Jesus. Many Christians have responded to The Da Vinci Code, but hardly any have addressed the book’s central point - the spirituality of the "Sacred Feminine".
For reality checks on the film be sure to visit these sites:

Mark D. Robert's FAQ

Christianity Today's Round-up

The Da Vinci Dialogue

UPDATE: A friend of mine found this page where Dr. Mangalwadi has an extended essay on the Da Vinci Code phenomena. The talk I heard makes many of the same points.

Mangalwadi acknowledged the weak history of the Brown novel. However, he went on to stress two other aspects of the Da Vinci Code phenomena.

(1) The advocacy of sacred sex as a pathway to experiencing the divine. This notion is advanced in the discussion Langdon has with Sophie where she described the ritual she saw her grandfather involved with. The other way this concept is advocated is the whole Jesus getting married to Mary and turning the Last Supper and the Holy Grail into a pagan/Hindu sex ritual.

(2) The Da Vinci Code concepts tries to show that humankind's problem is a lack of enlightenment which is counter to the Christian world view that says that humanities problem is sin and the need for forgiveness. Mangalwadi drew this idea out further to say that by advocating mysticism as the route to enlightenment and salvation, Brown is attacking the role of reason and revelation which is an essential part of Christianity.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sports: In praise of Grady Little

Everyone is down on the NL West.

Its probably justified.

The Padres, Dodgers, Giants, Rockies and Diamondbacks take turns beating up on each other which leaves the division with teams a tad over and a tad under .500.

Post-game Dodger-talk fans are taking to Grady Little and sport talk shows are having fun with his gravelly voice. One show inter-cut a Grady Little interview clip with a clip from Forrest Gump.

After a dreadful start, manager Little has been willing to mix things up to see what happens.

One of the biggest moves he made recently was to shake up the batting lineup. He moved Garciaparra to third, Drew to fourth and Kent to fifth.

Little has been playing the prospects. Partly, it is out of necessity because of injuries to the team. However, Little knows he needs to give his veterans an occasional day off to keep them in top shape for the long season ahead. The kids have been delivering big time and there is excitement among Dodger fans once again.

Lastly, Little has been willing to tinker with the bullpen. The "conventional wisdom" is 7th inning set-up guy, 8th-inning set-up guy and then bring in your closer for the 9th. That plan wasn't working so Little occasionally lets a reliever go more than one inning to get a save which he did with Baez recently and with Saito and Beimel.

Gagne is slated for some minor league rehab outings to test out his recovery from surgery. The talk is that when he returns to the majors, Little will not ride him as hard as the Dodgers did in 2002-2005 (Gagne pitched in 77, 77 and 70 games those years). Little, having seen some of the other guys in the bullpen get some save experience, knows he won't have to trot Gagne night in and night out.

Here's hoping the Dodgers can keep up the good play and be in the hunt for October!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Religion: What can we know about the afterlife?

What can we say about the afterlife based on reason?

The materialist says there is no afterlife. The physical existence is it. Once we die, there is nothing left

The eastern religionist says there is reincarnation. There is the bodily existence and the soul persists and goes into the next body in the next incarnation. There is no or very little "transfer of data" from the previous existence to the next one.

Some Greeks (I think) believe in the immortality of the soul? In that view there is the transient body and the immortal soul. The body dies but the soul goes on. In this mind set, two very radically different perspectives can emerge: asceticism where there is restraint from the bodily pleasures because the body is viewed as evil and corrupting of the soul or hedonism where pleasure is paramount because if there is a radical separation of body and soul, why not "live it up?"

Finally, there is the view of the Abrahamic monotheists (Jews, Christians and Islam) who generally believe in a bodily resurrection. In this case this current body is renewed after death and the soul persists in both.

Did I miss any other perspectives on the afterlife?

Question: can we, apart from religious revelation, draw any tentative conclusions about the afterlife?

I posed this question to my philosopher friend.

This was the response:
Other than Kant's arguement that the concept of Justice requires an afterlife, I can't think of any good non-theological arguements for an afterlife. I believe in it soley on the grounds of special revelation (i.e. Jesus' promises).

There are some good, rational arguments for immaterial souls. I do believe in the soul on both rational and revelatory grounds but on the rational side there is no good reason to think that the soul will survive the death of the body. I guess the stongest thing you can say (without the help of special revelation) is that it is logically possible that the soul could survive the death of the body.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blogging: You don't say ... ?

Check out this site. HT: Jonah at LAFB.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Culture: Bird flu

I caught part of "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America" last night on ABC.

I wonder how well it did in the ratings and whether there is much water cooler talk about the film today?

