Saturday, March 31, 2007

Happy Birthday, Al...but don't run!

So, Al Gore turns 59 today. As a sworn Gore loyalist and having had the privilege of being one of his interns in the Spring of 2000, I wanted to wish the great human being a very happy birthday. Though a smidgen of pain still lingers over the events of 2000, which I believe was a stolen election, I think his time has passed for becoming president. He did gain a new respectability for his well received documentary on global warming last year, as well as an Oscar, and potentially even a Nobel Peace Prize later this year, however, that doesn't automatically translate into votes. Too many people I've met don't like him...whether they are liberals or conservatives. I never understood that. I've been a Gore supporter from way back. In fact, in 1992, I had planned to vote for Ross Perot (scary thought, I know!) until Clinton selected Gore as a running mate. That key decision won me over to a candidate I didn't fully trust. And it's amazing...Clinton is so much more popular than Gore, with flaws and all!

Sometimes, when reflect on how far I've fallen since my optimistic days of early 2000, I wonder what my life would've been like had Gore assumed the presidency and I was hired to work in his administration. That was the scenario I had planned since they won in 1992. I knew back then that I wanted to work in a Gore Administration in the new century, and from there, launch into my career as a novelist. Bush deprived me of that, and managed to make a mess of things that the next president will have to spend a lot of time cleaning up. Because of Bush's disaster of a presidency, a Gore Administration in 2009 would be far different from a Gore Administration in 2001. For one thing, instead of a government surplus to work with, the next president inherits the nation's largest debt ever. Instead of peacetime prosperity, the next president inherits an unpopular war, which will lose even more support as conservative voters will most likely turn against the war when a Democrat is the Commander in Chief (their loyalty is not to America's best interest, but what's the best interest for the Republican Party).

Perhaps the biggest reason I think Gore should not run is for personal and selfish reasons of my own that have nothing to do with him. In college, after a spring break roadtrip to the Pacific Northwest, I fell in love with Portland, Oregon and swore that I would live there someday. I also loved Vancouver BC and Coeur d'Alene ID. It was the region I knew I'd settle in, but my focus was on getting my degree in International Politics and moving to Washington, D.C. to serve in one presidential administration...Gore's. When I failed to land a job in D.C. and returned to my "Plan C" of Atlanta, and then the election fraud of 2000, I pretty much gave up on the idea of working in a presidential administration. When I decided once and for all to move to Portland last year, it was a move that was a big pain in terms of sorting through things and not bringing most of my things with me (I still have to make that U-Haul journey). Now that I'm here, I don't want to move least not across this great country of ours. Any future moves will be regional, within the four states of Oregon, Washington, northern Idaho, or northern California, or even British Columbia.

However, there's a part of me that still wants to be a part of the Gore Administration if he decided to run and actually won. It's a dream that lives on from 1992. It's hard to explain, other than that I feel spiritually connected to Al Gore. When I was an intern in D.C., up close with the Senators on Capitol Hill, I read a lot about various politicians that I admired and realized out of all the ones I liked, the person I had the most in common with was Al Gore. Both Al and I are introverts who dislike the glad-handling that comes with politics. Running for office is a pain, but serving in the role of the politician is more our style. Like Al, I can be wonky. I love reading on issues and staying current on new ideas. In a Washington Post article, I read that as a young man, Gore had a debate with himself on whether to become a novelist or a politician, a debate that I was having with myself at the time of my internship. Like Al, I think of the world in visionary terms. In fact, Gore had a huge picture of the world on his office wall. I've always been more of a global/internationalist since elementary school. I preferred global politics to the rather dull local government of towns and states. And like Al, I'm most attracted to extroverted women. When I saw Tipper Gore interact with Secret Service agents, I knew why he was attracted to her. At the time, I was smitten with an extroverted girl myself. She brought me out of my natural reserve with people. I felt more loose and free, able to engage in small talk with strangers, whenever I was around her. There are more commonalities between him and I than I can remember right now. That's the reason why if he were to become president, I'd be a natural political aide to work for him. Our thinking is similar. I'm naturally loyal (to a point...I won't violate my conscience for anyone), so he'd find a good "clone" in someone like me. And I'm not talking about a senior staff job. I'd love any position in his administration, though personal assistant would be my dream job.

However, as I said...I believe his time has passed. Now the nomination is Hillary's to lose. That's who the Democratic establishment is supporting. From my understanding, there has always been a chill between the Gore and Hillary camps within the Clinton Administration. We even saw how it played out in 2004, when Gore endorsed Howard Dean, who was the anti-Clinton candidate, while people speculated that the Clintons supported Wesley Clark, then John Kerry (supposedly knowing that either of those candidates would lose to Bush, leaving the way for Hillary to run in 2008...which was probably their plan all along).

Gore might not ever be president as he had dreamed about since childhood, but he still remains as the best Vice President our country has ever had. And now he has an Oscar, and potentially a Nobel Peace Prize. He should model himself after Mikhail Gorbachev, who is reviled within his own country but beloved everywhere else. Gore is a citizen of the world. One of those politicians who rise above the petty politics of national interests to represent the hopes and dreams of the people around the world...people like Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi. That's not a bad place to be. He can do more for our planet as an inspirational global leader, leading the world towards a more sustainable future. He should follow the Obi-Wan Kenobi model. In "Star Wars", Obi-Wan told Darth Vader, "if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." That phrase has been a cryptic secret all my life, as I wondered how that could possibly be true. Somewhere in my mid-20s, I realized the powerful truth of that statement. Too many people think true power comes at the point of the barrel of a gun. That is, by a show of force, they can make a person do their bidding or take away the person's life. However, history has shown that death never defeats a powerful idea. Too many inspirational leaders have been killed before their time (Socrates, Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr, JFK, RFK), but their legacy lives on in the lives of the people they touch. Jesus had asked what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul (a teaching Bush has ignored). True power is just the opposite. Live true to your soul and you can change the world! Happy 59th Birthday, Al!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

In Memory of my Great Aunt Effie

Last night, I was enjoying my twice monthly browsing through New Renaissance Bookstore, a New Age bookstore in NW Portland. As is usually the case, I can never spend enough time there, and this time I was interrupted by a phone call from my dad, who hardly ever calls me before 11 PM, so I knew it had to be some major news. And it was. I just learned that my Great Aunt Effie had passed over to the heavenly realm about an hour earlier. The news was a shock, as I haven't heard updates in a long time and now she's the third family member to pass in a year and a half's time after my having lived 33 years of life without any of my close family members passing over.
What can I say about my Great Aunt Effie, other than she was funny (I loved her sense of humour) and she sang beautifully, as melodious and relaxing as a bird's song. Whenever I visited her, she would often sing while in the kitchen and it was such a relaxing and enjoyable part of visiting her home. In 1998 when I visited her and my Great Uncle Jim (my grandfather's brother), I had no idea what her politics were and I wanted to know, because for some reason, it mattered to me which side one fell on the whole Bill Clinton -- Ken Starr drama that was in high intensity that year. To my relief, she was a supporter of Bill Clinton and had some sharp comments to make about Ken Starr and his Gestapo like tactics. And let me tell you, it was a relief to hear that, because I respect and honor the elder members of my family. I was relieved to hear that she was on the right side of the debate, that she was a liberal. My grandmother was apolitical, so she never seemed to have an opinion about anything. She was just accepting and nonjudgmental, which was a good thing too. But Great Aunt Effie had opinions and I loved to listen to her express them until she got so frustrated about Ken Starr and the Republicans that she didn't want to talk anymore.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that in my 1998 visit to her house in Bloomington, MN, I finally saw old photos of her and the 1950 wedding. Man, I was impressed how beautiful she looked as a young lady. I can see why my Great Uncle Jim fell for her (and in one old picture of him, he looked a lot like George Clooney, which came as a surprise to family members), although she was always beautiful inside and out with a personality to match. I loved looking at old photos and made some copies for my own family history binder. It's just fascinating to me how much of history they've witnessed and how their generation benefitted from our government's GI Bill, and lived in the same house since the early 1950s, which they bought for less than $10,000. Man, they had a good life, when America was truly great and cared about returning veterans of war and created the middle class in which one can live well on a one parent income and work in one company all the way until retirement.

