Sunday, November 30, 2008

mp3 player buying guide

Finding the perfect MP3 player is harder than you'd think. Considerations of size, color, capacity, features, price, and compatibility, all need to be weighed before making a decision. Unfortunately, there's no perfect MP3 player for everyone. Even the most popular MP3 player option, Apple's iPod, is offered in a dizzying amount of colors, sizes, and configurations.

In this buying guide, we'll broadly define the two types of MP3 players on the market, and spend the following pages explaining what features to look for, different uses to consider, music compatibility, and the kinds of accessories you may want to purchase in addition to your music player.

First, let's look at the differences between hard-drive MP3 players and Flash-based models.

Types of players: Hard-drive-based | Flash-based |

Hard-drive-based players

Most likely, a high-capacity player can accommodate every song you've ever purchased or ripped from a CD. Hard drives run from 20GB on up, and large players such as the 120GB Apple iPod Classic can hold about 30,000 songs.

Microsoft Zune

Hard drive MP3 players such as the Microsoft Zune can hold a luxurious amount of music and video.

Pros: They store all your music on one device. They also tend to have more features and larger screens and are overall easier to use. High-capacity players give you the best bang for your buck in terms of price per gigabyte (for example, $250 120GB iPod versus $200 for 16GB iPod Nano).

Cons: These players are usually built around a 1.8-inch hard drive; thus, they are larger and heavier than the others. Also, hard drives have moving parts, so these players aren't ideal for strenuous physical activity. Finally, most use rechargeable batteries (usually lasting 9 to 45 hours per charge) that you can't replace yourself, so after several years, you might have to pay for a new model or pay to get the battery replaced.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

WALL - E 2008

WALL-E (2008) Poster

Watch the Trailer
After hundreds of lonely years of doing what he was built for, Wall-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) discovers a new purpose in life (besides collecting knick-knacks) when he meets a sleek search robot named Eve. Eve comes to realize that Wall-E has inadvertently stumbled upon the key to the planet's future, and races back to space to report her findings to the humans (who have been eagerly awaiting word that it is safe to return home). Meanwhile, Wall-E chases Eve across the galaxy.
Also Known As:
Wall E
Production Status: Released
Logline: A young robot looks for a home in outer space.
Running Time: 1 hr. 37 min.
Release Date: June 27th, 2008 (wide)
MPAA Rating: G
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Production Co.:
Pixar Animation Studios
Walt Disney Feature Animation
U.S. Box Office: $223,280,427
Filming Locations:
Los Angeles, California, USA
Produced in: United States

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


BOTH Golden Boy Promotion and Top Rank top executives are now downsizing and downplaying their earlier huge forecast on pay per view (PPV) buys for the December 6 (December 7 Philippine time) fight between Oscar dela Hoya and Manny Pacquiao.
From a high estimate of topping or equaling the 2.15 million buys generated by the Dela Hoya-Mayweather Jr. ticket last year, the promoters of the Dream Match are now saying 1.5 million PPV buys would already be a 'smash hit' given the recession that is hitting the US economy.

Scalpers who anticipated to make a killing earlier cornered the live ticket sales are now reportedly having a hard time moving tickets valued at $1,500 where before these could command a pricey tag of up to $35,000 each.

That is why this corner has always prodded Pacquiao lawyer Jeng Gacal, a fellow 1977 graduate of the Marist Notre Dame school system in General Santos, to always include in the fight contract proviso of Manny a guaranteed purse clause.

For the Dela Hoya tiff, a $10 million dollar guaranteed pay slip plus substantial share on the upside of the PPV and other sales (live and close circuit television tickets and cable and free TV proceeds) were broached.

After all, it was money above all that made Team Pacquiao decide to take on Dela Hoya's offer aside from a shot at boxing immortality.

Dela Hoya's initial offer to Manny was a flat out 70-30 split on PPV buys that was promptly rejected by Team Pacquiao and which turned out to be a good decision.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The first generation of Chevy


First generation
1958 Chevrolet Impala Hardtop

The Impala was introduced in 1958 as a new, upmarket, sporty trim package created for Bel Air coupes and convertibles. Unique to the model were its six taillights, which set it apart from lower trim levels with only two lights on a side. This classic styling cue would become its trademark. The Impala became a separate model in 1959 in both two- and four-door versions and became the best-selling car in the Chevrolet lineup. For 1960, it became the best-selling automobile in the United States and held that position for the next decade.

The Impala featured body-on-frame construction, using the "X" frame used on other Chevys, as well as Cadillac. The exception for the six-taillight rear end styling was the 1959 model, which used the "teardrop" taillight shape as all other Chevy models had.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Chocolate Hills in Bohol

The Chocolate Hills are probably Bohol's most famous tourist attraction. They look like giant mole hills, or as some say, women's breasts, and remind us of the hills in a small child's drawing. Most people who first see pictures of this landscape can hardly believe that these hills are not a man-made artifact. However, this idea is quickly abandoned, as the effort would surely surpass the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. The chocolate hills consist of are no less than 1268 hills (some claim this to be the exact number). They are very uniform in shape and mostly between 30 and 50 meters high. They are covered with grass, which, at the end of the dry season, turns chocolate brown. From this color, the hills derive their name. At other times, the hills are green, and the association may be a bit difficult to make.

Vote for the Chocolate Hills

Legend has it that the hills came into existence when two giants threw stones and sand at each other in a fight that lasted for days. When they were finally exhausted, they made friends and left the island, but left behind the mess they made. For the more romantically inclined is the tale of Arogo, a young and very strong giant who fell in love with an ordinary mortal girl called Aloya. After she died, the giant Arogo cried bitterly. His tears then turned into hills, as a lasting proof of his grief.

However, up to this day, even geologists have not reached consensus on how they where formed. The most commonly accept theory is that they are the weathered formations of a kind of marine limestone on top of a impermeable layer of clay. If you climb the 214 steps to the top of the observation hill near the complex, you can read this explanation on a bronze plaque.

How to get there

Plenty of tourist guides and tour operators will be happy to bring you to the chocolate hills, either as a separate trip or as part of a day tour. However, if you want to go here on your own, from Tagbilaran, you will have to go the integrated bus terminal in Dao and catch a bus going to Carmen. If you look like a stranger, you will have a hard time not finding one. At the entrance of the bus terminal people will point you to the right bus. Make sure it is the first one to leave, and ask the driver to drop you off at the Chocolate Hills complex, about 4 kilometers before the town of Carmen. From there it is a 10 minute walk along a road winding up to the complex.

To get back to Tagbilaran, you will have to walk back to the main road, and wait for a bus to pass by. The last bus from Carmen to Tagbilaran leaves at four P.M. Alternatively, you can use the services of the motorcyclists who often wait here for tourist, and ride 'habal-habal,' or motorbike taxi.

If you're coming from Tubigon (arriving from Cebu by boat), a few buses go to Carmen daily, but sometimes you'll have to wait for some time for the bus to fill up. When you arrive in Carmen, you can catch the next bus or jeepney in the direction of Bilar, Loay or Tagbilaran, or ask a 'habal-habal' driver to bring you to the Chocolate Hills Complex.

Where to stay

If you would like to stay in the Chocolate Hills, you have very little choice. The only facility is the Government run Chocolate Hills resort. Currently, this hotel is undergoing renovation and extension, but, since funds have run out, work on this is suspended, and you'll have to deal with the mess of a half-completed resort. However, the staff are friendly, and if you stay here overnight, seeing the sun rise over this bizarre landscape is worth the inconvenience. The place also has a still functional and maintained swimming pool, which is behind the unfinished building, a little bit downhill.

Unmatched Beauty

Unmatched Beauty

Getting Here

Sarangani can be reached by air and sea travels from Manila and Cebu via General Santos City. By land, Sarangani’s countryside is easily accessible. A paved national highway connects General Santos City to the eastern coastal towns of Alabel (15 min), Malapatan (25 min), and Glan (45 min); to the west, Maasim (30 min), Kiamba (1:10 hrs), Maitum (1:30 hrs), and Malungon (40 min).

Sarangani is a province whose unmatched beauty has yet to bediscovered. Few places are as splendidly endowed with natural resources that promise opportunities for development as this predominantly coastal province in the southernmost tip of the Philippines. Most of its treasures have remained untapped to this day including its 230-kilometer coastline strewn with awe-inspiring coves and rock formations.

