Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stone Soup

Happy Turkey day!

Historically, the original Thanksgiving was a celebration of of the harvest. A, "thank God' we can still grow food", celebration of Autumn. The celebration faded as time went on, until Abraham Lincoln recommended it as a national holiday in 1863, and congress actually passed it as a holiday in 1941. I love Thanksgiving, and I love the celebration of family and community.

In my grade school every year we would celebrate Thanksgiving by spending an entire day making soup as a school in honor of the Grimm fairy tale "Stone Soup". The story is about a stranger who travels into a town with nothing but the clothes on his back. The stranger asks for a cast iron pot filled with water and begins to boil it. As he's boiling it he grabs a nearby stone and places it into the pot, claiming he's making stone soup. Intrigued, the locals begin to gather around as he's boiling the stone. The traveler offers one of the local bakers to taste the soup, and the baker notices it's a bit bland, so he offers to add some salt to the soup. He then lets a local farmer try some. Finding it too salty the farmer offers to add some vegetables. This goes on and on until everyone in the village has contributed to the pot, transforming it into a delicious soup. Our school celebrated in similar fashion. Grades were broken up and everyone would have a job. Some kids cut carrots, some cut celery, others made the soup. There were rumors as to whether an actual stone was used, but I don't think there ever was. Thanksgiving is pretty similar to this story. It's a celebration of gratitude to what our friends and family bring to our pot, even if all they can offer is a stone.

In my yoga class yesterday my instructor dedicated our practice to the concept of gratitude in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Gratitude not only for our friends and family, but everything that life gives us, even our most humbling moments. During Savasna she shared a wonderful quote by the author Melody Beattie which I thought summed up gratitude beautifully:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity... 
It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One Step Closer to a "Worldy" World Series

For serious baseball fans the off-season can often be just as exciting as the season itself. Baseball is the kind of sport that caters towards the constant reshuffling of teams throughout the years. Unlike football, soccer (futbol), and other sports; competing on a different baseball team requires little previous tactical knowledge on how the team plays. Sure there are set plays, secret hand gestures, and other intricacies found within a new team. But no matter where you go it's still 90 feet to first base, and you always try to get the lead runner out. That being said today there were some interesting moves made on the "hot stove" this week. 

The Pirates aren't always making the headlines, but today they chose to do so in an interesting way. For what they may lack in payroll they are trying to make-up for in creative scouting. Following the signing of a South African switch-hitting prospect named Mpho Ngoepe, the Bucs went ahead and signed two pitching prospects from India. What's interesting about these moves is that neither country is known for baseball. MLB has been recently trying to expand their viewer base a la World Baseball Classic, so who can blame the Pirates for getting in on the action as well? Imagine if they do bring baseball to India. What is that? A few billion new viewers? As much as I hate to admit it, baseball is as much a business as a sport. So you can't help but admire the out-of-the-box thinking from the Pirates management. 

The story of the two prospects is one fit for the best Disney movie. Originally javelin throwers in high school, the pair signed up a "The Million-Dollar Arm" contest that was held in India. Both athletes come from poor families, but ended up winning the contest of 8,000 participants. As a result they won a chance to be evaluated by US baseball scouts, and are now going to be playing in the Pirates minor league team. As the Buc's manager has stated, both boys (they're only 18) have to learn how to play the game. There's much more to baseball than being able to throw 90mph.

But what interests me is the move towards a different global market. We've seen the effect Chien Ming-Wang of the New York (F'n) Yankees has had on baseball viewership in Taiwan, so it's very interesting to see other teams go after other countries. It will be interesting to see if the Risk of obtaining India will pay ultimately off for the Pirates. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Old Post, but still relevant

Going through my drafted posts I noticed a bunch I hadn't finished. Here is one that still has some relevance, so I thought I would finish it...
After a nice lunch of Zankou Chicken,  my friend proceeded to head out to the Arclight to see Bottleshock (One-word movie review: Meh). At a stoplight my friend (who was driving), was called upon by a fellow driver. Being the good samaritan that he was he let my friend know that his tire was looking a little (a lot) flat. My friend unbuckled his belt to lean forward to check it out, and soon enough the light turned and we were off. His belt was off literally for less than three minutes. But as luck would have it, this three  minutes was more than enough time for a bike cop to catch him with his seatbelt off, and promptly pulled us over for said violation. He was friendly enough, but as you can imagine my friend was slightly annoyed to have been pulled over for a momentary lapse in judgement. 

