Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Life of Pi

Eh, life. I haven't blogged in forever. It's just the usual after-Thanksgiving Break crunch, when papers are due; I return one set only to get another. This keeps up until after final exams. I'm on the verge of tearing my hair out, but I've been remembering to take at least a little time for myself. So, last Sunday, I went to see the movie Life of Pi--and was wowed.

A caveat: I have not read the book (although I may now). A friend who has tells me the ending of the movie is different from that of the book, but since I don't intend to talk about the ending (no spoilers!), that doesn't matter to me. Frankly, the ending made sense to me. We have two storylines. As the viewer, you get to pick the one you like. The one you prefer says something about who you are.

This is a movie about the existence of God (is there a God? Which religion is "right" about God? Does that even matter?), the natural world of beauty vs. destruction, and the human drive for survival and that remarkable thing we call consciousness. What's real? What isn't?

I saw the film in its 3D format, and with big questions such as these on the line, I suggest you do so as well. Certain elements pop out at you at just the right time, so the form fits the message in 3D as well. The director, Ang Lee, of Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame, knows what he's doing, and I'd say this one is a masterpiece of film-making and is by far the best film I've seen this year--maybe even in several years. I'm not much of a crier in films, but I admit it: I shed tears twice during two scenes that moved my cold, dead heart (okay, I'm kidding about the cold, dead heart.) But shedding tears during a movie is rare for me.

The basic storyline is this: the film is framed by a blocked writer in search of a story. In India, he's met a man who tells him to seek out Pi in Canada, who will tell him a story that will make him believe in God. (Pi jokes that this same man would say a good meal would make a person believe in God.) But the writer seeks Pi out and asks to hear his story. The film is Pi's story. As a child, Pi was an inquisitive young man, reading books by Camus and Dostosvesky, and also in search of a god or gods to believe in, so he winds up embracing bits of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. His father is sheer rationality and argues there is no sense in getting on a prayer rug and saying "Allah Akbar" and then at the dinner table the same night, declaring he wants to be baptized. But his mother realizes her son is a seeker and indulges him.

Eventually the political situation in India changes, so the family must move. They run a zoo (the animals are theirs, including a beautiful Bengal tiger), but the land is not, so they book passage on a Japanese freighter to make their way to Winnipeg, Canada, to start a new life. One night the ship runs into a wicked storm and the vessel is damaged and begins to sink. After swimming underwater down into the cargo hold to set the animals free, Pi manages to make his way onto a lifeboat--he loses his family, but he gains a new family of a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and the Bengal tiger.

The rest of the story describes how they managed to survive; and after some 225 days afloat across the mighty Pacific, living on canned rations, rainwater, and fish, Pi washes ashore on a beach in Mexico, with him and the tiger the only two remaining survivors.

Here I end the plot summary so as to not spoil any surprises, but there are other beautiful and fantastical elements of the film that will make you catch your breath: a breaching whale, flying fish, a seaful of jellyfish sparkling and shimmering in the water, a floating island of meerkats, and a lotus which, when fully opened, contains a single human tooth.

I have thought about this film for days, and it still hasn't left me. I know I'll probably watch it again one day and see things I didn't see the first time through. But it certainly isn't necessary to read the book to appreciate the movie. And as for those who fear the tiger dies: he does not.

The writer chooses which of the two stories given he prefers--and probably most people would. I know I did, reason be damned. As for god, here's my take-away. Perhaps God is human consciousness. And miracles happen within the conscious and subconscious minds. The subconscious--that little-used, so misunderstood enormous part of the river of our beings and brains--holds the key to god, holds within it the grace of god.  As an adult survivor of such a catastrophe, by any sense of reason Pi should be traumatized and troubled. He's not. He's happily married with two children and is a generous, joyful man.

