Wednesday, January 31, 2007

LA Scene: Where am I?

I wouldn't say that pelicans are beautiful birds... but they sure are distinctive looking!

So for those of you who know LA, where did I take this photo?

To see the answer, click on the comments link just below.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sports: Woo hoo for the Anteaters!

Alright Anteaters!!

UC Irvine upsets the Beach, the top dog of the Big West!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Travel: A few days on the central coast of California

I recently had the chance to take a few days off and decided to escape from the city!

Day 1

Me and my buddy left LA after work and settled into the Quality Inn in Lompoc.

Day 2

The next morning, we headed off to Gainey Vineyard which was recommended by Professor Bainbridge.

The winery offers a guided tour of the grounds and some of the facilities. It is a nice little boutique winery.

We then went to Los Olivos. It is a cute little town with a one street commercial area. We had lunch at Panino. The more famous locale is Los Olivos Cafe popularized by the movie Sideways. However, we weren't quite willing to part with that much cash just for lunch. Panino offers up good but affordable salads and sandwiches.

We then headed up to the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail and visited Zaca Mesa. Their wine tasting facility was a bit larger than Gainey. Zaca Mesa was recommended by Bainbridge as well as two of my co-workers.

To finish off our wine tour, we decided to visit one of the big corporate wineries. We stopped at Fess Parker. I passed on getting any of their wines but inside the bag was some chocolate covered fruit I bought at their store!

We drove back toward Lompoc and decided to stop off at the La Purisma Mission. There were 21 missions established by the Spanish when they controlled California. Each mission was a self-sustaining community. La Purisma was restored during a depression era work project and is now maintained as a state historic park. It was great to wander around and see the buildings inside and outside and the animals that would have been part of their daily lives.

We got back to the hotel room to rest a bit before we headed off for dinner.

If you are going to eat dinner at the Hitching Post in Buellton, get reservations. We didn't and they said the wait would be two hours! Thus, we went next door to A. J. Spurs where I had a filet mignon and my buddy had a rib eye! Yummy!!

Day 3

We drove up to Montana De Oro State Park which is south of Morro Bay.

After looking around there, we drove to the famous Morro Rock. I snapped this photo of one of the gulls in flight. There was a birder at the parking lot explaining to people that he had his binoculars trained on a pair of Peregrine Falcons which are the world's fastest birds. They were much too far away for me to photograph. Even with the birder's binoculars, they were pretty small and not easily seen as they blend into the color of the Morro Bay Rock.

Here is part of the Morro Rock!

Had dinner at Great American Fish Company. We had a bucket of clams, I had the sole and my buddy had the shark! Terrific!!

We stayed the evening at the Morro Bay Econolodge. The Quality Inn of Lompoc would be a high two star hotel while the Econo Lodge in Morro Bay would be a low two star hotel. In both cases, the affordable options!

Day 4

Walked over to Shoreline Calvary Chapel for Sunday worship. It is friendly little church that I'd visit again should I be in Morro Bay again.

Had a nice big breakfast at Carla's Country Kitchen.

Properly fueled up, we went kayaking! It was my first time. Lots of fun even if it was a tad windy that day. Being inside the bay, the water is pretty calm.

We then visited the Morro Bay aquarium where they have a few seals. They are kept because they were injured and nursed back to health but probably wouldn't survive if returned to the wild. This one was a showman barking a lot to get people to toss some fish. Talking about singing for your meal!

We then went to the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach.

They cling together and hang amidst the branches of the trees!

Before they become butterflies munching on milkweed ...

Went to the Pismo Beach pier.

Had dinner at Splash Cafe, clam chowder, of course! BTW, you can find their clam chowder at Costco.

Day 5

Drove back to LA with a stop in Santa Barbara for lunch.

Went to Santa Barbara Shellfish Company on Stearns Wharf. We went for this restaurant because it was profiled on Rachael Ray $40 a Day.

Had a mess of mussels and a crab sandwich. Delish!


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Culture: Countdown to Tannhauser

Opera is one the most compelling and captivating of all the performing arts. It is essentially a dramatic work that is primarily sung, is accompanied by an orchestra, and is presented on the stage. Opera, however, with its lavish spectacle, high drama and visual and aural treasures, is much more than that. No other art form combines such disparate elements – singing, acting, lighting, design, orchestra, movement and dance into such a seamless whole. It engages our minds, captures our hearts and releases our imaginations.