Two things went through my head after this incident. First, isn't it slightly ironic that a bike cop is pulling over a guy for not wearing his seat belt? Second, isn't it odd that California has a law to make people be safer by buckling their seat-belts, yet put those same drivers at risk to brain tumors and/or cancer by forcing them to wear hands-free devices. Of course I'm generalizing a common fear that has not been fully backed up. As of now there is no strong evidence to prove that blue tooth headsets cause brain tumors, as explained in this 2000 report by the FDA. But the truth of the matter is there have not been enough tests, and there has not been enough time to properly study the effects of cell phone use. Being that the technology is still fairly young. (The National Cancer Institute has a great article out-lining much of the research and pitfalls regarding cell-phone use thus far) Bottom-line is that we're not sure how cell-phone use affects our brains, but regardless California has submitted all of its residence to these "possible" side effects.

In my Medical Ethics class in college we examined vaccination laws, and how they affect the population. Some vaccinations contain ingredients that can be deadly to those who are allergic to them (and just googling to do more research some vaccines also include mercury, and have been proven to cause Autism in CHildren. But why listen to me? I'll let you do the research). But what we're looking at here is a classic example of utilitarian ethics. Doing something to benefit the whole, even though it may damage a minority. Certainly blue tooth head-sets save lives by creating safer driving conditions, and there are blue-tooth options that don't affix to your head. But the fact of the matter is that California is making its citizens wear a possible deadly device, while also forcing them to protect themselves with seat-belts. An interesting paradox I thought. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008


So yesterday I got together with a few friends to watch UFC 91, the "historic fight" between Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture. Training in martial arts myself (jiu-jitsu in particular), I get asked all the time what I think about MMA. I like it, I don't love it. 

My biggest problem with MMA is that while technique helps a fighter, I think it's the kind of sport where a meaner, tougher, and more athletic athlete can dominate. Look no further than UFC:91. Couture went in with a good game plan, wear down a guy who out-weighs and out-muscles him. He kept him away with boxing, and made sure that he always controlled the clinch. He even had two great escapes from bottom, but under Brocks weight it ended up wearing him out. He went in with a great game-plan, he was just not as mean/big as Brock. 

I love watching boxing. I think as a sport it requires much more technique, and I feel the same with any pure martial art. But when you get into MMA I think it's far too easy for one tough SOB to out-fight a brilliant tactician. Pride and honor aren't necessarily good qualities to have as an MMA fighter, wanting to hurt someone is. And that bothers me, because in most martial arts the first thing you learn is that you're learning a martial art so that you can come up with other ways to resolve conflict. In MMA you're trained to attack someone when they're on the ground, and give no quarter. 

I do enjoy watching it. And I do enjoy watching experienced and talented martial artists in the field. But the thing that bothers me about MMA is the crowd's blood lust, and lack of respect for the arts involved. Certainly the average fan knows a good amount of technique, and call each move when they see it. But I think for the average viewing they're more drawn for the blood shed and guys hurting each other more than the incredible technique and spirituality that can be drawn from each art. It's not that I dislike the sport itself, but I think the very nature of the sport keeps the average viewer from seeing the forest for the trees. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Turning The Page Mix

I haven't added a CD mix in awhile, so I thought it's about time. 

On an old episode of "This American Life" Ira addresses the concept of break-ups, more specifically the break-up song. In the episode writer Starlee Kine talks about a recent break-up of hers, and how music played such an essential part in the grievance process. 

