Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Have a Darko Halloween!

I've never been a fan of scary movies, save for the "Scream" movies in the 1990s (which I can't watch anymore, due to an oddly enhanced spiritual sensitivity to gratuitious violence since the last one came out in 2000)...but I like to watch something along a Halloween theme on that special day.

For me, the film that best fills the role of "Halloween movie" is "Donnie Darko", which I never heard about until 2004 when the Director's Cut was released. By that point, it had already become a huge "cult film" after being a surprise hit in the United Kingdom. It bombed in U.S. theaters due to an unfortunate release date (October 2001). Had this film been released before 9/11, it might've done better in theaters, but I don't think the country was in the mood for a film that featured a plane crash in the months after the 9/11 tragedy.

When I first saw the film (the original version on dvd before going to see the Director's cut in theaters), I thought one had to be on drugs to understand it. The film was odd and didn't make a whole lot of sense. Yet, it was strangely compelling and watchable. In fact, in the years since, it has become one of the films I love to watch again and again. What really captivated me from the first viewing was the brilliant use of music, especially the scene that is choreographed to the Tears for Fears song "Head Over Heels". And the song "Mad World" is simply one of the most haunting melodies I've ever heard in a song. Beautiful, with a touch of melancholy that never leaves you. I love little details like the Halloween party scene when Donnie Darko comes down the stairs with his girlfriend in perfect synchronicity with the song "Under the Milky Way" playing (in the Director's Cut, he changed the song and it doesn't work nearly as well).

After I listened to the director's commentary track once I had watched it straight through, I was impressed that the director was actually younger than me. He's our generation! And to create such a high quality film with notable actors playing interesting characters. It's quite an achievement. I became a fan, though unfortunately the director Richard Kelly seems to be having major problems with his second film. His biggest problem is that he doesn't want to be thought of as "selling out" his artistic vision to Hollywood, so he wants the right to make weird films even if he can't find financial support for his future projects (his film "Southland Tales" is supposed to have a scene where a lightning bolt makes an SUV come to life and rape a car with its auto exhaust pipe--yeah, like I said: WEIRD!). That's a waste of talent. There's nothing wrong with making a popular, commercial film. Steven Spielberg and George Clooney are both known to have their policy of "one for the studio, one for me" (Clooney hasn't been ashamed to admit that the "Oceans 11" films are purely to get his more passionate works developed and made). What's wrong with that?

Anyhow, it's hard to grasp "Donnie Darko" in terms of linear plot and story. It deals with time travel and the sacrificing of one's life to save another. What I like about it are the acting and great music selections. One of my favourite scenes in the film is when Drew Barrymore is watching "Sparkle Motion" do their dance routine to Duran Duran's "Notorious" because she bobs her head to the beat of the song, while her eyes still maintain a cool, detached look. It is such a brilliant look, conveying both snobbish boredom and the body's betrayal of being unable to resist a good beat. It's little details like that which make this film one of my own "cult films" which I can watch repeatedly. So...that's what I'll be doing on Halloween night. No tricks...just a well deserved treat of watching this film once again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Lucky Lady and One Unlucky Dude

la nueva Presidente Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Here's how pathetic our national news shows are...Argentina has just elected a female president (Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner) who is more often compared to Hillary Rodham Clinton than Eva Peron (because she's a lawyer who became a Senator and a First Lady), yet such international news merited a 30-second or less mention on both ABC World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. I wanted to hear more about it, as I find it fascinating (and on a purely male mode of thinking, Latin women drive me absolutely crazy...especially seeing how attractive Argentina's president elect is! Aye caramba!). There seems to be an increasing trend towards women in leadership roles. I suppose that is the biggest change one can hope to make. After all, we've had 42 men serve as presidents in our 200+ year history...why not let a woman run the country for four years? I hope Argentina's bold election will have ripple effects in the U.S., but I doubt it. Americans are too ignorant of international news, too xenophobic to appreciate global trends (after all, our policies on capital punishment puts us in the camp with Saudi Arabia and Iran rather than Europe; or our health care system has more in common with developing nations than the developed ones). Such news emanating out of Argentina does make me miss the days I lived in Europe when I learned about foreign politics because it was more talked about than the fluff issues that pass for news in the U.S.

It irritated me to no end that we have a lack of foreign news on American television. ABC World News Tonight is on at 6 PM, then CBS Evening News at 6:30, then for some odd reason, the local CBS affiliate has both "Entertainment Tonight" at 7 pm and the clone "Extra" at 7:30 pm, which last night had the same gossip: Britney's now dating a Dallas Cowboy football star! Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon were seen incognito at a party! Halle Berry is still wearing provocative outfits despite her pregnancy! Oh, the shocks! The gossip!

How about the news that South African Reggae star Lucky Dube was one unlucky dude, as he was recently shot and killed in a carjacking in a Johannesburg suburb...which illustrates just how dangerous that city remains (the only time I've ever been robbed in my life was during my 1994 trip to South Africa, and yes, it was in downtown Johannesburg where it happened) and that even celebrities and popular South African recording stars are not safe. I always worry that one day, I'll discover on the news that my favourite singer Johnny Clegg (a white South African who still lives in Johannesburg) will meet such a similar fate. Why is Jo-burg so unsafe? Well...when I was there in 1994, there was a 50% or more unemployment rate and that city is a mecca for Africans all over the continent seeking a living. It's simply put, Africa's New York City and Los Angeles...the place to achieve one's dreams in the poorest continent on earth. With a lack of jobs, how does one make a living? As much as I loved my visit there, if I were to ever go to South Africa again, I'll stick with Cape Town and Kruger National Game Reserve. It saddens me that Lucky Dube was killed. I love African music, so it is a great loss. Why it doesn't make our gossip shows is beyond me. I mean, why is Anna Nicole Smith's death earlier this year still talked about? Lucky Dube had more talent in his pinky than Anna Nicole Smith had in her whole persona. Smith's death was inevitable (considering how much she emulated Marilyn Monroe), while Dube's is tragic and worth commentary on.

So, here's to Argentina on their courage to give a woman a chance to prove her leadership and my condolences to the family and friends of Lucky Dube. As Johnny Clegg once sang, "it's a cruel, crazy, beautiful world..."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Music That Feeds Your Soul

Last night, I went to the Tuality Community of Christ congregation with the core group of MAYAs to see Chad Elliott's surprisingly good acoustic concert. I had debated whether or not to go, as I had a lot of things planned for the weekend and didn't get most of it done. However, the remote possibility that Andrew Hagman (the brother of one of my best friends Nathan) might be there too enticed me to go and I'm glad that I did. Turns out, Chad Elliott is a good childhood friend of Nathan and Andrew Hagman, and Chad went to Graceland College in the mid-1990s, when many fellow churchmembers of my age group attended (I knew quite a few people who attended Graceland in the mid-1990s), so it only reinforces the sense of community I feel in this church.

I was in for an "all-Enya weekend" again to lift my spirits as I once again try to focus my "manifesting energies" on landing a job that pays my ideal salary. Forces conspired against me, though. The weather was absolutely gorgeous this weekend (blue sky, the sun, trees already turned to fall colours of yellow and orange mostly). We're supposed to be in our "rainy season" by mid-October, which encourages staying in and reading books, listening to music and just relaxing at home. But when the weather is too beautiful, I just had to get out there and enjoy it. So, I didn't get much accomplished, but I felt great anyway. I had debated whether or not to go to this concert, but decided that as part of my commitment to the MAYA group, I would go. And I'm glad I did. I was stunned how great his voice, songs, and guitar playing was. He's a folk musician, and I realize that I'm getting to that age where I prefer music that is stripped down to its essence...just vocals and an acoustic guitar. The radio station my co-worker listens to plays the same exact songs in the same order every single day and its driving me crazy. I want to hear new music and a bigger play list.

So, Chad Elliott's music hit just the spot. He did a great job. I'm a fan. He even has CDs for sale. I've added a link to his blog under my "Degrees of Separation" sidebar, in case you're interested. If you're looking for good music to get into, try him out and buy a CD. Or, if you want one for a Christmas gift or birthday gift, give me a subtle hint!