So, you tell me.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

For my spouse, family, and dear friends and acquaintances; for the many blessings bestowed upon me; for my higher power and the Divine within; for faith in the human family and the continued potential for Peace Profound.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bless This Earth


    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

                        --William Butler Yeats

 Peace to all nations.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Me Working Very Hard Grading Essays

Well, at least I finally got them done. Chelle is evil for recording this, though.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Congrats, President Obama--Even Though I Didn't Vote for You

Guess what? I did NOT vote for Barack Obama. I know a lot of you are presently spitting out your coffee or peeing your pants in surprise, so let me explain. Actually, I did not vote for either Romney or Obama. I voted for the candidate with whom I actually agreed with the most on the issues: the Green Party’s Dr. Jill Stein.
Now, had I lived in a swing state, my vote would’ve gone to Barack Obama. But, I live in California, and Obama already had this state in the bag. So I opted to use my ballot to make a point. I do not consider this a “wasted” vote, although I realized Stein had zero chance in hell of winning.
For the record, I did vote for Democratic Senator Dianne Fienstein (who has been a steady moderate throughout her tenure in the Senate) and for Democratic Representative Jackie Speier, whom I’ve admired ever since she’s been serving this country—as far back as when she took a bullet in Guyana while she was accompanying Rep. Ryan when they were investigating psycho Jim Jones and the People’s Temple.  She stays close to the people in our district and has even visited the campus where I teach on several occasions.
In truth, largely I have been fine with Barack Obama’s job as President, and to help “even things up” a little so he could afford to run counter ads to the Romney SuperPAC advertising machine, I donated several times to his campaign. $3 here, $3 there… whatever I could to help him get his counter message out.
But, I am simply sick and tired of this gridlocked two-party system. And, that’s why I voted for Jill Stein. Let’s face the facts: for at least the past thirty years, and back in the age of the Robber Barons, the people really running the show in this country are Wall Street, the big banks, and the Fed. The Fed is the entity running this economy, not the President or Congress. The policies of either party can keep them a little bit in check here or there, but largely Wall Street finds a way to court both parties. As for the Fed, it has grown so large as a private bank it is now running the economies of most of the developed world. The only politicians who seem even remotely concerned about this are Ron Paul (a libertarian), Dennis Kucinich (a Democrat) and Bernie Saunders, a progressive Independent. These three men get continually written off as whack jobs, yet they finally managed to push through an audit of the Fed—no, the Fed is not regularly audited; it’s too “special,” I guess. The audit showed that the Fed lent or outright GAVE $16 trillion dollars to banks and corporations outside of the United States (this number exceeds our own federal deficit) without the knowledge of the President or Congress, which I do believe was illegal (at least it was when the Fed was first formed in 1913); and during the last financial crash, many members of the Board of the Fed bailed themselves out while holding stock in the very banks they were bailing out. That is a blatant conflict of interest and it is blatant shenanigans when a private bank (which the Fed is) has that kind of power. Just so you know, the Fed is NOT the US Treasury, as many people think. It is a private, for-profit bank. The US Treasury is merely a bank account at the Fed.
Neither Obama nor Romney seem to have any problem with the Fed, but I sure as hell do. I don’t think any for-profit entity (which the Fed is) should have the power to basically bankrupt most of the civilized world if they decide to do so, especially when they are able to print money (essentially making promissory notes out of thin air—tied to nothing actually tangible). In fact if you happen to be a New World Order conspiracy theorist and are pointing your fingers at the Freemasons or Skull and Bones or any other “secret” society, you are pointing at the wrong people. Point your finger at the Fed. The people who rule the world are the people who control the money. And that’s the Fed. Period.
Unless you have been living on Planet Kolob, Obama did inherit a fiscal mess from George W. Bush. The deficit is a nightmare that has been growing for years now. The US has always carried debt, but we have rarely worried about it in the past because it has always looked like a reasonable amount in comparison to GDP. (Remember Dick Cheney’s comment that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter?”) That’s pretty much true when we have a healthy GDP, in which we produce products, we sell them, the economy rolls along; people have jobs; we have a way to pay off our debts.
This is no longer the case. Our economy is now a service economy, not a manufacturing economy, so the old “trickle down” economics theory is a load of pie-in-the-sky bullhockey that’s still being shoved down our throats. But trickle down doesn’t work unless the wealthy actually invest their money HERE, in American businesses, in creating American products, in forming new companies. That’s not what they’ve been doing. Instead, they are offshoring their money, hiding their money in tax shelters, and investing in foreign banks and businesses--and yes, hiring third world laborers or people in Singapore and China to make goods because they can pay them less. Plus, many products on Wall Street people are holding in their mutual funds or retirement IRAs are also not backed up by anything tangible. These are the kinds of products that go kablooey, and it’s usually the middle class investor who’s left holding the bag when those funds go south.
Bully for them; the wealthy peeps can make their money however they choose as long as it’s via a legal method; but they can’t be doing the above while telling you out of the other side of their mouths that taking another big tax break will trickle down to us somehow.