"There is something so satifing about listening to sad songs... They make you feel less alone with your crazy thoughts. They don't judge you, in fact, they understand you.... They tell you they're worse without him, which is exactly what you want to hear because it's how you feel. I didn't want to be cheered up, I didn't want to bounce back, I didn't want to meet someone new.
I wanted to wallow, big time, deeply, and with least ammount of perspective as possible. And the only way to do that was to turn off my phone and to turn up the sad sad music." 

I think Starlee hit it right on the nose. Sure break-up songs can make you feel even worse than you're already feeling, but there is something so cathartic about listening to someone else's pain. Pain you can relate to. They sing the way you feel, and in a weird way you're comforted by the fact that other people have just as much heart-ache as your own. 

Recently two of my good friends have experienced break-ups, so I thought I'd post this to help them and any others going through heart-ache. This is a CD I made earlier this year when I was going through a break-up myself. Still recovering, I find myself listening to it once in awhile. I've gotten some good feedback from those who I've shared this with, so I thought I would share with you as well. 

"Turning The Page" Mix
  1. "Where'd You Go" ~ Fort Minor
  2. "Apologize" ~ Timbaland (Featuring OneRepublic)
  3. "Better Things" ~ Massive Attack
  4. "Roads" ~ Portishead
  5. "Single" ~ Everything But The Girl
  6. "Passing By" ~ Zero 7
  7. "Hands of Time" ~ Groove Armada
  8. "I Am The Highway" ~ Audioslave
  9. "Ball and Chain" ~ Social Distortion
  10. "The Thrill is Gone" ~ B.B. King
  11. "Sometimes I Have Heartache" ~ Big Mama Thornton
  12. "Do I Need You" ~ Ann Peebles
  13. "I Hold No Grudge" ~ Nina Simone
  14. "Last Goodbye" ~ Jeff Buckley
  15. "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" ~ Bob Dylan
  16. "These Days" ~ Jackson Browne
  17. "Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight" ~ Amos Lee
  18. "Goodbye My Lover" ~ James Blunt

"Where'd You Go" - I just love the juxtaposition soft and hard vocals on this track. I also love the simple piano hook. A song about a frustrated lover waiting for his/her work addict significant other. 

"Apologize" - I really think Timbaland is one of the best producers out there, and this track proves it. Such a powerful track, and I get goosebumps every time I hear it. So powerful, and so heart-breaking, just like a good break-up song should be. 

"Better Things" - A good reminder that there are always more fish in the sea. A simple little beat mixed with beautiful vocals. Some great lyrics as well. 

"Roads" - I don't know a single sadder sounding group than Portishead. Just a sad song that brings you to the absolute bottom of your soul. 

"Single" ~ If there was a club called "Everything But the Girl Is Under-rated" I'd totally join, and this is one of those reasons. Haunting vocals and thoughtful lyrics. A song which encompasses the mixture of emotions we all feel during break-ups. Confusion, loss, and regret.

"Passing By" ~ Another great set of pipes. This song is a bit stronger. It's about the realization that you're just a stepping stone in your lovers life, and the bitterness that follows. But in the end it's a song about strength. 

"Hands of Time" ~ I first heard this song in "Collateral", in what is probably my favorite night montage ever. An incredible and beautiful song about capturing the moment while it's there. 

"I Am The Highway" ~ A bitter bit of song. But beautiful metaphorical lyrics. "I am not your rolling wheel, I am the highway." As angry as it is powerful.

"Ball and Chain" ~ Apparently this is the angry section of the CD. This song is about being tired from a painful relationship, and being at a complete wits end in love. 

"The Thrill is Gone" ~ One of the few men on earth who can actually make his guitar cry. I don't think I need to say much else, other than if you haven't heard this song check it out. 

"Sometimes I Have Heartache" ~ Incredible voice. I was recently introduced to her this year, and I can't believe I had never heard of her earlier. For those in break-ups, she sounds how you feel. 

