Friday, November 30, 2007

Another Fun Friday Survey

To keep Friday posts fun, I'm going to try to find interesting surveys and questionnaires to answer. Today's questionnaire comes from an interesting personal ad on craigslist by a young lady. Did I answer her ad? No. She's 12 years younger than I am. That's a whole FDR Administration. Anyhow...enjoy!

1. Last:

a. book you read -- "Between Worlds" by Bill Richardson

b. movie you saw that stuck in your mind for days -- "Southland Tales" because, well, it's weird. Director Richard Kelly throws a lot of ideas at the viewer to make sense of, which ultimately, you can't, because it's...well...weird!

c. live music you went to -- The Taylor Hicks concert in May. It was more expensive than it should've been for an American Idol alumni, but it was awesome.

2. If you had to choose a historical/literary/movie character:

a. to be your best friend -- Samwise Gamgee from "The Lord of the Rings"

b. is most like you -- Michael J. Fox's character in "Casualties of War" is the most like me that I've ever come across in any movie or book I've seen or read.

c. to trade places with -- I'd say Sal Paradise in "On the Road", but my life has been a lot like any character in a Kerouac novel. In a word...I AM a Kerouac character come to life!

3. You have to get a tattoo. What is it and where? If I had to get one, it would probably go on my upper left arm near the shoulder and would be a personal symbol I had designed myself as a young man: a candle with a flame that wears sunglasses and smiles. Why that's my personal symbol? You figure it out.

4. Stupidest thing you've ever done. Too many to count, so I go with more recent. Accepting my current job when I had a place requesting an interview the following week. They paid more but I figured a job in hand beat two in a bush. Worst freaking mistake of my life!

5. Greatest decision ever. When I decided to take part in the Washington Seminar my last semester of college instead of in my Junior year. True, I would've met a different group of interns, but I believe I hit the goldmine with my friendships with Matt, Janell, Jantzen, Mandy, and Brooklyn.

6. Which movie genre: Bollywood epic, Spaghetti Western, or Post Apocalyptic?

Bollywood epic by far. I love the music, even if the formula is pretty standard (you've seen one, you've basically seen them all)

7. What do you want...

a. to drink after a crappy day at work? Chai latte always works for me. It's simply "bliss in a cup"!

b. for dinner? Chicken pesto pasta was a favourite dish of mine when I lived in Atlanta.

c. in general (life, relationships, etc)? I want many things: a job that pays the wages I deserve (equal to my age times a thousand); for my novel to sell for a nice amount with more money to write at least 5 more novels in two year increments; for a Democrat to win the presidency in every election for the rest of my life; for people to stop yelling at each other; to always be able to travel on four trips a year (one international one and three within the U.S./Canada); a Golden Retriever; a loft condo in the Pearl District; and a French or Hispanic wife who wants at least four children.

8. What are you looking forward to? The day when I can walk out of my job and not look back because I finally landed my dream job with the salary I more than deserve after a decade and a half of low wage jobs. I've paid my dues to society, now it's time to reap my financial reward! I also look forward to the end of the Bush era of disasterous incompetence and willful ignorance.

9. Art questions (because it is Portland).

a. Are you an artist? I did enjoy art when I was younger, but I prefer to write, which is a form of art, I suppose.

b. Who is your favourite artist? Paul Gauguin. He had good tastes: Tahiti! Plus an interesting artistic style. He captured the Polynesians well, I think.

10. Dream...

a. mixed tape -- The one Nathan gave me in 1999. It was full of songs that were huge hits in Australia in the 1980s which I never heard of. Now, every time I listen to it, it reminds me of my 1999 visit to the Pacific Northwest when he gave it to me and I listened to it as I drove around Vancouver BC, Seattle, and Portland...which was when I realized that this was the region of the country I'd settle in someday.

b. line up for a music festival -- Maroon 5, Midnight Oil, Youssou N'Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Taylor Hicks, Tina Turner, Johnny Clegg, and headliner U2.

c. date -- already been done...when Jenet and I attended a Gore campaign victory party for Super Tuesday; and then the White House Garden Tour for a follow-up. How on earth do I top that?!?

d. job -- I would love to be the personal aide to a politician I admire and serve for a full term, then see my novel sell to a publisher and have a good run of about ten novels, then devote the rest of my life to human rights activism around the world. That is essentially the vision I have for my future. If I'm still stuck in my current job a year from now...someone please put me out of my misery! I'm not doing the world any good working in a position far beneath my skill level, making unacceptably low wages, and being subjected to a screaming co-worker with major anger issues. I deserve better than that.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Republican Debate

Since I don't have cable tv, I decided to eat dinner at the nearby McDonalds (not a satisfying meal, of course, but what can you do?) to watch their CNN for the Republican debate. It was an entertaining evening (though I don't know which gave me indigestion more...a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and fries or Republican political views).

When I had returned to Atlanta in July 2000 after failing to find a job with a Democratic politician before my money ran out, a lady at church actually told me: "Maybe you should become a Republican." She was sincere about it, because she's a Republican and can't imagine why anyone wouldn't be one. I was so galled by her statement that I told a friend, "her saying that is the equivalent of saying to me, 'since you can't seem to get a girlfriend, why don't you consider becoming gay'." She laughed, but it's true.

Why don't I become a Republican? Because it goes against "every fiber of my being", that's why. I hated it in 2000 when Nader said that there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans, that Bush and Gore could equally be "Gush and Bore" (as comedian Bill Maher had referred to the duo). But we all know that's not true. Had Gore become president in 2000, I believe 9/11 would not have happened and we wouldn't be in Iraq or Afghanistan, our surplus would've been used in investments, and we wouldn't be in huge debts again. But, that's another topic for another day (which I might not revisit).

Anyhow, watching the debate only confirms for me why I could never be a Republican. I had watched the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate and swelled with pride over the various candidates and their views on things. I was proud of most of them and their answers. Not so with the Republican debate.

I mean, let's get real here. The questions for this debate was on guns (one viewer had asked each of the candidates how many and which guns they owned), the Bible (one viewer held up a copy of the Holy Bible and asked if the candidates believed in it literally...what that has to do with being president is beyond me), abortion, know, the standard issues Republicans care about. Every election cycle, it all boils down to the Republican holy trinity of God, guns and gays. Why? The Democrats are more forward looking, discussing real problems that need to be fixed (alternative energy, foreign policy, environmental issues, education); but Republicans continue to harp on the classics. Of course, Reagan's name came up a few times but Bush's name barely merited a comment.

I watched this mostly to see my Republican favourites in action and I was disappointed. Governor Mitt Romney is my favourite of the bunch, but I was disappointed in most of his answers (which I'll get to shortly). Senator John McCain impressed me with his adamant rejection of waterboarding as a tactic, proving what an honorable man he still is. Governor Huckabee wasn't that bad, even getting a few quips in there. I was disappointed in Congressman Ron Paul for not being able to remember that it's Kurds in northern Iraq. He totally flubbed that. I like his views, but wasn't impressed with him in this debate. Tancredo was scary to me. Something about his facial expression reveals to me "sleazy" and "creepy." I don't know what it is, but he gives me the creeps. I don't want to dismiss a person based on something as trivial as facial expressions, but my gut instincts say that he is creepy and hiding something.

Here's the kicker. The person I was most impressed with in this debate is Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He wasn't afraid to answer his honest views on abortion and gun control, which is at odds with the conservative base of his party. I agreed with a lot of what he said and especially loved his closing answer in regards to the New York Yankees. He had said that while mayor, the Yankees were four time World Series champions, and since he left office, they haven't won a single one. That got a lot of laughs and put him in a good light. So, would he be bad as president? I don't know. It's a tough call. I just have this fear that he would bring our country closer to a police state with his authoritarian personality, even if I agree with his views on social issues. It's hard to ignore his messy personal life though. When a person is on his third marriage and both his kids don't want anything to do with him, it reveals a lot about his character, unintended or not.

Now to Mitt Romney...

I thought he totally flubbed the question on if he believed the Bible as the literal truth. Even Anderson Cooper tried to nudge him a little and Romney stammered, seeming like he had more to say but caution got the better of him. Of course, since I'm very familiar with Mormon theology, the phrase I've heard time and time again is that "we believe the Bible as the word of God, so far as it is translated correctly." I believe that's what Anderson Cooper was fishing for and Mitt wouldn't go there. Neither did he volunteer to bring up the Book of Mormon, which is the book that Mormons believe is more accurate than the Bible.

