Sunday, May 27, 2007

My Amtrak Journey

Well, folks...tomorrow, I'm off to Chicago on a two-day Amtrak journey and I'll be gone for a week. I've added some interesting photos to quite a few past posts, so if you're interested, check them out (especially the one for "Chickenhawk Cheney's..." and "Another Charlatan..."). I'm sure you'll be amused. When I return, I'll have quite a few topics to post on, so stay tuned. Upcoming topics will include the usual mix of spirituality, politics, the latest Bushreich outrage (can he go a week without some crony incompetence?), a "Proust Questionnaire", my platform on what I would run on (if I was running for President in 2008), and of course, news on the wedding event of the year (my reason for traveling at this time of the year).

So, on to Amtrak...

I fell in love with train travel during my years in Europe. They have an enviable system, very easy to use, fairly inexpensive, and way convenient (since train stations, unlike airports, are in the center of the city). During a few of my Eurail journeys, one of the things I loved was waiting in the old fashioned train stations and watching the letters turn on the departure board. It happened so fast and mesmerizing, that I could never take my eyes off of it. I also enjoyed the convergence of people of all nationalities and even conversing with some in a variety of languages (my favourite episode being when I was at the train station in Rome and was approached by an Algerian man who didn't know English and I didn't know Arabic, so we had to communicate through both of our limited knowledge of French, which proved to be enough).

Because of my use of rail in Europe, I became hooked. But I had never taken Amtrak until last year when I moved to Portland. I decided that would be the best time to cross one dream off my list (going across this great country of ours by rail), since it was a one way trip and not much more expensive than a flight. It was a four day journey, with an odd out of the way sojourn to Washington, D.C., which I didn't mind because I loved Union Station and got to eat lunch there and browse the shops until it was time to board the train to Chicago. By the time I made it to Portland four days later, I felt that it was actually too SHORT, if you can believe that. I've always been about the journey, more than the destination. I love road trips. In fact, the three things that make me the most happy is (1) traveling; (2) reading; and (3) music. So, on this journey back to Chicago (and then on to St. Louis metro area on Thursday), I will indulge in all three (I'll have at least two, if not three books with me to choose from; as well as a walkman with my mix tapes of music I love to listen to). I'm excited, what can I say. Since I saw the scenery from last year's journey, I know what to expect and where to pay more attention (skipping out on North Dakota with my eyes glued to the book is a wise choice!).

Back in 2000, when I was a mere intern, I attended a briefing with one of the cabinet secretaries: Rodney Slater, Secretary of Transportation. Afterwards, I got to talk with him (which wasn't hard, as most interns seemed rather bored by that choice of speaker). So, what I said to him was something along the lines of: "We should really promote and increase rail travel in the United States to European standards." He looked at me and laughed, probably at my sheer audacity (can you imagine an intern telling a cabinet secretary that?!? But at 28, I was a lot older than the average intern age of 21). He said that because our country is so large, it wouldn't be feasible except in the heavy traffic corridor of the Northeast. At least I made a cabinet secretary laugh, okay?

Often, I hear about the Repuglicans wanting to gut Amtrak by ending government subsidy and forcing it to live by the market, which would effectively lead to its extinction. I'm a big believer that the government should subsidize public transit in cities as well as rail travel, and make it affordable for the average working person. The airline industry already gets government handouts, as well as other corporations, and they turn a profit and want to put the money in tax shelters (why is it okay to take from the government but not want to give back?). Subsidizing Amtrak is the only way to sustain it and it is the best option for long distance travel while having a lower impact on the environment. With fuel prices as expensive as it is, you would think that investing in Amtrak and improving its services by adding more lines and train service, would be a sound investment. But I have a feeling that it's the airline industry that wants to make Amtrak extinct. I've flown in planes and rode Greyhound, and there's no comparison. Amtrak is the most enjoyable way to travel. No hassle with metal detectors and overzealous TSA employees who treat 90 year old ladies or 4 year old children like terrorist suspects; there's plenty of legroom and the opportunity to walk around and even hang out in a lounge car; there's the beautiful scenery; and though it takes more time, you really do get to enjoy the journey, which is one of the best parts of traveling (instead of rushing to your destination as though traveling was a burden to endure). So, that's why I love rail travel over airline travel and why I can't wait to board that train tomorrow for the exciting city of Chicago.

Have a great week, and remember to stay tuned for some more great posts on topics of relevance. I'm most excited to write my platform on what needs to be done to correct our country from the disaster of the past 6 years. I have lots of ideas, and who knows? Maybe I'll bump into Barack Obama and get a job in his campaign while I'm in Chicago. Considering how he mispelled "flak" jacket in a silly exchange with Senator John McCain, I think Barack could use a good military veteran on his campaign...especially one who was an intern in the Clinton Administration. Speaking of which, I read in the local weekly alternative paper last week that Monica Lewinsky will be moving back to Portland to work as an editor for a start up magazine on Home and Gardens in Portland. Considering how often I bump into the same faces downtown, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if I bumped into her at some point. I'd be challenged to behave, because frankly, I am curious just how good she is at...well, you know!

Anyhow...see you all when I get back. In the mean time, please check out the old posts for the new photos I've attached. Hopefully, all my posts will eventually feature a photo with my wordy spiel.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Tribute to Nicholas Smith

Nicholas Smith in Iraq (2004-2005)
Today, in honour of Nicholas Smith's last week as a free man and this day being his 34 and a half year birthday, I wanted to write about our 23-year friendship. A week from today, he will be married in Red Bud, Illinois, a small town with a cool Bed and Breakfast that has a Gazebo and garden perfect for weddings. So, just one week remaining as a bachelor, and the last of my core group of friends will enter the world of the married. I'm the last holdout...though a lot of that has to do with the fact that it has taken me longer to find my way in life (i.e., living in a region of the country I'd want to settle in and finding a job that pays a decent wage). Anyhow, without further delay, I present to you Nicholas Anthony Smith...

He was the second Nicholas I ever met in life. The first one hated me, because I had "stolen" his name. I was the new kid in class (in 5th grade, I transferred schools in December) and the teacher had asked me what I wished to be called since she couldn't have us both be called the same name. Up to that point, I had gone by "Nic" (my parent's spelling). I was frustrated telling everyone not to add the "k", and I also thought "Nicholas" sounded more grown up. So, I told the teacher that I wanted to be called "Nicholas", not knowing that's what the other Nicholas went by. He was reduced to "Nick", which he hated. I had hoped that he and I would become friends, but I think from that beginning, it was doomed.

In the ominous year that George Orwell had used to title his dystopian classic as well as being the title of Van Halen's breakout hit album, the year 1984, I was in the 7th grade. On the first day of Math class, the teacher called the roll. Since my last name starts with a "C", I'm usually near the top of the rolls. So, after my name was called, I only half paid attention to the rest of the names. My ears perked up when I heard the teacher call out "Nicholas" again, only with a Smith attached. I looked across the room to see who responded with a "here." It was a guy in a "Boy Scout"-looking shirt (khaki with shoulder flaps). I don't know at what point we started talking, but our group of friends seemed to bond together at lunch time. My best friend at the time was Ken Lord, who is half-Japanese, half-American and I knew him in the 6th grade. He was friends with others, but we hung out at lunch together and also had study hall together. Our group of friends had common interests in drawing...either cartoons or comic book level art (of which Nicholas was really talented). We also liked "Ghostbusters" and the "V" miniseries. And perhaps the biggest bond of all, we were all sons of fathers who were in the Air Force, stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska.

When the school year ended, I found out that Nicholas lived near my neighborhood, so we got to hang out in the summer before my family moved to Germany. What solidified our friendship was that Nicholas was one of two of my friends to keep in touch with me after I moved. His letters were really funny, too. I always enjoyed getting them and reading them. Most of my penpals were girls, so it was nice to maintain a male friendship through letters. Though I never got to move back to the Omaha area after Germany like I wanted (mostly to attend the way cool Bellevue West High School, which is where Nicholas had graduated from), our paths would cross over the years, when my family visited Omaha in the summer of 1989 and he and I saw "Batman" together; when I visited Omaha in 1991 on the eve of the first Gulf War; on my first solo road trip in 1995 when he had his own apartment; in 1996 for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta; various times from 2000 through 2003 when he lived a few hours south of me in central Georgia; and again in 2005 when I visited him in St. Louis and got to meet his then-girlfriend (who was hinting very strongly for an engagement ring by placing a huge plastic diamond ring on his counter top). It must've worked, because he proposed to her last year in San Francisco, and in one week's time, they will finally be Mr. and Mrs. Smith (take that, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie!).

Over the years, both of our interests have evolved into interesting areas, though never to the point where I felt that we no longer had anything in common, as what happens with a lot of friendships. Whenever I visit him or he visits me, I'm always struck by how long we've known each other and what a huge blessing and value that is. A friendship of 23 years is simply amazing to me. A few years ago, I was reminded of how much he loved "Ghostbusters" when I saw an old photo in which his mother had actually made him one of the Ghostbusters jumpsuit uniforms for Halloween in 1984. I don't remember if we were friends quite yet back around Halloween in 1984, but I was also a Ghostbuster for the Church Halloween party that year. And besides having that in common as well sharing the same first name, we are both left-handed. Another bit of interesting juxtaposition in our friendship: when he was in college, I lived in Europe for three years (on the island of Sardinia) and when I was in college, he lived in Europe for three years (on the island known as England). And in 1992, he got to fly a plane as part of his ROTC program and I got to drive a submarine 500 feet below the surface when I was in the Navy. There are few friendships I have in which the points of commonality intersect at many diverse areas.