So, in honour of my Great Aunt Effie and with my condolences to her surviving husband Jim, son David, and daughter Anita, I wish her soul an easy transition to the heavenly realm and a joyful reunion with my grandmother, and her sisters-in-law Hazel and Jewell, and my cousin Michael. I was blessed to know her and will always hold the memory of her beautiful singing close to my heart. I rarely like it when people around me sing to themselves, because their voices aren't good enough for that, but Great Aunt Effie was the exception. She had the singing voice of angels, and now she joins that great angelic choir in the sky. May God bless her for the joy she brought into our lives with her warmth, grace and humour.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sanjaya, Sanjaya, Sanjaya!

I'm taking a break from posting about the more weighty and important topics of war, our government, politics, and world affairs to discuss something else...American Idol!

So, this year isn't as good as last year. As one article I read claimed, the show has already crested and is entering its decline. Though it's contracted through 2010, we still have to endure a few more years of it before it most likely fades into television history. Signs of the decline? That a horrible singer like Sanjaya can make it week after week, after showing himself to be the worst of the bunch. Only a few are good this year, compared to last year's awesome cast of 12, who could all very well end up with CDs of their own. This year, I'd like to see Melinda Doolittle and Blake make it to the final two. But for some reason, I'm afraid Sanjaya might slip in through there. There was a dare by Howard Stern to get fans to vote for Sanjaya. Well, not fans, but people who just hate the show and want to see its demise. Who knows? It's sad to see what a spectacle he's making of himself. But he should do everyone a favor and quit. I mean, how would he really feel if he wins the whole thing, knowing he truly doesn't deserve it. It would be like a politician assuming the presidency even though he didn't actually win the majority of the votes. Oops! Maybe that's just the way our country is set up. The winners are not always the most deserving. It's whoever can scheme the most.

Honestly though, if Sanjaya were to win this season, I hope it speeds up the demise of the show. It's getting kind of ridiculous the number of Idol contestants coming out with CDs. It hardly leaves room for those talented people out there playing in dive bars and hoping for a record contract. And even the winners can lose, as the case with Taylor Hicks, whose post-Idol CD (and third one) barely sold half a million copies. Not bad for a new singer and a lot better than his two previous CDs sold for...but compared to past Idol winners and losers, his career is sputtering fast. And he was my favorite of all the ones I've seen. So, it only proves to me how fickle the "American Idol" viewer is. Kind of like the American public at large. At first, they were gung ho about war and accused everyone who was against war as being traitorous, now they are anti-war and haven't apologized to the people who've been anti-war from the start. What's this got to do with Idol? I don't know...just that we're a fickle headed lot. No wonder why we can't compete globally against Europe and China. We're seduced by talentless hucksters and ignorant of relevant news.

Now, back to the more serious topics...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why Pat Tillman deserved better

It's good to see the tragic death of former professional football player Pat Tillman back in the news. His death should be a reminder of how incompetent and immoral our current government is in its handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, I hope history hangs Rumsfeld on his most famous phrase: "We go to war with the Army we have, not always the one we'd like..."

When it's a war of choice in which we set the dates for going to war, that statement is completely baffling. We had months and years to plan a successful war, to get production underway to give our soldiers good protective equipment. But no...they wanted to rush to war in Iraq while Afghanistan faded to the background for lack of good targets. As one Administration official supposedly complained...why waste a multi-million dollar missile to hit a camel's ass when Iraq was rich in industrial targets.

When Pat Tillman died a few years back, our government found a convenient hero's story to hype. And yes, Pat Tillman is a hero. He gave up a million dollar contract playing professional football to serve our country after the 9/11 attacks. How many celebrities and politicians are willing to do that these days? He was remarkable and unique in making that sacrifice to serve. So, Pat Tillman is most definitely a hero. Unfortunately, his life was wasted in our incompetent wars. Granted, all wars have some friendly fire casualties and it always made me wonder and even ask people: would you rather be killed by an enemy's bullet or by one from your own countrymen? Friendly fire is bad enough. Thus, the cover-up. It was an election year, after all. It just wouldn't help the recruiting effort if it became known that the famous football star who gave up his million dollar career to join the Army and fight in Afghanistan was killed by friendly fire. Who'd line up at the recruiter's office upon hearing that news?!? I can totally understand why the Army wanted to cover it up. But, that still doesn't make it right.

What Pat Tillman's death proves to me is how dishonorable our leaders are. How cowardice they are. How unscrupulous and immoral. We've seen how they smear the war records of people like McCain, Gore, Kerry, Murtha, and Cleland...all men who sacrificed and served in a war zone...while none of them, the dirty bastards that they are, fought in war themselves. They pump up heroes like Pat Tillman when it's convenient, but in death, they lie about the circumstances for fear of losing the ideological war against the American people. When are people going to wake up? This administration is not worth fighting for, much less dying for! Pat Tillman's life was worth more than that. He is a far more honorable man than Bush, Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rush, O'Reilly, and all the other cowardice rats of the administration could ever dream of being. Pat Tillman definitely deserved better than what he got...which was an Army the administration doesn't particularly care much about. After Walter Reed scandal, we have seen just how the administration really thinks of the military...not much, unfortunately for those who are stuck in the Army we currently got. We owe it to all of them to end this ridiculous conflict before more tragedies occur.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Lives of Others

Last week, I saw two great films. One of them was "Amazing Grace", which I couldn't resist, as I love historical films, especially from my favourite era in human history (the 1700-1800s). I believe every famous historical figure should have a high quality bio-pic. In this film, it was nice to see the famous British Parliamentary debates existed a few centuries ago. Its a tactic I wish our government would adopt, as the opposing party figures debate issues with a lot of wit and a constant back and forth like some tennis match. It was nice to see and be inspired by one man's quest to end the slave trade as an institution. There is much to admire in this film and in William Wilberforce (whom I have regrettably never heard of).