On other questions, Mitt seemed to want it both ways. He totally straddled the line on the "is waterboarding torture or not?" that McCain tried to bait him with. And on abortion, he claimed to have changed his opinion as governor of Massachusetts. In all, he came across as a slick and polished candidate who will say anything to get elected. I hate coming to that view that a lot of people have of him, but that's exactly the way he comes across. I also noticed that he doesn't seem to have a sense of humour. He's so serious, that even his YouTube commercial was the most professional of the group. The others used humour in theirs (several of them had clips of Hillary, even), but Romney is just way too serious. I'm having doubts that he'll be able to win the Republican nomination.

I did like his answer on the Confederate flag. He said what needed to be said to these Republicans still obsessed over the Confederacy...that there are more important issues facing the nation than time to permit wasting a discussion on a divisive symbol. All he said was well and good until he started attacking the Democrats for being "divisive" and especially John Edwards' view that there are "two Americas."

Excuse me?!? It must be so nice to be wealthy, like you, Governor Romney. I challenge you to live one year on my salary. If you still think there's only "one America" where equal opportunity exists and liveable wages are available to all that want one (I've been wanting one all year!), then you truly live on some pink cloud in the sky somewhere. And Democrats being "divisive"? What America is he living in?

Which party was so angry about the election outcome in 1992 that they launched a multi-million dollar investigation that was never ending and far reaching, uncovering every aspect of Clinton's personal life? Which party viciously attacked the First Lady? Which party impeached a president for lying about a sexual affair while not even bothering to investigate all the allegations of abuse of power in a president of their own party? Which party's candidate lost the popular vote in 2000 and instead of governing from the middle, ran to the right and alienated half the country? Which party's president told the world "You're either with us or against us"? Which party has cracked down on dissenting opinion, both within the administration and in the public at large? Which party has demonized genuine war heroes and tried to cast doubt on their war records (Gore, Kerry, Cleland, McCain, Murtha)? Which party has pursued a divisive political agenda that has made things toxic in America? Which party has shut out the opposition party from public hearings and voting in Congress?

Mitt Romney is delusional if he thinks the Democrats are the divisive ones. With blowhards on right wing radio like Rush, Hannity, and Coulter repeating propaganda that has little basis in facts, with policies that divide the country into red vs blue, with waging a war despite a large worldwide opinion against's completely baffling how someone of Romney's intelligence could believe that Democrats are the divisive ones. Bush is the most divisive president we've ever had. I don't think there has ever been an administration where so many people in government and in the administration went on to write books revealing just how ruthless, petty, deceitful and divisive an administration it is.

So, my stock in Romney Inc. has fallen quite a bit. He is simply too disingenuous to be president. Now, I'd rather see John McCain get the nomination.

One final point is on Senator Fred Thompson. First off...I hate to sound superficial, but is there a more ugly guy running for president? He has lips like a frog and enough bags under his eyes for a trip to Mars. I know looks shouldn't matter, but we do have to see this person on TV for four years. At least Bush is amusing to watch with his smirks and eyebrow twitching. Fred Thompson should campaign with a bag over his head. You know his young wife married him for his bank account. On another point, his YouTube campaign video was lame. He merely showed clips of Romney and Giuliani speaking liberally on issues like abortion. The ad didn't even feature Thompson (maybe he is aware of his own unattractiveness). It was so lame, that even Anderson Cooper had to ask, "what's up with that?"

My favourite question was by a viewer who had asked about the death penalty and "what would Jesus do?" That person gets my vote as the person of the year. None of the candidates answered the question satisfactorily, but Huckabee did manage to quip that Jesus had the good sense not to run for political office. It got a laugh but misses the whole point of the question. Jesus, of all people, would be against torture and a death penalty...because, well, duh! Anyone who has seen "The Passion of the Christ" should be able to connect the dots, but that these politicians were clueless says a lot about this pathetic excuse of a party.

After the debate finished, I had one thought: "I'm so glad to be a Democrat!" Yep. That lady at church who thinks I could easily switch allegiances just because I couldn't find a job for a Democrat doesn't know the first thing about me. I'm a Democrat because this party has been right on so many issues over a long period of time (since FDR, anyway) that there's no real alternative. What we face is progressing towards the future or the same old divisive debates from the past. I don't know about you, but I'm still going to vote Democratic for my fifth presidential election. I hope you will too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Darfur and China

That's not a good photo of me, but I like the lighting of it. It was taken by Rachel Porter at the candlelight vigil for Darfur a few weeks ago. The other two faces you can see in the photo are MAYA members Andy (the closest guy next to me) and Tim (the one in the distance between Andy and me).

I wanted to write about China a few weeks ago and got, why not now?

When Rachel proposed that we attend the Dream for Darfur interfaith service and candlelight vigil, I jokingly responded, "Darfur is so last year and Burma is so last month, but Pakistan is current right now!" Spoken the way "trendy people" speak.

But in reality, why isn't Darfur more in the news? We occasionally hear reports by celebrities who are trying to raise money and awareness (such as George Clooney, the coolest celebrity on the planet this side of Bono). But if you add up all the minutes the media talks about OJ and Britney, Anna Nicole Smith and Lindsay Lohan...Darfur wouldn't even rate as a thirty second commercial.

One of the things discussed at the interfaith service and at the vigil is that the government of Sudan is financially backed by the Chinese government. There is a movement afoot that would like the nations of the world to boycott the Chinese Olympic Games next year in Beijing. I don't see that happening, considering how controversial it was when the USA boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Athletes were angered that President Carter politicized what is a major event for amateur athletes, who have to wait four years for their chance in a lifetime. We didn't boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympic games and I'm glad we didn't because of the famous victory of Jesse Owens, whose gold medal wins in track and field punctured the Nazi myth of the superiority of the aryan race.

So, other than boycotting the Olympics, what can we do to punish China? The most personal thing we can do is to not buy products made in China. It shouldn't be morally hard to do. This year, China has been a lot in the news with the bad dog food, then the discovery that some people food had deadly ingredients as well. Followed by toxic toys. What's going on over there? Sometimes I get the impression that the Chinese are secretly trying to kill us off, and with the mini-fundraising scandal of yet another Chinese-American bundling money for Hillary Clinton, it only reminds me of the controversial fundraising for the 1996 Clinton/Gore reelection. Could it be possible that Hillary is "the Manchurian Candidate"? The Clintons seem to love China and their dollars (yuan).

Rachel challenged each of us to not buy products made in China. When we hit the nearby Starbucks after the vigil, we looked at all the products in there for the label and sure enough, "Made in China"! In the weeks since, I try to remember to check the label and not buy it if it says "Made in China". But sometimes I forget. Or as I also told Rachel, "that's hard to do. Practically everything is made in China!" When I got home, I started looking at my most recent purchases and all of them said "Made in China"! I was horrified. Even purchases made since the vigil have somehow been made in China. I had to buy a new electric razor to replace the one I lost a few weeks ago. Where was it made? China! Some boxes of Christmas cards I bought were made in China (and I'm picky about the kind of cards I send out). How do I avoid it?

Here's what worries me most about China...

They are quietly going about securing allies and energy deals with various countries, especially those our country considers "enemies" (Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Venezuela). They are especially doing "good works projects" in Africa, a continent the U.S. and Western Europe has pretty much ignored, by building infrastructure and roads. China has also been quiet about our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. To them, it seems like they are probably loving our wars because not only are we borrowing money from Chinese banks to pay for our credit card wars, but we are also depleting our military strength. If anything should scare Americans, it is this fact that I learned ten years ago in college: China has a surplus of 50 MILLION men who will never have wives (due to the unintended consequence of the one child policy and the traditional view that baby girls were less valuable than baby boys). What does a country do to pacify that alarming statistic? They have THREE Choices as far as I can think of: 1) polygamy (allowing women to marry more than one man...which won't go over very well); 2) hope that those men turn out to be homosexual; or 3) create the world's largest military force to sweep the world like a Risk board game!

I don't know about you, but I see option 3 as the most likely scenario for China in the near future. They're just waiting for the back of our military might to be completely broken, and if Hillary is the "Manchurian Candidate"...then all hell's gonna break loose! If and when that happens, you can tell people you heard it here first.