It was a nice way to spend an evening. I wish the turn-out was a bit bigger though, as a lot of people are missing out on discovering a new talent. It has always been a secret thrill of mine to "discover" music that no one else I know has heard of before, and claim it as my own. However, with Chad Elliott and his roots in the Community of Christ and in the Mid-West, it only reinforces the interconnectedness of members of my faith community, so that's not too shabby either. Just one more reason why I love my church!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A New Nuremburg for Neo-Conservatives

Last night, I watched the movie "Nuremburg" (starring Alec Baldwin as Justice Jackson) and was impressed. I've long believed that America was at its moral greatness at the end of World War II with the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and the creation of the United Nations and the War Crimes Tribunal to try the high-up Nazi officials for their crimes against humanity. Somewhere in the 1950s, however, America began to sow the seeds of its own destruction, for which we're paying dearly for now.

What most alarms me is how a group of neo-conservatives were allowed to take the reigns of government over from the rational and impliment disasterous policy after disasterous policy. And they won't quit until the entire planet is in flames. Bush is still pushing for war against Iran, in which he stated in a recent press conference something about allowing World War III to happen if Iran were to get nuclear weapons.

Whatever happened to those "rational" Republicans of the elder George (H.W.) Bush administration, which referred to neo-conservatives as "those crazies in the basement"? Indeed, they are crazy. Any serious examination of neo-conservative ideology (which considers Leo Strauss it's founding father) would led one to realize just how similar it is to Nazi ideology. The biggest belief of the neo-con philosophy is the belief in "the noble lie." Neo-cons believe that most people were born to be subservient, and only the ruling "philosopher class" (taken from Plato's ideal of a Republic being ruled by "the Philosopher Kings") has the right to rule. And because the masses are "ignorant", it is therefore okay (in neo-con ideology) to lie about their true agenda, to work in secrecy, and to prevent anyone from gaining access to the truth. Their motives are beyond repoach. By right of rule, we the people have to trust their judgement without consequence.

To that, I say "bullshit!" Not on my watch! It is my sincere hope that when a Democrat becomes president, that the whole docket of neo-conservatives and their puppets face a War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. Not only that, they should also face a treason trial in the United States.

Here's the verdict I'd render on these war criminals:

George W. Bush -- Guilty of election fraud 2000; guilty of election fraud 2004; guilty of debate fraud 2004; guilty of conspiracy to wage illegal warfare; guilty of crimes against humanity

Richard Cheney -- Guilty of conspiracy to wage illegal warfare; guilty of crimes against humanity; guilty of profiteering from war; guilty of conspiracy to wage terrorist attacks against American citizens on 9/11/2001

Donald Rumsfeld -- Guilty of conspiracy to wage illegal warfare; guilty of crimes against humanity; guilty of incompetent execution of job responsibilities

Karl Rove -- Guilty of election fraud 2000; guilty of election fraud 2002; guilty of election fraud 2004; guilty of waging propaganda warfare against American citizens

John Ashcroft -- Guilty of introducing the un-Constitutional USA PATRIOT Act; Complicit in conspiracy to wage terrorist attacks against American citizens on 9/11/2001

Alberto Gonzalez -- Guilty of enforcing torture as a means to achieve a political end; guilty of crimes against humanity

Richard Perle -- Guilty of conspiring to wage illegal warfare; guilty of crimes against humanity

Paul Wolfowitz -- Guilty of conspiring to wage illegal warfare; guilty of crimes against humanity; guilty of obtaining a well-paid position for mistress

John Bolton -- Guilty of crimes against humanity

Negroponte -- Guilty of crimes against humanity

As for Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, I would offer them immunity if they would reveal all about what went on, or if they continued to play loyal servents, I would enact a strict punishment for complicity in the war crimes of the above individuals.

It's time for Americans to put an end to the Neo-conservative agenda. Watch "Nuremburg" if you must. The standard Nazi defense was that they were "just following orders". One U.S. Army Chaplain (a Rabbi) told Justice Jackson that he didn't know the true definition of evil until he talked with the Nazi officers. That's when he realize what they all had in common. "True evil is the absence of empathy" was how he put it. When I heard that line, alarm bells went off in my head. That's the same thing that the above docket of neo-conservatives and their puppets all have in common...lack of empathy. We know Bush doesn't have empathy because he made fun of the Christian woman he had executed while he was governor. He reveals his lack of empathy everytime he smirks. It is tragic that history does often repeat itself, though not to the exact same way, which is why people always end up getting fooled because they are looking for goose-stepping soldiers in black or tan, with armbands and swastikas, and the rounding up of Jews, etc. They forget that its the message that one needs to look out for...the same message of Nazi Germany of pre-emptive wars, of picking on weaker nations and making them seem like a bigger threat than they actually are. Crazy. The whole country has gone crazy.

Very few Germans today would admit to admiring the likes of Hitler, Goring, Goebbels, Hess, Eichmann, and the others. But they had to live through the destruction of historic cities and towns, of learning the brutal truth about the Final Solution. Are we Americans also going to have to endure such rude awakenings in the future? Let's open our eyes now. Let's impeach, remove from office, try for treason and for war crimes, find them guilty, and deliver the only just punishment those above named individuals deserve. Let's restore justice and sanity back to our government. Let's show the world that government of, for, and by the people shall not perish from this earth. Sidetracked, maybe. But never permanently gone. Let's show the world that it's back with a vengeance.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Look Who's Sixty!

Look who's finally reached the big six-OH! Hillary likes to chide her hubby that it was easier for him to run for president because he was just 46, where as Hillary is 60 and should be making plans for retirement, not a promotion to the most stressful job on the planet (the presidency's stressful enough without having to clean up Dubya's mess). So, in an ironic twist on the whole Marilyn Monroe wispy birthday come-on to President Kennedy, Hillary was serenaded with a "Happy Birthday, Mrs. President..." at her big birthday bash in New York recently. So, in honour of our future president, here's an Obama supporter wishing her a happy birthday. May all her dreams come true (and please don't hold a grudge against Obama for running against you. Someone has to keep you honest!).

Okay, so the photo below is not Hillary Clinton...but haven't you ever thought for even a brief moment that Hillary sometimes looks like Florence "Brady Bunch" Henderson? What with the similar eyes, cheek bones, smile, and short blonde hairdo? In 1992, Hillary famously retorted that she supposed that she could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but she practiced law instead. Well, how 'bout some tea and cookies, Hillary? I'd love to see a cook-off between Hillary and Florence. May the best domestic goddess win, and I don't mean Martha!

Friday, October 26, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Armageddon

Is there an "impending" apocalypse? Are the Biblical prophecies reality or metaphor? I, a metaphoricalist (as opposed to literalist), can't help but notice the warnings in the book of Revelations about environmental catastrophe that seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. This year, we've had a freak heat wave in February in the Northeast which fooled the Cherry Blossoms into blooming well before their actual due date. Before, you can pretty much guarantee that they'd bloom sometime in April. In 2000, they bloomed in March. I remember my intern supervisor commenting on how odd it was to see them so early. This year, it was in February? Will they bloom in January in a few years?

Then there was a heat wave on the east coast in October, the month when trees are supposed to change colours. We've had a deadly tsunami a few years back, hitting on the day after Christmas. Hurricane Katrina destroyed a historically significant American city in 2005. This fall, there have been freak tornados hitting all over the southeast, and tornado season is supposed to be over. Atlanta is facing a huge drought in which even the drinking supply of water will reach a critical crisis if they don't get enough rain soon. Lake Lanier, that man-created lake for pleasure boaters, is nearing the bottom. Maybe at last, my father can find the keys my brother had lost while waterskiing back in 1989!

And we have the wildfires in California. While it is certainly maddening that an arsonist would do such a thing, it's also disturbing that wealthy people who should know better keep building mega-mansions in areas that are known to be fire hazards. Should we mourn with their losses? They should've known better, and based on press reports, many still plan to rebuild on their charred property. If they're going to do that, why should insurance companies have to pay for such high risk? The probability of wildfires ravaging the area again is a near certainty.

But, with all the natural disasters, along with manmade ones like war and crushing poverty, it seems as though we are in "the last days." I remember thinking on 9/11 that it was the usher of the end of our planetary civilization. It felt like the end of the world that day. As I've read more about "apocalypse", however, I learned that the term merely means an unveiling. Things will be revealed. Secrecy will no longer be hidden from view. We will come to know all. I remember in the 1990s, people often said that I was too political because I preferred to talk about ideas rather than make small talk. Since 9/11, I've noticed that people are much more comfortable talking politics and religion with people they've barely met. I was simply ahead of my time. People had opinions, but they were afraid to express them for fear of offending people or getting into arguments. Now, it seems like people talk about them because of a deeper awareness of what's going on around them. How can one not talk about issues of relevance?