So, with Bush, add two tax cuts that made zero economic sense because they did nothing to create jobs but did remove a revenue stream from the US Treasury; and then throw in two unfunded wars and then a huge housing crash (recall the aforementioned Wall Street product? Much of the crash was due to the buying and selling of bad debt, so lots of people like you and me were buying “safe” funds that were based on bad mortgages)--the market went belly up, and that suddenly made this deficit scary—because GDP wasn’t keeping pace. Why? Because, as stated, we are now a service economy; we are not manufacturing much in the way of new products in this country.
Economists say Obama’s plan for increasing jobs and reducing the debt is more reasonable than Romney’s: but that is largely because Romney never really articulated a plan. Economic policies of the 1950s won’t work in 2012.
As for the rest, there are other things I like about Obama, so I’m okay with him being re-elected. As a married gay woman, I didn’t care for the idea that Romney wanted to make my marriage null and void. How dare he impose his religious beliefs on me? I thought we had freedom of religion in this country. As a compassionate person, I also think Obama is a more trustworthy and likeable man. To me, Gov. Romney seemed like a flip-flopping robot who’d say anything just to get elected. I certainly never really understood how on earth he could say with a straight face that a 5 trillion tax cut was somehow supposed to fix the deficit. And I have always agreed with a woman’s right to choose and I support equal pay for equal work.
So why Jill Stein when I sound so “sold” on Obama? Well, Obama hasn’t been able to implement many of his ideas (many of which have been bipartisan in nature and ones even the GOP have supported in the past), but he has been unable to inspire Congress and the House to work together for the common good. So, I question his leadership. You can blame a lot of that on the Tea Party—they simply say “no” to everything, which is disgusting and frustrating even to my more moderate Republican friends. For example, saying “no” to funding a special program to help returning veterans find jobs? Why on earth would the GOP say no to that? But they did.
But of biggest concern to me is the slow chipping away at our Constitutional rights in the name of “the war on terror.” Shades of Orwell’s 1984. First we got Bush’s Patriot Act, which I had really hoped Obama would toss out. He did not. In fact he signed onto it and in NDAA, enacted even stricter measures, endangering our right to public protest. It’s as if the government is someday actually expecting a “People’s Revolution,” which, if things continue as they are, may not be a false fear. (Donald Trump is certainly already calling for one. Then again, that guy is a lunatic.) But, it is our RIGHT to revolt. This is why I have never been against the right to bear arms.
Now make no mistake—Romney is for these same things; he and Obama do not differ on these policies at all. Nope, Obama and Romney have both been fully vetted by the corporate media and signed off on as “okay” by our friends on Wall Street and the Fed.
Folks, we need to get rid of the two-party system. It exists only to give us the impression that we actually have a choice when we really don’t. We need a Teddy Roosevelt, someone willing to call bullshit on the powers that be and break up the banks and the monopolies and do something about the Fed. Somebody who is willing to make multinational corporations follow the laws of this land if they do business in this country, which means we need someone who wants to revisit the tax code and vastly simplify it, getting rid of all the loopholes people use to wiggle out of paying no tax at all. Make the multinationals pay their fair share, but meanwhile stop treating small businesses—the backbone of American employers—as if they deserved to be lumped in with the tax evaders. And for individual filers, frankly, a flat tax is not a bad idea, if one eliminates all loopholes and treats all income—earned or investment profits after losses are written off-- yet allows for certain reasonable exemptions (for children, for example) and sets the poverty line at a reasonable place so that old retired folks living on a fixed income aren’t slammed with giving back part of their social security. A flat tax should be something carefully studied and considered for flat-out fairness across the board and making it not so easy to cheat on one’s taxes—but no one seems willing to do it.
We also need to undo Citizens United and make it illegal for corporations to “purchase” our representatives by basically promising them cushy, highly paid lobbying jobs once they retire from office.
We also need a President who doesn’t have the mindset that America is somehow the world police. Did you know that for every dollar you pay in taxes, .56 cents goes to defense? That’s insane. We spend more money on defense than all 26 of our allies do altogether. We’ll throw trillions into military technology, into hiring crooked military contractors (remember Halliburton?), and into maintaining military bases all over the world, but we give wounded veterans crap for treatment and leave them to suffer PTSD and from other illnesses for the remainder of their lives.  Who made the USA the world ruler? We need to defend ourselves, sure; but since we already have the capacity to blow the shit out of anybody already, what more do we need?
What we need in the White House is common sense, compassion, a genuine desire to serve the country. The same goes for our Senate and House.  They need to start following the will of the people and not the will of their campaign contributors.
So, I voted my conscience and voted for Jill Stein. I have thumbed my nose at this ruse of democracy that keeps being fed to us by the media. The system is broken. We need to develop ELECTABLE third, fourth, maybe even fifth parties to keep the system honest. It’s not so hard to buy off two parties, but buying off five with candidates that all have a legit chance at election is not so very easy to do.
Restore democracy to America.
To refuse to vote is to surrender. To vote for “the lesser of two evils” is surrender. Vote for the candidate who best represents you. And keep doing it. And raise your voices louder. We are the People.
In the meantime, my hearty congratulations to President Obama, and a plea to the Senate and House: get along. Legislate. Stop being so partisan and do what needs to be done to help pay down the debt while getting people back to work.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Breeder's Cup 2012 Picks for Saturday