(Psst! I got a secret to tell you. I was "made in China" myself! That's right. My dad was stationed in Taiwan--the Republic of China when I was conceived and born. I missed being born in Florida by two months, much to the horror of my childhood whenever people asked me where I was born).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When Fortunes Change

Resident Bush meets with President Gore and the other Nobel Peace Prize 2007 winners (the United Nations group that's devoted to climate change). I would love to be the invisible guest at that meeting! You have to wonder what goes on in the mind of Bush, who has to know at least subconsciously that he stole the election from the popular vote winner. He always looks a little bit uneasy in the photos I've seen of him with Al Gore. Serves him right! It only proves to me how gracious Gore is, to tolerate being in the same room with that immoral, unconscionable fraud of a person.

Gore said, "let there be light" and so it appeared!

Bush said, "we don't need no stinkin' constitution!" and so he burned it.

I can't help but think of how the two of them, bitter opponents in 2000, seem to have their stock rise and fall in opposition to one another.

Here's the story on the whole Bush/Gore dynamic.

Apparently, in 1988, when Gore ran for President the first time, Vice President Bush had remarked to someone how Gore would've been the perfect son. This statement irked Dubya, who was still an alcoholic at that age. It's no secret that the elder Bush admired the studious sobriety of Gore. The elder Bush was more pragmatic and didn't trust neo-conservatives and often felt uncomfortable around evangelicals. I find it funny that he saw in Gore an ideal son, preferable to the one he got instead (the jokester ne'er do well frat boy prone to drinking and lacking intellectual curiousity).

So...that's probably a lot of why Bush feels insecure around Gore. It brings up unresolved "daddy issues", thus another reason why he had to beat the "wonky elite snob" by any means necessary in 2000.

After seizing the presidency, despite losing the popular vote and having eggs thrown at the presidential limousine during the Inaugural parade, Bush pursued policies as though he had won a clear and unmistakeable landslide mandate. He ran to the far right, making Reagan, Nixon, and Goldwater look downright liberal in comparison. He walked around with a confident swagger, all cock in pants, "shock and awe" hubris. He should've learned from the Kennedys. That family is always quoting Shakespeare and Greek tragedy. They know something about tempting fate with hubris...because the smackdown will happen eventually.

Conversely, in the post 2000 election controversy, Gore was devastated. He grew a beard, fled to Europe, gained some serious weight, became the butt of so many jokes. It was a humiliating defeat to a lifelong dream of his...and to be beaten by a man who started his campaign by telling people he never wanted to be president anyway.

Bush swelled in arrogant pride, waging war against two countries, seeing his poll ratings skyrocket past his father's record job approval ratings. He still flew high in 2004, able to make a mockery of Senator Kerry's war hero record (not bad for a draft dodging deserter). Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean was lampooned by the media elite as having gone off his rocker.

Then Katrina happened. Bush has never recovered from the impression that he is a disengaged leader (because his reaction to Katrina was identical to his reaction to 9/ and hide for three days). Gore's public stock increased in the aftermath of Katrina. Not only has his investment in Google paid off, but his new podcasting idea for TV was just getting started, and his climate change slideshow was made into a documentary that earned him an Oscar this year.

It's amazing how things change. When Bush was up, Gore was down. Now Gore is on the up and up and Bush is in a downward spiral as Republican politician after Republican politician are heading towards the exits rather than face voters next fall. At the way things are's looking to be a complete tidal wave...a political tsunami as Bush managed to do what the Democrats never could: make the Republicans so toxically unpopular that people are willing to throw an electoral bone to the hapless and cowardly Democrats.

What would make this year even sweeter is if Time magazine names Al Gore as its 2007 "Person of the Year." No one deserves it more. For a man so ridiculed in 2000 to come back so strong and winning three major awards this year is proof that "whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Nicholas Smith Turns 35 Today!

My best friend Nicholas Smith turns 35 today!

I wrote a tribute to him back in May, a week before his wedding, so I won't repeat myself here.

We met in 1984, in the 7th grade. We had a math class together and lunch period. Lunch was where we became friends due to having mutual friends in common. I had said in another post that director Richard Kelly (of "Donnie Darko" and "Southland Tales") reminds me of the circle of friends I had in the 7th grade. What we all had in common were Air Force fathers, an interest in drawing (most of it was either comic book type of art, which Nick was really good at and I had expected him to become a comic book artist for Marvel or something, or cartoons), and similar interest in movies. In fact, "Ghostbusters" was popular at the time and I didn't find out until years later that Nicholas was a "Ghostbuster" for Halloween in 1984, as I was for my church's Halloween party. We also liked "V" the miniseries and James Bond.

How far we've come over the years. His friendship has been a dream...because when I hear about people who've been friends since Kindergarten, I envy that. Nicholas Smith is my oldest friendship. I wish the others ones I've kept in touch with before him never lost contact with me, but because they did, his friendship is my oldest one. I've met plenty of people who don't even have a friendship going on as long as ours has (23 years now).

Over the years, it has been interesting to see where his interests evolved to. Now, he's an expert in the Civil War (with a Master's Degree to prove it); he's fascinated by the Medieval period (the only person I know who owns a Suit of Armour on display in his home) and Joan of Arc. Where do these interests come from? I certainly don't remember his interest in those subjects when we first met (though we both did like the film "Ladyhawke"). It's always a blessing that as friends evolve in their interests in certain subjects, that it doesn't lead in opposite directions to where you have little in common anymore. I felt that way with a lot of the guys I knew in the Navy. They stayed the same while I changed a lot.

Now Nicholas has reached the big 3-5! On his first six months of married life, living it up in D.C. Man, had I stuck with my original post-college goals of living in D.C. for ten years, we could hang out occasionally! But that's the thing. You never know where life will take you.

Here's to another 35 years and more! It'll be interesting to see where your interests take you over the next few decades of life. Happy Birthday, dude!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What Would Jesus Say?

On Sean's blog, he responded to a meme challenge (what the heck is a "meme" anyway?!?) by Mike, and then challenged me. It's to write on the question "What Would Jesus Say To Me?" Wow...that is the multi-million dollar question, isn't it.

In January 2003, I went to a journaling retreat at the Community of Christ campground north of Pensacola, Florida. One of the assignments was to write in communion with God from a series of prompts (it was called "Listening for the voice of the spirit"). The responses were quite revealing. I was actually surprised by the answers. Here's how it worked: We were given a set of prompts (the words before the ellipses) and we had to complete the sentence by whatever first came into our heads. Then we'd listen for a response and write the first thing that came to mind. Although it is a bit personal, I will share it here. I believe these responses came from God, not Jesus (but I'll get to him afterwards). So, here goes:

I'm wondering...where to begin my next step in spiritual progression.
Nick, begin where it ends.

I think...I'm not lovable enough.
Nick, you are, you just don't know it enough.

I'm concerned about...the spiritual direction of our planet.
Well Nick, nothing I can do for you there.

I feel...blessed.
Nick, you should because you are.

I agree...with the church leadership and direction.
Nick, then why do you keep telling people you want to leave the church?

I question...myself too much.
Nick, you don't have to do that you know.

I don't know...the first thing about committed relationship--but you know God how much I want to.
Nick, not yet, you know what needs to get done before that.

I disagree with...people on spiritual ideas too much.
Nick, you have to live by your testimony and experiences.

I suppose...I'm a likeable person most of the time.
Nick, there are times when you even annoy me.

I am...more than I can bear.
Nick, your burdens are always lifted because of me.

I hesitate to...share my testimony and you know the reason.
Yes Nick, I know that, but you need to know the appropriate time, place, and person and your spirit will tell you that.

I'm anxious about...another war.
Nick, my plans for this earth are never thwarted--just pray for peace.

I'm excited about...seeing heaven.
Nick, I wish I could give you a quick tour, but you would never want to leave and your work on earth is much needed and far from complete. Focus on that, stop procrastinating and just do what you promised you'd do.

I you God!
I know Nick, but you need to make sure your actions show that love in all that you do.

I hope that...I can get the spiritual gift to get glimpses of heaven.
Nick, you don't want that, it would distract you from your life's mission. Now go back to the group and remember this.

As for what Jesus would say to a guy like me?

Nick, you are something else...a character, who wastes too much time on the trivial and scattering your energies instead of getting to what you really want. You can focus at times and accomplish great things as your past record has shown, but you seem to waiting for something, a miracle perhaps. But miracles don't happen out of thin air, there's always some kind of effort involved, mentally through prayer and meditation. Remember to focus and to pour all your energies into what you want. It won't come to you when you're watching YouTube or Netflix. When you get discipline, you will find the success you're hoping for. Not a day sooner. Time is running out, so you better get to it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Christmas Wish List (2007 Edition)

This is my Christmas 2007 wishlist to the "Santa Babe" (I don't recognize the overweight, white geezer model of Santa Claus and prefer the kind you see above!):

Prison terms for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Feith, Wolfowitz, Negroponte, and Bolton.
A well paying government job in Portland, Oregon

A Literary Agent for my novel who will set up a nice bidding war among publishing companies, so I can finally start my career as a writer (and forget about a political job)

Freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi and Democracy for Burma

This way cool fleece jacket, available from the Barack Obama 2008 campaign website online store (only $50!)