An idea I liked from "The Celestine Prophecy" books (and film) is the idea that "armageddon" or the "apocalypse" is not set in stone. It was only supposed to be a warning of where humanity was heading if we didn't change our ways. Unfortunately, as I learned from a fundamentalist Christian years ago, too many people believe that a prophecy MUST happen in order to prove its validity. They want it to happen. They want billions of non-believers in Christ to die if they won't convert. It's very scary, their worldview. And yet, here we are...facing one environmental catastrophe after another, with a greater and greater frequency. Studies have shown that it would take FOUR planet earths to give every one of the six billion people on earth an "American lifestyle". What does that say about us and our consumption? How do we prevent the two billion people in China and India from achieving "the American lifestyle"? What does it means when Bush tells the world that "our lifestyle is not negotiable"? What if Mother Nature makes it so? With fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, drought, and does appear that mother nature, our planet, is fighting back with a vengeance.

Maybe that's the vision that John saw when he recorded Revelations. He saw where humankind would eventually lead...a complete destruction of civilizations as we fight for dwindling resources, including the most precious one of all: water.

It appears we have two choices ahead of us, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once put in a book title: "Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community."

The choice is ours, my friends. Would God have it any other way? He gave us free will. We are not prisoners to a set future of apocalyptic doom. It's time to find the solutions and work to overcome our challenges.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Purging EGO From rEliGiOn

I can't help but think about that Thai Mormon lady who started ripping on my church as soon as I told her my religion. Part of that is due to how much I've changed in the last decade from being combative and willing to defend my church by ripping back on the other person's religion, to now just letting such intolerant comments slide and praying that they'll one day achieve a true understanding of spirituality. But, I still want to comment on it, because on Tuesday a week ago, before heading to the airport, I spent the afternoon in Temple Square. While I was in the North Visitor's Center, looking at the artwork depicting scenes from the Bible, I overheard a middle aged couple arguing theology with the Sister Missionaries. I just shook my head at the wasted energy when people argue over religion (or anything else, really). Why has it come to this? Don't people realize how much EGO plays a part in why someone believes one religion is true over another, and sees a personal mission to convert everyone else to one's religion? I know people don't like to think of religious views being ego-based, but if one does believe that he or she possesses "the absolute Truth of the universe" and feels an obligation that everyone else needs to accept this "Truth", then yes, their religion is little more than EGO.

That's why the Thai Mormon lady got all rabid on me and informed me that God had said that women weren't allowed to hold the priesthood. She fell silent, though, when I simply told her that it was a matter of opinion, because I've never had a problem with women in the priesthood. Of course, I was only 12 when the Doctrine and Covenants Section 156 revelation was accepted by the church body, which paved the way for women to receive a calling to the priesthood. I fortunately had a father who thought it was an idea whose time had long since come. I've heard plenty of testimonies from members who were originally against the revelation but had experiences they attribute to God showing how ridiculous their prior views were. Many of the testimonies I heard were told in an amusing way, as though revealing God's sense of humour about the whole thing. It brings to mind, who does "speak for God"? People like Jim Jones and David Koresh claimed to speak for God and did terrible things to their followers, yet people believed they were authentic. Pat Robertson claims to speak for God, especially when endorsing Bush's disaster of a presidency or advocating the assassination of foreign leaders. Does that mean he really does, or is his EGO being mistaken for the one we call God?

What religious people on the converting rampage don't realize when dealing with me is that I've been accosted by various religions claiming to hold "the absolute Truth of the universe", each by a sincere believer, each offering ideas that either contradicts other of the person's beliefs or the beliefs of other sincere believers in other faiths. From my standpoint, it looks ridiculous. I could argue theology with a Jehovah's Witness, a Southern Baptist, a Pentacostal, an Assemblies of God member, a Mormon, a Scientologist, a Muslim...but what's the point? They don't see what I see, which is that religion is a personal matter, and my "truth" trumps their truth anyway, because I believe that God does not have a favoured religion. God has no church. God is above all that. Religion is a creation of man in an attempt to get closer to God, to understand God. Each religion offers some good ideas. But the mistake is made when they believe that they are the chosen one, the special one, the one with ALL of the truth. I don't discount religion's ability to turn lives around. I've seen in happen in a lot of people. But like all things of personal tastes (such as food, cars, housing styles, clothing, movies, books...), one religion might work for someone else, yet not another person. There are so many religions out there, people have to search for the one they feel most comfortable in.

That brings me to the Community of Christ. True, I am a fifth generation member of the church. I grew up in it. In essence, it is part of my family heritage. Because I'm a life long member, I feel connected to it in a way that runs very deep. In fact, because my life as a military dependent, and then my own moving around as an adult, I often feel rootless...yet, almost everywhere I've been, I found deep rooted connections within my faith community that I haven't been able to find elsewhere (and yes, I have looked). The church is my roots, and those roots are deep. Other religious people in their overzealousness to convert are only plucking at the surface when they try to convert me. They aren't getting me at the root and most likely won't be able to. So all the claims of being "the one True church" or of being the only way to salvation doesn't hold much meaning for me, because I don't believe anyone can make those claims. They have to offer something more, which they can't...because of my deep-rooted connections within the Community of Christ. So, if you're wondering just what it is about my church that keeps me active, even if you think little of it or don't know much about it, here is a perfect example...

Last weekend at the Greater Pacific Northwest Mission Center Conference in Portland, I participated in the square dance activity (which was fun and something I haven't done since high school gym class). In my square of 4 couples, the lady across from me (in the other side couple) looked very familiar to me, but I couldn't place her. I racked my brain later on trying to see where I might know her from. The following day during the church service, she had on her nametag with the location of her congregation (Bremerton WA). As soon as I saw that, I asked her if she knew one of my best friends, Nathan Hagman. She said that she did because he had lived in her spare bedroom for a time in 1999. That's where I knew her from! When I had visited him in September 1999 for his 25th birthday, I met Leah and her husband, Nathaniel. She remembered me when I brought up Nathan's name, saying, "you're the one he had sent the journal back and forth with, aren't you?" Yes, that would be me (embarrassingly!). So, it's that connection...the coincidence of meeting people I've met before or who know people that I know...that keeps me in the church. Were I to join another church, I would have to start all over and it's hard to compete. I have 35 years and a family connection all over the country that keeps me feeling like I'm a part of something bigger. In essence, this church is an extended family. If I meet new people in the church I haven't met before, a barrier that people have when meeting new people doesn't seem to exist in our church, the instant bond and trust almost comes naturally, which wouldn't otherwise in the outside world.

In conclusion, even though I don't believe my church to be God's "one True church" nor do I believe that God ever created any church as His own organization on earth, I believe that my church is the closest approximation of heaven on earth as far as I've experienced it. Nothing else I've ever been a part of brings me closer to the vision I have of heaven than the times I've spent in reunion, retreats, colloquys, World Conference, and other assorted gatherings of fellow members of the Community of Christ. No other religion can replicate or replace that, despite claims of having "the absolute Truth of the universe." Simply put, my roots run deep and you can pull and tug with all your might, but you ain't pulling me from my community. That's what I wish people would understand about religion. That's why I don't believe it is productive to chase after people who have found their community. It's wasted energy. However, there are people out there who don't have a community to be a part of, who are searching for that sense of community in the wrong things. Those are the people that need to be pursued, not one who is deeply rooted.

I wish I could share all that with the Thai Mormon lady, but all I can do is pray that she achieves that kind of understanding someday. I had no interest to tear apart her beliefs the way she attempted to do with mine, because the lesson I learned in the last decade is to accept that people are members of whatever religion for very personal reasons that have nothing to do with me. When EGO is purged from r e l i g i o n, you can accept people on the path that they have chosen for themselves, even if you don't agree with their religious views, because it's not your responsibility to help them see "the Truth". They may, in fact, be just where God has directed them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Toobin Bombshell on The Charlie Rose Show

Last night, I watched the Charlie Rose Show (as I often do). The first interview was a continuation of the previous day's hour long interview with the military General who heads the Central Intelligence Agency or something. I almost decided to turn off the TV and read a book before going to bed, since that general was nothing but a neo-conservative sprouting the same old nonsense that got us into the mess in Iraq (for example, he disagrees with the idea that terrorism could be approached like a police problem, as is done in Europe to pretty good effect). Nope, he's one of those who perpetuate the lie that the War on Terrorism will be with us for the rest of our lives (kind of like the "successful" War on Poverty and the War on Drugs). Scary stuff. I was glad he didn't take another full hour and that Rose interviewed Toobin.