One such interest in common is Civil War history and the Medieval period. When I was in elementary school, I was big into the Civil War, but as I learned about other things, that interest kind of subsided. Since his college years, Nicholas has shown a growing interest in the Civil War period and now even has a Master's Degree in it, and I find that pretty exciting. His "expertise" in Civil War history helps keep my old childhood interest in the subject from dying completely. It's nice to talk Civil War stuff with someone who knows more about it than me and who has a very fascinating passion for it. I'm also pleased that he has found a woman who appreciates that aspect of his personality, that she is willing to see battlefields with him and let him indulge in his passionate interests.

Finally, I wanted to say that out of all my friendships, Nicholas Smith is the one friend I admire the most. It has been a terrific honour to grow up with him, as we both strive to find our ways in life. I've watched in awe as he made decisions far wiser than any I could have made, choosing a career as an Air Force officer, while I chose an enlistment in the Navy, knowing that I'd not make it a career. My life has been a constant struggle of trying to find a job that pays a living wage, so it's nice to see a friend who has achieved the kind of financial stability that I still seek. With the upcoming marriage, he enters a new phase of life, that of couplehood. I know that couples generally seek out friendships with other couples, but hopefully, single friends won't be forgotten. It will be interesting to see where life will take him and Jennifer in their new adventure together. So, in honour of my best friend Nicholas Smith, I just wanted to publicly congratulate him on his marriage. And yes, I will be there to witness the event and to wish the couple well in the first few hours of their marriage. May they continue to grow in ever surprising ways. Nicholas has been the best kind of friend I could ever ask for, the only one who ever remembers my birthday, so I know that Jennifer can count on him to become her best friend (and more, of course!) as they live the rest of their lives together.

Best wishes in your last week as a "free man" and see you soon! Thank you for being such a great friend these past 23 years. Here's to at least another 23 years of friendship!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'm So Jedi!

That's me on my 35th birthday (December 30, 2006) with Darth Bush and his Republican Storm troopers. I sense that there's still good in him, as the Emperor Cheney hasn't completely turned him over to the Dark Side!

This friday, the 25th of May, marks the 30th Anniversary of the release of "Star Wars". I was a mere 5 years old and sometime in the summer of 1977, my father (who was 28 at the time) took my brother and I to see it, for I remember that Halloween, of dressing as one of the characters (C-3PO) and that was the year I started Kindergarten in Lawrence, Kansas. No other movie before or since has captured my imagination as much as the entire "Star Wars" saga. I remember staring at the "Star Wars" poster for long periods. There was just something magical about the art on that poster that captivated everything I had felt about the film.

By the time "Empire Strikes Back" came out, I was 8 years old, just moved to Hill AFB, Utah, and learning how to ride my bicycle without training wheels (in an LDS Church parking lot in Layton), by using "the force." As far as my imagination went, I was Luke Skywalker, and my bike was my X-Wing fighter. The house we lived in was our space station. As you can see, my imagination went wild. When I had a birthday party, my best friend at the time had hinted at getting me a good present. What a disappointment it turned out to be when he got me a poster of Darth Vader, who scared the crap out of me. Besides, Luke was my hero at the time, so a friend giving me a poster of Darth Vader didn't really know my interests at all.

When "Return of the Jedi" came out, I was living in Bellevue, Nebraska and I remember seeing previews to it and thinking that there was no way it would be good as "Empire Strikes Back." That was my favourite then and it's still my favourite now. Why? I haven't a clue. My parents didn't like the second one. I didn't realize until much later that other "Star Wars" fans also love "Empire" the best, so I wasn't alone in my opinion. There was something so undeniably spiritual about the second one that it made a huge impression on me that still holds to this day.

A lot of the people of my generation or older (those who grew up on "Star Wars") don't seem to like the prequel trilogy as much, if at all. However, being the kid at heart, I loved the new movies as much as the original. George Lucas was able to do much more on film that he couldn't with the original, so in a visual sense, the new trilogy is far better. I especially love the glowing blue lights of the Jedi library, which I hope is how a library in the heavenly realm looks. But even more than the visual effects (and Natalie Portman :) , the prequel trilogy seems to offer more in the way of spiritual content than the original trilogy. One line from "The Phantom Menace" that really resonated with me was when Qui-Gon Ginn told little Anakin Skywalker, "Remember, Anakin, your focus determines your reality." That is the spiritual secret to the universe. I have seen many times where something I had focused on became a reality in my life. The latest new-agey best seller "The Secret" attests to that idea.

But, even more than the spiritual content of the films, what really seems most relevant about the films is the way it predicts empires to rise and fall. George Lucas has made no secret of where he got his ideas, using history and mythology to create this fantastic universe. I remember reading a lot of people criticizing the plot of "The Phathom Menace", that it was dull, for it hangs on a political point. But, considering that this film came out in 1999, it seems almost prophetic in retrospect. Basically, the Trade Federation (corporate capitalists, if you will) has a monopoly on trade, which a peaceful planet Naboo was not part of. So, to force that nation to comply to the Federation's demands, they launch an illegal invasion to force an agreement with the head of state. Later on, we learn that a certain politician was behind the scenes, manipulating the invasion so he could oust another political leader and assume power, going so far as to play both sides of a war to maintain his power.

How does that relate to us? Weeeeeeell, let's see...the U.S. launched an illegal invasion of a sovereign country because Saddam wasn't playing by our rules and he had one of the largest oil reserves on the planet. With oil running out and the energy needs of China and India increasing astronomically each year, the time to act was getting severe. So, with our invasion, we set up a puppet government that does the bidding of the American corporate capitalists and force a "Status of Forces Agreement" (which in military parlance means that a U.S. servicemember is exempt from that country's legal system so long as he or she serves in uniform). The "SoFA" is controversial in places like Japan, where young women/girls were raped by Marines and had to allow the U.S. Military Court Martial system try the Marines instead of a Japanese court. Anyhow, that's just one agreement that an occupied country has to abide by and agree to when we set up our bases.

We've seen what a racket war is. The U.S. government had funded both sides of the brutal 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq. It's not surprising that there are underlying motives to war that the American government does not want Americans to know about. Our military industrial complex thrives on war. If we are truly a peaceful country, why have we not been able to keep out of a military conflict or war in any decade since the 1940s? The 1930s was the last decade in which the U.S. didn't have troops somewhere.

So, in a sense, we can kind of see how our nation is more like "the Empire" than the rebellion, so why do we continue to support this corrupt monstrosity? With a clueless Darth Bush (who still has good in him) being controlled by the evil Emperor Cheney, we are doomed to fight these guerilla wars with bands of primitives who end up kicking our collective ass. I know the truth is uncomfortable and inconvenient these days, but is what it is.

Anyhow, I learned a lot about life while watching the "Star Wars" episodes. Anyone who complains about the acting, dialogue, or plot doesn't get it. By Lucas' design, it was meant to be a more expensive version of those serial adventure films that he, Spielberg, and our Baby Boomer parents grew up watching. But he also gives an underlying spiritual and political message through these films, which is the same as what Jesus preached. Institutions exist to subvert humans to the will of the group, which dehumanizes people. The choice is ours to make. Do we value the individual human and serve humankind, or do we conform to the inhumane system and serve "the machine"? Those who support "the machine" serve the Empire; those who value humanity and indivuality would naturally be part of the rebellion. The choice is ours to make.

May the Force Be With You Always!

Tai-Wan Savuka (Jedi Knight, otherwise known as Nicholas Carroll)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Were We Ever "The World"?

Remember these lyrics?

"There comes a time when we heed a certain call,
When the world must come together as one.
There are people dying, and it's time we lend a hand to life,

Their greatest gift of all.

We can't go on pretending day by day
That someone, somewhere will soon make a change
We are all a part of God's great big family
And the truth, you know, love is all we need..."

That's right. It's the first two stanzas of that wonderful Kumbaya song, "We Are The World", which is 22 years old this year. It was the number one song in the year 1985. So why am I bringing it up?

I recently watched the 20th Anniversary DVD of the story behind the song, how Bob Geldolf inspired Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson to write an American response to the British/Irish musicians who formed Band-Aid and sang "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (that song is okay, though I always had a problem with the line, "tonight thank God its them instead of you", but it was probably meant to be intentionally offensive to wake us up to our own selfish greed). Watching the making of the song and the video itself, which I hadn't seen in over 20 years, it was fascinating how many of the big stars of the mid-1980s were able to get together and (as Quincy Jones had requested of participants) leave their egos at the door. The video is a time capsule of who was big in 1985. The only major stars to be lacking were Madonna and Prince (though Prince did contribute a cool song to the album, "4 the Tears in Your Eyes"). Whitney Houston hadn't broken out yet (though she does perform on one of the Awards shows version of the song). But practically everyone who was anyone in 1985 was there: Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Cyndi Lauper, the Pointer Sisters, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Huey Lewis, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie, Dionne Warwick, Bette Midler, Al Jarreau, Kenny Loggins, and not to mention the biggest superstar at the time, Michael Jackson, and veterans like Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, and Bob Dylan. It was perhaps the most impressive gathering of multiplatinum artists of all time, and something I could never see being repeated today. For one reason, the music world is too fractured into different formats, and people's tastes seem to be specific to a point. There doesn't seem to be a song that speaks to the universality of our being any more, at least not in quite the same way as that song.