Probably the definitive biography on our next president, which I want to read for 2008

One of the best films I've seen this year, now available on DVD

Another movie I love this year is now on DVD

And of course, who can forget "Spider-man 3", my favourite superhero

"The West Wing" dvds...seasons 4 through 7 (I have the first three seasons)

I heard that this is one of his best cds, so I definitely want it. I heard it compared to the only two cds of his that I like: "Born in the USA" and "The Rising"
I loved the music from the film "Into the Wild" this is the other cd that I'm hoping Santa Babe will bring me this year.

I've been nice...for the most part. No coal in my stocking!

That is my wishlist...but I'm playing it lower key this year. I need to save my money for the YAPS/MAYA weekend in Vancouver in January, which is where I'd love to start the new year again (like last year).

What's on your list? (You might not find it at Fred Meyer's!)

Friday, November 23, 2007

If You Could...

Taking the survey from Sean's blog, I decided this would be fun to do for my hopefully "Fun Friday" posts. I will get to his meme about what Jesus would say to me another day. For now, let the fun begin...

If the whole world were listening, what would you say?
Well, knowing me, I'd probably be speechless and blow the opportunity. If I had that rare privilege and the whole world were indeed listening to me, I would say "Wake up, people! 9/11 was an inside job. WTC 7's collapse proves that it was a planned and controlled demolition." I know, I know. Out of all the things to say, why that one? Because if I said, "love is the ultimate truth", people wouldn't listen. There would still be hate, wars, violence, and other signs of the absence of love (real love, not narcissistic love). So, why waste words? Promote the truth, hopefully people would wake up and think about 9/11 from a purely logical standpoint instead of letting emotions override our sense of logic.

If one song were to describe your life, what song would it be?
My D.C. roommates would be able to answer this one: Keb Mo's "A Better Man." Lyrics include: "I'm gonna make my world a better place/I'm gonna keep that smile on my face/I'm gonna teach myself to understand/I'm gonna make myself a better man..." Beautiful.

If you could ask God any one question, what would it be?

I want to know why he created mosquitoes...but I wouldn't waste my one question on that. The question I really want to ask is "how is it possible for you to have always existed?" It's one of the most scariest thoughts I've ever had since childhood...though it didn't stop me from being an atheist for a time in my late teens/early 20s.

If you could be a super-hero, which one would you be?

I always related to Peter Parker and "Spider-man" was always my favourite since childhood...but I'd want to be original and create my own. I'd have a cloak like a Druid with the power to stop time so I can catch up on my reading. I'd also focus on human rights and bring criminals like Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld to justice.

If you could be invisible for a day what would you do and why?
Oh, that would not be cool...for other people! I'd definitely pay a visit to all my friends to see what they do with their time. But mostly, I'm with Sean on this. I'd love to sit in on all those secret meetings in the White House.

If you could date a celebrity, who would you choose?

I have my Natalie Portman, Shannyn Sossamon, Thandie Newton, Frances O'Connor, Gwen Stefani, and even Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson. But really, there's only one whom I'd really love to meet and date. It would be Audrey Tautou because French women drive me absolutely crazy! They are the sexiest women in the world and Audrey is so cute and adorable, I'd have no problem falling in love.

If you could have only one food for the rest of your live (assuming that this strange situation would not affect your health), which food would you choose?

Gosh, I love too many different foods, so it would be hard to choose. But I'd probably have to say my mom's chicken soup with rice. I still haven't figured out how to make it and she won't give me the recipe...but she always seems to know when I crave it. The combination of rice, chicken, and lemons in a soup is something I don't think I could ever tire of eating.

If you could hear what someone is thinking for a day, who would you choose?

I'd have to agree with Sean and go with George W. Bush, simply to see if he really does think and what does he think about most of the time. Love him or hate him, he is someone important to understand...if only so we can deny what he wants in order to save our planet. I have a feeling that it would be scary to go into his thoughts alone!

If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, which song would you choose?

Gosh...that would mean I would get sick of it. There's a lot to be said about diversity. But if I had to choose, I think I'd go with Christopher Cross' "Sailing" of the most serene songs I've ever heard. In fact, I want that one played at my funeral someday.

If you had 25-hour days (while everyone else continued to have 24-hour days), what would you do with the extra time?

Probably catch up on reading. I'm such a slow reader and envy anyone who can read 100+ books a year (my record remains 33 books one year).

If you were abducted by aliens, would you tell anybody? Why or why not?

Heck no. But I do have to say that there ain't a chance in hell that'll happen. I'd stick a sharp object in their big eyes and really fight them without any guilty feelings that I'm resorting to violence. But if they are open to suggestions, I'd tell them to go look for Senator Craig, who'd most likely be willing to take a probe up his you know what!

If you were told that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?

Give things away, then plead with God to let me see Australia before I return to the heavenly realm.

If you could receive praise from a person, what person would it be?

I don't live for praise, but my friends have all said something about me to me that was touching so I remember those moments and appreciate them. I can't imagine anyone saying something that would affect me as much.

What kind of praise would you like to receive?

I don't think of those things. Praise is nice, but it's not something I need or go around looking for. Some of the best praises I've gotten were from friends, like Nathan, who said that I had a kind of loyalty that you can't find in a dog and who once considered me his Jiminy Cricket; Matt wrote in the BYU memory book I put together that I was the person he most admired because I kept my religious faith at BYU. It's little comments like that which I appreciate the most.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gratitude (Thanksgiving Edition)

A year ago, on the day before Thanksgiving, I finally took my final exam to complete Biology 100 so I could get my degree. What I should've done years ago, I finally achieved. I remember walking out of the testing center at PSU feeling absolutely ecstatic. I knew I passed the exam, thus the course, thus I would get my degree for December 2006 (instead of April 2007, if I had waited one more week). I was probably the most happiest I had ever been at that moment. It was a huge accomplish for me (as one who has never been good at science since elementary school). In fact, it even surpassed the ecstatic feeling of accomplishment I had felt when I typed the last sentence of my novel on December 22, 2004.

Oddly, I thought I would easily find a better paying job soon in the new year. That was my single resolution this year. Now, I have 5 weeks to make that goal come true, which I don't see how. Only God would be able to make that miracle come true. Thus, my year has been a disappointment on the job front. If not for the social part of my life, this year would easily be one of the worst years of my life. But, that's not the case for the simple reason that my social life has far exceeded my best hopes when I moved out here. When I was in Atlanta, when my car died on me in 2002, it effectively killed my social life. Girls wouldn't date a guy who didn't own a car. It was difficult to get places on the infrequent bus and train services that continued to get worse. But I don't regret the isolation because it forced me to write my novel that I had been planning and dreaming of writing since 1990.

Now, I have a social life that is almost a bit too demanding of my time. I might have to scale back a little for 2008. But, for those who remember my Christmas newsletter last year, I ended with a list of the people I'm grateful for, so I'll do the same here in honour of Thanksgiving (no post for tomorrow).

I'm grateful for...