"Do I Need You" ~ Another "new" talent I found. Kind of like a female Al Green, which is a great thing. This is a strong song about being independent, and the realization all is not lost even if things aren't working out. 

"I Hold No Grudge" ~ A melancholy song about getting over loss in a mature fashion. Forgive, but don't forget. 

"Last Goodbye" ~ This song gets me every time. So so powerful, summarizes about everything. I love how the upbeat song is juxtaposed with such sad lyrics, kind of epitomizes the mixed feelings of a break-up. If this isn't the best break-up song there is I think it's darn close. 

"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" ~ A calm song about accepting the end, and moving on. And I think almost everyone can relate with lyric on wasting time. Great classic Bob Dylan, and his Dylan-like-frankness makes it that much sadder. 

"These Days" ~ Getting to the melancholy part again. A song just relishing the sorrow of the end. 

"Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight" ~ "There is more to love, than black and white..." A beautiful song about the realization and acceptance of change. 

"Goodbye My Lover" ~ Ok, this might be the best break-up song. Uber sad and uber emotional. Edging on to the too sappy side, but a great song non-the-less. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Riding With Mary

So this last weekend I went to a very cool photography exhibit called "Riding with Mary" by Chris Haston. It was held at my friend's hair salon (which was interesting). It was a quint little affair, and small enough where I got to have a nice long conversation with the artist. I'm currently going through a phase where I want to start to get into photography more, so it was great for me to speak to another artist about his craft. 

The exhibit is based upon "portraits" of a statue of the Virgin Mary that Chris found in a recycling bin outside of his house one day. Coming off a nasty divorce he had a build-up of creative energy that he needed to release, and through this statue he found it. He has since carried the statue around and photographed it with various backgrounds. The result is incredible. While her face is stoic and unchanging, juxtaposed with various backgrounds and lighting Chris brings her to life, and adds new meaning to each curve and crinkle of her face. 

Speaking with him he let me know that the photographs are actually "light paintings". Meaning that it's a photograph with a long exposure, and the artist uses different flashlights to "paint" in light. You may have seen this technique used in Sprint commercials. But Chris uses it in a very different manner. Instead of creating fluorescent-like figures he uses the small but powerful Surefire flashlight to throw light onto Mary or the background for the duration of the photo. He uses no other digital enhancement afterwards. The result is a subtle lighting that looks like it was done with a full light kit, and is remarkable. A superb exhibit, and one I highly recommend checking out if you get the chance. 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Isn't it Great that Prop 1 Won?" or "Don't H8te, Elevate"

I wanted to write another post about the election two days ago. Given all of the mixed emotions that I've been feeling over the past 2 days there is so much I want to talk about. I figured yesterday I'd give Barack the spotlight, cause he earned it. So today I'd like to talk about my first major election as a ""Californian"" (yes, double-quotes). 

I've always been impressed with the way California runs. While I hate the extreme taxes, I must say I am fairly convinced they all go towards something beneficial because the state (for the most part) is extremely efficient. An example of this was the manner in which their election was run. Weeks before the election I was given information in the form of multiple pamphlets. On the pamphlets they described each "proposition", an argument for, a rebuttal to the argument for, an argument against, and a rebuttal to the argument against. On top of all that the supporters (or those against) were shown underneath. Overall a very efficient system, and I like that they give the information out to all of he voters so that they are informed. 

Talking to someone at an election party the night of, I learned that propositions are actually a Western state creation. The voters of CA and numerous other states place votes into these propositions which dictate how taxes are used, the increase of taxes for certain actions, or the placement of new state regulations. Overall I like this idea. It gives more power to the people, and it [should] make the population want to pay closer attention to the movements of their government, given that their vote can drastically change the actions made by their state. 