In retrospect, what has that charity song done? Africa is still a mess. In 1985, it was Ethiopia. In 1992, it was Somalia. In 1994 it was Rwanda. In 1996 it was Zaire/Congo. In 1998 it was Sudan. And in 2007 it's still Sudan. Darfur, to be exact. Another Rwanda. Another Ethiopia. Several books and movies have come out about the Lost Boys of Sudan. The ones who lost their families and had to hike through some desolate landscape to escape the fighting and genocide. Now they are celebrities in America, "adopted children" of activists like Jane Fonda. Africa remains a continent that still hasn't come into its own. Sure, there are success stories like South Africa, but for every Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, there are more like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, or the warlords who rule Somalia, or the military dictatorship of Nigeria. Africa, simply put, is the world's troubled spot. Latin America and Asia are coming into their own and joining the ranks of the developed world, but for some reason, people still treat Africa like a charity case. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna are trying to set a trend by adopting African babies, but what good does it do? There aren't enough celebrities in Hollywood to adopt all the orphans in Africa.

The problems of Africa stem from colonialism. The European colonial powers created false boundaries to divide and rule the masses, using ancient tribal hatreds to maintain their power long enough to strip the land of its precious minerals (diamonds, gold, and uranium, oh my!). When the liberation struggles of the 1960s gained the African colonies their independence, the foreign-drawn borders remained, which didn't make sense. In the case of Rwanda and Burundi, two tiny nations in East Africa, one nation has a majority Hutu population and minority Tutsi population. The other nation has the opposite demographic. Why not make one nation all Hutu and the other all Tutsi? Instead, the Belgians set up the minority tribe to rule the majority tribe. Thus, resentment began (similar to what's been going on in Iraq).

I believe the best solution to the problems of Africa is to redraw the map. Allow the African nations to hold a summit in which they draw borders based on ethnic lines. Countries should be broken down into smaller, more governable states based on tribes. There's no reason why Africa should have giant-sized nations like Sudan or the Congo (formerly Zaire) if the tribal groups can't govern like the multiracial South Africa. Until they fix their internal political problems, it's always going to be a mess of a continent.

Back to America and that famous charity song. It's funny to listen to it today. What I most find ironic is the title. "We Are the World." In a way, it is arrogant. Americans are generally known not to be very knowledgeable about the rest of the world. We're not even knowledgeable about our political history since 1945 (when I discuss our political history with conservatives, I'm always shocked by how little they know about our government's history of overthrowing democratically elected governments in the developing world). So, how could we possibly be "the world" if we know so little about it? If we were truly "the world" or a part of the world, we would change our lifestyle to be less consumptive of our natural resources. Some scientists say that if everyone consumed the way Americans consume products, we would need FOUR planet earths to sustain our lifestyles. Bush said after 9/11 that "the American lifestyle is not for negotiation." Well, I'm afraid it is. Mother nature will make it so. We're just here. Katrina and the Christmas Tsunami in 2004 shows how expendable human beings are on this planet. If we don't live up to the title of that song, we won't be a part of the world anymore.

So, in honour of the 22nd anniversary of that song, I hope that we will take individual steps to becoming part of the world community again. And I'm not talking about patronizing pop songs about the developing world, but an honest to God conversation with other nationalities and a reevaluation of the way we live our lives. Only then can we truly claim to be a part of this world. After all, we are only 4% of the population of the planet. We should start acting like it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Republican Field

Now it's time to handicap the Republican field for the 2008 Presidential election, with the key word being handicap. Because of the disasterous consequences of their incompetent leader, it's not just Jeb who is probably cursing his fate to have such a doofus for an older brother. I hope Americans will forever associate the Bush family with "Disasterous Presidency". The first one was aloof to the economic problems of the common man (one gaffe in 1992 had Mr. George Herber Walker Bush gushing at a supermarket scanner as though he hadn't stepped inside a store since the 1950s). The second one tried to make himself a best friend to the beer swilling bubbas of the South, Midwest and West. He even won the poll against Gore about who would make a better beer drinking buddy (never mind that Bush supposedly gave up the booze when Laura did a Sue Ellen Ewing on him, demanding a choice between the alcohol or her. Frankly, I wish he had chosen the beer!).

Now, it might come as a surprise to you who know me...but I really despise everything the Republican party stands for. I haven't always been this way. Back in elementary school, Lincoln was my favourite president and I remember thinking that had I lived in the 1800s, I would have been a Republican because of it's pro-union, anti-slavery, and anti-polygamy platform. But oddly enough, at that time, I also knew that in the current moment, I considered myself a Democrat and supported Carter in the 1980 election (though a lot of that might have had to do with my parents views). So, when did the Republican party go bad? Eisenhower was an okay president, and by today's standard of Republican, he looks great in retrospect. I think there has always been a tendency in the Republican party to support big businesses and overseas war mongering, as one can see in our history with Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. The Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations were also pro-business, so they did nothing while a crisis was brewing, culminating in the devastating stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent "Great Depression." It's sad that it took a huge financial crisis for the average American to see what a folly big business is. When the economy tanks, big business is not going to protect the common man. Thus, FDR was able to create a governing majority for the Democrats for 20 years in the Executive Branch and over 40 years in the Legislative Branch.

Ever since Barry Goldwater in 1964, the Republican party has been marching further and further rightward like goose-stepping Nazis, marrying corporate interests with religious intolerance and downright hatred of minorities. That's the party today. Can it turn away from the darkness and restore itself to reason and accountability? That remains to be seen.

Here's the rundown on the Republican hopefuls:

George Pataki -- The only thing he has going for him is being a governor of a large state, but with two other "New Yorkers" in the presidential race (Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani), I think he'll be the odd man out.

Sam Brownback -- Unfortunately for him, because of a joke I had heard on "Saturday Night Live" or something, whenever I hear his name, I can't help but think "Brownback Mountain"...especially in light of his rightwing religious views. The only hopeful sign is that evangelicals are not excited about any of the announced candidates on the Republican side, and that says a lot about Brownback. If his fellow evangelical conservative voters aren't excited about him, why bother running? He's not going to appeal to anyone else.

Mike Huckabee -- Another governor...but do the Republicans really want one from Arkansas? Let's face it, even I don't "heart" Huckabee. Besides, he's one of three candidates who raised his hand in the Republican debate for not believing in evolution (whether one believes or doesn't is not an issue to vote a president on, but does tell me that I'd never support one who stated that he doesn't believe it).

Fred Thompson -- Apparently, Republicans are hoping he'll throw his hat into the ring and run. Just what our country needs...another character actor for president. But, despite sharing that profession in common, he is no Ronald Reagan. If we're going to go for another actor as president, why not Warren Beatty or George Clooney? Not another B actor on television or secondary character in a movie. If we're going to invite Hollywood to rule the Republic, why not someone with major wattage and star power? The reason is obvious. The Republicans can only choose from a small lot and Schwarzenegger can't run (thank God!). They need to look elsewhere.

Chuck Hagel -- One of few Republicans that I admire, because he has actually served in the military, is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and is actually pretty moderate (no ideologue, as facts matter to this Senator). He hasn't announced a candidacy so far, perhaps thinking he has zero chance in his party of neo-con ideologues and religious fanatics. What a shame, and another reason why I despise the Republican party. They prefer the unreasonable fanatics over the reasoned moderates.

Newt Gingrich -- Mr. Adultery himself making the 1998 mid-term election a referendum on President Clinton's adultery is the worst form of hypocrite ever to slither on the American political scene. With three marriages and two divorces (including serving divorce papers to his first wife recovering in the hospital), he has no right to lecture anyone on morality, and most audacious of all, no right to impeach another political figure for the very personal failings he is guilty of. I hope that the evangelical voters can see through his facade and reject his candidacy outright. It would serve their cause no good if they were to support a candidate who was more guilty of the very things they hated about President Clinton. They can do much better.

Rudy Giuliani -- The current frontrunner on the Republican side. I'm baffled as to why. He also has some personal baggage in how he committed adultery in his marriage along with a very nasty falling out on the front pages of New York's most vicious tabloids. Though he cleaned up New York City, that doesn't mean he's ready for the big job as president of our nation. His only stature comes from a tragedy. Though he was more presidential in the aftermath of 9/11 than our own president, he did what a mayor is expected to do. Anything less, and you'd think he was one of Bush's incompetent crony buddies. However, his one shining moment may have been it. He just doesn't seem presidential material. After all, in 2000, he dropped out of the Senate race against Hillary for fear of losing to her (which would've killed his political career), though the official reason was family and health problems. If he couldn't compete effectively against Hillary in a Senate race, what makes him think he could beat her in a national race? Playing the 9/11 card isn't going to work in 2008. It was manipulated too many times to be effective against Democrats anymore.

John McCain -- He was my Republican choice in 2000. Back then, he had a lot of integrity. He has a great biography, is a man of principle, and not afraid to buck his own party for the common good. So, what the hell happened? Apparently, he wants to be president badly enough that he has turned to Karl Rove for advice, after being blasted by Rovian lies in 2000. What a fool he has become! The Rove way to winning is based on lies, distortions, character assassinations, and divisive wedge issues to push people apart. That's not the way to win a lasting legacy. Our country needs unity, not divisiveness. That McCain could forget his principles for the chance to win the presidency is a sad way to end his political career. He should realize that the Rove way to win is broken, and deservedly so. After all, in 2000, Rove was the mastermind behind telling ignorant Southern white evangelical voters that McCain had fathered a girl out of wedlock with a black prostitute! Who was that girl? A Bangladeshi orphan that the McCains had brought to the U.S. to fix her cleft lip and falling in love with her enough to adopt her into the McCain family. The real story was noble and inspiring, but voters fell for the Rovian lie, and now McCain is willing to forgive that as "just politics"? No, Rove OWES McCain, not the other way around. A lie like that should not easily be forgotten by anyone. McCain is a decent human being. Rove is one of the lowest reptiles to ever enter the political scene. He doesn't deserve to be in the same room as someone like McCain.