The travel opportunities this year: Vancouver BC, Chicago, Seattle, Salt Lake City, the Oregon coast, and Mt. Hood;

The spiritual retreats: Vancouver BC, Erik Skoor's family cabin, Mt Saint Helen's, Samish Island;

The Young Adults of the Puget Sound, especially leaders Erik Skoor and Sean Langdon;

The birth of the Portland Metro Area Young Adults group, especially leaders Rachel Porter and Tim Soper, and a special thank you to Christine for her active participation, whose smile and sparkling eyes are always a joy to see;

All the lectures/booksignings I've been to this year (way too many to mention);

The awesome Taylor Hicks concert back in May;

Barack Obama for coming to Portland and that I was one of the last 100 people to make it in to see him (from a distance);

My brother Chris, for the fun Fourth of July we spent together biking and at a baseball game, and for the trip to Seattle;

My parents, even though I didn't get to visit them this year and still hope to make it back next year when I hopefully will move my stuff to Oregon;

Matt Baker, for his friendship over the years even if he doesn't keep in touch;

Janell Fluckiger, for a great meal and conversation when I met her family in October;

Mandy George, for being so fun, cheerful, and funny;

My co-worker C. R. for being the only good thing about working where we work;

George Lucas for making "Star Wars" 30 years ago;

The Psychic who gave me very good info about my life in August;

My Spiritual Guide for giving me enough laughs to make it through a difficult year;

My best friend Nicholas Smith for inviting me to the wedding and treating me like royalty;

Jennifer Bodi for making my best friend Nicholas a very happy man;

My other best friend Nathan Hagman for his surprise visit at the end of January. His phone call was literally an answer to a prayer of desperation I had at the time...for he had called after I had finished my prayer to God for a reason to go on living (it wasn't as extreme as that...but it was during a low period);

Nathan's parents and brothers for visiting church a couple weeks ago;

The church members at the Orem congregation (the Astons and the Carters) for their hospitality and sharing some great stories;

BYU for not giving up on me, determined to award me the degree I spent so much money on even though I wasn't cooperative for many years;

and most of God for helping me to strive to be closer to Him in this trying time of wanting a better paying and more meaningful job that matches my talents. He knows all my complaints, frustrations, anger, and impatience over the long wait and I am embarrassed that someday, He'll show me how ridiculous I looked in these moments...but I am only human. That's not to say that I'm not grateful, because I'm very much grateful. As I said a week and a half ago, in spite of the difficulties, I am blessed, I am blessed, I am blessed. God really has given me many great experiences. Here's to many more!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Coming Soon...To A Mailbox Near You!

Don't say you've not been forewarned...

My annual Christmas newsletter starts going out today. Hopefully I'll have all my Christmas cards out by December 1st, but I like getting them done over Thanksgiving weekend...and I also like being the first one some people get. So, when you're still overstuffed on turkey and pie, check your mailbox on Friday or Saturday, clear some time, cuz it's gonna take some time to read my two page newsletter this year. Might as well settle into a comfy chair and have your favourite drink in hand, put on a Christmas music cd to play in the background (might I recommend the Chieftain's "The Bells of Dublin"?). Forget about hitting all the sales on Friday. You don't need that stuff anyway. Just relax, drink some nog, put up your tree, and then settle down to read my newsletter. It's better than fighting traffic, parking, and long lines, right?

You've been forewarned!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lions, Lambs, and Political Opinions

On Friday, I went to a comedy club in Portland. It's the first time I've been to a comedy club, so that was part of the appeal when someone had free tickets to offer. I like doing something new, something I've heard things about but have never experienced for myself.

Unfortunately, I had just come from a lecture at Powells given by Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy and his latest, Made Love, Got War. It was an interesting lecture about our government's plan for endless war and his personal belief (like mine) that we are never leaving Iraq until the last bit of oil is sucked out of the ground.

Anyhow...I'm a political person. I can't help it. So, after the lecture, I made my way to the comedy club to meet Erik O., the church member from the Netherlands who is in his final two weeks in the U.S. after about 10 months living here. He was with a lady whose house he has been staying at since August. When I met up with them in line, the first thing he tells me is: "Ground rules. No political discussions, okay?" That condition ultimately made for an awkward evening, as I searched for things to talk about. But, he didn't seem to help out by starting conversations either. So, there were a lot of awkward silences. I hate that. It only made me appreciate my close group of friends who are able and willing to discuss anything under the sun, politics and everything else. When someone lays a ground rule like that, it's an automatic sign that they are not a true friend, for true friends won't make that demand. It's not that I only talk about politics, but because Erik is Dutch, he doesn't know a lot about our "pop culture" (which is easy conversation with most people), our history (he thought California was considered part of "the South"), and he doesn't like what to talk about then? All the questions I have about the Netherlands fell under the political category (I'm very much interested in the International Criminal Court and the War Crimes Tribunal), so that was a no-go. Even discussions on the larger European Union have political elements to it. It was aggravating. What can I say?

The Comedy Club was a little too blue collar for me. It's interesting seeing the types of people who attend certain events. When I attended Bill Maher's tour in Atlanta a few years back, the crowd looked very classy, highly educated, and white collar professionals. Not surprising. His sense of humour demands that you be in the know about politics to "get the joke." The same goes with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I suppose. However, this comedy club had a lot of "blue collar" and redneck types. It didn't look good. The first comedian (the warm-up) started with a lot of low-brow humour, pretty raunchy and such. I shouldn't have been surprised I guess. The audience loved it. One thing I learned from observing...if you go to a comedy club, never come in late, never sit near the front, and never go as a "guys night out" or a "girls night out." Because if you do, you're fair game for the onstage comedian's jokes. There were a lot of gay jokes, sex jokes, and other bodily function type jokes. Like I said, raunchy. And here I was preferring political jokes, but not even Senator Craig was touched upon (boy, he'd like that wouldn't he? See...I can crack jokes too!).

The second comedian was a poster child for ADHD. He even joked about it. He was all over the stage. He even cracked a joke that made a few jaws of African American ladies in the audience drop. His joke? He said that he had dated an African American lady once. When they got to the bedroom, she told him to "do me like a black man!" He panicked because he didn't know what to do. So, he got her pregnant and never saw her again. That joke caused him to backtrack and defend himself, that he wasn't being a racist for saying that, because black comedians joke about white people all the time. Yikes!

The third and main headlining comedian was Kermit somebody. He was the best of the bunch. What made him great was that he spoke in a monotone, he had a very serious demeanor, so you just didn't expect the wit out of his mouth. He poked fun at the name his parents gave him, which got him beat up in elementary school. He also had a cool joke about the video game Space Invaders, even perfectly pantomiming the movement. You have to be Generation X to get that joke! That was one of my favourite video games as a kid. Anyhow...he was pretty funny and it was good. I was glad I went. Despite the discomfort I felt at not being able to have a real meaningful conversation with Erik and the lady he came with. But, it made me cherish my group of friends even more and all the meaningful conversations we've had over the years. I'm glad they don't put ground rules on any conversations we have. As a writer, I'm not into self-censorship. Everything should be on the table in a discussion or conversation.

Now about the film Lions for Lambs. You may be asking what that has to do with the above segment or with my church. Okay. You got me. Absolutely nothing. Except that my church has always featured a lion and a lamb on the official church seal. It's a symbol that I grew up under. It perfectly symbolized the society we strove for: Zion. And now to see that there is a film that mentions both in the title.

Okay, so the title comes from a philosopher about the waste of courageous young people by cowardly leaders. That's what the film is meant to illustrate. It was one of the films I was most excited about seeing this fall.

While it is very interesting, I'm not sure that it works well as a film. As one reviewer said about it...something about it being the first ever adaptation of a Charlie Rose show conversation. It does indeed feel like that. There are three storylines. One with Meryl Streep as a Diane Sawyer-type journalist granted an exclusive one hour interview with a Republican Senator who has presidential aspirations (though he denies it). Tom Cruise as a Republican Senator? I had a hard time buying it. But he was good and argued his points well. However, if he's hoping for an Oscar nomination, I don't think he'll be getting it for this one.

The second storyline is Robert Redford as a Californian University professor meeting with a student who is on the verge of failing his class. He wants to find out what caused the young man to suddenly disengage from the class after showing an earlier interest in class participation. This part of the film reminded me of meetings I've had with professors in their offices about political things as well. It was a bit like watching myself, though I was never that cynical about politicians when I was a student (my cynicism has only developed with the current cancer in our government: the Bush regime).

The third storyline features two of the professor's former students on a special mission in Afghanistan. This was probably in the film for no real reason other than to add exciting interludes to break up the dialogue heavy storylines in D.C. and in California. It also illustrates the waste of human potential this war causes, in sending young men into danger regardless of their education and personal desires to live a dream life at home, that higher education is supposed to afford you.

It is good, but not terribly exciting film. A lot of the dialogue were discussions I've had about the war with people I know. It's weird to watch it all on screen. It's as though I didn't need Hollywood to tell me that. If you plan to see it, you can probably wait until it's on DVD. I was willing to see it in a theater because I'm such a political animal that I crave more movies like these. Why so many films I want to see are released between Labour Day and New Year's is beyond me. The rest of the year remains a wasteland with few movies that I'm excited about. I wish Hollywood would pace it better. I can't afford to see all the movies on my list if they are crowded at the end of the year. After all...the budget has to be balanced between the gifts I buy for family and friends, the Christmas cards and stamps, the potluck items I'm expected to bring to parties, and even a gift or two for myself. Hollywood...pace yourself!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tale of Two Movies

Last week, I saw "Wristcutters: A Love Story" and on Saturday, Richard Kelly's long-awaited "Southland Tales." I'm a fan of independent films for the same reason why I love literary novels. Neither style follows a formula (romantic comedies and action films are the most formulaic of all movies, which I once liked but having seen too many of them, you always know how the story ends).