Sarangani is full of wondrous surprises. Motoring across the province is as pleasurable as taking a breeze in one’s own paradise. A golf course in the valleys of Malungon offers some of the most challenging fairways in the region. It is also here where asparagus and tropical fruits are grown and dried flowers are made for the export market.

A sense of discovery overwhelms one when approaching the eastern municipalities of Alabel, Malapatan and Glan, which face the tranquil waters of Sarangani Bay. These towns have beaches wonderfully preserved by protective coves, and shipwreck diving sites dating back to Spanish times. The bay is more popularly known to be the home of the Sarangani Bay bangus (milkfish). Turn over another stone and one will find that the bay is also home to simple village folk who have lived their lives carving and painting their dreams in the boats they build.

While the province is intersected by General Santos City, the discoveries that await in the three western municipalities of Maasim, Kiamba and Maitum are as countless as the golden sunrises of the Celebes Sea. In 1991, anthropomorphic jars were found in Ayub cave at Maitum which have come to be known in world history as Maitum Jars. A sanctuary of the largest bats in the world can also be found in the same site. Endemic to the Philippines, over 180,000 giant golden-crown flying foxes can be seen dangling in the branches of forest trees during daytime.

With its back to the Daguma Range, the lush mountains of this province hold many of nature’s wonderful creatures including the tarsier, the smallest monkey in the world and its predator, the Philippine eagle. From its bosom also flows the purest freshwater sources and pristine waterfalls unsettled only by short dips of its native dwellers and a few daring adventurers.

It is amazing how one can still uncover treasures of the old world in a place like Sarangani. Let its limitless wonders unravel before you.


Plunge in deeper into Sarangani’s underwater world! A tank, mask, snorkel and fins are all what it takes to delve into that fantastic view of multihued coral ecosystem and marine fauna that abound.With the changing weather conditions, every snorkeling and scuba diving would certainly be unique from each previous engagement.

So experience that invigorating vibes while knitting through Sarangani’s haven of dolphins, whales, marine turtles, and the endangered sea cow (dugong) and make it a lasting glimpse to remember.The impressive covering of Acropora (branching corals) filling the seascape of Tuka Marine Park of Kiamba will certainly captivate you to no end.

Archaeologists at work in Maitum.

Maitum Caves

Exploring through Ayub cave is like traveling back to the metal age of the Philippines, circa 500 BC to 500 AD. A unique and fascinating assemblage of archeological find (human faces and figures in earthenware medium) that depicts Sarangani’s cultural wealth was excavated here.

These potteries were used as secondary burial jars. Its coverings were molded as human heads emulating different facial expressions of happiness, contentment, and even a trace of desolation. Such were shaped artistically tracing the most conservative detail of the human face that can still be seen in the broken fragments of the jars outside the cave... retaining their natural color even up to now.

Some of the artifacts collected are now displayed in the National Museum while others are kept by some of the residents nearby the cave.

Ayub cave is made up of Miocene limestone formation. The opening is about two meters wide and two meters high, sloping downward to at least 20 degrees angle and extending a length of 11 meters from the entrance. But earthquakes, which cropped up sometime in 1970s to 1990s widened the cave’s opening.

Ayub cave is located at Barangay Pinol in Maitum, about 50 meters away from the national highway and approximately 30-minute ride from the Poblacion. Surrounding plants have, however, made this cave unnoticed.


Set in seemingly-classical downtown Glan are several ancestral houses mostly built in the early part of 1900s. The imposing balconies, canopies, and walls of “kalados” and concrete stepboards leading to wide wooden staircases will certainly awe-inspire antique trippers.

Some of them even hold striking collections of prized oriental sets and other precious antiques displayed right in the drawing room. The municipal government of Glan preserves the ancestral houses taking pride of its ancestors’ birthright.


Visiting travelers cannot help but marvel at the grandeur of the Provincial Capitol Building, which also houses offices of national line agencies. They say it is unrivaled. Some of them even dubbed it the reenacted “White House” in Southern Mindanao.

To see the imposing Provincial Capitol Building becomes, in most cases, the object of some visitors in going to Alabel, the capital town of the province.

Equally drawing attention is the Kasfala Hall that accentuates even more the beauty and the value of the park. True to its Blaan name, which means “deliberation,” the well-designed edifice serves as a sheer witness to the many issues and concerns deliberated and resolved in seminars, trainings, conferences, consultations and the like.

Strategically enclosed in a 26-hectare lot, the capitol park is a huge landmark of untiring devotion and excellence by concerned leaders who were instruments of unification and development of its people.

Other facilities like the FVR rest house and pool, cultural center and gymnasium, training center, and sports complex complete its almost pronounced coziness.


The 18-hole Golf Course and Country Club at Sitio Pulatana, Malandag, Malungon lies in a well-landscaped of verdant grasses and trees. It is only a 30-minute leisure-drive from the town proper of Sarangani’s capital town Alabel and 40-minute from neighboring city of General Santos.

For golf fanatics, the place is just right to unwind.

Its two-story native-inspired refreshment cottage can provide an outright vista of the golf course’s backdrop, Mt. Matutum.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008



Wind chimes or Aeolian chimes are often hollow or solid metal, glass, or wooden tubes which are usually hung outside of a building and are intended to be played by the wind, which causes the chimes to strike each other or metal, wood, or rubber balls which may be hung in the centre.

Wind chimes produce inharmonic (as opposed to harmonic) spectra, although if they are hung at about 1/5th of their length (22.4%), the higher partials are dampened and the fundamental is brought out. This is common practice in high-quality wind chimes, which are also usually hung so the center ball strikes the center of the wind chime's length. Frequency is determined by the length, width, thickness, and material. There are formulas that help predict the proper length to achieve a particular note, though a bit of fine tuning is often needed. Wind chimes are thought to be good luck in parts of Asia and are used in Feng Shui. In Japan they produce pleasant ringing sounds and are hung by the windows during hot humid summers in order to bring cooling relief.

Chimes are also made of materials other than metal or wood and in shapes other than tubes or rods. Many people accept bamboo, stones, horseshoes, mechanics tools, PVC pipe, glass, seashells, old silverware, etc., as chimes. Every material makes a different sound. The sounds these make are not tunable to specific notes and range from pleasant tinkling to dull thuds. The idea seems to be that if it is moved by the wind and makes a noise, it is a wind chime.

The tone will depend on the material (steel, aluminum, brass, the exact alloy, heat treatment and so on), whether you are using a solid cylinder or a tube, and if a tube, the wall thickness. It may also depend on the hanging method. The tone quality will depend on how you strike a tube (with a hard object or a soft one, for example).

Note that with a whistle, such as an organ pipe, the pitch is determined primarily by the length of the air column. It is the air that vibrates. The pipe material helps determine the "timbre" or "voice" of the pipe, but the air column determines the pitch. In a wind chime, the pipe itself is being struck and the air column has little to do with things.

Chimes may be used to observe changes in wind directions. For instance, if a chime is positioned on the north side of the house only a north wind will move it. It may alert the inhabitants to a weather change. Conversely, for a south wind a chime is mounted on the south side.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Brief Mystery: What are Short Gamma-ray Bursts?

October 20, 2008: For decades it was baffling. Out of the still night sky, astronomers peering through their telescopes would occasionally glimpse quick bursts of high-energy light popping off like flashbulbs at the far side of the universe.

These bursts seemed impossibly powerful: to appear so bright from so very far away, they must vastly outshine entire galaxies containing hundreds of billions of stars. These explosions, called gamma ray bursts (GRBs), are by far the brightest and most energetic phenomena in the known universe, second only to the Big Bang itself. Scientists were at a loss to imagine what could possibly cause them.

Right: An artist's concept of a gamma-ray burst.

Astronomers now know what the longer-lasting GRBs are: the collapse and explosion of an ultra-massive star to form a black hole at its core, an explanation first proposed by Stan Woosley of the University of California in San Diego. But there’s a second category of GRBs that still remains a mystery.

"The short-lived ones are very poorly understood. It's where the frontier [of research] is now," says Neil Gehrels, principal investigator for the GRB-detecting Swift satellite at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Gehrels and other researchers have gathered this week at the Sixth Huntsville Gamma Ray Burst Symposium in Huntsville, Ala., to discuss progress on this and other mysteries surrounding GRBs. Short gamma-ray bursts are a hot topic at today's sessions: agenda.