But the film I really want to get to is the German film and winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar, "The Lives of Others." It's the one I had hoped would win over "Pan's Labyrinthe" (haven't seen that one yet)...mostly because German cinema has been suspiciously great in this century. I have my theories on why that is. During the 1980s and 1990s, French films dominated and France's film industry, I consider second only to America's. Anyhow, Germany is experiencing something of a cinematic renaissance, what with the excellent "Goodbye Lenin" (my second favorite foreign language film of all time), "Downfall" (a chilling portrayal of Hitler in his last 10 days), "The Edukators" (which questions the growing gap between the outrageously rich minority and the struggling to keep up everyone else), and now "The Lives of Others." These films came out within the last 3 years, and there is yet another German film I hadn't seen yet, "Before the Fall" (if I remember correctly, a sort of "Nazi Dead Poets Society"). Back to "The Lives of Others" takes place in the last 5 years of the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany, the most severe of the communist countries. It was a police state in which the secret police, the Stasi, acted as big brother to the populace. No word uttered in public, no subversive tendencies, no jokes about the leader, not even children's natural honesty were exempt from the prying ears of the Stasi. Even fellow Stasi members ratted each other out for promotions.

The film shows the "relationship" between a lonely Stasi eavesdropper and his clueless target, a playwright not known to be subversive against the state. One lives a dull life in service of the state, with hardly any meaning beyond his work. The other lives what many consider to be an enviable life (a healthy sexual life with a beautiful woman, the creative impulse to write, a circle of loyal friends). How the relationship plays out is very interesting, all the way to the brilliant conclusion.

As I watched this film, I couldn't help but think of our current government and their wish to turn America into a police state of their own. Now, since childhood, in fact, since the 1st grade, I have always been intrigued by police states, totalitarian countries, communists, and Nazi Germany. I don't know why it intrigued me, but it did in a way where I would sometimes pretend that I was a writer living in one of these societies and pondering how I would behave. Conservatives throughout my life love to call me a commie, but to hear them goosestep to the Bush regime and believe everything Rush and Rove and Coulter say is just baffling to me. They don't get it. The whole Nazi -- Commie divide is false. Conventional wisdom says that those two political systems are completely opposite, one is extreme right and the other extreme left. To that, I say, "bullshit!" They were the same. Both systems suppress any freedom of thought or action or word. They both want to control people and use a system of fear to keep people in line. Torture, detainment, unauthorized search and seizures, disappearing people, murder, covering up scandals, high rates of suicides, and forcing friends and family members to betray one another...these are hallmarks of totalitarian regimes, regardless of the Nazi or Commie label.

So, what have we in America? Under the investigative mandate of Ken Starr in the late 1990s, he forced a mother to testify against her own daughter, he imprisoned a lady who wouldn't betray her friendship with the president, he encouraged another lady to tape record conversations with a friend. These Gestapo tactics were a foretaste of what was to come in the Bush era. In the past 6 years, we've seen time and again Bush's disdain for the rule of law as he authorized wiretapping of phones, snooped in emails and letters, pushed the USA PATRIOT Act which grants the government the right to search people's homes without a warrant or notifying the owner that they were even there, they want to keep records of what people read, they authorized torture and rendition, they fired attorneys who wouldn't politicize their investigations, they waged illegal wars and lied about the rationale for it. On and on and on. How long will it take for conservatives in this country to recognize that Bush's government has more in common with the communist regimes than any Democratic president, which the rightwing often accuses them of.

That's why I think German cinema has seen a renaissance. Through their history of totalitarian regimes, first with the Nazis, then with the Commies, it's like they are warning us Americans how quickly a democratic, peace loving people can fall into the moral madness of corrupt leaders. They have enough distance from the Nazi era and even of the communist era to explore in greater detail how intrusive government has wrecked too many people's lives. We all have to take a stand against it. But I do think that because of Bush's incompetence, that is the biggest reason why we haven't completely turned to the dark side of human history. Hurricane Katrina was like a godsend, as it was the final straw that stripped away the myth of the Bush administration in being "compassionate conservative." Ever since then, he hasn't seen 50% approval ratings. With scandal after scandal piling on, I doubt he ever will.

Anyhow, I highly recommend "The Lives of Others." It transports you to a world I hope we will never experience. I love our freedom too much and thus why I will fight Republicanism all the way. I don't want totalitarianism to entrench itself on these shores. I hope you don't either.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happy Anniversary (The War is Over)...Are you saved?

On Sunday, I took part in my first demonstration. With a sign, even! On black posterboard, I glued big red letters with the message: [Bush] IS THE FRAUD [Jesus] WARNED ABOUT! In place of the names Bush and Jesus, I glued pictures of them to save space. On the back of the sign, I had another black posterboard with big yellow letters saying: "MATT. 7:15-16" and in smaller letters, I wrote the quote of that verse: "Beware of false prophets, who appear as sheep but inwardly are ravenous wolves. By their fruits ye shall know them." And the final clincher: "End Bush's Immoral War!"

I got a lot of photos taken...or at least my sign did. I think it was the most blatantly religious sign among the crowd that I saw, and what a crowd it was too! My personal favorite signs included a dog which had a sign on one side of its body saying: "Dogs that pee on Bushes" and the other side said: "Impound the Bush war criminals" (with the "s" in Bush's name written as a swastika). I also liked a sign one goth chick carried: "My Bush makes love not war!"

The crowd was huge. News reports later said that it was 15 city blocks long. Included in the march was a scary group of mask-wearing anarchists carrying a sign that said "No gods, no country, no masters." They looked like they were on their way to rob a bank, and after the peaceful march was over, this group later clashed with the police.

Ah, it takes all kinds to make a march! But, it was one of the things I'm most proud of participating in. Though there were more marchers than spectators, I hope I got my message across...that Bush IS the one Jesus warned us about. Politicians who use religion to con sincere believers into supporting their evil deeds is what Jesus was trying to warn his followers about so they wouldn't be seduced or led into the kind of moral compromises that cause real spiritual damage, not only to other people or the planet, but ourselves.

I did get a few comments, all good. But as I marched, one guy marched up beside me. He had a sign of his own, which said "Blessed are the peacemakers." He asked if I was a Christian. Then we talked a bit. Then he asked me if I was saved. Uh-oh! As soon as he said that, it triggered a flash back to my adolescence where I hated being asked that question and judged accordingly. Thus marks my biggest conflict with evangelical types. Why is that?

Well...for one thing, my church as I realize it now, is a product of its Midwestern development. The Midwest is known for moderation in most things, and religion was considered to be a private matter. Evangelicalizing wasn't a big thing in the Midwest until the late 80s/early 90s. So, in growing up in this region and being a member of a church where asking if people are "saved" is not part of our vocabulary, it was baffling to me when I lived in Germany and my father made me attend protestant youth group meetings on the base since our church was too far away to meet frequently. So, the base protestant chapel became our religious home for 3 years (save for a few RLDS retreats a year). When someone first asked me if I was "saved", I had no clue what they were talking about. I told them I was baptized and asked if that counted. Then they wanted to know which church. As soon as they heard the "Latter Day Saint" part of our name, they said that it didn't. So, they were going to judge my salvation based on their ignorance of my church and their prejudice of the LDS church? Thus began my long dislike of evangelicals and their obsession with asking people if they are saved.

Now of course, that word makes me cringe every time. What does it mean to be saved? Our president claimed that Jesus is his favorite political philosopher because he was "saved." Well, if he was saved, why is he hellbent on destroying our planet? See...if being saved does nothing to make one a better person in terms of living a more Christlike life of nonviolence, tolerance of those of different faiths, and a desire to increase the spirituality of the planet, what good is it to be saved?