With "Wristcutters", I wasn't sure if I would enjoy that film due to the subject matter. It's about a journey in an afterlife reserved only for suicides. Since a cousin of mine had killed himself almost two years ago, and a lady I know lost her son that way as well, suicide is kind of a touchy issue with me. The film's title is a little "too vulgar" for my tastes, but I decided to go see it because I love films dealing with the afterlife. It's always interesting to see people's take on what happens when we die, either in literature, movies, and plays (in Atlanta, I saw two plays dealing with the called "Stella Goes to Hell" and the other taken directly from the "Tibetan Book of the Dead" about the bardo state and how one's cravings will cause souls to be stuck in the "between state").

The film isn't as graphic as I thought it would be. Granted, the main character does slice his own wrists, but it's not shown on camera (which is a very good thing). This version of the afterlife is a little bit duller than real life. Buildings are run down, cars are rusted out and clunking along, pizza is stale cardboard, no one smiles. It's really a drab looking place, free of beauty anywhere. It's kind of how I picture Eastern Europe in the last days of communism.

Anyhow, the main character finds himself in this purgatory existence, which he realizes is worse than life on earth. In fact, the message of the film is that no matter how bad life is on earth, there might be a place that's even worse. The running joke of the film is that no one has attempted to kill themselves a second time because of a fear that the place they might go to would be even worse than the place they found themselves in. The guy meets up with a Russian musician named Eugene, whose entire family killed themselves. Eugene has a run-down car and they go on a roadtrip through this strange land, looking for lost loves. On the way, they meet the beautiful Shannyn Sossamon (one of my favourite actresses), who plays Mikal, a woman who claims it was an accident and is searching for "the People In Charge" to plead her case.

I watched the film, completely riveted. It has my type of humour exactly, like the films "I Heart Huckabee" and "Down With Love". It's rare that I see a film that perfectly meshes with my style of humour (I'm one of the few, I suppose, who didn't laugh once during "Rush Hour 3" this summer even though I saw it in a packed theater with an audience full of hyenas. To answer your question...I only saw it because I had free passes, otherwise I would've passed on it). But I found "Wristcutters" to be funny and heartfelt with a good message. I walked out of the theater in smiles, which is odd. I never thought a film about suicide could make me feel good about life, but it did. So, I loved this movie.

Now to the other one...
Pictured above is director Richard Kelly, whose first film "Donnie Darko" bombed in theaters but became a huge hit in the UK and then on DVD. What's amazing is that Hollywood backed his ambitious, yet even more weird, "Southland Tales." This film was overdue by at least a year. I saw rough clips at least two years ago, maybe three. It was the scene of two SUVs having sex, which is in the movie and provided much hilarity for the audience. What it's doing in the film makes about as much sense as the film itself...which is not much. It's no "Donnie Darko", that's for sure.

But, it has some reoccurring elements, which would be interesting to hear what Freud might have to say about the thirtysomething director. Like "Darko", this one has a plot that revolves around an impending apocalypse with a potential saviour who can undo the forces that are unleashed. And like "Darko", one character has his left eye bloodied (reminded me of the scene in the movie theater with Darko and Frank the Bunny without his mask on). Unlike "Darko", this one is way out there, very ambitious in its delivery, yet fails to connect at a deeper level. "Darko" had a likeability factor, as who doesn't relate to being the odd one out in high school? What was essentially a family drama, this one is all over the map with widely ranging characters from an amnesiac action movie star to a porn star with big ambitions, a Vice Presidential candidate who believes that teenage horniness shouldn't be a crime, to some neo-Marxist punks planning to wreack havoc on the 2008 presidential election (between Clinton/Lieberman and "Eliot/Frost" on the Republican side), to a return Iraq War veteran who has a dance number (it's okay's played by Justin Timberlake with a disfigured face), to a police officer searching for his other self. Got all that?

What I like about the film is the portrayal of America under Bush as a police state waging war in not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Syria, Iran, and North Korea as well. Things have gotten so bad that Americans need visas just to travel from state to state (as in from Nevada to California). The Internet is monitored and controlled by the government agency called USI-Dent, and a rich eccentric billionaire with a Germanic name (Von Westfalen) has created an alternative energy source called Liquid Karma, which is made from the water in the ocean. The film culminates in the unveiling of the "MegaZepplin" over Los Angeles on the 4th of July 2008. In fact, the scenes of the Los Angeles skyline at night is fantastically gorgeous. I also think his selection of music is excellent, proving that the genius of song choices for "Darko" is part of Director Kelly's gifts. The song I really like is by the Pixies ("Wave of Destruction", I think it's called), played in the aftermath of a scene that makes me wonder if he was inspired by the whole O.J. Simpson drama.

Ultimately though, the film doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It was interesting to watch in a packed audience, as it got about as many laughs as a conventional comedy film. Yet, the laughs had an interesting tone to it, as though the audience couldn't believe how ridiculous the film was. In other words, they were laughing at the unintentional humour of the film in some places. Or perhaps it was intentional humour, if Kelly made this film to be an absurdist comedy/drama. One line that got laughs was when the Rock says "Because I'm a pimp. And pimps don't commit suicide." That line is repeated in the film, as though the signature line in the vain hope that it'll be quoted ad nauseum by teenage boys all over. An element that I found distracting were how many familiar faces of old television and Saturday Night Live stars populate this universe: John Larouquette, Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, Cheri Oteri, the annoying guy from "Moonlighting", Bai Ling doing her mysterious Asian chick thing, that short lady with the creepy voice from "Poltergeist", and even two "Darko" alumni members along for the ride.

I'm a fan of Richard Kelly. I think he's a talented guy. From what I read about him, had we gone to high school together, I'm sure he would've been in my circle of friends as he fits the profile of the guys I used to hang out with (individualist types who wrote stories or screenplays, or drew comic book art or cartoons in our free time). He is someone I would love to have a conversation with because I think his views are probably in line with mine on many things. But I would also like to urge him to make a more conventional film. I'm afraid that if this one bombs (which I don't see how it could not), it'll spell the end of his career. Like me, he admires Spielberg, so why not follow the Spielberg model of success? There's nothing wrong with making commercial films that practically guarantee an audience. I love "E.T.", "Jurassic Park", and the Indiana Jones movies. What's wrong with doing one of those, Richard? If you want a long-term career in Hollywood, I don't see how you can accomplish it by making convoluted films that fail to find audiences to recoup the budget.

At any rate...I might get this one on DVD if they have a commentary track. This is one film that I want to hear the director explain himself on. It's simply too much of everything...too ambitious for it's own good. I know he can do a lot better. Hopefully he'll get another chance to direct and won't squander the opportunity again.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Intuition Got Back!

Would you like swing on a slide (and carry moonbeams far and wide)?

That's me on this way fun hanging slide at the Samish Island Campground in September. I love being a monkey!
I love this shot of a few rays from the sun shining down on the cabins at Samish Island campground. I like to think that it's Divine grace shining upon us and giving us His blessing.

I also love big puffy white clouds...but I don't think I've ever seen any that looked like these. It was quite relaxing to stare at when I was there for September's Young Adult retreat and look for faces.

The little chapel at the Samish Island campground. I'd say that maybe eight adults could fit in there for a cozy worship service. It makes me think of the tiny former slave chapel on Cumberland Island, Georgia where John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette. What a distance...from a tiny chapel on Samish Island in the Puget Sound to the tiny chapel on Cumberland Island in the Atlantic coastline of Georgia (though I never did make it there to see for myself in all the years I lived in Georgia).

Just a few photos that I finally got developed (I still have about 7 undeveloped rolls of film left). I like looking at them again and being reminded of that spiritual weekend a couple months ago and how I might've missed out on it if I had accepted the Alaska job on second offer (without thinking about it).

On Wednesday, I got confirmation that my intuition was correct in hesitating to accept that Alaska job, because I was looking at job listings (on Craigslist of all places) and laughed when I saw the listing for the Alaska job again. Same company but with some slight changes in the job description. I had a hunch it would happen eventually. My guess is that the person they hired instead of me had quit after having one or two rotations in Alaska, so now they have to find someone else. Serves them right! But I did felt that there was deception going on when I had interviewed for the job. I wish I could talk to the person who was hired and now probably no longer works for that company. I want to know what it was like, what did they withhold information on, was it a nightmare job?