"We have had good evidence since the 1990s that the short bursts and long bursts were different classes," Gehrels explains. "It had to do with their gamma ray properties." Not only do the short bursts last less than about 2 seconds, the spectrum of light they emit is distinct. Gamma rays from short bursts lean toward the high-energy end of the spectrum, while long GRBs emit lower-energy gamma rays.

The differences were highlighted in 2005 when, for the first time, telescopes caught sight of short GRB afterglows. The fading debris contained no supernova, arguing against the collapse of a massive star. George Ricker of MIT, principal investigator of NASA's HETE (High Energy and Transient Explorer) satellite, famously likened a short burst on July 9, 2005, to "the dog that didn't bark."

Ultimately, the cause of short bursts is unknown. But scientists do have some good guesses.

Above: An artist's concept of a neutron star-neutron star collision.

The leading theory is that these bursts are extremely violent collisions between pairs of neutron stars. These stars aren't gassy, wispy giants like other stars — a neutron star is more like an atomic nucleus that's 12 kilometers across. Since the atoms that make up normal, "solid" matter are mostly empty space, a star made almost entirely of tightly packed neutrons is extraordinarily dense: a fingernail's worth of a neutron star would have a mass of more than a trillion kilograms. A neutron star's density and gravity is second only to a black hole. "When you have these two hard stars that run into each other, it's a very rapid fiery explosion. It's kind of like a crash."

So how could scientists know whether this explanation is true?

One way could be to detect gravitational waves. Before the two neutron stars collide, they would orbit each other as a binary system. Because their fields of gravity are so intense, the stars ought to send waves rippling outward in the fabric of space-time: gravitational waves. As the neutron stars spiral in toward each other, the frequency of those waves would ramp up in a characteristic pattern called a chirp signal.

"Scientists are trying to [detect] that now," Gehrels says. "It's the ultimate way of verifying the model."

Scientists at the Huntsville symposium are discussing the progress of gravitational wave detectors such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) located in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana. By using lasers to carefully measure the distances between pairs of mirrors at these observatories, LIGO scientists can notice tiny changes in these distances that would occur if subtle gravitational waves were passing through the Earth.

Other possible explanations for short GRBs exist as well, but only hard data from experiments such as LIGO can settle what is the real cause of these mysterious celestial bursts.

Magnetic Portals Connect Sun and Earth

Oct. 30, 2008: During the time it takes you to read this article, something will happen high overhead that until recently many scientists didn't believe in. A magnetic portal will open, linking Earth to the sun 93 million miles away. Tons of high-energy particles may flow through the opening before it closes again, around the time you reach the end of the page.

"It's called a flux transfer event or 'FTE,'" says space physicist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "Ten years ago I was pretty sure they didn't exist, but now the evidence is incontrovertible."

Indeed, today Sibeck is telling an international assembly of space physicists at the 2008 Plasma Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, that FTEs are not just common, but possibly twice as common as anyone had ever imagined.

Right: An artist's concept of Earth's magnetic field connecting to the sun's--a.k.a. a "flux transfer event"--with a spacecraft on hand to measure particles and fields. [Larger image]

Researchers have long known that the Earth and sun must be connected. Earth's magnetosphere (the magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet) is filled with particles from the sun that arrive via the solar wind and penetrate the planet's magnetic defenses. They enter by following magnetic field lines that can be traced from terra firma all the way back to the sun's atmosphere.

"We used to think the connection was permanent and that solar wind could trickle into the near-Earth environment anytime the wind was active," says Sibeck. "We were wrong. The connections are not steady at all. They are often brief, bursty and very dynamic."

Several speakers at the Workshop have outlined how FTEs form: On the dayside of Earth (the side closest to the sun), Earth's magnetic field presses against the sun's magnetic field. Approximately every eight minutes, the two fields briefly merge or "reconnect," forming a portal through which particles can flow. The portal takes the form of a magnetic cylinder about as wide as Earth. The European Space Agency's fleet of four Cluster spacecraft and NASA's five THEMIS probes have flown through and surrounded these cylinders, measuring their dimensions and sensing the particles that shoot through. "They're real," says Sibeck.

Now that Cluster and THEMIS have directly sampled FTEs, theorists can use those measurements to simulate FTEs in their computers and predict how they might behave. Space physicist Jimmy Raeder of the University of New Hampshire presented one such simulation at the Workshop. He told his colleagues that the cylindrical portals tend to form above Earth's equator and then roll over Earth's winter pole. In December, FTEs roll over the north pole; in July they roll over the south pole.

Right: A "magnetic portal" or FTE mapped in cross-section by NASA's fleet of THEMIS spacecraft. [Larger image]

Sibeck believes this is happening twice as often as previously thought. "I think there are two varieties of FTEs: active and passive." Active FTEs are magnetic cylinders that allow particles to flow through rather easily; they are important conduits of energy for Earth's magnetosphere. Passive FTEs are magnetic cylinders that offer more resistance; their internal structure does not admit such an easy flow of particles and fields. (For experts: Active FTEs form at equatorial latitudes when the IMF tips south; passive FTEs form at higher latitudes when the IMF tips north.) Sibeck has calculated the properties of passive FTEs and he is encouraging his colleagues to hunt for signs of them in data from THEMIS and Cluster. "Passive FTEs may not be very important, but until we know more about them we can't be sure."

The Sun Shows Signs of Life

Nov. 7, 2008: After two-plus years of few sunspots, even fewer solar flares, and a generally eerie calm, the sun is finally showing signs of life.

"I think solar minimum is behind us," says sunspot forecaster David Hathaway of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

His statement is prompted by an October flurry of sunspots. "Last month we counted five sunspot groups," he says. That may not sound like much, but in a year with record-low numbers of sunspots and long stretches of utter spotlessness, five is significant. "This represents a real increase in solar activity."

Above: New-cycle sunspot group 1007 emerges on Halloween and marches across the face of the sun over a four-day period in early November 2008. Credit: the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

Even more significant is the fact that four of the five sunspot groups belonged to Solar Cycle 24, the long-awaited next installment of the sun's 11-year solar cycle. "October was the first time we've seen sunspots from new Solar Cycle 24 outnumbering spots from old Solar Cycle 23. It's a good sign that the new cycle is taking off."

Old Solar Cycle 23 peaked in 2000 and has since decayed to low levels. Meanwhile, new Solar Cycle 24 has struggled to get started. 2008 is a year of overlap with both cycles weakly active at the same time. From January to September, the sun produced a total of 22 sunspot groups; 82% of them belonged to old Cycle 23. October added five more; but this time 80% belonged to Cycle 24. The tables have turned.

At first glance, old- and new-cycle sunspots look the same, but they are not. To tell the difference, solar physicists check two things: a sunspot's heliographic latitude and its magnetic polarity. (1) New-cycle sunspots always appear at high latitude, while old-cycle spots cluster around the sun's equator. (2) The magnetic polarity of new-cycle spots is reversed compared to old-cycle spots. Four of October's five sunspot groups satisfied these two criteria for membership in Solar Cycle 24.

The biggest of the new-cycle spots emerged at the end of the month on Halloween. Numbered 1007, or "double-oh seven" for short, the sunspot had two dark cores each wider than Earth connected by active magnetic filaments thousands of kilometers long. Amateur astronomer Alan Friedman took this picture from his backyard observatory in Buffalo, New York:

On Nov. 3rd and again on Nov. 4th, double-oh seven unleashed a series of B-class solar flares. Although B-flares are considered minor, the explosions made themselves felt on Earth. X-rays bathed the dayside of our planet and sent waves of ionization rippling through the atmosphere over Europe. Hams monitoring VLF radio beacons noticed strange "fades" and "surges" caused by the sudden ionospheric disturbances.

Hathaway tamps down the excitement: "We're still years away from solar maximum and, in the meantime, the sun is going to have some more quiet stretches." Even with its flurry of sunspots, the October sun was mostly blank, with zero sunspots on 20 of the month's 31 days.

Monday, November 17, 2008

General Santos City


The City of General Santos (abbreviated G.S.C. or Gensan.; Filipino: Lungsod ng Heneral Santos, Cebuano: Dakbayan sa Heneral Santos) is a city in the Philippines. Situated in the southern part of the country, in the province of South Cotabato. The city has a population of 411,822 as of the 2000 census, making it one of the more populous cities in the Philippines. It is nicknamed as the "Tuna Capital of the Philippines".