USA Today reviewer Robert Bianco was unimpressed. My favorite quotes from his review:
For those wary of movies that interfere in the public health debate, it is true that Fatal Contact takes a strong stand against idiot governors who interfere with altruistic and incredibly competent federal officials. (The story is, after all, a fantasy.)
The good news for those who are pressed for time is that if you've seen the ads for Fatal Contact, you've pretty much seen the movie. There aren't a lot of surprises: The flu comes, people die. The only shock is how energetic, clean and well-pressed people are, even weeks after the economy and all public services have collapsed. Clearly in Fatal's America, the flu is no excuse for slovenly dress.
Anyway, the movie takes pains to stress it is only a "what if."

As a drama, it was okay. No real surprises and at least it wasn't over the top like Outbreak.

In my conversations with MD types, they seem to feel it is inevitable that a flu pandemic will eventually occur. Historically, the really bad one was in 1918. Since then, there have been smaller ones in 1957 and 1968. Thus, in a sense, we are "overdue."

In the developed world, we are much better equipped to care for patients than in the past. But as the film shows, the medical system would be quickly overwhelmed. Unfortunately, for the developing world, there would be little that could be done.

The film mentions a web page. Be sure to go check out

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

@ the movies: United 93

Saw United 93.

I'd say the theatre was 75% full.

The film is supported by many of the family members of the flight. Some of the air traffic control personnel played themselves in the film. Because of these facts and the straightforward recreation of those fateful few hours, I'm recommending this film.

Certainly for sensitive individuals, caution is strongly advised. As for children seeing the film, parents need to exercise judgment based on what they know about their child. My advisory would be 13 and up. I suspect this film could be a starting point for some serious conversations between fathers and sons about the meaning of courage: it isn't fearlessness but the willingness to do what is right despite fear.

Will people go see the film in large numbers?

It isn't the kind of movie you will likely see more than once and some people will not see it just like some people refused to see Saving Private Ryan or Blackhawk Down because of the violence and understandably so.

United 93 drew an R rating but in my opinion, some PG-13 movies I've seen contained more violence. Certainly, the level and explicitness of on screen violence in Saving Private Ryan and Blackhawk Down far exceeds United 93.

The film is shot from a "fly on the wall" perspective. You see the hijackers in their hotel rooms getting ready to go to Newark Airport. You see the crew of United 93 getting the plane ready. You see the various air traffic control center operators planning ahead and responding to what appeared to be a typical day of a few thousand planes flowing in different directions in the clear skies of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

The film unfolds in near real-time.

There is no attempt to develop a personal narrative.

As I watched, I felt like I did in Blackhawk Down, where the soldiers have names and faces but the film provided no back story. It was easy to confuse the characters. Those who read the book Blackhawk Down know the back stories of the soldiers. We know the back stories of the passengers of United 93 because of the various newspaper stories and television features about that fateful day.

However, in United 93, the people are essentially anonymous. I suspect the film makers intent is to make them as ordinary and you and me. Indeed, they were 33 specific passengers and 7 specific United Airlines employees. Each was an individual with a story and family and friends left behind in sorrow. However, in the anonymity of the film they would be like the passengers and crew we sit with when we fly in an airplane. I'd also like to believe that any other combination of 40 people would have done the same thing given those circumstances.

It was those circumstances that reminded me of Saving Private Ryan. In the harrowing opening landing sequence of Saving Private Ryan, the soldiers are traumatized coming off the landing crafts hitting the beach. The carnage and shock left them breathless and confused. Yet, amidst the chaos, they rallied and looked around them and gathered what equipment they had and used teamwork to get off the beach and took the fight to the enemy.

The passengers of United 93 did the same thing. We see the phone calls and the information flow from the ground to the passengers and from passengers to each other. They shook off the shock and took the fight to the 4 hijackers foiling their destructive plans.

Their story needs to be told and re-told so we will never forget.

Flight 93 Memorial Project

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sports: LA vs. LA???

There are certain franchises that have a history of futility. I don't know which is worse for fans: getting close to the championship like being a Red Sox fan prior to the lifting of the curse or a current Cubs fan or being a Clippers fan prior to last night who watch their team flounder not making the playoffs or exiting in the first round?

The Clippers have seized their spot in the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs with an easy 101-83 win over Denver.

The spirit squad of the Clippers would take the floor and over the PA, the announcer would say, Clipper fans, we are 12 minutes away from the Conference semifinals, let's make some noise! And of course, at each time out during the fourth quarter, the countdown continued, Clipper fans, did you know it was 30 years ago that the Clippers then known as the Buffalo Braves last went to the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs? We are now TWO minutes away, let's make some noise!!

The game was fairly close initially though the Clippers did go into the half with a 46-40 lead. Denver rallied at the beginning of the third quarter and at one point got to within one point at 55-54. But then the floodgates opened and the Nuggets melted down on offense and defense as the Clippers tagged them with a 20-3 run.

Some in the ebullient crowd started saying, bring on the Lakers!

LA sports fans now await tonight's Suns vs. Lakers game. If the Lakers win, then it will be an LA vs. LA round two smack down at Staples Center which sports talk fans are planning to call the downtown showdown or hallway series.