But, even though that most likely won't happen (though I won't discount the possibility of coincidental meetings if it's meant to be), seeing the new ad only confirms that my intuition is making a comeback (I don't think it went anywhere, but I've been too distracted to "hear it" a lot of times this year). I had been having doubts about my abilities to make good discerning decisions all year (because of a deep regret over my feeling that I was "tricked by God" into accepting my current job at a much lower pay than I knew at the time was unacceptable). I'm hoping that my intuition will lead me in the path towards my next job. I've gotten a few jobs by being at the right place at the right time and meeting the right people. So, that's what I'm working on for the remainder of the year. Manifesting my dream job.

This little confirmation is another good indication that all is well in the universe, as far as my life goes. I'm trusting that I will start the new year in a new job that pays the salary I seek. And there won't be any deception involved on the employers' part. I want to be able to discern dishonesty better, like I did in D.C. Back then, I had odd experiences in which I knew a certain person was lying, which I had trouble experiencing before. I attributed the increased awareness of other people's intentions to all that I learned at BYU. It may have been difficult years, but BYU did give me greater spiritual awareness. I suppose that's a natural outcome when you live in a place that focuses (most of the time) on spiritual understanding. Unfortunately, like Peter in the New Testament, I let my doubts nearly drown me...sometimes forgetting to put faith in God that my life will lead to something better soon. I gotta have faith again, and believe in the possibilities. It will happen. That's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Alphabet Tag

So, Brooklyn finally reposted her "ABC Tag" on her blog and I was able to get the correct questions, and realize I was totally far off from what I thought I remembered seeing. But, I kind of knew that I'd get it wrong and decided to have fun with it. Now, I'm going to post my responses to the "correct questions." Should be fun.

A -- Attached or Single: Uh, working on it. I've been single for far too long.

B -- Best Friend: I'm lucky to have two...Nicholas Smith and Nathan Hagman, for different reasons. I've known Nick the longest of all my friends, we have the same first name in common, he's a lefty and introverted like me, and we share a long history with enough common interests to keep the friendship always interesting. Nathan is like the brother I always wanted. He's extroverted and after I've been around him, his "charisma" rubs off on me and I seem to do better with women after we've hung out together. We have the church-bond and the amazing coincidence that his family had eaten at my family's house in the 1980s. His friendship always felt destined to me, like we were meant to meet at some point in our earthly journeys, and it came at the right time in my life (don't it always?). My "unofficial third best friend" would be Matt Baker. The three of them represent a stage of my life: Nicholas the high school years; Nathan the Navy years; and Matt the college years. One of them will be the best man at my wedding someday, and the other two groomsmen, I hope.

C -- Cake or Pie: Pie. I preferred cake as a kid, but pie as an adult. But as a kid, I always saw pie as an adult dessert. I love most of them: pumpkin, cherry, apple, raspberry, blackberry, custard, and coconut cream. But I'll pass on the Key Lime.

D -- Day of Choice: Fridays.

E -- Essential Item: Does music count?

F -- Favourite Colour: Green, followed by blue.

G -- Gummi Bears or Worms: Bears. I love sour gummi cola the most, though. The tangier, the better.

H -- Hometown: I consider it to be Stone Mountain, Georgia even though I was 16 when we moved there. My parents still live there, so it's always going to be home for me.

I -- Indulgences: Chai Lattes. I need to deny myself the pleasure more often and save it only for special occasions.

J -- January or July: January, because I like the fresh start and my always optimistic outlook for what I intend to accomplish in the coming year.

K -- Kids: Someday. I really want a son named Patrick someday. I'd also like a daughter named Natasha or Natalie. But, I'm sure it will be heavily debated if and when the time comes.

L -- Life is Incomplete Without: A spiritual grounding.

M -- Marriage Date: Let's just say that it will happen on some future day in October. 2009 through 2012. Hopefully sooner. Definitely won't happen in 2008, even if I met her now. I like to take my time.

N -- Number of Siblings: Two. An older brother and a way younger sister.

O -- Oranges or Apples: Both, though granny smith apples edges out oranges. I am addicted to tangelos, however. I can eat them like candy.

P -- Phobias or Fears: Being stuck in a job I hate for the rest of my life. Actually, being stuck period. I learned that in 2003 when I was in a nightmare scenario and depended on someone else for a ride to get me to where I needed to be...with that person giving me the ride being part of the problem!

Q -- Quotes: My favourite one is by Martin Luther King, but since I already posted it on my All Saint's Day posts, I'll go with a movie quote that I like (from "The Break-up"):

"I did not get my ass kicked, okay? There's a difference between getting your ass kicked and some singing, dancing sprite fool you with his trickery before he attacks you." Vince Vaughn to Jennifer Aniston. I hope I got the quote right, but it was so funny, especially with his delivery of it. Brilliant!

R -- Reason to Smile: I'm in Portland! The city I had dreamed about living in ever since my first visit in 1999. Whenever I go for a walk in various neighbourhoods, I truly feel like this is the place I will live the rest of my life.

S -- Season: I'm a Fall guy. I love the cooling temperatures, the holiday season, the fact that the best movies and music tends to be released during this time, and most of all, the changing leaves.

T -- Tag Two: Janell and're it! I expect to see your answers on your blog...if you're up for it!

U -- Unknown Fact: Growing up, my parents actually spelled my nickname "Nic", which always caused confusion for others in school. Everyone adds the "k" at the end. I finally decided to use my full name ("Nicholas") to solve the problem of explaning it to people. People still spell my name with four letters and I do too, but only my family members spell it "Nic", which I like as I feel it's part of the "special privilege of family." So, oddly...I accept the "Nick" spelling from friends, while only family members use "Nic." I like it that way, 'k?

V -- (Brooklyn forgot this letter, so...what does "V" stand for?) "Victory of the People" (that's what the name "Nicholas" means).

W -- Worst Habit: Not washing dishes before I go to bed.

X -- X-Rays or Ultrasound: Well, only one would matter to me, but I'm not a fan of X-Rays.

Y -- Your Favourite Food: Italian. The years I lived in Italy spoiled me rotten with such good food! I was glad to spend my money on some fantastic meals and sometimes crave the selections at my favourite haunts.

Z -- Zodiac: I'm a Capricorn and (unfortunately) born the Chinese Year of the Boar. Do I believe in it? Never really did, but when I read the descriptions...yeah, they describe my personality so maybe there is something to them, but I don't put a lot of stock in horoscopes nor have I got my "astrological chart" done. It would seem too confusing with all these terms like, "Jupiter rising in the moon of Saturn." I mean...who writes that crap?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Praying for God to Intervene in Atlanta's Stupidity

I had a great laugh last night when watching both World News Tonight on ABC and the CBS Evening News with the always quirky cute Katie Couric. Both national news shows featured a segment on the drastic water crisis in Atlanta and the desperate measures that good ole boy, Guv'nah Sonny Perdue (did you know that "perdu" means "lost" in French?) had for a solution: a day of prayer to plea for God to show mercy on the city of Atlanta and drench it in torrential downpours so that the 18-month drought will end and the good people of Atlanta can go back to their water-wasting ways!

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Yesterday afternoon, my co-worker who loves to give news updates to people at work to prove how smart she is (which everyone finds more annoying than informative) mentioned that some group protested the governor's prayer service in Atlanta. This was one piece of news I welcomed hearing from her. As soon as she mentioned the protest, I asked if it was the "Humanists of Georgia", to which she said "no...wait...tell me another group," so I said "Atlanta Freethought Society" and she said that was it. I didn't believe her or thought it was too good to be true, so I did a sneak google search in the middle of my work and bingo! I got to an article in which the Atlanta Freethought Society (AFS) did indeed protest the public prayer as a violation of church and state. Gosh, I was impressed that they made national news. You see...I have a personal connection to that organization.

Let me tell you about the Atlanta Freethought Society...