General Santos City is bounded by three municipalities of Sarangani Province and two municipalities of South Cotabato, namely Alabel, Malungon, Maasim, Polomolok and T'boli. The city's economy is primarily agro-industrial. As a component of the SOCCSKSARGEN growth area, it has contributed much to the area's emergence as the country's leading producer of major commodities. Due to its rich soil, good rainfall and typhoon-free climate, the area is the largest producer of corn, coconuts, copra, pineapples, asparagus and rice. The area also produces other high value crops such as exotic fruits, potatoes, vegetables, cut flowers and okra. It accounts for the largest total daily fish landings in the country and is the leading producer of sashimi grade tuna. Residents boast that fish and seafood do not come fresher than in their city.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Alphabetical: College Football, Week 12

A is for Altitude.
Your one sentence summary for the weekend:

Blue-chip superpowers rage comfortably through the weakest slate of games this season.

Texas Tech and Oklahoma kept their respective points-machines in the garage this week. Alabama left no fingerprints in a heartless and clinical dissection of Mississippi State, a team that had won two straight against the Crimson Tide. Southern Cal let talent missiles loose against Stanford at the Farm. Florida staged a four-quarter mortification of their former coach at the Swamp. Ohio State pulverized a mistake-prone Illini team on the road.

Goliath had a good weekend, and Team Under Armour will have to wait until next week to stage plucky upsets. Steady state dynamics for the moment ruled, something the next two weeks should cure in short order.

B is for But! Minor ripples of interest, though, persist: Michigan sealed the worst season in its 129 history in a snowstruck loss to Northwestern, Steve Spurrier suffered his worst loss ever as a head coach in the Florida game, Maryland continued to play ACC Roulette by beating UNC, South Florida flopped spectacularly, LSU had to score 30 in the fourth quarter to beat Troy (the ones from Alabama,) Oregon State remained on the Rose Bowl track, and Boise State and Utah remained undefeated in lopsided fashion. This was a pig of a weekend, but you cannot prevent us from putting it in a tuxedo and calling it a gentleman nonetheless.

C is for Courtesy. Cincy head coach Brian Kelly is full of sportsmanship and good cheer. For evidence, please see the 7:45 mark in the video, where players hoist the keg of nails, shout some huzzahs, and then a grumpy man marches across the screen from right to left waving off some unseen, off camera person dismissively.

The man off-camera is Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe, who denied the traditional post-game handshake after a pre-game argument over Cincinnati having a prayer at the 50 yard line on the Louisville logo. Kelly was furious over the tiff after Cincy won 28-20 and took the inside track to the Big East championship. I'm sure he's a delightful man at parties, especially after you beat him at a game of Cranium or something.

D is for Deflated. USF's season, post-Kansas win: a proud, floating piece of engineering filled with explosive hot air. The October 2nd 26-21 loss to Pittsburgh: a man smoking carelessly on the foredeck. The result:

Or put in a mathematical sense, a 1-4 skid through the Big East with only a win against conference garbage scow Syracuse as comfort. Please put the reminder not to get too excited about South Florida into the electronic pal of your choice, and schedule it to go off somewhere around October 1st, 2009. We'll all need it again next year, too. From a friend who was at the game: "USF should have arrived to the game in a clown car." Six turnovers merit some big shoes and rainbow wigs, methinks.

E is for Excellence in Play-calling. Needing a TD late in the fourth quarter with 8 minutes left, Auburn opted for the following play sequence.

1st-10, UGa28 6:08 B. Tate rushed to the right for 3 yard gain
2nd-7, UGa25 5:41 B. Tate rushed up the middle for 4 yard gain
3rd-3, UGa21 5:12 B. Tate rushed to the left for no gain
4th-3, UGa21 4:13 K. Burns incomplete pass to the right

Two cardinal sins in one series occurred here. First, the hot hand, Mario Fannin, who rushed for 107 yards and had 2 TDs on the day, sat on the bench for the final drive. Why? The math-deficient answer from Tommy Tuberville:

"Ben was running the ball pretty good," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said afterward.

Tailback Ben Tate finished with 37 yards on 14 rushes. He averaged 2.6 yards per carry compared to Fannin, whose average was 7.4 and whose big-play ability gave the Tigers a chance in the first place.
He was not running the ball well, and also was not running the ball with any sense or hope thanks to the offensive play-calling by the Auburn coaching staff, who attempted three straight runs into a keyed-in Georgia defense before hopelessly flailing away with Burns on fourth down. Tony Franklin was a problem at Auburn, but not the problem.

F is for Fat, and Occasionally Charming. He is so insufferably arrogant he is likely making the joke just to hear himself talk, but Charlie Weis did give quality quote after Navy pulled off two onside kicks in a 27-21 victory over Navy.

''I'm looking to see if anyone wants to be on my hands team next week,'' Weis said after Navy recovered two late onside kicks. ''Any volunteers?''
Weis also stubbornly ran 51 times against the 96th ranked pass defense in college football. Hey, a win's a win!

G is for Gutted. Losing by fifty is definitive enough, but all but conceding the game with a throwback play to go down 21-0 turned a romp into comedic farce for South Carolina. It was car-crash bad, a slow-motion disaster, so bad you had to laugh, and had "Yakety Sax" playing behind it even though no music was playing at Florida Field. Daring converted to lunacy becoming farce = this game.

H is for HBCU. Kudos and due plaudits forwarded to ESPN for taking a lackluster slate of national games and ditching them for a trip to FAMU in Tallahassee, giving some much-needed pub for HBCUs and their thumping football traditions including -- yes, obligatory mention -- the furious Marching 100 of the FAMU band.

Getting this nightmare fuel out of your head, though, will be a very difficult task.

MAKE ITS DEAD EYES STOP LOOKING AT ME -- deep breath happy place deep breath happy place ....

I is for Ice Station Zebra. In his crazy reclusive Vegas penthouse stage, Howard Hughes watched the film Ice Station Zebra over 150 times. The film focuses on competing Soviet and American submarine recovery teams attempting to find a satellite that crashes to earth in the Arctic in appalling conditions.

Forgive me for having Hughes flashbacks watching Northwestern/Michigan, a fight between three teams: the Wildcats, the Wolverines, and the elements. Snow fell throughout the second half, covering camera lenses and reducing the screen to a foggy haze of green, white, and sludgy browns.

The little bits of purple and white running around won 21-14 on two late passes by C.J. Bacher. While every account of the game will focus on Michigan officially locking up the worst season in the 129 season history of the program, please note the eight wins for Northwestern this season, and that their coach is 34 years old, and that these are all very cuddly and heartwarmings things for a program whose head coach dropped dead two years ago and could have taken the program's success with him if not for the work of a young and tenacious coach bent on keeping Northwestern alive. Triumph despite the elements is Northwestern football under Pat Fitzgerald. Let it snow.

J is for Jealousy. To the points-poor around the nation -- Hello, Auburn! -- direct all jealousy to Houston. Case Keening threw for six touchdowns in a 70-30 defeat of fellow blowout artists Tulsa. Tulsa coach Todd Graham had no comment on the game afterward, as he was in the bathroom talking to his agent on his cell phone.

K is for Kismet. Da'Rel Scott really was ready in his way in Maryland's 17-15 victory, but Chris Turner and his beautiful Little Lord Fauntleroy curls deserve mention for grabbing fate's coattails and not letting go on the final drive against North Carolina.

Down 15-14 late, Maryland embarked on the kind of drive you knew in your bones would score: 19 grinding plays, several invented from thin air by Turner, including a nine yard scramble on 4th and 5 and a 3rd and 11 reception pulled down by Ronnie Tyler on 3rd and long. The ACC is frustrating, but it is never boring in the fourth quarter. (Attention Gameplan: a "fourth quarter alert" for all ACC games would be a nice feature for next year.)

L is for Limpid. As in "absolutely serene and untroubled," and just the word to describe Jarrett Boykin as he uses his Tyree hand (e.g. his head) to catch this pass against Miami Thursday night.

Dez Briscoe of KU made a nearly identical catch in third quarter of KU/Texas, as well. Both deserve notice for outstanding circus catches made in service of middling squads, a.k.a the Calvin Johnson Award for Outstanding Service in the Name of 7-5ish Teams.