It is my view that asking such a question tells me the person asking the question is not spiritual enough. I'm a pretty spiritual guy and I can usually tell when I meet and talk with people how spiritual they are. I don't need to ask if they are saved or not, because I don't believe God condemns any human to a hellish afterlife unless they are truly without a spiritual light (cough, cough, Cheney, cough, cough). But like my sign said: BY THEIR FRUITS YE SHALL KNOW THEM. I look at a person's fruits and I can tell if they are sufficiently spiritual enough for me to desire a friendship with them, or if they are bad news. Asking if people are saved is just plain stupid in my book. What would happen if I said no? Then I'd get a lecture from a person who doesn't know two bits about me. How can you really "save" another person anyway? Especially if you're only interested in proselytizing and not getting to know the other person as is.

So...the march was great, I got the message I wanted out, I got to be among people who share my view on this immoral war and the need to end it now...and I got a laugh when it was all over. I can't believe it...I went to a peace march and carried the most religious sign out there and still got asked the question if I was saved! All the more reason why I find evangelical types a funny breed. If they see one religious sign in a sea of signs that include sexual innuendos, anarchist slogans, and political wit...they are still going to ask the sign carrier if he is saved? What does that tell you? No wonder why evangelicals supported Bush in large numbers! They can't tell an authentic spiritual person from a group of craven materialists! Made my day, I tell ya!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

In honour of Ireland, let's talk about U2

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Even though I haven't done my genealogy, from what I heard my grandfather say, we do trace our roots to Ireland. At least through the last name, CARROLL, which used to be the cooler sounding O'CARROLL. I've thought many times about adding the O back on.

Anyhow, in honour of this great day to focus on Ireland's interesting contribution to the world, I'd like to write about what I consider to be the greatest rock band in history. No, not the Beatles nor the Rolling Stones. I'm talking of course of U2. I know there are a few detractors out there, but let's face it...the Beatles started out as a boy band that went psychedelic and cool, changing the history of music, then broke up just when things were probably going to wane for them musically (though John Lennon probably recorded his best music post-Beatles).

Not so with U2. They are a band that still puts out great music 25 years after they formed. Not even the Rolling Stones could claim that (no one goes to a Rolling Stones concert to hear their new music). My first intro to U2 was before "The Joshua Tree" came out. One classmate liked them and we had disagreements over music. Of course, what did I know? My favorite band at the time was Huey Lewis and the News. Besides U2, the classmate liked INXS before they hit it big with "Need You Tonight." Go figure! When I heard "With or Without You", I loved the song. I also loved "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", and "Where the Streets Have No Name." So, my classmate recorded a copy of "The Joshua Tree" for me. Though I liked those three songs and a couple others, I thought the cd was overrated. Everyone seemed to mention that album as one of the best they've heard, but I couldn't figure out what the big deal was. For me, my favourite album at that time was Whitney Houston's "Whitney" or Madonna's "True Blue".

In 1991, when "Achtung Baby" came out, I wasn't even interested. I don't know why. I suppose it's because they made a big deal about the fact that they had recorded the album in Berlin and I never was a fan of German culture. The reunified Germany actually scared me. I thought the euphoria over the fall of the Berlin Wall was over the top. Sure, it was a great moment in human history, but it also meant fears of a triumphant, unified Germany goosestepping its way back into power. And U2 seemed to be celebrating that.

In 1992, a friend of mine sent me a copy of "Achtung Baby" and insisted that I had to hear it. From first listen, I was hooked. It was so unlike the "Joshua Tree", with a new sound that I didn't expect from U2. I listened to that album nonstop for months. In 1993, I was still listening to "Achtung Baby" often (its a rare album in which I don't grow tired of listening to it after 6 months), and was shocked to find "Zooropa" was released. I heard nothing about any new album coming out, so I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't hesitate to buy it and I found that I liked it even more than "Achtung Baby." Some shipmates of mine lamented the fact that U2 seemed to moving further and further away from their "Joshua Tree" and earlier sound. But I loved their new style...the Fly wraparound sunglasses, the over-the-top concerts with old Trabants being used for spotlights, the Mephistopheles character, and the phone calls from stage to various political leaders around the world. U2 was acting like the biggest rock band in the world, and they were. Man, I regret not seeing them in concert in 1992 like I could have.

Then came 1997's "Pop" disgrace. Only half the songs on that CD, I liked. The rest was throwaway stuff not worthy of inclusion on a U2 CD. I did like the siren sound on "Last Night on Earth." If they had more of that on there, it would have been a worthy follow-up to the one-two punch of "Achtung Baby" and "Zooropa". But, by 2000, they brilliantly changed direction again, by stripping away the excess of their "Popmart" era of golden arches and disco balls, and focused again on powerful music with a message. Gone was the irony, in was the social consciousness, best reflected in "Walk On", a tribute to one of my favourite political leaders on earth: Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1990 elections in Burma that was rescinded and of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. That song has an awesome melody as well as powerful lyrics, and seems to have been inspired by Suu Kyi's fearlessness in walking on when an armed military told her to stop in a famous 1988 demonstration. Instead of obeying, she walked on and wasn't gunned down. She dared to disobey and became a leader.

"All That You Can't Leave Behind" quickly became one of my three favourite CDs of all time. It was perfect from opening song to closing one. I loved their lead single "Beautiful Day" which was followed by an even more powerful "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of." Song after song, they take you on a journey, and after the 9/11 tragedy a year later, the CD seemed to take on new relevance, particularly their moving tribute to what many consider to be the world's most exciting city: "New York." I especially love their line in that song: "In New York freedom looks like too many choices..."

Though the follow-up "How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" doesn't come close to the brilliance of "All That You Can't Leave Behind", it's still a great CD by any standards, with another group of songs with cool melodies and lyrics.

But, the biggest reason why I think U2 will ultimately be considered the world's greatest band is not only because of their ability to continue to make great music, but also for Bono's personal mission to bring the world's attention to the increasing desperate situation in the developing world: that of extreme poverty, disease, and astronomical debt to the financiers of the developed world. Instead of merely indulging in the ego gratifying world where there are plenty of sycophants and fans who want his baby, Bono is trying to do something to improve the lives of the desperate poor. Though some might be cynical about his politicking, I think what he's doing is better than doing nothing. Like Bill Gates, Bono has been financially blessed well beyond what any person needs in a lifetime, so why not contribute back some to those who really need it? Has any of the Rolling Stones ever done that? It sounds like they are still partying like its 1969, what with the girls, the drugs, and the rock-n-roll.

So, for a tiny country with a population less than New York City's population, and a country oppressed for years by the British Empire, Ireland has had a significant impact on the world in music and culture. It's time we celebrate that, and for one day at least, we can all pretend to be Irish...and listen to some good music, celtic-flavoured or not. Here's to Ireland and it's greatest contribution to human history thus far: U2!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Speaking of Monogamous Mormons...

In yesterday's blog, I mentioned the appealing aspect of Mitt Romney's campaign and how his religious views keep him from being fully embraced the evangelical vote within the Republican Party. Today, I want to blog about something latest guilty pleasure, which is the HBO show "Big Love". That's right...the one about polygamy.

I don't know if it's because of my 5th generation heritage within the Reorganized Church (Community of Christ), which has always been against the polygamy that was fully embraced by the Brigham Young wing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints...or if it's because I think the concept of a man having more than one wife when I still fail to find one (just one is all I ask the good Lord for...just one will do!) as plain greed. Not just greed and sexual possessiveness, but an in your face kind of taunt to those who still haven't found the right woman.