An argument against could say that this enables large corporations or other specialty interest groups to invest money into advertising swaying popular opinion towards propositions that they've already paid lobbyists help get on the ballot. An example of this was the "Yes On Prop 10" campaign, a part of the Pickens plan. A plan created from a wealthy Texas Oil Man who spent millions of dollars to try to get rebates to create natural gas vehicles on the road. Natural gas vehicles that were created by his company. It was ultimately voted "no", fear of helping fund an oil tycoon. (Although I actually voted "yes", I like the idea of immediate action on removing diesel trucks from the road and putting more money towards wind power. Even if we are lining the pockets of a billionaire. But I digress...)

Another argument against this can be seen on the "yes" vote seen on Prop 8. Churches and many conservative groups pumped tons of money into the "Protect Marriage" campaign, supporting a vote for Prop 8 (They even paid for a sky writer). Even the fact that the Proposition was worded so that a "yes" vote means "no" is wacky. I think it should have been called "The Marriage Civil Rights Act", and a vote "yes" would open marriage to everyone as a civil right. Duh. 

But in closing I argue that ultimately the ability for citizens to vote for these propositions is a good thing. People/corporations/religious groups may funnel money into campaigns to support their interests, but I have faith in the voters to make a right and just decision. We should blame an uneducated population for unfortunate outcomes. If a vote "yes" on Proposition 8 has taught me anything it's that the peoples mindsets need to change, not the system. We still live in a world with ignorance, and it's up to us to shed light on injustice. Obama was a great first step, but it's clear we still have a long way to go until America truly becomes the "land of the free". 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama Wins '08

Well it's all over now, or rather, it's just begun. The United States of America voted in the first black President. And I couldn't be prouder. 

Last night was incredible. Being here in the States you could feel the change in the air. You could hear it by car horns carried through the air in the night, you could see it in the faces of those huddled together in Grant Park. Strangers would smile in the streets, and on a single day because of a single man we all became proud to be an American. Because, as Obama beautifully summarized in his victory speech last night, this is what America is all about. Rising from improbable beginnings to the most powerful office in America. 

Congratulations Barack. You've won. And nobody can ever take that away from you. Nobody can ever take that away from us. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Happy November 4th. I was discussing this with a friend of mine and I was wondering why this isn't a National Holiday. We could call it, oh I don't know, Election Day? We already celebrate the 4th of July, our Independence Day, and what did we fight for? The ability to vote. Just a thought. 

Well I'm excited. No matter what happens today we will be facing change today. A huge change. You look at the international pulse and all eyes are on us. Within the next Presidency lies all of the answers to all of the United States current quandaries. Will a solid economical plan stop us from falling further into a recession? Can the impact of Bush's "No Child Left Behind" be turned around? How much longer will we remain in Iraq? What's going to be our next response to the violence in Afghanistan? Will further steps against stem cell research be made? Yet while all these positives are coming out of this election I'm certainly glad this race will be over soon. 

Seeing the amount of money and smear tactics used towards the end of the race has sickened me. Obama has spent nearly $230 million dollars campaigning, but who can blame him when the McCain campaign has resorted to use outright lies against Obama? Obama is the better choice of the candidates in my mind, and is how I'm going to vote. But should Obama win tomorrow night was it because of his superior policies, or because of his superior running tactics? Did morality or commercials sway the public over in the end? 

My worry is that we're too swayed by the advertisers opinion, and not enough by our own morality. I want the reason people vote for their selection is because they are convinced he/she will be a good an just leader and not because they will raise taxes and doesn't have a military background. Certainly I'm being cynical here, all in all I think the system is a good one. I think people who believe in a righteous cause will donate time and money to the campaign, and make the entire machine run efficiently. We've even seen corporations and religions donate funds into the policies they believe in. And while I like seeing 711 and Starbucks getting people to vote with coffee, it worries me that establishments such as the Church Of Latter-day Saints try to use their influence to sway the public opinion.

My only point here is to think for yourself. Don't let flashy commercials sway your opinion unfoundedly. The research is out there. It's your right and your duty to research the propositions and the elected. Be informed through research when you step into the polls today.