M is for Muddle. If you're wondering who's going to win the ACC, it's simple in that everyone and no one are basically alive for a title. Maryland leads the Atlantic Division right now, and Miami leads the Coastal after UNC's loss to Maryland. If both of these teams win out, they meet in the ACC Championship game in Tampa. See, isn't that easy? This is the ACC, and both teams will fail to do this, but it is a nice, tidy thought, isn't it?

N is for Name. Your name of the week: Cooter Arnold, wide receiver for North Carolina. That he and Tennessee quarterback Jim Bob Cooter never got to play on the same team and thus establish the legendary "Cooter to Cooter" connection is one of life's great crimes against you. Never forget this.

O is for Onslaught. Florida and USC both hit a point in their games Saturday where their talent differential kicked in and did the work for them. In SoCal's case, it was C.J. Gable galloping loose on a kickoff return against Stanford; in Florida's case, it was a simple Percy Harvin run turning a 28-3 rout with some competitive hope left into a travesty. Talent takes three yard gains and turns them into 70 yard game-breakers. It turns 17-17 into 45-23 in the span of a half. At its best, it is both horrifying and awesome at the same time to watch in action.

[Editor's Note: We assure you, Spencer did include a 'P' here, but we were asked to remove it. You will spend the rest of your life wondering what was written here originally.]

Q is for Quarkbacks, Unite. Subatomic particle-sized running backs are your new bicycle, and you love it. Florida's three-headed wonder midget of Rainey/Demps/Harvin tallied 265 yards and four TDs against South Carolina. Self-described "little dude" Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 144 yards and a score against a stout Cal defense. BC's Montel Harris, generously listed at 5'10", gouged 121 yards out of FSU's hide and scored a TD in showing them that yes, perhaps they should have recruited him out of Jacksonville. This is the era of the Quarkback, and Murray Gell-Mann will tell you all six flavors are delicious (unless you're an opposing defense, of course).

T is for Tim Brando Never Lie, Yo.

"America can't wait for that matchup, can they?" -- Tim Brando in reference to a possible Rose Bowl matchup between Oregon State and Penn State, who fought to a thrilling 45-14 victory over the Beavers earlier this season at Happy Valley. Sarcasm is the tastiest of rhetorics.

U is for Unpunctual. LSU was late and did not appear for their scheduled game with Troy University until the fourth quarter, where they scored 30 points to finally overcome a 31-10 3rd quarter deficit and save the Mad Hatter from extreme embarrassment at home. Most fans missed the comeback, as the stands were reportedly half-empty when the Tigers exploded to prevent the upset. Christmas gifts for LSU: we recommend a defensive coordinator, a colorblindness test for Jarrett Lee (who threw another pick six in this game), and that old reliable for Miles, white hat polish. (Never fails to please.)

V is for Victory Hurts. Blake Gideon, outstanding freshman safety for the Texas Longhorns, learns that sometimes even victory can involve getting knocked out by a rampaging running back like Kansas' Angus Quigley.

The arms twitching: that's the queasy part there. For the record, Texas is describing it as a hard hit and is "evaluating" Gideon's condition. (Meaning: it's a concussion, because when you take a walloping helmet to helmet hit and ride the invisible motorcycle like that, you're concussed, and will likely play next week anyway.)

W is for Walloped. With a shovel, specifically. Miami ripped six sacks out of Virginia Tech, doing it the way they do it in the 305: nastily with four down linemen bent on inflicting pain and humiliation on all they see before them. Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor ran like confused antelope all night, surrendering three sacks to Marcus Robinson alone. The game ended with Taylor being sacked by Allen Bailey, who once killed an alligator with a shovel. (Note: each time Allen Bailey's name is uttered, I will mention that he once killed an alligator with a shovel.)

Y is for Your Comeback is Due Any Day Now. Florida State's return to greatness -- the one promised under De Facto Coach Pro Tempore Jimbo Fisher and nails-hard offensive line coach Rick Trickett -- is once again postponed. We apologize for the delay, but Boston College ran for 176 yards on our vaunted defense despite the fact everyone was wearing black shirts because Nike asked them to for a "blackout." (The black out is 1-2 this year, BTW: Georgia, loss against Alabama at home; Utah, win over TCU.) We also promise not to lose homecoming to Boston College in the future if this is a preventable scenario, and thus not blow yet another shot at making the ACC championship game this year. Thank you for your patience. Signed, the Florida State University football program.

Z is for Zaniness. It is the official stated policy of the Alphabetical that watching Jim Tressel call an offensive game is like watching an old man attempt to break into a house in that is both wrong and poorly done. I'd rather get my teeth cleaned by someone in the grips of delirium tremens than have him call the plays for my football team. This is not because it is ineffective, but because it is suicidally boring.

Ohio State saves us from this in two ways. Beanie Wells sometimes does this ...

... and because Terrelle Pryor thinks college football is easy, and flipped lids once again with dextrous improv against Illinois in proving his own assessment of the game correct. Imagining Pryor's exploits in an offense capable of fully exploiting his assets- - like the one run by Chip Kelly at Oregon, for example -- will have us distracted for the rest of the year. For me this idea is like having Vida Guerra doing squats next to you at the gym, but in a non-lecherous football sense, of course.

Johnson wins record-tying 3rd Cup title

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Nothing could stop Jimmie Johnson's drive into the NASCAR record books. Not even a final, furious push by Carl Edwards.

Edwards led a race-high 157 laps, ran out of gas as he crossed the finish line, but still won Sunday's season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Still, his series-high ninth win of the year wasn't enough to wrest away the Sprint Cup title.

Johnson locked up his third consecutive championship with a solid 15th-place run, beating Edwards by 69 points to join Cale Yarborough as the only drivers in NASCAR history to win three straight titles.

"It's the ultimate reward. We worked so hard to put ourselves in this position," Johnson said. "It's just total teamwork and dedication. There were times this year when things were dark, but we buckled down and got to work and that's what it was really all about."

Yarborough won his three titles 30 years ago, under a different scoring system and in a very different NASCAR. He accomplished his feat when drivers scraped together the cash they needed to race, and the champion was the guy on top at the end of a long grueling season.

Johnson's titles have been won in the glitzy new Chase to the championship format, where the best 12 drivers compete over a 10-race sprint to the title.

Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team have mastered the system, proving themselves unbeatable in their pursuit of Yarborough's mark. They've won their titles with consistency — he finished outside the top 10 just twice in this Chase, a 15th-place finish at Texas — and by winning eight of the last 30 Chase races.

They've also gotten very rich along the way: Johnson has won more than $2 million in the 10 Chase races this year. Yarborough earned a combined $1.63 million in all three of his championship seasons.

Although the industry was keenly aware of its front row seat to history, the celebration seemed subdued because of the economic crisis that's finally found its way to NASCAR. The Big Three automakers are crumbling, car owners are struggling to find sponsorship, and widespread layoffs are expected Monday, when teams could combine to let go up to 1,000 employees.

Just this weekend, NASCAR said it would suspend all testing next year to help teams save millions in their 2009 budgets.

Had the crisis hit earlier, and the testing ban was in place this season, Johnson very well might not have won the title. He struggled at the start of the year in adapting to the full-time use of NASCAR's current car, so he and crew chief Chad Knaus embarked on an aggressive testing schedule that helped them catch the competition by late summer.

By the time the Chase began in September, Johnson drove right past them.

"It's what we work for, it's what we do," said Knaus, the first crew chief to win three consecutive titles. "We don't want to do anything but race and win races and win championships."

When Edwards won back-to-back races at Atlanta and Texas to take a bite out of Johnson's points lead, Johnson rebounded with a win at Phoenix last week to make Sunday's drive a mere formality. He needed only to finish 36th or better to win the title, but got off to a rocky start when he qualified 30th.

But Johnson moved to the top of the speed charts in Saturday's practices, then wasted no time driving through the field at the start of the race. He picked up at least one position a lap at the start, and was running inside the top-10 as the race neared its conclusion.

He stopped for gas and tires with 13 laps to go, leading to his 15th-place finish.

Edwards pushed it to the limit, knowing he had to win the race, lead the most laps and pray for Johnson to have some trouble to win his first title. But he was a gracious runner-up, and after his trademark celebratory backflip, he walked over to Johnson's passing car on the track to congratulate him.