Well, today was an up and down day. Lots of upsets, and now that I've watched the two year-olds race against the European two year-olds, who are used to not running with Lasix on board, that did give the Europeans a clear advantage in the juvenile races. I lost both my Pick 3 and 4s, but I did get the superfecta in race 8. That eased some of my pain, but I wound up down for the day. That's okay--often when I have a losing day, I pop right back with a winning day! So here's hoping my picks work out better for me tomorrow.

Once again I'm just choosing my four favorite horses in each race and leaving it up to readers to cobble together their own tickets. 

Race 4: Juvenile Turf. Okay, so the Europeans have the advantage. Artigiano is pretty classy so far and on the improve; a lot of 'cappers like George Vancouver because of the speed ratings, but what I see is 113, bounce (88), 113 (will he bounce again?) He's a question mark for me when we're talking about a two year-old.  Aiden O'Brien's other entry, Lines of Battle, seems maybe the better bet at better odds. One horse that's NOT a question mark is Dundonnell, who has never been off the board. We do have two American horses in the race that are undefeated--well, in only two races, though--Carla Gaines' Gervinho, whose one advantage is that he's won over track at this distance. Otherwise, his Beyers are a little below par. Noble Tune may be a little faster, but he's never raced over the track. The closer (and there is some early speed in this race) is Julian Leparoux's mount, Balance the Books. So, I'm liking 2, 6, 8, 9, and maybe 14.

Race 5: Filly and Mare Sprint. There are two in this race that love to win: Dust and Diamonds and Groupie Doll. One interesting entry is John Sadler's Switch. She's been running longer distances lately (and losing), but now she cuts back to 7 furlongs and has been firing a series of bullets over the track for the last three weeks. Leave her out at your own risk. The other obvious choices are Musical Romance and Turbulent Descent. So, 3, 6, 8, 9, and 10. If you must toss one out, toss 10 just in case she really hasn't returned to form.