But this show is brilliant! They got me from the opening title sequence, first by using my second favorite Beach Boys song ("God Only Knows"; my favourite is "Don't Worry Baby"), then by having an interesting ice skating sequence and the not too thinly veiled sequence where the husband searches through the veils for his wives (supposedly part of the Eternal Wedding ceremony done in LDS temples all over the world), to selecting a most likeable actor in Bill Paxton to play the part of the husband. Brilliant, I say! Out of the three wives, I like Nicki the best in terms of looks and personality, and her too cute pout. I've never been a fan of Jeanne Tripplehorn since I first saw her in "Basic Instinct." Her look creeps me out, but other than that, it's nice to see her play the first wife and "boss lady" as Nicki loves to call her. The third wife is the barely legal Margene. She's all baby-faced innocent and naive. Cute, but not too bright.

What most intrigues me about the show is that they have made the family so likeable, that I find myself at odds with my belief...I'm actually rooting for these people to keep their secret safe from prying neighbours, nosy employees, and the unscrupulous prophet of the breakaway "United Effort Brotherhood" (who claims that it was the Mormons who betrayed the vision of Joseph Smith when he revealed the "New and Everlasting Covenant" of plural marriage). The prophet sees nothing wrong with marrying girls just reaching adolescence, which only makes Barb (Tripplehorn's character) furious. Barb still misses the LDS Church and seems to have only went along with her husband Bill's desire to "live the principle" (of plural marriage) so as to not lose him to another woman. Certainly if the choice were mine, it would be "Bye Bye Barb, Hello Nicki!" But Bill believes in polygamy as a duty and calling from God.

Anyhow, it's interesting how the show can make it seem okay, by showing the characters to be fully human and likeable. When I lived in Utah, occasionally, I'd see ladies in what I called "Little House on the Prairie dresses" and pretty much figured that they were from the various polygamous communes in Utah. I was sad to see young girls forced to live this lifestyle, lacking freedom and even being brainwashed into believing that's what God commanded of them. The show proves to me what I always believed about polygamy...that it was more about sexual power than religious principle. For one thing, the birth ratio around the world is close to 1:1 and that's no accident. For a man to take more than one wife means another man will be deprived of a wife. Of course, the number of homosexuals make it difficult to gauge whether this would hold true, but for argument's sake, I think it's greed. I also see how a man's ego can be boosted by having women compete for his love and attention. In an equal partnership marriage, women have the upper hand in that they can deny a man's sexual needs and he has to live with it (or commit adultery as so many Republican politicians are wont to do). But in a polygamous marriage, the man has the uppper hand. If one woman denies his sexual needs, another wife is more than willing to give him that attention. So, it's hard to deny that fact of polygamy and sexual power.

The issue of polygamy was one of the major reasons that kept me from "converting" to the LDS church as a younger man when I was most drawn to it (back in 1993-1994). The reason is simple...Joseph Smith supposedly claimed that polygamy was the "new and everlasting covenant" and that if the church were ever to get rid of it, it was a sign that the church was in apostasy. So, that put the LDS Church in a difficult spot. The RLDS Church never accepted that doctrine, and the FLDS Church continued it after 1890 when the Federal Government ordered the Utah governor to end the practice as condition for statehood. Polygamy is a touchy issue, I know. When I was at BYU, I was shocked by how many girls would accept it in their future husbands if commanded to by God, even if they disagree with it or feel that it isn't right. That's a scary thought to me. I've always been the one to know that if I heard a "voice" telling me to do something that went against the grain of what I believed in my heart to be right, the voice would not be from God. I would not have been like Nephi killing Laban for the Gold Plates because I was commanded to. Thou Shalt Not Murder. No black and white thinking there.

I love my Mormon friends, I love aspects of the Mormon church and history, but for me, polygamy is the issue that will never die. While "Big Love" does a great effort to humanize them and provide interesting, quality entertainment, I know that I would personally have a hard time accepting any polygamist into my circle of friends. I just can't be convinced that a woman benefits from having to share her husband with another woman. I certainly would not accept being in a marriage to a woman with other men and I don't know of any man who would. Our spouse deserves our complete love and affection. Even children aren't supposed to come in between the sacred relationship of a man and woman.

Someday, I'd love to travel with a Mormon friend to one of the FLDS communities in southern Utah/Northern Arizona just to see what that would be like. Three churches from the same founding heritage and the issue of polygamy which split the churches apart. It's a fascinating heritage, to say the least.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Republican Family Values

The 2008 Presidential primary season is already shaping up to be an interesting contrast between the two parties. Why the media continues to buy into the idea that the Republican Party is the party of Family Values is beyond me. It started as such a joke. Here's the history behind "Family Values" as a campaign issue...

In 1992, when it looked like Governor Bill Clinton would win the Democratic nomination, President George Herbert Walker Bush spoke about family values. Like he did in 1988, he used "non-issues" to distract Americans from his own, self-confessed lack of "the vision thing." His presidency wasn't the kind of leadership that inspired people (like FDR, JFK, and even Reagan). He was simply a middle manager who had built up an impressive resume in the Republican Party (war hero, congressman, ambassador to China, CIA director, Vice President). His presidency was just the natural progression for a loyal party member. How loyal was he? Well, he was the first one to call Reagan's economic plan "voodoo economics." After he became Reagan's VP, he learned to keep his mouth shut as he bided his time.

So, the visionless George made an ACLU membership card, flag burning, and prison furlough the campaign issues of 1988. Granted, Michael Dukakis was pretty weak in not being able to defend the dreaded "liberal label". All he had to say in rebuke was to read any dictionary. The definition of liberal and conservative in the dictionary is enough to give people a second thought on who they'd rather be. So...with a history of using non-issues to distract Americans from his own ineptitude and visionless leadership, you know how often he talked about family values as a Vice President or President? No one heard that term until 1992. Gee, I wonder why?

Since then, Republicans have claimed to be for family values, even though they vote against the Family Medical Leave Act, they vote for wars in which families often end up in divorce or financial despair dealing with the medical costs of disfigurement, they want to do away with public television (the commercial free station in which many Americans fondly remember watching "Sesame Street" as children), they want to put foster children into orphanages (one of Gingrich's proposals in his "Contract [on] America"), they pushed Clinton to end welfare as we know it. As Jesus said, "by their fruits, ye shall know them." By their actions, they have shown themselves as a party that is anti-family to its core. The only thing Republicans are loyal to are the corporations that try to find every tax loophole they can and move costs of operations to developing world nations.

So, now we are upon the 2008 elections in which the top three contenders of the Republican party are all divorced: John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich. Not only DIVORCED, but all three of them have either admitted to committing adultery in their marriages or have had their family dysfunction played out in the tabloids (that would be Giuliani, folks). So, what gives any of them the right to claim the "family values" mantel? Especially Gingrich, who recently confessed that he had committed adultery at the same time as he pushed for impeachment against Clinton for adultery. Gingrich, the smug and sanctimonious newt that he is, actually claimed there was a difference between him and Clinton. He didn't "lie under oath." Um...what about that wedding vow to forsake all others? What is a wedding vow but an oath? Sounds like Gingrich is learning about the multitude meanings of the word "is".