The combination of words and music can, at its best, let us experience things about human character, feelings, moods and motivations that music and words, on their own, are powerless to express. It is like a window into the soul of a character. It is no wonder that no other art form inspires such passion in its audience and participants.
The above item is from the Opera Basics tab of the LA Opera web page.

A few years back, I set the goal of attending one opera per season.

I've always been a fan of classical music.

However, classical music mixed with the performing arts has been a little harder for me to grab onto.

I've seen a few ballets here and there. The Nutcracker is always a pleasure because the music is so interesting and the costumes are so colorful. Midsummer Night's Dream has soothing music and its comedic elements manage to come through even with no words. Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy and since we all know the story so well I find it remarkable how the story is still so riveting as we head to the inevitable tragic ending.

As for opera, what can I say?

It is probably the most over-the-top performing art style there is!

For an overview of opera, check out this web page from the famous New York Metropolitan Opera.

The four operas I've seen were with the Los Angeles Opera. For the story synosis, I've linked to various opera company web pages. In 2003, I saw Turandot, for 2003, Madama Butterfly, Aida in 2005 and last year, 2006, I saw Marriage of Figaro.

For 2007, I'll be seeing Tannhauser.

Am planning to blog occasionally in the countdown to seeing it and of course will do a post after I see the opera.

Anyway, a part of me laughs at the whole idea of opera. As I say, it is way over-the-top and the price of the ticket means it (attending live performances) would never be a regular part of the average person's life.

However, I remain intrigued. Part of it is simply the fun experience of attending an event and the corresponding people watching of the people watching the opera. But another part of my interest is my need to grapple with the most primal issues of human existence. I wrestle in my private prayers and meditations. I contemplate through converstions with good friends. And, indeed, I struggle by experiencing the arts. Philosophy professor John Mark Reynolds (many others have said - I just happened to hear it first from him) has said we learn about life both by "logos" and "pathos."

Opera would definitely be in the "pathos" mode of communication!

UPDATE: I suppose the "pathos" of the four operas I have seen highlight the power of love as motivation. In Turandot, the lead character risks his life to answer the three riddles to win the woman of the story. Madama Butterfly is terribly tragic as the lead character holds a love that can only lead to grief. If you have seen Miss Saigon, you have seen essentially the same story. Aida also comes to a tragic end but at least the two lovers are together in their death. Marriage of Figaro is a comedy of mis-understandings but in the end the lovers all find there way back to each other and all ends well. I've read the summary for Tannhauser and yet again, the story is about love with its joys and despair. More to come as the opera approaches!


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Culture: Remembering United 93

In youth group this morning, our speaker shared about the intersection of remembering, forgetting and anticipation.

We need to remember the past because we need to be grateful for the good that has happened.

We need to forget the past not in the sense we deny it ever happened but some aspects of our past need to be forgotten because we don't want those things to define who we are today and into the future.

We need to anticipate the future because a life with nothing to look forward to is a sad life.

No doubt about it, it was a message we all needed to hear given some of the things that have happened in our church.

If life is to have meaning beyond mere existence, then one must reflect. In Christ, we have the benefit of a God whose blessings inspire our gratitude and whose grace can make sadness meaningful.

For the afternoon, my mind took a turn toward remembering a national moment, I watched the DVD of United 93.

When the film came out, many people said it was too soon.

I went to see the film on the first weekend it came out. I went alone. I didn't have the heart to ask any friends to join me for fear they would not want to see the film or to impose on them to see the film out of obligation to tag along with me.

I confessed to wondering what motivated my fellow movie goers that night.

Did they know someone on the flight? Or someone who died on 9/11?

I did not.

I went to see the film because I felt the need to remember the horrors of that day but also the heroism.

The advertising tag line for the film was: On September 11th, one of the darkest days in our nation, 40 ordinary people sat down as strangers and stood up as one.

That resonated with me.

Like most people, I read the various profiles about the passengers of that flight, saw the interviews about the final phone calls, felt the anger and outrage at the incomprehensibility of such blind hatred and wept at the lost lives many cut down in the prime of life.

In support of remembering, I'm making a contribution to the Flight 93 National Memorial Fund.

On the home page, it succinctly explains why:
The story of Flight 93 is a national treasure -- a story of hope in human courage and cooperation. When confronted with the gravity of their situation, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 chose to act heroically and sacrifice their lives for their country. These 40 heroes made a democratic decision to fight back against terrorism and thereby thwarted a planned attack on our nation’s capital, saving countless numbers of lives.
I encourage you to donate if you haven't already. I also urge you to see United 93 if you haven't already.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Sports: Anteater basketball watch

As a left-coaster, it has been great to see that the Pac-10 looks to be having an exciting year.