"At least we can lay our heads down tonight and know we won some races and just got beaten by a true champion," Edwards said.

It was the second straight night Edwards won the race, yet still came up empty in the championship bid. He won Saturday night's Nationwide Series event, but came up 21 points short of champion Clint Bowyer.

Edwards' win Sunday chopped 72 points off of Johnson's margin and he was optimistic as he crossed the finish line, radioing his Roush Fenway Racing team "we'll definitely get them next year."

Kevin Harvick finished second and was followed by Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon, who finished the year winless for the first time since his 1993 rookie season. But the four-time series champion didn't let his own struggles dampen his Hendrick teammate's celebration, as Gordon walked to the victory stage to offer his congratulations.

Bowyer finished fifth and was followed by Kasey Kahne, Travis Kvapil and Casey Mears.

Tony Stewart, in his final ride for Joe Gibbs Racing after a successful 10-year run, wound up ninth after giving up the lead late in the race to pit for fuel.

"We didn't win the race, but they knew we were here and we showed why we've been champions and won 33 races with this team," said Stewart, who is leaving to run his own race team next season.

Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top 10.

Matt Kenseth, who won the 2003 series championship in the final year of the old points system, led late but ran out of fuel and finished 25th in his first winless season in seven years.

"We just can't seem to get things to go our way," said Kenseth, who was frustrated teammate Edwards could stretch his gas but he could not. "I don't understand how he can make power and still get that much better fuel mileage than us. I had such a big lead, I was just riding around."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Classic Car Era

The Classic Car Era came after World War II, when men and machines were once again available and technology was at an all time high. Classic cars are generally thought of as vehicles built before 1970, when pollution control, economy and safety regulations had yet to become design and production issues. The Cold War, the Communist threat in Cuba, civil rights and Vietnam brought new strife to the American people in the 1960's, and new concerns for Detroit. As foreign automakers imported a new breed of compact, more efficient cars American automakers responded by dropping their trademark fins. Consumers eagerly accepted GMs' all new Corvair, Fords' Falcon and Chryslers' Valiant. The smaller cars went faster and the introduction of the Big Block V-8's assured Americans that the horsepower war was still on.

1955 Chevrolet Nomad

1955 Chevrolet Nomad

The American automobile industry began about 1900 and drove the US into the Industrial Revolution in the 1920's with replaceable parts and the assembly line. The first fifty years was an unruly time with an "anything goes" attitude by manufacturers and consumers alike. These were the years of The Great Depression, two World Wars, and the birth of labor unions. There were no government regulations and little regard for pollution or vehicle safety and today we think of it as the Antique Car Era.

As the American people recovered from World War I they embraced the assembly line techniques of Henry Ford and the Industrial Revolution was born. And for the next ten years, until the Great Depression in 1929, a new breed of pioneers like Ford, Daimler, Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge, Studebaker, Olds and Hudson led the way in a winner-take-all frenzy that created hundreds of limited production and one-of-a-kind vehicles, without standards or regulations, during the Vintage Car Era.

By 1964 the Big Three had stuffed V-8 engines into their mid-size cars and the Muscle Car was born with names like Camero, Firebird and Barracuda. Throughout this new profusion of speed and visual marketing AMC managed to hold on to a distant fourth place but in 1966 Studebaker closed its doors.

The American automobile industry was knocked to its knees in the 1970's by two significant events. First, the Clean Air Act of 1970 practically killed the use of high performance engines over the next few years. And then the oil embargo in the winter of 1973 encouraged consumers to conserve gasoline. By 1978 Congress had passed the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rule and Detroit was scrambling to comply. The gas-guzzlers of the past were replaced by smaller, more efficient vehicles modeled after the ever-present imports and an all new race for fuel economy supremacy began - marking the end of the Classic Car Era.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Meaning of Christmas

While Christmas is so familiar that we sometimes wonder whether anything fresh and true can be said about it, there is a way to explore its meaning that may seem new to us today, yet is in fact quite traditional, dating back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Fathers of the Church.

Christmas is so familiar that we sometimes wonder whether anything fresh and true can be said about it.

But there is a way to explore its meaning that may seem new to us today, yet is in fact quite traditional, dating back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Fathers of the Church.

Modern interpreters often argue about whether a given Scripture passage should be interpreted literally or symbolically. Medieval writers would question the “either/or” approach. They thought a passage could have as many as four “right” interpretations, one literal and three symbolic.

These were: (1) the historical or literal, which is the primary sense on which the others all depend; (2) the prophetic sense when an Old Testament event foreshadows its New Testament fulfillment; (3) the moral or spiritual sense, when events and characters in a story correspond to elements in our own lives; and (4) the eschatological sense, when a scene on earth foreshadows something of heavenly glory.

This symbolism is legitimate because it doesn’t detract from the historical, literal sense, but builds on and expands it. It’s based on the theologically sound premise that history too symbolizes, or points beyond itself, for God wrote three books, not just one: nature and history as well as Scripture. The story of history is composed not only of “events,” but of words, signs and symbols. This is unfamiliar to us only because we have lost a sense of depth and exchanged it for a flat, one-dimensional, “bottom-line” mentality in which everything means only one thing.

Let’s try to recapture the riches of this lost worldview by applying the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world — but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.

There are two ways to connecting the historical and the spiritual senses. The Jesuit method, from St. Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises,” tells us to imaginatively place ourselves into the Gospel stories. The older Augustinian method tells us to look for elements of the story in our lives. We shall be using this latter method as we survey the scene in Bethlehem for the next four weeks.

Look at your Nativity set. Around the Christ Child you see four people or groups: Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the shepherds. We are all around the Christ Child, defined by our relationship to Him; we are all Marys, Josephs, wise men or shepherds.

The Shepherds

Let’s consider the shepherds first.

They are peasants: simple, hard-working, honest people. Under our layers of modern sophistication and education, we are all peasants. It’s the peasant soul in us, the child in us, that hears angels, that is hailed by the heavenly glory, that dares to hope and wonder with awe.

The shepherds are outdoors, exposed to God’s sky, not protected by human artifice. Even when we’re in an office, surrounded by technology, the shepherd-self in us is always in this situation. No place is safe from God’s invasion.

They are “keeping watch by night.” In the darkness they wait and watch, like the little child at the center of our souls. And it’s in the darkness that the heavenly light dawns. In the silence is heard the angels’ song. Kierkegaard said, “If I could prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed, no one would hear it; there is too much noise. Therefore, create silence.”

The shepherds are “keeping watch over their sheep,” as our soul watches over its body with its flock of desires, responsible for the care and direction of our herd or instincts. It’s as we go about this humdrum daily business that supernatural grace comes to us through the ministry of angels. We do not usually see them, as the shepherds did, but they are there. In heaven we will recognize them, and their role in our lives. “So it was you all the time! It was you who were there...then...”

“The glory of the Lord shone round about them.” This is the shekinah, the heavenly light that had appeared visibly over the Ark of the Covenant and on Mount Sinai. We can still see it, but only with the inner eye of faith. Only if we believe, do we see.

“They were afraid.” We fear the unknown, the opening skies, the passages between worlds, like birth and death. Even when the angel says, “Fear not,” the event is no less momentous, The awe is now joyful, not fearsome; but it’s still “awe-full.” It is “good tidings of great joy.” Joy can be as awesome as fear. The Good News, the incredible event of the Incarnation, is the most joyful and the most awesome news we have ever heard.

The angel tells the shepherds that this event is “to you.” Not just to “mankind” in general, but to us, these ordinary individuals — Almighty God comes to our fields, stables, offices and homes. This is no prerecorded message; this is God calling us up personally.

The shepherds’ response is immediate and practical: “Let us go to Bethlehem.” The angel’s message has power; it moves people to go. When Cicero addressed the Roman senate, everyone said, “How beautifully he speaks!” But they remained in their seats. Yet when Demosthenes addressed the Greek army, they leaped up, clashed spear upon shield and said, “Let us march!”

The angels are like Demosthenes. Scholars, seeing angels, say, “Let us interpret this.” Shepherds, seeing angels, say, “Let us go.” Karl Marx was profoundly right when he said, “Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the thing is to change it.” Both bad religion (Marx’s) and good religion (Christ’s) change the world.