And finally we get to...

Mitt Romney -- The only acceptable (announced) Republican candidate for president. I've written on him in another post (see "Speaking of Mormons..."), so I don't want to repeat myself, other than to say that I'm baffled why evangelicals would discount him merely on his religious beliefs. If he becomes our first Mormon President, it's not like he'll send out missionaries from the White House to convert every American to his religion, or secretly let the LDS Prophet rule from behind the scenes (besides, we already have secret rulers behind the scenes in the guise of Dickless Cheney). He seems to have the kind of biography and credentials that Republicans are looking for, save for his religious views. That's yet another reason why I despise the Republican party (religious intolerance, even towards a group that is overwhelmingly Republican). Did I mention how much I hate the Republican party?

Anyhow, one thing that does fascinate me about his candidacy is that when I was at BYU, I heard many professors say that we would get a Mormon president one day "when the U.S. Constitution was hanging by a thread." I dismissed such talk at the time as anti-Clintonism, but was reminded of it only after Bush has made a mess of things, including violating many articles of our sacred Constitution. So, maybe that is a prophecy that will come true. And, if we have to endure another Republican administration, Mitt Romney is the only one I'd be excited about, the only one I could really respect. I have some doubts about his record, but I believe him to be an honorable person who would reverse Bushism and restore our country to where it was in 2000. If he becomes the nominee, my biggest worry is that he might placate the Republican base of evangelical voters by selecting Jeb Bush as a running mate. If there is a Bush anywhere on the ticket, I hope that'll be enough to turn voters off from the Republican party. That's what I'm afraid might happen, thus why it'd be better for Romney or the Mormons in general if he were a Democratic candidate.

But as I said, Mitt Romney is the least objectionable Republican candidate for president and the only one I could tolerate living under. However, I said it before and I'll say it again...the Republican Party has lost their right to rule by the incompetence, graft, greed, election-stealing and war mongering of the past 7 years. I despise that party more than anything else. They've done very little good for America, so it's time to turn that ship around with a Democratic Administration...because at least with a Democratic president, you know the media and the political parties will hold her (or him) to a higher standard than they ever held GWB to. We need public accountability in our president more than anything else right now. So please vote Democratic in 2008!!!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Look Who's a Quarter Century

In honour of my co-worker's 25th Birthday,
I just wanted to show everyone the number one reason why
going to work at a low wage job is not as bad as it seems.
As you can see, she is beautiful, happy, and hilarious,
which makes the workday more than bearable.
Happy Quarter-Century!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

An Accident as Destiny

That's me on the left, waaaaaaaay back in 1995 with my first car, a 1992 Geo Metro. I was 23 at the time and living in Norfolk, Virginia. My final year in the Navy. When I got out of the Navy in January 1996, I sold back my unused leave and paid off the balance of my car. The rest of the money, I had planned to use on a trip to Australia in August of that year.

I moved back to Georgia (which I consider to be the worst mistake I've ever made in life. In retrospect, I would have stayed in the Chesapeake Bay area and attended two years at Old Dominion University before seeking a transfer to my dream colleges of either the University of Virginia or the College of William and Mary). However, I didn't make that decision. I listened to my parents and moved back home.

11 years ago on this day in May, as I was stopped at a traffic light at the bottom of a hill in Decatur, Georgia, I suddenly heard a screeching sound (which still affects me to this day when I hear tires back always ends up hurting at the mere sound! Definitely PTSD!) and I looked into my rearview mirror. To my widening eyes of horror, I see a fast approaching Jeep Cherokee and the only thing I could do was brace for impact. The result? My car was totalled. The man's Jeep managed a broken headlight. No dent at all. The man sheepishly apologized to me, saying that he was looking in his glove compartment box and didn't see me. That'll do it every time!

On the hood of his Jeep was a souvenir from my car. On my rear window, I had the RLDS Church seal in the lower left corner. Well, somehow, after all the glass shattered, my Church's seal remained with it's broken glass still stuck to the sticker. The man saw it on the hood of his car and brushed it aside to land in the street. I was upset about that (among other things), but I picked it up and kept it (as a souvenir of my first car). Yes, I still have it to this day! I was upset about a lot of things...the big two being that a careless person totals my car with nary a dent in his; and the worst treatment of all: I watch him drive away after getting his ticket from the police officer, while I have to wait for the tow truck to carry my car away. The policewoman gave me a ride to the nearest gas station. My parents weren't home. I was STRANDED, all because of a reckless person!

That accident caused me to spiral in a deep depression. My mom was very worried about me. I wouldn't get out of bed (and I needed to look for a job, since it happened when I was between jobs) for days! She said that it was possible to die of depression and I needed to let go and live again. Easier said than done. I was angry about it. If it was an accident I had caused, I could easier live with it...but when it was someone else's carelessness, and the fact that they weren't affected by it as I was (after all, he got to drive away, while mine was a mess). It made me angry.

I didn't realize how angry I was about it until December 1996 (6 months later) when I was asked to share a testimony at church about a recent trial I had and how I manage to cope (with appropriate scripture verses, of course). After I shared my testimony, I could feel my anger still harboring itself in my system, and after I sat down, I felt it finally leave my body. It was odd. And even odder that I hadn't forgiven the man who wrecked my car. I had a lot to be grateful about. After all, I had an even better car, and it matched all 5 of my desires for a car at the time (I had wanted 1-a Saturn SL1; 2-Stick shift; 3-Radio/Cassette; 4-Sunroof; and 5-A/C). I loved my Saturn, and I wouldn't have been able to get it if not for that man's "gift" of totaling my car.

There's even more to the story. The day of my accident, I was running an errand for Comer Yates (who was running for Congress). As I drove to pick up his campaign's print job, I was thinking how hot it was and my car didn't have A/C or a radio. I had the idea of wanting a car with A/C and a radio/cassette. It would've made the drive even more fun. Then within 30 minutes of having that thought, BOOM, it happened! Like a wish fulfilled. And when thinking of replacement cars, I really wanted a Saturn but didn't think I could afford one. If it was under $8000, that was my price range. And by chance, I happened to drive by a Saturn dealer and decided to turn around and go back. When the dealer took me around the lot, I saw one that had a sunroof and one that didn't. I hoped she would show me to the car with the sunroof, and it was. And I peeked inside. It was stickshift too! Everything lined up. This incident is a case where I didn't realize it at the time that was a true blessing. My desires were manifested with concrete results. How does that happen?

Four months later, I had another accident, though this one was less severe, but it left me stranded again, in an even worse location. But it was my fault. And the repair bill just added to what I didn't need. But it was that second accident, so close after the first one that caused me to see a Navy recruiter about the Navy Reserves (I only did the Reserves for 10 months to get a free 2 week trip to Europe). And the accident also caused me to pray to God for direction in life, the prayer that resulted in the answer of going to BYU.

So, there you have it. A personal example from my life where a devastating loss at the time makes its true meaning known years later. I didn't realize the "magic" of this event until a few years later, when I drove my Saturn across country to start school at BYU. It's a trip I would have never made if I still had my Metro. I believe that accident was destined to happen to propel me onto the path I was meant to take (attending BYU and meeting new friends there who share my values). Because of this experience, whenever I'm in a situation I'm not happy about, I try to withhold judgment because it might be the bitter pill I have to take to get back on the path towards a destiny that only God knows how to get there from where I'm at.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Another Charlatan Bites the Dust!

Honestly, I can't say that I'm all sad and heartbroken over the news of Jerry Falwell's passing. He was the worst kind of charlatan...a politician masquerading as a religious leader. While I understand the human decency in not speaking ill of the dead (out of respect for those who are mourning his loss), I don't think it should go without saying that he was the kind of person Jesus had warned followers about. It makes me wonder where his soul is right now. I'm thinking that it's in a self-imposed place that rhymes with the second syllable of his last name. But that's just my guess.

The quote that I hope people will always remember him by is this:

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'."

Helped what happen, exactly? 9/11, that's what. That's right. It's the fault of the very people who are the outcasts in this society that is the cause for 9/11 happening!

Nope, it couldn't be because we had an incompetent president who preferred to read "My Pet Goat" to elementary school kids than take command of the situation.

Nor could it have been the fault of the very same president who preferred to clear brush on his ranch in August when the CIA delivered his Daily Presidential Briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

Nor could it be the fault of a Vice President who was CEO of Halliburton and was dreaming up ways for getting our nation gung ho about war.

Let's go even further back...

Falwell got Evangelists to support Reagan over Carter (a true evangelical Christian) for president in 1980. As a result, we got a president who loved covert operations and helped aid and arm the likes of Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, and Osama Bin Laden, all three men our country later had to wage war against! Osama Bin Laden was a member of the mujahadeen fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In interviews, Bin Laden said that he was outraged in 1990 over the build up of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, because it is the site of the two most holiest shrines in all of Islam (Mecca and Medina). That's when he turned against his former ally. The Soviets were defeated and humiliated (Afghanistan was their Vietnam). Now, Bin Laden had his sights set on the next "Evil Empire" to defeat. Way to go, Reagan!