I first learned about Jeffrey Toobin from his excellent coverage of the OJ Simpson Trial in 1995 and read his book, "The Run of His Life: The People v. OJ Simpson". But, I didn't read his subsequent books about the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment of President Clinton ("A Vast Conspiracy") or the 2000 election ("Too Close to Call") because those books were too fresh for me to relive at the time. I may go back and read them because I tend to agree with a lot of his views. The interview with Charlie Rose confirmed it.

When Charlie Rose asked Toobin who his favourite Supreme Court Justice was, I was taken aback because he picked the one who was my favourite: Sandra Day O'Connor. As I learned from the John Dean lecture at Powell's a month ago, Toobin also seemed to say that O'Connor feels a bit of remorse over her decision in Bush v. Gore, which stopped the Florida recount and effectively gave Bush the presidency. It is perhaps one of the worst, if not THE WORST, Supreme Court decision in history...especially considering the disaster the Bush Administration has become.

Other interesting things Toobin spoke about included his shock at just how much anger Clarence Thomas still holds against Anita Hill, Democrats, and the media over his confirmation hearings. He knew that Thomas hadn't gotten over it, but had no idea how much animosity the Justice still holds over that experience. And based on the rounds of media appearances to promote his book, Clarence himself has shown that he isn't over it. Why not? He's been a Supreme Court Justice for 15 years. It's the past. It didn't prevent him from getting into that position which he didn't qualify for. Ironically, had he been born white, he probably wouldn't have made it as far. He benefitted from Affirmative Action, since Republicans need good, I mean, Uncle Toms, to make their racist agenda go down easier.

Toobin said that he was glad his book has come out a year before the election because he said that it is vital that people are aware just what's at stake in next year's presidential election. If a Republican wins, we will have an ultra conservative Supreme Court for the next generation, which could effect everything from abortion rights to stem cells to civil liberties to executive privilege. Toobin said that the three left-of-center Justices are getting up there in age and will face retirement soon (they might not make it to 2012, in other words): Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and Steven Breyer (sp?). All a Democratic president can hope to do is appoint younger left-of-center justices to maintain the slim minority, while Anthony Kennedy plays the powerful swing vote Justice (that Sandra Day O'Connor once did). Scary when you think about how badly, how desperately the Christian Right wants to control the Supreme Court, with ultra-conservative John Roberts due to possibly hold reigns as Chief Justice for 30 years (unless he has a fatal seizure).

But the biggest bombshell that Toobin dropped on Charlie Rose, who did a double-take, as did I when I heard it...Toobin said that a President Hillary Rodham Clinton would probably nominate Barack Obama to the Supreme Court. He claimed to have unnamed sources who are high up and flouting that idea. Then he went on to make his case on why Barack Obama would make an excellent choice: Harvard Law School, editor of the Law Review, Constitutional Law professor, and limited time as a Senator (not long enough to produce a controversial voting record, but long enough to be part of the back-scratching club, as Senators have a tendency to approve former Senators to other political offices). An interesting idea, but I simply can't see Barack Obama doing that, when he'll still be young enough in 2012 or 2016 to run for the presidency again. Would he want to butt heads with Clarence Thomas and the other conservatives on the Court, or would he rather try again to become the first African American President of the United States of America. I still think he could pull an upset and beat Hillary in New Hampshire, especially if enough conservatives and independents vote in the Democratic primary.

But, we'll see. It'll be an interesting year. And I definitely want to read Toobin's book on the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Random Thoughts on my Utah Journey

I did not take this gorgeous photo of the Salt Lake City skyline

This post is going to be scatterbrained and random, so it won't be much of a post, but I wanted to have one final post about my trip, just to tie up whatever else I wanted to say about it. So, bear with me...

When Matt and I were in IKEA, there was a guy who looked a lot like our former roommate Elliot (whom we both disliked with a passion). The guy even wore a shirt that had a Canada patch on it, so I thought it might be him. Since we hadn't seen him since Washington, D.C. 7 years ago, it was hard to remember if it looked exactly like him or one of those "dopplegangers" one often hears about (our "twin" that's somewhere on earth living an independent life). Since I've had some pretty odd coincidences, I didn't think much of the odds that it wouldn't be him, but thought how funny if it was him and we had an unintended "roommate reunion" (but without Jantzen around, it couldn't ever truly be considered a "roommate reunion"). Matt decided to test that really quick by yelling out, "Elliot!" but the guy had no reaction and walked away. Whew! Matt and I were so relieved it wasn't him. That was a close call. I can't begin to tell you the nightmares it would bring up if it was Elliot. Not that he's a bad person, but let's just say he burned a bridge a long time ago and one that will probably never be repaired.

When I went to the Community of Christ congregation in Salt Lake on Sunday, I got to meet several young adults and their fearless leader, Greg, who all attend the congregation in Ogden (where I attended as a youth). It's nice to know that they have a good group of young adults committed and involved. We discussed the possibility of holding an inter-regional retreat between the Utah Young Adults with the groups from Portland and Seattle areas in beautiful Coeur d'Alene ID around Memorial Day. I'm planning to organize it and hopefully we'll get a good group committed to that. It'll be nice to get to know some more people, share in fellowship and testimony, and bask in the beauty that surrounds Coeur d'Alene (where I still hope to live someday when I'm a published novelist). At church, I had an amazing coincidence in discovering that a guy who is about the same age as me, whom I knew when I lived in Ogden in the early 1980s now lives in Portland OR. His mother remembers me, both from my youthful days in Ogden and my college years in Provo, and she gave me his contact information, so I'm going to reconnect there soon. When Eric White (his name) and I knew each other as a kid, though, I always had a suspicion that he didn't like me very much because his grandmother treated me as one of her own. But, I'm sure that's all kid stuff and he's grown up since then. I know from personal experience that I was jealous of the attention my grandmother gave to other kids who weren't her own grandchildren, so I can understand if that was indeed the case. But, it's little coincidences like that which keeps me loyal in the Community of Christ.

The people I stayed with during my couple days in Provo were an elderly couple I knew when I was a student. I never saw their home the whole two years I lived there, so it was a treat to finally visit them in their dwelling place. Laverl and Elsie Aston were like my surrogate grandparents (along with Ray and Thelma Carter), so I appreciate knowing them when I was a student and having someone in the church to talk to and hear great histories from. Well, stepping into their house was like a journey back to the 1950s. The house is how I imagine homes to look in 1950s, complete with furniture from that era. That's not my favourite decade, but I understand that it was the decade in which they probably started married and family life. So, it was nice to get to know them in the era they most feel at home and see what appears to me as a time warp. They filled me in on the personal dramas of people I knew when I lived here, including the news that Brooke (the one who asked me to sign a waver and consent form before allowing us to go to Las Vegas on a Young Adult weekend) had left the church after working for headquarters in Independence MO. She had written to Thelma that it was too bureaucratic for her. But, I wasn't too heartbroken by the news. She was too Wiccan for my tastes anyway and wanted to introduce that stuff into church services. However, Christian, who has seen her more recently, said that she is back with the church, involved in a congregation in Independence (which has more than 30 to choose from)...that she was hurt by what happened in Utah, which I won't go into. But, other sad news includes the one that the woman who gave my Evangelist Blessing (think of the Oracle in "The Matrix" movies to get a better idea of what the Evangelist Blessing means) has left the church. Great. Years ago, I learned that the guy who baptized me had left the church, now I find out the woman who gave me the Evangelist Blessing has left the church. I'm beginning to feel like a bad luck charm!