On the other side, the top three contenders of the Democratic Party have all been married one time each. That would be Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. Okay, putting aside the mysterious marriage arrangement of the Clintons, it just baffles me that people still think the Republican Party is the party of family values. In the 2004 Debates, when a lady told Bush that she was working THREE jobs, he actually told her that it was GREAT! He didn't bother to ask her WHY she is working three jobs. If given a choice, who would want to work three jobs if one job paid the same amount it takes three jobs to do? Where is the "family values" in that?

Which brings up the most interesting thing of all about the sliminess of the Republican Party. The one true "family values" candidate in the race is none other than the monogamous Mormon, former Governor Mitt Romney. His resume, biography, and family life is every candidate's dream. By all means, he should be the front-runner with a realistic shot at the presidency...except for that one pesky little thing: his religion is so reviled by the Religious Reich. The likes of Pat Robertson (who wrote in a book that if one married a Mormon, they'd get Satan for a father-in-law) and Jerry Falwell won't even consider endorsing a candidate of a religion they despise. So, it begs the they value "family values" or not? The answer is a delicious, "of course not!" The whole thing was a ruse against Clinton's family values. But as flawed as Bill may have been, one has to look at how well Chelsea turned out compared to the more dysfunctional Bush twins (or even Jeb's children...what with their drug problems and shoplifting). What does that say about Republican Family Values?

I don't know about you...but I think Jesus was right. Some people talk about morality, but their actions show no evidence that they live what they preach, and authentic spiritual people live their values even if they rarely talk about them. That's the truth in all this campaign b.s. If one is going to vote on such a non-issue like family values, then either vote for Mitt Romney or a Democrat...because if a family values person votes for any of the other Repuglicans, they only prove that they don't truly value family like they say they do.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

(Un)Happy Kerouac Day!

Tomorrow, March 12th, would be Jack Kerouac's 85th birthday...but as most people are aware, he drank himself to death at age 47. But, in honor of my favorite writer, I wanted to write about him, his life, and what it all means for my own.

For years...from about 1990 through 2001, I kept hearing a faint whisper in my mind to read Jack Kerouac. I don't know why. But, I ignored it. In 1994, I happened to buy "On the Road" audiobook, even though I rarely listen to audiobooks. I don't know why I bought it because I actually didn't get around to listening to it until 1997, when I made my own cross-country road trip to move from Georgia to Provo, Utah for college. I listened to it in between my music tapes. One interesting moment of synchronization occurred when I happened to be on Route 666 in Colorado that leads into Utah, and I got to the part on the tape where Jack Kerouac claimed to have saw God pointing at him in that part of the country. It was weird, but cool.

But it wasn't until 2001 when I finally decided to buy a biography of Jack Kerouac, to shut up the endless whispering in my mind to "read Jack Kerouac." What happened then became one of the strangest experiences I've ever had in life. In fact, I hit the motherlode of coincidences between Kerouac and myself. I didn't realize how much he and I had in common. Like me, he had a brother and a sister. He always wanted to be a writer since childhood. He felt closest to God on the road. He was restless in always having to move around, could never be satisfied living in the same place all his life. Some obscure French words he used, I had used without realizing it...words like "farceurz", "surete", and another one which escapes me. Perhaps the most significant coincidence between he and I was from his last novel, "Satori in Paris." In that book, he talks about arguing with a French person about the correct pronounciation of a town in Bretagne named "St. Brieuc." The argument was over whether the "c" at the end was pronounced or not. When I read that, I was stunned. I had the same argument myself with a French person I know who lives in that town! I had met this French person, Yves Dulout, when his submarine visited the town of La Maddalena, Sardinia, where I was stationed in the Navy. Since my office was in charge of the the annual Submarine Birthday Ball, I had requested to sit with the French sailors, and thus began a friendship that continues to this day.

I've been to St. Brieuc about 3 times. What's even more striking to me is that Kerouac named the character of himself as "Jack Duluoz" in more than a few books. What an amazing coincidence between the names "Duluoz" and the French person I know, "Dulout". Who would have imagined it? The coincidences don't end there. I've thought of writing a whole journal on all the coincidences I've come across between Kerouac and myself, but most of my Kerouac books which highlight all the coincidences are in storage in Atlanta at the moment. Some of the ones I can remember include that he had written that August 22nd was a significant day for him, and August 22nd, 2001 was the date in which I had received what I call my most significant "enlightenment experience". I was ecstatically blissful from that day onward until the events of September 11th punctured through my spiritual ecstasy. In the book of his journals that was published a few years ago, he mentioned Coeur d'Alene (which I had passed through in 1999 on my way to Seattle and its beauty has struck me as being the most beautiful place I've seen on earth so far) and he mentioned a guy named "Tom Malone." The Tom Malone I knew remains as my favorite teacher, the one who had the biggest impact on my life.

But, the coincidences don't end there. One of the things that most fascinates me about Kerouac is that he had written a novel about the Navy which remains unpublished. It's called "The Sea is My Brother." My first novel is about the Navy and does show a certain kind of brotherhood that exists in the military. Although I was rejected by Kerouac's agent, Sterling Lord, I remain undeterred in finding an agent and publisher for my novel.

Kerouac and myself also have similar that we both tend to be shy at first and uncomfortable getting attention. Kerouac's solution was alcohol, to lower his inhibitions, in which he became somewhat extroverted with people. I know the dangers of alcohol and never really liked the taste of it. Besides, I'm addicted to chai lattes and I'd rather spend my extra money on a book than a bottle.

So, when I read another Kerouac biography (I think I've read about 6 so far), I'm always filled with a sadness over a wasted life. But, I also see a warning there. He's like the forerunner of what I want to be. He paved the way. A lot of his books might be a mess and probably wouldn't be published today, it's still hard to ignore his contribution to American literature. He influenced a great many people, from Bob Dylan to the Beatles, and actors like Johnny Depp. But was he ever happy? His works have made the family of his third wife, Stella Sampas, wealthy but it was money that he never saw in his own lifetime. What is the point of all that restless running around? Perhaps he was running to avoid the demons in his head from catching up...but whatever it is, his life is an example. Both on how to achieve a vision for one's own life and on the dangers of self-destructive addictions.

Taking all that I've learned from his life, I am ready to be a published novelist. I'm ready for an agent to accept my work and sell it to the highest bidding publishing house. I'm ready for the controversy and the criticism of my work. One thing I won't do is resort to the bottle. The life of many visionary writers (like Kerouac, Hemingway, Fitzgerald) seems destined for self-destruction. It's a test I think I'm ready for. In the meantime..."Happy Kerouac Day!" everyone. Read a good Kerouac book this month ("The Dharma Bums" is my personal favorite). And be beat!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Secret is out!

After a few months of seeing the local New Age bookstore promote the DVD "The Secret", I finally watched it in January. I was hesitant to watch it because I thought it might be like "What the Bleep?!?", which I thought had some good ideas in a very bad presentation. That film had cheesy bad acting and it was made for those with an extremely short attention span. In fact, it looked like it was made by an ADD person for the ADHD person. Since I have an ability to concentrate for more than 2 seconds, the film was annoying!

Anyhow, with "The Secret", it presented a few good ideas. While the materialism it sometimes seems to promote is a turn-off, it is worth seeing and while I do believe that we have the ability to manifest things into our lives, I find it hard to manifest things as quickly as I like.