So...because of that history, one could very well hold Jerry Falwell as responsible in part for 9/11. His support of Reagan over Carter gave the actor a credible boost, and a lot of the seeds of our nation's current problems were planted in the Reagan years. The Republicans love to call Democrats "cut and run"...but it was Reagan who cut and ran after the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983. To change the media story, he swiftly invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada to help "rescue" American students at the medical school there.

The real spiritual reason behind 9/11 is in our foreign policy. Simply put, we stick our military into too many other nations and we wouldn't like it if some foreign power tried that with us (as China may do at some point in our future). It is the sign of a hypocrite to hold others to a higher standard than he holds himself. And if there is one thing that is clear about Jesus in the Bible, he condemned the religious hypocrites far more than he ever did the poor, the destitute, the outcast. So, when an evangelical seeks to blame the outcasts for things that our government is partially responsible for causing, you know right there that the evangelical is a fake, a phony, a charlatan.

And where do charlatans go? Well, there is a huge spiritual price to pay when one leads a large group astray, especially one who knows better. For that reason, I do feel some sadness for where Falwell's soul may be roasting these days. If there is justice in the universe, he's in the same place as Reagan, Saddam, and probably Bin Laden (we haven't had a video tape on him in awhile. Hunch says he's long dead!). Though I don't believe hell is forever, I do believe that souls send themselves there, especially if they have caused some evil mischief on this planet. And Falwell sold his soul a long time ago. May God have mercy on it. We can all pray for his enlightenment, and maybe through a life review, he'll realize just how wrong he was...and that he is partially responsible for 9/11, not the people he pointed a finger at (when you point ONE finger at someone, you have FOUR pointing straight back at you!).

Peace, y'all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The OxyContin Outrage (and why I hate capitalism)

Last week, the news reported that the CEOs of a big pharmaceutical company withheld evidence that the pain-killer drug they were pushing is dangerous enough to be deadly, and the reason they remained silent was so that the drug could sell and make huge profits. Now is that not a kick in the head or what? Surprising? Not really. I'm one who thinks Corporate CEOs represent the lowest form of humanity. Their values go against spirituality, honesty, charity, and environmental sustainability. When one looks at the whole corporate culture, it's a numbers racket that leads to dishonesty. I saw it up close and personal when I worked at the Atlanta Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Their obsession with numbers led a few to fudge the numbers to meet their quarterly and annual quotas. Over a few years time, that added up to over 30,000 youth members who don't exist. All for what?

When I hear the word OxyContin, I'm forever picturing the smug and unhappy Rush Limbaugh, because his confessed addiction to the drug was the first time I had ever heard of it. Of course, he saw his drug addiction as a medical problem in which he needed help overcoming. Yet on his show over the years, he espoused the view that people who do drugs should get locked up in prison. It was an example of his hypocrisy coming to the fore. What's good enough for him (tolerance and understanding for his "problem") isn't good enough for someone else.

Well, if OxyContin was deadly, why didn't Rush buy the farm? Oops...I meant, "pharm"! (Wink, wink). This news report seems to have not made a huge impact, as I don't see any outrage out there. Has the Bushreich era warped our sense of outrage?

I know this comes as a huge shock to many of my more enlightened liberal friends out there, but I support the death penality for cases such as this. In a just world, the death penalty would be the appropriate punishment for anyone who abuses their wealth and power against the masses of people. So that means there would not be any capital punishment for crimes of passion (which are isolated incidents in which the root needs to be addressed). But a political leader starting a war on false pretenses and getting rich in the process, or a CEO who manipulated the energy crisis in California to bring more money into the shell game they got going on in Texas, or a CEO that willfully deceives the public about the risk of it's product...all those are examples where I think that capital punishment would be appropriate and just. After all, as capital punishment advocates try to tell us, having a death penalty supposedly deters crime.

Yet it doesn't. Most murders that happened aren't pre-meditated. A lot happen in the heat of the moment. If a person was truly rational and thought about the consequences of their actions, they wouldn't do it. However, there seems to be an epidemic among people in power that they can get away with their schemes because our justice system slaps on the wrist white collar crime (where millions of dollars can be swindled), but a poor non-white person doing an armed robbery in a bank for a thousand dollars is treated much harsher. I'm not saying that one is better than the other, just that in our justice system, violent crime is punished harshly without really delving into the root cause of the problem; at the same time as allowing white collar criminals to get away with their actions without true retributive justice. As the Savings and Loan scandal of the late 1980s show, such white collar criminality has a greater effect on the economy than a small-time robbery on an insured bank, yet the level of punishment is reversed.

Seeing those smug pharmaceutical CEOs confess to Congress their roles in keeping the bad news about OxyContin under wraps is outrageous. They know they aren't going to be doing any real time. A fine of a few hundred million dollars is mere pennies to their billion-dollar company. That we keep hearing news like this five years after the demise of Enron shows that we haven't learned anything as a nation. The United States "sheeple" continue to graze and daze, obsessed with the lives of Paris Hilton and death of Anna Nicole Smith, while corporate capitalists find amusement that their actions will not result in serious punishment. And, because Americans don't seem to value justice and get outraged at injustice anymore, I'm afraid that what this spells out is that not a single high-ranking member of the Bushreich Administration will pay for their lies, crimes against humanity, greed, and incompetence. They will live out the rest of their retirement on a golf course somewhere, oblivious to the decline of the American standard of living for the vast majority of our people.

That is why I hate capitalism with a passion. That doesn't make me a communist, because I have my disagreements with that philosophy as well. What I advocate is a more ethically based economic structure in which we no longer evaluate our nation or any other by the "Gross National Product" or "Gross Domestic Product." The new criteria should many people have you helped move out of poverty into the middle class? A standard where there are no million dollar annual bonuses to CEOs (especially when the company's stock has was the case with Delta Airlines). Under threat of the death penalty, CEOs should be made to live by ethical standards in which a company's morale is just as important as it's stock market share. And corporations should have their charters renewed once every few years, approved by a council of various community groups and activists. Everything should be transparent, and companies that like to hide certain practices should be exposed and shamed into openness.

Until we have real revolutionary change in the way our corporations are run, this OxyContin scandal is just going to be followed by more. It definitely pays to be wise to what corporations are up to. I personally, have always been a strong advocate against most forms of drugs. I never even liked taking Tylenol for headaches when I was a teenager (though I do sometimes now, if it's bad enough). The truth about the dangers of OxyContin should only make us more cautious about whatever new "miracle drug" the media and corporate sponsors rave about. Capitalism builds itself upon lie after lie, and ultimately, it's not sustainable for our planet. I just hate to see more people falling into the trap.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Reds is Relevant!

Last night, I watched the classic film Reds, which I had never seen before. Mostly because it came out in 1981, and although my parents did take me to see Gandhi and Chariots of Fire back then, I don't think a film about Jack Reed and the Communist Revolution was their cup of tea. The film is a classic, there's no doubt about it. Epic in scope, crossing continents, featuring historical events, and with a message that's still timely even today. I was impressed! It was a bit long though, and some scenes could've been cut out that weren't vital to the story. However, it was very educational and as I watched, I couldn't help but be reminded what a racket war truly is.

One of the messages I got from the film was how much the capitalist class loves war. There's no denying that some people do get rich off of war (cough, cough, Dick Cheney, cough, cough). Our Founding Fathers knew this about human nature and governments, thus why they gave War Powers to Congress, not to the President. They believed (falsely, as it turned out) that a body of representatives who were held accountable to the public every two years would less likely involve our nation in a war than a Chief Executive who could use war to cow the masses at home (distracting the masses from internal trouble by propping up a scary enemy abroad is a classic tactic by tyrants).

World War I is perhaps the most ridiculous war of all time (as the primary start of the war was the assassination of some Archduke in Sarajevo, which caused one nation to declare war on another nation, and then the alliance system that President Washington had warned our country about kicked in to devastating results). President Woodrow Wilson won his reelection in 1916 with a promise to keep America out of the war in Europe, but reneged on his promise as Americans were sent overseas in 1917 while Russia bowed out to fight their own internal struggle between the Czars and the Bolsheviks.

I'm not too keen on my Russian history, but it is interesting that people around the world saw communism as the solution to war. The idea that its the capitalist class who wage the war, but the worker class that has to fight and pay for it, so if the workers of the world could unite in one union (in the I.W.W.), they will have the significant numbers to oust the capitalist class and end the ridiculous war. A lot of writers and intellectuals were excited about the Russian Revolution, because they believed that it was a force for good that would blow across Europe and over to the U.S.

However, as the film makes out, the leaders of the Russian Revolution had no intention of bringing about a true "worker's paradise". It was merely a ruse to oust the corrupt Czars and establish a new political order. Dissent was still squashed. Freedom to enter and leave the country became restricted. It became the groundwork that later led to the oppression and brutality of Joseph Stalin. Because of this ugly history, and America's obsession with rooting out communist activists in the U.S. before it became too powerful, we got the McCarthy witchhunts of the 1950s and the ongoing stigma most Americans have about communism, socialism, and even liberalism.

