Archive for June, 2010

2010 NHL Entry Draft

Taylor Hall was the Edmonton Oilers No. 1 draft pick in the National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft held last week at Staples Center in downtown L.A.  The Oilers had a dismal 2009-2010 season, finishing last in the League.  Selection order in the draft is based on a combination of weighted lottery, regular season standing, and playoff results.  Teams draft in the same order all seven rounds unless they trade draft picks or players.  The lottery is weighted so that the team with the worst record has the best chance to obtain a higher draft pick.  Only the five lowest-ranking teams from the regular season are eligible to receive first pick in the draft, so winning the weighted lottery may be a sign that a weak team:

  • is finally reversing a string of bad luck; or
  • threw games to become a bottom-five team once they realized they weren’t going to make the playoffs; or 
  • traded their more experienced players late in the season to teams still in the hunt for the Cup, dampening team performance sufficiently to finish in the bottom-five (such trades are generally done to shore up the team’s income statement or create some room under the team’s salary cap).  

The Chicago Blackhawks, winners of the Stanley Cup this year, were set to pick last (No. 30) in Round 1 but they traded some players for the Atlanta Thrashers No. 24 pick and gave their No. 30 pick to the New York Islanders in exchange for picks No. 35 and 58 in Round 2.  All this wheeling and dealing took place on the arena floor, which was a sea of suits and laptops.

During Round 1, each team had 15 minutes to make their selection.  As spectators, we cycled between excitement and boredom for three hours:  a minute of commotion as a team announced their pick and the drafted player made his way to the stage for a photo op before being thrust into a media circus, followed by a few minutes of anticipation while the scouts, lawyers, and agents for the next team bent over their laptops before making their pick or trade.  I felt bad for Cam Fowler, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks Round 1 draft pick, as many L.A. Kings fans were committed to boo-ing Anaheim every chance they got.  I felt happy for Jaden Schwartz, who was drafted in the first round by the St. Louis Blues on his 18th birthday. 

To pass the time, Scott kept track of the top Canadian draft picks and their birthdays to replicate Malcolm Gladwell’s observations in “Outliers“.  I thought about the strange incentives created by a system which rewards under-performing teams with first dibs on fresh meat. 

I also noticed some interesting fashion statements:

  • Team owner’s kids in full-sized No. 10 (as in 2010) hockey jerseys delivered food to their parents who sat at team tables on the arena floor.  
  • Girlfriends, sisters, and mothers of drafted players rocked cocktail dresses, heels, and up-do’s as they cheered in the stands.
  • Team owners who had their photos taken on stage with their draft picks generally wore dark suits, but most contingents had one rogue in a beige suit who obviously didn’t get the memo. 
  • The stands were filled with tanned businessmen in sharply-tailored suits and drunken meatheads in jerseys and face-paint.
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Mulholland Dam

William Mulholland (1855 – 1935) was Chief Engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power when he designed the Mulholland Dam.  The Dam was constructed in 1923 as part of the controversial Hollywood Reservoir and Owens River Aqueduct System used to supply Los Angeles with most of its drinking water.  Frederick Eaton, the Mayor of Los Angeles from 1898 to 1900 and Mulholland’s political crony, blocked the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from irrigating the Owens Valley and paved the way for water to be diverted south to Los Angeles from Owens Lake via an aqueduct system designed by Mulholland. 

The south-facing facade of the Dam is decorated with arches and a sleuth of California Grizzly Bears.  The Grizzly Bear is California’s State Animal, despite its extinction at the hands of settlers who colonized the state.  Bears that have been hunted to extinction guarding the ill-gotten drinking water of a sprawling car-dependent city in the desert:  which karmic debt will demand repayment first?

What goes around comes around:  Eaton’s fortune was wiped out in August 1927 when the Owens Valley Bank collapsed; Mulholland’s career came to an abrupt end when the St. Francis Dam failed in 1928.  Mulholland had supervised the St. Francis Dam’s construction and had pronounced it safe less than 24 hours before it collapsed and killed more than 500 people.  The Mulholland Dam was fortified after this disaster:  mounds of dirt were deposited against the south-facing facade of the Dam, underneath the concrete Grizzly Bears.

FUN FACTS:  

  • When viewed from the top of Mulholland Dam, the bas-relief grizzly bears look like a pack of golden retrievers. 
  • William Mulholland’s Metropolitan Water District offices were located on the top floor of the Million Dollar Theater in downtown L.A. 
  • The Oscar®-winning classic “Chinatown” (1974) was inspired by the Owens Valley – Los Angeles water controversy.

Gandhi’s Ashes in L.A.

On Friday night, we watched “Gandhi” (1982) on hulu.com.  I remember going to the cinema with my parents to watch this film when it was first released.  I was so small; I had to sit on everyone’s winter parkas to see the screen.  I had never seen a cremation before so the image of a burning funeral pyre was seared into my six-year-old brain.  

Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948) was working as a lawyer in South Africa when he first decided to challenge the injustices faced by Indians living in South Africa.  When he returned to India in 1915, he started to question the status of Indians within the British Empire, and his own place in Indian society.  To highlight inequities perpetrated and perpetuated by the ruling class, Gandhi and his followers practiced non-violent civil disobedience for decades until Indians won freedom from British colonial rule in 1947.  He was assassinated in 1948 while on his way to address a prayer meeting.  After his cremation, his ashes were divided into urns that were sent across India to memorial services held throughout the country.  Most of Gandhi’s ashes have since been scattered along bodies of water, in keeping with the Hindu belief that releasing ashes into the water, the air, or the earth signifies the return of a body to its elements and smooths the spiritual transition to the afterlife. 

I was surprised to learn that some of Gandhi’s ashes are enshrined in Los Angeles at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple in Pacific Palisades.  On Sunday, we decided to make a pilgrimage to the shrine.  In 1950, a guru named Paramahansa Yogananda had built the shrine on the grounds of Inceville, a silent movie studio.  The property is now a twee theme park of religion, a pastiche of faith featuring statues, a waterfall, a windmill, a houseboat, and a temple which welcomes all creeds.  The Golden Lotus Archway is a “wall-less” temple that leads to the Gandhi World Peace Memorial, where a thousand-year-old Chinese sarcophagus holds a portion of Gandhi’s ashes.  The monument is an incongruous tribute to a man who was devoutly ascetic.

Missing: Pigeon Toes

I’ve seen this Rock Pigeon hobbling around downtown L.A. more than once.  I’m pretty sure he’s a male as he has a patch of green iridescent feathers around his neck.  He’s easy to recognize as he’s missing all but one of his left toes and he no longer has a right foot.  Despite his disabilities, he flies around with his friends.  He’s obviously a tough old bird to survive the mean streets of downtown L.A. without proper feet. 

In some ways, he’s the perfect mascot for our neighbourhood:

  • He roosts on the window ledges of buildings where people live, or on statues in parks where homeless people drift.               
  • He and his buddies are occasionally sidewalk nuisances, like the perverts who make sucking noises at female pedestrians within earshot. 
  • He poops on the street, like pet dogs and some crazy people who have no shame. 

FUN FACT:  Male Rock Pigeons are active parents.  They take turns with their partners to incubate eggs.  After the eggs hatch, both parents feed their babies.

The Station Fire

The Angeles National Forest is located in the San Gabriel Mountains north of L.A.  Arsonists started The Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest three days after we had gone hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains for the first time.  We had just moved to L.A., so hiking in the mountains was a welcome diversion from unpacking the mountain of boxes in our flat.  We enjoyed exploring a trail that led to the Vetter Mountain Fire Lookout.  The 75-year-old Lookout burned to the ground less than a week after our hike.  It became impossible for us to look at the San Gabriel Mountains without feeling a sense of loss after the fire destroyed over 160,000 acres of terrain.

A week after our hike, I was on the roof of our building in downtown L.A. when I saw a huge plume of smoke rise from the San Gabriel Mountains.  Although I was busy painting shelves (which I later installed in our kitchen), I ran downstairs between coats to grab my camera.  I took several photos of this giant pyrocumulus cloud as I thought it would dissipate quickly, but it hovered over the city for days.  The air felt very hot and dry.  Ash rained onto our car which was parked in the lot next to our building.

Joshua Tree Sunset

 

Last year, we spent U.S. Thanksgiving weekend in Joshua Tree National Park with our German friends Manu, Micha, and Arne.  Mindful of the holiday’s significance, we were grateful for our brief time together as Manu and Micha had driven six hours from Stanford to visit us in L.A. and Arne would be returning to Germany before Christmas.

Micha drove us to his favourite spot in Joshua Tree to watch sunsets.  We like to tease Micha about his greatest love:  sunsets, National Parks, or Manu?  (Micha knows the correct answer:  Manu!)  After he parked the car, we followed him through the White Tank Campground to his “secret” lookout among the boulders. 

As I trudged up a hill, I heard people call my name.  I looked up and saw Cristina, Christian, Julia, and Eberhard.  More Germans from Stanford!  Mutual friends had told them that we would be in the Park, but we had no idea of their travel plans.  It was a lovely coincidence that we could enjoy the sunset together.

The sun seemed to sense it was a special occasion.  It set the sky on fire before extinguishing below the horizon.

Welcome to “OHLLYWODO”

Hiking the Hollyridge Trail is a nice way to see the Hollywood Sign on Mt. Lee.  Hikers share the dusty trail with tour groups on horseback from Sunset Ranch so watch out for road apples – you’ll smell them before you see them!  Along the trail, there’s a point where the sign reads “OHLLYWODO” instead of “HOLLYWOOD” – neat, eh?  The letters hug the curvature of the hillside; they aren’t aligned along a plane.

The summit of Mt. Lee affords a great view of the city.  The enormous Hollywood Sign is literally at your feet and the Hollywood Reservoir is a mirror reflecting the sky.  In the middle distance is downtown L.A.’s skyline.  On a clear day, you can see Palos Verdes, Catalina Island, and the Pacific Ocean.

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