I'm about out of time, but those were just a few things bouncing around my head about my trip to Utah. I'm sure there are more, which I could post another day. The trip was more expensive than I liked, but packed an emotional element. Who knows when I'll make it back there, but I'm glad I went. It was much needed at this time in my life.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Second Amigo: Janell Cerva Fluckiger

Janell and I on one of the last days of the Washington Seminar in April 2000 (Jeff Moss is the other guy in the bed)

Above: Josh and Janell; Below: Janell with her boys Joshua and Jacob

On Sunday, 14 October, after Janell shooed me away from visiting her at the appointed time of 2 PM so she and her family could get a well deserved nap (due to her just flying in the night before), I got to drive around Salt Lake City blasting my music (one of my favourite pasttimes when I owned a car). The CD of choice was Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape". I still never tire of the song "4 in the Morning", which will most likely be my favourite song and music video of the year. Anyhow, I drove down State Street to the Capitol hill area and went down a side street until I couldn't drive any more due to some cool looking park with monuments to veterans of various wars. I decided to park and walk around, taking pictures. It was beautiful with the different colors of leaves, the newly built monuments, and finally a hike up the hill to the Capitol building, which was unfortunately under renovation. But there was a visitor's center across the street worth checking out.

I didn't realize the time while I was in the Visitor's Center. 4 PM. The time I was supposed to be at Janell's. So, I rushed to the car and drove down State Street until I caught the Interstate. Then Janell called to see where I was, which was close. She was only 2 miles from the Community of Christ church.

It was nice to see her again and to meet her husband. I've only seen her husband and children through pictures she has sent me, so it was a bit like meeting celebrities after seeing them in magazines. Okay, not quite...but the same surreal effect. When I knew Janell, I never knew what kind of guy she was into. I often teased her about hanging out at our apartment because she liked Matt more than me. Who knows? But, based on only what little I knew about her husband Josh, he sounded like the typical business major: conservative, would've been a frat boy if BYU had Greek life, primarily focused on finance, probably a cutthroat capitalist. Well, what a relief that he wasn't any of those things. One cool factor I was glad to hear more about was his experience as a missionary in Mongolia, the only person I've ever met who has been to that remote country. Those are some amazing bragging rights, but he's not a bragger. Granted, he works for the prestigious Goldman Sachs (if a non-business guy like me has heard of that company, you know it's prestigious!), but from talking with him, it sounds like he found a good balance and partner with Janell. I can see some of her influence rubbing off on him (for instance...does he really like Hillary Clinton or was he just saying that to make Janell happy?).

When the boys got up from their naps, I could definitely see the resemblance in little Joshua. He was a "mini-me" of his father. That they share the same first name is interesting and will probably be a major influence later on life (if following in the father's footsteps is considered to be a good thing). He was an excited little guy (4 and a half), wanting to tell me about his favourites, like Spiderman (he has good tastes!). But, he had to compete for attention with his 18-month old brother, who was the family comedian. It was fun just to hear him talk, calling even his father "ma-ma" (I speculated that he liked the way the "mmmm" sounds on his lips). I was shocked by his near genius in being able to say repeatedly "basketball." Such a big word for a toddler with a small vocabulary. Jacob is adoreable with his puffy cheeks, big smile, and big words. Janell was right in saying that her boys are at the fun age (between babyhood and the age when onery becomes a test for discipline and resolve).

After dinner, we went to "This is the Right Place" monument site. I hadn't been there since I was a kid. It offered a great view and part of the place reminded me of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa. I've always found it an interesting parallel between the histories of the United States and South Africa, including the inward trek of the Afrikaner pioneers (and members of the Dutch Reformed Church) and the Mormon pioneers into Utah. I didn't realize that there was more to this historic site, such as a pioneer village along the lines of Williamsburg VA. But everything was closed and I ran out of film, so I couldn't take as many photos as I wanted to. The view was awesome, as we caught the sunset over the valley when the mountains became purple. Josh and Janell led me into sneaking into the pioneer village part to walk around and see the various animals. It was fun just to walk and talk about religion, Portland, China (which is an interest of both Josh and Janell), and whatever else came to mind.

It was a short visit. When it was time to put the boys to bed, that was my cue to leave, for the journey south to Provo. The visit was altogether too brief for the time elapsed since the last time I saw Janell. But, it was nice to have 4 or 5 hours to visit, and to meet her family finally. I'm especially grateful for Josh's good will in letting me take a photo of him in full Mongolian wear. I haven't developed that roll of film yet and not sure when I'll get around to it (I have 12 rolls of film to develop, from various activities all year long), but he was a good sport about it. They are a good family and of course, I have a deep respect for their personal values. I'm glad that religion is not an issue between us, because as I told Janell...the only way I could ever be LDS is if I were born into it. Part of the reason I remain RLDS (or Community of Christ) is because it's my family heritage. To leave it would be to lose a big part of my identity, so I think it's great to be able to be friends, despite the religious differences our two churches represent. I admire a great many things about the LDS Church and of course, love my LDS friends, but I also believe that there is no one true religion, which would put me at great odds with their belief in the one true church. I'm just grateful and appreciative of the friendship, and look forward to where life will take them in the next few years (Boston would be cool!).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Third Amigo: Mandy George

I stole this photo off of her blog since I forgot to have a picture taken of us during my visit. This is Mandy George, another one of my BYU Washington Seminar friends that I still keep in touch with. We met in the Human Rights class fall semester 1999 (same class with Matt Baker and one other Washington Seminar Spring 2000 alumni). In fact, I had to proofread/edit her final paper on the most gruesome topic of female genital mutilation that is still practiced in Africa. You don't want to read that while you're eating dinner! But man, that lobster sure does look great, doesn't it? Read below for details about my visit with Mandy last week.

After I left Matt and Anna's place and found a hotel room for the night, I headed down to Riverton to Mandy's place. It wasn't hard to find, though the construction barrels made it easy to miss the turn into her neighbourhood, which I most certainly did. To prepare for my visit, I played the "Music and Lyrics Soundtrack" CD in the car, since she loves that music, as do I.

Once I found her place and rang the doorbell, it was like no time had passed at all. It has been more than 7 years since we've seen each other, now here we were in Utah. She was excited to show me her house, which was quite nice. Of course, I think she is quite lucky to have her own place...something I'm still so far off from accomplishing. It's definitely a nice advantage to have a place you own to call your own and do whatever you want with it. Apartment living simply has too many rules to consider if I want to change anything (because I'll have to change it back when I move out).

Anyhow, she gave me the full house tour, which includes an upstairs sleeping quarters, the main area for living, and the basement, which she devotes to "the college years" (complete with posters of Morrissey and the Cure). I was surprised to see the back of one of my Christmas card envelopes still on her refrigerator. For anyone who has ever gotten a Christmas card from me has surely noticed, I usually have an anti-Bush or some other political cartoon or photo attached. It's a hit with some people, and aggravates others. But, that's my way of sending a message along with my Christmas cheer (after all, think of all the postal workers who will see it too, as one had already mentioned to me that such decorations are sure to put me on the Secret Service watch list, which I most certainly hope is true!).

We hung out in the basement and I got to see her well-put-together scrapbook of her Washington Seminar experience. She did a fantastic job with it. I almost want to say that it is nearly as good as mine, but I'm biased...and mine's over 200 pages of 12x12 size paper. But I loved looking through hers and remembering that she had gone to the World Trade Center in NYC in early 2000. Lucky for her that she got to see the view from the top...something no one else will ever get to experience again. It's weird to think that she once stood at the top of that building, on the observation deck, and since 9/11/2001, it is nothing but air above a hole in the ground. I also got to see her copy of the memory book I put together. Mine's still in storage and I had forgotten the name of a few alumni that was bugging me. For instance, I couldn't remember the name of the guy who's anti-liberal/Democrat comment caused me to seek to change the apartment assignment so I could be Matt's roommate. The guy's name is Ben Seal. He's the guy I have to thank for ending up with such a great roommate as Matt that semester.

One thing I noticed in talking with Mandy as well as viewing her books...there are a lot of similarities in how we view politics, spirituality, and even in the books we have on our bookcases. The same is true with both Matt and Janell, as well. Perhaps my friendships are not as diverse as I like to think of it. The similarities between me and those I call my friends are striking, despite other differences, especially religious ones. There is a certain comfort in that, however. It's like we're all a part of the same "soul group" of people. Commonality breeds a greater sense of community...with enough differences to keep things interesting.

Mandy and I talked about a whole diverse range of things...from reminiscing about the program and fellow participants, to current careers (she's happy to be a teacher, and she knows as everyone else does, that I seem to have fallen the furthest from my post-college career goals), to family and spirituality, to the addictions of blogging, and of course, who will make the best next president. She's a Bill Richardson fan. Another striking thing I found in my visit with the three Washington Seminar friends...none of them like Mitt Romney as much as I do and none of them really get into the Mormon movies that come out on DVD. I have a nice small collection of them, but none of my friends have seen as many as I have. If I recall correctly, not even Jantzen likes those movies, which was an even bigger surprise.