Race 6: Dirt Mile. Oh my god, what an impossible race because of all the early speed. Will they wear each other down? Maybe or maybe not, depending on how fit they are. Bob Baffert never runs a horse that isn't ready, so you'd better not ignore Fed Biz. But, that horse may not be the best of the speed. Shackleford is the classiest of the speed, and Emcee posts the highest Beyers of the speed. So you'd better not leave out a closer or somebody who will sit off the pace. That leaves you Jersey Town or Rail Trip. Ah, Rail Trip. I have a special place in my heart for that horse. So, my picks are 1, 5, 6, 7. BUT, if you prefer class over my own irrational biases, go with Jersey Town (3) instead of 1.

Race 7: Turf Sprint. Do you really think I'm going to leave out California Flag, who won this race over this same track with this same jockey (Joe Talamo) just two years ago? And who has been firing bullets in prep for this race? California Flag did abysmally last year at Churchill Downs (different jockey as well), but the turf track there is a totally different ball of wax. Here at Santa Anita, they race downhill, make a turn over dirt, and then run lights out to the finish. The other obvious choice is Bridgetown, and Steve Asmussen's horse on the outside, Unbridled's Note, may get lucky because of a lack of traffic problems. Another horse that intrigues me is Jerry Hollendorfer's entry, Chosen Miracle. He puts phenomenal jockey Martin Garcia aboard, and though the horse lacks class, he clearly likes to win and has done so at this distance on this track. So, I'm choosing 1, 9, 12, and 13. If you have deep pockets, it appears many 'cappers like the 10, Corporate Jungle.

Race 8: Juvenile. This race is Bob Baffert's to lose. He's got Martin Garcia on the rail on Title Contender, who will break fast and go to the front and try to run away. Meanwhile, on the outside on the 9 horse, is Rafael Bejarano on Power Broker, who will track the pace and try to steal the race from Martin. The only other two who could win are Rosie N. on Pletcher's Shanghai Bobby, and Kiaran McLachlan's entry, Fortify. I like 1, 4, 8, and 9.

Race 9: Turf. Look, when the distance is a mile and a half, you have to look for horses that can get the distance. There are many unknowns in this race. But here are the knowns: you NEVER leave out a Shug-Phipps horse that has won four times at this distance. You also wouldn't leave out last year's winner of this same race, Aidan O'Brien's St Nicholas Abbey (who once again has his son aboard as pilot). You also want the other Irish horse in this turf race, Shareta, who has won 3 times at the distance. Finally there is an interesting Japanese horse named Trailblazer who seems pretty fast on paper and who has one win at this distance. My picks: 1, 3, 5, 12.

Race 10: Sprint. Good lord, this one is another of Baffert's to lose since he has three entries. Still, the crowd favorite--who has a better than average shot at winning with Mike Smith aboard--is Amazombie. Trinniberg is another "famous" horse in the race because he ran in the Kentucky Derby, and he actually gets decent Beyers at shorter distances, but I find him hard to back because he's simply inconsistent. Of Baffert's horses, Capital Account seems the fastest. One other of his, Coil, is clearly on the improve. Finally, the horse in the field with the highest Beyer speed figure is The Lumber Guy, who seems to run best at this distance of 6 furlongs. So, my picks are: 4, 7, 8, and 11.
As much as I personally like Jeff Bonde and his entry Smiling Tiger, I think Smiling Tiger is just not a Breeders Cup winner. If that horse or Baffert's third entry, Fast Bullet, wins, I'll probably cry like the girl I am.

Race 11: Turf Mile. Clearly, Wise Dan is the one to beat. Who could beat him? Obviously, Excelebration, and maybe, just maybe, the very odd entry of Animal Kingdom. He's known as a dirt runner (aside from winning the Kentucky Derby two years ago), but he did have (and win) a turf prep race for this which seemed easy for him because he clearly had more in the tank afterwards as he was ridden out. Graham Motion is up to something.  Round the four out with Moonlight Cloud, so the picks are: 2, 3, 5, 6, and 9 (unless you think I'm crazy for considering Animal Kingdom, in which case you'd toss the 5).