I never bought into the UCLA as #1 hoopla.

The reality is that the Bruins had to replace three key starters from last year's magical team. The fact that they are doing so well is a tribute to the team concept defense Coach Howland has the team buying into.

On the offense side, does anyone think anybody on UCLA is a lottery pick? For that matter, anybody think anybody on this team is a middle-to-late first rounder? Maybe Afflalo.

But the other starting four? Don't see any of them going NBA unless they get drastically better than they are now.

In any case, go Bruins!

But the title of my post is about the Anteaters!

It looks to be a so-so year for the Anteaters with them likely to finish in the middle of the pack of the Big West.

Whelliston has this analysis at from January 5, 2007 ...
Big West: Long Beach State
Three-time defending champ Pacific might have finally fallen off (considering its 5-9 record). So who's poised to take the throne? Well, preseason surprise UC Santa Barbara has won 10 games and ranks league-best in field goal shooting (49.5 percent) and offensive efficiency (1.046 points per possession) -- and strangled the offense of a very good Fresno State team on Dec. 6 in a 70-42 Gaucho gouging.

But when there's one bid to the Dance at stake, matchups are everything, and it's impossible to ignore Long Beach State's 101-65 slap-around of UCSB on Jan. 4, the 49ers' seventh straight win and a showcase for LBSU's superior toughness as well as the team's main man, 6-1 senior guard Aaron Nixon (35 points against UCSB, 17.1 ppg overall). Granted, there's so much trouble in the LBC on the offensive end -- Long Beach barely broaches the 40 percent mark on field goals -- but the defense (a low .951 points allowed per possession) and rebounding (35.8 rpg, 35th-best in D-I) should help the Niners carry the Big West in the end.
UCI recently stunned Pacific at Pacific in a huge way.

Big West fans are also keeping an eye on the Titans. They play up tempo basketball which should be an interesting match up against Long Beach State. That game will take place this Thursday and could set the mark for the team to beat going into the Big West Post-Season Tournament.

Irvine faces the Fullerton Titans this Saturday and will be a good test to see if the Anteaters will be in the upper-half of the league or not.

Go 'Eaters, zot, zot, zot!

UPDATE: UCI took care of business against the Highlanders setting up a big game for them against Fullerton on Saturday. Long Beach State outscored Fullerton thus taking the mantle of team to beat in the Big West.

UPDATE: Fullerton hit a buzzer beater 3-pointer against the Eaters on Saturday night. 8-(


Thursday, January 11, 2007

World: Stick a fork in Iraq? Not yet ...

Saw this item by Dean Barnett giving an angle I hadn't heard so far. If he is correct, maybe there is a little more beef to President Bush's plan.

The current troop level in Baghdad is only 13,000. Most of the 20,000 new troops are going to be headed to Baghdad. That means we’re going to increase our troop complement in Baghdad by roughly 150%. In other words, as regards the Battle of Baghdad, this is an enormous tactical adjustment, not a symbolic gesture.


World: Stick a fork in Iraq?

I caught part of the speech by President Bush.

The post-speech analysis on Newshour was not hopeful. Only David Brooks managed to sound a partially optimistic note and when he said, maybe we have a slightly less than 50-50 chance that this will work.

The other analysts pretty much threw in the towel and felt this was the last moves in the endgame before the US tips the king over in resignation.

One can't fault Bush for faintheartedness.

It would have been politically a lot easier to not invade Iraq and once having done so, to pull out pronto once things started going downhill.

As I see it, there were a number of scenarios:

(1) We could have left Hussein in place but with sanctions falling apart, he would have eventually reconstituted chemical weapons manufacturing. Perhaps, he would have sank money into biological weapons but they are actually pretty hard to get to work properly. As for nuclear ambitions, he might have developed them because the neighboring Iranians want them also.

With the Iraq invasion this scenario didn't happen.

(1A) We could have left Hussein in place and worked for a coup. What kind of Iraq would have arisen from this scenario? Perhaps scenario (2) below minus the invasion part.

(2) After the invasion, civil war breaks out between the three major factions destroying the country.

We are probably just a few steps removed from this outcome.

(2A) After the invasion, civil war breaks out between the three major factions but somehow, the three sides realize they have to stop.