Anyhow, we ate at Fazoli's, which I always enjoy, even though I couldn't finish up the huge portions they gave me. Mandy told me how much the area has grown compared to when she lived there as a teenager. What are they going to do, fill up the entire Salt Lake Valley with McMansions? Yikes! Let's see what happens when they run out of water and their manicured lawns dry up.

I did find it amusing that Mandy has no shame in admitting to being "materialistic" because she simply doesn't meet my definition of materialistic. Sure, she owns a home and drives an SUV and aspires to "the good life." However, when I think of a "materialistic person", the image that comes to mind is someone who buys things just to have them, even if they don't want them. Materialistic people buy items for the social value they think owning such an item will bring them. For example, at my last job in Atlanta, one guy I worked with is single and will never get married...yet he wanted a house in the suburbs just to "impress" friends (though he often complained about his "friends"). He would buy DVDs of practically every movie, even though he only watches movies once. His reason for spending so much on DVDs is to have a nice collection to impress visitors to his house. I find that wasteful. I only buy DVDs of movies I'd see multiple times or ones that are hard to find that I enjoy. And even then, I try to buy used or wait until they are around $10. I'll only buy a DVD that is brand new and just released if it's an absolute favourite film.

But, anyhow...Mandy doesn't fall under the category of "materialistic" to me for the simple reason that she is primarily a spiritual person who values people for who they are, not what they have. I've met materialistic people and can't stand being around them because they measure everything by status or what you own. Thank God Mandy isn't like that. So, while it is nice to own and have things, I guess the true definition of materialism should be whether such material goods affect the way you view and treat others, if you measure yourself against what other people own or have, and whether you judge others by that same measuring stick. By that definition, Mandy is most definitely NOT a materialist. Thus why we are good friends.

So, enjoy your home and your SUV. Keep up the good work! And always stay true to your inner calling, family and friendships. Thanks for hosting a great visit and good conversations. I hope you'll make a point to visit Portland soon. You have to check out the Pearl District and NW 23rd Avenue if you want to see "materialistic"!!!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The First Amigo: Matt Baker

This is a collage I made when I finally completed my Biology course to earn my long-delayed Bachelor's degree. In the lower left hand corner is a photo of Matt, Janell, and I who were "the three amigos" on the Washington Seminar program...the two students I was closest to during that semester. But in another post, I will talk about Mandy as my third "amigo".

On Saturday, I arrived in Salt Lake City International Airport to a scene often heard about but never actually witnessed myself. A small group was waiting in the baggage claim area for their Returned Missionary from Argentina. One guy wore a shirt with Che Guevara on it (the second such shirt I saw at the airport in SLC that day, making SLC "more radical" than Portland, if you can believe it). I was walking around looking for the baggage carousel for Southwest Airlines when I realized that somehow, I had walked to the wrong terminal. But, it wasn't a big deal, as I got to see the Returned Missionaries have their family reunion at the airport. Like I said, only in Utah!

I had to use the bathroom, but thanks to the likes of Senator Craig, I'm afraid to use the restrooms in the airport for fear of being hit on by a Republican politician. So, I decided to get my bags at the proper terminal and get into the rental car and blaze it down to Matt and Anna's. They weren't home, but left a note. Shades of my last visit, when they were in Minneapolis and weren't home when I arrived at their place. But, at least they are trusting enough to leave the door unlocked...especially considering that they live in a part of SLC that has a "rough reputation."

It wasn't a long wait. I just sat on the couch and read one of the books I brought along (a book-length series of interviews with Burmese dissident/political prisoner and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi). Anna came home first with two month old Miles. Then Matt showed up and gave me a hug. We talked for a bit before going to a Thai restaurant for lunch. It was nice seeing his house and the kind of work he put into it. The place is small but looks great. In fact, who really needs a "mega-mansion" anyway (right, Mandy?). It was great to catch up on life, see what he's been up to, laugh at things, and just hanging out like no time had passed at all.

Matt showed me a book he had made on his Macbook (I should've bought a Acer laptop is still giving me problems and I had to send it back again) regarding his son. I had no idea the trials they went through to conceive. But on the positive side, how many people will ever be able to see themselves as an embryo? The book he put together of his son from the cell stage through Anna's pregnancy, to birth is awesome. Even his writing style is quite funny. I told Matt that he should be a writer. I always laugh reading what he writes. But, he said that he doesn't like to write. Well, that's too bad. But honestly, since I love to write, I would be quite jealous if someone (even a good friend) who didn't like to write found success as a writer that still eludes me. But, it's nice to know that Matt knows what he wants out of life and is on the path to get it.

After lunch, he put me to work clearing out his garden...which is another advantage of home ownership. I'm envious of people who have a garden because think of all the money you save on not having to buy veggies from the supermarket? That's one big reason why I hope to own a home someday. Or, a townhome with a backyard for gardening at the very least. Once that chore was done, Anna sent Matt on an errand to Ikea to pick up a few things. I have never been to Ikea before, even though I was in Atlanta when the hype reached that city, and then again in Portland when one opened up. Actually, I think I might've been to an Ikea in Seattle back in 1999, but I don't remember. Maybe it was or wasn't. But this time, I was paying attention.

Now that I've been to Ikea, I can see the appeal of the place. It's definitely a corporation that knows how to build a cult following of devoted shoppers. The place is massive, with inexpensive products, an interesting layout, and examples of how to arrange a room. I'm a fan.

One of the cool things about that day driving around Salt Lake Valley was the view. The weather was odd that day. On one side of the valley was dark and we could see where it was raining. On the other side of the valley, it was sunny. There was one neighbourhood in the distance that was on a hill with sunlight shining on it while the area around it was dark. It was a cool affect, making it hard to miss. It was like that one hill had God's favour or something, as it glowed in golden light.

Though the visit was only 5 hours long, it was nice to discuss everything under the sun (as most of my conversations with friends go). We discussed jobs, family, the environment, politics (of course), and travel. It was just nice to be around a good friend again and to laugh about things, meet his newborn son, talk to his wife Anna with her way cool eyeglasses. It's nice to see that he's still working towards his doctorate and will soon find out where he will start his career as a Journalism professor. Hopefully someday, I can have the honor of sitting in one of his classes.

One of the things I most admire about Matt is that he is so tolerant and interested in other cultures. For instance, he told me about his neighbours across the street. A house full of Mexican workers (12 of them or more). He even bailed one of them out of jail! He's friends with them, whereas I would be finding reasons to call INS on them! I told him that he was a much better person than I, but he said that he has his flaws. To this day, I still haven't found but one: his not keeping in touch with people as often as some would like. But beyond that, I haven't found a single flaw. It kind of makes you sick. But, at least I got him beat in one area. I'm proud of that!

(I guess each friend I visited will merit a post of their own).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gratitude, Nostalgia and a Bit of Deja Vu

The Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni Center (brand spanking new!)

The photo of me on the left was taken in December 1999 when I was home and on my way to Washington D.C. to start the Washington Seminar. I was all prepared to graduate in April 2000 if not for a little thing called "Biology 100", which I didn't complete until 2006.

My trip to the great state of Utah after eight years of being away (and ten years since I started my college days there) was an interesting emotional journey. The nostalgic vacation started with visiting three of my friends in Salt Lake City over the weekend. I didn't realize it until later, but that actually worked out well. After visiting them, I actually missed them as I walked around BYU campus and my old stomping grounds of Provo and Orem. Had I done the BYU visit first and then visited friends, I would've had something more to look forward to, as visiting friends was the more enjoyable aspect of my vacation.

Rather than a superlong post about my journey, I will use several posts. This one is about BYU itself, another one will be about my visits with friends Matt, Mandy and Janell. And there might be perhaps a third about my overall impression or about Salt Lake City.

Anyhow, it was nice to have wheels again and blast my music as I made the journey south from Salt Lake City. What surprised me the most was all the development along I-15 south of the Point of the mountain that divides Salt Lake Valley from Utah Valley. Now, it's getting to the point where Provo is a distant suburb of Salt Lake City rather than a town that had some undeveloped landscapes between the two communities. Thanksgiving Point now looks more like an amusement park than a mere curiousity it was before. They have a ginormous dinosaur museum that I would've loved to have checked out if I had more time, as well as a movie theater and other amusements.