Why has the right been able to get away with it for so long? The current government of the United States is probably closer to Nazi Germany than any "liberal president" ever was to Soviet Russia. Just comparing the Clinton presidency with the current disaster, even Clinton didn't squash dissent when people disagreed with his policies. Republicans questioned his motives for going to war in Kosovo in 1999, then turned around and called people "traitors" when anyone raised a question about Bush's motives for his Iraq fiasco. The truth is, the right wing has a problem with dissent and freedom. They also suffer from a numbers problem. There are few rich people in the world. The vast majority is not well off. Yet, those dying in Iraq are poor, whether Iraqis or our soldiers. A case like Pat Tillman giving up a million dollar Football contract to fight in a war under Army salary scale is truly rare, for the vast majority of military members are lower middle class and struggling with the bills.

So, until more people become spiritually and politically aware, it looks like we're destined to fall for every splendid little war that some president proposes with fears of a boogie man to wipe out our American civilization. In the meantime, they're lining their pockets with oodles of cash and laughing all the way to the bank at all the poor saps who continue to fall for it.

Why do I say, "continue to fall for it"? Because if you examine our political history since 1945, we seem to be involved in some form of military action or war every half-decade or so. Multi-national peacekeeping missions are one thing, but an all out war over natural resources (despite the constant denials by our slimey oil-men and woman who rule the government) is another thing entirely. If we don't impeach and remove from office the current cabal, I fear that we will only get a more ambitious, greedy, and manipulative charlatan for president in the future (it most likely won't be a Democrat because for some reason, the media and opposition party holds Democrats to a higher standard than they do for Republicans).

Nothing makes me redder than that. What we truly need is a full scale revolution, like our own President Jefferson indicated should occur every 20 years or so. Bring it on! Viva la revolution!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Unleash the Soul Patrol (woo-hoo!)

Last night, I went to the Taylor Hicks concert at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland OR.

First, get over your snobbery about last year's "American Idol" winner and realize that his win was an example of justice in our universe.

Here's a guy who has been performing in any club he could book, writing his music, and dreaming one day of a record contract...ever since he graduated high school. He was facing 30 and was about to give up on his dream of ever finding success as a singer/songwriter/performer. By happenstance, he happened to be in New Orleans before Katrina hit. FEMA gave him a one way plane ticket to anywhere. He had never been to Las Vegas, so he decided that's where he wanted to go. By chance, there was an "American Idol" audition while he was there and from that moment on, his last chance to make his dream a reality finally took hold. How can anyone dismiss that or not be happy for the guy?

Let's face it...the music industry is pretty shallow. More people seem interested in fame and wealth than the love of music. In fact, a lot of contestants on "Idol" are more into the fame (witness this year's Sanjaya, who can't sing). But what was apparent early on was how much Taylor really loved music. It came through. His victory a year ago was universal justice. And because of the superficiality of the music industry, he had a hard time getting his music out there. His mix of soul, blues, and rock is not what's current. He was a man born too late for that style of music, but because he lacks serious competition in that type of music, he does fill a unique niche.

Last year, I learned through the local news in Atlanta that Taylor Hicks had been performing in bars around the Buckhead neighbourhood (where I lived from 2001 to 2004) for years! Had I known about him and his style of music, I most definitely would've went to see him. I love the mix of soul, blues, and rock. In fact, during the concert, I couldn't help but think of musicians as diverse as Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Michael McDonald, and Joe Cocker. He's right up there with them.

One reason why I probably liked Taylor from the start (during the audition phase of "American Idol") is because like him, I am prematurely gray, though he got more of it at a younger age. I also liked his sense of humour and easy-going nature. Had we known each other in high school, we would've been in the same group of friends I'm sure. On the show, I was impressed week after week as he seemed focused and determined while others seemed more into the fame aspect. He worked hard and I especially loved his rendition of "In the Ghetto" (I wish he'd release that one on disc). He was the first "American Idol" choice of mine to make it all the way to the end, and when his CD came out, I bought it on the day of release. And unlike previous "American Idol" CDs I've bought (Tamyra Gray, Josh Gracin, and Chris Daughtry) in which I was disappointed by the lack of memorable songs, Hicks' CD blew it out the park with many songs with an awesome hook and melody. It's definitely worth a listen.

The concert was pretty good, though overpriced at $39.50. He's a showman and you can tell that he loves what he's doing. I'd love to say that it's great, but I'm partial to the theatrical concert style of Madonna and U2 (if I was a performer, I would tell stories through music, with backdrops, costumes, characters--all around whatever themes I was interested in), so any concert where it's just a performer and band on stage is going to be merely good and enjoyable entertainment instead of W O W!!

The crowd was interesting. Mostly middle aged couples, elderly women, and pre-teen girls. I guess that's the statistical demographic for the "American Idol" audience. Can't say that it surprised me. What did surprise me was seeing an elderly lady with a walker look devastated when told that Taylor Hicks had already left the building and wasn't coming out to the bus that was waiting outside (along with a crowd of groupies, including one buxom lady holding a cheesy sign: "Taylor, you make me proud!!!"). Wow, people are really that into it! Meeting Taylor Hicks would've made that woman's year, and because she wouldn't get that chance, she was so distraught looking. Scary! I didn't realize how intense the fans are.

But it was an enjoyable evening with a friend, who wasn't afraid to let loose her "inner Taylor" and dance like a mad woman. I'm glad to see success come to Taylor Hicks by his 30th birthday and I hope he has a long future in music ahead. It's hard to find good new music that I like, and his style is certainly something I've always liked. So, don't hate the man for finding the success he has long sought in life (like him, I've struggled in low wage jobs since graduation from high school in 1990 and still hoping for a literary agent to make my year with a publishing contract on my novel). So, his persistence serves as an excellent inspiration for me not to give up on my dream of becoming a professional writer/novelist.

Now, I will return you back to the more serious posts (I want to keep the "fluff" rare on here, since we get inundated with it on too many tabloid TV shows and magazines and I prefer to write about topics of spiritual and political relevance). Stay opinion on the makers of OxyContin is coming soon!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Democratic Field (Part II)

I was going to edit my last post to include my thoughts on the rest of the Democrats in the race for President, but with a couple comments already, I decided to just post a separate one for today.

Before I get to the big two, let me talk about the three also-rans and the one remaining mystery...

Tom Vilsack -- The first one to announce a campaign and the first to drop out. The only other governor who was in the race. It's a shame that the money chase causes so many potential candidates to drop out before getting their ideas out into the public. I noticed this with alarm in 1999 when Dan Quayle and Elizabeth Dole dropped out of the Republican field well before the primaries because of all the money and talent flowing to the George W. Bush camp. Now, it's happening on the Democratic side.

Evan Bayh -- I liked him in the late 1990s, when I thought the New Democrat Leadership Council was the way to defeat Republicans, and as a popular two-term Governor and a current Senator from a heavily Republican state (of Indiana), he seemed like a shoo-in for the nomination. But, he fell out of my favour in 2000 when one of his staff members kept avoiding my calls regarding two job possibilities that she had informed me about. It just didn't seem right to me, to string me along. I had already made plans to leave D.C. in June unless I got a job offer with Vice President Gore's office or Senator Bayh's office. When I got a call about two job openings in Senator Bayh's office, I postponed my plans to leave D.C. as I awaited word on these jobs. Two weeks went by and my money was rapidly dwindling down past my last $100 and I needed an answer, but she avoided my calls. As an intern, I learned the tricks about how to avoid calls from people you don't want to speak to, without them thinking you're avoiding their calls. So, I went there in person to meet this lady. It was an uncomfortable (for her) visit, but at least I got an answer that I didn't get a job. They had already hired someone a week earlier. Gosh, she could have said so on the phone, allowing me to leave D.C. instead of waiting around on her call!

I know Bayh isn't at fault, but she really burned a bridge with me. Then during the Bush era, I find that Bayh voted for the USA Patriot Act and other decisions that made him fall out of favour. He saw the writing on the wall and realize that there was little support for his presidential ambitions. He bowed out last year, before others even announced. Probably a wise decision.

John Kerry -- Though he had hinted about another run for the White House up through the end of last year, I think he also saw the writing on the wall that a lot of the people who voted for him in 2004 did so mostly as a vote AGAINST Bush rather than FOR him. I know I was one who held my nose when I voted for Kerry. I was actually mixed about the election in 2004. While I wanted the Bush disaster of a presidency to end, I also didn't want to see 2008 closed to other Democrats. I knew that at least with a Bush victory, we'd have a wide open race for 2008, which would be better in the long run than a Kerry Presidency. But out of my conscience, I could not vote strategically, so I voted for Kerry.

I'm glad he has the good sense to decide not to run again, sparing us a painful repeat of 2004. He was such a lackluster candidate and to this day I blame scared Iowan Democrats for thinking that Kerry's war record would have been enough against the Bush juggernaut. They should have stuck with Howard Dean. If the Democrats were going to lose against Bush, it was better to lose with our conscience clean instead of the pro-war candidate that we ended up having to hold our noses to vote and support. After the election, I had hoped that he'd disappear back into the Senate and never be heard from again. Looks like I'm getting my wish. Thank you, Kerry, for not running again!

Al Gore -- I posted earlier (check my March 31st blog) why I thought he shouldn't run again, even though I believe he is rightfully due his chance to serve as president considering that it was stolen from him and history will prove what a disaster for our nation that the Supreme Court violated its own "states rights" views to rule in favour of the boy king (probably a political payback to the father Bush). However, a Gore administration post-Bush would not be as great as a Gore presidency post-Clinton, and on top of that, he has new clout as a Statesman on climate change and can do a lot more good for our planet by focusing his energies on that subject his is most passionate about, rather than fall back into the political game of horse-trading and back-scratching. As of now, Gore's place in history is secure. He is vindicated, and that's a good note to leave politics on as he pursues greater goals that will make our planet more liveable for future inhabitants. And he has an excellent chance of being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this fall for his work on helping convince the world that climate change is a serious threat to sustaining life on earth that needs to become our global priority.