Anyone who doubts the power of Oprah can only see the latest NY Times Bestseller list. The DVD and companion book have been out for months (since last summer, at least). But she only recently talked about it on her show (which I missed, unfortunately), and soon it shot to the top of the nonfiction chart. So, now the Secret is out. People are going to try to manifest more materialism in their lives and find out that it doesn't work, even though Oprah and other successful people swear that it does. That's a dangerous idea to promote and people don't understand how the universe works.

The idea behind "The Secret" is that the universe is a creative place in which we all have the power to manifest what we want (or don't want) to appear in our lives. So, what we focus on becomes our reality. So, it pays to think positive about one's life and to think about what you really want in life. But patience is required, because it could take years. It also requires self-honesty and the ability to trust the universe to make it reality at some point down the line. But it may not appear exactly as one would like. I know that from personal experience.

When I was a teenager, one of the things I wanted was to live a year abroad with a French of those high school exchange programs. I never really had the chance to do that. However, as a young man in the Navy, I had the fortunate luck to meet three different French families and have visited them several times. Though I only stayed a week with one, a weekend with another, I did get to experience a little bit about French family life. They took me on mundane shopping trips (which I loved!) and their regular errands. Not the tourist things, but it's better in many ways. I've done the tourist thing many times on my own, but what I cherish most was that I had several opportunities to stay with French families and learn about their way of living that way. It may not have been a year, but it was enough.

Another example. In the late 1990s, I was such an addict of MTV's "The Real World" (from the Los Angeles season through New Orleans; I outgrew it after that). I wanted to be on the show at one point. In fact, I think the last year I qualified was for the Boston season in 1997. The cut off was age 25 for cast members. When I was at BYU, MTV recruiters for the show came around looking for a Mormon to cast on their New Orleans show. I thought of applying and lying about my age, but I didn't know where the 2000 show was going to be, as I had plans to be in D.C. It would have been a perfect opportunity if I was young enough, Mormon, and the show was set in D.C. Anyhow, I went to D.C. on BYU's Washington Seminar and stayed in the apartment complex the majority of the 30 participants stayed at. What I learned that semester was that it wasn't that I wanted to be on a reality TV show so much as I wanted to experience living with a group of people for a short period of time. We all had our separate internship assignments, but we got together after work and on weekends and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. In fact, after everyone left when the semester finished and I had an apartment to myself, I was so sad, lonely, and depressed that it took awhile to recover from the shared experience. I made good friendships that I still maintain today.

These are only a few examples out of many that I've had in which the universe has given me, if not exactly what I wanted, something similar to satisfy what I wanted or thought I wanted. So, that's something "The Secret" doesn't discuss much and it should. Otherwise, people will think it's some magic trick in which they can manifest a Maserati by merely thinking about it. That's just something our materialistic society will run away with, totally corrupting a spiritual concept into yet another capitalistic wish fantasy fulfillment. I wish Oprah hadn't discussed it on her show. "The Secret" should have remained a secret that only those in the know knew about. Now, it's going to be a fad that people a year from now will have tossed into a dumpster and moved on to the next money-making scheme in the endless chase for greater material prosperity. Thanks, Oprah!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Can Bush do anything right?

The latest uproar over the way war veteran's are treated at Walter Reed medical center in Washington, D.C. should surprise no one who has seen through the lies and rhetoric of this group of war-mongering chickenhawks. I'm not surprised. Outraged, a long line of outrages, but not surprised. Here's why...

In 1990, I was a freshly graduated high school student who enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program of the Navy in the peaceful and optimistic summer of 1990, just 20 days after receiving my high school diploma. I had no reason to suspect a war, since my senior year was graced with positive news on all counts...the flood of vacationing East Germans through Hungary into Austria; the fall of one autocratic regime after another in Eastern Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu (thanks for contributing another name to the reputation of bad Nicholases!), and the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa along with the end of apartheid. Graduating into that kind of world was awesome! So, a stint in the Navy didn't look too risky. But later that summer, Saddam decided to invade Kuwait, thus threatening the world's oil supply. At the time, I was gung ho about the war. I even bought a Saddam voodoo doll and would use it to pound away my frustrations. He made a convincing punching bag. My parents didn't know why I seemed to hate the guy...after all, he did nothing to me personally. He was just the latest media-created boogie man. But, I was young, naive, and easily manipulatable.

I supported the 1991 Gulf War. I didn't understand peace demonstrators. Though I didn't have a problem with flag burning (after all, I burned one myself in the summer of 1989, just to see what all the fuss was about), but I thought it was wrong to protest that war. I liked how President G. H. W. Bush was able to get a coalition of allies to fight that war and I was even excited about participating in that war. He fought war the way it should be done...through international cooperation and troops from many nations, like France, Britain, Australia...our allies. I was set to ship off to boot camp in May, but got my date moved up to March 20, 1991. That was the soonest I could go without losing my guaranteed "A" school. So, when Bush declared an end to the war after evicting the Iraqis from Kuwait, a mere 100 hours of ground invasion, I was disappointed. I wanted Bush to go all the way to Baghdad to topple Saddam. It was depressing. The war was over before I got to participate. But when Bush said his reasons for not going on to Baghdad, chief among them, that we would lose allied support, inflame the Muslim world, and inherit a host of potential problems to keep Iraq's three main groups from engaging in civil war. Well, it wasn't the outcome I preferred, but I respected Bush a great deal then.

Fast forward to the late 1990s. I'm out of the Navy. I'm in college. Saddam is acting up occasionally, which prompts Clinton to send a few multi-million dollar missiles to strategic targets. And I learn what a sham the first Gulf War was. I mean, what was it about? A novelist even wrote an intriguing novel about how Reagan and Bush adopted Prime Minister Thatcher's strategy of boosting one's approval ratings domestically by fighting a "splendid little war" against a weaker country. But what really angers me is hearing the experience of my good friend Frank McDonald. He was in the Marines, made a career of it. A really fit guy. After he retired, he has been suffering from the mysterious Gulf War syndrome. I've experienced his odd passing out spells and even caught him before he fell on the floor. We were just talking and all the sudden, he starts to fall and I manage to catch him just in time. Weird! And the more I learn about Gulf War syndrome and government red tape in dealing with veterans makes me angrier and angrier. I expect that the Soviet government would treat their Afghani war veterans that way, but not the good old USA! What happened to the government that treated the returning vets of WWII with honor, the G.I. Bill, low mortgages, and the like? They built our country. It was good payback by our grateful government for winning a true moral war.

Now we are where we are...a government run by chickenhawks who found various reasons not to fight in a war that they had supported, who slimed the reputations of true veterans of war with lies (Gore, McCain, Cleland, Kerry, Murtha to name but a few), who saw nothing wrong with lying to get the war of their wet dreams, and for calling those who questioned their motives or their "facts" as unpatriotic. And for claiming to be "for the troops", what do they get in return for their services? They get shoddy treatment at military hospitals. They get billed for the food they eat. They get billed for housing. The soldiers get the bills to add to their misery, while the civilian contractors get the $10,000 a month or more tax-free salaries. How is that supporting the troops?!?