Race 12: The Classic. Who do I want to win? I'll Have Another, the Derby and Preakness winner, and who looked awfully good heading into the Belmont Stakes before Doug O'Neill and Reddam were forced to scratch him for a damaged tendon and retiring him. So, since the horse isn't in the race at all, I'm rooting all out for Richard's Kid. The pace in this race sets up perfectly for his closing kick and I have faith in Garrett "Go-Go" Gomez to get the job done. But I also like Game on Dude, Mucho Macho Man, and Flat Out. The picks are: 2, 5, 9, 11.

Good luck and bet responsibly!

Some morning updates prior to scratches being posted: one Southern Cal capper tells us to not be so sure Trinniberg isn't in the perfect spot to win. He is a fast little sucker (and the Derby was longer, was a rabbit in much of the Derby when he ran in it), and so it makes much better sense to see him in a sprint. So if he looks good, don't be so quick to dismiss him from race 9. Also, there is news that the Japanese horse, Trailblazer, may have been injured giving his stall a good kick last evening, so be sure to have a good look at him as well, even if the vet doesn't scratch him. 

Updated BC Friday Picks, After Scratches

More to come, but here is my Pick 3 ticket. Hopefully it won't be all chalk that wins.

Race #4    11/02/2012
Santa Anita
$0.5 Pick-3
# 3,6,7
WT # 1,2,4,10,11
WT # 1,3,6,13
And here is the Pick 4. Decided to bet against the favorite in the Ladies Classic.

Race #6    11/02/2012
Santa Anita
$0.5 Pick-4
# 1,3,6,13
WT # 3,5,8
WT # 2,4,6,9,10
WT # 2,4

Also, I feel it's only fair to point out that if I'm wrong about race 6, I'm totally screwed, so be forewarned. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Breeders Cup 2012: Picks for Friday Nov 2

Well, it's that time of year again--The Breeders' Cup, where the world's best race horses gather together for a two-day showdown to prove to the world who's the best in their category. Tomorrow's races largely comprise "Ladies Day."

What I've done is simply pick my four favorite horses (in no particular order) for each of the Breeders Cup races. You can decide how to put together your own tickets, but if you're doing superfectas, these would be the ones I'd use unless I saw something on the track or saddling ring that I didn't like beforehand that makes me toss a horse out (or, perhaps, see something I like so much that I substitute another).

Race 4 (the Juvenile Sprint): Merit Man is the pick and a likely single. But Super Ninety Nine poses a threat, and behind him are Hazardous and Sweet Shirley Mae.

Race 5 (the Marathon): Fame and Glory, Grassy, Worth Repeating, and Commander. If you have deep pockets, my guts also say to maybe toss in Eldaafer too. He performed horribly in this race last year, but here he is again and his connections more likely have him ready. He could pull a surprise.

Race 6 (Juvenile Fillies Turf): Sky Lantern, Watsdachances (how can you NOT bet a filly with a name like that?!), Flashy Ways, and then my longshot filly I hope blows them all out of the water. Why? She's a US filly who does NOT run on Lasix, never has. If Kitten's Point can win this race while not running on Lasix, that would sure help make the case for getting this diuretic out of the sport in this country.

Race 7 (Juvenile Fillies): Dreaming of Julia, Spring in the Air, Kauai Katie, and Beholder.

Race 8 (Filly & Mare Turf): Marketing Mix, Lady of Shamrock, Ridasiyna, and Zagora.

Race 9 (Ladies' Classic): Well, Royal Delta will be the favorite. I also like Love and Pride, Awesome Feather, and My Miss Aurelia. (Screw Grace Hall: the Dutrows can kiss my ass because they give this sport a bad name.)

Good luck and bet responsibly!

Morning Update: second thoughts about maybe also tossing in The Fugue in Race 8 and Atigun in Race 5, although Atigun may be a "bet against" if at really short odds.