Once I reached Orem and Provo, I was surprised how nice it was. It's grown quite a bit. A lot of things looked new. It's definitely a booming area, not a decaying one (like I've seen in several places in Georgia). To help transport me back to 1997 in my "cheap version of a time machine", I played CDs of my favourite music from the time, which included songs like "Fly"/"Every Morning" by Sugar Ray, "Baby...One More Time" by Britney Spears, "Semi-Charmed Life"/"Jumper"/"How's It Gonna Be"/"Graduate" by Third Eye Blind, "That's The Way I Remember It" by Garth Brooks (as "Chris Gaines"), and the CD I listened to a lot during my happiest time at BYU (the spring of 1999): "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too" by New Radicals. Listening to the music from my college era did a lot to help usher on the memories as I drove around. I did feel a little "transported" back in time...though reality had a way of intruding upon my memories.

For instance, the kids these days are SPOILED! I saw so many of them with laptops and cell phones. While cell phones were around ten years ago, I didn't know many who owned one as they were still a bit pricey for a college student. And laptops are plentiful and cheaper these days, so it was no surprise to see so many students sitting around staring at their laptops. I wonder what it would be like to attend college in the days of Facebook and Myspace, laptops and cell phones, YouTube and iPods.

It was nice to see that construction doesn't take up a huge portion of the campus like it did when I was there. I was lucky enough to experience the opening of the library's new entrance my last semester. Now, they have a cool new building, the Joseph F. Smith Building which has a cool architectural style (the courtyard reminds me of some European palace) and in the area between that building and the Harold B. Lee Library, there were cool places to sit in these weird-shaped walls that contained grass in the space between.

Architectural designs is one area that is getting better. The two buildings I hated because of their 1950s-era architecture (not my favourite period for architecture) are the Harold B. Lee Library and the de Jong Concert Hall. Both of those buildings still need a facelift--badly!

I got a chill walking past the Testing Center, perhaps the only building that could (and did) reduce me to tears on many occasions (as I got instant test scores back on the multiple choice exams). Amazing how one building could carry so much bad vibes. You'd think they do torture in there or something!

I was able to visit with my old LDS History professor Alex Baugh for about 15 minutes. It's always cool talking with him because he is so enthusiastic about LDS History that he knows a lot about my church as well. It was great to catch up with him and see that he's still as enthusiastic as ever. He even told me about the former prophet of my church, Grant McMurray, that I didn't know: Grant doesn't attend church anymore since he turned in his resignation and priesthood card. Alex also told me that the new prophet, Steve Veazey, is in his 40s and probably a much needed boost for our church to attract younger people, which is what it seems like Veazey is trying to do.

At the BYU bookstore, when I was picking out a few things I wanted, a fire alarm went off in which everyone had to exit the building. But no one moved until we were shooed out of the building by employees. It was like deja vu! I remember that happening a lot when I was there. A fire alarm goes off in the Wilkinson Center/Bookstore and no one rushes to the exits until we're told to leave. It was funny that it still goes on like that.

I also visited my former supervisor, Lois Moffett, who has her own office in another part of the Administration building (shaped like an x). She was the Veteran's Support administrator, now the admissions person. It was good to visit with her. And she has a great memory. She asked me if I ever completed Biology 100 and got my degree! I don't remember telling her that, but perhaps she did some checking on it herself to see if I graduated yet. She also remembered that I was accepted by Senator Dianne Feinstein's office for an internship (the first place that accepted me and was my second choice). It was great to see her smiling face again and catch up. She's just 2 years away from retirement.

As a bonus, the Art Museum featured the works of Minerva Teichert, whose paintings of scenes from "The Book of Mormon" I took a liking to my first semester at BYU when I saw the paintings for the first time. What a blessing it was to see them again. That was like a gift from the universe! My favourite painting of hers still remains "The Lamanite Maidens" which a teacher (Doris Dant) had given me a copy of (she was editor of a book on Teichert's paintings). I still have that copy framed and it currently hangs in my bathroom at my apartment.

My favourite buildings on campus when I attended were the Eyering Science Center (which no longer has the dinosaur in the lobby, which always reminded me of the building in "Jurassic Park") and the white building on the edge of campus with an open center in which there is a big staircase to the very bottom and one can see all floors from the center. I can't remember the name of the building, but a lot of business classes were held in there, as well as a few political science classes. I remember a student telling me that this building was the box the Provo Temple came in, and I thought that was a cool idea.

And speaking of cool architectural styles, the brand new Gordon B. Hinckley Center for Alumni and Visitors is awesome! It has a gazebo that overlooks Utah Valley. The architectural style is kind of majestic. As I walked around inside, people were still moving into the building and setting up workspace cubicles. It even smelled nice and new. But I'm glad that they are improving their architecture designs. The campus is beginning to look modern instead of the 1950s time warp I always felt when I was there.

Deseret Towers, where I lived my first semester, is undergoing a renovation. In a book about BYU I saw in a bookstore (which professes to be the uncensored opinion of BYU students and unauthorized by the university), Deseret towers was considered to be the worst place to live by BYU students. Wow. I loved living there. The only reason I moved out was because I couldn't afford it and found a cheaper place to live. Had I the money, I would've stayed least the first year.

For dinner, I ate at the Thai restaurant I worked at my first semester. It's on 300 South. The lady I knew and the Lao cook I knew no longer work there. Instead, they have two other Thai people. I had a nice conversation about Thailand. When the Thai lady asked why I didn't get married when I was at BYU, I told her that I wasn't LDS. When she asked me my religion, things deteriorated rapidly when I told her. She started ripping on my church and said that God said that He didn't want women in the priesthood and blah blah blah. I told her that it was just her personal opinion and I didn't have a problem with women in the priesthood. She kept on with the attacks, but I resumed eating my food. I wasn't going to get into it with her. When I paid the bill, the Thai guy who was the cook and the cashier apologized to me for her behaviour. I told him that it was nothing to worry about. I left a tip that was more than 15%. But when I walked out and back to the car, I laughed and thanked God for the little reminder. This little episode reminded me of what I hated about BYU (that as soon as Mormons found out my religion, they started attacking it rather than accepting that it was my belief, and trying to convert me to their "truth") and also showed me how much I've changed. The me of ten years ago would've started ripping on the LDS Church and pointing out the inconsistencies in logic and whatnot. The conversation would've gotten ugly real quick with the lady leaving in tears. But the me of today just didn't want to get into it. I kind of felt sorry for her, but amused...because she was asking so many personal questions and giving unsolicited advice that I should be married with children by now. Gosh, like I hadn't thought that myself! But I had told her that I wanted a better paying job first before I take on family responsibilities. However, it is my business when and if I decide to have a family or not. That she would be so presumptious of a stranger and offer unsolicited advice about what I "need to do" was amusing to me (rather than offensive). It was just one more reminder of why I'm glad I'm not in that church. People in my church don't put those demands on me or offer unsolicited advice.

So, with that, I got my emotional closure on the whole "BYU experience." I realized just how much I changed since my time there. I changed, but aside from the buildings, BYU hasn't changed. I picked up a copy of "The Daily Universe" and in the letters to the editor was a letter from a current BYU student complaining about Al Gore being honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. Some things never change!

However, I was happy to see that there was an Amnesty International chapter on campus as they had a booth by the Wilkinson Center with a poster asking students to get involved in supporting the Buddhist monks of Burma. It's nice to know that there are conscientious students who care about Buddhists in Burma and even those who protested Dick Cheney as commencement speaker last April.

But, as I left the campus, the one thing I nearly forgotten about was just how lonely it was there for me. It was the most lonely period of my life. I've never felt as lonely before or since my days at BYU. In fact, there were three songs from that time period that even seemed to illuminate my loneliness: Boyz II Men's "Four Seasons of Loneliness" was a favourite of mine my first semester; "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely" by the Backstreet Boys was a favourite of mine the last semester; and Britney Spears sang in "Baby...One More Time": "My loneliness is killing me..."