It was formed in 1985 by my favourite high school teacher, Thomas Malone. I was his student in 1989-1990 when he taught government. I quickly took a liking to him and he became a father figure-type whom I did wish at the time was my father because he took an interest in my writings in a way that my dad couldn't be bothered with. In October 1989, I discovered that Malone was an atheist because he was featured in a newspaper article when the Atlanta Freethought Society sponsored an atheist conference in Atlanta. I was depressed about that news. Not my favourite teacher! At the time, atheists in my mind were the moral equivalent of satanists, child molesters, and murderers. Thus began the long education with many after school discussions until I finally accepted that fact about him. And I was an impressionable person too, so his rational logic had me convinced religion was all a lie, thus began my own "atheist period" (from 1989 to 1993). I won't say more here...but if you are interested in that story, it is the first section of my unpublished novel Seasons of Silent War and is a pretty close approximation of my experiences as a Senior (though as the novel goes on, it becomes less and less about my experiences and more about the characters. I'd say that the first section in high school is probably close to 80% of what I experienced).

My "atheist period" ended in 1993 with an odd coincidence of crossing paths with a friend I hadn't seen since 1985 in Omaha, Nebraska. This significant event occurred in Naples, Italy as I was on the bus leaving the Naval hospital when it almost ran over two Mormon missionaries on bicycles (one of them I recognized as my friend from the 7th grade). Anyhow, I analyzed that coincidence for months and perhaps years trying to discern the meaning and significance. It was the one proof I had asked for...the one convincing "evidence" that God exists since too many variables could have caused us to miss each other (in fact, I had to hunt down the Missionary to confirm that it was my old friend as he was unaware that anyone he knew was on the bus). It was that coincidence that led me away from atheism and back into God's graces (and I don't regret it).

However, I also kind of fell out of favour with Malone's atheist group anyway because of their constant focus on the sex scandals of religious people. I would get newsletters and newspapers that devoted several pages to the crimes of hypocrisy of religiously-affiliated people. This was in stark contrast to what I grew up in. My church's magazine "Saint's Herald" never had negative articles on other religions. It was always about the life of the church and of church members, offering inspiring and positive stories. That's what I preferred to read. So, I was disenchanted when it looked like atheists didn't have many positive things to say about themselves, and wasted pages with regurgitated news of religious scandals already reported in the mainstream press. I disagreed with Malone over these issues and fell out of touch. Later, I learned that he left the Atlanta Freethought Society and voted to split the joint venture with the Humanist of Georgia, which he led towards independence. That group focused on the positive aspects of humanism, so I joined when I got out of the Navy and returned to Georgia. He left the group in the summer of 1996 due to burn-out of having too many commitments and essentially became a recluse ever since. When I left for Utah in 1997, I let my affiliation lapse because I moved on. Spirituality was gaining greater and greater traction, and I attribute a large part of that to one of my best friends Nathan Hagman and his family for helping me finally see the value in our church (our community aspect with the uncanny experience of my ability to meet people I've met before or who know people that I know) and I had enough personal experiences with spirituality to have a strong testimony that grows to this day.

Before I moved to Portland last year, I actually went to visit the Humanists of Georgia for the first time in 9 years, donating my old books on atheism and a couple of videotapes like "Philadelphia", "Contact", and "Jurassic Park". It was a strange feeling sitting there in the meeting and thinking how much I've grown spiritually. Some of the people I knew in 1997 were still there and they wanted me to get involved again, but I told them that I was moving to the west coast and just wanted to donate some items to their library, which they named in honor of the founder: "The Thomas Malone Library." I was happy to see my former teacher honoured that way. Last I heard, he went in a Buddhist direction, which I was pleased to hear. I think he always had a problem believing in a personal God and also failed to find the sense of community he probably sought to create in these freethought and humanist groups.

So, what does this have to do with the drought and impending water crisis in Atlanta? Not much...just that the group was in the news and I wanted to write about my personal connection to it.

Now about that water's a few facts: When my family moved to Atlanta in 1988, the population of the metro area was 1.5 million people. By the time the 1996 Summer Olympics came along, the population doubled to 3 million. When I left last year, the population was 4.4 million or so. It experienced EXPLOSIVE growth in the 1990s. So much undeveloped land became housing areas in the northern suburbs of the city that it just grew in land area. The I-285 perimeter is pretty much heavy traffic all day and night, and Sundays too. I remember when it was pretty empty on Sundays. Now, only Christmas day is about that empty.

I hated the explosive growth because most of it happened on new lands, while my family saw our once thriving area between Clarkston and Stone Mountain deteriorate slowly, with abandoned shopping centers, empty buildings, and weeds growing through the pavement of car-less parking lots. People I knew from church would move further and further out (some of it unspoken "racism", though they would deny it). When I'd go visit, I would be mad seeing brand spanking new shopping centers and MEGA MANSIONS. Neighbourhoods upon neighbourhoods of MEGA MANSIONS. I was especially mad when the two congregations of the Community of Christ moved further away from the city of Atlanta, where public transit didn't run (which became an issue when my car died on me in 2002). The Atlanta North Community of Christ congregation is in a neighbourhood surrounded by MEGA MANSIONS. In fact, when I first saw the homes that bordered the property I was shocked by how huge they were. They looked like modern day castles. I can't imagine the air conditioning bill in the summer or the heating bill in the winter. Like our church would even get these neighbours to join our humble little church! That's one big reason why I had to leave, for the sake of my desire to be active in the church but needing to belong to a group that shares my values of sustainable growth, environmental responsibility, and yes...even my liberal political and spiritual views.

The city of Atlanta didn't monitor or manage growth. They let it run amok because it was good for the economy and Atlanta does have a bit of "New York Envy". Atlanta has always been a city that aspires to be the next New York (sorry...that honour goes to Chicago). As long as people kept moving to the city, the lands would be cleared for more shopping centers, more houses, more of everything...because more is good. Occasionally, an article in the newspaper would talk about Portland's city planning and how urban planners from all over the world would come to Portland to see how to manage growth and still keep a city vibrant. Each time an article appeared praising Portland, letters to the editor would follow that would criticize Portland's planning as being anti-capitalist and anti-democratic because hey...let the market decide because the market is always good. If a billion people want to move to Atlanta, so much the better, right? That seems to be the thinking of too many people in Atlanta. What it became was a mess. People would complain about the traffic, of having to drive too far to get anywhere; and then the public transportation would get worse and worse as the MARTA cut back on bus services (sometimes offering only once an hour runs, which caused me a lot of wasted time waiting) and train services. They "single tracked" so often that I got frustrated with what was once a great train service (at its peak in 1997). Of course, MARTA employees were too busy enjoying boondoggle visits to Paris to check out the world's greatest subway system (not that they planned to bring such a system on line in, that would be silly...they were there to shop and brag to friends that they were in the city of lights). They're planning on bringing back the streetcar because Atlanta wants to do what other cities do and streetcars are "trendy" now (like aquariums were, and outdoor ballparks, and indoor stadiums, and...oh you get the picture...Atlanta keeps up with the Jones like no body's business).

Can you tell I don't like Atlanta much? I never wanted to live there, but my dad was stationed there for his last duty station. I made the mistake (twice) of moving back to Atlanta after I got out of the Navy and again when I failed to find a job in D.C. and ran out of money. Though it has it's charming neighbourhoods (I was always an in-townie kind of guy...that's where the cool vibes were. I learned to hate suburbia in Atlanta), I'm glad I left. I saw the water crisis coming years ago because I knew that the explosive growth in such a few short years couldn't have been good in the long run, and especially since the houses kept getting bigger and bigger (probably to fit all those fried-food eating obese people down there).

So, now the guv'nah in his good ole boy wisdom thinks he can appeal to a higher power for rain like he's some kind of modern day Noah? Crazy. I saw that press conference on TV where he was praying. One thing I can't stand is a sanctimonious politician using religion for personal gain. He is one big bubba. At least I got a laugh out of it because he sure looks the part of the fool.

I feel bad for my family and friends who are still in Atlanta dealing with this crisis (the news reports that Atlanta is within days of running out of water; at which point, they'll have to truck it in--which means more gas consumption). God is probably laughing His ass off right now at the folly we humans put ourselves in. Haven't we learned from science? Whenever a species is overpopulated, nature plays a balancing role by keeping the population down. Only humans get to cheat through technology what animals aren't able to do. But this is serious. Water is one of the resources that will be the cause of the most vicious wars of the future if we don't do something to control the human population. We can't defy the laws of nature for too long, because payback's a bitch. Mother Earth ain't happy.

And sadly, if God does send a couple hurricanes (though the season is winding down) Atlanta's way...the people are going to forget about the crisis next summer and go back to their runaway building boom. The solution I'd offer is...tear down the MEGA MANSIONS and the shopping centers. Live on less, on less!