Unlike the wise men, the shepherds have no gifts to bring Christ. They are poor beggars — like us. “Just As I Am” is our song. They come with dirt under their fingernails and in their souls. They come to receive, not to bargain; to wonder, not to understand. They run to Bethlehem to fall on their knees — that is, to fulfill the ultimate purpose for which we were all created.

Like us, the shepherds need to come only a short way to meet Him, from the fields to the stable. But He came an infinite distance to meet them; from heaven to earth, from eternity to time, from infinite joy to squalor, suffering and death. He desired that meeting with all His heart. For that meeting the very stars that sang on that holy night were created as mere stage props. What the simple shepherds do is the highest and holiest thing any saint or mystic ever does, on earth or in heaven.

It is the thing we shall be doing for all eternity: loving and adoring God. We had better learn from the shepherds and start practicing now.

Wise Men Still Seek Him

“WISE MEN still seek Him,” reads the bumper sticker.

Fools think they are wise, so they do not search. The three wise men go on a pilgrimage, on a search, because they know they are not wise.

Just as saints know they are sinners but sinners think they are saints, good people do not call themselves “good people” and wise men do not call themselves wise.

Thus, the wise seek. And all seekers find, according to our Lord’s own promise. But only seekers find. If the wise man in us will travel far from home, comfort and security, then we may arrive at Bethlehem.

As Pascal says, there are only three kinds of people: those who have sought God and found Him (these are reasonable and happy), those who are seeking God and have not yet found Him (these are reasonable and unhappy), and those who neither see God nor find Him (these are unreasonable and unhappy). Everyone in the second class makes it into the first; all seekers find. But only seekers.

The wise men came from “the East,” the land of the rising sun, the symbol of hope. Any pilgrimage we begin in seeking God, in any part of our lives, is undertaken for this motive. Hope is one of the three most necessary things in the world, one of the three theological virtues. Hope is our energy, our trigger, our motive power.

They make their pilgrimage from East to West. Oriental wisdom must turn West to find Christ, and the West — Rome — must go East. For Christ is born at the center. He is at the center of all things metaphysically, so it’s fitting that He be born at the physical center of the world as well, between East and West, North and South, between ancient and modern times. All time centers on Him; all dates are B.C. or A.D. Everything is relative to Him. He is the absolute.

The East’s mentality is mystical and mythical. The Eastern mind has no trouble believing in the supernatural. It needs to make a pilgrimage to the material and the natural, to the Christ in whom all truths in myths become historical fact. He is the dying and rising God myths point to like a star.

The West, on the other hand, has a practical, materialistic mentality. This was true of Rome and it’s still true of the modern West. It must make a pilgrimage to the East, to the spiritual and the supernatural. Christ is everything: Each culture can become whole only in Him.

The wise men have seen His sign. They were eagerly looking, ready and alert like the shepherds, “keeping watch by night” over their flock of responsibilities — the heavens. The stars were their sheep. The earthly shepherds were surprised by angels from heaven, while the heaven-gazing wise men were surprised by a baby in a cow barn.

Like the shepherds, they came — a long, dangerous journey. But nothing is more dangerous than missing Christ. Life itself is a journey, a pilgrimage. The image of the road is perhaps the most powerful in all our literature, especially all our great epics: “Gilgamesh,” “The Odyssey,” “The Aeneid,” “The Divine Comedy,” “The Lord of the Rings.” For man, as distinct from everything else, life is a search for our true identity. Man alone has an identity crisis. And that true identity is found only in God, for He alone, as our Author and Designer, has the secret of our identity in His eternal plan. “Your life is hid with Christ in God,” says St. Paul, and “our citizenship is in heaven.”

The wise men come to worship, just as the shepherds do. That’s why they are wise; not because they know the means, the way, but because they know the end; not because they lift their heads to the stars but because they bow their knees to the Baby. Wisdom is not the pride of cleverness in knowledge, but the humility of holiness. “The fear of the Lord, that is the beginning of wisdom.”

Different from the shepherds in every way but one — rich, not poor; Eastern, not Western; clever, not simple; from afar, not from near; unearthy, not earthy — yet they are like the shepherds in “the one thing necessary”: Like Mary, they sit at Jesus’ feet. They know the end of their pilgrimage. They know the ultimate purpose of human existence; adoration of God and love of man in Christ, the God-man. Whether we are like the shepherds or like the wise men therefore matters not at all. “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free.”

They bring gifts. They open their treasures. Some of us have rich talents to bring to Christ; others, like the shepherds, have only themselves, their poverty, their work. What matters is not what we give but whether we give, how much we give (all, like the widow’s pence), and how we give (freely, “for God loves a cheerful giver”).

Remember: Life too is a gift. God gives us our lives, our very existence, and then His life in substitution when we forfeited ours by sin. Our fundamental response to God must be like His to us: the gift of self.

For that is the inescapable law, since it is the very nature of ultimate reality, the Blessed Trinity itself. The Father eternally gives Himself to the Son, and the Son in return eternally gives Himself to the Father, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from them as this mutual gift of love, so real that He eternally becomes a distinct Person. Marriage and childbearing are holy because they dimly reflect this ultimate reality on a biological level.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh were their gifts, and must be ours. Gold is for Christ the King. Frankincense is for Christ the prophet. Myrrh, burial spices, is for Christ the priest who will offer Himself up to death in sacrifice for us. We too must give Christ our gold, our homage, acclaiming Him king of our lives. The fullness of His kingdom is us, our lives; for His kingdom is the Church and we are the Church.

We must give Him our frankincense; we must smell, taste and see His words, His prophetic good news. He is Himself His news; the message is the messenger.

And we must give Him our myrrh, accept His death for us, participate in His death and burial to be saved. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The wise men were there, even though their bodies had returned 33 years before Calvary to the East or to the dust. At Mass we become present at Calvary. We offer our gifts — extensions of our selves — and He transforms them, gifts and selves, into His Body.

Three wise men, three gifts, three offices (prophet, priest and king), three parts of the human soul (intellect, heart and will) because the Inventor and Designer of man is three. The medieval mind saw Trinitarian echoes everywhere, for a very good reason: Everything is made by the Trinity, and what is made must reflect its Maker. Our fear of “fanciful symbolism” is fanciful; our preference for the “realistic” is unrealistic.

The wise men are warned in a dream and protected against Herod. That in us which seeks and finds wisdom — the soul — is not harmed by the powers of the world. Even Socrates knew that “no evil can happen to a good man.” Our modern-day Herods may have killed the bodies of 18 million holy innocents since Roe vs. Wade, but they cannot kill those innocents’ souls, only their own.

“They returned praising God,” for they came seeking God. As St. Augustine says in the last, great sentence of his “Confessions”: “They that seek the Lord shall find Him, and they that find Him shall praise Him.”

The wisdom-seeking wise man in us, the intellect, can praise God too. The computer in us knows nothing of praise, any more than the computer outside us does, but the God-seeking intellect does. A computer can calculate, but only a man or woman can praise. It is the end for which we were created.

Joseph & The Power of Obedience

Being the “strong silent type,” Joseph says little in the Gospels. Yet he does much just by being there and by being himself: Joseph the just; Joseph the worker; Joseph the foster-father, the reliable, the available.

Like most men in most cultures, Joseph speaks by his daily work. In this ordinariness, Christ is present, a man as human and even as ordinary as Joseph, a carpenter.

Like Mary, who quietly pondered in her heart (Luke 2:19), Joseph stands there in the manger scene, in silent readiness. That is how Christ comes to him, to Mary, to us.

Christ had invaded Joseph’s life most intimately just when it seemed God had abandoned him to tragedy: His beloved Mary was pregnant, but not by him.

Joseph suffers in silence. Noise, fussiness, rebellion and busyness cover over inner hurts; perhaps that’s why there is so much of these qualities in our world.

Joseph responds to his crisis both justly and charitably; in him “justice and peace meet together.” He resolves to “put Mary away,” i.e,. to break the solemn engagement rather than live a lie. That is justice. But for Mary’s sake, “privately.” That is charity.

Then the angel came to him, as he had come to Mary earlier and would come later to the shepherds. Only the gentiles, the wise men from the East, had no angel. But they had the stars to guide them, and they too were God’s messengers leading to Christ, as St. Paul says natural reason can do (Rom. 1:19-20).

The angelic message, as usual, begins with “fear not.” For the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and Joseph was a wise man. But it is not the end. Fear exists to be overcome with love (1 John 4:18).