In retrospect, I don't think I would've experienced the emotional high of Washington Seminar and the enjoyment of hanging out with my small group of friends (Matt Baker, Janell Cerva, Mandy George, Brooke Roberts, and Jantzen Anderson) if I didn't experience nine seasons of loneliness at BYU, searching for a Mormon friend who wouldn't make an issue of my religion, who wouldn't take it as a personal insult that I didn't want to join their faith. I believe I found that on Washington Seminar, but I didn't find it at BYU. My experience is what it was and I did grow spiritually because of it. So, thank you BYU for accepting me as one of your students and for my Bachelor of Arts degree. I'm proud to be an alumni, proud to be a Cougar. Gratitude is what I feel today, rather than a bitter loneliness. I don't know if I'll make a point to visit BYU again, for I feel that my trip accomplished what I set out for: emotional closure on that experience. I can now set out on the path I'm meant to be on, and hopefully set down roots to start my own family, as the Thai Mormon lady advised. God bless her, and most of all, my BYU friends who have kept in touch with me all these years. You are truly a blessing and the best thing about my BYU experience.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore's Crowning Achievement

I've never been much of a morning person, but this morning I was excited to hear who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and what an awesome wakeup call to see my former "boss", the best Vice President our nation has ever had, the environmentalist extraordinare Al Gore awarded the most prestigious prize this world has to offer. He now joins a distinguished group of people like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Jimmy Carter. I bet even Bill Clinton is gnashing his teeth with envy (it was speculated that he coveted the prize in his quest for peaceful solutions in Ireland and the Middle East).

Here's to a great man and humanitarian. I've very happy for him. It marks an incredible year for him in which he won an Oscar, an Emmy, and now the Nobel Peace Prize. Some will want him to use this award as a springboard to make another run for the White House...but I think he's smart enough to know that it's Hillary's turn. He proves that one can find success in other venues besides being president. Simply put, he belongs to the international community now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm Going to B ack Y ou U p

On Saturday, I will be going back to Utah for the first time since I left in December 1999. It will most likely be one of the most emotional vacations of my life, as I will finally be able to put my experience at BYU, being a minority religion among a massive religion, into the proper perspective. When I left, I wasn't exactly a fan of Mormons anymore (due to the shock of such intolerance towards someone who belonged to another Latter Day Saints church, which I didn't expect). But my experience among Mormons in the Washington Seminar program in D.C. made all the trials at BYU worth it. The fellow interns helped make that experience one of the best I've ever been a part of. A lot of it was like being on MTV's "The Real World", which was a show I had once wanted to be on (back during the seasons when they went to Boston, Seattle, Hawaii, and New Orleans, when I was a big fan). But, the experience was a whole lot better than anything that raunchy TV show could offer.

So, aside from visiting a few of my fellow Washington Seminar interns who live in Salt Lake City, I will also visit with my fellow church members from all three Utah congregations and on Monday, set foot on BYU campus for the first time in nearly eight years. I don't know what I'll feel when that happens. Hopefully a bit of nostalgia and wonder, but most important...a feeling that I had made the right decision in going there (I still have my doubts). It's a trip that I'm looking forward to.

Below are a couple photos I pulled off of Google. None of the photos I took while I lived there are on discs to download onto this blog, but it looks the same. I remember when I first arrived there, I couldn't believe how close the campus was to the mountains. I also remember thinking that the mountains seemed like a painted background...I just couldn't believe that they were real. They were so majestic and beautiful and I realized how much I missed living in a mountainous region. Sure beats the hot, humid, and flat South!
BYU campus with the always beautiful and majestic mountain

Across the main quad, with the cool, glass entrance that was new in 1999 and reminded quite a few people I knew of the "Pyramid du Louvre" in Paris (because the all glass structure stuck out like an eyesore from the other architectural style of surrounding buildings). But, it grew on me and sure beat the big hole in the ground that lasted during most of my time at BYU.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who's It Gonna Be?

Friday is the day the Nobel Committee will announce the recipient of the world's most prestigious honor: The Nobel Peace Prize.

All year, I thought Gore had a lock on it...until the uprising in Burma. While it would be very nice to see Gore honored for his work on behalf of raising awareness over climate change and global warming (anyone on the East Coast suffering from the current heat wave still convinced that it's just a "fluke"?), I think awarding the Buddhist monks of Burma would send a very powerful message to the military junta that the world is watching. Many say that the reason why Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi hasn't been killed is because of her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

So...the drama will unfold on Friday. May the most deserving person(s) receive the honors! And I hope Rush Limbaugh isn't losing sleep with anxiety on the off chance that he might get it (he was actually nominated). We all know the cliche about hell freezing over, pigs flying, and a snowball's chance in hell if a bloviating blowhard like Rush ever made the short list of that great honor.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Boy in a Meth-Free Bubble

Though that's not me in the photo above, the title refers to me in regards to drugs. At Sunday's prayer meeting, the topic of drugs (and meth in particular) seemed to be the focal point this time around. Then last night on "Nightline", they featured a segment on the explosive growth of meth use in small town America and the most effective way to combat it (through scary public service ads featuring bruised, pale, scar-marked meth users). And tonight on the local ABC affiliate, they are having a 30 minute program on meth users and how they came off their addiction.

Before this week, I've only heard about meth use and never really paid much attention to it. As some people shared their personal experiences with it, either using it or seeing friends nearly destroy their lives over it, I was shocked and amazed. And I realized how much of a "bubble" I have been living in all my life. For some inexplicable reason, I've always been adamantly opposed to drug usage. It's one of the things that I've been most intolerant of, going so far as to cut off friendships if they even smoked so much as a cigarette. I'm proud to say that I've never had an interest to try even marijuana, though I was offered some at a party I attended in the 11th grade. But also that year, I became friends with a free-spirited "hippie" girl who used marijuana, drank, and got tattoos. Her friendship taught me a lot about my own intolerance and though she never could get me to try it, I didn't end my friendship with her when I learned that aspect of her. Though we often disagreed on drug usage, in the years since, I believe that our "war on drugs" is a joke. The problem is that drug use is treated as a CRIMINAL problem, when in reality, it's more like a health problem. Throwing users in jail doesn't solve the problem of why people are using it in the first place.

The ads are a step in the right direction. I know that scary ads shown in elementary school so traumatized me that I never desired to try it. One of the things about my personality is that I tend to be risk averse and cautious to the point of being called "conservative." I was willing to learn from other people's experiences rather than learn from my own...meaning that I would take their word for it on drugs being bad. Besides, drugs were taken either through the nose, the veins, smoked, or swallowed and I hated all options. I was someone who couldn't even swallow a Tylenol pill without chewing it until I learned in basic training when fellow shipmates helped force it down with a lot of water (it does seem a bit odd to say, "I learned how to swallow in basic training", but it's true). Besides the matter of ingestion, I never thought a temporary blissful feeling was worth the side effects and the possibility of addiction. Add costs on top of that and the body's ability to tolerate it, thus requiring more and more doses to achieve the same just always seemed to me (conservative Capricorn that I am in my personal life) that drugs were "the devil's candy." Which is to say, the devil hooks you into a bad thing before you realize it and when you finally do, it's too late. He owns you.

I even interpret the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit as a cautionary tale against drug usage. The reason why partaking the fruit was a sin was because they wanted to cheat themselves of attaining knowledge through experience. They thought that taking the "magic fruit" would instantly give them whatever they felt they lacked. And the punishment for doing so was severe. There's nothing wrong with knowledge, but there is something wrong about wanting to attain a sort of spiritual ecstasy without having to go through the trials, meditation, and attainment of self-awareness that brings about true bliss.

So, it is sad to see many people caught up in the ecstasy or meth craze. As former users know from experience what I only know in theory...meth can't offer the very thing that they are looking for. It only destroys their life. It is the "forbidden fruit."

I do know from personal experience that so called spiritual "enlightenment" experiences (also called "eureka", "satori", or even being "born-again") are the kind of blissful moments that people are seeking. I had my own in August 2001 that lasted with greatest intensity for 2 weeks straight. I couldn't sleep well, but it didn't matter. I lived on the adrenaline rush for two weeks as I experienced true ecstasy without any side effects. It all happened after the right amount of spiritual search, asking the right questions and stumbling upon the right answers. Unfortunately, I haven't had such an experience since, but it doesn't matter. One shouldn't be addicted to or crave the next ecstatic moment, because it's not about achieving ecstasy or bliss. It's about communion with God and complete surrender to what is. That is something drug use will never be able to give anyone.