This is the result we are all hoping for. Whether the addition of 21,500 troops can get us to scenario (2A) I don't know.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Sports: If you were part of the AP how would you vote?

All the bowl games except for the BCS championship have been played.

If I had to cast my vote in the AP poll tonight, this would be my top-10.

1. Ohio State - if Florida beats them you have to wonder if the Big-10 was overrated
2. Florida - a blowout loss to Ohio State could drop them pretty far down
3. LSU - demolished ND in more impressive fashion than USC
4. USC - losses to Oregon State and UCLA were "worse" losses than LSU's losses
5. Boise State - the win over Oklahoma was amazing
6. Louisville - solid win over Wake
7. Wisconsin - win over Arkansas suggests they are pretty good
8. Michigan - only quality wins were early wins over Wisconsin and ND
9. Oklahoma - tough loss to Boise State
10. Auburn - tough call on whether the #3 SEC team is better than the #1 Big12 team

UPDATE: What can you say? The Big-10 turned out to be a BIG BUST. Chants of over-RATED are raining down on Big-10 fans. They went 2-5 this bowl season with their top two representatives blown out on the national stage.

My rankings:

1. Florida - a blowout win over Ohio State leaves no doubt that speed kills the slow footed Big10
2. LSU
3. USC - they have to be kicking themselves for inexplicable losses to Oregon State and UCLA
4. Ohio State - Florida beats them like a drum, if the loss was narrow, I'd place them #2 but there is no way a team that gets crushed like that deserves the #2 spot
5. Boise State
6. Louisville
7. Wisconsin
8. Michigan
9. Oklahoma
10. Auburn

The polls are out:
AP says ...
1. Florida (64) 13-1 1,624
2. Ohio State 12-1 1,492
3. LSU 11-2 1,452
4. USC 11-2 1,389
5. Boise State (1) 13-0 1,383
6. Louisville 12-1 1,338
7. Wisconsin 12-1 1,288
8. Michigan 11-2 1,145
9. Auburn 11-2 1,112
10. West Virginia 11-2 1,035

USA Today says ...
1. Florida (63) 13-1 1,575
2. Ohio State 12-1 1,435
3. LSU 11-2 1,418
4. USC 11-2 1,345
5. Wisconsin 12-1 1,328
6. Boise State 13-0 1,275
7. Louisville 12-1 1,270
8. Auburn 11-2 1,119
9. Michigan 11-2 1,092
10. West Virginia 11-2 1,012


Monday, January 01, 2007

Sports: Fiesta Bowl BSU 43 OU 42


If you wrote that as a movie script they would have laughed!

Hats off to the Broncos for picking themselves off the mat after a near knockout blow on the INT-TD for Oklahoma late in the game. Amazing play calling on the game tying TD at the end of regulation, the TD in overtime and then the winning 2-point conversion in OT.

One of the most improbable games I've ever seen on TV!

UPDATE: has the headline "Fiesta Fireworks." called it "No Small Potatoes." Fox Sports described it "Razzle Dazzle."

UPATE: Pat Forde described it this way:
At the end of a game unlike any college football has ever witnessed, two of the great female icons in American culture staged a harmonic, hypnotic, borderline hallucinogenic convergence.

Boise State introduced Cinderella to Lady Liberty.

A head-to-toe, shining-beacon-to-glass-slipper miracle ensued.
Reality was further challenged when Johnson followed his winning run with an on-field wedding proposal to his flabbergasted cheerleader girlfriend. But, please, one blockbuster story at a time.
The last of the 21 points scored in the final 86 seconds of regulation came on a preposterous play: a 50-yard hook-and-lateral pass from Zabransky to Drisan James to Jerard Rabb -- a combination that will be the Tinker to Evers to Chance of Boise State lore for the next century or so.
Zabransky went in motion to the left. Perretta, at quarterback, took the shotgun snap and rolled right, then lofted a lovely spiral toward the right corner of the end zone. Tight end Derek Schouman cradled it for the touchdown.
Zabransky took the snap and feigned a throw in the right flat to Boise's three-man bunch formation. As the Sooners flew in that direction, Zabransky calmly stuck the ball behind his back with his left hand -- a twist on the conventional handoff he'd convinced Harsin would work earlier in the season.

Johnson then crisply reversed course, circled behind Zabransky and lifted the ball from his grasp. Virtually unimpeded by a bamboozled defense, the nation's touchdown leader crossed the goal line one final time in this dream season.

Bedlam, commingled with outright shock at the audacity of the call, ensued.