And now, the big two...

Barack Obama -- Although I'm a little concerned by his lack of experience and always worry about what the press might dig up regarding his past, he is my choice for president in 2008. I believe he has the necessary mix of charisma, biography, and views to lead our nation out of the dark era of the Bushreich, and to be the true uniter that the Shrub falsely claimed to be. I find it almost destiny that Obama is from the Land of Lincoln (at least since he graduated college). Lincoln didn't have a lot of government experience when he became president and he's considered by many to be our very best. Interestingly enough, Illinois produced the first African American female Senator when Carole Moseley Braun won in 1992. And when Barack Obama won in 2004, he became the first African American male Senator since Reconstruction. The legacy of Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclaimation" seemed to have good effect (finally) in Illinois!

If Obama becomes president, he will most likely become the most popular world leader since Nelson Mandela and even Bill Clinton (despite a lot of haters in the U.S., there is no denying the fact that Clinton was hugely popular around the world, rivaled only by Mandela). That's really the kind of leader we need right now, instead of one that is widely hated by the majority of the planet's inhabitants. So appealing is Obama, that even conservative Republicans are considering supporting him. Some have gone so far as to call him "the black Ronald Reagan" (which I doubt seriously that he is, but anything that gets their votes, right?). Let's "Barack our world"!!!

And finally...

Hillary Clinton -- She's obviously the establishment's choice and I learned a lesson from the 2004 elections. Howard Dean might have won the money chase and became the people's choice, but in the end, the establishment candidate won because he carried more IOUs to the people that matter (politicians, corporate execs, Wall Street, the media). I see the same thing happening this time. The reason why she's the establishment favourite is because she is experienced and well tested. Anyone who could survive Ken Starr's invasive investigations into every facet of her and her husband's personal life could survive anything! And because her personal life had already been picked over for every little detail, there aren't any surprises that can pop up that we don't already know about. And besides all that, I believe that the establishment sees in the Clintons the magic ability to turn around Bush-era deficits. After all, Clinton was a master at the economic turn-around. The Clinton team would be highly effective in reversing the devastating disaster that the Bush years have wrought. On top of that, Hillary has an excellent chance of becoming the first female president because she is already tested and proven to be a tough leader. And since her husband had been a two-term president, people will naturally be curious to see how he handles the role of First Gentleman. I predict that she'll name him to be Secretary of State, as he is the best person to bring our allies back on board.

So, my prediction is that Hillary will be the nominee and she will select Governor Bill Richardson as her Vice President and the Democrats will win against the Republican candidate. The only concern is a potential backlash, in which the Republicans turn to Jeb Bush to run against her in 2012. I'm hoping that Americans realize that two failed Bush presidencies doesn't deserve another chance.

It'll be an interesting election, that's for sure!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Democratic Field

I've been meaning to post my opinion on the candidates vying to become the 44th President of these (dis)United States. I was thinking recently about an assignment I had in 7th grade English class to write about the 1984 elections and who I thought should be president. I was non-political back then (hard to imagine, eh? But it's true...I didn't become politically "aware" and passionated until my Senior year in 1989, thanks to a great Government teacher and seeing the change in Eastern Europe that fall). My paper was more like a list of why someone should not be president, with really stupid standards. Basically, I believed back then that if someone had achieved fame already, they shouldn't bother. So, my paper said things like, "Jesse Jackson got to march with Dr. King and contribute to Civil Rights; John Glenn got to be an astronaut; Walter Mondale already served as Vice President..." My choice in 1984 was Gary Hart. That was before his monkey business with Donna Rice (that happened in 1987, y'all!). I didn't even know that he had served as Governor of Colorado, otherwise, I'd nix him on that.

I won't do that this time. But, here's my take...

Joe Biden -- Puh-leeze! His run is nothing but pure egotism.

Christopher Dodd -- Dull and undistinguished.

Bill Richardson -- Has a great bio and lots of experience in the legislative branch, in the executive branch (as Secretary of Energy), in the U.N., and most appealing of all, being a re-elected governor and hispanic to boot! All this puts him in the running for the top contender in the Vice Presidential slot. In fact, I'd place a bet in Vegas with some serious money behind it that he will be the V.P. nominee.

Dennis Kucinich -- For a peace advocating candidate and being perhaps the top choice among a lot of progressives, I dealt with this guy when I was an intern. I answered the phone one day and he was on the other line. Because I didn't know who he was, he got really annoyed and started yelling at me. It was disturbing. How can one advocate peace when he's still all about ego. He had to realize that he's one of 434 other members of Congress. Plus, I dealt with the Senate side of Congress and knew most of them, but I had never heard of Kucinich until his angry, temper-tantrum phone call. When I later learned that his big thing is to establish a Department of Peace, I couldn't believe it. Peace begins within, dude. Take a chill pill and don't take it personal that some non-paid intern for Vice President Gore didn't know him from Adam. Granted, he might have had a bad day, but that one contact with him has made sure that I'd never support him.

Besides, he looks like an elf to me. Do we really want him leading our nation?

John Edwards -- My second choice in 2004 (after Howard Dean). Unfortunately, he made three cardinal errors early on, so he lost my support. What are those? Well...for starters, he lived in a really nice house before. But just recently, he got an even bigger house. It's huge!!! What's he need all that space for? One of the newsmagazines published an aerial photograph of the house and it's an odd looking thing, with a long covered hallway that leads to a barn-looking structure that's bigger than the house. It's an eyesore from the air...what's it like from the ground?

His second sin was that upon hearing the news that his wife has relapsed in her cancer, that he still wants to be president. Such ambition in the face of a personal tragedy is alarming to me. After all, he served but one term in the Senate. Shouldn't he spend more time with the wife and kids? In interviews, Elizabeth Edwards acknowledged that it might be a losing battle and that he might serve in the White House without her. When I heard that, I was shocked! The guy is rich. He doesn't have to work. Why not enjoy every moment with your wife and children while you're still young? He could run again in 2012, 2016, and even 2020. Why not focus on his wife now, because if he loses her, he can't take these years back.

The final nail in his coffin is the $400 haircut. To make a mistake like that means he didn't learn anything from the Clinton years. I remember the fuss over Clinton's super expensive Hollywood haircut on Air Force One, which created a scandal early on in his administration. That should be burned into every Democrat's brain. One can't afford to look elitist, especially a candidate like John Edwards who claims to want to help those Americans on the losing end of the economy. This early gaffe only tells me what an opportunist he is, a rich boy pretending to be the best friend to the common man, while getting expensive haircuts he doesn't have to pay for. Shameless!

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Tale of Two Royals

What an eventful week! This is what an International Politics major lives for!

First, on Sunday, the French voted in the second round of voting for their next president and it looks like there's a world wide trend towards conservative politicians backed by corporations. Had I been able to vote in the elections, I would've voted for Jose Bove in the first round. He's a French farmer who gained fame burning down a McDonald's or something to that nature. He's squarely in the anti-globalization camp. Anyone who sees the threat that is McDonald's is worthy of my vote! But in the second round run-off, my vote would have gone to the Socialist candidate, Segolene Royal, who would've become the first female president of France. A part of me thinks the reason she didn't stand a chance against Nicolas Sarkozy is because she's a woman. I think in France, women didn't even get the right to vote until the 1960s or 1970s, so what does that tell you? Je pense que c'est le sexisme! Non?

I wish the election got more coverage in the American media, and I would've loved to have been in Paris during this time (ah...I WILL see Paris again, I WILL see Paris again!!!), to soak up French politics and the interesting dynamic between the two candidates. According to pundits in this country, the French people don't respect a politician who doesn't have a mistress, as Sarkozy supposedly does (Clinton would fit in well over there!). I don't know if its true or not, for my French friends knew how disappointed I was during Clinton's l'affaire Monica. And if I had decided to move to San Francisco last year instead of Portland, I would be voting against a mayor I used to like (Gavin Newstrum) for having an affair with his campaign manager's wife. I'm not a moralist, but I think there ought to be some standard. But maybe the French just have a more "mature view" of things (since wives supposedly tolerate mistresses for doing what they no longer care to with their husbands, yet don't want to throw away their relationship history over something so triffle as fellatio). Who knows?

In the opinion of this amateur International Political Scientist, I think the French elections represents a disturbing trend towards corporate-backed candidates who are working in all the industrial countries to bring them all into what may eventually become a "one world government" in which all the money and commerce is tied into an even smaller group of people. Not to sound like a right-wing conspiracy theorist, but it is alarming that a candidate who openly admires American-style capitalism and promises to put the French back to work (au revoir les semaine de travaille de 35-heures ou les vacances des six semaines!) would sway the French citizens over a Socialist candidate who wants to protect their enviable social system. Not to mention having a president who's actually pretty sexy in a way that French women are!

Now pundits are talking about how Republicans in this country can replicate the success of Sarkozy. After all, the French were clamoring for change, yet they returned to power the same party that has governed France since the late 1990s. And proof that the French hate Americans has shown to be false, as Sarkozy vows to be more friendly with the U.S. Our Republicans, who made anti-French jokes since 2002 and even tried to slander John Kerry in 2004 for having a French poodle as a pet (I don't think it was proven that he did) and for "looking French". Now, watch these slimey Repuglicans do secret meetings in Paris to learn how to run a smooth and effective campaign against the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (who is no Segolene Royal). It only goes to show how low and slimey Republicans are and what fair-weather friends they are, making jokes about the French, changing the name of French fries and other non-French foods, and dismissing our longest enduring ally when they don't do as we wish, while hoping to forget all that when it's most convenient for them. Watch...for election 2008, the French will be made out to be the greatest culture ever (I wouldn't dispute that one bit!).