The angel, God’s news broadcaster, announces the good news, the ev-angel-ium: that this apparent tragedy was God’s work. God, not man, certified by His angel that this revelation, this Word of God, this Christ, was from God, and not man, from a divine father, not a human one.

Joseph provided for Mary and Jesus: travel to Bethlehem, shelter for the birth and later safety in Egypt from murderous Herod. But Joseph could not afford a horse, only a donkey. He could not get a room in the inn, only a cattle stall. He may have thought himself a failure as a provider, as many a man feels today if he cannot afford to give his family “the best.” But he has not failed; he can be “the best.” Look how Mary and Jesus turned out under Joseph’s providence.

But his work was for them, not for him. He was no work addict. He is not always in his carpenter shop; but he is always there for his family.

Even Satan cannot defeat this simple man. Satan inspires Herod to slaughter the innocents, as he inspires our modern Herods to the holocaust of abortion. But Satan fails because Joseph obeys God’s angel and provides for his family: two deeds of ordinariness that are more powerful against the very forces of hell than anything else in the world. Take away all the Nobel Prize winners and humanity would still survive. But take away obedience to God and loyalty to family, and even with a million Nobel Prize winners, humanity is doomed. And these are precisely the two traditional values most imperiled in our time.

When the threat passes, Joseph takes his family home. Home — that holy word, symbolic of heaven. Homecoming was cruelly delayed but Joseph was patient and did not run ahead of God, whatever the circumstances. Travel to and living in a foreign land were no vacation then; rather, they involved real hardship. But to run ahead of God onto our own path is to run out of the only real safety (however dangerous it appears) into danger (however safe it appears).

If Joseph had been less obedient, Mary and Jesus may not have survived. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church, but the same divine Providence which wills that end also wills the means: our faithfulness, our free choice to trust and obey, like Joseph.

Joseph appears briefly 12 years later when Jesus is lost and found in the Temple. Surely he shared Mary’s pain of loss and joy of finding, as we do whenever we lose Christ in disobedience and find Him in reconciliation. We too find Jesus in the Church, where He is even now “going about His Father’s business.” Unlike Mary, Joseph was a sinner. Mary shared only our pain in losing Christ; Joseph also shared our guilt. No sinner was ever so humanly close to Christ as Joseph was.

We hear absolutely nothing more about Joseph. The rest of his life is as silent as Christ’s silent, Joseph-like years. These years are like the hidden troughs of a wave which propel it forward: The visible froth on the crest is only the effect. Never think God has put you on the shelf; He has only planted you in the ground.

The last thing Scripture says about Joseph is that Christ was subject to him and Mary and grew in soul and body (Luke 2:51-52). Obedience is food. Christ grew by obeying. Later He said “Doing the will of Him who sent me and bringing His work to completion is my food” (John 4:34).

Christ practiced first toward Mary and Joseph the substance of what He preached, the way of obedience, the simple secret of all sanctity, Mary’s “fiat,” the will’s “yes.” “Son (of God) though He was, He learned obedience through suffering” later at Calvary, because He had first learned it earlier in Nazareth. The perfect fruit was plucked on Calvary only because it had grown and been nourished under Joseph’s and Mary’s care. That is what parenting is: spiritual gardening.

Thus Joseph, like Mary, shares in the work of redemption. And so do we. That is the ultimate dignity of daily work and obedience. It saves the world. Our acts of love to God and neighbor can save souls from hell, souls we have never met in this life. (What a merry meeting it would be to encounter them in the next!)

Like the angels, we are unseen actors behind the scenes of the play, helping with the stage sets or the lighting, unspectacular but necessary roles in the great drama of salvation. And that is the significance of our daily work (and that of St. Joseph the Worker). It is the sacrament of the ordinary.

Mary: Humankind's Only Boast

In the Nativity scene, everyone is grouped around the Christ child. For He is the center of everything.

“By Him and for Him all things were created” (Col. 1:16). Even the animals, even the star, group themselves around Him. But especially, people surround Him.

We’ve so far explored three of the four persons or groups around Christ in the creche, and we’ve searched for the significance of the shepherds, the wise men and Joseph in our own lives. Now we turn to Mary, the fourth and most important figure near Jesus, the one who surrounds Him with her very flesh.

Immediately a problem arises. How can we identify with an immaculately conceived woman who never experienced original sin; the woman who is “our tainted nature’s solitary boast,” as Coventry Patmore sang of her? How can we discover in ourselves the privilege of being Theotokos, the Mother of God? We can find the simple shepherd, the questing wise man or the silent, faithful Joseph in ourselves perhaps, but how can we find Mary?

Yet, find her we must. We must beware lest we set Mary at a distance, as medieval people set Christ at a distance and because of that, turned to Mary instead as the loving one, the close one, to close the gap. This is a mistake, of course, for there is no gap; or rather, Christ Himself closed it. And so does Mary, for she sends us right to Christ, and Christ sends us to the Father, so that there is not gap left. No gap between Father and Son: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” No gap between Christ and Mary, for her task is to show unto us, the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus.

Mary shows us the way. Christ does not show us the way. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Finally, there is no gap between us and Mary either, for we can all find Mary within ourselves, if we are Christians. Mary is the archetypal Christian.

But she was immaculately conceived! Yes, but so is the supernatural life of grace in our souls. To be Christian at all, to be baptized and born again by water in the Spirit, is to have something immaculate in us that can endure the very light of heaven and the gaze of God: a share in divine life. To us too, the angelic salutation comes: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!” If we are not full of grace, if the Lord is not with us, we are not saved.

The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the holy offspring to be born of you will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35). But we are addressed by the same angelic news. Our soul, like Mary’s body, is to receive God Himself if only we, like her, believe, consent and receive; if only we speak her truly magic word fiat, “let it be.” It is the creative word, the word God used to create the universe.

If we speak Mary’s word, then the Word of God is born in our souls just as really as He was in Mary’s body and just as really as He is in the Eucharist. What happened in Bethlehem, what happens in our souls and what happens when we receive the Eucharist is the same event under three different modes. It is simply the most important thing that ever happened or can happen. It is the Incarnation.

That’s why Mary is the archetypal Christian. In her happens the thing bigger than the Big Bang, more creative than creation, the thing that also happens in us. Kierkegaard says, “Do you think it is a great thing for God to crate the universe out of nothing? I will tell you a greater thing He does: He creates saints out of sinners.”

That too is truly creation, bara. This unique Hebrew word means not to make out of something but to create out of nothing. Only God can do it. It’s what David prays for in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” The Incarnation — in Mary and in us — is God’s answer to that most fundamental of all human needs.

But how can we identify with Mary if she is a type of the Church, the very house of God? Because we are the Church, the body of Christ, the house of God.

In Mary is both virgin and mother! Yes, and so are we. The divine life in us is also virginal, with no fleshly father. “What is born of the flesh is flesh, what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). And we conceive, bear and nurture that precious seed of divine life in our souls as Mary did in her womb; we too “mother” God. That is why St. Paul says, “For me to live is Christ,” and “I live, nevertheless not I, but Christ lives in me.”

But Mary was assumed into heaven! Yes, and so shall we be, in the Resurrection.

But Mary is the Queen of heaven! Yes, and she is our mother, and a mother loves nothing more that to share with her children all her privileges. Even now she is helping Christ prepare our heavenly home, decorating our rooms for us.

But Mary is a woman; how can a man identify with her? Because as the saints say, to God we are all feminine. Even the Latin word “soul,” anima, is feminine. Woman symbolizes the soul in its relation to God better than man does. We do not impregnate God; God impregnates us with His life.

The very receptivity, the very secondness, of the feminine is thus raised to privileged status, as the Magnificat shows. The lowly, quiet, womblike, receptive power of the soul, the response to the divine husband’s initiative — this is the highest and most precious thing in us. Mary is our true self.

When you look at your Nativity set, at this most natural and ordinary thing in the world, a mother and a newborn baby, you are reading a pictorial newspaper headline that announces the most extraordinary event in history; the Maker of Mary was made by Mary; the One who surrounds the stars is surrounded by Mary’s womb; the Creator consented to come into His creature because she consented to have Him.

And unto us as well. Every time we consent to His perpetual proposal, every time we make an act of faith, and every time we receive the Eucharist, we redo Mary’s fiat and make Christmas happen.