If you are one of those who support this administration blindly...why? No one who considers himself or herself an authentic Christian can look at all the facts from the past 7 years and think that this is how Jesus would behave. Yet, Bush is allowed to call himself a "Christian" and not be challenged on that point. Nope...Bush is the charlatan Jesus had warned his followers about. "By their fruits, ye shall know them" Jesus said. And the fruits of Bush's administration are lies, disaster, grief, a destroyed country, a broken one at home, a city in ruins, and many broken lives. If this is how Republicans show their gratitude to the very people who support them (it's no secret that the military is predominately Republican), then I am so glad not to be a member of that party. They show time and again what they think of anyone who isn't rich. We're just cannon fodder. And if we have the good fortune to make it back alive, then the medical services will definitely get you in the end. Like my friend Frank McDonald...a true follower of Christ. I wish Bush would meet someone like Frank and learn what it really means to love Jesus with all your heart. But, as we all know, Bush doesn't have the courage to meet true Christians...because deep down, he has to know what a fraud he is. It's the shame of his life he'll take to his grave, and unfortunately, he has ruined many lives in the process.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Documentaries are the new black

Last night, I went to the opening of "An Unreasonable Man", a documentary about Ralph Nader. Now, let me just say a few things about documentaries...

In the past half-decade, I'm amazed how willing I've been to see documentaries in theaters or lining up my netflix queue with them. As a teenager, documentaries were on public TV or what we had to watch in school. They had the distinction of being rather boring. But an amazing thing happened in the 21st century. For one thing, documentarians learned how to punch up their documentaries with cool music, interesting special effects, and timely subject matter. While Ken Burns remains the master of the long-series documentary form (think of his Civil War masterpiece), who would've thought that I and people like me would line up theaters and pay money to see a documentary? That brings up my second point...I think we owe it to corporate owned media for the birth in documentary features in movie theaters. Because we aren't getting the straight news as we should, it's up to alternative media to get the word out with investigative pieces or awareness raising. I see this as a positive development and hope it continues. If the media can't be straight with the American people, others with a video camera and passion can.

Let's's some of the documentaries I've seen in just the past five years..."Bowling for Columbine" (the cartoon history of the USA is a classic!), "Fahrenheit 9/11", "Why We Fight", "Supersize Me" (I haven't eaten at McDonald's since I've seen it in January), the one about Enron, "An Inconvenient Truth", "March of the Penguins", "Gunner", "Jesus Camp", and the two most recent that I want to comment on: "American Blackout" and "An Unreasonable Man".

"American Blackout" made some good points, as it is about how Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney was targeted by Republicans for her statements implying that Bush knew in advance about 9/11 or that he had benefitted financially from 9/11. Now, one must watch the documentary with a large dose of salt. I know Cynthia McKinney. She has been my member of Congress from 1996 through 2002. In 1996, the courts threw out the racial gerrymandered districts in which Cynthia McKinney had represented since 1992. It was a snake-like sliver from the eastern suburbs of Atlanta down to Savannah, several hundreds of miles away. The purpose was to give African Americans a majority population in which to elect someone of their own race. When the district lines were redrawn, Dekalb County (where I lived) incorporated most of the 4th Congressional District. Since I lived there in 1988, we've had a swindling Republican congressman named Pat Swindoll who was indicted for something sleazy. Our next Congressman was Ben Jones, who played "Cooter" on "The Dukes of Hazzard." In 1994, it was a battle against Comer Yates, an Emory University Law professor (he taught ethics), and the Christian Coalition backed John Linder. Since that was the year of the infamous "Republican Revolution", all Democrats had a difficult time winning. Linder won by painting Yates as a liberal. Two years later, when there was an open primary for the newly configured 4th District, I urged Comer Yates to run again. His was the first campaign I volunteered for. I so wanted to see him become Congressman and thought he ran a good campaign to be proud of.

In 1996, Cynthia accused him of being a conservative, white, racist holdover of the old South. She ran a nasty campaign of personal attacks. The more I learned about her, the more I disliked. She has a history of using personal attacks against anyone who runs against her. If you're a white opponent, you're racist; if you're a black opponent, you're an Uncle Tom shilling for some white man. One of the flyers she had sent out to voters in the 4th district said: "Did you know that it has been said that Yates has received corporate money..." No facts, just the gossip tinged "it has been said..." It has been said by WHOM? She never gave details, only allegations. The end result was that she had defeated her three white male opponents in the Democratic primary and faced a white Republican male in the general election. Because of her slash and burn tactics, she burned a bridge with me, a fellow liberal. Comer Yates was a decent man, honorable, and would've made an outstanding member of Congress. Her attacks were unnecessary. Thus, because of what I saw in the 1996 primary campaign season, she made me an enemy forever. I casted a vote for the Republican candidate in the fall. Not because I liked him, but because I couldn't stand her.

In 2000, on my last day of my internship, when I walked through the bowels of the U.S. Capitol to get to one of the House office buildings, I passed by Cynthia McKinney in the hallway and she smiled at me. It was a nice gesture, and I wondered what she might have thought of me if she knew I was one of Comer Yates people and that because of her personal attacks against him, caused me to vote Republican against her in election after election. Somehow, I got on her mailing list and her office sent me a nice calendar for a couple years. And in 2000, I reconsidered whether or not to go ahead and vote for her...but then she started attacking Al Gore for some reason. Not another one of my candidates! So, that only encouraged me to vote for the Republican opponent that fall. Yet, she always won.

But then the world changed. She had outraged so many people with her comments post 9/11 that many Republicans crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary. Finally, she was defeated. Her documentary, "American Blackout" wants everyone to think she's the saintly victim of the vicious Republican slime machine. But, what goes around, comes around. She made a lot of enemies, on the left and the right. I actually celebrated her defeat in 2002. Finally, I got vengeance for her vicious attacks on Yates in 1996.

So, watch that documentary with a huge dose of salt. It says some interesting things about our political climate of fear post 9/11. However, Cynthia McKinney is not some innocent saint like she likes people to think she is. There is no reason why anyone should campaign for office the way she does. She's a dirty politician and in my mind, she's in the same mold as Karl Rove, the mastermind behind a lot of the dirty tricks during Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

Now, about that Ralph Nader documentary. It's interesting in that I learned a lot about Nader and what an impressive track record he has built a career and reputation on. The meat of the documentary, though, concerns the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. Though I'm not one of those Democrats who blame Nader for Gore's loss (I attribute that event to the lying and thieving Republican smear machine), I also believed that Nader had a personal vendetta against Clinton/Gore and wanted Bush to win...not only for payback (since Clinton and Gore never allowed him in the White House during the 1990s), but also because Nader believes that the only way Americans will wake up to the power corporations have on our society and government is by having the biggest corporate whore for president. Bush's disaster of a presidency has been Nader's wet dream since the 1990s. Though I rate this fawning documentary very highly, I also don't believe Nader is the saint he thinks he is. While in the bigger picture, Americans waking up to the fact that our government no longer cares for the vast majority of Americans is good for elections in the future, in the short term, we have squandered a surplus, turned allies into enemies, emboldened our real enemies, made enemies our allies, and basically sacrificed human lives in Iraq. So, is that really necessary? Nader's legacy is tarnished somewhat. While the last part of the documentary talks about how Democrats have shunned him, stopped donating to his organizations, and trashed his reputation, I'm hardly sympathetic. He should've been honest about his motives...which was to affect the 2000 election to punish Gore and allow the biggest corporate whore to lead America to the verge of financial, moral, and spiritual bankruptcy. It's the equivalent of "burning the village to save it." In the end, you get a place not worth living in and harder to improve upon.