Now on to the other Royal...Queen Elizabeth II's visit to America.

A lot has been made of the supposed "gaffe" the Shrubster had made in the Queen's presence when he thanked her for their support in 1776. I thought he did it on purpose, as a joke, which was actually a pretty good joke. It showed him as the buffoon to the Queen's "school marm" and got a good laugh from the audience. So, ease up on the gaffe gun, eh? It was most likely an intentional joke.

Had I the opportunity to meet the Queen, I'd love to tell her, "I loved your performance in 'The Queen'! Well deserved Oscar, too!" Just to see her reaction. I've read that she hasn't seen the film nor ever plans to, but I don't see why not. Helen Mirren did an outstanding role and made her fully human and sympathetic. I've never cared for the Queen during the Diana years, because I wondered how cold she must have been to not been enamoured of the People's Princess. I'm a loyal Diana fan all the way (and supposedly a distant cousin, through a common ancestor, Noah Webster). But when I saw "The Queen", I realized that perhaps she didn't grieve "properly" because she was of a different generation that kept one's inner pains to oneself. The classic "stiff, upper lip" the British are well known for. Only in the age of Oprah has people come to be more open about their pains, almost without shame. At any rate, I loved "The Queen" and would have loved to meet the Queen during her visit.

One thing that really makes me wonder is what will happen if something tragic should happen to the brave young Prince Harry. While I admire the Prince for wanting to be a normal guy among his fellow soldiers in Iraq, I also believe that his high profile makes him too much a tempting target for Islamists. The Queen supposedly does not talk politics with people, but it makes me wonder what she might think of our president who launched this reckless war and especially if it should affect her grandson's future. While I believe that every life lost in this misbegotten war is a tragedy, I also believe that the tragedy would be even harder to take should someone like Prince Harry become a casualty. The war was not necessary, and it's a great disrespect to all the young lives who had dreams, plans, and a future that will never come to pass. I hope to God that Queen Elizabeth tried to talk some sense into our mad King George W. Not that it matters, but she has a higher stake in the conflict than he does. If he'd only send his daughters to the war zone, I could at least respect him somewhat...but not when he pays no price for his incompetent, war-mongering ambitions.

Finally, in honour of the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Jamestown Colony, I have to recommend the excellent film "The New World" if you haven't seen it. Terrence Malick is one of my favourite directors because of the way he can capture the beauty of our natural world on film and draw you in, regardless of the film (I noticed his gift when I saw "The Thin Red Line" a few years I'm not a fan of war films but was totally taken in by the beauty amid the war). "The New World" is a film worth discovering, especially during this commemorative celebration.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

God, Man and War

I just read the cover article on "God and War" in the May 7, 2007 issue of Newsweek magazine, featuring Army Chaplain, Captain Roger Benimoff. Very interesting and highly recommended reading. Basically, the tours of duty in Iraq and seeing the carnage first hand has caused Chaplain Benimoff to question everything he had believed about God. He had asked his wife questions such as, "why does a loving God allow suicide bombers to attack civilians?" He feels that the God he had been presented with did not reflect the reality of the way the world is. He even wrote in his journal that he was sick of religion and even that he hated God.

Wow. An Army chaplain with a crisis of faith, brought on by our current war in Iraq, which was waged by our self-proclaimed "Christian" president (I always put Christian in quotes when referring to the Shrubya, because his faith is insincere. His actions continually show that he truly does not know Christ as the New Testament portrays him). The article was riveting for me because here is a man who went to a seminary to become a chaplain in our military services. He's supposed to be the one helping the faith of others, yet he's having a spiritual crisis himself, brought on by our war of choice. It confirmed what I had always thought of "American-brand Christianity"...which is a false religion that is more about capitalistic economics than true spirituality. Thus, it's no surprise to me that seeing the reality of war has caused the faith he was indoctrinated into (Southern Baptist) falter. What surprises me is that he is having these doubts and questions at age 34, when I had those same questions at 15 through 19. Those questions are old and irrelevant to me, because my spirituality has grown beyond the Christianity of my youth.

Here's how I'd like to answer him, if I could ever meet with him and have a deeply spiritual discussion. The reason God "allows" evil to happen is because He gave us Free Will. That means we have a choice. We can be as evil as Hitler and cause genocide on a whole group of people. Or we can be as selfless and loving as Mother Teresa, sacrificing our desires to serve the poorest and the most afflicted. Or we can be in between the two. Whatever we choose, there is a price to pay. For Hitler, that price is accountability. At the end of his life, he had to account for every act he caused, every pain. In the concept of a life review, we experience EVERYTHING our actions cause in another person. So, if we took pleasure in bringing pain to other people, in the afterlife, we will feel the very pain we caused. The more we do it to other people, the more we feel it ourselves. How do I know this is The Truth? I don't. I base it on the interesting fact that every single religion (and even science) has its own version of "The Golden Rule" that advises people that what they do to others will come back to them in one form or another, thus why we always need to be mindful of how we act to each other, if we wish to avoid pain ourselves.

Free will cannot come with exceptions. Either God allows it or not. He, in essence, gives us the power to decide how we want to live our lives and how we wish to affect other people with our actions. People who commit evil acts, even using the name of God to do so, are spiritually unaware. They are following false gods or false spiritual precepts. But it's not enough to point the finger at those evil Islamists who are killing others through suicidal acts. We also have to take a deep look within our own culture at the violence we subject others to, and that's a step that many Christians in our own country simply will not do. They believe that we are led by the most Christian president we've ever had, and that's that. They won't examine in depth why they believe that to be true. Just hearing Shrubya give speeches in which he peppers them with "Christian codewords" as a wink to his evangelical audiences, they embrace him as God's own annointed. But if one reads about Jesus in the New Testament, there is no mistake that one would fail to find a single instance where Shrubya embodies the values of Jesus. Just examining the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, in which Jesus said, "blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God." Shrubya's first impulse has always been to wage war first, diplomacy second. And what about "blessed are the meek"? Just during the 2004 election cycle alone, the rightwing made peace-desiring Democrats out to be weak on defense. Everything about our society fails to reflect the values of Jesus. In essence, if people would open their eyes to what Jesus was really about, it would cause them to question everything we've been taught to believe in our own country. We are a country drunk on power, strength, and military it's delightfully ironic how we're getting our asses kicked by another group of ragtag, developing world "primitives". How can that be? Easy...anytime we violate spiritual principle, we will not win. Iraq, like Vietnam, is an immoral war, fought for false reasons.

And Christians are complacent in it. Well, not all Christians, but it does say something to me that in the long history of Christianity, we still have failed to live up to the ideals of Jesus the Christ. How can people attempt to convert others to the faith if they don't even understand what Jesus was truly about? How can we continually have a religious faith that supported the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Nazi regime, the anti-Communism hysteria of the 1950s, the policy of segregation in the U.S., the apartheid government in South Africa, and the wars in Vietnam and Iraq? What is it about Christianity that fails to see the injustice in all those events? That's why American Christians should take a deep, reflective look at what Christianity means, before going out in the world and trying to tell other people to convert. If one cannot understand the dark impulses of their own faith, how can we make the world a better place?

Here's what I believe about God and our world: Before the world was created, we all lived in the spiritual realm. It was a perfect place and love ruled. We, as spiritual beings, could not imagine not loving the other souls around us. All we knew was love. So, God created this earth for us, as our testing ground. Our school. He set it up to be a test of all kinds of things, from physical, to mental, to spiritual. He gave us diverse environments and worked through the evolutionary process. In essence, this earth is a continual experiment as we make decisions on what we'd like to do in our own spiritual evolution. We choose to be male or female, American or some other citizen, Christian or another religion. All these choices, as a test of our commitment to see past the differences for the soul beneath the flesh. Some things test our commitment and resolve more than others. And sometimes, we give in to the violent nature of our egos. That's where the true test comes in. Do we do an eye for an eye, as was the case in the Old Testament, or do we follow the example of Jesus, who forgave and died rather than harming another soul? That's the test we are faced with on a continual basis. To blame God for the events of this world is absurd. This world is imperfect for a test our commitment to love. When we allow suicide bombers to push us towards justifying torture against another human being, we have failed that test. It shows God that we really do not believe in what we claim to believe in ("truth, justice, and the American way"). If we allow those lesser developed souls to push us to commiting acts of evil, then we are not worthy of carrying the mantle of Jesus the Christ. We are called to be better than our enemies, to forgive, and ultimately, to love. God never said it would be easy, but all we have is our commitment to try.

I hope the Army Chaplain will deepen his faith and abandon the indoctrination that he probably got at the Baptist Seminary. The American brand of Christianity has little to do with the reality of Jesus. Too many evangelicals have tied their interests up in American military, economic, and cultural power, and that is why we will fail. In the Book of Mormon, the wealthy Nephite civilization became weak through their indulgent lifestyles, ignoring the poverty of the Lamanites, thus the poor prevails because they have nothing to lose. If we want to win, we have to learn to share the wealth with the billions who lack many essentials to live a life without the kind of despair that drives them towards suicide bombing. Can we at least agree on that?